Being half a world away and 12 hours ahead of America, or the east coast at least, I don’t get to talk to my loved ones very much. I do most of my talking through words typed on the computer. I realize this is a serious lack of communication, but it baffles me that everyone still has a terrible misconception about what I’m doing over here in Asia.
Whenever I talk to someone, the conversation tends to go like this:
“So, where are you now?”
“Still in Thailand.”
“Are you still enjoying your travels?”
“Yes, but at the moment I’m not traveling.”
“Cool. You’re so lucky you get to do that.”
“You could too.”
“I don’t have the money to travel and vacation for that long.”
Perhaps some people think Peter Pan appeared in my bedroom, covered me with fairy dust, and flew me into Never Never Land. Sometimes it does feel as if I entered a world where I might never have to “grow up.” but that readers is how I feel on the weekend. Monday through Friday I get up in the morning, cursing into my coffee. I am on my feet all day, sometimes 8 in the morning till 8 at night filling young minds with the promise of fluent English. I make lesson plans, and I make my bed. Every month I pay my rent, electricity, and water, and once or twice a week I hit the grocery store to stock the fridge. I get a small paycheck every month and my boss will yell at me if I am late for work. This might not seem like a lot, but it’s life, normal life for me here in Thailand.
Most people see the pictures of parties, weekend getaways to islands, lush jungles, beaches, motorbikes, and tan lines, but what they don’t see is what happens when I put my grown up pants on and lock my beach bum, 8 year old, Peter Pan side kick self in the closet until the weekend.
I will admit that my teaching schedule is flexible and sometimes I can squeeze in a few hours at the beach between my lessons. Teaching isn’t terribly hard, and cruising through a beach paradise to get to work makes the day a bit brighter. However, some days I am just all out tired. Too tired to teach, too tired to speak Thai, too tired to drive my motorbike home. Sometimes I wish I could just close my eyes and wake up in my comfy bed in Westmoreland County, Virginia, but I can’t. I can’t because there are things I want to see and places I want to go, and so I carry on.
Living this strange life I lead is a combination of lifestyles. On the one hand, I have to be mature and pay my bills, clean my house, and get to work on time everyday. On the other hand, I feel like a care free eight year old, escaping pressures of society, free to run wild and unleash the free spirit within. I also feel like a struggling college student. I spend hours studying Thai, live in a sparsely furnished house with the bare minimum of personal items, earn a small wage every month, take my coins and clothes to the laundry mat when the dirty pile gets too high, and eat my meals with only a fridge, kettle, and rice cooker.
The other part of this life left is the traveler. The traveler who is buried deep within me, scratching its way out, whose backpack under the bed is inching along, whispering sweet nothings in my ear of new countries and cultures to see. That is what I really am I guess, a traveler. While this is home and life, it is also just the gateway and my financial aid for the next adventure. This is a good thing, but also a bad thing. Strolling through the night market, I see beautiful clothes I want to have, but then I think, “That won’t fit in my backpack.” Friends invite us for another night out, but we think “one night of beers and partying could be a flight to Myanmar.”
It might seem like being a traveler just consists of packing a bag and hitting the road, but in fact it takes a lot of sacrifice, time, and energy. It creates stress and it is hard work, but hey, most things that are worthwhile are.
To further explain, right now I am planning an amazing three month journey through Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. I am beyond excited, but as of now, the planning process is about to do my head in. First, you have to book the flights. The price may look cheap, but by the time all the fees are added in, I find myself checking my balance for sufficient funds. Booking these flights is also risky because we do not yet have visas for all of the countries we plan to visit, but of course the earlier you book the flight the cheaper it is. While we are taking care of our Thai visas every three months, we also have to get the visas for these countries. Some visas we get on arrival in the country, some we must travel to Bangkok, have interviews, write letters, and wait six days for. Some we have to apply for online and give proof of sufficient funds, travel plans, flights, and hotels. This means of course, that we have to already have a general travel plan and hotels scheduled. The best part is that all of these visas cost money, and for Americans, usually an increased price. Additionally, if the embassy chooses to, they can keep my money after not issuing me a visa, for reasons they do not have to give. Also, because of the many and large visa stamps countries seem to give, I have to add more pages into my passport. Just another item on the specifically travel oriented ‘TO DO’ list.
We have to allocate time and plan journeys within the countries. To really see a country right, we must research, learn of hidden treasures, highlight the must sees, brief ourselves on the language, culture, and monetary units, and we need emergency contacts and travel insurance just in case anything goes wrong. If all of this manages to go smoothly, then we have to pack our lives in a bag, knowing that whatever we don’t bring we might not find along the way. And of course, we need money, which requires saving and sacrifices. This is something that is often hard to do when living in a paradise full of islands to visit, adventures to partake in, and countless friends to go out with.
I know I sound like a whining Wanda, but the truth is, I am a wee bit stressed out. Work life on top of social life on top of travel life on top of anything else you have to do can be a pain, which is something I’m sure many of you are all too familiar with, much more so than me I’m sure. However, it is 150 percent worth it every time.
Back in Westmoreland, people are working hard and feeling these same pressures and stresses for their own reasons. Maybe they are working and saving for a new car or boat, for social outings, for beer money, for education, for their children, for a relaxing retirement, or just to make that one year vacation really, really good. In life we are always saving for something and working towards something. If not, what are we doing but standing still? A lot of people think that I am laying still, on my beach mat, and I, along with others with this same lifestyle, have experienced the same ridicule. The ‘you are avoiding and prolonging real life’ accusations, ‘get your head out of the cloud’s comments, and ‘when are you going to get a real, mature job in America’s workforce’ questions abound. A lot of people seem to think it is inevitable that my life will succumb to a 9-5 day job behind a desk. I don’t. I’ve met people here of all ages. Some are people who lived a life and have now come here in old age to live it better. Some are people who gave “normal” work a try, but found more happiness in this. Some are people who have made a happy successful life doing just what I am doing. Out of all the expats I have met here, 9 times out of 10, I have been the youngest. They all seemed surprised that this is the life I have at my age. They all also give me warm approval and seem impressed that I have chosen-found-what have you, this wonderful life so early on. Maybe they are all just crazy dreamers floating on day by day like me, but coming from people who have lived the 9-5, had families, and had careers, I feel pretty darn good about it. Maybe this life can’t last forever, but I’m no different from anyone else. I am working towards a goal, earning and saving for something I want. This inescapable path we all go down, for me, just happens to be laced with rich culture, different countries, beaches, and bare feet.
One day Peter Pan might fly me back through my bedroom window, and I just might have to “grow up,” but for now I am full of fairy dust, and my free spirit is soaring across Asia.