As I hugged my husband and children goodbye they seemed to linger more than usual. I was looking forward to my adventure. After two years writing a book, this was a pattern break from my normal life. I was getting on a plane, first to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Bangkok where I would meet my friend Gayel.
We are going on a journey. For me, it’s not a holiday; it’s some sort of ‘calling’. That’s how I describe it. I have been drawn into this path, and I have surrendered to be the follower. I did not choose the place or the theme, but it’s no obligation. Gayel talked to me about her “finding 50” journey and when she saw me intently photographing my garden she said “why don’t you come?” After talking to my husband about the logistics and realising I could do this, I happily said “sure!”. And I meant it. She needed help with the internet video uploading and blogging to share her vision with her friends and the rest of the world. With 20 years in the computer industry I knew I was the one being called to help her. It also fit perfectly with a bigger project I have that will come to fruition this year, and this trip is the trial for expanding that project. It made sense for me to encourage her to live her dreams, and it felt right. So off I went.
Stopping in KL was an adventure in itself, just in the airport to find and check in to my next flight. As I looked around at the sea of faces I realised I was the white girl minority. I felt safe even though I knew I was different. There are some places in the world that I haven’t felt that way. As I settled in at the departure gate I noticed how homogenous we are getting. Take away our facial features and skin colour differences and I could have been anywhere in the world. Gone are the colourful national costumes. American style clothing, food and duty free shopping was the only menu; cigarettes, alcohol and perfume, with McDonalds and cappuccinos.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in Toronto, Canada that I have a heightened appreciation for cultural diversity; for keeping our traditions and celebrating our differences. That’s what I loved about Canada. And my first excursion into Asia was disappointing in it’s ‘sameness’. I wanted different! That’s what I was travelling for. I consciously let go of my critical eye and accepted it for what it is. I guess part of the benefit was what came next; I was able to plug in my laptop computer and hook into the wireless wifi site at the KL airport. Wow-this is technology at its best. I sent a few emails to Gary and the kids, and updated my twitter and facebook friends.
When it was time I walked out to the tarmack ready to board the plane. As I got to the stairs I felt relief to be on the last leg to Bangkok, and I had a flashback to Mel Gibson getting on the plane in “The Year of Living Dangerously”. I thought that for Gayel this could be called “The Year of Living Simply”. Little did I know that thought and movie would prophetically connect with me again in Bangkok.
On the flight I was surprised to be put in a full row even though the last 10 rows behind me were almost empty. I crawled over two people to the window seat and sat next to a young blonde girl. About halfway through the flight we began to talk, after noticing our books. She had “The Power of NOW” and I had “Paramahamsa Yogananda” – my gift from Gayel. It wasn’t long before I realised why we were seated together. Two like minded souls found each other in a sea of cross culture. Talking to her was the first indication that anything out of the ordinary was happening in Thailand. She told me she had cancelled her week long retreat in Koh Samui and instead was going to Cambodia on a bus trip, because of the “increasing political tensions”.
The taxi ride to the hotel was uneventful and the 5 lane highway was almost empty. I asked about the deserted roads and asked if it was because of the political situation and the driver commented it was Songkran – Thai New Year, where the city shuts down for 3 days. That was the one thing I knew about this trip to Thailand; that I was arriving on their biggest holiday. I was told before I got there to prepare to get wet! It is a water festival and the people take delight in throwing buckets of water over you, whether you are walking or driving. I found this out later as I went across the street to the 7/11 for a phone card; it felt more like a baptism, with 3 buckets from three happy celebrating Thai girls, who immediately apologised afterwards. I stood dripping in the 7/11 but they had a towel on the floor for this very purpose.
As I walked back to the hotel the lobby news was broadcasting the army with teargas and guns. The concierge explained with a map that it was in the opposite side of the city. I looked at the staff and they were watching but not concerned, so I took my cue from them. When I dialed into the Australian Internet news I was startled to hear that all Australians were told to get out of Thailand, that marshall law was declared and the airport might be closed soon. Gayel was already in the air on her way to Bangkok. I wondered briefly if she was going to make it through in time, but I had no intention of turning around and leaving.
The News was filled with dire predictions, when my reality was a benign city with gentle hospitable people celebrating happily. Gayel arrived in the middle of the night without incident and the airport showed no signs of any alarming activity. Our short stay in Bangkok was unremarkable and pleasant and we are ready to set off to our eco-resort in the Chanthaburi region in the eastern-south side near Cambodia.
So it is true: Thai people are happy not because of their outer conditions and circumstances, but separate from it. Their happiness seems to be grounded within.