Laos

Blessed and fortunate: I'm a man!

My first blog post was a short one, and included this: 

my 40th birthday will not be spent in the same way any other (of mine) has been. It won’t even be spent in the same hemisphere.

One way ticket. New priorities.

Boy it looks profound in those big italics, doesn't it? [no]

Back then I was looking at 40. Now I'm seeing it inside parallax just before it hits me in the nose.

my occupational hazard being my occupation's just not around

And I say "back then" because even though I posted that just 10 months ago, my life has gone down a completely new path--yet again. I traded the stability of golden handcuffs to bet on myself, I waved goodbye to a relationship that breathed like oxygen but ultimately sustained like cyanide, and I learned how much I love and miss my family and a handful of dear friends.

I also set out on a truly once in my lifetime experience, to see parts of the world I'd only dreamed of. In the 5 months since I left, I've seen stunning natural beauty in Cambodia and Chiang Mai and Vang Vieng; breathtaking works of manmade art in Bangkok and Chiang Rai and Vientiane. I've also seen man's inhumanity to man in Kanchanaburi and Saigon.

I got soaked with strangers during Songkran, knew joy with old friends and family over coffee and beer, and made new friends and relationships I'll forever treasure.

And I have written, because that's what, above all, I came here to do. 

 

On my 25th birthday I was working in the coolest job ever with the coolest people ever. I thought I'd found my path. But I also wanted love, and I'd reconnected with the woman I was supposed to be with. Three months later I would move to Washington, D.C., and we would forge a new path together.

On my 30th birthday I was in a job I hated, but using it as a stepping stone on the new path for more. The woman and I had been through a lot together (and at times apart), but we had made it through. We were on the same path. And I was starting to taste a bit of the good life she promised--we were even making plans for my first trip outside the U.S.

On my 35th birthday I was a freshly minted MBA, stressed out in a lucrative job with a massive learning curve, but excited for the challenge. I was newly hitched to that woman: we'd been through so much, and now all the hard work and stress and struggling was paying off. We'd had a lovely wedding and honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, sparing no expense. Living the dream that we had built. We'd built me into something more than I ever could've imagined. I even thought I was happy.

On my 39th birthday, that path was gone. The job had become even more lucrative, but it led down a path I wasn't willing to walk much longer. I'd survived a divorce, and was in a beautiful, intense entanglement with a Girl who happened to have a boyfriend. I'd given The Ultimatum, trying to convert myself from ho to housewife (so to speak).

I didn't act right

And it was around that 39th birthday that I realized this new path I'd imagined, walking hand in happy hand with this new Girl while figuring out the next stop in my six-figure professional tour was destined to be like those before--not a dead end, per se, but one from which I would have to turn in order to continue my journey.

I don't regret any of these twists or detours or dead ends, just as I don't regret my childhood plans for being a pro baseball player or POTUS not panning out, nor when at age 14 the first girl I really fell for LYLAB'ed me, or when at age 18 my first real girlfriend cheated on me with my then-best friend and his girlfriend ("Dear Penthouse Forum, you'll never believe how I got cuckolded").

Far from regret, I am thankful for all of them. Because without the love, the loss, the opportunities, the rejections, the false promises, and my own personal failings and "mistakes", I wouldn't be right here, right now--exactly where I am supposed to be. Doing exactly what I am supposed to be: writing and traveling.

Now I know what happy is. Because I Am Happy.

 

Rudyard Kipling wrote a lot about what it takes to be a man. His words, along with a few others, helped sustain me during my divorce. In leaving everything behind on this Next Episode of my journey, I drew on those words and inspiration from sources diverse as fuckable friends and Stewie Griffin and the Rocky movies.

 

And now, as the days between me and four decades on earth reduce to single digits, this path that I have walked has led me, not only to deep gratitude and appreciation for all I have become, but to a sincere understanding of what the great philosopher-king Gundy the First said:

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: