Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I Travel: Why I'm in Bangkok Again (Again!)

My new (old) view from the sixth floor in my Bangkok home away from home (wherever that might be)
"Travel round
I travel round
Decadence and pleasure towns
Tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks and galleries"
-- from "I Travel," Simple Minds

This morning I had a brand-new epiphany (actually, several of them), some unexpected insight into what has been a primary motivating force in my life over the course of the last nearly two and a half years. It's been driving me around the world in trains and boats and (mostly) planes since I left Melbourne in July of 2011 for what was supposed to have been a one-month holiday in Bangkok and Southeast Asia and turned into a six-month continent-hopping adventure. My co-pilot: the thrill of new.

The epiphany came while I was jogging around Bangkok at 6am, less than 12 hours after my arrival back in town after five and a half months in Melbourne and Buenos Aires. I was huffing and puffing hoping all that oral exertion wouldn't blow whatever fuse was keeping me going on only four hours of sleep after the nine-hour flight from Melbourne to Bangkok.

My old running partner Sylvie and I were darting from topic to topic, and around the 5K point, we landed on unfaithful lovers, more specifically, her ex-husband. He's a Taurus like me, given to certain traits normally associated with that star sign. We agreed on loyalty. Despite his penchant for infidelity, Sylvie said that he was a loyal in every other way. Me, too.

"It figures," I said. "We're like that. Loyal to the end. As for the cheating," I continued, "we're like that, too. Not Taureans, men. It's not an astrological condition but rather a gender one."

That's when it hit me: Although I've never had a spouse to cheat on, in a way, I am driven by the same impulse that I suppose drive many people who cheat, the thrill of the new and the pursuit of momentary happiness through it. (See Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz for the perfect cinematic representation of how it works.)

It's the way I am with cities. I love the way I feel the first few days I arrive in one, even one I've been to many times before. On a first trip, or on a return trip, a town feels the way a new shirt smells -- clean, fresh, blank. The possibilities are endless.

Right now I feel that way about Bangkok -- again. Although I've spent some 16 months here over the course of the last two years, and very little about it has changed (unlike the prices at the 7-11s in Melbourne, where a cranberry/white chocolate muffin has gone from $2.50 in January to $2.80 now, those at the 7-11s in Bangkok haven't budged in two years), it feels like the first time (again), almost like I've never been here before.

Five and half months away was just enough time for me to recover that feeling of newness. I'm staying in the same place I've been calling my home in Bangkok since halfway through my first trip here in 2011, in an apartment on the very same line as my previous one, only four stories lower. Despite the similar view (see the photo above), everything still feels so new.

I know it won't last, and my eyes will wander yet again. As I ran around the jogging track, I realized that after going through the same experience with Melbourne and with Buenos Aires this year, I'm desperate to make this feeling of newness last longer with Bangkok, to fend off the wanderlust for as long as possible. This, I figured, might be how unfaithful spouses feel when, once they've sown their wild oats on various other farms, they return to the barn they call home, contrite and prepared to make amends with the one they temporarily neglected, who suddenly seems like a brand-new conquest. After traveling outside of the marriage for romantic gratification, what had previously felt old and routine suddenly feels new and exciting again.

But would it last? I knew in my case, it wouldn't, and I knew it from the moment I told Sylvie how good it was to be back in Bangkok and she asked a two-part question: "Does it feel the same? Isn't it funny how it immediately feels like the same routine as before?"

Only it didn't. Not yet. But I knew that eventually, it would. I had known it when I felt the same way after returning to Melbourne in January and after finding my way back to Buenos Aires in April. Though I'd previously spent significant time in both places, I'd been away long enough (10 months in the case of Melbourne, two years with Buenos Aires) to recapture that rush of newness and rediscovery when I returned. It hadn't lasted then, and I knew it wouldn't now.

That's when I realized that my latest travel plan -- 12 cities/countries for one month apiece over the next year -- wasn't just a possible theme for my next book. It was a sign of my addiction: I'm a junkie for the thrill of the new, constantly chasing that high that arrives only upon your arrival in a new place or a place you haven't visited in a while. It's like living a life with multiple rebirths.

The great thing about revisiting old loves (as I've been done four times now in 2013, once with a human one) is that you can skip that awkward getting-to-know-them phase. But it's also the bad part of retracing your footsteps. I secretly love that awkward getting-to-know-them phase, in travel and in romance. I'll get to experience it in Berlin for the first time since I went to Bali for the first time in December. (What is it with me and B places?!) Although I've been to Berlin, it's been 18 years. They say (well, Sade did) that it's never as good as the first time, but it will feel just like it.

This obsession with rebirth through travel has been a recurring addiction over the course of my lifetime. I believe that all frequent travelers have it to certain degree. It's the reason why many of us go on holiday in the first place. But it's dominated my life and thoughts for two years now, and at the moment, I see no end in sight.

But I'm open to one. They say the first step in kicking an addiction is admitting you have one. Done.

My particular addiction isn't life-threatening, though, so there is no pressing need for me to kick it. (It's also not as expensive as one might think, if you know what you're doing.) However, I'm not sure I want it to be a primary motivating force in my life for much longer. I'd be happy with once again being happy with going on holiday a few times a year. I know those sort of happy days will be here again.

"Who knows?" I told Sylvie. Maybe this adventure won't last a year. Maybe I'll end up in Cape Town, or some other city, and I won't want to leave." There is, after all, a first time for everything, and it wouldn't even be mine.

Post a Comment