So as many of you may have noticed, I have gotten a bit behind (ok maybe 8 months is more than a bit) on my blog. I have good intentions to go back and catch it up but all my adventures seem to keep me busy. However, today my couchsurfing hosts, Pin and Alin, brought up such emotion in me with their kindness that I started thinking about all the people the universe has brought into my life that have treated me better than I could have ever expected. I have been lucky enough to have many different people come into my life in the past year and show me such kindness without expecting anything in return that I feel like they have touched my soul and overwhelmed me with gratitude. It comes to my mind frequently and I feel inspired to express it today.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
I met Pin after requesting on couchsurfing his place to stay in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was the eve of my 1 year anniversary of travel when I arrived and he took me out for a beer to toast to my special day after picking me up from the bus station late that night. I met his girlfriend, Alin the next morning when he took me for traditional Malay breakfast. They took me out that evening to a famous fresh seafood restaurant to celebrate my 1 year of travel and wouldn’t let me pay for anything. I was so touched that they were making such an event of my anniversary after just meeting me and I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have such generous hosts to celebrate my special day with. I ended up staying with Pin longer than I originally expected and him and Alin took me everywhere with them teaching me about Chinese and Malay culture and refused to let me pay for any of my meals. I felt like I was adopted by them and they were treating me, a virtual stranger, like family. When I returned from Bali, they picked me up and were so happy to see me again that it brought a huge smile to my face. Alin treated me to a massage and again, they wouldn’t let me pay for any of our meals. I cant help but wonder what I have done to deserve to be treated so generously by them. They are such happy people; always smiling, laughing and sharing their good energy with everyone around them. I watched Alin give a stranger some money, I assume because he was in a worse off situation than herself, and do it happily with a warm and open smile. She is constantly showing me affection by linking arms with me, grabbing my hand or bringing me little gifts for no reason and treats me like I’ve been her friend for years and I feel like she genuinely means it. Pin has opened his home to me and made me feel so welcome and comfortable. I watch the two of them together and cant help but smile at how much in love and happy they seem. Always affectionate but not in a PDA kind of way, just a way that shows the bond between them. I have yet to see either one of them without a warm and welcoming smile on their faces. While riding in the car with them, I was so grateful to have befriended these two people and to witness the love between them and the generosity they have shown me.
I met Free on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bali and we hit it off instantly. She does non-profit work so that got the ball rolling and it was hard to stop after that. We ended up chatting nearly the entire flight over and in the midst of conversation found that she lived in Ubud, where I was heading, and offered me a ride which would save me a bunch of money let alone the frustrations of trying to figure how much was the correct price and where exactly I was going. As it turned out, my couchsurfing host was unreachable when I landed so Free offered up her couch for me to sleep for my first night in Bali. Not only had I made a new friend, but I felt very fortunate that we had a ton to talk about and she saved me from having to find a place to stay late at night in a totally new city and country. Her home was one of the most amazing houses I have ever seen and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my first night in Bali. It was definitely a good omen meeting her on the plane and we continued to hang out. While I was in Ubud, she took me to a dubstep jungle house party at a friend of hers and it was exactly what I needed. One of the few things I miss from back home is the festivals and electronic music shows. If I hadn’t met her, I would have never found out about this event and had a fabulous night of dancing under the full moon to amazing DJ sets in the middle of the jungle. I wasn’t sure I made the right decision to buy my ticket to Bali only 3 days before but within moments of meeting Free, I knew it was exactly what I was supposed to do.
