(Bang Niang boatyard-J helped on the larger boat)Three years ago today I was packing to move to Thailand for 5ish months. I remember the suitcase and hiking pack lying open in our bedroom in DC. I was determined not to forget a thing or end up feeling rushed with the packing. Bit by bit the bags filled up with with essentials for life in southern Thailand: flip flops, cotton skirts and khaki pants for work, sunscreen and bugspray, lots of books to read, immodium AD.
Snowstorms kept sweeping through the east coast and my February 14th departure date was pushed back to the 15th. (It was a nice Valentine's Day gift.)
I had been to Thailand before. I taught ESL in Bangkok for a summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of college. I knew that it would be hot, uncomfortable, smelly, crowded, and did I mention HOT? But when I arrived for this 5 month consultancy I quickly realized that I was having a new and improved, adult, Thai experience. I was staying in a lovely air conditioned hotel with international buffets. I was traveling by air conditioned taxis. I was treated to great food in premier restaurants for the Chinese New Year. Mmmmm. So good to be back as an adult.
(Thai junk food that I lived on in college - cha dam yen cold tea and sticky sweet rice.)
It was a life-changing five months. I was operating in my dream job. Working for my dream organization. I was trusted, allowed to manage the pilot project in the way I saw fit, manage my staff (and let some go when I needed to!), and live independently but with enough money to make it very comfortable.
And did I mention that this job was located in rural southern Thailand? Otherwise known as Paradise.
After a few days of meetings in Bangkok I flew with my new team to Khao Lak. The area one hour north of Phuket (world class tourist destination) that was hardest hit by the tsunami two years earlier.
I remember my first night in Khao Lak. Living in a guest house near the beach with my team - before we found our own local housing. I walked down the sandy road to the water. It was still tourist season and the resort terraces were filled with laughter, twinkle lights, and the smell of cooking seafood. I stood down on the endless sandy expanse and threw my head back to stare at the stars. It was glorious. I had never felt so lucky.
It was lonely at times but it was exhilarating. It was the most beautiful place I have ever been. I was fully alive. I spent sunset walking on the beach almost every evening. When I needed a break from it all I took my scooter down the road to Le Meridien resort and drove in pretending to be a guest. These solitary breaks with a beach chair, soft towel and fruity drink kept me sane.
I went to a Burmese wedding. I made two friends that I will have for life. I learned how to order gas for my car in Thai. I drove a manual (giant) truck on the left side of the road with gusto. I became tan and thin and warm. I learned to open coconuts on my house gate and drank a lot of fresh juice. My tongue became strong enough for red chilies. I got stung by a jellyfish and laughed it off. I learned the subtleties of managing Thai and Burmese staff when you are neither subtle, or Thai or Burmese!
I did not save any children as the name of my organization would suggest I should have been doing. But I did a good job on the project and left knowing that we had accomplished what we set out to do. And I saved one small golden puppy who is sitting by my side right now.
(Top-the puppy lost. Below-the puppy saved.)
But I can claim a tiny piece of Khao Lak/Bang Niang as my own. And I miss my lifestyle there. I miss watching J (who took 6 weeks leave of absence to join me for awhile) create pieces of furniture from bamboo rods in our little covered driveway. I miss my tiny Shangri-la and my view from my office window.
Life was lived so fully that year. There was nothing more I wanted and I miss that feeling. I miss the wild drive weaving through the hills and jungly countryside between Khao Lak and Phuket. I miss the challenge of navigating Bangkok for my monthly meetings. I miss the ease with which I could hop on a plane to anywhere in southeast Asia.
(An awe inspiring trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia with J.)
I remember the last flight. The last flight from Phuket to Bangkok and the taxi ride I took to my hotel for my last round of meetings. The song on the radio "take me home, my country road, to the place, where I belong..." It was ironic. It was nostalgic. But the consultancy was over and I was no longer needed. I was desperately ready to go home. But desperately wishing to stay forever.
I didn't know I would be back to Bangkok exactly one year after I had first arrived, but that is a story for another day...