My favourite time of day was after a long (but lovely) time in Thailand and the sun was about to go down. The kids would be playing downstairs and I'd jump in the shower. I would be carrying around some sweat from the day and it needed to be washed off before the air got too chilly. As the sun set and the mountain air turned cold, I finished what was left of the room temperature shower water. I dried myself off and changed into my night clothes. Usually a long shirt and my elephant pants. My friend Nim told me that people in Thailand (not just Thais, because there are a lot of hill tribes and "minority" groups who are from Thailand, especially in the north of Chiang Rai where I was staying) shower twice a day. It's true. It's too hot sometimes not to. I immediately fell in love with this routine, because it felt like getting two days in one. Cheating, and then you'd be redeemed for the second chance at the day after that shower. With wet hair and fresh clothes I'd go back downstairs-the kids running around and the little ones playing with the dogs Nim's family adopted. Chakrit, the baby of the house and Nim's prized nephew, was always passed around for some playtime and photo ops. I'd check on dinner and then remove my flip flops to sit down with Nim, her father and whatever siblings were home for the week (Dom, Jim or Do) and we'd say a prayer before dinner. The wooden dining table, the place where we'd eat three meals a day and I'd do some activities with the kids on Sunday afternoons overlooked the hills of Mae Salong, one of the northernmost parts of northern Thailand and the Mekong delta. The sky turned from pink to purple to black as we munched on our dinner, served in traditional pots for rice, some meat and whatever green Nim's mother picked from the hills that day. My first month in Thailand I didn't get the spring rolls and mango sticky rice street food most travellers indulge in whenever they step foot in the Kingdom. However when I taught at the high school some afternoons in the village of Mae Salong, they paid me with a lunch of fresh pad thai almost every afternoon, followed by sweet Thai iced coffee or tea later in the day-still my best pay check ever.
On weekends or when the kids had a day off, we'd walk down the hill and towards the farm Nim's family managed. The boys would climb trees along the way, and as they got to the top they'd shake the trees until mini mangoes fell from the branches for us to snack on. Sometimes we'd make it down to the river to bathe or just play.
Following dinner the kids would scramble up to the activity room to finish their homework, and afterwards we'd slowly congregate to the TV room. The older girls were always amazed at how much I enjoyed watching the Thai dramas with them even though I couldn't understand any of the dialogue. Facial expressions go a long way. After two years away from teaching ESL, I became a teacher again in that room; when I had about 20 sets of eyes looking at me, looking for some guidance, a song or a silly dance to teach them (or for them to teach me).
After about an hour of "lessons" I'd say goodnight to the kids and my second favourite part of the night would be walking up the stars to the balcony. The sky was pitch black by then. I'd count the amount of lights on that led down to the hill, and there'd usually be more stars in the sky. I would look for the bright moon (were you looking, babe?) and every night, I couldn't quite grasp how peaceful everything seemed. How isolated we were (according to me) yet how normal life was when people were around-with girls gossiping in Akha (their native language) and braiding each other's hair (or making bracelets out of palm leaves). I'd talk with Jim and Nim and maybe Skype with someone from home, or write about the day. Or help Nim put together a slide show to promote the orphanage and get some sponsors. (Rice wasn't always coming cheap).
The last time I was there was two years ago, a few weeks before my 31st birthday. One of the brothers, Dom, was very concerned that I'd be moving to Korea and would be alone for the holidays, and have no family around for my birthday. I didn't, but it was fine. My only birthday present that year was from him, when he gave me two handmade bracelets from the market in Mae Salong. They were nothing fancy and when he gave them to me he apologized, saying "I only went to this market, I'm sorry I couldn't get them from Chiang Rai or anything".
There's no where else in the world to go with a broken heart but Thailand. Give to others, go far away, bring a new wardrobe. Throw out those pants you've been lounging in. Completely new foods, smells and faces are the only way to get a heart beating again and a head to think straight. I've tried a few other places: Seoul, New York, and now California. Thailand worked. It's one of the only places that did work. Honestly, I don't know how other people do it. No wonder people drink, no wonder people vote for the wrong guy (or gal).
No matter how far you go, the normal always finds you. Maybe you were looking for that all along. Maybe it's all some people will ever know. After a lot of traveling, a lot of wandering (from different jobs, apartments, countries, etc...) I know that when I'm surrounded by weirdos who turn out to be my family, things will always be exciting. I just hope there's room for climbing mango trees along the way.