This post was written on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a day after Loy Krathong. I’m currently in Luang Prabang, Laos.
When I opened up Facebook on my phone at three a.m. today, a message from the FB team was waiting for me on my news feed. Turns out, since the social media service knows where I am at all times, it Spidey-sensed I was in Thailand, and wished me a happy Loy Krathong.
When you’re drunk and tired and your contact lenses are glued to your eyes, and Facebook wishes you a happy holiday you don’t know, you stare at your phone like a dog stares at humans when they try to speak long complicated sentences to it.
So I Googled “Loy Krathong.” On the night of the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, Tai cultures (Thai, Laotian, and people from various parts of Myanmar), launch krathong on a river, canal, or pond, and make a wish. Krathong can be anything but is usually a little boatlike basket made of banana leaves and containing incense, a candle, and sometimes a coin. Some folks translate loy krathong to “to float a basket.”
A large part of me wished I’d spent the night launching little banana-leaf baskets onto a river instead of drinking vodka out of a plastic pail more suitable for sand-castle–building children. A smaller part of me now wishes I’d made a Kaitlin-size krathong and floated myself somewhere, just to see where I would go.
The first time I went to Southeast Asia, I cobbled together vacation days, sick days, and personal days at my nine-to-five in order to take an eighteen-day trip first to Cambodia and then to Thailand. Before I got to each of the six cities I’d crammed into less than three weeks of traveling, I read up on what I should see and how to see what I wanted to see, and when I got there, I was hungry and I was listening. My mouth and ears and heart were open, and my expectations were low. I stayed in hostels. I walked everywhere, maybe even places I shouldn’t have. I talked to people, tourists, locals as best I could. And all I hoped for was that I would figure out a little something about myself and my life, and if I didn’t, I at least went on a kick-ass trip, one I worked hard to take, and one for which I was grateful.
Of course, if you know me, you know I figured out more than just a “little something.”
So far this trip has been different.
I took a minibus to Ko Pha Ngan’s half moon party my first night on the island, but after that, the farthest I’ve been from my hotel (not a hostel) has been about three-tenths of a mile. I haven’t met anyone I’ve spoken to again following our first meeting. I’ve been working, copyediting, yes, as work doesn’t stop just because I’m in Thailand, but when I have had time, and when I considered venturing out, scared wasn’t the word I’d use to describe how I felt. Reluctant, maybe, or apathetic. Uninspired, for certain. So far I have used paradise as the backdrop for my work, my daily routine, and have all but ignored it, its people, and what it values. Hope. And making wishes.
I’ve always liked the concept of making wishes. The word making implies effort, creation, and I think that wishes are more often silent pleas for the strength to achieve a wish, instead of the wish itself on a platter. I worked on a poetry book recently in which the author said that dreams don’t come true but are made true, and wishes, I think, are fashioned much in the same way as dreams.
Embarking on this trip, I saw it as an opportunity to get a lot of work done, finish my book, and really start creating my business, which is, if I haven’t said, dating advice and coaching for women. I expected—no, more like demanded—that Southeast Asia drop a pat of inspiration and motivation on me (as it had the last time), while I shuffled around the grounds of my hotel, didn’t make a single friend, and vowed that tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, I’d stop making my first question in restaurants, “What is the Wi-Fi?” and then reading on glamour.com about what Reese Witherspoon’s real name is. My mouth and ears and heart have been closed, and I’ve sat like a fat cat, trying to get an entire continent to write my book for me. And I have been, up until now, ungrateful for its unceasing beauty, lack of frivolity, and smiles.
Tomorrow I take a ferry to Ko Samui, where I’ll get on a flight to Bangkok, and then Luang Prabang, Laos, a city known for markets, coffee (ahhh), and quiet, the bars closing early. No full moon parties. No half moon parties. No neon T-shirts with Kanye West sunglasses on them and quotes like Sex with me = free breakfast. I haven’t yet said to myself, Things will be different in Laos, as they will be different only if I make them so.
On December 2, Todd and I will fly, I from Laos and he from Thailand, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the country I went into loving and hugging, from which I asked nothing, only to receive everything I didn’t know I needed. And there, I’ll float, my arms open, no expectations, pushing a banana-leaf boat with my wish to the fore, poised to ride the current of an inspiration entirely of my own making.
*From The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende