I made it!
Nearly 22 hours (!!) of traveling later, I’ve arrived safely in Thailand. I’ve been in Phuket for about 48 hours, and already there are so many things that I can’t wait to tell you all about! First, however, I need to warn you that what I’m about to say might upset you. Especially if you’re currently living in the Midwest or any place where the temperatures are below freezing and the ground is covered with snow. Continue reading at your own risk.
It is crazy beautiful here.
Yesterday (and the day before) was a breezy 87°F with sunny blue skies and barely a cloud in sight. My dad is calling this type of weather, “A Chamber of Commerce Day” and the weekly forecast is set on repeat. After my dad picked me up from the airport, we drove through town on the wrong side of the road. They drive on the left here. Yes. That’s right, Charlie, I said wrong side. Most of the highways here are paved, but the roads in our neighborhood are gravel/ dirt and lined with overgrown fruit trees and flowering bushes. I haven’t yet had time to learn all about the local plant life, but I promise I will.
After a half hour drive and a handful of water buffalo sightings we pulled up to Baan Reece. [baan means house in Thai] The place is great— all bright colors and tile floors (it’s too humid for carpet here) complete with a Koi pond under the front steps. I have my own room and the bathroom has a flushing toilet and a hot water shower (a.k.a. I’m living in the lap of luxury). We dropped my bags (of which there were two, 50 lb suitcases filled with textbooks, a guitar, and backpack), unpacked just enough for me to find a swim suit, and we were out the door again. Fast forward 3 minutes and I’m drinking a fresh pineapple smoothie and my toes are buried in the white sand of Bangtao beach. Surreal.
We walked along the water for a while and then stopped at one of the stands selling food and drinks. This particular one has become somewhat of a staple in my dad’s day. They charge too much for food, he says, but the price for beer is just right, and they were so friendly the first time that he just kept coming back. And he’s right, they were friendly. And happy. And smiley. And polite. I couldn’t tell the difference, though. Everybody here is like that— surprisingly friendly, smiley, and helpful. I’ve been wished a “Happy New Year!” about a million times since I arrived. It’s wonderful. It makes me feel like the whole town would wrap me up in a big hug if it could. It actually reminds me a lot of a little thing we like to call “Minnesota Nice”. 🙂
And in case you were worrying that little reminder would make me feel the sting of homesickness, don’t. I’m on the other side of the world where the culture is very different from my own but somehow I feel right at home. When you spend 22 hours flying to the other side of the globe, you expect things to be pretty unfamiliar. And to have sore arms!! (Ha! Who doesn’t love a good Dad Joke?!) I guess I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’ve never been to Asia and I don’t speak the language, so I was a bit nervous. Turns out all that worry was in vain, and I’ll tell you why.
My first and only layover was a 2 hour stretch in Hong Kong. As I stepped off the plane, a tiny part of me wondered if the plane had gone anywhere at all. Was it possible I’d spent 16 hours on a plane on the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare? Am I being tricked like Sweet Dee in the “The Gang Broke Dee” episode of It’s Always Sunny? I’m immediately bombarded by the english language and there’s a huge sign on the wall that reads, “WELCOME TO HONG KONG”. There’s a man in a neon vest pointing through an automatic glass door yelling, “Immigration to the left, transfers through here.” in almost perfect english. As I pass through security the lady points at my backpack and asks, “laptop?” On my way to Gate 17, I pass not one, but two, Starbucks. This kind of familiarity has it’s way of calming me down. People are the same everywhere, I think. Hong Kong is home to over 7 million people who, flown half way across the world, they too would also feel like a fish out of water. But here, they move effortlessly through daily routines and feel at home surrounded by friends and family. It’s the second hand comfort of strangers that puts my mind at ease.
But don’t worry, I’m not completely blind to the damaging effects that globalization has on local cultures. This is familiar feeling is equal parts comfort and terror.
I remember being in Cotacachi, Ecuador (yet another stellar trip I didn’t blog about) and ordering a slice of carrot cake in a small internet cafe. It wasn’t as good as the way my mom makes it (add pineapples, just trust me on this) but it was absolutely delicious. Having been away from home for about 3 and half months at this point, my belly was filled and so was my homesick heart. Honestly, (places a huge bite of cake on my tongue) the world is such small place these days (licks the icing off my fork). Somewhere past the dopamine receptors and taste bud center of my brain a little alarm was going off. This wasn’t right. While carrot cake is delicious, I shouldn’t be able to order it in a town where the majority of the inhabitants didn’t have electricity or running water. I wanted to be eating Humitas or Pan de Yuca or whatever other delicious foods that make up the local, native cuisine. I was acutely aware of the profound pressure the global culture, and my culture, was was putting on people’s lives in Cotacachi.
I digress. My point is that there are overly friendly “Minnesotans” all over the world, which doesn’t feel as big as I thought it would. Maybe to a fault. My new friend, Mey, who is the manager at a bar down the road told me she likes the same Portuguese song I heard about a million times in Ecuador and then she suggested we listen to some Eric Clapton. In addition to making friends at bars, however, we’ve been pretty busy. My dad bought a TEFL English school here and his first set of students begin class on Monday. We’ve been running around buying supplies, cleaning the classroom, and trying to get our bearings. Both nights I’ve been so exhausted that I haven’t been able to stay awake past midnight, and as the Queen of All Night Owls, that’s saying something. Today we’re running off to have a few meetings, run more errands, have a tutoring session, visit the yoga studio, the market, the grocery store, and who knows what else. Not to worry, though. I’m sure today will be just as exhausting as the last two, and just as fun. I’m sure between all the craziness and hussle we’ll find time to drink a Singha (thai beer) or two on the beach. I’m sure I’ll make a bunch of new friends, learn some new phrases, and get a good base tan. I’m sure that while everything is new/different, the important stuff— the smiling, the good food, the helpful people, will all be the same.
It’s a small world, after all.
p.s. This is my dad. He’s the best.