Telling people in my life about this trip typically illicted one of two responses: 'How wonderful! Now's the time to do it–no kids or mortgage?! Post pictures because I'll be living vicariously through you.' or 'hmm, alright. That's neat. Don't drink the water!'
This juxtaposition is appropriate, as I feel like a pendulum swinging one way or another all of the time. I know that this experience is not one to take for granted (not unlike my very spoiled west coast living-humidity WHAT). We worked hard for it, but the ability to work in the first place or have something like a parent's home to return to afterward is no small blessing. It's almost #blessing status (for shame).
And yet the truth still rings that of course, traveling or not, working or not, in a relationship or not– real life is still real life. We are flying by the seat of our pants like it's our job (because it is), never knowing what's on the other side of the flight, bus ride, street, meal, or hostel booking; the possibility of inopportune bowel movements, being stranded without a dollar or lick of the native language, coming back to our hostel in the middle of a rainstorm only to find water cascading down the interior walls (to name a few) are always imminent.
Wherever you go, there you are.
There I was in Seattle with a stressful job and good friends. Here I am in Malaysia, eating the most decadent meats and vegetables from hawker stalls, encountering such humbling generosity from strangers, and cursing humidity and my human sweat glands after about 30 seconds of being outside. Wherever I go, here I am.
It is staggering to me how quickly things can change lately: namely, moods, circumstances, and general beliefs about the world. All are negatively correlated with the heat, certainly, but I think it cuts deeper than that. I think that this trip is trying because of the lacking of all of the things that kept me afloat when I looked in the mirror and felt unkind to myself, or when Austin and I would fight and feel stuck, or when I felt rejected by friends or family. There's not a lot by way of comfort these days–we're budget bunnies with a few backpacks– and this raw, stripped identity without makeup, a wardrobe, television, an office, a smartphone, or community is one that deep down, I had hoped I would find. Without the ability to work out or shop to feel beautiful, or distract myself with endless notifications, newsfeeds, or sitcoms to feel disconnected, here I am: human and okay. Human and in one moment, taking picture after picture of cute monkeys eating grapes from a comfortable 20 feet away, and in the next having a panic attack because one is walking toward me. Human and amazed at all of the things and places and people we've gotten to know and see so far, while also needing frequent breaks punctuated by folk music and banana consumption.
I am so grateful for the space that this journey has created, even three weeks in. I am glad (typically in hindsight, mind you) for the invitation to not be able to plan or foresee more than a few hours into the future, to never quite know where I'll land. Be it a leaking hostel, or the back of a pickup truck driving through the most beautiful terrain, or at the helm of a motorbike, or crying from exhaustion on a mountain top, or a Malaysian host's scented bedroom, or on a bed of plywood and undeserved grace–I am taken care of. We are taken care of. There is abundance and generosity that feels so unexpected, and in this rythm of the world's give and take, there is rest. Glory be.
Perhaps the real traveling mercies may be what I can show myself: what I can let myself off the hook for, what I can let be difficult, what ideal I can let go of. I am not alone in the fact that I have always been my worst critic; the beliefs in my heart that I am a project to be molded and perfected are loud and pervasive. Glimpses of the debunking of those voices feel like a cold shower (in the best possible way), they feel like relief that's been a long time coming. Glimpses of a self that's more free than before, that's kinder to myself than before– what a gift.
Some logistics and pictures for those (my parents) who are interested: The past 3ish weeks have been spent in Bangkok, Myanmar (mostly in Yangon), Chiang Mai, Pai, and Mae Hong Son. Right now we're in Kuala Lumpur for a few days before heading to Bali until the end of the month. Hooray!
And because I don't have access to a computer to put pictures in the 'travel' section, here are a few.
The quintessential Thai elephant experience. A story for another time.
Waterfall in Pai.
Breakfast with Htoo Lweah and family in Nai Soi.
Swedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma.