Thailand: Rice Noodle Soup for the Soul
Cloud covered skies loomed outside. My cat incessantly cried at the door. I was running around the house, frantically packing everything I would need for a successful 24 hour plane ride and just over two weeks away from home.
My mood matched the skies. Still emotionally recovering from a bad breakup, I had also just quit my job. What had been my last piece of stability, both personally and financially, was now gone. I had cried on and off with the clouds the entirety of the night prior until my brain finally went to sleep. From the moment I woke up, the only thing I had done - much to my cat’s chagrin - was pack. My sorrow hovered over me still, but I was skillfully ignoring it for the time being. Priorities.
What exactly was I packing for? Well, to run away to Thailand, of course.
Okay, so “running away” does not quite accurately reflect my trip to Thailand. I did not quit my job and spontaneously book a flight to a country on the other side of the globe (that would certainly be a good story, though). The trip had been planned for months. In fact, my last day of work was specifically selected so I would have exactly enough time to get my apartment in order and pack before taking off.
But if running away often serves the purpose of refreshing one’s view, gaining a new perspective, and even perhaps healing (at least as it does in most literary pieces), then that’s exactly what this trip was. So off I was, through the skies, leaving my emotional turmoil behind me, to meet up with my best friend and spend the next two weeks exploring the place she gets to call home.
Thailand was, in one word - not to sound too cliche - magical. The local markets, with food fresh from seller’s farms (you don’t get much more “farm to fork” than this); the Buddhist temples, coated in gold and jewels, but most importantly in the peaceful atmosphere that washes over you when you’re there; the bustling city life and shopping scene; and the gentle crashing of ocean waves; all combine in such contrast and harmony.
Life is different here. Not inherently - Bangkok as a city is truly not that different than LA or NYC. The skyscrapers, the traffic - oh my god the traffic. But the culture, that’s what sets Thailand apart from home in the U.S. It changes the interactions with people, and the level of appreciation for what’s around you. I mean, every Buddhist temple I saw in Thailand was far more immaculate than any historic church I’ve toured in Europe. The attention to detail, the level of being able to work with the beauty that you already have, was just astounding.
Unlike the West, Thailand hasn’t been “developed” for that long. Until the reign of their previous king (who, beloved by his people, was the second longest reigning monarch in the world, and recently passed away), the country didn’t have a fully built-out highway network, electricity throughout, or access to the internet everywhere. Going around the country now you can still see highways being built and widened, and power outages (although many times so short that you barely notice) happen with some level of frequency.
Perhaps partially due to this, people in Thailand are far more connected with their environment. Outside of Bangkok (where the grocery stores are conveniently located in their supermalls), most people throughout the country get their food from local markets. If you’re not growing your food, you’re buying it directly from the person who does. They hand-make so many things there, using cotton from their fields or silk from silkworms to make clothes and bags and scarves. The culture is so much more connected to nature than we are in the West.
Part of this is also probably from the Buddhist culture. Not everyone in Thailand is Buddhist, but it is a majority Buddhist country. And just like Christianity has influenced the culture of the West, Buddhism influences the culture of Thailand. Buddhism promotes a connection with nature, seeing yourself as only a small part of a larger, connected universe that all the plants and animals are a part of. This brings a specific sort of peace that comes with a better respect and appreciation for the world around you. It’s practically contagious while you’re there.
This isn’t to say that Thailand is simply a magical place without issues. I would be remiss to write a glorifying travel post about the country and not mention the military dictatorship that exists there, where citizen’s speaking out against the government can lead to jail or death. That’s why this rap video criticizing the military junta right before the most recent elections was such a big deal. Like many political systems in this world, it’s beyond complicated.
But most tourists, of the many thousands that travel to Thailand each year, never deal with or even witness the political backlash of the repressive regime. Many probably aren’t even aware of its existence. On an international stage, Thailand has historically been a peaceful country, losing territory (As one of our tour guides described: “cutting off a hand to protect the whole, cutting off an arm to protect the whole”) rather than falling into war with its neighbors. If you look at a historical map of Thailand, the country is much smaller now than it used to be. This is also why you won’t find many of its bejeweled temples having been raided of their beautiful gold and gems during war. Hearing of violence in Thailand isn’t exactly commonplace in the West, and as a tourist, you’re probably not interacting much with the regime.
My experience was thus: Whether I was listening to monks chant at a temple in Chiang Mai, looking out over the bustling streets from a rooftop bar in Bangkok, or laying and listening to the ocean waves in Koh Samui, I was consistently awash with an overwhelming awareness and appreciation for the place I was in. Its beauty, its culture, its peace.
Now, I didn’t “find myself” in Thailand. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced enough “emotional tragedy” in my young life to know myself decently well at this point. Nor did I find peace there. Thailand merely reminded me that I already have peace, inside of me, I just have to go to it.
Arriving back home, the emotional turmoil that I had left behind was patiently waiting for me. It didn’t just disappear in my time away. But I returned with a much better and stronger state of mind to be able to deal with it. I was now home, more myself than I had been in months and ready to take on the next steps in my path. And with a very, very happy cat.
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