Monday, 12 April 2010

The stranger connection

One of the many joys of traveling (and I mean REALLY traveling... as in getting out of your apartment, familiar grounds, past the people you know and count on, and going somewhere unknown), is the fact that you forget you're alone. It's pretty easy to be reminded of your lack of companionship and plus one-ness, when you come home to an empty apartment everyday. And it's even easier to fall into a rut and get into the whole, "This can't be it!" mindset.

But forcing yourself to get out of the day-to-day and venturing on an adventure, whether grand or small, can be the most rewarding and soul enriching experience you might have... or need.

My trip to Thailand this past February is one that I won't soon forget. Even though I was traveling with two close friends for the duration of the trip, there were many moments where I experienced the new and unknown on my own. I had moments where I thought, "I'm really here... on the other side of the planet, away from my life as I know it." But that thought would soon pass, and I'd think, "Wait a minute... this IS my life! Sweet!"

Living in Korea has been wonderful on so many levels. But because I'm working a daily schedule here, and coming out of the country's worst winter in a long time, I've had bouts of utter loneliness and regret. And it's not just me... almost every foreign teacher I've spoken to has had one or more of these spells. Well, minus the teachers who intentionally stay here for more than two or three years.

Yet... it's passed, for now. I can't promise those moments won't surface again, because I'm human and it's human nature to embrace the happy and sad. These moments define the whole journey, I think. And getting through them is a test of character and strength... or so I'm told.

In any case, back to Thailand. Traveling through the Land of Smiles was a reminder that no one is ever really alone in this world... even if it seems like it sometimes.

One moment that really sticks out in my mind, is an experience I shared with someone in Ayutthaya. We were staying at a guesthouse, close to the ancient ruins, which was run by an older, Thai lady named Somsay. Somsay was 68, but you wouldn't have guessed it, as she had the spirit to match any 20-something I knew.

When we first got to the guesthouse, it was the height of the afternoon, and we were absolutely exhausted from our train-ride in from Bangkok. Despite wanting to sleep and sweat the heat away, we accepted an invitation from Somsay to join her in the makeshift bar/lounge by the side of the house.

Not knowing what we were in for, we went ahead and met a few of the other guests there as well... a young French man, traveling on his own; a Dutch man, who called himself the "Lazy Traveler", and a Japanese man who was also wandering around, solo.

As soon as we sat down, the following is what took place.

Somsay, with the three teeth to her name, sat down and started singing songs from a notebook she'd retrieved from under the bar. "Tom, Tom, you call at night," she sang, with such enthusiasm.

It took us a few tries to catch on to the words, but we soon realized these were songs written for her by other travelers who'd stayed at her guesthouse.

Somsay's book was an eclectic collection of stories -- marks left at her guesthouse and in her heart, by wandering souls who'd connected with her. I felt lucky and fortunate that she was sharing this with us.

It almost felt like Somsay, in all her strange, one-of-a-kind-ness, was a post, meant to connect travelers to one another. By collecting and sharing these songs, she was somehow bringing people together, regardless of them ever meeting.

Though bizarre at the time, looking back I realize, it was pretty cool to have experienced that!

Alone might very well just be a state of mind.


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