It's the sort of emotion that tails you like a shadow. You know it's there, benignly watching you, but you ignore it. And it's such a whisper that it doesn't need a name. It will snap its wrist in the tiniest moments and knick your surface. You can almost hear the slight tear of paper as it changes you. What was once a series of small rips is now a gash. Your composure is torn, and there's no other option but to acknowledge the fragments. I was wondering when it would happen; I didn't think it would be so soon.
Tearing of Paper
We started this trip in Hawaii, and in a way it didn't feel like the trip had started yet. We were relaxed, we slept in, we lounged on beaches all day. My cell phone worked, everything was in English, we understood what everything cost, and we were almost nearly in the same time zone with all our friends and family.
Then there was Japan. Safe, secure, comfortable Japan. Yet another easy week traversing through one of my favorite locations on earth. It was easy, but we were hustling to get through as many things as possible before meeting up with Colin in Tokyo. We stayed at 6 different places in 7 days. We were traveling anywhere from 2 - 6 hours a day. Waking up early, hardly unpacking or getting settled, experiencing a variety of different levels of "comfortable" sleep. I was mentally getting ready for Tokyo where we'd have one apartment for 6 days. Still, I could hear the distant sound of paper tearing.
Tokyo is brilliant, as usual, but it's also an onslaught of sound, light, and text you can't decipher. It is chaotic and loud and refuses to let you not see it. It was my fourth time there, but this time I felt incapable of handling the flood to my senses. We were trying to see as much as possible, walking a ton, navigating train systems and time tables. I was thinking, It'll be so nice to get to Thailand and just relax. Tiny little rips in paper.
We take a red eye flight to Hong Kong from Tokyo. I think I have finally realized that a red-eye flight, unless it's LONG or you're lucky enough to be in business class, is never a good idea. 5 hour red-eye flights are a scam. Get the afternoon flight, watch 5 hours of downloaded Netflix, forgive yourself for wasting a day to travel.
Sleep, especially post 30, is not something to trifle with. We operated that first day in HK in about 2 hours of sleep. I'm surprised we lasted all night. Those three days in HK were incredible. Full of great food, beautiful views, and great people. We laughed so hard the entire time, but it was a bit of a whirlwind. And just as we got started, it was time to head to Thailand.
If you do a quick search on Bangkok, you'll find scads of helpful travel information. It's a large city, an international travel hub for getting to many South East Asian destinations, and a coveted spot for foodies on a budget. This means backpackers tend to love it here. Inside that Google search you did, you'll see a lot of results for how to avoid scams, how to avoid pickpockets, and how to stay safe in general. My internal warning system started to throw flags. We've had a month of easy, breezy safety where we don't pay any mind to having phones and wallets sticking out of pockets, and now I'm seeing that we need to be careful showing any money at all. Things were about to change very quickly for us.
Being in Bangkok brought up memories of experiencing Manila for the first time. When I went to Manila last November, it was the first time I had ever witnessed poverty at that scale. I had debilitating culture shock which led to my having a bit of a breakdown. This time though, I'm traveling with Tyler. That gives me a huge sense of stability. Even still, I was on higher-alert about our safety and our belongings. My fear was ripping long tears in this proverbial paper metaphor I'm running with.
We gave ourselves permission to be lazy so we could recuperate from the past month of non-stop-go. The flat we rented through Airbnb was private, had a kitchen, air-conditioning, and a comfortable bed. We slept most all of the first day. When we woke up - half starved - we decided to brave the city. We must have taken 10 minutes devising what the best strategy was for where to put our money. Should we take our phones? Ok, Tyler will take his phone because he has data. I'll leave mine just in case.
We tried to memorize the Google Maps instructions to where we were going so we wouldn't have to take our phone out multiple times. It was oppressively hot outside. Stagnant air grabbed onto us. It was full of smells of hot rotting garbage and spoiled water. We marched through the streets silent, one behind the other, like soldiers. We hardly looked at what was going on around us, we just marched.
After eating, we relaxed a bit, talked about what we were seeing and feeling. We asked ourselves if we were allowed to not like something upon first seeing it. It seems mean & close-minded. It feels privileged. You know, the sort of feeling we white people get and then go I'M NOT PRIVILEGED. You are. We are. In a million tiny and a million large ways we are. And yes, it feels like shit to know that you have all these things, these resources and abilities. We have the ability to just judge something and decide we don't like it because it's uncomfortable. Meanwhile, we're visitors in a place where 9 million people live.
If we could have softened the heat 20°F so it was 90° instead of 110°, that would have helped a lot. Even with all the smells I think it would have changed our first impression, but we had the experience we did and it lodged something in us. It turned a key and the lock was fastened.
We spent the next few days avoiding the sun all-together. We'd sleep in, research what the hell we wanted to do in Thailand and where, cook meals, watch TV. We had sequestered ourselves into our tower where we could look out at Bangkok from an air-conditioned room. But then the guilt trickles in. All these people living in this country, all this food and culture and experience, we were missing all of it. So every night we'd push ourselves a little more to explore, visit new restaurants, eat new things, even eventually took a taxi! (YAY, look at us we tried something and didn't die!) And every time we'd push ourselves, it'd get a little easier. There was a moment where we agreed, "We can say we didn't really like Bangkok, but we should also tell people that we didn't give it a chance either."
