Live the Present (Thailand)

So it took me ten years but I made it. Actually, the way I say it is that I finally made it. Others, won’t agree. Old vets will say I’m too late. “You should have seen Thailand in the 70’s.”

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Yeah, right, and I should have been in San Francisco in the late 60’s. That didn’t stop me from loving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Love Parade simultaneously back in 2010.

Travelling the world used to be a big deal. Like a real, huge life changing event.

Writing this I realize how it can be applied both to what I intended it to be (just a sec with that) and my own experience. Ten years of travelling on my own and by the end of the year I will have visited my fiftieth country. Fifty, wow, I’m impressing myself. “What courage!” says some non-traveler out there.

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Is some of the thrill gone? Not at all. The anxiety is leveled, the excitement of visiting a new place is contained for only those places remaining on my all time wish-list like Nepal (so soon!), Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Patagonia, the Great Barrier Reef, Costa Rica….PHEWPH! Okay, the list is still long…

And that beautiful, sunny early winter morning stepping out of Amsterdam Central in 2002 still feels like last month.

But what I originally wanted to explore was the idea that back in the day travel was a big deal. Back in the day for my immigrant grandparents the idea of a trip across the ocean was a one-way journey to a better life.

Centuries earlier travel was groundbreaking – adventurous, exploration into the great unknown. Not exactly path building, since the world has been occupied by, you know, locals for thousands of years, but map charting. (Traveling, for those who never realized, is an old European white-boy club.)

Imagine being the first – even one of the first – foreigners to arrive. Get ready for your hosts to pull out all the stops, roll out the bamboo leafed red carpet and put some wild game on the spit fire, and get ready to be treated like someone important.

No, now it’s just smiles (if you’re lucky) and a quick buck. 1 dollar to 33 baht, I like that growth. I’m literally one person in millions of tourists that visit Thailand each year. That’s who I am. Another statistic. Every local I meet I speak English to. I teach them no new words. I don’t learn any Thai. I nod a hello, mumble kab kun krab. That’s what I do. I smile. I pay for every good experience. I leave it to coincidence or fate or chance encounter to sprinkle my adventures with great ones. Those that can’t be converted on any currency exchange app.

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There used to be no maps, no phrase books. Now we have Google maps and travel apps to book our cheap accommodation or a reasonably priced one with great reviews.

But now is our time. And there’s no time like the present. I have a week left here and in that time I’ll be playing in an ice hockey tournament in some giant, modern mall in Bangkok against a current NHLer. Sick!

Maybe it’s not as charming as Thailand forty years ago. Life is probably never as romantic in the present compared to when it’s being reminisced with dreamy, distant looking eyes longing for youthful memories of the past.

Whatever. The present is pretty fakin’ awesome. And let me tell you, the Thailand tourism board is right: Thailand is amazing. Go ahead, be one of the 19,098,323 tourists who visited Thailand in 2011. Some nostalgic old hippie yearning over the times he attached his reality to won’t make you regret being just one particle of sand on the perfect white beach.

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