Everyone in life will experience those moments where you have to pick yourself up off the floor, scrounge up whatever courage you have, and venture out into the unknown. Sometimes this experience is figurative, other times, quite literal. I think in my last post we left off with me finally making it to my hotel room, dropping to the floor into a mess of sweat and tears, and attempting to collect my thoughts and dispel the doubts racing around in my jet-lagged mind. In my case, the experience was literal.
Dust off Your Shoulders
Now, if my life were a movie, some dramatic song would start playing like “Eye of the Tiger” and there would be an epic video montage flashing clips of me putting on a killer outfit, tying back my hair, cleaning my face, and marching out into the world with my head held high and all my fears in the dust.
But you know…life isn’t always as easy as it seems in the movies. I think it took a good 15 or 20 minutes of me just sitting, back against the door, shoes still on, suitcase at my feet, before I mustered up the energy to even get myself up off the floor onto the bed. And the harsh reality of it is, when the tears are gone and the drama of the initial shock has left, what the movie montages always seem fail to mention is the overwhelmingly numbing sense of, “Okay…what now”.
What…now…Is there ever a more paralyzing combination of words when you are left alone with your own fears and doubts?
Despite the ability that the “what now” mentality has of making us feel frozen and out of control of what is happening around is, in the end, when you strip back all the emotions and destructive thoughts, we always…always…have a choice. And so, in that moment, sitting on my bed, all cried out of tears, I really had two options.
- Lay in bed and not move until hunger drives me to either wander alone into the night and/or pay for wildly overpriced room service.
- Find a way to get up off the bed and force myself to go out and explore while there was still daylight.
At the time, option 1 had way more appeal, but the little voice in the back of my mind kept whispering that while staying in the room was the safer choice, it wasn’t what I truly needed. I knew deep down that what I needed most, despite the exhaustion and the fear, was to get out of the solitarily of my room.
But here’s the thing, I’m not as cool as the protagonist in the action film, and I never got have my own “dust off your shoulders” moment, in fact…I quickly realized that I needed help. I wasn’t sure if I had the courage to go out there all on my own given everything that had happened that day. But maybe, just maybe, if I was able to find a companion to connect with, I could gather the energy to leave my doubts behind for the night.
While that sounded great in theory…there was a slight problem. You see, I had arrived to Thailand a day before our official orientation meeting, so a lot of people, including my roommate, had not yet arrived. The more I was swept up in my own thoughts, the more option 1 kept flashing loud and bright in my mind.
Out of desperation, I pulled out my phone and posted this message to the the “Thailand Orientation” Facebook group.
After a few minutes I received a response from one of the other members named Steven, stating that he was at a nearby park with a friend who has been teaching in Thailand for almost 10 years, and that I was welcome to join them for dinner. I was so happy and relieved that I could have cried (in fact I probably would have, were my eyes not dried up of tears from my minor breakdown not 20 minutes earlier).
Throwing on a new dress and attempting (and failing) to tidy my hair, I spared a quick glance in the mirror and tested out a smile before fishing my purse out of the pile of luggage, still scattered on the floor. Taking that first step out of that hotel room was more frightening than I could have imagined, but I had a tentative plan, and a new potential friend waiting for me, so I was on my way.
Into the Jungle
Still unsure of how to navigate the city, and with the morning’s stressful cab ride experience still fresh in my mind, I opted to call an Uber. As I peered out the car window I made my best effort to try to take everything in, the lights, the street-signs adorned with a mix of Thai and English, the rows of street food vendors… Once the car pulled to a stop, the driver nodded to me as if to confirm if this was where I wanted to be let off, I faked a confident smile and nodded and exited the car, even though the cab driver’s guess was certainly as good as mine.
Speaking of getting to where I needed to go, there was a slight flaw in my grand plan, I hadn’t gotten service for my phone yet…oops. So that meant once I got to the park I had no way of contacting Steven if I couldn’t find him.
Luckily my GPS still functioned a bit without wifi so I was able to track down the area where he said he would be, which was when I encountered the SECOND flaw in my plan…I had no idea what Steven looked like aside from what I saw of his Facebook profile picture.
Quickly glancing at the screenshot I took of his Facebook profile picture, I thought I spotted someone that fit his silhouette, lean, tall, ponytail, sitting next to another gentleman on a bench. As I nervously skittered around one of them met eyes with me and smiled, gesturing me to come over. I guess I probably stood out like a sore thumb, nervous young blonde girl with her hair tied back looking around anxiously, for which I was actually was very grateful in this instance.
