Sunday, October 21, 2012
Thailand: Great Expectations
Overall, Thailand has been an exercise in expectation management.
Even the week before I left, I refused to think about it much.
"Are you going to Krabi?" Mark asked, flipping through my requisite guidebook. I'd barely cracked the spine, even though it had been purchased a month before.
"I don't know, I'll figure it out when I get there," I muttered stubbornly. Although I'd booked accommodation in Tokyo and Bangkok, I was happy to leave the rest to be determined. My work schedule hadn't allowed for much rumination on my trip, let alone any intensive planning. "I really don't want to talk about it."
And I didn't. I didn't want to talk about it or to think about it. I didn't want to enter into this vacation with any set of expectations. I simply wanted to go to the beach and to write words for myself and to have some time off work. ("You're not going to be able to not work," teased Jonathan in the weeks leading up to my departure. He was right, in more ways than I want to admit.)
But that didn't stop the expectations from forming; more other people's than my own. Recalling their own Thailand exploits, they planted the seeds in my mind of what I should be doing here as a single, twenty-something on holidays. Right now, I should be stripped down, naked, swimming drunkenly in the ocean. I should be watching ladyboys at the cabaret. I should be wearing a singlet and weird hippie pants featuring elephants and making out with a 20-year-old German. I should be dancing to house music in a bikini top on the beach and spending all of tomorrow lazing away my hangover in a hammock.
But instead I'm here, at 9pm, sitting on the porch of my bungalow on Sairee Beach listening to the frogs chirping and sipping on a bottle of water. Tonight's excitement came from watching Mike get an amazing haircut from a Thai woman. Nearly every night I've been in bed, stone cold sober, by 11 pm. In the mornings, we've been getting up reasonably early to have breakfast before settling in for an uneventful day of swimming in the pool or laying beside the ocean.
This hasn't come easily.
When more than a week passed without any debauchery, I was both disappointed and confused. Why was my Thailand so different from the Thailand that I'd heard about? And why did I care so little? Should I feel guilty for having a greater interest in getting a massage than getting drunk?
Instead of debauchery, what I've found is this--the space to finally think about and process the last year of my life. The time to learn to not work, to just be, and to enjoy the calm and the quiet moments. And yesterday, I found myself sitting alone on the beach in Tanote Bay finally crying--it's been months since I've let myself shed any tears. This is what I needed, it seems. Space and time and 13,000 kilometers between me and everything that usually makes that possible.
It's been boring at times. (It's blasphemous to admit, but that's the truth about travel; at times it's just kind of boring. I love to work and Thailand is just too easy. We're here in the rainy season, so it's easy to find accommodation and to get everything we want and need. There is zero challenge to this adventure. My only real challenge is in figuring out how to relax.) But this my Thailand. My Thailand isn't Changovers or willingly contracting a smorgasbord of STIs. My Thailand is hanging out with one of my best friends, reading books purchased at the airport, laughing a lot and doing a hell of a lot of nothing.
And it's not because I'm getting older or because I built up expectations of something that someone else experienced once to mythical proportions--it's because this is what I needed right now.