Two Year Asia-Versary
When I stepped off the plane into the Bangkok heat two years ago, I wanted to see the world, fall more in love, experience new cultures and push my limits. In the back of my mind, I always knew the trip would turn into something more than just a quick jaunt through the region, but I never imagined Thailand would become my home for two years. 730 days. And now I only have 10 left. Feeling so many feels. This post was so needed for me as closure for this whole adventure. I can't help but feel that there's still so many things I want to do here, but looking at everything I've done and accomplished, I feel so proud and at peace. 2015 was a year of tremendous personal growth and it was filled with so many amazing people that took me on the ride of a lifetime. Compared to my first year in Asia, this year was all about me and my own needs and I'm coming out as a much stronger woman because of it.
While I pack up my life and get ready to move to Los Angeles, here's a look at my second year in Asia.
2015 started off swimmingly - quite literally - with an invigorating island-hopping trip to Ko Samui, Ko Phang'an and Ko Tao. Those two weeks gave me exactly what I needed ~ adventure, new ideas, time with old friends ~ to come back to Bangkok refreshed and ready for action. I was still buzzing from reconnecting with one of my oldest friends on the islands (Love you, Marjan!), while Polly came back to the city with us and fell in love with the world we created within it. Her enthusiasm for Bangkok and all the places we went really made me see it in a new light. I couldn't have been more excited for everything the new year had in store and knew my decision to stay in Thailand was the right one.
Here's a little journal entry from January 30th that seems to sum up my mindset:
Invest in yourself and your wellbeing. Whether you need to travel, to dance, to buy those expensive vegetables or just need to eat the damn pizza. Do what feels right.
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Casey and I said goodbye to our big Ari apartment with the jungle oasis pool area, woo-wooing geckos, flower-lined soi and the smiliest security guard in the world this month. We settled into our third BKK apartment and I ramped up my commitment to self-development in the form of yoga, healthy eating, journaling and reading. That attitude stayed with me on my trip to Bali, which only worked to amplify it even further. Polly joined me in meeting up with some college buddies in Kuta, conquering underwater fears and partying hard on Gili T and re-centering in the magical town of Ubud.
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As soon as I was back from Bali, my DePaul girls were here to see me. Six chicks we shoved into my little apartment! Having to sleep on pool floaties aside, we had the best time: not an easy feat when there's that many people to please. But with these girls, it was actually a piece of cake. We frequented my favorite Bangkok haunts and took a trip up north to Chiang Mai, stopping off at the ancient capital of Ayutthaya along the way. I struggled a bit with our decision to ride elephants (I'll delve into all of that in a later blog post), but overall the trip went off without a hitch.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for my relationship. After so much time away from each other due to our separate travels, I was looking forward to picking up where we left off, but it didn't take long before old insecurities and trust issues began to seep in, slowly driving the wedge that would eventually tear us apart.
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CAMBODIA. That's all I have to say about April. Despite having to go alone (not the original plan), I made the most out of visiting one of my all-time-favorite countries for the second time. This time around, I saw a whole new Cambodia. Maybe it was the fact that I was there during Cambodian New Year so everyone was in a state of celebration and cheer, or maybe because I had friends to stay with in every city I went. Evan and Eric showed me all the little pockets of Phnom Penh they'd discovered as expats, and Polly took me under her wing in her adopted home of Battambang. Together with the crew from her non-profit and their friends from town, we ventured out to the countryside to experience Khmer New Year the local way and turned it up in Siem Reap a few days later with some crazy flour-filled nights on Pub Street.
Best Post - Zalora at Sunset
Still riding the high of a great trip, I felt pretty optimistic about Casey's decision to move out of our apartment, a conclusion we'd reached while I was away. Of course I was hurt and scared, but I convinced myself that it was what we needed to get back on track. I had projects for the blog and a big trip to distract me anyway, so I channeled my inner Buddha Boleman and stayed as positive as possible.
Then I got to Myanmar. Thinking back to it, I remember the darkness ~ the sadness I felt knowing he would be gone by the time I got back, the gut feeling I had that something wasn't adding up, the guilt from a night of drinking too much after keeping myself in check for so many months. But looking back to my journal, I see a sense of strength that comes from accepting one's own karma ~ a new gentleness with myself and my situation that I can only attribute to the Buddhism and self-development I'd committed so much of my time to. Being in that mysterious, complex and deeply Buddhist country, I did feel a bit of calm amidst the chaos of my mind.
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But that didn't last long. Hurricane David was awaiting my arrival, and he tore through June like a bat out of hell. Casey's high school friend got to Thailand while I was still away, and with my consent, he agreed to let him crash at my apartment after Casey moved into his own. This flamboyantly gay man was just what I needed to take my mind off all the relationship woes, but also presented a whole new roller coaster of drama. The highs were high and the lows were low, but I wouldn't trade having him here for anything. Although I know it would've happened regardless, I have to attribute some of my strength to finally walk away from what was no longer serving me to the inevitable confidence you gain from having a gay best friend. David eventually ended up leaving Bangkok with the realization it wasn't for him, and I was surprised by the reassuring sense of peace that came from being alone in my space.
It dawned on me how much I'd been taking care of other people and I decided July was my time to unapologetically focus on me, starting with a yoga retreat in Kanchanaburi that fed my mind, body and soul with so much love and had me radiating good vibes. In the spirit of continuing down that path, I finally decided to give Ko Phang'an another try to see it through my friend Sima's eyes. She'd been living on the island for months and promised a different experience than the revolting shit show I saw at the Full Moon Party in January.
