The other day, on a bus in Thailand, I met a girl from England who told me she had never traveled her country outside of her own city. And a month ago, on a boat in Laos, I met a man from Germany with the same story. I too have never seen the entirety of Oregon, let alone most of the other 49 states.
Truth is, we’re all wandering through faraway lands for one main reason – inspiration. The necessary component to any creative thought process that is so often lost in the familiar confines of home. When we become too comfortable in a place, too habitual, we forget to look around on our morning walk for coffee. We lose ambition to seek new experiences and make new friends. We no longer see the beauty in the golden wheat fields we drive past each day.
But when we place ourselves in a new environment, a new culture, we open our eyes and see things – all things – in a new light. The buildings are more beautiful, the flowers more bright. Riding a bicycle is fun again. A waterfall no more impressive than Oregon’s very own Multnomah Falls is ravishing.
In just six short months, Suwannaphum has become home. I no longer cringe when I see a family of four (sometimes even a dog and a laundry basket) on one motorbike. I don’t gasp when I see an eight-year old driving his little sister.
When a truck of elephants drives past my house, I think There must be another parade in town, instead of Oh my! Elephants are passing my house! I’ve been to so many parades I’ve started to avoid them like the other disinterested foreign men I thought silly when I first arrived.
Running through a herd of water buffalo, saying hello to the poor farmer driving them as I jog slowly by, has become a normal exercise routine. I automatically steer several feet clear of any orange-robed monk in my path, and it’s now second nature to hop on my scooter and drive on the left side of the road, dodging chickens and dogs as I make my way to the school or out to the countryside. A seven-hour bus journey is short.
I’ve grown accustomed to the simplicities of my one-room hut without the means to cook or previously necessary amenities such as a kitchen table and a garbage can. I’ve mastered the squat toilet wearing both a backpack and heels (thank you very much) and now, instead of just checking for my wallet before I leave the house, I make sure my purse is stocked with a roll of toilet paper too. Eating unrecognizable foodsfrom various street vendors, often with an extra helping of protein (bugs), no more deters me from chowing down.
This is how I know it’s time to move on. I’ve soaked up all the inspiration I can from my students, my peers, my coworkers, my friends, and though it’s uncommon to feel at home in a place so far away from it, I think it’s best to walk away while I still want to do so slowly (with a few tears), and before I’m ready to run.
I’ll watch Suwannaphum disappear through the bus window as I head (eventually and temporarily) to my real home in Oregon. But I’m going to make a few stops along the way.
The first is Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and then its famed killing fields. Next we’ll venture down to southern Thailand for some much deserved beach and island hopping (Full Moon Party included), before boarding the overnight train to Chiang Mai and the surrounding bohemian villages of Mae Hong Son and Pai.
I’ll wave farewell to the Land of Smiles from a boat on the Mekong River in Laos, which will drop me into the jewel that is Luang Prabang. Working our way south to Vientiane, Pakse and Si Phan Don we go before crossing over the border to Vietnam.
If you haven’t Googled images of the coastline there, do it. And picture me on a motorbike headed north, stopping in places like Hoi An, Sapa, Halong Bay and Hanoi to eat traditional Pho and take in spectacular views.
My flight home will consist of extended layovers in Hong Kong, Seoul and San Francisco before I land in Portland and drive three hours east to embrace those (almost golden, by then) wheat fields and familiar faces I’ve missed dearly.
Not only am I beyond excited to have my best friend and first cousin join me on this upcoming escapade, I’m equally overjoyed at the prospect of meeting many more locals and travelers (the ones who make it all worthwhile) en route.
Consider this my apology for not posting much (if at all) over the next two months. I hope you’ll stayed tuned for my arrival back on U.S. soil, where I’ll undoubtedly have a lifetime of memories and an abundance of photos I’ll be eager to write about and share with you.
The (Long) Road Home