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Published: October 7th 2010
Seven months ago we said our goodbyes and set off for our second Asian adventure. Two weeks prior to departure I packed up my life and wondered if leaving was the right decision. I was nervous and scared. Despite knowing I'd be back, it was tough to uproot everything about my life.
Now I find myself in Bangkok doing the same thing. We fly home in two weeks, and I'm anxious and excited as well as terrified and nervous. Just like leaving home, leaving my life in Bangkok is tough and it's even tougher to say goodbye to my friends here, in the same way that it's tough to say goodbye to friends back home.
We're heading back to Seattle for an unknown amount of time with an unknown plan for the future. We may settle in there, or we may return to Bangkok after the holidays. Or we may move to Mongolia. Or ride bicycles across Europe. Or sail around the world. My point being we haven't worked out what the future holds yet.
I do know that I've had a wonderful time in these seven months, and the negatives we encountered have already begun to fade.
I'll be returning home with a heavy bag of irreplaceable memories and a whole batch of new lessons learned. I'd like to share a few of those lessons with you if i may.
Four things I wish I had known before I started traveling:
1. Language is not a barrier.
I've lived in China for four months, Thailand for five months, Japan for two months, Malaysia for a month and a few week stop-over in Hong Kong. I can say “hello,” “thank you,” and “goodbye” in the languages of those respective countries. Beyond that I don't know much. And yet I survived with little issue of not being fluent in the local languages. Take for example last week when I got into a cab with a driver who spoke no English. In Thai, I told him where I wanted to be dropped off. That was easy for me to learn because it's the name of a major street in Bangkok and a number. I can master that. After that we had no language in common. When I got out of the cab 10 minutes later we knew each others names, had laughed about traffic issues and cars
cutting us off and he offered me some delicious candy.
So often I hear people say they can't travel to (insert country name) because they don't know the language. That's a terrible excuse. Not knowing the language forces you to get to know people on a non-verbal level which often teaches you more about a culture and people than the standard icebreakers would.
2. The hardest part is deciding to go and then actually going.
It's not an easy decision. It takes a lot of time and thought into getting everything set up for departure as well as convincing yourself that the world won't end because you're halfway across the globe. Bills to pay, student loans to take care of, cars to store, car insurance to take care of, travel health insurance to purchase, a life to pack up, specially chosen items to be packed into a bag slightly larger than a day-pack, in my situation at least. None of those tasks are too much fun to deal with.
But once they're taken care of and you're in the air on your way the load lightens to bliss.
3. Staying in touch is easier
than you think
Before we left home, I bought an iTouch that has proven itself to be a magic tool for communicating with home. When connected to wifi I can text anyone in the U.S. for free. I can also Skype from my iPod. I can also waste hours playing useless games. (More like weeks...)
Staying in touch with my iTouch has made being away from home seem a lot less like I am away from home. With wifi, I essentially have an international cell phone. I would highly recommend anyone traveling abroad to get an iTouch and download a free texting program as well as Skype. Most people I text message are amazed to get a text from me in Thailand.
4. They don't make movies like they did in the 80s and early 90s.
This has nothing to do with travel. But really, 80's family movies are irreplaceable and non-replicable, according to the movies that come out today. Harry and the Hendersons, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, Grumpy Old Men, Groundhog Day, Uncle Buck, The Labyrinth. They just don't make movies like that anymore.
On more random notes, occasionally in our travels we run into
someone who wants to practice their English with us. Wandering the streets of Shinjuku in Tokyo we ran into one such man. He asked us where were from and when we said Seattle he rambled off an insane number of facts about Washington state. Aside from the more obvious topics to the Japanese such as the Mariners, namely Ichiro, he talked about the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. He knew the names of almost every county in Washington, he knew about Mt. Rainier, he knew that major corporations like Microsoft and Starbucks are based out of Seattle, he knew every major river that runs through the state and every state that borders it. Astounded and speechless by this random Japanese stranger's knowledge of our home state, he explained that his homework in his English class was to find someone to have a conversation with in English. He thanked us for our time and we parted ways.
Other times, it's not as much fun to run into people taking an opportunity to speak English. While stuck in Bangkok traffic in a cab the other day the driver decided we would like to hear him recite the ABCs. At about
“e” this got old. After “z” he moved on to numbers. He did one through 10 and then switched to 20, 30, 40 etc. In the end we laughed at this experience.
I know I'll miss all of this the moment our plane lifts off. But I find comfort in knowing it's just a plane ride away. While savoring these last days in Bangkok, I also get increasingly excited to hug the people I've missed so much in the past seven months. I'll get to breath in crisp, cool air. And eat tons of cheese and Mexican food.
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