Archives for the month of: July, 2013

Today marks 1 month since I started my adventure in Asia. It is incredible the things I have seen, done, and the people I have met. However, this is just the beginning and therefore I have been finding guidance in different things I read:

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.  -Greg Anderson

Seeing as I have no destination, this should not too difficult to follow. I can not possibly imagine what the next month has in store!

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I’ve chosen to categorize my experiences thus far into a series of highs and lows through the next couple posts–emphasis on the former of course but for sake of argument both are noteworthy.

The physical: Traveling can take quite a toll on your body, especially if you are as keen as I am on eating street food, staying up dancing all night, and putting yourself at risk for harm all for the sake of adventure. I have accumulated my fair share of cuts from rock climbing, swimming in uncharted waters, and will probably get skin cancer on my shoulders for how many times 50 SPF has now proven itself utterly useless. However, as exhaustion threatens to consume me and leave me as lifeless as the man we found passed out on the beach this morning, I happily contend that nothing was done in vain and believe me when I say it could have been much worse.

In discussions with other travelers, we have decided that Thai bar owners spent many a drunken night concocting their devious plan to provide every sort of entertainment that could cause a potential physical threat to foreigners. Think ring of fire from the circus that tigers jump through, and try and picture drunk people stumbling through it on the beach at night. If that doesn’t spark your interest, test out the flaming jump rope or the eyebrow singeing limbo stick. As if that weren’t enough, let’s put a 2*2 wooden board 10 feet in the air and prompt all that dare to think their invincible to climb it. I’ll admit, the fervor and challenge did entice me; but for anyone who knows me well enough, had I indulged I probably would have been writing you from a hospital back in the states. Beaches littered with bandaged hungover expats, no one ever seems to learn their lesson and will happily return for round 2 without hesitation. Some are not so lucky. A friend of mine ended up in the hospital with a fist size burn on IV antibiotics and has been barely able to walk for almost a week. I swear the Thai bar owners are in cahoots with the pharmacies to boost the economy.

On a side note, the local Muay Thai bar offers a free bucket of alcohol to anyone who agrees to fight one of the Thai masters. They may look skinny and an easy win, but they are definitely scrappy and will usually take you down before round 1 is even through. Apparently while at my post at the Banana bar passing out flyers I advised a drunken passerby to check his macho ego and refrain from fighting. Not sure who I was to be telling a stranger what not to do, but he happened to listen and two days later when I ran into his friends on another island they showered me with free drinks as a thank you.

Therefore, after 6 days of tempting fate my injury count seems quite manageable. I do wonder how everyone reading this thinks they would have faired.

Yesterday was the first day that I lived an experience similar to that of my parents 25 years ago traversing the world on an almost laughable budget. As a child they regaled me with tales of sleeping in caves, getting sick off of dirt cheap street food, and visiting amazing places all for less than a $1/day. I chalked it up to one of those stories parents tell about their childhood that are all too exaggerated and unbelievable to possibly hold much truth. It couldn’t have been that inexpensive, and there was absolutely no way that I would be able to replicate this in 2013.
After a day of deep water solo climbing, cliff jumping off of 6 meter heights, eating exorbitant amounts of mexican, American, and Thai food, flyering for the rooftop “Banana” bar, and enjoying quite a few cocktails as a bonus, the grand total was a bank breaking 25 baht or an equivalent 90 cents. One day into my Thai island hopping adventure and I have a job offer at a dive shop, tour agency, and the current luxury of getting paid and showered in free food and drinks to talk to and meet new people. Anyone who knows me well enough should refrain from telling my boss that I would have done that for free.
So 25 years later, while I’m sure this Thailand is not the one my parents conquered on a budget, it shows that some things never change. This may be one of the only times I revel in the idea of maintaining the status quo. No need to rock this boat.

Since starting my massage course I’ve been meditating a few minutes each day. My course instructors have said it can bring clarity. That the time can be used to sort through struggles or explore who we are. Here is what I have realized:
For a point of personal clarification, I feel as if I should remark that the goal of this journey should not be mistaken as me trying to find myself. I know who I am. As strange as it might seem coming from someone who just quit her job and fled the country, I love, miss, and define myself as being a teacher. Nothing can compare to inspiring  lightbulb moments where a child goes from mere letter blending to reading everything in sight or realizes just how much they love learning. So how can I justify then sitting in this hammock on the island of Kho Phi Phi with no intentions of returning to my school for the upcoming year?…because more than just a teacher at heart, I am also a student. I love learning. I wholeheartedly believe that this is one of the major reasons I was even good at my job. Effective teachers are always learning and changing in tandem with their students. I am a cake decorator, photographer, sales associate, massage therapist, and researcher in training to name a few of the things I’ve been trying on for size. This trip is to tap into another facet of me–the student side that may have taken a bit of a back seat to my students the past 2 years. This is what our 20s are for–learning how being us fits into this crazy world. I know who I am; what that looks like though I believe will always be changing. For me teaching and learning cannot solely describe my job in an elementary school, I want it to define whatever I choose to do in my life. I choose to live this way for no other reason than it makes me happy. There is no need for any clarity in that.