As I sat down Steven introduced me to his friend Max, who had been a teacher in Thailand for years. It immediately put me at ease to not be alone anymore, and I happily picked his brain about what it was like being a teacher here. After chatting for a while my stomach let out an embarrassingly loud grumble and we all got up to go explore some food options. Steven said that there was a mall nearby that had a lot to choose from so we made our way there, I was more than glad to let them take the lead. For the first time since my arrival I didn’t have to worry about where I was going, so I took the opportunity to simply enjoy looking around and taking in the city that, unbeknownst to me, would soon become my new home.
Walking out of the park and watching the sun dip beneath the skyscrapers I felt a moment of peace and awareness that I hadn’t experienced since arriving in Thailand. Peace in knowing that I made it, I was safe, and I was not alone. And a newfound awareness that gently reminded me that:
I was in Thailand.
Admittedly, the thought was still a bit hard to wrap my head around, so I didn’t dwell too much on it, but every now and then my mind would whisper the words to me. Although, each time it whispered, the anxiety slowly shifted into excitement.
I had made it.
When we arrived at the mall I was pulled from my thoughts as the boys surveyed their options. After circling the food court for what felt like an eternity I promted them to make a decision by stating that they “took longer to pick a restaurant than a girl does to get ready” to which they playfully scowled in reply before finally settling on a steak restaurant.
Admittedly, I found the choice pretty hilarious, but was in absolutely no position to argue, I needed some real food in my body A.S.A.P and maybe playing it safe the first night wasn’t a bad idea.
And so, my very first meal in Thailand, was thin flank steak and something akin to mashed potatoes.
Amazing how food can help lift our spirits, isn’t it? With my newfound friends in tow and steak in my belly I just about felt like I could take on the world. So when they suggested heading to one of the nearby markets I jumped at the idea, despite the tantalizing call of an early night’s sleep.
I think that sometimes we should remind ourselves to say yes to opportunities, even when you are feeling tired, because you never know what you might miss out on. And after all, the nights we remember aren’t the ones where we go to bed early 🙂
After a bit of deliberation it was decided that we would head to one of the local night markets. I was more than happy to follow behind my new friends as they lead me over a spectacular bridge then down a set of concrete stairs into the bustling market below.
Still trusting the guys to take the lead, I followed them into the abyss that was a Thai street market. Little did I know I had just entered into the “Patpong Night Market” one of the most bustling and…risqué night markets in Bangkok.
Neon lights shined bright on either side of the street announcing happy hour specials and night shows of all kinds. Right down the heart of the street stood at least 30 pop up stalls arranged in 2 long rows selling everything from knockoff gucci bags to incense to silk scarves. Immediately I was both hypnotized and overstimulated as we made our way right down the heart of the market, but I carried on following close behind my new friends.
While the lights and sights and smells were all exciting and new, the exhaustion and jet lag chose this moment to slowly seep into my consciousness as if to say “Hey, remember me? Remember how you were just on a plane for a little over 17 hours earlier today? Yup…you’re still exhausted”. So with a little persuasion I convinced the guys to settle down at a table outside one of the neon-clad bars that flanked the market.
It was here that I had my very first Thai beer, Chang! (Pronounced “Chong”. Fun fact, Chang is the Thai word for Elephant!). It was mild in flavor, but definitely packed a punch! Or maybe that was just because I was so tired still…either way, it was a great way to round out the evening. And while I had enjoyed my small adventure, when the boys suggested moving to another bar I politely declined, and they kindly walked me back to the hotel where my bed awaited me.
I barely remember my head hitting the pillow that night, and I don’t think I moved even an inch in my sleep, both my body and mind were so exhausted. It was a day of learning, growth, trial, honesty, camaraderie, and…beer (ha). Looking back on it now, I don’t think it is possible can go into an experience like traveling to a foreign country knowing exactly what to expect, or how you are going to react once it all becomes a reality to you. But I think on this night in particular I learned a valuable lesson that would help me moving forward in this wild and unpredictable journey of living in Thailand, and that was this:
You are not alone.
Even when you are far away from your friends and family back home, locked up in an empty hotel room with only your thoughts and your pillow for company, remember that you are not alone. There will always be someone else that may be feeling and experiencing the same thing that you are, or have gone through something similar, and there is absolutely no shame in reaching out and leaning on them for support.
So…take the risk, send the message, step out that front door, eat the steak, laugh, cry, and live every moment to it’s fullest, because you can do this.
“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” -Pete Carroll
Check back soon to learn more about how I navigated my second day in Bangkok, including meeting my orientation group for the first time, trying dragonfruit, and befriending some very special ladies.
Until then, stay well, and I am sending all my love from Thailand.