So my ensemble went to Thailand. I haven’t been back in four years and it was amazing for me. Unfortunately I learned a valuable lesson:
Not everyone is in love with Southeast Asia.
On this trip I saw Thailand through the eyes of someone whose entire previous experience with foreign travel has been western Europe. From the moment we got off the plane (and even before) she was unhappy. I spent a lot of the trip trying to help her feel more comfortable, but I really feel responsible at least in part for how unhappy she was. I had been building this trip up as a great opportunity and experience for us, and things it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to mention turned out to be very, very big deals. She tried hard to like it but it just wasn’t going to happen, and as the trip went on my heart just broke, not only because she couldn’t see what I saw, but because I felt like I got her into a situation she was utterly unprepared for. Her Thailand was awful. It wasn’t anything like traveling in Italy or Austria, and I can say with absolute certainty that she will never go back.
Her Thailand was dirty and crowded and full of strange smells and cloudy and hot and dangerous and confusing. The buildings were poorly constructed and poorly kept up and probably dangerous and too close together and not zoned in any discernable way. The food was not at all like what one would get in a Thai restaurant back home: it was greasy and too spicy or not spicy enough and there was too much seafood and it was probably dangerous. Getting around was impossible because the taxis didn’t have seat belts in the back seat and the public transportation was wholly inadequate. She spent a lot of time in the hotel room just waiting till it was time to go rehearse.
My Thailand is unimaginably beautiful. My Thailand is hot and muggy, yes,** and crowded and loud — I’d be in deep denial not to note those things — but it’s also full of friendly people and music and laughter. I really tried to show my colleague what I love about it, but each time we were just stopped at the starting gate. When we went shopping at the famous weekend market in Bangkok, the smell of a drain was too much for her and we went back to the hotel almost immediately. She sat out of several great outings (dinner with some Thai friends, a trip up a mountain to see a famous temple) because she would have had to go without a seat belt. When we walked around the city together, we couldn’t find the one particular restaurant she had wanted to try, and none of the food we ate was acceptable to her. The street food seemed dangerous, the restaurants catering to Thai people seemed sketchy, and the restaurants catering to tourists were too bland.
I just keep turning all of this over in my mind, and I don’t know how much of it was my responsibility. Could I have prepared her better? Certainly I was wrong to assume that everyone would be in love with Southeast Asia in the same way that I am; and until this trip I didn’t even realize I was assuming it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it has occurred to me that I’ve never (or rarely) traveled anywhere that I didn’t like. I’ve never been to Europe, but I’ve been all over the U.S., lots of places in Southeast Asia, and New Zealand. I’ve liked every single place, and loved many of them. I suppose I’ve been extremely lucky in that regard — maybe I haven’t been pushed out of my comfort zone in the same way that my friend was on this trip.
It just makes me feel so sad that she wasn’t able to love this place that I love so well.
*I actually have a really nice camera. It’s got settings and buttons and gadgets that my husband likes to play with. Unfortunately for me it’s a camera that requires you to know how to use it properly, which is why the pictures I take are always out of focus. I really want an idiot-proof camera: the kind with two buttons, one to turn it on and off, and another to take a picture. But my husband would not be satisfied with anything like that, and there’s no reason to have two cameras.
**Strangely, it was considerably cooler than my Midwestern city is right now. Fucking heat wave.