I’ve experienced many relationships whilst travelling. I’ve created them, forged them, negotiated them, deconstructed them, unravelled them, fought them, dissected them, systematically destroyed them, sewn them back together, acquiesced to them. Relationships with food, nature, people, myself, money, security, fear, pain, loss, and grief–dear sweet grief. That’s what travelling does. It gathers up all those experiences with the world, spread out over a lifetime, and stuffs them sometimes into a few months, sometimes into just a few moments. It intensifies life. But one of the most significant relationships of any long term traveller is the one she has with a place because every place is a potential home.
The relationship we have with a place is a little bit like the relationship one would have with a person. There is an initial infatuation stage before you start to notice all the little uncomfortable or irritating things that make you want to run away, that diminish the perfect view infatuation helped you to create, the one that sometimes leads to false realities or disillusionment. The one that makes you want to grab the next flight out and never return. And then if you stick around long enough, there’s the stage that gives you the opportunity to see the crack in the pavement take on the shape of a heart as it contracts and expands with the seasons, or the delicate sapling grow into a massive, hearty monstrosity in your front yard that hails acorns every September. That has been my relationship with South East Asia.
The first time I came to Thailand was over four years ago in October 2012, just 10 months after my now ex-husband and I embarked on a trip-turned-self-discovery-and-marriage-demise-of-epic-proportions. We took teaching jobs in a small city called Ayutthaya and thus was the start of my relationship with this incredible part of the world.
My introduction to Thailand was as anyone’s introduction to South East Asia would be. It was hot, humid, and smelly. But orchids grew randomly, the birds sounded orgasmic, and the sun shone every single day. People were so friendly, helpful, and an admirable degree of resourceful. And the food, oh the food…. But that was the surface stuff. As my days there stretched into months I developed a different kind of appreciation for it. All the seemingly yucky surface things, like dehydrated fish being sold on the street and a bum rash whose appearance rivalled small pox became kind of endearing after a while. This is testament to how much you love a place when bum rash becomes endearing, kind of like how you come to enjoy the smell of your lover’s morning breath, no quality is left out when you really, really love something, even those you hate. I wanted to experience everything on this journey, even the really hard shit, because that’s where true love hides out.
As much as I love to travel, to experience the novelty of a new culture, climate, or irritating banking system, there are certain places that hold me, that keep my heart so grounded it’s like it’s made of stone. It was a feeling I waited two years for in Indonesia that Thailand showed me within a short time, that Laos showed me instantly, that exists in some space in time along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It’s one I don’t experience in Canada, even amidst all the trees and the people I love. Because the idea of home has less to do with a physical construction and more to do with the space where you grow into yourself, where you become the person you’re most comfortable with, the one you accept in spite of all the bullshit she’s put you through. And I firmly believe that this most often happens in the quiet company of our own solitude. Outside of stimulants, cellphones, epic speakers, or other people. It’s the place where your mind stops moving and lets you take a look around, even if your body is still in motion. For some that happens in our childhood home because it’s infused into our temperaments (present company not an example). For others, it happens on the top of a mountain when we’re 36, shivering, and confused as fuck about life and how to get back down the mountain without breaking a leg. It happens when, as Elizabeth Gilbert so eloquently puts it, we “get tired of our own bullshit” because such a revelation is a state of mind, not a place.
Pico Iyer in a recent Ted Talk, speaks of the importance of stillness in finding that place. In a world where we are constantly moving from one place to the next, such wanderlust may only grow into true love if we can find a stillness in each place, a soul spot that gives us all the freedom of travelling but makes us feel everyday like we’re home. So much like a relationship with a person, a relationship with a place has more to do with the relationship we have with ourselves. A peaceful soul is a peaceful home, anywhere in the world.