Aspiration

Border run #3: the greenest of them all

I went to Laos the long way--overnight train from Bangkok to Nong Khai, different train from Nong Khai to Thanaleng, beat up old van from Thanaleng to Vientiane--and crossed the border on a rainy Monday morning (yes, two weeks ago because I've been writing.)  I was here for two reasons. 1 was to continue this whole journey of exploration thingie, and 2 was to get this:

Now I can keep the journey going without having to leave every month (this gives me five with one border run in between). I know, sounds counterintuitive, but pulling up stakes on the regular gave diminishing returns--I was spending so much time looking for places to lay my head I rarely felt settled enough to pull thoughts out of it.

So Laos was the destination because, in addition to being a place people in the know told me I had to go, the Thai Consulate there is the easiest and fastest.

I was in and out in 20 minutes for visit one (document drop-off and verification), so all was as advertised (so far). Next it was time to find local currency and SIM card before checking into the hotel. And as I walked down Vientiane's sometimes crumbling, sometimes crowded sidewalks...

where do the motos drive?

where do the motos drive?

in a gentle rainshower, I began to giggle at my good fortune. At this strange and beautiful life I'm now living. Four months ago I was in an office, going through the motions in transitioning to my fourth manager in less than a year--and while two of them had been very good and one was tolerable, this boss would be impossible. Thanks to him I saw the best minds of my division destroyed by his madness, dragging themselves through pointless meetings looking for a deliverable fix so-called strategy concocted by a clueless nimrod Dilbert parody.

I wasn't having it. Granted, I'd long before made my decision (for that and other reasons), but it was a valuable exclamation point to see where the company was moving--far from where I thought it should.

So instead of refreshing yet another slide deck, iterating prior recommendations that weren't heeded into new recommendations that wouldn't be heeded, I was starry of eye and gapped of mouth, drinking in the view of my fourth Southeast Asian country in as many months. I never expected the capital city to be so lush and verdant--guess the rains weighing down my clothes and pack explained some of that.

But who cared about a little water? Look at where I was--and think about where I wasn't!

So my humor was buoyant. Giddy, even. Even when the first ATM didn't take my card. Even when I had to walk on and on and on since Vientiane didn't have five ATMs at every corner like in Bangkok. Even as the rains picked up, steadier and harder, soaking me through. 'Well at least it's not sweat.'

When I saw the second ATM sign I felt relief--with a twinge of cynicism. 'Assuming it works.' I crossed the street, entered the booth...

and it didn't. It sucked being right.

Back into the torrents.

This walk was no longer charming or fun. I wasn't giddy. I was trudging. I wasn't doubting my decision, exactly. I certainly wasn't missing that old life--but I was missing dry). 

Then I saw this:

funny how these SE Asian countries  like to paint walls to remind you of priorities

funny how these SE Asian countries like to paint walls to remind you of priorities

Those white streaks are rain--you should've seen me trying to protect my iPhone possession while capturing a message I knew I needed to retain. A reminder that I am exactly where I need to be.

The walking went on for quite a while, and three more ATM rejections later I gave up, found a tuktuk (thankfully I had just enough in foreign currency to pay him) to my hotel, stripped off my waterlogged clothes and got warm and rested under the covers.

Of course it all worked out--the logistical details of such not worth repeating. But the photos of my next days in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen surely are. Please enjoy:

Bonus: my next to last day in Laos, while in Luang Prabang, I got wet again:

Prada Wat

 

This is Wat Phra Kaew--or at least, a sliver of it at a distance. It's considered Thailand's most sacred wat, and like the Taj Mahal and Chichen Itza, no photos I've seen--much less those taken on my iPhone--do it justice. That said...

Indeed, the most sacred part of this most sacred wat cannot be photographed, at least not by visitors with iPhones and the like: the Emerald (jade) Buddha. But I did see it, along with thousands of other visitors that morning alone.

taking a stand for peace at Thailand's most sacred Buddhist shrine

taking a stand for peace at Thailand's most sacred Buddhist shrine

The constant tourist selfies and "wonder how many likes I'll get" snaps harshed my zen, but I reminded myself Buddha doesn't need my righteous indignation on his behalf, he's doing just fine thank you.

Though, crowded as Wat Phra Kaew is, it can't approach Bangkok's most popular temples, dedicated to the world's most popular -ism: Consumerism.

commerce is merit

commerce is merit

This is Prada Wat. The temple keepers claim it "captures the contrasts, the quirks, the qualities that make the city so distinctively Thai: a love of expressive fashion, amazing food, emerging art, enrapturing music, the sanuk (fun) and the sabai (comfort)."

And what is more distinctly Thai than Audemars Piguet? Bottega Veneta? Givency? Hermes? Hublot? Gucci? Omega? Ralph Lauren? Rolex? Tom Ford? Versace? Chanel? Chopard? Christian Louboutin?