And so, Bangkok is now a city we saw, and judged, and didn't give an opportunity to awe us. We made this decision consciously and packed our bags for the beach.
The Final Tear
The BEACH! Yes! Finally! This is where we can finally relax and unwind and get to doing exactly what we've been wanting to do for years: absolutely nothing!
The one and a half hour flight was smooth. We found a taxi-shuttle effortlessly and we were on our way! I booked four nights at a private room in a Guesthouse (similar to a hostel, but a bit more private) through Airbnb. There weren't a lot of options through Airbnb, but this place was close to the beach, had air-conditioning, and had all the basics we needed to launch us into what, for us, would finally be where the trip gets going.
When Tyler and I got into the room we were confronted by a swarm of mosquitos. (Was the mattress made out of mosquito nests?) We spent the better part of 15 minutes trying to kill them with about 30% accuracy. What's worse was there were HUGE gaps between all the doors leading outside, so killing them wasn't going to help unless we could seal off those holes. Aaaaand, we couldn't. My metaphorical paper is nearly in half. I am at the end.
It was 2pm, hot-as-balls, we hadn't eaten and I can feel the final tear about to happen. Tyler says, "Let's get out of here and get something to eat, something in air-conditioning, and we'll figure out what we want to do."
Air-conditioned closed-in restaurants are not easily found in beach-side towns in Thailand, but we managed to be across from one - an English Pub of sorts. I order a salad and a cider and Tyler and I are mostly quiet until we start eating. My head is full of self-doubt. Maybe we should just go home. I can hardly make it one month, what am I going to be like at month six?
I start softly crying over my salad. Trying at first to stifle it until it subsides, but Tyler asked me what was wrong and we all know what happens when someone you love and trust with all your heart asks you a simple question like "How are you?" or "What's wrong?" or "What are you thinking about?" Everything floods out whether you want it to or not. (That's why you should never go round your mom when you're sad. I kid. That's the best thing when you're sad.)
Tyler starts strategizing what we can do to make it better. "Let's look up other places to go. We'll back out of this reservation and go get something else." Yeah, but we already paid for this place and we'd be out $45. "It's okay, it's just $45. You're not going to be able to relax in there, will you?" I know he's right. I will be anxiety ridden the whole time.
And then I start beating myself up for this whole trivial situation. And I'm embarrassed about breaking down off of something so petty. You are complaining about mosquitoes in a place where people live without windows on their houses. You're forfeiting $45 in a place where that's probably a weekly income. My privilege was deafening. I wanted to snap myself out of it, but I couldn't. I still wanted to leave the mosquitoes' nest.
Tyler handled the whole thing (a role he typically lets me have, since he avoids confrontation like the plague). He got us checked out of one hotel and into another within the hour. We got a private room at a hostel right across from the beach for a cheaper rate than the one we had just left. The new place was great and, luckily, had the usual, average number of mosquitoes for a jungle-beach area.
I think I realized something that I've certainly known all along: change I can handle, but I can only handle it if I have a safe-space to go to. I need something that can make my space, whatever or wherever it is, feel like home. I need a way to relax fully and not think about safety. Most times, that means organizing our belongings so that things are neat and orderly. It also means clean sheets and a lock on the door. I need to know I can close my eyes without worrying. Sure, mosquitoes are the tiniest of problems (although I know for a fact that I am going to have at least one conversation with my mother about how traveling has possibly exposed me to the Zikka virus and have I thought about the impact that will have on my wanting to get pregnant?) but they are annoying fuckers and they make me so angry I can't relax. At that moment they were the thing keeping me from letting out that final exhale and recharging.
Also, YES MOM I AM THINKING ABOUT ZIKKA ALL THE TIME. (It's like you want to be mad at parents for worrying about everything, but then you're like, I've already got that worry covered, mom. Let's not belabor the worry going on in my brain.)
Tyler and I have learned that mosquitoes love him. He's currently branded with 6 mozzie bites and I'm clean as a whistle. (Yes I know that Zikka can transmit sexually! Jeeze mom, get out of my narrative.) Also that wasn't the good news as he's currently miserable.
The good news is that the mountain of anxiety and self-doubt has subsided and I have regained confidence that I can operate as an adult person again. I doubt the real breaking point had anything to do with mosquitoes (maybe a little bit to do with mosquitoes).
I miss my friends and my family. I miss the stability of San Francisco and our home. I miss being able to understand the language spoken all around me. But all those things will still be there for us when we return. And for right now, we have each other -- which is everything we've ever wanted. We also have beaches, rock-climbing, snorkeling, swimming, mountains I can't even describe, and sunsets like this:
There's really no space to complain. So until the next little breakdown and life lesson, I'll say goodnight.
P.S. Tyler is gearing up to post some amazing drone footage from Japan and Thailand. We're also going to do a post to show you all what we packed. Some things we needed, some things we didn't, some things we wish we had! Stay tuned. Also feel free to give us suggestions for what you want to know! We're happy to post about it.