There’s an island in Indonesia called Bali. It’s stunning. This is the first time I’ve left Thailand in 6 months and it’s a welcome change of pace. I’m currently writing from a luxurious 3-bed/3-bath villa that is more beautiful than anything I ever thought I’d be able to afford. The L-shaped sofa in the open-air living area overlooks the pool and the textured layers of a vibrant green rice paddy. At night, you can see a sky so dark and clear that I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed stars shine so bright. I couldn’t be happier shacking up in this dream home with two of my best girls. We’re pretty damn lucky, this I know.
Upon our arrival in Bali, we were informed that March 21st is a very strict Balinese “Day of Silence” called Nyepi. Nyepi signifies the start of the Balinese New Year and the arrival of Spring. On this day of reflection, we are to be confined inside from 6 am til 6 am the following day. We can’t go to the beach. We can’t indulge in entertainment. We can’t have lights on. We can’t do ANYTHING. Even the island’s international airport is closed! It amazes me how we managed to avoid this knowledge pre-arrival, but, we did. This unexpected speed bump could have really sucked, but we’ve essentially been put on house arrest in heaven. Only a few more hours to go...
Spending this day in forced relaxation mode, I had plenty of time to read, to sunbathe, and to think about the things I’m usually too busy to think about. Amidst feeling really, really grateful- I was happy to realize that I’ve finally found one thing in this world that is irrevocably mine. Traveling. Traveling and every wonderful, scary, challenging, exciting moment spent doing it. Life will inevitably take my money, my possessions, my loved ones, and everything else near and dear to my heart- but these experiences, though fleeting, are all mine. If you’re looking for my unsolicited advice, as well as for something empowering and all your own – please travel. Book a ticket and fly amongst the clouds. Snag that window seat and spend an unusual amount of time marveling at the delicate and wispy mist that can also double as an inpenetrable wall, blocking out a blaring sun. That’s what I did…for at least an hour on my way here. Cross a new city off of that bucket list. When you arrive, be cognizant of every novel smell and feeling, for your new adventure is now tied to them. These impressions on your senses will serve as time travel in the future- any reminder of them will result in a nostalgic return to a specific time and place. I find that music serves as my most reliable time machine, although anyone who’s been to Thailand may argue that smell has its moments of taking precedence. Bali has already laid claim to the smell of incense, which fills the streets here. The vivid color palette is also something I won’t forget- greens and blues and oranges dominate the landscape here. I don’t even need to filter that shit on Instagram….
Anyways, I want to keep my momentum going. This is why I can’t go home yet. I’m hell-bent on collecting memories and stamps in my passport while I can. I’m addicted to the sensory overload, to novelty, to this entirely foreign lifestyle that I’ve discovered a littttle bit later than I’d ideally have liked. My 28th birthday is about to arrive, bearing lectures in lieu of gifts. It will threaten me with notions of practicality and societal expectations. It’ll remind me that I’m not getting any younger, that my metabolism is certainly not getting any faster (as I pour the remaining crumbs in the Pringles can down my throat). It’ll taunt me with its proximity to the dreaded three-zero. But isn’t that all the more reason to do this now? I’m not done with you, Thailand- 6 months has hardly skimmed the surface. So here’s what’s been going on:
My semester has come to an end, and with that comes a lot of decision making. I’ve delayed as many goodbyes (to both students and staff) as I can with promises of plans during my time off. We just finished up an overnight western-themed English camp about a week and a half ago, which was comprised entirely of students that I taught this semester. Spending the weekend with them was exhausting but wonderful. Being outside of school, it became very clear to me that I’ve developed some really great relationships with these kids. Being teenagers with relatively good English comprehension, we actually have meaningful conversations. We share common interests, which results in moments such as my student playing Taylor Swift on the guitar while I sing along. And the ones who aren’t quite as advanced- well, we just settle for laughs and funny faces when our eyes meet. Those moments are usually my favorite. I got emotional a few times when my mind wandered to the thought of never seeing them again, but what really pushed me over the edge was the final night of camp during the Talent Show portion. A group of my students got up to perform a song. After they introduced themselves, they announced that they were dedicating the song to Teacher Sara and Teacher Lauren, stating “we will remember you forever”. Welp, I lost it right then and there. When they got off stage I ran up and gave them a big hug, at which point they joined me in the waterworks party. Killin’ me, guys….
