SIXTY MILES AWAY from Los Angeles, California. A summer breeze rustled the boughs of the pine tree that stands a few feet outside my window, strong and alone day and
night. I found myself back in this space, an empty room I rent with just the essentials. Many memories have been created since I’ve arrived in the states solo with an unpromising future, yet it feels just like yesterday that my original plan was “traveling the world and writing books about it” that lead me to all the places I’ve been to. It wasn’t just about physical journey, I had traveled an emotional distance as well.
Have you ever felt like you have lived a lifetime already and yet still feels like lifetimes to go? It’s not the first time that I
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moved to a new city as a total stranger without friends or family. It was also not the first time that I packed my whole life into two suitcases and one carry-on bag. I consistently travel and move as a way to hit the reset button on life. Living outside of my comfort zone awakened something inside of me— I felt an urge to learn all the lessons under the sun. The idea of going far away from everything and everyone I know, being alone in the world once in a while, I discovered my true essence in a setting where the only expectations are those I impose upon myself as I travel towards the unknown, pathless and invincible destination.
Far away I’ve gone, I have hit a turning point, a great break between my spirit and body, but thankfully without that, I would have never stopped long enough on my journey to know or to find out who and what I really am. I finally get a chance to reflect back on life, in stillness. Solitude teaches me a lot. This temporary room became a refuge for me to bare my soul, as it was the vital way through it to figure out the next move.
I slowly unpacked all the luggage. ●●●
When the sun started to go down, the southern California sky turned pink and purple before it totally disappeared, usually where my imagination met memory. I sat alone in the quiet room facing the white wall, staring at it and losing track of
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time. Suddenly I had an epiphany, a flashback that played like a movie in my mind of my old bedroom in Thailand. An empty white blank wall. The time where not many shows were very interesting on the TV after ten at night. Radio was where we get local news during the day. At night, the live radio shows were where the local people in my town would call in to request songs and shoutouts.
When I got bored watching TV after dinner I’d go for a walk and get a late night snack at the convenience store right around the corner from my house. Mother always left spare coins in different spots around the house, enough to buy shrimp crackers and seaweed snacks. There was a payphone booth next to the convenience store that sometimes I skipped my snacks to make a call to my aunt and uncle who lived ten miles away, just to check on how they were doing and to hear familiar voices. If I saw someone in line with a lot of coins in their hands it meant they were calling their significant others. The wait could be at least half an hour, sometimes an hour. But still we would wait patiently in line to use that payphone call just to hear the voice of the person on the other end.
Sometimes I would wait in line to call in to a live radio show to request a song for a boy I liked from school. When the host asked “from who?” I said “Well-wisher Wind” and hung up quickly, too shy to reveal myself to him. I called it a night after that because everything was dead in my town after
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ten. I couldn’t help but turn inward to the inside world. Letting a fantasy, dreams, and imagination come out to play in the comfort of my own privacy, reaching to the world outside isn’t just conveniently a finger clicks away. Things take much time and effort. It seemed not too long after that when the Internet played a major role in daily lives.
I’ll never forget my adolescence as seventeen. While all my friends focused on the final exams to the top colleges of the country, I dropped out of high school and was at home secretly crafting my father’s signature, quietly in my bedroom, on a forty-year-old wood desk that had been passed along from my father, supposedly given to me as a homework desk. It was located right by the corner of the bedroom. Next to it was a window with metal security bars, big enough to see the rays of the sun. My mother would peer through to check on what I was up to from time to time. A blue butterfly specimen hung on a wall as visual reflection of my inside world. Alone in the quiet hours of many days and nights that I locked myself up in the room working on a top secret mission that no one could possibly know about. It was in this empty space that opened up to the presence of the unknown, revealing the secret vision that was meant just for me. No one could see what I saw and most of the time I was unable to put into words. While my hand was moving as I copied my father’s signature, I embodied his authority and determination, just as a glimpse of his character, his calm and
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powerful voice echoed out loud in my head “Shoot the shot”. But in fact, it was the same signature that could send another man to hell week in the army. I couldn’t imagine what hell I would face if he found out that I copied and used his signature without permission to apply for the exchange program in America. My father had always been a calm and very kind man, I had never seen him mad nor did he ever punish me. (Mother always had to deal with that part.) A chance that he would be mad about this disrespectful act was pretty high, “hell hath no fury like a military father scorned” was the image I had. A man with few words. He barely showed his emotions and was unpredictable like a calm ocean. Unlike my mother who spoke her mind and was very expressive with her emotions. But once she was finished, then everything was back to normal in a few blinks. It was easy to figure her out when she was mad. For my father, I didn’t know which level of hell this act would
get me into.