Allison and I met because of a mutual friend from back home, Tracy. She told me she had a friend working in Thailand and I should meet up with her. I sent Allison a FB message and found out she was in Krabi and so was I so we made plans to meet up. It was right around Thanksgiving and I didn’t have any plans so she invited me to spend Thanksgiving day with her and her friends that had rented a boat for a day trip to all the islands. We had chatted a bit on FB but hadn’t even met yet and she was welcoming me into her circle of friends and inviting me to spend the holiday with her. Although I was not expecting it, she treated me to the boat trip and asked me to stay for dinner because “the boys” were throwing a Thankgiving party. Little did I know at the moment that “the boys” were Bradly Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galinafikus. Allison was working on The Hangover 2 while in Thailand and didn’t think anyone should be alone on the holidays so she invited me to celebrate and enjoy the festivities with her and all her friends and co-workers. OF course, I was star struck and impressed to meet the actors but to Allison, she couldn’t have been less concerned with the famous status of the people around. Which was a good thing because she helped to keep me from being an annoying fan by setting a good example. I had such a great Thanksgiving and was so thankful to have made a new friend to spend it with. I couldn’t have planned a better Thanksgiving if I had tried and I know I wouldn’t have had the feast I had anywhere else! Not only did Allison save me from a lonely Thanksgiving but also a lonely Christmas. I finished my TEFL course on Christmas Eve and took a bus straight to Bangkok where Allison was finishing wrapping up the movie. We planned to meet up for the afternoon on Christmas day and she invited me to the Christmas dinner with some of the same friends I had met before and then to the party being thrown by the boys later that night. Once again, I had an above average holiday that I couldn’t have planned any more awesome if I tried. Thank you Allison for being so generous and welcoming and letting leave my backpacker ways and live the “hi-so” life with you for the holidays my first year away from my family!
I met the first members of my Thairish family my first week in Thailand but had no idea how much I would grow to love them and how many times I would be seeing them. It was off season when we went to Koh Lanta and everything was shut down but we met some locals at the pub watching the world cup games, an Irish couple (Noreen and John) who had been living in Koh Lanta for a while. Noreen and I hit it off right away and she took us to the Tong Tong bar, a reggae bar on the beach where we met Toffee- a local Thai who played live Thai reggae every night at Ting Tong. Toffee and I also hit it off right away, but I had a feeling these two hit it off pretty well with most people! I returned to Koh Lanta in November and went straight away to Ting Tong where I found Toffee and Noreen and got to meet Noreen and John’s daughter Lindsay. I ended up staying in Lanta for a month volunteering and spent a lot of time with Noreen, Lindsay, Toffee and the rest of the Thai staff who make up the Thai part of the family. John returned at the end of the month and I also met Noreen’s brother Tom. They had all partnered up to run Ting Tong bar and some beach bungalows and the combination of the Thai + Irish = Thairish family. Noreen and Lindsay were such good friends to me when I was having a hard time with my own family that it was nice to have someone to talk to and build relationships with. I told Noreen how much I loved mashed potatoes and missed them from back home so we have had a couple nights where she would make a midnight mashed potato snack and I was so excited. I’ve made a lot of friends along the way, but I keep returning to Lanta, not only because I love it, but because I love my group of friends I have made there. By meeting Noreen, Lindsay and Toffee, I have made at least a dozen other friends in Lanta and Krabi that I can consider people that know me better than most. It’s good to have a place to return to where I feel like I belong and I have a circle of friends and I have found that through my Thairish family and friends.
When I arrived in Chiang Mai in October to begin job hunting, I quickly became discouraged by the inability to find a teaching position. I was feeling pretty blue walking back to my hostel and as I walked past a home, there was a happy man sitting in his driveway with some people singing and raising his hands in the air like he just don’t care. Truthfully, I wished I was that happy and gave a little fist pump for them. He called me over and invited me to join them and I figured, what the heck? I could use some cheerful company. I am so glad I stopped that day and didn’t miss the opportunity presented to me to meet some good people. Larry is an Jewish attorney from New York and was celebrating the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which was the reason for the singing, but in the time I’ve known Larry since then, he is always cheerful, inviting and welcoming to strangers. He was hosting 2 couchsurfers and when he found out I was also on couchsurfing, he invited me to check out the hostel and come stay with him and his girlfriend Winna. He had so much to share about his Jewish faith and I got to experience some of the traditions and learn from him. I was at a point where I was beginning to feel very lonely and wasn’t speaking much to my own family so it was a much needed sign from the universe that I was not really alone when a stranger would welcome me so eagerly into his life and home. Conversations are always lively and interesting with Larry and he was willing to offer any advice or help he could in finding me connections for work in Chaing Mai. I was able to see him again twice before I left the north and I vowed to return again to look for work. I never did make it back for work reasons, but I was able to see Larry and Winna one last time for the recent Songkran festival. Larry once again opened his home and heart to me with a genuine smile and kindness. And I’m not the only one! He had a full house of couchsurfers this time and a full table for Shabbat. I couldn’t believe when I came downstairs to see close to 10 people at the dinner table. But it really shouldn’t have surprised me at all since that is exactly how he came into my life, by extending a hand in friendship. I feel very fortunate to have met Larry and Winna when I did, just when I needed a friend and a reminder to let me know I wasn’t alone as long as I was open to new friendships.