I’m also dealing with the fact that my two very beautiful security blankets are being taken away from me. Hillary and Sara are both leaving in June. I’m beyond grateful for them and our polygamist-like relationship that made the transition to living in Thailand so easy. We’ve been inseparable from Day 1, and this experience would have been much, much different without them. I do not relish the thought of being here alone, but the cord’s being cut whether I like it or not. I love them to death, but we all agree that in our separation there’s personal growth to be gained (or insanity to be reached, we shall see.)
"What’s next?" I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked that question, and it’s been really freakin’ hard to answer. I miss my friends and my family, many of whom have expressed that they really want me to come home. This results in a feeling of being torn right down the middle. There’s a choice to be made- stay or go. A person can’t travel the way I want to travel, immerse themselves in other cultures, and have their friends and family, too. It’s just not possible. It’s a sacrifice. Quite honestly, it kills me to know how much I’m missing back home. I have a legitimate fear of returning and having missed so much that there’s an irreparable rift. Everyone’s moving forward in their careers, getting engaged, getting married, having babies…and as the meme I so often see says, “people having babies and I’m like, what country am I going to next!?” The funny thing about American Lauren vs. Thailand-influenced Lauren is that the former planned out her every move. Not just planned, but planned VERY far in advance. While I’m still very much a planner at heart, I’ve learned to let go quite a bit. I’ve watched things work out rather well with last minute planning.
I’ve decided to leave my current school and find a job in Bangkok. I have a couple leads at this point in time for teaching gigs, but I’m not opposed to taking a corporate job either. I've done things a little ass backwards, and I'll tell you why. A friend from high school was kind enough to put me in touch with a girl who lived in Bangkok before I left the states. He thought it’d be helpful to have at least one person to contact if I needed to. Well, a huge thank you to Justin Stewart because Christa has been a fantastic resource and friend. The other day she informed me that a Bangkok apartment I’d been interested in was opening up. I visited the property and agreed to take it all in the span of one day. It’s adorable, affordable, on the 27th floor, and right down the hall from Christa. I didn’t see that one coming when I woke up Sunday morning. It came out of left field, but it was the exact push I needed to make a decision. I'd been considering Bangkok for a while, but was also contemplating hopping over to Indonesia to teach. Sometimes things just make sense (I’m a firm believer in signs) and that day it all seemed to be falling into place. So, I have an apartment! Oddly enough, I'm not concerned about finding a job. I'm a native English speaker who now has some experience under her belt, and in Thailand that makes you a hot commodity. So, in addition to the ongoing job search, I have about 2 ½ months of traveling planned. I can’t complain. The itinerary is as such:
I’m in Bali for 7 full days of villa lounging, sunrise hiking, and volcano exploring bliss.
I’m spending my 28th birthday on the beautiful island of Koh Samui.
I’m spending Songkran, the Thai New Year (mid-April) up north in Chiang Mai.
Oh, and I’m getting my first tattoo in Bangkok after the beachy trips and Songkran water fights are over. There. I put it in writing so there’s no backing out now.
Lastly, (drum roll, please) my dear, sweet, travel-phobic mother is making her first international trip to visit me mid-May. I anticipate spending a few days in Bangkok and then taking her down south to experience the islands. This is a big deal, and it makes me infinitely happy to have the privilege of touring her around one of the most beautiful countries in the world (and as she’s soon to discover, one of the hottest).
I'm going to attempt to go to sleep now, despite the fact that I'm currently fearing for my life. I've blockaded a spider the size of my head in my bathroom. If I got close to it I swear it'd eat me, so I've closed the door, put a towel at the bottom, and pushed a bookcase up against it. This villa was so close to perfection...
Until next time.