It makes for a really bad country song… but it seemed life was giving me the boot. I lost my job, my relationship and my home all in the same week… Then life literally gave me the boot when I injured my foot during the move. I had to clunk around in this miserable boot contraption, sulking and crying every three steps from all the change that was taking place in my life. I was crumbling inside with hurt and despair.
Over a few weeks time, I started to get over it… It was a quiet morning that I woke up, depressed and swung my legs out of bed. I made my way to the kitchen and poured a cup of tea. I sat there at the kitchen table, stirring the honey. I just stirred and stared, making figure eight motions with the spoon. In the stillness of the morning, I started to ask myself if all these things I was crying over and holding onto really aligned with my heart? Did I really love the job I was doing? Did my boss really treat me good or even pay me well? Did I really love the guy I was dating and did I really want to marry him? Did he really honor me, love me or was he even faithful? Did I really love the old apartment I was in? Was it in the best location, nice or even big enough for me? I grabbed my tea and made my way to the couch. I tucked myself into a heap of pillows and picked up the travel magazine sitting on my coffee table. I started to flip through it. With each page, I was seeing all the greatness in the world that laid beyond my tiny little life here in the city. Colorful pictures alongside articles on people living their dreams. I wanted to jump in those pages. Jobs that weren’t desk jobs but instead allowed you to travel the world. Couples in love on honeymoons and vacations exploring different countries and the chance to explore each other all over again I suppose. Homes that weren’t drab and dull but homes of brick walls and flower beds that hung off mountainsides, adorned with treasures found from around the world with a hook by the front door to hang your hat and call home. Then I flipped a page and saw a picture of Thailand, with it’s zen Buddah and temples on every corner, with its warm tropical sun, sandy beaches, bustling cities and locals smiling from ear to ear…. and I was like, I got to go!…
Perhaps life was closing old doors so that new, better ones could open up. Instead of resisting this change, maybe I should welcome it. It’s when I came to this realization, that I started to see endings as a phenomenal opportunity to start a brand new chapter in life. Not everyone gets second chances, but I was being given one. I was being given a fresh, clean slate. And the endless possibilities started to excite me.
It wasn’t as easy as snapping my fingers and now I felt liberated and my problems washed away. Getting dropped off at the airport by my friend, I made my way though immigration, my single backpack bouncing behind me. My thoughts kept toiling over the questions, okay, so why am I doing this again, what is the point of this, how will this make me happy again. A soft whisper always came telling me to keep going, that soon enough I’ll find out… So there you have it. I was now buckled into the planes seat, ready for take off, closing my eyes and thinking… nineteen hours from now, I’ll finally be able to “find out!”
I landed in the city of Bangkok, in one of the hottest months of the year. Bangkok, the city of tall sleek high-rises bumped against run down three story buildings. Bangkok, the city where fresh food carts line sidewalks, and aromas drift to meet nearby incense of massage parlors. Where scooters zoom down busy roads and pedestrians play leap frog across traffic. For the next few days, I roamed the city, mixing and mingling with people and getting a feel for the area. In the end, I came to find out a few truths about the culture. Here, people live in the moment. They are not obsessed like Americans thinking about tomorrow. Happiness only exists in the present. The idea of sacrificing for tomorrow or some distance future is not a comprehendible concept to them. Tomorrow is never guaranteed… but right now, this very moment is, this is guaranteed. So they dance in the street and they pull their scooters over on sides roads. If they want to park on the sidewalk, they do that, if they want the grass, they do that. Hey, I’ve even seen scooters parked in a store. They open up shop when they want to and they close up for lunch as long as they want to. They go to bed with who they want to and they even get sex changes to become who they want to. Thais do what makes them happy. And this kind of priority, I found to be rather enlivening and liberating.
Rules in Thailand are pretty relaxed, do as you please, but just don’t bother anybody. There’s a great joke about a Thai and a Chinese person operating a tuk tuk…. if a Thai plans to work eight hours for the day and wants to make 500 Bhat, and he makes that much by noon, the thai person takes the rest of the day off. If a Chinese person makes 500 Bhat by noon, he keeps working for the rest of the 8 hr day… The appreciation for time and what they want to do with it is a choice they honor themselves with. They don’t use words like “allow” or “grant.” I was stopped mid-conversation one day at the bar. I was telling someone that I was loving Thailand and allowing myself to wake up on my own without an alarm clock and also that I was allowing myself to take off writing since I was on vacation. This guy stood up in the middle of the bar, appalled by what I had just said and slammed their napkin down. He looked me square in the eye and waved his finger in my face and said, “You are your own person. You got that! You wake up when you want to wake up, you go to bed when you want to go to bed, you do your writing when you want to do your writing and you stop writing when you want to stop writing. The creativity will come to you when it comes to you. Stop worrying about what you are supposed to be doing. Just live in the moment. When you do that, everything will just come to you. And this nonsense of “allowing” yourself and “granting” yourself something is bullshit. Do you hear me. It’s complete bullshit! That’s such western way of thinking I tell you. Your too tense and uptight. The city life is killing you. Here in Thailand, I’ve never felt more relaxed and free in my life. LOOK! I don’t even wear a watch. FUCK! I don’t even own a watch. I have no where to be except where I want to be. You got that!”
I stared at him blankly, paused and then silently tipped my head in agreement. I took a swig of my beer and sat back in my stool chair. The guy had a point. Yes, his hair was disheveled and yes he had a deep tan from not working far too much, but he did have a point. I had to give him that. I, Jennifer, was unhappy in life because I was not being me. I was not living in the moment and I was not following my dreams of being a great writer. I was trying to force it too much. And he was calling me out on it.
Looking back on this trip, Thailand has been the perfect place to have escaped to. Thailand… the land of acceptance and no judgment. A peaceful culture that welcomes you as you are. When I stepped off the plane, I needed to be welcomed. If I needed to walk down the street and cry because I felt abandoned, then did that. Who cared? I wasn’t going to see these people ever again. If I needed to stay out all night after everything closed and ride my scooter, the wind hitting my face, then I did that. If I needed to write all day and not go to another temple that looked all the same, then I did that. I removed guilt and schedule and all the “had to’s” and “musts” out of my vocabulary. In the end what I really needed was to cut off from the one way thinking that entailed my life back home. I needed to cross the ocean sea to cast witness to the boundless ways of life that exist out there. I needed the invigorating sun to warm my body, de-stress and relax me. And I needed a fresh new environment to help awaken my senses and for new people to help re-open my spirit again. I needed to embrace this second chance.
Back home, I realized I got roped into playing by the rules and devoting myself to a dead-end career and relationship that clearly wasn’t working. I was investing my time and energy in these people who were clearly not returning the same investment and that in the end failed anyways. All that hard work for nothing. Deciding to come to Thailand, was deciding to turn things around.
In the weeks following my life falling apart, I was able to find another writing job, I was able to find an amazing brand new apartment over looking Lake Michigan and the summer fireworks. And I was able to welcome someone new into my life, letting them show me a good time and letting them heal me. I came to Thailand for rebirth and to find my center again. I learned that I need to live life in the present moment and invest in me, not anyone else and not some unknown tomorrow. Happiness exists only in the here and now. And happiness is showing that change is a good thing. The past is the past. But the future looks better!
Chai Cheewit Tem Tem… “Live Life!”