Feeling a bit lost and directionless, I left Pai towards MaeHongSon on my motorbike heading to a wat for a few days of meditation. I arrived during the afternoon meditation session so decided to carry on 40km to MaeHongSon for lunch before returning to the wat. I wonder how different things would have been if I had just stayed and waited for them to finish. I’ll never know because instead, I was unintentionally diverted to MaeHongSon. It started to rain about 15 minutes later and my brakes were bad on the bike. The roads were really windy and steep and I felt the bike lose control as it picked up speed while I was unable to slow it down. The bike went down with me on it and slid across the opposing lane before I came off and continued to slide. I got up right away and picked up the bike but the brake handle broke clean off and I was standing in shock in the middle of the road in the rain with the bike. Thank goodness for the angels who stopped a moment later. Two Thai girls and a couple guys in a truck stopped and took the bike from me and lifted it into the back of their truck and took us into MaeHongSon. The boys sat in the pouring rain holding the bike while the girls found a clinic to stop and clean my scrapes. The clinic wouldn’t even accept any payment, just was happy I was okay. The girls took me to a bike shop in MaeHongSon where I was able to get the brake handle replaced. The girls had a whole crew of biker friends with them and by the time I was done, it was like the whole biker crew was checking to make sure I was okay before moving on. I tried to pay the driver for gas but she refused and was just happy I was alright. I have no idea what I would have done in the middle of the mountains 30km from the nearest town unable to drive in the pouring rain. Those people were so good to me that I couldn’t believe my good fortune in what could have been a much worse situation.
When the motorbike crew left, I headed around town on my own looking for a place to rest since I couldnt even close my hand anymore and surely wouldnt be driving back to Pai for a few days. At the guest house I settled on, the owner had her hand bandaged up and I pointed to my swollen hand and her hand and said- “Same, same!” She must have felt sorry for me because she invited me, in the little bit of English she knew, to her home for dinner. She must have sensed my need for a friend and I eagerly accepted. We went to the market together and I met her family and shared dinner with them. She continued to send her daughter to pick me up each afternoon and bring me to their home where we would eat and drink and I try to teach each other English and Thai. On the third day, I was feeling so depressed that I had gotten hurt AGAIN because my hand was so swollen and painful and I couldnt even talk to my parents about it because of the mess with my head injury. As I was sitting in my room crying and about to throw a huge pity party, the knock on my door was Taew and her family all ready to take me out around to see the waterfalls and caves in the area. I couldnt believe it! It was like she just knew I needed to be with a family that day even if it wasnt my own. It took my mind off it and I had the best day. Just when I thought they couldnt possibly do anything even nicer than they already had, Taew suggested that her husband, Pi Kan could drive me back to Pai on the motorbike and I could buy his ticket back home. My hand was so swollen i couldnt drive even if I wanted to and i was also scared. It seemed like such a huge thing to do for someone you just met, but they were more than willing to help get me sorted out. Taew was sad when I was ready to leave and was worried I would forget about them. There was no way I would ever forget the kindness she had shown me by bringing me into her world and taking me under her wing when I was hurt and needing some TLC. But, I swore to her I would come back and I meant it. I am happy to say, I am here now, true to my word and have been spending every evening with my Thai family and it feels so good to have made this connection. The experience you get in making friends where you least expect it has been so rewarding to me and I hope to her as well.
In the past year of travel, I don’t really miss home but I DO miss my family and friends. I think the hardest part is being away from them for so long. I am often meeting new people and make plenty of friends but it doesn’t replace those people who really know, understand and love you. Sometimes, I can feel a bit lonely for those connections. It seems to me that at the lowest moments or the times I needed it most, the universe has brought some special people into my life to offer me kindness, guidance, help or affection to help fill the void of those connections I am craving so much. I find myself always saying how lucky or blessed I am to have such amazing people keep touching my soul and reminding me of the good that is out there. I feel like my life has been enriched in the past year or so by all of these people who started out as strangers but will now always hold a special place in my heart and memories by the positive impact they have made on me. I couldn’t be more grateful with the way things have turned out and even for the misfortunes because it seems that there is always some good that comes from it. There are a lot of really horrible people in the world, but if you are open to it, there are a lot of good people as well just waiting to surprise you with random acts of kindness.