This and more on just one of eight floors, mind you.

ministers to meet your every need

ministers to meet your every need

I arrived believing Thais were more centered and balanced than Americans--that they prioritized fun over work and spirituality over money. And I believe there remains truth in that.

But a truism of travel, I've found, is that we're more alike than different. People like stuff, and sometime feed the needs of this world ahead of the next. This is nothing new.

And that doesn't make them bad. But when surrounded by conspicuous Consumerism, one (this one, at least) has to question the motivations.

mantra

mantra

are these the leading men in your life?

are these the leading men in your life?

And so let's question, and start with the man in the mirror. High-minded Citizen of Rome that I am, raging against the corporate machine. Throwing it all off to live out of a backpack makes for a good story.

But open that backpack and what do you see?

complicity? hypocrisy?

complicity? hypocrisy?

Makes it easier to live simply when you still have nicer things--and the leftover money from that pursuit up the corporate ladder. Am I really carving out a new life, or simply shopping at a different store? Trading clothes for plane tickets?

Buhbuhbuhbuh wait: it gets worse.

Leaving Prada Wat in search of a photomat for my Vietnam Visa, I further marinated on the bullshit I might be serving myself. Might this pursuit of deeper truth and understanding via travel and writing be itself a lie--cover for the fact that I just couldn't hack it? That I wore the clothes and drove the car and got the degrees and even learned to doubletalk like a good corporate drone, but in the end I just couldn't make it more than halfway up that ladder? That, in a world where money equals worth I just wouldn't add up?

yes, but you're just saying that to sell things

yes, but you're just saying that to sell things

Bles$ed and Fortunate

Some nice cooked food, some nice clean draws.

I am blessed and fortunate for all that I have. For free lunch mocking in the school cafeteria and 19 cent pot pies with half a crust but not going to bed hungry. For middle class in high school, eating name brand mac n cheese. For moving out to prove a point and one pack of ramen per day. For going to bed hungry. For splurging on a cheese slice or can of tomato sauce and going to bed a little less hungry until I'd forgotten what point I was proving.

I am blessed and fortunate for second chances.

I am blessed and fortunate for a bit of college and ambition that revealed success' outlines. For the fall that followed when I couldn't get past the fear. For getting my electricity shut off. For sleeping in or under two pair of pants three shirts two hats four blankets. For anger caused by ice showers in darkness.

I felt neither not blessed nor fortunate while line-standing to pay reconnect fees when I could've earned $3.37.

Approximately $3.00 rounded down

I am blessed and fortunate for third chances.

For Henry Coffer who befriended and mentored me. Who, when my car got repo'ed sold me--for $10--his van with AAA coverage. Then, when its battery died, came to where I sat because AAA isn't a thing that conveys--when he should've been resting since his latest chemo was the day prior. I am blessed and fortunate that was the last time he, the finest man I've ever known, had to fix something I screwed up. 

For Aljon Go, because it was his show on 103.3 or 102.9 that I called into, and he was amused enough to play it over the air. Days later I did it again and he did it again and I thought maybe I could do that.

For WVCP and Mr. E., who let me learn. For Lokey who showed me how fun it could be. For Eastern European tennis players who made me enunciate. For whoever posted the Help Wanted at SuperTalk 99.7 flyer, and for everyone who saw it before me and didn't see opportunity in a weekend board-op shift.

For small radio clusters with blowtorch transmitters. For Doug Kellett who gave a smart punk more than one chance and was punished with listener complaints for it. For Richard Bachschmidt who showed me excellence. For Steve Gill, who showed me how to get paid. For everyone else who made $8.75/hr so fun I earned it 60-70 times each week. For the coworker who picked me up from the roadside after my car's next thing broke.

I am blessed and fortunate for penance, as pride greed and sloth are sins with built-in retribution. For the lows since they made me sacrifice to reach the highs. For getting the damned degree. 

For the terrible company that led to the crazy company that led to the inept company. For the brother I met there. For Deanna Flannick, the great manager I met at the great company--sorry our timing sucked. 

baller

baller

For the 1991 Toyota Camry with shot clutch rusted wheelwells and steering cover that flapped each time I accelerated or broke, and did it for 7 years with few complaints.

I am blessed and fortunate for the brass ring, and less of both for grad school loan interest rates. For a corporate job that showed me what money does, and what it can't. For a coworker who passed the happiness it can buy. That the voice inside me saying "no more" found my mouth.

All are blessed and fortunate it did before the peestick changed colors. We were for mediation and being reasonable.

I am blessed and fortunate to have found my golden chains

For a higher power should it exist.

For more chances than I can count.

For people who helped and hurt me, including me. All of us got me here, which is exactly where I should be.

And when I realized all of this to be true, all regret lost its hold and slipped away like Dawn kicking even the toughest grease's ass.

Damn you Proctor & Gamble for all this dust in my eyes.

So how could I be angry at anyone? How could I stay angry at myself?

I couldn't. So in that moment I forgave everyone for everything.

And my chains are breaking.