Life and Love in the Land of Smiles

“Everything – her face, her step, her gaze, her voice – everything suddenly changed in her. Unexpectedly for herself, the force of life, her hopes for happiness, came to the surface and demanded to be satisfied.” – Leo Tolstoy, War & Peace, pg. 1124

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Today marks one year since Eric and I left behind everything we knew.. our families, friends, careers, cars, and the things that made us feel like us. We packed a couple of suitcases with clothes, books, and posessions we thought we might need. And by minimizing our attachments we made room for the new life that awaited us. Then we moved 8,900 miles across the world.

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Before departure at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport

We dreamed about what our life would be like in Thailand, but it has been nothing like we envisioned. Being completely immersed in an exotic culture has been so hard and yet so enriching. It’s crazy how off-balance people can become when we no longer have access to all of the things that used to bring us comfort. It’s equally incredible how resilient and adaptive we can be in a foreign, new environment.

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Within the walls of an ancient temple in Bagan, Myanmar

In the past year we visited six countries and checked off many destinations on our bucket lists. We explored the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We held hands in a cloud forest and were dazzled by a ‘supertree’ light show at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. In Malaysia we escaped the city and breathed misty beauty during our hike on the largest quartz ridge in the world, Bukit Tabur. We rode motorbikes along the edge of the Earth to secret beaches of Bali, Indonesia.

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Breathtaking views from Balangan Beach, Bali

While exploring Old Bagan in Myanmar, we climbed pagodas to watch the sun rise and later descend beyond the stupa-studded horizon. And in Thailand, we have visited four islands, two national parks, and many temples. One of our greatest memories was seeing two wild elephants roam out of the forest in Khao Yai National Park. It was a majestic moment that we will never forget and felt so lucky to witness.

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The first elephant we saw in Khao Yai National Park
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That magnificent moment when you freeze in awe  as your favorite animal walks beside you

In October 2017 we witnessed a nationwide commemoration to His Majesty, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thais across the country offered sandalwood flowers as their final tributes to their beloved king.

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My student leaving a sandalwood flower in honor of His Majesty

After months of traveling we were ready to plant our roots somewhere, and we have made a home in Bang Na, a district on the southern border of Bangkok. The traffic, noise, pollution, and congestion of city life has been overwhelming, but somehow we have managed to find beauty in every day. There are two love birds who sun bathe on our balcony during the day and watch the sunset together in the evening. Through our binoculars we watch giant water monitors eerily swim in a canal behind our condo. We woke up at dawn to see this year’s first super moon hovering over the city of Bangkok.

We have met many incredible wanderers who have also moved to Thailand. Most of them are solo travelers, and I admire them more than they know. Eric and I have been so lucky to have each other to depend on, and I have endless respect for those who have the courage to embark on such a life-changing adventure on their own.

As introverts, making friends hasn’t been easy. However, I’ve made connections with some truly special people who have opened their arms and hearts to us. We all come from different places in the world and have different backgrounds, and I’ve learned that we don’t have to be just like each other to accept, respect, and care for each other.

There have been moments when Eric and I felt completely uncomfortable, defeated…. lost. At first we really missed the comfort of old routines and habits. We couldn’t run on autopilot like we could back home. We also immensely miss our families and friends. But we tried to look at our time here as an opportunity to learn and grow, and we haven’t given up. A year has come and gone, we have learned so much, and we are still in the Kingdom. 

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Hot tea at the Rod Fai Night Market in South Bangkok

We aren’t too nervous to attempt speaking Thai anymore. I carry a little notepad in my purse of words and phrases I want to remember. I’ve learned to make some of our favorite Thai dishes in my DIY outdoor kitchen. We ride our bikes to work. We buy mangos, longan, mangosteen, jackfruit, and coconuts on the street. Eric can now drive through the second most dangerous streets in the world without losing his temper, and I no longer hold my breath as he weaves in and out of tumultuous traffic. We finally have adjusted to life in the Land of Smiles.

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Eric wearing traditional palm-leaf hat in Sai Yok National Park

As we ride our bikes to school we pass locals giving food offerings to monks. Bangkok has a distinguishable scent of fried garlic and motorbike exhaust. 

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Typical sidewalk view

I accepted a job as a kindergarten teacher at an international school. My students are from India, Syria, China, Ethiopia, and Thailand. English is the second or third language for all of my students. Each day, they make me smile, laugh, and feel loved. It is incredibly rewarding to watch their little minds evolve and grow. My assistant is a teacher from the Philippines who has such a peaceful and positive spirit. I feel incredibly fortunate to take part in such a unique teaching and learning experience.

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There’s too much love in my kindergarten family

Living here has given me a better understanding for my Thai mother and her culture. Food is a form of love here, and Eric and I have shared many meals with some of my family members. 

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gǔai-dtǐao gai (chicken noodles) and cafe yen with my Thai cousins

I have experienced my cousin Pe Hor’s (in Thai culture she is called my sister) compassion, attitude, efficiency, and generosity. By observing her, I realized I wanted to become more like her. She’s like a living, modern, female Buddha. She never complains or shows frustration. Unlike in America, it is rare to hear people complain in Thailand. Pe Hor has figured out how to be part of the “system of life” gracefully, peacefully, and selflessly. Her attitude inspires us. I still have so much to learn, but my mind is more open now than it has ever been before.

