I spent the last day and a half on a bus. Well… on several buses. Drew and I have been blessed with a cheap rental for the month of March, so the time spent “domesticated” so to speak made this series of bus rides feel significant enough to stir up those thoughts of mine.
I believe that semi-reclined seat near the back of the bus may be the closest thing I have to a “home” these days. In this short few weeks of stationary living, I so quickly forgot the more accurate picture of my life right now. In a week and a half I will be back on a bus of some kind. Or perhaps a train. That train will take me to a brief resting place before I board another bus…which will take me to yet another bus and so on and so on. These long-distance buses are as concrete a part of my routine as anything else. I’ve come to like these bus rides, actually. Or at the very least, they give me a place to rest my feet for a few hours while I watch the scenery change out my window.
Out my window I watched mountains bordered with green palms and rock-bedded creeks lined with the same. It looked like a tropic version of the drive I used to take from my hometown to the only other place I’ve ever really called home in Charlottesville, Va. This was my first ever comparison between northern Thailand and Appalachia. But to be honest, there’s always some part of the Western world hiding in my thoughts. I can’t change that. I was born and raised in America and that never seems truer than when I’m traveling. It takes a lot of work to iron out all of the things I grew up thinking were constants.
Options for example. The feeling that options give me freedom is a hard western thought to shake. Thai food is delicious for example, but hardly a day goes by where I don’t wish I could order a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich instead of the pad Thai or fried rice I alternate between every day. I miss my options. Two scenes from my bus window in particular made me examine my need for choices. The first was a monk, cloaked in his brilliant orange robe as he dug through the trash. There was something graceful about the scene, but sad as well. Monks beg in the mornings, but they do not accept money. They will only accept donations of food. This eliminates all choice. This monk cannot say “No thank you. Please bring me a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich instead.” This monk eats what he is given. And if he isn’t given anything…? Is that why I’ve seen a monk on his haunches over a pile of garbage? I admit, I know very little about the life of monks: if they have money, what choices they are and are not given…etc. But the scene stirred my thoughts all the same.
The second scene was a truck with a crowd of people piled in its bed. I enjoy riding in the backs of trucks. As a kid I was always excited when my dad would let my sisters and I ride in the bed of his truck on short trips to the small town that neighbored ours. The wind whipping through my hair and the speed of the gravel below was something worth excitement, I thought. When we were in Phn-Na, a man gave us a ride in the back of his truck and the warm breeze on my face brought back this child-like exhilaration. The sun was setting in shades of pink and we had been walking for hours towards the town we hoped would provide a place for us to rest. The sound of the Muslim call-to-prayer rang out in the air and we left it on the rural road behind us as we sped towards the lights of town, just as it was growing dark. The moment stands among my highlights on this trip. But…I am 25. I am young enough to crouch awkwardly on the back of a pick-up and find the beauty in it. Among the crowd piled into the back of the truck out my bus window was an old woman with hair that had gone white. Regardless of how fun she may or may not have found pick-up rides in her youth, an old woman must resign to what her body will let her do. I couldn’t imagine that the back of a pick-up truck, smashed between knees and elbows would be an old woman’s first choice of transport, had she other options: my bus for instance. I’m sure that woman would have loved a semi-reclining seat near the back of a bus where she could sit quietly and rest her feet.
In everything…be grateful. Contentment is freedom far more than choices are.
That is what I’m trying to iron into my western mind.