Well, what can I say? My adventures in Thailand and the rest of South East Asia are over. I cried with Faren over ice cream the night before I left. I cried in the taxi on the way to the airport in Bangkok. I cried on the plane from Bangkok to Taipei. I cried on the plane from Taipei to Seattle. I cried when the plane landed at the Seatac airport. Then I hugged my mom for the first time in six and a half months, and I have not cried since. I bought my plane ticket only a few days before I left, not for lack of planning, rather simply due to procrastination. I had been seriously considering my return for quite a few weeks, but it was difficult for me to accept.
You may wonder, if it was so hard for me to leave, then why did I? Multiple reasons. Among them, the most important being that I wanted to make it back in time to see my sister who is visiting from her current home in the Cayman Islands. We’ve actually been living on exact opposite sides of the world (when it is noon for her, it was midnight for me) for the last half of the year, and I have not been able to see her for over a year since I had just arrived in Asia on her previous visit. If I didn’t get home quick, it wouldn’t be until her next return in June that my whole family could be together again. In this case, I would probably end up visiting her in the Caymans, but it is not the same as having all five of us under the same roof.
Additionally, a part of me felt like I was ready to move on from S.E. Asia. I successfully experienced everything I had hoped for—teaching, volunteering, traveling, and a whole lot of learning. I am very ready to work (and be paid) again, and I am eager to see other parts of the world. The next destination on my list is South America where I hope to study salsa dancing and Spanish, and find a job that involves tackling local issues and helping the local community. The timing was also optimal as I would hate to miss the holiday season at home. I may have missed my birthday, my graduation, and Sea-fair; but now I get to have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years!
As most of you probably know, I told almost no one of my return home. Partially because I didn’t really believe it was going to happen until I forced myself to buy the ticket 3 days before my departure. Even then, it didn’t hit me until the airplane took off. Also, I recognized that the absence of any clue of a “return date” is very rare and I may never again have the opportunity to surprise (I just love surprises!) so many people at one time. I couldn’t wait to see the shocked faces when I showed up at some social function when I was believed to be on the other side of the globe until god-knows-when. And every time I have surprised someone, it is just as good as I’d hoped it would be.
One of the first funny little cultural nuances that I experienced upon my return happened when I was simply crossing the street. Faren warned me of this when we were still in Thailand. She said, “you are going to be so surprised when you get back to America and cars actually stop for you when you want to cross the street.” I agreed, but did not think twice about it. On one of my first outings, I was in downtown Kirkland with Solveig and we were waiting to cross the street. Not at an intersection, but at one of those random crosswalks that is only convenient for pedestrians. The cars immediately stopped for us. We barely had to pause before we crossed. I was shocked. There was no red light, stop sign, or intersection and the car STILL stopped. For god’s sake, in Asia, cars don’t even stop at intersections and they barely slow down when they see you crossing the street. Motorbikes don’t slow down at all, they just go around you. While I appreciate the politeness of it all, I don’t appreciate that I can no longer jaywalk, even when the nearest crosswalk is a long block away.
So, this is it. One of my biggest fears in coming home was that everything I’ve experienced over the past 6 and a half months would feel like a distant dream and dissolve into my memory. But it still all feels very real. I can tell that everything I have seen and done lives on in the deepest part of me and continues to influence my daily thoughts. I never needed to be scared that my time in South East Asia would fade away, because I take it with me. I take all of my adventures with me, wherever I am. My learning experiences will continue to make me a better person, as long as I consciously stay aware of everything I have gained. I know it was only upon my return home that I could fully understand this.
And IF I ever do start to forget, I’ll just pull up my blog on the internet. :)