Part of my rebellion may have been only that I wanted to
start another story cycle, to do something that pulled me out of the repetitive mundanity of a teenager’s life, to differentiate this day from all the others, to branch off the conditional path and see where I could go besides good grades and good jobs, or even if the risk was only another trouble.
The requirement for the final processing of the exchange program to study and live abroad I’d found on the internet was
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my parents approval signatures with a high school diploma and three thousand dollars. There was a good chance that I would be on my way to the other side of the world. A land that I had no knowledge about, never been to before, and where I didn’t know a single soul. Even besides the fact that the country that was eight thousand miles away, I had never been out of Thailand, never been on a commercial airplane. Only in my wildest dreams did I think that someday I’d be living overseas, I had no idea what the other country would be like.
I imagined people with a variety of looks, colors, and unfamiliar names like my cousin’s Barbie dolls or just like Catherine, James, or Hannah. Those American missionary friends I’d met through the Church’s project I’d signed up to accompany. At the project, Kathy and her girls group hosted an unofficial leg-shaving party and they invited me to join, even though shaving your legs sounded bizarre to me. I’d never heard or seen people do such things, but I was very excited to have foreign friends, so I told her I’d come to her “shave party” anyway.
It was a casual get together at the front porch of the properties where we stayed. I was the only youth in the group so I got along well with the other foreigner youth missionaries as we were about the same age. Even though I was good in school, my language skills weren’t great. Somehow we managed to understand each other just fine. That led me to believe that my English isn’t actually bad overall.
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They started to put foam on their legs and started shaving. I raised eyebrows “What a strange thing,” I thought.
Kathy said, while putting a foam on her leg, “you look amazed?!”
“I have never seen anyone shave their legs in my entire life,” I respond.
“Seriously?” Kathy thought I was kidding. It looked like she had whip cream on top of her legs.
“Yes, I don’t know why I would want to do that, I barely have any hair on my body, look at my eyebrows” I pointed.
Kathy giggled and said “Lucky you don’t have much hair. It’s a lot of work, I can’t imagine what it would look like if I don’t shave for a month.”
The leg shaving party was unfamiliar to me but being around people that different has opened up my mind and curiosity. Besides the differences of language, I also realized that we have different ways of living life and looking at things. Just when I thought it was only me, I was in a store with Kathy and she looked surprised and turned to Hannah pointing out body lotions with “skin whitening.”
“What’s this?” Kathy seemed surprised at what she had just seen.
“A body lotion,” I pointed at the label. “Most people here prefer to have lighter skin and if the products that help you do that, they sure did make a fortune. You don’t have this in your country?”
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Kathy turns to Hannah and both look at each other before saying simultaneously, “NO! You kidding!” I was as surprised as they were. I really thought every corner of the world would sell whitening body lotions.
I wondered what else I’d learn from new friends on the other side of the world, and what I could tell them about me and where I come from. The idea of traveling somewhere outside of my country and exploring the world was getting more attractive day by day. It became a top priority. And when I set my eyes on something, I rarely quit.
While this well-mapped plan sounded beyond exciting, I was eager to know how long it would take me to get enough money to pay for the program. I had zero dollars to my name. I could try to collect all the hidden petty cash mother put all over the house but it was never more than the cost of a roundtrip bus ride to the city. While the goals seem distant, I didn’t let my thoughts distract me from the grand plan of going away from my hometown. The seed had been planted in my heart. My mind was too relentless, I imagined myself already arriving at the airport and taking off. I thought my parents would be so proud and relieved to send me off and to have one less child to worry about.
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The more I thought about it, the more I believed that there must be another opportunity to make it out to ‘life’ than just ‘going to school and getting a good job’. I didn’t know what ‘the other way’ could possibly be yet. I just knew I didn’t want to live this life like the frog under the coconut shell. I wanted to get out the shell. But where and how?! The same question filled me with curiosity. I look at what was in front of me, an empty white blank wall like a canvas ready to be painted. The only paintbrushes I had were my two hands, two legs, and a brain.
Those were more than enough for me to get going and find a way out. I couldn’t help but follow the breadcrumbs of my heart’s calling. A pure excitement rushed through my body and veins.