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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Thailand Sojourn

Finding Myself
Andrew Lofthouse

I needed a change. The daily grind of monotony was eroding away my desire to get up in the morning, never mind in time for work. Work was something that did not sit very well with my current mindset either, the novelty of a call centre and getting paid to sit down and talk failed to retain its appeal several months down the line.

I always knew I was going to travel somewhere far away from home and to me Australia seemed like the most obvious destination. Sun, sea, sand and importantly somewhere so far away from England it would be improbable that I would want a quick return. I had heard that those who go travelling sometimes do so in an attempt to ‘find themselves’ which is a term that had always intrigued me. What did it mean to ‘find myself’ and how would I know if and when I was there? Perhaps it was some sort of inner calm and the ability to be self sufficient no matter where I am, at least, this was the message that was being fed to me from TV lifestyle programmes and magazines. I was excited.

The weeks and eventually days passed by until finally the time came for my flight. Although my ultimate destination was to be Australia, I had to initially make a stop off in Thailand so I decided to make this an extended stop off and stay for a few weeks. Thailand itself is renowned for being a devoutly Buddhist country and a place where despite its political conflict, an inner zen can be found for those who are said to become enlightened within their own exsistence. Would I be able to ‘find myself’ in a place so far removed from my own lifestyle and upbringing? Maybe...

First of all I decided that I should immerse myself in one of the cultural heartlands of the country, after all, I did not see the point of arriving somewhere so opposite to where I had come from to simply carry on living as I would do at home. I began my literal and potentially spiritual journey in the northern jungles of Chang Mai along with a motley bunch of travellers aging from 20 to 40 years old. The youngest people in my group came from Canada, 2 girls who were excited to be in the jungle and away from the snowy mountains of their ski resort home. The group also featured a young man who had just turned 19 from England who was having a break from his work as a professional gambler and there was an older looking nurse from Holland.

After initial introductions and plesantries the general consensus was that this experience was to represent a break from each of our daily routines although none of my accompianing groupies were to be away from home for more than 3 weeks. Were these people looking for the same thing I was? Possibly not although it was clear that everyone was here first and foremost to have a good time.

Our first day in the jungle ended as it had began with an arduous trek up to the summit of steep hill on a road not even close to being called roadworthy. As the trek began it became difficult to admire the beauty of my surroundings as I found myself fighting a constant battle against the sweat from my forehead and the forces of gravity, both of which seemingly did not want to allow me to reach my destination. We were accompanied along the way by our Thai guides who were full of life and spirit as they effortlessly bounded up the hills and in and out of precarious rock formations with the sort of dextererity that made myself literally scowl at my own physical limitations. They were two young Thai men in their early 20’s who were eager to find out as much about us as we were of them, often raising questions about the sports we played, the food we ate and the clothes we wore. Maybe we were not so different after all.

I found the whole day exhausting physically and mentally as we traversed rocks and streams while attempting to admire and appreciate the natural beauty of the jungle and its colourful residents, however once the climb had been accomplished the satisfaction of the surroundings began to come to the fore. As the seductive sunbeams flowed between the branches of trees and drenched the surrounding tribal hamlets, we began to soak up the sound of silence as the group paused for thought.

A few moments had passed when we heard a song echoing out amongst one of the hamlets to our far right, and presuming it was some sort of tribal chant from one of the nearby villages, we strained to listen a little closer. It did not take long to decipher the chant – it was a colourful rendition of ‘Zombie’ by Irish rock band The Cranberries, which, after a day of toil far from the regularity or normal life brought myself and others a welcome reminder of the society we had come from. Perhaps it did spoil the moment of serenity that we had spent all day earning, but the obscurity of the song brought smiles to our faces and gave us an instant reminder that people from other cultures often seek solace from our western way of life as much as we seek comfort from theirs.

As much as I was attempting to find whatever was missing in my own life from the Thai culture I thought that perhaps the same could be said for the Thais themselves. The guides throughout the day had become fascinated with our western traditions and even the battered clothes they wore referenced Manchester United Football Club and the Beatles, both major assets of English culture which in itself gave me a strange sense of patriotic pride.

The following day began in much the same vain as I became accustomed to the heat and humidity. The group were getting along well with one another and spirits were high considering a couple of the older members of the group were struggling more than most with the physical requirements of the trek. I was holding up ok as I managed to maintain focussed on the prospect of the each rest break which inevitably meant a drenching in water to cool down and liven up. We spent the end of the day in an authentic Thai hamlet resting up in a cabin covered with fly nets to keep the mosquitos at bay. The novelty of sleeping under a net with insects attempting to pierce our skin with disease from the outside kept our minds occupied and I mused that to live like this every day with much potential for illness was not a prospect I relished with or without an inner calm.

Our remaining days in the jungle passed without major incident although I did manage to fall in the same river twice when it looked easier to stay dry and at the end of each day myself and my other trekkers played different card games with our Thai counterparts. There was an interesting bond between our cultures as with the aid of broken English and local alcohol we challenged each other to become masters at each other’s games. Confusion and laughter often ensued but after 3 days of intermittent blood, sweat and fears, I welcomed the return of familiarity.

Indeed, as I breathed in the fresh air and basked in the comforable temperatures of our final trekking day, I concluded that already on some level I had begun to find out who I was. It had only taken a few days out of my comfort zone to realise that for the time being at least, I needed my comfort zone. There is no doubt that with hindsight I enjoyed the short excursion to the relatively unknown but perhaps only with the knowledge that this is all it was, a short break, and I could relatively quickly return to the familiar world of Cappuccinos, Facebook and 1990’s rock music. The familiar cultures of Australia were on the horizon and although I may not entirely like where I am, I already know more about myself and where I want to be.
© Andrew Lofthouse November 2009
natlofthouse@hotmail.com

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