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Thailand Epiphanies

Author: D. Rockett
Date of Trip: April 2013

I am a traveler.

Not as savvy as most, perhaps not as socially-conscious as the rest.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve given the gypsy in me free rein annually – and in return she has taken me from the Virgin Islands to London, from Belgium to Spain, from Santo Domingo to Mexico. I’ve since compartmentalized my life by my adventures: post-this, pre-that, effectively boxing up my life into stories. Pulitzer-prize winning Mary Schmich summarized it accurately: “One story is the memoir, who we once were. The other is the fantasy, who we will become. We live in between, changing without even knowing it until it’s happened. You can’t know who you’ll be until you get there.”

A recent trip to Thailand took me to the bustle of Bangkok, the serene majesty of Chiang Mai and the natural beauty of Phuket…all places that made me realize I didn’t really know who I was until I got there. No. I didn’t channel Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love.” Real life can’t be weeded down to a 2-hour revelation of life’s big meanings. Instead, epiphanies occur in the margins of your story’s notebook — notes culled during a boat ride with friends that makes stops to let customers feed catfish and allows for bartering for tchotchkes from a vendor in a canoe; life’s big plan can be witnessed in the humble nature of a people via a refugee camp of women and children from Padong, Aka, and Yao tribes; and balance can be pondered when riding in a barely air-conditioned van on the shoulder of a road for miles on end butted next to a truck who will not budge an inch or cause an accident while he is riding in the proper lane.

Other traveler things of note:

I am a 5’11’’ traveler trying to go incognito in a nation of those who are an average of 5’5’’. (The emergency exits are even too small for an American with birthing hips.)

I am a traveler who does not find the idea of factories mundane, when those factories have names like: The Silver factory, the Bronze factory, the Lacquer Factory, silk factories, and the gems gallery. (BTW, I bought something in every one of these places. Don’t judge me.
I am but a traveler with a shopping jones.)

I am a traveler who enjoyed the simplicity of beans, toast and rice with all meals.

I’m a traveler who is wary of littering, so I stockpiled trash in my backpack since even the trashcans in Thailand look like decorative pots your grandmother has on her patio and I was afraid to use them.

I am a traveler who is awestruck over the fact that the real name of the capital of Thailand consists of 29 words, (Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. It means “City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate, Erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s Behest) while the full name of Chiang Mai, which is the older city of the two by 500 years, only has nine words that make up its entirety.

I am a traveler who finds it somewhat improbable that even if I do take up the life of a monk for 30 days, like our Chiang Mai tour guide Jimmy, I too will learn how to control my breathing so much so that I can learn how to burp through my nose.

I am a traveler taken aback at how mopeds are the equivalent of a minivan in America. Entire families with their groceries are balanced on the roads everywhere in Thailand with nary an incident.

I am a traveler who laughs at the pronunciation of the Phi Phi Island (Pee-Pee), but cries inside knowing what happened there in December 2004.

I am a traveler who wonders why tuk-tuks haven’t made a Chicago appearance since they are much faster, and more fun that those bicycle rickshaws that just look uncomfortably slow. Tuk-tuks are like bigger versions of go-carts made for the streets and more than one passenger.

I am a traveler who is dumbfounded by the fact that mouse houses (akin to mazes but in a dollhouse appearance) served as a game for gamblers as well as entertainment for visiting children back in the day as seen at the Jim Thompson House and Museum.

I am a traveler who is dumbfounded by the fact that Buddha can be identified in 108 symbols from flowers to animals and the famous reclining Buddha in Wat Pho at 150 feet long and almost 50 feet tall is still only the third largest in Bankgkok.

I am a traveler who scares retail workers when I ask if they have something in my size, an American size 18. (inevitably, the answer was always no).

I am a traveler who understands dialects, but has difficulty in picking up the subtleties of a pickup line when asked in a Thai cab in nighttime traffic.

I am a traveler who could have shifted into perimenopause due to the extreme heat in the area (the hot flashes keep coming, but I’m hoping the difficulty sleeping is due to jetlag).

I am a traveler who likes elephants and art painted by said elephants, but am scared to the bone marrow of things with claws like tigers and fish that eat the dead skin on your feet.

I’m a traveler whose astrological sign is that of a rabbit and whose timidity was reflected in the fact that I didn’t want to touch a monkey in a monkey sanctuary, knowing all that I know about monkey attacks and films that don’t show the little guys in a positive light (“Outbreak,” “Planet of the Apes”).

I’m a traveler who prefers bread and water over porridge with seaweed strips.

I am a traveler who much like Charlie in “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory,” was agog during the variety of tours that took us by floral arrangements that looked edible and smells and colors that had you turning your head out of avid curiosity.

I’m a traveler who can power shop in a night market like no other.

I’m a traveler who likes the idea of bidets, but not manual ones.

I’m also a traveler who likes the idea of toilet paper. Never thought about it before, until its absence became a factor.

As a traveler I revel in the beauty of architecture of yesteryear and the guides that make it come alive for us.

As a traveler, I am freaked out over the idea of communal flip-flops used for bathroom purposes.

As a traveler, I relish the magic of a thai massage shared with like-minded friends and doled out by a kick-ass transgender.

And as a traveler who likes a bout or two of kickboxing, can also squeal with glee over the appearance of a Haggen-Daz ice cream location in a foreign land.

I am a traveler who judges the greatness of a trip not by the ache in her joints or the swag she has acquired, but by the degree of discombobulation one needs to get over once on America terra firma. 18 hours one way on a plane. Almost 4 days to get back to some semblance of sleeping normalcy. ‘Nuff said.

I am a traveler who goes while the getting is good. For those who wait…tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural disasters could factor in your plans, making you miss out on scenes that can’t be replicated. I may have been a nomad in a previous life, but I’m keeping the dream alive in this one. When I travel, everything makes sense. I am at peace. If Zen can be achieved it is through this and only this. Just ask my airport chauffeur (aka Dad). Before Trip: “See ya dad, I’ll call when I land.” After trip (with beaming smile spreading ear to ear) “HI DAD!” I wish this feeling to the world, to the next generation. It’s a feeling that recently manifested in my mother, who left the country for the first time this year to head to Mexico. I dragged her kicking and screaming: “Don’t spend money on me! You go, enjoy yourself!” That was pre-trip Moms. Post-trip Moms: “I have my bags packed for the 2014 trip!”

I am a traveler. Not necessarily of Anthony Bourdain status or even that of the Samantha Brown/Rick Steves variety. No, I am a traveler who regards the act of traveling as a watershed moment in which I have finally become the person I will be for the rest of my life – an inquisitive onlooker who will spend her last ducats to see how the other half lives.

I am a traveler. She’s a traveler, he’s a traveler…wouldn’t you like to be a traveler too…be a traveler, be, be a traveler…(channeling the old Dr. Pepper theme song).

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