Three days turned into three weeks and even if I didn't realize it at the time, the trajectory of my life was changing. Away from Haad Rin and the messy backpacking crowd lies an island so charged with magic, it's impossible not to be affected in some way. We were guided through meditation with a Buddhist nun, did yoga on the beach with the sun on our faces and read books about tapping into our intuition and uncovering Peruvian prophecies, scribbling in our notebooks to try and make sense of all the new knowledge. I could feel myself growing with each new experience and resisted the transformation that was happening to me. But through the hardest times, I realized it was exactly where I needed to be.
Even after the motorbike accident that will probably leave me scarred forever. Even with the intense and often frightening energy I felt from some of the more troubled souls on the island. And even though I wanted to run back to the comfort of Bangkok and the guy that had always felt like home, somehow I pushed myself to stay, to work through the discomfort and to face all of it full on. I surrendered. I put my trust in something higher and accepted that the will to stay was stronger than the nagging fear that was telling me to go. And that's when Iman introduced me to Roxy and the world of Jamaican dancehall.
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I finally pulled myself away from the island on the 10th of August after dancing night and day despite being bandaged up from knee to ankle. I've been a dancer my whole life, but I'd never found a style that resonated with me so deeply. It came naturally and reignited something inside me that had been dormant for years. It didn't take long for me to find a studio in Bangkok, and if you follow me on Instagram, you know the rest is history. Dance is a part of my DNA and I am endlessly grateful for all of the events that led to having this release in my life again.
Feeling more confident than ever, I took a little solo trip to Penang for a visa run and fell hard for the artsy island. I ate my weight in good street food, wandered aimlessly with my camera for hours and felt the warmth and kindness of the expats that help to make Georgetown so unique and special. I promise to share all about this place soon!
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In complete contrast to the previous year, I celebrated my 26th birthday feeling on top of the world. Looking around at my BKK life, I was surrounded by a solid group of best friends, a job that allowed me to work anywhere in the world, a new gig editing for a Bangkok-centric blog and activities that spoke to the true nature of my soul. I was feeling pretty fucking fabulous. So fabulous that after months of just doing my own thaaang, I decided I was ready to let men back in. Do I even need to say that it all went downhill from there? ?
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Swiping left and right felt like a game I needed to play to truly immerse myself back into the modern dating world. Even though there were nice guys right in front of me, I felt the strong urge to give Tinder a try. "A social experiment," I called it. Then BAM, there he was in my Message folder with a "Hello beautiful, how are you today?" and just like that, October became the month of Mahir. The minute he smiled at me, it was game over. I'll never know if he meant anything he said, but for those six weeks he made me feel like we were going to have one hell of an adventure together. And you know I can never turn down a good adventure.
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Fortunately one of my dearest friends was here to soften the blow when all of it was ripped out from underneath me. No more trip to Dubai or eeks or butterflies. All of it gone before it really even started.
Parker and Libby being here saved the day. We had our own kickass adventure going to visit Homer and Dana in Surat Thani and continuing on to Samui, my beloved Phang'an and Khao Sok National Park. Best friends, motorbikes, travel and dance are the best way to cure a broken heart in my book. Although my mind was reeling (and still is to some degree ~ How can you 360 so quickly? Am I that easy to forget? Was it all just a game for you?), the work I did all year - the weight of which I'm only realizing now looking over it all - on learning to love myself helped me to bounce back quite quickly. From November 9th:
Boom. Get back to yourself. What were you doing before this whole whirlwind? You tend to lose sight of yourself in love. Stick to what your soul is seeking.
For once, my soul wasn't actually seeking travel. I was worn out from working and playing hard on our trip down south and I was dreading the impending visa run I had to take. Especially since I'd gotten my hopes up for the Middle East. The night before I had to leave, I wrote three countries on a piece of paper and picked one from my friend Nancy's hand. Off to Laos I went.
The trip was short and sweet, but terribly lonely at times. It was easy to forget him when I was surrounded by friends, but left to my own devices, I had to mourn the pain of that loss ~ or more accurately, the pain of wondering what could have been. All I wanted was to be back in Bangkok with my girls to live up the last two months of my Thailand life.
Back home, I got exactly that and so much more. The Buddhist nun I mentioned meeting on Phang'an ~ my sweet and lovely Tuum ~ came to stay with me for a few weeks and her presence and companionship put me at ease. Our nightly dhamma talks, morning meditation and clashes in culture were so eye opening, and I'd like to think I helped her endure and accept her own karma as much as she did for me. We got a lot of stares walking around together, but I'll always treasure my time spent with Tuum and what it's done to shape the way I see the world.
Christmas was spent eating my way through Taiwan with my loves Nancy and Laura. We visited Nancy's hometown of Tainan (best food!), snorkeled in Kenting and showed Taipei how BKK girls get down.
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I kicked off 2016 with friends new and old ~ a random hodgepodge of beautiful souls. My sister and aunt arrived New Year's Day and we went to the cutest little island in all of Thailand ~ Ko Lipe. With transparent water, amazing snorkeling and distinct sunrise and sunset beaches, we were in paradise. The highlights were swimming with bioluminescent plankton and getting so much closer with my sister.
I'm back in Bangkok now dancing my life away, taking in all of the city's sights, sounds, smells and tastes and spending as much time with friends as possible. It's going to be so hard to get on that plane. This country has taught me so much about myself and given me the most invaluable experiences. What a life-changing journey this was.