Friday, October 12, 2007

Last Thailand Update 12/29/04

Originally sent on December 29, 2004

dear friends,
for those of you who do not know, and may not believe, i have decided to return to the United States next month (mid-january 2005) to pursue studies, in one form or another (that has yet to be decided...). It has been a long time, but after many years of indecision and conflicting emotions, this is one that leaves me with a feeling of absolute rightness. Not that I won't miss Thailand or Korea, or wish that I could stay, but I also feel that if I do not go back now, it will never happen. And it is surely something that i need to do, for many reasons.

In a book I am reading now, Salman Rushdie wrote, "Disorientation is lost of the east...the east is what you sail by, lose the east and you lose your bearings, your certainties, your knowledge of what is and may be, perhaps even your life." With less than 2 weeks left before i leave here to return to california, i find these words resonate within me. What will it be like to lose the east? will i feel lost, unstable, the earth beneath my feet not solid? will i be able to find the east again, or lose it forever like a rejected lover?

However, Rushdie also questions is this is all a myth, and that only when you let go, when you face the feelings of loss and chaos and loneliness, that you find your bearings and orient yourself in the bigger picture of life. Which is true? i'm not sure either, but i suppose the next 2 years will give me a sure answer.

As i write these words they seem so trivial in the face of the tragedy that has hit Southeast Asia with the earthquake and resulting tsunamis. perhaps the only reason that this tragedy will seem real to many is that many of those dead are tourists from the west. This can be illustrated by the shock of knowing that hundreds if not thousands of tourists in Thailand are dead and/or missing, but in neighboring Aceh, the dead are estimated at over 10,000. Yet the thailand loss feels closer, because of my physical proximity.

I suppose that this is also true of great tragedies that happen in the west as well, they do not seem as real as those that happen in our own backyard. I am saddened and troubled, even though i know that the fragility of life is a given, even though i know that these things happen all the time. it is still disturbing to know it happened so close, and in all likelihood i someone i met recently was a victim. My email address is probably lost in a bag somewhere in this person's guesthouse at the beach, lost forever and i will never know what happened. (picture is Northern Thailand, where I was staying when the earthquake hit)

after the shock and sadness, i have started thinking of this tragedy as an opportunity to think of our relationship to nature. our civilizations have not been treating nature well, and nature, when provoked, lashes back at us in retribution. hmm. a little biblical. can't get away from these religious allegories. another way i think of it is about the fragility of life: nature always gave and took life, and we have somehow assumed that we are safe from death in our concrete walls and cities and hospitals and bacteria-killing liquid soaps.

this is morbid. i will stop. for some reason, this event makes it more difficult to think of leaving. i'm not sure why. i find my feelings leaving thailand are even more complex than my feelings of leaving korea. perhaps because i left korea a year ago, perhaps because i've been through a lot this last year. Then i realize that it is similar to the feeling i had leaving korea the first few years, when the pain was too new and the bonds too fragile. i left korea once, for good(i thought at the time), with a feeling of loss, or having missed something, or lost great opportunities, and i cried like someone with a broken heart. i've already said goodbyes to work and friends in Bangkok, and it was a similar feeling. but more familiar now the second time around. loss, sadness, and a little regret. but knowing that all of these emotions signal very significant life lessons that i have learned from being here.

Strangely enough, i am looking forward to my future life in the bay area. i waited until i was absolutely ready, and now i know i am. there is no hesitation about me leaving, i look forward to seeing family and old friends, to taking classes in english, and exploring the United States with the eyes of a tourist. I realize more and more how little i know about the US, the history, the geography, and the people (in the midwest or south, for example). in learning more about the US, i hope to also learn a little more about myself, for i can no longer deny that it is a part of me. how much it is a part of me is something i will have to discover on my own. I have promised myself i will stay at least 2 years, whether good or bad. i think this is the longest commitment i've made in a while. :)

I'm looking forward to seeing all of you in person. many of you are not good with writing, so i hope to catch up face to face and hear of the changes in your lives, your ideas, or just be happy being near the familiarity of old friends.
as soon as i get settled, i will email all of you with my new contact information.
happy new year, and see you soon.

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