Headed back to Thailand via Singapore Airlines, signs of a rough road ahead started a few hours before the first flight when one of my actual eyeballs swelled up and went devil-red. Exhausted from only getting three hours of sleep the night before that 20+ hour day of travel, good lord was I uncomfortable once finally making it to my seat on the plane.The idea that airlines discriminate against weight and height isn’t exactly a new idea. As my knees dug into the seat in front of me, I spilled over into the aisle and chair next to me while dealing with both a cold caught on the first of three legs (WHY did I forget a mask) and someone’s rotten gas (do these people not think the rest of us are hit or do they just don’t care?) and a woman who, in addition to thinking it fine to cut in line at a transfer, thought it a good idea to get a window seat when she liked to constantly ring the attendants again and again and again (I was embarrassed to even be sitting in her row) for more tea and water along with getting up to pee and stretch long enough for the woman in between us and myself to have to get up every hour. So much for sleep.
Taking a step back, it’s important to point out that I experienced my first piece of amazing kindness from a stranger when my rideshare driver took me all the way to the SFO airport instead of just to the BART train to get there. I was happy to be able to gift him my AUX cord in return. Gold for drivers.
Back to the flight, all this already but I was on my way. Not just specifically back to my belongings and pal Pariny (and the rest of the crew still there) at Shanti Lodge in Phuket but, most importantly, to making a real commitment to this new lifestyle. After all the sacrifice of myself and those in my life, I owe it to us.
In times of emergency overseas, especially when inexperienced with them, it’s not so surprising that they cause a kind of vulnerability and panic I’ve never experienced before. Already providing a platform for those feelings, just getting started in this lifestyle means that I haven’t yet figured out a solid income flow that falls in line and suits me. Shit, last year was my first time venturing out to figure out what this lifestyle will even be. I was on an incredibly tight budget then so when the stereotype of a white-trash woman (for lack of a more compassionate description and yes, giving into a little bit of anger and resentment) who I thought I was helping out didn’t pay me the second half of money owed from buying my car, I didn’t have the expected funds to get to the work/volunteering I had set up in Chiang Mai through Workaway. Fighting the urge to stick my tail between my legs and run back to California, I turned to my mom for comfort and to hopefully lend me the $200 I needed until I got it sorted (the woman paid me after back in the states when the damage had already done). Instead, Mom played on my panic and put me more than five times as much in the hole by convincing me to go back immediately with the only loan she would offer in order to make her feel better. Back to the states.
Better for her but extremely damaging for me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever find my way to letting that go. I hope so.
Take two. This time abroad and I’m pickpocketed in Phi Phi followed by lost walking for hours on a soon-to-be infected gash on my foot after no one was at my hostel to let me in. There I was again stranded with no money or bank card. Thank God they didn’t take my phone and I didn’t have my passport on me. Also, at least this time I have travelers insurance that will eventually come through, though the American embassy advised it best to get money Western Unioned in order to fly back to the states to take care of it. The process will take a while and be a pain; especially from here. So much for going to see my friends in London and Paris, though I kind of hope I can’t get a refund or exchange on the flight so I can at least just go see them, even if we’re financially grounded from being able to go do anything beyond hang out at their places. So much, also, for giving my mother a second chance as she (unintentionally) made things worse.
At least she finally declared that her and our father now need my siblings and I to be the ones stepping up to take care of them. Lovely timing as always, but honestly, I needed to hear it. The transition was well underway but in reality, I needed to be told in order to switch over and truly step up.
It’s important to point out that, while my mom pushes the hell out of my buttons and doesn’t have the best people skills, she is a wonderful and sweet person with loving intentions. She is a giver and puts everyone above herself. Often at the expense of our family but that’s a pretty beautiful price to have to pay. No matter how much it sets me off.
So here I am stuck again. Still a hot-mess who “should” have been better prepared but I’m not freaking out as bad as last time, though it does pack a pretty rough punch when someone says that I should have been more careful or that everything happens for a reason (this isnot directed at any one person). How possible is it to get away if targeted? According to a Facebook friend who has been working in the travel and tourism industry for decades, not likely.
Still, I am proud to be making progress. I also NEEDED to get back since it had been five times longer than originally expected. My soul was dying; I couldn’t wait any longer. Nonstop driving for rideshare just to pay thousands to unexpected fender-benders and tickets. It ft felt like the gods were against me. I was also staying with my awesome but toxic (way too different) family in San Jose instead of being home in the comfort and safety of Ocean Beach, San Diego. Thank goodness for the time in my second home of San Francisco with it’s own Ocean Beach, wine country, Burner events (including my fab Burner buds in the Santa Cruz Mountains and all our hot tub skinny-dipping under the stars) and all the hikes through the beautiful Redwoods. Such a multitude of amazingness in the Bay. Still, there’s no place like home.
