Catching the Travel (Love) Bug
or putting the LUST in wanderlust
The evening of February 14th, I found myself in bed comfortably wrapped up with my latest muse. We had been spending more and more late nights together, and when I was at work I spent a lot of time distractedly thinking about what we would do together next. These activities usually involved food, a bottle of wine, and hours in my bed, or my couch, the dining room table…you get the idea. I have my best friend, Jess, to thank for setting us up (thanks, Jess!).
I didn’t realize what my life was missing until our first interaction,
and now I can openly and confidently say that I am hooked.
As the film/TV teacher at my school, you’d think that I would have a decent repertoire of movies analyzed, reviewed, or simply watched. Those of you who know me know this is the furthest from the truth. The Godfather? Nope. Casablanca? Nope. Titanic? Yes, but only once when I was like, eight. I have never seen a James Bond, Indiana Jones, Fast and the Furious, or Jason Bourne movie. The Oscars are an event I only ever watch for the red carpet fashion, if at all, and in the seven months since I have moved to Bangkok I have yet to see a movie in a Thai theatre. And so, because I am a film teacher and a firm believer in Professional Development, I embarked on a mission to give myself a “movie education”, courtesy of Netflix. I started off with classics highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB’s “Must-See Films of all Time” list including: The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, and, just last night, Fight Club. (Side note: I am very late to the screening, so if I want to talk about how much I liked Fight Club, am I allowed to???) Sprinkled into the binge watching were Netflix series and specials: Stranger Things, Easy, Judd Apatow’s Love, and every single stand-up comedy special released on Netflix Thailand (which is way more PG than its American or Canadian counterparts). Guiltily, I’ve also taken the shared Netflix account opportunity to waste hours of my life on terrible satirical movies including Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, This is the End, and almost every one of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison mistakes.
And so on Valentine’s Day, after Skyping Rob over pizza and pad Thai, while intermittently gushing and then lamenting over our sixth shared singles V-Day together, I decided to treat myself to a Tom Hanks romantic comedy. From the title and movie poster I determined The Terminal had something to do with travel/transportation, and maybe a touch of terminal illness? If I learned anything from A Walk to Remember, and every single Korean/Japanese drama ever, it’s to always expect someone to find out they’re deathly ill at an exceptionally inopportune time, like during a heartfelt confession of love, or after the announcement of their first child. In The Terminal, one of my favourite interactions between protagonist Hanks, estranged Krakozian Viktor Navorski stuck in JFK Airport until his country becomes recognized as a country again, and Amelia (Catherine Zeta Jones), a flight attendant (and, as most hopeless romantics are, a sadist) takes place in what has become an all-too familiar interaction:
Amelia: I have to go.
Viktor: I have to stay.
Amelia: Story of my life.
Viktor: Me too.
In my seven months living overseas, I have had the opportunity to meet people, travel to new places, and both make and miss connections (at airports and otherwise). The theme of finding/looking for “love” (whatever it is/means) has been constant throughout my writing, and my overall experience so far in Bangkok. In the most visited city in the world (more frequented annually than Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo), it seems both impossible not to connect with someone, and yet impossible to maintain an established connection. People fly in, stay for a weekend, a week, a month, and then are onto their next destination. Some people, like myself and many colleagues, are here for a two-year contract, and then sign a new contract at a new school in a new place. I have felt what both Amelia and Viktor talk about above. (Warning: spoiler alert ahead!) At the end of the movie, Amelia rehashes her sexy, but destructive, affair to secure a VISA for Viktor who, after nine months, leaves the airport and finally gets to see The Big Apple. As he gets into a long-awaited taxi outside JFK, Amelia hops out of one. This is the part where she quits her job and runs away with him, right? Wrong. Unlike many other rom-coms, the pair do not decide to drop what they are doing, do not declare their passionate and unbridled love for each other, and do not make out under a gentle snowfall to a sappy soft rock song. Amelia and Viktor continue on their separate ways to do what they want/need to do, and I like to think that they are both happy about that in the end.
