Bangkok: A Meditation on Home, and Not Home

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it, but I’m pretty preoccupied with the concept of home.

I lived in the same house until I graduated college. That year my parents sold the only home I’d ever known and moved a few miles away, to a familiar town. But the house, unfamiliar, small, new: it wasn’t home.   In a year of enormous shifts and changes, this synergy of life and metaphor really hit “home”: I had to find my own place in the world. I had to create a new idea of family. And home.

It hasn’t worked out that well.

I moved to Los Angeles with my best friend. MJC owns my heart forever. But the city?

I left seven months later.

I lived and worked around New Jersey.  Right when I was earning more money than I ever had or ever will earn, I went to grad school to get away.  Everyone is from Jersey, no one wants to go back there.

I landed in DC for 2 ½ years.  I met some of the best people in the world, but the city itself didn’t quite fit.

Or maybe it did…but New York has always been the Holy Grail.  A Jersey kid working in theatre: is there any other benchmark of success?

But after three years here…I don’t know anymore.

I love pockets of the city, there are corners that still excite me. Especially when I’m up in a building looking down – the distance reflects New York’s loveliness to me.

When I’m actually on the street, I want to murder someone: tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, homeless people incessantly begging, taxi drivers that speed up as you cross the street in front of them.

And New York smells bad.

Of course, I still – inevitably, inescapably – live in Jersey. New York is so expensive and theatre pays so poorly even in this mecca that I can’t afford to live within city lines.

After three years I still don’t feel like I’m part of a real community here.  I’m unable to dig in, take root, and grow. I feel stunted, isolated, out of rhythm.

I stand by it: people are home.  Location itself is less important than the people who let you into their lives, who really want to be a part of yours.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that connected to a person/group in a fully reciprocal relationship.  Even when I feel it, the behavior of others is always such that I know they don’t.  I need them more than they need me. Always.

I’ve always needed New York more than it needed me. And that is reflected in my relationships here.

Maybe this is why I feel so restless, why I want to travel so much. I’m looking for a place that clicks with my soul. A soul place.

Bangkok is not this place.

Thailand is totally different from anywhere I’ve been. I don’t know if it’s technically third world, but I’ve never been to a place that is so desperate for your tourist dollars that it makes you uncomfortable to walk down the street.

There are a lot of tourists in NYC, but not the overt aggressiveness to take their money. It’s a slicker operation here.  Bangkok is a lot like NYC, but less charming.

It’s a true cliché to call Bangkok a city of contradictions: beautiful golden temples  – I mean ridiculously elaborate spaces for worship – on top of shantytowns.  History and modernity cheek by jowl.  The most unbelievably delicious scents will waft at you from street vendors (wait for my food blog!) and then you’ll stop breathing as you walk through a nostril-assaulting market filled with fish and…unrecognizable animal parts.

It sprawls, it’s smoggy, it’s reverent, it’s tolerant; tuk-tuk is an awesome word but not an awesome way to travel. It’s an interesting city. Just not a city you can love. Not a city you can wrap your soul around.

2 caveats.

I didn’t see much beyond the “tourist” areas of Bangkok.  My BFF Lonely Planet described all the other sections as hotels and restaurants and malls…not much to see. Yes, there are actual Thai people to meet and get to know. Not being fluent in Thai, and being exceptionally shy, that didn’t seem likely. But my experience of Bangkok was limited.

The best time I had there was with two tour guides (working for two separate companies) who clearly love their home, who are passionate about its history and culture. These two took me farther off the beaten track, and I really appreciated this glimpse into Bangkok’s heart, seeing things an average tourist wouldn’t see:  the old men of the amulet market scrutinizing their magical wares, a Buddha Day celebration in a temple, sitting on a plastic stool at a tiny street cart eating an amazing grain and coconut milk cereal concoction that cost maybe twenty-five cents, a father and son feeding bread crumbs to the fish in the river…a lot of lovely moments. These guides were bursting to share the city they love with me.

So it is a city you can love. Just not a city I can love. No soul click.

I didn’t expect one. I’m just ever hopeful that I’ll feel that level of unity with a place.  Because maybe then I’ll feel connected to the people too.

I’ve heard countless stories of people taking a trip somewhere and staying forever. I’m currently taking a class to get certified to teach English as a second language, hopefully abroad. One of my peers traveled to Brazil a year or so ago and had that soul click: he knew he had to go back, had to live there. That’s why he’s taking this course, a means to his end.

It’s why I’m taking it too, but without a specific destination. Thailand was beautiful. It was not home. But it whetted my appetite for deeper, farther, longer journeys.

I continue to seek home.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, Thailand | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Bangkok: A Meditation on Home, and Not Home

  1. Oh, I wish DC was your home, because we’d love to have you closer and more a part of our lives. I love it here, sort of by accident; I fell into it; I never thought of myself as a city girl. But it has to be the right place for you. I hope you find it on your travels!

  2. Pingback: 2013: Reframing a Failure | Wanderlust and Cupcakes

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