October 3, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

Writer’s block is a common phenomenon when someone is put to a deadline, even a self-imposed one. Most people assume that it is because the wordsmith cannot think of anything to write about. But I posit that it is because the writer has too much to write about, and all of the ideas keep colliding into one another until none of them are recognizable enough to pull out intact to express clearly. When I’m not sitting down with my laptop, I can think of many stories that I want to tell. I can even imagine the titles of the stories, the pseudonyms for my characters (because I intend to describe realities), and the phrasing that I wish to use. So the real conflict for me, the wannabe keyboard warrior, is to extract one story from the tangle in my mind.

So maybe I can use this post to answer the question that you, my readers (all three of you?), may be wondering: Why am I moving to Thailand?

There are many reasons, actually, for my decision to leave America for a far-flung place. I’m bored. I want to live more cheaply. Our next leader, President (reader’s choice). But the real reason is because I really want something different for the next half of my life. Earlier, I described how I lived my life in the past to appease other people in my world. And I was unhappy with where I was ending up. Looking at some of my co-workers who are approaching retirement, I began to get depressed, thinking that in twenty-five or thirty years that hunched over old guy sitting on a stool in a grubby machine shop waiting for 4:30pm would be me. Hell, if that was all I had to look forward to, I might as well put a gun to my head and end it now. Sure, they get vacation time to go back to visit the old country, to go fishing or hunting, or take the wife to some unnamed resort. But that isn’t enough for me now.

When I separated from my wife of 24 years and moved into the city of Chicago, I made a few discoveries. First of all, I found that I loved living in an urban setting. There are so many things to do and it’s easy to get to them if you don’t have to trek in from the suburbs. I also find great independent cafes and restaurants to choose from. Fast food is mostly a distant memory. And just the sense of excitement is so different from the slow death feeling of the collar towns.

The most significant element of my change came about quite by chance. The apartment that I was to lease was not going to be ready until a few weeks after my intended departure. So, needing to find someplace short-term, I turned to Google to search for room rentals and interim places to stay. Many options were listed, including one called, “Couchsurfing”. (If I ever get much of an audience, many of you will be nodding your heads at this point, because you know…) (And yes, you best learn that I love my parenthetical asides.) Very briefly for those uninitiated, couchsurfing is intended to provide a free place for a traveler to crash for a couple of days or so when visiting another city. In exchange, the guest (or “surfer”) tacitly agrees to provide something of a cultural exchange with the host, perhaps cooking an authentic dish from their country or region, while the host may provide information about the city or perhaps a tour of less iconic gems that the brochures don’t mention.

I realized that this was not what I needed at the time, as I was going to be staying for up to a month, with what belongings I could fit into my car. But I found the concept intriguing, so I bookmarked it. After I moved into my new place, furnished it with some items on which to sit and sleep, stocked my kitchen, and adopted Charlie (cat/roommate/spider exterminator), I revisited the Couchsurfing website. I liked the idea of hosting people and sharing information, experiences, and food. So I created a profile and actively began to search for travelers who may wish to stay with me. If I began here to tell the stories of the individuals who have lodged at my apartment, we would be here forever, because there are so many that I would have to include. So I’ll simply give an overview this time.

I have hosted well over 150 individuals from six continents in the past three years. Each and every one of them has brought me a new perspective of their homeland. I found myself wanting to go see for myself the places they described to me. Two summers ago, I had decided to take my two weeks of vacation all at once and go see my new friends in Europe. That was until other people began to tell me that it’s impossible to see Europe in two weeks. At best, exploring three cities would be achievable. And I found this intimidating. So, turning tail and running, I decided to travel domestically, choosing destinations within America’s borders to which I had never been. I bought tickets to San Francisco and Boston. And subsequently to Toronto, because I had met a girl from there who said I should visit. (More on that another time) I had an amazing time traveling alone for the first time in my life. Toronto was gorgeous. San Francisco was a fantastic experience. I never made it to Boston, changing my ticket instead to Orange County in southern California. (Again, because I had met a girl…)

So my problem was that I could not travel like I wished to with limited vacation time from work, nor could I afford to quit my job to be gone for a couple of months at a time. For me to really get to explore geographical locations and cultures, I would simply have to move to those areas and find a way to support myself. Enter Emmy. Emmy requested to stay with me for a few days in Chicago while looking for a place to live when she would start working for a school that trained and certified prospective instructors for the purpose of teaching English as a second language. She had just returned to the States from her own stint as a teacher in Vietnam. I was intrigued. Would it be possible for me to use my lifelong knowledge of my mother tongue coupled with my love for helping other people to actually make a living abroad? Emmy had done it, and said she would be happy to point me in the right direction so that I, too, could do what she had done. Since meeting Emmy, I have inexplicably found myself in the company of several other people who have used this route to travel the world. It’s almost as if the Universe is gently, but forcibly pushing me in this direction. This is what I am meant to do. This past month has convinced me of that. In serendipitous fashion, I found a young woman from Boston looking for a place to stay when she moved to Chicago. She was coming the week after I would finally visit Boston. She was coming the weekend that my old roommate was moving out to go to Portugal. And she had just returned from teaching English in Japan. Go figure. If I hadn’t yet gotten the message, I must be ultra-thickheaded.

Meanwhile, I had taken my first overseas trip as an adult in May, heading to Singapore, where I have friends. Then to Thailand, where I knew no one. And to Vietnam, where my friend lives in Ho Chi Minh City, and where my girlfriend grew up.  And even though I knew not a soul in Thailand, I fell in love with the country and its people during the week that I was there. So I made a decision to move there when my lease ends this December. My plan is to get to Chaing Mai in the northern part of the country, take my teaching certification course there, because the tuition is half what it costs in Chicago for the same program. And then I will find an open position somewhere in Thailand. I intend to immerse myself in the culture instead of simply hanging out with the expat community. When school is not in session, I expect to travel to other places in southeast Asia, backpacking and couchsurfing or staying in hostels as much as possible. Perhaps I’ll learn other skills while I’m there. And when I’ve seen as much of the region as I feel necessary, I may move on to India, or the Middle East. Africa. Europe. South and Central America. I want to see it all, experience it all, taste it all. Why? Because I canBecause of the inspiration that I have received from people like Lin, Renata, Agape, Ramona, Thao, Marsella, Nick, Emmy, Julia, Wendi and so many more. I thank you all. I now have a future that I want to embrace.

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