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Phuang malai placed in a Buddha statue’s palm at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon in Ayutthaya

Eric and I have been in wonder. We have been in tears. All the while, we have been in love. Inside the chrysalis of our relationship we have undergone a metamorphosis. We have never used the phrase “we complete each other” because we believe we should be whole on our own like binary stars. We have always wanted to give each other a heart and a love that is whole.

However, a deeper dependence naturally formed as a result of our isolation. At moments it seemed like we were all each other had. Sometimes that was challenging. Sometimes it felt like pressure. But in the end, we proved to ourselves and each other that we are good enough for each other. We proved it to ourselves and each other that we are dedicated to our commitment. Something this journey has made clear is that our relationship is ever-evolving and everlasting.

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Hiding away in the cliffs of Koh Nangyuan

We have been together every hour of every day for a year. Yet I still stare at him in awe. My presence still distracts him from his writing. One day I joked while he was hugging me, “Why are you in my bubble?” He responded, “Because it feels like home in there.”

“I’m a part of you. Not beside you, but within you.” -Ajadevi in Temple of a Thousand Faces by John Shors

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Chinese New Year at Wat Kalayanamitr

Like branches of a banyan tree, we are entangled. He has been my home. My safety. He cares for me in ways I never thought possible. He is patient with my moods. And when I am stressed and need to vent, he listens without judgement. He helps me with my classroom and knows my students. 

He knows me. He truly knows me… my darkness, my light, and all the shades in between. Spending so much time together, we are under each other’s microscope. Like the petals of a vibrant flower, our layers are peeled back, exposing and revealing the secrets within. Feeling love in this kind of way evaporates the human feelings of insecurity.

“The first phase of married love will pass, it is true, but then there will come a love that is better still. There will be the union of souls, they will have everything in common, there will be no secrets between them.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

One evening we talked about the five senses, but mostly contemplated the subtle senses unnamed. “Like love,” said Eric. “Is it just from seeing you, hearing you, touching you, smelling you?.. Or is it the magnetism between two hearts?”

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Escaping the heat in Cambodia

We are reaching for the zenith of ourselves and our relationship. Our bond is sacred, and every day I feel so lucky to be the one who gets to know him, love him, and be loved by him.

“We are all asleep until we love.” – Leo Tolstoy pg. 131

Many of our dreams have come true. We have put much of our free time towards individual growth. In the past year Eric finished reading many books, wrote his first short story, and completed an extensive self-authoring program. In shirt and tie he taught English to Thai government employees. I have now written twenty-three chapters of my romance memoir. I also started and finished reading War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which was a literary and spiritual journey. 

“Love? What is love?” he thought. “Love hinders death. Love is life. Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is connected only by that. Love is God. And to die means that I, a part of love, return to the common and eternal source.” – Prince Andrei, War & Peace, pg. 984

Some dreams we are still chasing. Some dreams have evolved into something completely different. But if we have learned anything from this captivating and confusing journey, it is to follow our own path. Don’t do what is expected because the most beautiful things in life are a mystery and cannot be anticipated. We have also learned that true happiness requires the capacity to forgive.

While we continue being each other’s traveling partners through life, I believe it is so important to remain in touch with each other’s internal journeys. We need to support each other, bring each other light in times of darkness, and keep each other accountable on the road towards our better selves.

The journey is not yet complete.

……..To be continued……

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Inside the ‘Crystal Universe’ at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Life and Love in the Land of Smiles

  1. Jenna

    I was sitting at work lost in thought for a few moments, and your blog and story came to mind. Thinking, it has been while, I wonder if I have missed a post.. only to check out your site and see you had just posted today .. oh beautiful synchronicity.. 🙂 your journey together is enchanting and inspiring, and this post speaks volumes as to why. Though I do not know you personally, as a supporter and admirer of you both and the vision you give to the heights a partnership and love can truly reach, I wish you so much joy in this new year, and very much look forward to all you will continue to share… ❤

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    1. Jenna,
      Magical synchronicity ✨ I’m glad I got to distract you from your thoughts for a moment 😊 The comments you have shared mean more to me than you know. Coming from a society where it is more common to vent about one’s partner, sometimes it feels risky to share my overflow of love for E. I try to remain true to myself in hopes that my words touch the heart of someone else. There is an insecurity that comes with writing, and your comments always motivate me to continue sharing my truth. Thank you endlessly for your support and encouragement. I do hope that love orbits your life. -Kat

      Like

  2. Jenna

    Magical indeed.. 🙂 I’m very glad too.. I believe your voice and story are imperative for that exact reason, because it is the exact opposite of how 99% of relationships are presented and viewed today. It is borders absurd to me that so many people live in misery, or mediocrity, just to be ‘in a relationship’. Or that it seems like a culturally accepted fact that love will fade, connection will fade, even sex will fade, once in a committed relationship to someone. Why do we accept this, and continue these narratives as inevitabilities?? WHY does this have to be inevitable? I personally think it’s b.s. It feels like people almost use these narratives as excuses to not be present and responsible for the growth and continued nurture of their own relationships.

    The potential for us all to have and be something greater is real, both personally and in a relationship. We all have the capability to be so much more. You are both proof of that. I truly hope one day that what you have together is the norm, and not a rare exception. So please, don’t ever stop sharing your story.. it is so important.

    <3<3<3

    Like

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