Confused

Confused (Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360)

Here I am, three days in to my one month massage therapy course in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and I am tangeled in a verbal web of Thai, English, Spanish, and go figure, Japanese. In the first two days of my journey I learned the Thai essentials: “Hi, How are you? I do not speak Thai. How much is this? Wow, that is too expensive, can you give me a discount? and not spicy!” While I maneuvered through the endless marketplaces calculation conversions in my head these few sentences proved useful..until they started speaking back to me in Thai, half complimenting their ability to understand my pronunciation, and half making me wish I had just started in English to begin with. But here is where my Thai education stopped. I arrived at the spa school on day one with a fellow expat who had opted for the free transit from the city to the school (20 min by car, 1 1/2 hours walking). Here I expected to be met by a slew of other foreigners where we could all bond over our perpetual confusion and the extremely different lifestyle we would be getting used to living. Instead, I encountered 10 Japanese girls, 1 guy, 3 Thai teachers, and a mexican man–all which spoke Japanese excluding the ladder. I was shocked. The confusion I had prepared for had now been doubled, as they fluently conversed over lunch and break times, shared jokes, and traditional customs, that I more often than not could not discern whether were Japanese or Thai. Now my brain has the difficult task at categorizing each word I learn into its bucket…and as I am overflowing with massage techniques and sequences there seems to be little room left. For a slight reprieve, I have limited my learnng to 3 or 4 phrases a day in Thai and Japanese: first one learned in Japanese: iy tai (no idea if that is how you spell it) meaning “that hurts”…crucial when people are testing out your pressure points and such. Next on my list, “let’s go dancing!” Look at for the tale of how I took my whole massage school salsa dancing in Chiang Mai city…until next time!

Counting down the hours before I would embark on my journey to Thailand I am filled with many reservations. Is it safe? Is it going to be an insane culture shock? Would I enjoy myself? And most importantly is it the right thing to do? I was not short of reservations. Also, yesterday I came to the insane realization that I actually had gone through this whole preparation process and literally made no reservations at all, not one. Sure I know the massage school I intend to go to, the area where I might find cheap guest houses to accommodate myself, and the bus number that I would need to catch in the dead of the night in Bangkok, but nothing was set in stone or paid for other than my daring one-way flight. I have been justifying this sheer stupidity as a defense mechanism to not freak myself out and chicken out; but wouldn’t one think that the act of making down payments and having something organized would be just the thing to quell these fears? I sure am a strange one. So now, less than 24 hours away from departure  and I am, how can I put this, freaking out. Well I hope a good nights rest will push these feelings away, I doubt I will be able to sleep. So chicken or not, here’s to hoping I get on that plane tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Bangkok

Bangkok (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

This morning in my half asleep ride to the LAX airport I listened to the Ted talk on the “Defining Decade”– a discussion of 20 somethings and the role these years play in our future. Seeing as it is 2 weeks away from my 24th birthday, and I am therefore almost half way through this decade, it got me thinking. The speakers main point was that society has a skewed view on our 20’s being the new 30’s, that we do not have to yet be serious about our careers, love lives, etc., as this is just a time for fun and can choose to do things just to pass the time. She argues that these beliefs are illfounded, and that in fact, these years are some of the most important as they serve as a foundation for and frame our adulthood. The most striking connection I made however, was to her comment that 8 out of the ten most defining moments in our lives will happen before our mid 30’s.

In three days I am moving to Thailand for an indefinite amount of time. In all of my big life decisions thus far, I have easily been able to identify what I was doing and why. As the speaker advised “Make whatever you do purposeful.” The 20’s are for exploring, both personally and professionally, but it is not for wasting time and pushing everything off until we are 30. So what then is my purpose for this trip. Personal growth? Professional endevours? I struggle with defining this period because it has yet to begin. The mystery, the adventure, and the fear is part of the joy. These are things that I have learned in my early twenties that are an essential part of me living. Maxie minus adventure, challenge, and bravery, is just not Maxie.

However, this time around it is more difficult to justify. Learn to live in another culture, check. Learn another language, check. Challenge myself in ways that will lead to personal and professional growth, check. My year in Spain covered most of the reasons why I would move to another country, but here I am doing it again.

Professionally, I have a career if I so desire in teaching. I have job opportunities in policy lined up and research possibilities. I am bilingual which opens up immense job opportunities and I have freaking masters at the age of 23 for free for gosh sake. It would seem that I am good; that my path is pretty much paved and this is definitely not something most 20 somethings visiting their therapist could say; however, somehow it feels like there is still something missing. It all seems too easy–although I would never say that working in education is easy. I almost feel like I need to struggle more with my life decisions. Always having known I wanted to teach, has limited my exploration, and therefore leaves me to question how I can really know that this is what I want forever if I have never tried anything else.

Personally, I also feel fairly stable; almost too stable for someone of my age. I am a responsible, hard working, and driven person, and therefore everything I have desired to do, I have done. However, it may be just that that makes me question whether or not I have been living and experiencing my early twenties the way I should be. Sure I dance, and go out, and enjoy myself, but even through college I never was one to act my age. I wonder, is being out of control when your in your 20’s a right of passage and a way that you learn about your limits and learn from your mistakes? Did I miss a critical period of testing my boundaries and building tales that I would once look back on as cautionary tales? Even now, 2 years out of college and I have lived a life full of excessive responsibility. As a teacher, there is no less than 100%. You have children’s lives and futures in your hands, and when I taught 38 children to talk through their problems, calculate math problems in their heads, as well as read and write, I truly felt that weight.

Now I am almost 24 and I have never been that “crazy.” I have never lived a truly carefree experience where I just had to worry about adult me–no school, no students, just focusing on developing me, and I guess according to this Ted Talk those 20 somethings who just push off growing up does not quite apply to me. So this is what my next step in Asia is–continuing to grow into who I want to be: living those experiences that I postponed when I joined Teach for America and being open to building relationships and living experiences that may impact my future and my choices as to where to live, and what career I choose to pursue. I cannot predict what I will find, who I will meet, and if I will fall in love, but I can say that the decisions I will make, I will make purposefully. Who knows what this next year hold for me, but I can say that there is no waiting until age 30 to figure it out.