Back to my situation now. Yes I’ve had my moments of bleak panic, and thank GOD for Pariny’s help getting back from Koh Phi Phi along with the understanding of Shanti Lodge in letting me rack up a tab, but I’ve been able to stay level-headed (at least more than before) enough to know I’ll figure it out. Even more, I keep trucking on a sense of relief that with every trip that gives me more experience, I’m learning more of what I want and how better to live it. Step one: you put your…uh…I mean..I don’t want to leave America again without at least one separate bank account with $2k in it and someone I trust holding the bank card.
Traumatizing things happen. A new bud I made here at Shanti Lodge this time watched a 20 year old Chinese woman wearing a GoPro fail to be resuscitated after having just drowned. Hearing about that haunts me for him. Even more for the gal’s pal who had only gone onland for a few minutes to use the bathroom and came back to people performing CPR.
Dealing with the aftermath of my pickpocket has had its moments of heartbreak and bleak devastation but over time it will be something of a traveler paying-my-dues story I can laugh at and hold affectionately in a way. Mostly because what I will really remember, and what will impact me most, are the amazing people acting as my angels who have helped. Just like what I remember most of 9-11 and the Women’s March after “he who shall not be named” was elected. The whole thing reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, one I enthusiastically throw out as much as possible, by Mr. Fred Rogers (really his mom):
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The Frenchman who tried to give me 2,000 bhat, the girls from the UK who told me to come back if I couldn’t find a place, the local gal and girlfriend of the hostile owner I happened to stumble upon who called to at least get me a refund and encouraged me to go to the police station for a report, another man who chased me down with coffee and pastries at dawn and the locals who hung with me until I could get on a ferry, also making me eat, and the local men who bought my ferry ticket along with almost covering my taxi ride back to Shanti. Also trying to get me to eat.
To all of those who express enchantment at this new life of mine, these realities are why I often retort with sarcastic irony. Turning a dream into reality comes with the shit as well as the shine. Maybe not for someone more level-headed and who have magical good luck as well as loads of resources but many of us, especially the bohemian creative types who actually take the plunge, are more of a shit-show. At least in the beginning.
Stuck at Shanti Lodge, I don’t even know if I can call it stuck. Being forced to slow down and be at “home” instead of getting caught up too much in all the touristy stuff is giving me a lot of time to write, do hot Yoga (because I’m outside) and hang with local pals. Thank goodness Shanti has a restaurant and beer (Singha please).
The small gestures that keep me going like walking into my room one day to see it cleaned and the big ones like my saving angels back home Western Unioning me money while this is all sorted. Even other travelers are stepping up and my friends in Europe who, if I can’t change the flight to London, are OK with just hanging at their places instead of going out on the adventures we had been excitedly planning.
So much good. Besides the insatiable need that won’t go away for the lifestyle that has been with most of us bohemian types since the beginning, the moments and experiences of enchantment that are the much-worth-it reason for chasing that dragon. From the little things like the comfort of a Burner book and water cannister with the )’( emblem made by a doctor who works with my mom at Stanford (likely the only reason my uber-religious mom doesn’t think Burning Man is the devil’s work) to even having the time to read or watch movie after movie on the plane to the big things like riding a long-tail boat to hang with monkeys and nighttime swimming with glow-in-the dark brine shrimp to finding intense connection with others who instantly mend our weary souls, there are so, so, so many reasons that tip the scale to YES.
So many good things…
In addition to getting an upstairs room all the way to the back (yay privacy!), getting my own outdoor bathroom this time adorned with outdoor shower, butt blaster (bidet gun) and a piece of artwork I love, which just so happens to be the perfect backdrop for the WAY too many condoms I have. (Ignore the context of just how little that shows me to be getting.)
After walking a mile to Tesco in the heat and dealing with many employees who didn’t want to deal with a farang who doesn’t speak Thai, finally managing to find bug repellant, which I’m convinced doesn’t work, and accidentally squirting it up my nose when doing a sniff-test.
My pal, and a big reason I came back here, Pariny. Favorite word that I taught her: mischievous!
Can you see Big Buddha? It’s kinda like ‘Where’s Waldo?”. This is from the street outside Shanti Lodge.
Just put your laundry out and when you come back, it’s washed and folded. MAN that feels good!
Always with my Burner regalia.
Video of a quiet and rainy night at Shanti
What I’m learning so far: I don’t think I have the right personality type to be quite as go-with-the-flow as fellow travellers have suggested. At least not yet. I need the safety and security of prepaid plane tickets, reservations, multiple bank accounts and insurance. I also don’t yet know how long I really want to be gone at a time.
Right now I’m incredibly homesick but also feeling unsafe in a way and haven’t been to my first home (San Diego) or in a peaceful place (AKA: away from my family) for months.
As far as funding, we’ll see what happens with my writing. If not that, maybe I’ll teach English abroad. Once the book I wrote is out (just started submitting to agents again this week), I’ll likely monetize this blog and am thinking about studying User Interface as a solid backup.
Our title changes as our story does and I just don’t know mine beyond the generality of travelling bohemian Burner and writer. Of course I wish I could just jump to the easier and less scary place in this lifestyle but, as most of us have learned, the good in one stage often doesn’t come with us at the next. For now and as I learn my limits, the pictures and feedback from other writers and travelers help remind me about all the awesome and magic.