My password for my work email in Taiwan was “thailand”. I don’t recall making it, but it seems as though my heart was not fully settled when I started that job. I always knew I would leave and I typed in the word “thailand” multiple times a day, almost like a prayer, ruminating over the glittering possibility. The possible escape, if need be. But, life makes its own plans and I fell in love. I stayed in Taiwan for two years and then I finally let myself realize that the person I loved didn’t dream of escape like I did. In fact, he didn’t need it or me. During the breakup he told me, “When I first met you, you seemed independent.”
This crushed me. I was a TRAVELER. How could I be anything but independent?! Friends agreed, telling me I was the most independent person they knew. It’s sweet that they consoled me with this notion, but the things that hurt the most, usually hold some truth. I looked back and saw myself holding back on trips I wanted to take, skipping adventures because he didn’t want to go, and making plans centered on his dreams, not mine. I do believe that in a healthy relationship, you must depend on each other, but I had become too dependent on someone who didn’t depend on me.
Within a week of that breakup, I had interviews with schools in Vietnam, Thailand, and China. It was time to do something for me.
“Don’t you feel scared though?,” asked Lea, in her proper sounding South African accent, as she ate her cheap curry. “You’re in a new country, with two people you don’t know, learning to ride a scooter in the middle of the night…”
A lump developed in my throat and I might have teared up, if Martin, Lea’s boyfriend, hadn’t been eating a hamburger beside her. I’d been in Phuket for eight days and I was fully overwhelmed with being homeless, staying in Lea and Martin’s spare room, trying to adapt to teaching kindergarten, and wondering what the hell I would do if I couldn’t handle a scooter. Lea’s question was honest and meant to be jovial, but it brought my situation into frightening focus.
“Umm yes, wow, I guess that is what is happening. Hey, I’ve done it before. That’s the excitement of travel, right?” I said with forced positivity.
Although, I hadn’t done this before. I’ve lived abroad in Sweden, South Korea, Spain, and Taiwan, but this was the first time I didn’t have a safety net. In all the other places, someone from my hometown or college had arrived before me. There was someone to stay with if things got shady, someone to call when the cultural differences were too much, and someone that understood where I came from. I had no one in Phuket.
And yet, I had Lea and Martin, who had only known me a week, but were taking their after-work time to teach me how to ride a scooter and were letting me stay in their home. I had Anna, a girl from Texas, who I immediately bonded with and would call when the stress was too much. I had Barbara and Nicky, co-workers who went out of their way to explain the school and area around it to me, again and again, when I still didn’t understand.
It seems to me that the kindness of strangers always wins over fear. To be quite honest, I was scared. Scared to ride the scooter on the busy roads to work. Scared to live alone in a fully Thai neighborhood, where palm trees grow and geckos scurry under doors. Scared to teach students who I hadn’t let into my heart yet. I even told some people at home that I might give up. Maybe I should come back home. To this my mom replied, “Tomorrow will be better. You are in Thailand!”
Simple as that, she was right. The next day WAS better. Thanks to Martin, I pushed myself to ride the scooter on roads that scared me. Lea gave me inspiration to open up to my kindergarten class. I explored Phuket with Anna and realized what a beautiful place I was living in. The fear disappeared and happiness was able to bloom.
I’ve been in Phuket for over a month now and the life I lead is quite different than anything before, but I’m content and surprisingly happy with it. I’ve gotten the hang of this kindergarten thing and I’m smitten with the adorable monkeys, who like to hang off of me, even though I’m consistently yelling at them. I live in a decent-sized apartment, within walking distance of my school, in a neighborhood full of roosters, dog packs, and a restaurant that sells cheap pad thai. In the evenings, I do copywriting for extra money, read books, workout to Youtube videos, and dance around my apartment, barely clothed, to electronic music. On weekends, I ride my scooter to one of the many beaches in my area or to the trendy market, restaurant, and bar area that the foreigners frequent. I don’t mind doing these things alone, but a social butterfly can’t change that easily. I also go out in Patong with my co-workers, dance in living rooms to dubstep and travel to the islands with my gang of girls, and meet many charming boys, who are all much younger than me.
I don’t think my life in Phuket is one that I would want to live forever, so my five month contract is perfect. It even forces me to make sure I live every moment here and don’t get too complacent. My goal is to do something new every weekend and so far, I have. Whether it be strangely mundane things like fighting cockroaches out of my apartment, getting my scooter fixed, eating fish eyes, and singing mediation songs with my students or more thrilling experiences like boot camp workouts on the beach, drinking pina coladas out of a bucket, seeing exotic Thai dancers successfully hit on foreign men, and putting a candle in a bed of flowers onto a lake for good blessings.
Perhaps I was always independent, but I needed “thailand” to remind me.