It seems nothing is finished until it comes full circle. Six weeks before I moved to Thailand the first time, I joined my friends for a week-long holiday in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was a last-minute decision after some convincing from my friend, who used the one line that always makes me forget about the (low) balance in my bank account and the responsibilities I should adhere to: “You only live once.”
We spent our days poolside at a fancy resort in San Jose (a few miles from Cabo), with margaritas in hand, me working on my pre-Thailand tan, the others catching some rays before they headed back to Oregon’s fall weather. On those hot August nights, Autumn and I took the local bus into the city of Cabo, where we replaced margaritas with beer and tanning with beer pong and dancing. It wasn’t exactly a cultural experience…
…but we did devour some deliciously authentic tacos from a hole-in-the-wall stand, followed by an equally dive-y, hole-in-the-wall bar with the cute locals we’d met on a catamaran tour. Not to mention, it gave me a good refresher on my Spanish skills…just in time to move to Thailand.
When I arrived, my mind seemed to pull whatever foreign word came to mind first, struggling to tell my voice to say “sawasdee ka,” while bowing in a wai instead of “hola,” and “kapkun ka” instead of “gracias.” It didn’t seem to matter that those words were Spanish – they were foreign, and that’s all my brain could muster. Anything foreign must work in a foreign land, right?
I was lucky when my first trip out of Thailand took me to Laos, where the language is quite similar to the Isaan dialect I had learned a bit of, finally replacing my Spanish. The locals in Laos and I didn’t speak exactly the same language, but we understood enough of the same things to get along. In fact, some of their words are still used in Northeastern Thailand, where I first taught English to those rowdy high school kids in a wooden shed. For example, Sap means delicious in both parts, yet the Thai arroy is easily understood across the border.
It was when I ventured further, to Cambodia and Vietnam, that my Thai was rendered useless. And my Spanish, too, for that matter, though it didn’t stop my mind from thinking in a combination of both….in search of anything that wasn’t English.
When I arrived at the university in China, I signed up for Mandarin classes. This was a lofty goal, considering I was only planning to be in China for one academic year (and ended up only staying four months), and that I was living in Guangdong province, where the main language is Cantonese, not Mandarin. As if Mandarin isn’t already the hardest language in the world to learn (I’m pretty sure it is), the confusion I had from hearing one thing in the classroom and another on the street, plus my brain still swarming with the Thai language, was too much to handle.
I remember one particular girls night out in Guangzhou. Joslynn and I shared a cab back to the (rather creepy) hostel we shared, and asked the driver to drop us near the metro station.
“Do you remember how to say metro?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said, then turned to the driver. “Lofi die dien.”
He looked at me confused, so I tried again, with different tones. “Lofi deeay deein.”
Eventually we were dropped in a similar location, but not near the metro, and it would be weeks before I realized I was shouting our Chinese driver.
While I was still in China, I received a Save the Date from my recently engaged friends from Denver. They had decided on a dream destination wedding – in Cabo. I choked down the fact that a flight plus three nights in a swanky, all-inclusive oceanview resort would cost me more than my six weeks of backpacking across northern India, but I knew I would go. How could I not?
So after a few more months back in Thailand, where I was shocked at how quickly the language came back to me, I’m once again in Mexico…and speaking Thai.
When I arrived at the resort, I greeted the desk attendant with a wai and quickly tried to correct myself with “Hola! Como esta usted?” hoping nobody caught the awkward gesture. “Kapkun ka” escapes my mouth before thank you in any other language, but after a few more margaritas and conversations in Spanish, I’m sure it will all begin to straighten itself out.
This circle has been an unforgettable ride, one that’s undoubtedly made me a better person and placed a heavy hand on my direction in life. Beginning and ending in Mexico was as unplanned as the rest of it, but I can’t imagine where I would be without the travel experiences I’ve been fortunate to have. I’m only excited to close this circle because I’m eager to begin the next.
But for now, probably by the time you read this, I’m lounging by the pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean, girlfriends by my side, and there’s a celebratory aura in the air. For a second, it seems like the last 18 months were all just a dream, that I simply drifted off under the hot sunshine of this splendid Mexico peninsula and awoke to a still-full margarita glass and a group of happy people. But this crowd is different, this resort is different, and we’re celebrating the start of life in a different sort of way – with the union of two beautiful people, finally tying the knot.
The Circle of Life Begins in Mexico