As I receive hand-made cards and friendship bracelets from my students and as I throw out worn clothes, I start to digest the hard pill of leaving Chonburi. Five months of working in this typical Thai city have passed almost too quickly. I have become used to the perpetual smoggy haze. I have made running buddies at the park. I have found where to buy the best apples and papaya salad. I arrived in this city ready for anything and with no clue what to expect – and I am leaving just the same. Between the chaotic weeks at school, I have been able to explore a large part of Thailand, falling more in love with its unique beauty with each weekend. After every short getaway, I returned to my home base, Chonburi, and it was always a relief to return home.
I live in a city where the only ten white people are my fellow coworkers. My neighborhood was built atop a swamp. Giant snakes and water monitor lizards greet me in the morning. The locals have welcomed me with open arms and gifted me with true Thai generosity. Chonburi has character and it has given me the authentic Thai living experience that I was looking for.
Now the next chapter of this adventure in South East Asia begins with a 2 ½ month backpacking trip. Saying goodbye to a schedule and routine, I am embarking on what I know will be an epic experience. My friend Mikaela, whom I met in Croatia, is joining me to travel the region. The plan is to head south and explore the Andaman coast of Thailand before jetting off to Bali for eight days. After fulfilling our own Eat, Pray, Love story in Bali, we are heading to Vietnam for 3 weeks. There we will reunite with dear friends, Jason, Laura, and Brittany. The next stop is Cambodia for 10 days before we return to southern Thailand to volunteer for a month. In a small Thai village we will be establishing an English program, growing a garden, and helping out at the family’s restaurant. A homestay is the perfect way to end my Southeast Asian experience.
I believe that every moment, encounter, and experience has its purpose. There is always a lesson that can be taken away. We are constantly tested and challenged so that we can evolve. We must endure every fall, rejoice every accomplishment, and embrace every encounter. So as I clear out my desk and pack up my room, I reflect on why I needed to come to Thailand.
I was not meant to become a Yogi. Locking in a career was not in the cards. I was not going to find a true love and start a family. My time in Thailand is a pivotal stepping stone in my personal journey. I wandered over to this country to regain perspective. I do not need to live a life of luxury; I feel whole when simply surrounded by good souls and finding peace in the present. I have found myself happier on dusty songtaew rides and in dirty bungalows than on the rooftops of New York’s high rises. I have seen more joy in the eyes of a Thai child with a rusted old bike than in child staring at a television screen playing a video game. The little things – a free bag of apples from the fruit stand lady, a successful commute, a “drink whiskey!” greeting from our neighbors, a taxi driver’s profession of love – fill my heart and remind me that connecting with humanity is the purpose of our existence in this life.
We are all individual beings with the power of free will. We make decisions; however, those choices are part of a grander path that is already decided. We must not worry where we are going because the plan is already set. Although we often deviate from it, we will always return to that path. We are simply meant to connect with one another -whether in a relationship, at work, in a family, a casual encounter, or a passing on the street. All of our souls are one, and in those moments they are rejoined. If we put love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and loyalty into the world, we will receive just the same. If we share these gifts with one another, humanity can finally detach itself from the poison of greed, lust, deceit, and possession.
So in my moments of frustration with van drivers, in my moments of bliss walking white sand beaches, and in my moments of love when hugged by my students, I find true north once again.
Thailand’s culture and landscape has surprised, humbled, and educated me. I have been exposed to a completely new way of living that still honors the same values I do: tradition, faith, and family. I have embraced Thailand’s customs, although still puzzled by some. I have been floored by its stunning beauty time and time again. Climbing mountain top temples, sending glowing lanterns into the night sky, swimming with playful elephants, welcoming sunrises on the beach, and exploring lush jungles will stay with me forever. Thailand’s charm has captivated me, making my travels in this country incomparable.
My time in Thailand would not have been the same without the friends I have made. Working, dining, and traveling side by side with them have made this journey even more memorable. Brittany has strengthened my faith. Laura continues to remind me to go with the flow. Sydney has kept me deep belly-laughing. We teach, run, eat family dinners, have movie nights, and travel together. We know what makes each other laugh. We know when the other needs to be alone. They encourage and inspire me, making me even more blessed to have such special people in my life. I am beyond thankful to share this experience of unique, crazy, beautiful, and lawless Thailand with them.