Wednesday, March 16, 2011
“What was that?” asked Sean as we walked down the sidewalk.
“The Twilight Zone theme song,” I said, rolling my eyes. I mean, come on, who hasn't heard that song?
“Look around,” I instructed, scanning the rows and rows of shops, restaurants, and hotels that all sported Scandinavian flags. “We’ve gone through some sort of time continuum; our van left Bangkok and arrived in Copenhagen just two hours later. Talk about cree-py.”
My point failed to register.
I could tell because Sean’s attention was drawn elsewhere. Namely, to the beach where screams emanated loudly from the water. I could see what stole his attention from my earth shattering observation: ten grown Thai men riding an inflatable banana being pulled by a jet ski. What a sight. Ultimately, the men were unceremoniously flipped off the yellow toy and thrown in jumbled formation into the warm, blue water. Lucky for them they were all wearing arm floaties because none of them could swim. That much was apparent by their flailing arms and undignified scramble to shore. After chugging Chang beers, more commonly known as idiot juice, most returned to the toy and shelled out another 200 Baht to continue the ride.
“I love Thailand,” Sean said, his laughter hearty and real.
Cha-Am, Thailand was our last stop on this Asian adventure. Throughout our three month trip, we spent one month bouncing from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to Koh Tao in central Thailand to Krabi in southern Thailand to Bangkok.
We did not plan it that way. It simply happened.
Thailand was a breath of fresh air.
After months and months spent roaming from communist China to logged Laos to impoverished Cambodia to stiff lipped Malaysia to repressed Myanmar to strict Singapore to exploding, quaking Indonesia, Thailand was bliss.
Thailand ranks as one of the top ten happiest nations worldwide, according to the World Map of Happiness created in Denmark after much research.
I could see how a Westerner could arrive in Thailand with his or her rolling suitcase and preconceived notions and find reasons to pity the Thai.
But not me.
No, the Thai have figured out something many Westerners lack the willingness to acknowledge: money does not guarantee happiness. We spend hours and lifetimes chasing the dough and planning to acquire more and more.
Thailand is a country of smiling people. They do something revolutionary: they make time every day to enjoy their lives. It’s a conscious effort. I applaud them. Instead of dwelling on problems, they enjoy what is in front of them.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
When in Thailand, drink Chang beer and experience joy.
So that’s what we did. We indulged in a hotel room overlooking the ocean with a swing on the porch. We ate two ice cream cones daily. We played in the phosphorescent each night.
Most importantly, we rode the banana.
It seemed like a very important thing to do before flying back home, almost like a rite of passage. And as that banana glided through the water, I knew I would never be the same. Just as tragedy leaves a mark on a person, so too does joy. Experience is like a map, something one uses to help navigate life. Backpacking through Asia had not been an entirely joyful experience. Sorrow and gratitude and joy and love and friendship weaved their threads in our tapestry of this continent too.
But what I learned most from this network of countries and people was the power of attitude. We don’t get to choose if Pol Pot commits genocide in our country, we don’t get to choose if a tsunami washes ashore and wipes away our entire family, we don’t get to choose if our bus careens off a mountain road, we don’t get to choose if our town is broke, we don’t get to choose if our resources are taken away, and we don’t get to choose if we’re laid off from a beloved job of if we’re sick.
We do get to choose to smile, and laugh, and love, and trust, and live.
Asia taught me to make lemonade out of lemons.
And what a beautiful lesson it was.