People often envy me when they find out I live in Thailand. However, once you wake up, it is not only azure waters and blooming orchids. Work is work – hard work. Nevertheless, I have settled into a comfortable routine, and day-to-day life is nice and predictable. But I need to be careful, too. The smiling faces fade because I know so many possible complications and gossips hidden behind the smile. The picturesque little market round the corner turns out to be stinky. I have started skipping festivals and sleep through long weekends, retreating to my comfortable shell.
I had been looking forward to my holiday, I always want to escape from Chiang Mai in March. But I had a difficult time to get going. “I don’t want to go”, I told a friend. “Then don’t go”, he said. “I don’t remember why, but I have to”, came the reply from some subconscious level. So, I set off.
And then it only takes a couple of hours on the road to remember why I have to go anyway, even when I can hardly force myself to get out of bed. I need to fall in love with Thailand again and again to keep our relationship going on after the initial novelty has worn off, and the spectacular has become commonplace. I need to find something different, something special, some kind of magic.
Surprisingly, sometimes it is the simplest things that can rekindle the magic all over again. Getting lost on a rural road that’s not on the map. People-watching at Thailand’s most loved waterfall national park, and of course taking a shower in the ice cold water hitting my shoulders real hard. Crab-watching at the sea, sleeping in a tent, getting up at daybreak, snorkelling, seeing coral and schools of fish in my dreams and whenever I close my eyes. Having all the time in the world for simple things – for doing nothing. Falling in love again.
And, very unexpectedly, meeting people.
Usually, I am no good at people. I tend to shy away, cut conversations short, though I enjoy watching and listening, absorbing everything, smiling at them, quietly laughing with them.
It has taken me ages to learn to relax and trust the people. I know I will be looked after by strangers. I know I can feel safe. I know I will be looked at and talked about, but nobody will hurt me. It is so difficult to shed the distrust that had become almost instinctive in a previous life. Unlearn and learn again. Just let go, trust, float away.
This year, people simply didn’t let me walk away. They wanted to talk, take care of me, make me talk, make me happy. They made me feel special and cared for. I had people trying matchmaking tricks on me. A girl wouldn’t leave me alone until I taught her some basic English, and then she went around complimenting farangs with her newly learnt skills, just as happy as a child. National park staff simply would not tolerate the idea of me having breakfast on my own.
Thais think that travelling alone is one of the saddest things that can happen to a person. Sometimes I tend to agree with them, but on the whole I am used to it. Often, I just watch people and absorb their happiness.
These are some of my favourite “stolen moments” here.
In a nutshell, this is the true story of how I fell in love with Thailand…. all over again.