It has been approximately sixteen weeks since I removed myself from Thai soil and set forth on North American dirt. Three weeks have passed since I’ve escaped most days feeling like a leaky headed sideshow monkey, or perhaps, rephrased, I have reveled in three weeks of freedom from re-entry coma. In previous posts I had discussed the maladies and surrealism of my re-entry shock, today I will reflect on the improvements living in Thailand has made to my daily life.
Note, I continue to have moments of less than linear thought, short attention span, extreme social anxiety and exasperation at the English language. I often take once comprehended words or phrases as rigid literal expressions of thought. For example, I was at a show in Detroit this past weekend when my friend leaned down and shouted in my ear, “High-hats are overrated”. Rather than realizing he was referring to the Zildjian symbols the drummer was beating, I looked left, to the bassist’s head and thought, “Yeah, that really isn’t that great is it”, referring to the black cap which added approximately twelve inches to the man’s crown. Things were once worse however, causing me search for Gingko Biloba, the herbal remedy frequently administered to seniors with brain rot.
Nonetheless, the following are current examples of that which has changed within me, that which I’m thankful for:
Kicking To The Neck At Short Range
Superficial? Perhaps to those who haven’t given up everything to pursue a martial art or fight sport. Regardless, no matter how many hurdles I failed to succeed in muay thai gyms in Thailand, there remains that little bit inside me that wiggles and breathes, “I can get up really close to someone as though I’m going to punch them and drive my shin into their Adam’s apple”. Ah, the fruits of my labour. That’s my little gem when the thought of, “What the fuck was I doing out there for so long” infects my brain.
Do I love the art of muay thai? Yes, that hasn’t changed but no amount of time is going to make me think it was all butterflies and peaches and I was remotely treated as equal to the Foreign men in a gym. Nothing beats watching a dog urinate in a ring you’re not even allowed to stick your hand in. Then hanging around for almost four more years.
The Ability To Laugh It Off
The sun was hot, the buffaloes were out and I was on my motorbike rounding a corner in Buriram. As I approached mid-length, a rider appeared in my lane zipping towards me. We simultaneously braked upon the realization of the other’s existence, our bikes halting within feet of collision. The rider, a wiry male in his early twenties and I looked directly into one another’s eyes, laughed and went along our intended paths.
Returning to the West I realize I’m now prone to chuckle at the incidental things which often annoy and enrage others. A few instances come to mind: traffic, mistakes, long wait times, the exploding of a bike tire and a squirrel that made eye contact before delightfully devouring my father’s lone garden tomato (that’s serious business, my father’s Italian). A question that I’ve been asked a number of times by Thai nationals regarding Westerners is, “Why are they so serious?”. In short, life is far more pleasant when approached this way.
One of my earliest pieces on MBSB detailed a method I intuitively designed to better read people. This development was created, in essence as a means of self defense in a culture that was so drastically different than the one I had left behind. In the post I wrote,
Wherever one may travel, cultural codes of behaviour are apt to differ, but at the core of them, is motivation. Not the why, but what it is that drives the why, and that is universal.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how this technique would shape my perception of North American life. Manipulation is far easier for me to identify and I suspect I’ll avoid a great deal of grief with this new skill.
A Quiet Mind
Do various thoughts simultaneously rage rampant in your mind, accentuated perhaps by a cheesy manufactured jingle or some lousy song you heard that day? I was previously plagued by this to the point where it became the norm. Currently, I’m free of it. I suspect the change is due to extreme isolation experienced in Buriram. During my last approximate eight months in the city I began to train muay thai part-time. Defined, this could mean I would train for a solid six weeks then take a two week rest, or I would train for three to four days a week, or simply I would take three weeks off. Basically, I did whatever I wanted to as opposed to the previous years grinding it out. On the days that were my own, I often sat in my room and worked on MBSB. Some days I simply sat in quiet contemplation or watched movies on YouTube. (Hearing the English word spoken felt just that good). However, what I generally didn’t do was speak. There were at various times, many consecutive days where I uttered little more than a couple of words, for example, thank-you when I’d pick up supplies. I was alone with my thoughts and in time, the static disappeared. That which remained at most, was one thought at a time. The result? The ability to live in the present.
The Appreciation Of Silence
When there are little alternatives, aka distractions to the life you’re leading, the need for them eventually dissipates.
Improvement In Health
Clean air, fresh food, ample rest, the pursuit of dreams and an entire country filled with furniture and amenities designed for people my height all contributed to an incredible improvement in my health. Other things definitely added to it but simply put, as far as my health is concerned I’m a very different and better person for having spent years in Thailand. (I’ve been writing about this in my series When The Doctor Tells You You Can’t. And Other Misconceptions.)
I’ll end this with a thank-you to all of you who have written, either in the comments or sent emails, opening up about your own experiences in foreign countries. For those of you who have had a difficult time either abroad and/or transitioning back to your own culture, I hope you too can realize the benefits of your experiences. Feel free to share them in the comments section.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
For Thailand solo travel and safety tips, in addition to Thailand information you won’t find in traditional tourist guides, please visit my post Tips For Women Traveling To Thailand.