13 October 2009

Goodbye Asia - and Thank You.

Our very first day on this trip, over one year ago - jetlagged and haggard in Bangkok.

It seems strange but fitting that here I am spending my last night in Asia eating some slightly soft gouda cheese and watching The 400 Blows, two very decidedly Un-Asia things to be doing as I try to ease myself back into the West. I am on a Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur where I will spend the night before flying to Melbourne tomorrow afternoon, and as the gouda hits the bitter umami area of my tongue and the film mesmerizes me as Truffaut always does I am numb. It doesn't feel real.

I landed in Bangkok on October 4th 2008 with a stick (that I did not know was there) firmly up my caboose, 25 extra pounds of doughy flab around my midsection and a brain full of stress and trivial matters. After a year of backpacking and living in Asia I have none of those things.

What I do have is a changed life.

I go back to the West with memories and experiences that no one can ever take away from me. I snorkeled in the Maldives and trekked in Nepal. I karaoked in Vietnam, climbed ancient ruins in Cambodia and gave alms to monks in Laos. I volunteered with animals in Thailand and slept at a monastery in Burma. I ate my face off in Singapore and Hong Kong and saw a real live Orang Utan in Malaysia. I survived two typhoons in Philippines, heard the haunting call to prayer in Brunei and lazed on an idyllic tropical island in Indonesia. I freakin' lived in India, for Shiva's sake. How could all of these things not change a person?

I was scared, ecstatic, sad, empathetic, apathetic, overjoyed, hot, frustrated and excited. I rode in contraptions and vehicles that make a simple Thai tuk-tuk look like a limo, I ate things that should have made me sick and once I did get sick, like dysentery sick - from Israeli food in Goa. I walked around in a daze after landing in the topsy turvy land of Delhi and then walked around in a daze 6 months later in the shiny meccas of consumerism dotted around Bangkok's Siam Square. All manner of noises - LOUD chatty Karnatakans, confused roosters, a mosque's loudspeakers, fornicating geckos and pigs being slaughtered to name a few – have kept me awake. I slept on bug and mice infested trains, used toilets that would make a Calcutta beggar wince and politely endured the endless barrage of questions from people very curious about me and S. (No, for the record, this is not my natural haircolour and no, I do not bleach my skin.)

We donated money to roof a monastery in Thailand, by putting our names on one tile we ensured that we would be together in Thai afterlife.

I cried over sick dogs (and discovered a trick in poor countries with no pet food: crack some eggs on the sidewalk for them). I cried over begging children and yet refused to condone the act by giving money, in principle at least – I broke down more than a few times. I cried great hitching sobs of fear when S was in Mumbai for the terrorist attacks and I was trapped in the North. I cried over unjust governments oppressing their people – the Tibetan population in India and the sweet people of Burma. I cried for personal reasons too – this year we lost S's beloved Grandma (she was 98 years old and fought til the end) and my best friend's brother – there were many, many tears when I went home for the funeral. Sometimes there still are.

But I laughed too – man, did I laugh. I laughed when my Mum got gored (only a little) by an angry bull in Rishikesh, when S got the worst haircut ever (no, I am not kidding) in Mumbai and when Gia sold me that amazing anklet. I howled at the Moustache Brothers in Mandalay, at the unintentionally hilarious Engrish posted everywhere and at the epic 1970's Ramayana on Indian TV. I laughed at myself a lot, at S even more and loads and loads when Bran, Willie and Alexis all visited.

I learned. I learned to relax and give up and let it go. Asia taught me patience, to be laid back and that a smile is the most important weapon you can brandish to win favour and friends. I learned how to make a momo, how to best eat a whole fish with just chopsticks and how to take apart an entire crab without a cracker, using just my fingers and teeth. I learned that most people can be trusted and that your gut will tell you who cannot, and most importantly I learned how to say “Thank You” in 10 new languages. I used that a lot.

It's crazy – Asia is life in real time. Colours are more vibrant here, flavours more piquant and fresh, noises are louder and everything is so in the moment that even the most cautious person turns fatalistic – and I can't believe that it is over! This wasn't my first time to Asia, and I will come back again and again, but will it feel the same? Will there be that same sense of freedom and adventure and let's face it, awe and pride in myself for taking a year to travel and fulfilling my dreams? Will I throw caution to the wind and just dive in and live, really live life so freely? I really hope so.


S has left Manila on a different flight – he is headed to LA to work and after I visit Australia and Fiji I will join him there. He is bidding goodbye not only to Asia but to this amazing year of travel. While I know he is ready for home and a break he too had tears in his eyes as we reminisced about it all.

I keep thinking about that first night when we landed in Bangkok. I looked at him over our first Chang beers and asked “What do you think we'll feel a year from now when we are going home?” Neither of us could fathom it – it seemed so far, so abstract in nature. He shrugged.

“Only time will tell, I guess.”

It has. It's said a lot.

From Thailand to the Philippines: the most recent photo of us, taken in Vigan.


Amysthoughts said...

Awww thats awesome! I have always wanted to travel Asia. Have a safe journey to your next destination!

jociegal said...

This post was really beautiful and actually brought tears to my eyes. There is something to sacred and so special about having a year like you have had. I am so happy for you and I have enjoyed reading your posts. Best of luck to you on your travels and take care.

Sam said...

Love you guys. Thank you for writing this, Violet, it's let us know you all the better.

Come home soon, and we'll see you when you get here, even if only for a little while.

Stephanie said...

I'm glad you guys are coming home. It hasn't felt like you've been gone for a year, having almost daily updates and all the pictures here. Can't wait to see you guys again, although it'll be under the sad circumstance of burying grandma finally. I'm sure she's pissed she's sat on our mantle in a cardboard box waiting for you guys and Chris to come home so we can bury her. We know she'll haunt us eternally for having a mini stuffed George on her ashes. (Ask S about auntie Marj and George the gorilla.) And I'll admit it, I want to see you come here in the winter again, your reaction was so funny. But after a year in Asia I'm sure our winter will be painful.

Much love you guys. <3

Lauren said...

Violet Dear, I just want you to know that your tales and sentiments touch me. Your experience has been profound enough to effect people who have never met you. I am proud of you for accomplishing your dreams, and I wish you well. Keep on writing, because I feel like I know you, and I want to know the rest of your story.

Pat said...

Wow - you've summed it up so well. I'm just blown away. What a wonderful, life-changing, awe-inspiring, year you've had. Thanks for letting us be a part of it.

An Open Heart said...

I wish I was a brave as you.....what an extraordinary adventure. How could a person not be changed by your journey?

Can't wait to hear how your adjustment back turns out.....


Landon said...


Teresa said...

I agree with Open Heart--I wish I was as brave as you. I've enjoyed your travels, your photographs and your beautiful writing. I've been brave vicariously. I read your blog this past year while I was dealing with breast cancer (um, yeah, at home, no travels) and you took me away from all that. Continued safe and happy travels. You are truly inspirational.

Strukbylitning7times said...

And I thought I couldn't love your blog anymore...fantastic.

Sproglet said...

Argh, you make me want to cry.

I can't wait!! :D

Thank YOU!

B xx

Dolly Daydream said...

Fantastic Blog.....One of the best! I can't wait to see Asia now! x

the fashionate traveller said...

I love how you take us on a journey in your posts (apart from YOUR journey); I mean there's always a lovely story arc and a welling of emotion. Another great post and an awesome summary of your year away.

Please keep writing and we'll keep reading :)