September 1-24, 2010
I blame Kyle.
England was the target. I haven’t been to Europe in ten years, and I’ve been craving it. Yes, I spent a semester in London, and there’s a lot of Europe (and the world) I haven’t seen, but I’ve also been craving surfing, an activity I’ve only done once (in New Zealand) but loved fully. England has surfing: in Cornwall, the southwest corner. I’ve never been to Cornwall, so it would still be new, and I don’t know, I liked the romance of traveling to places called Land’s End and Penzanz. I love Pirates of the Caribbean, sue me.
Plus, I liked the symmetry. I started my 20’s in London, and it was four months that made me grow up a lot. It changed my ideas about theatre. It made me more independent. And as I begin a new decade, with a lot more ideas about a lot more growing up, I liked the idea of rebooting in a familiar location – wandering, remembering, planning – but still seeing new things. There’s a lot of ground in London I didn’t cover.
Double plus, I have a friend who was thinking of heading in that direction too, a friend I thought it would be enlightening to travel with. He has different ideas on travel than I do, he’s more spontaneous and go-with-the-flow, and I thought it would be wonderful to be flexible and see what happened organically.
And when his plans inevitably fell through and I knew I’d be traveling alone, I thought: phew, first major solo trip, I surely do want to go somewhere they speak English so I don’t have to worry about communicating on top of worrying about being raped and killed (which I do worry about. A lot.)
English, England. Going “home” to start again. Culture of the city, physical challenge of the beach. Visiting works of art that are old friends and getting tan. Seeing new things but still being comfortable with my surroundings. England it is.
And then my friend Kyle verbalized a thought that already nagged me:
“Haven’t you been to England?”
Why, yes, Kyle, I have.
“So…why don’t you go somewhere you haven’t been?”
Why don’t I go somewhere I haven’t been?
It’s a great big world and I’ve seen .000005% of it. If that much. Why am I returning to a country I’ve seen? It’s the first time I’ve left America in three years and at that rate… I mean, I haven’t even seen all of Jersey. This thought really has been gnawing at me lately, literally giving me anxiety attacks:
How am I ever going to have the time to visit all the places I want to see before I die?
And so…I zagged where I was gonna zig.
Of course, being the ridiculous creature I am, I didn’t just take a baby step outside my comfort zone: I flung myself off a cliff. I mean, there are other countries in Europe. I have a vague familiarity with romance languages. There are other English-speaking countries I haven’t seen.
I went to Thailand. Where they use an alphabet that isn’t…mine. Where speaking is based on tones so the same thing can have two meaning based on HOW you say it. Where there was political unrest less than six months ago. Where they barely accept credit cards. Where it takes TWENTY HOURS to fly to.
Oh yes, I weigh my options and choose the hardest thing. I wouldn’t be my perverse self if I didn’t.
If I reached into the recesses of my brain to remember why Thailand first became appealing, I think the reason was twofold, and the double-sided coin begins and ends with google. As you know, I’m interested in meditation and have a friend who did a meditation retreat in India. So I googled “Best Meditation Retreats” and came across a travel magazine article that listed ten, including one in Thailand which sounded nice and cheap (I did do a meditation retreat in Thailand, but the same type that my friend did). Then I googled “most Buddhist countries” and the result was: Thailand. Meditation and Buddhism go hand in hand as far as I’m concerned.
Basically, I let google choose this trip for me.
I’m going to write a lot of blogs over the next few weeks describing many aspects of my adventure, so I don’t want to go into too many details now.
Suffice to say, it was amazing.
England would have been amazing too. But what this trip ended up being about couldn’t have happened there. I could never have known exactly what this experience would be about until I was in the thick of it, but I know now it was about what I needed it to be about at this point in my life. Cryptic, much? More later.
I can say this: in England, I would have known exactly what to expect. Exactly. It would have been safe and easy and great but unchallenging.
And I think the best part of travel, the most important part is to literally shake up your world view. I used to keep a globe in my head, to picture where I am on it compared to where other people I know are. It’s been a long time since I’ve even thought to do it, since I haven’t been anywhere in years. But I could look out from the globe in Thailand, and the world looked like a different place. The view from my head was no longer the only outlook.
It was scary, hard, exhausting. There were things I failed at while I was there. But it was mine. All my own, for better or worse. I learned a lot about what it means to be Thai, and I learned a lot about what it means to be me, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Thanks, Kyle. Your guilt trip was possibly the best of my life, and I’ve experienced a lot of guilt trips.
Watch this space. There is SO MUCH to tell…