I have met people in this city whom I have grown fond of and attached to, only to watch them leave shortly after. I have also been the traveler in another city: Seoul, Hanoi, Manila, Kingston, Toronto, who made the connection, and then had to go.
Bangkok is not a romantic city. (Keep in mind, this does not include northern Thailand or the southern islands, most of which are terribly romantic.) I would not choose to come to Bangkok on my honeymoon, nor would I book a flight here in hopes of meeting my soulmate at a dimly lit restaurant over oysters underneath a dark and starry sky. (Those are not stars, those are airplanes bringing more tourists and business people over — there are no stars here, only smog and satellites.) Now, Venice is a city to fall in love in (and after reading Humphrey’s Exquisite Hours, I have only fallen into a deeper longing for its azure canals), as I am sure is the case with Rome, Paris, New York. You do not come to Bangkok with “fall in love” scribbled into your itinerary. Bangkok, as infamously shown in The Hangover 2 (which I also watched on Netflix), is for partying while smeared with neon paint, and for sex. For buckets of liquor on white sand beaches, eating insects off of sticks, and getting a pair of elephant-printed pants. Bangkok is for tour buses packed with Chinese families, and monkeys taking your stuff, and crumbling ruins, and cheap but delicious (and very spicy, even if you ask for no spice because that’s just how it is around here) food, glistening wats, and golden temples. And it is perhaps the greatest city in the world for many of those things. It is a great city to backpack with friends, to meet other travelers, to participate and learn about Thai art and culture. It is a fun city to work in, especially if you are young and want to hook up, and if you are old and want to hook up. Now, at the risk of sounding even more cynical than I currently am (it’s okay, you can roll your eyes at my incessant complaining), I do know people who have met and fallen in love with their partner in Bangkok, and so a small, but significant, flame of hope still flickers.
But Kayla, a romantic connection cannot simply be created or willed into existence, it just happens… naturally and spontaneously when the right person comes along.
I know, I know, and I want to believe that wholeheartedly. My first meeting with “the one” could be on a park bench, at an artsy little café, in line for a drink at a rusty public water fountain, at a bar, on the curb after wiping out on roller blades (actually, this would likely never happen as I am quite afraid of rollerblading), on the BTS, behind a Burger King dumpster blah blah blah etc. etc. But that is not the point of this entry. As of right now I am not entirely certain what the “point” actually is, but I/you will hopefully find one by this post’s end.
Although I don’t believe much is romantic about travelling to or through Bangkok, there is something about travelling in general that is very romantic in its own right. I don’t know if it’s the freedom of being away from commitments and obligations tied to the professional, personal, and social aspects of home, or if it’s just the idea of being somewhere new/else. Maybe on a beach, in the forest or mountains, dwarfed by glittering skyscrapers, or treading over snaking cobblestone paths. Reading new signs, hearing new sounds, or smelling/eating new food, partaking in new cultural experiences; all of it is quite romantic, for both coupled and solo travelers. I mean, look at Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, a movie which I strongly believe sparked a fire under the asses of middle-aged wannabe globetrotters and exhausted/bored stay-at-home moms to go outside and see the world. You too can become a digital nomad and live off of your blogging and YouTube channel. You too can eat plates of pasta and bowls of bread in Rome and not gain a single pound, find your inner peace by sitting on your butt for days by a beach, and then meet a hunky bearded man who wants to whisk you away to an island paradise. At the very least, you can dream about it.
And so I get it. In fact, I’ve got it. The travel bug, the love bug (no, not crabs) — a newly coined term I just made up: the “travel love bug”, putting the LUST in wanderlust.
For myself, travelling has always been tied to making connections. More often than not, these connections are made at my hostel, the local watering hole, on Tinder/social media, or through random encounters with strangers (see my post on Korea for details). Most of my encounters with lust, “love”, and its likeness, have been while I was travelling. Being a visitor, passing through one place or another, makes it both easier and harder to connect, in any manner of the term. A great conversation can turn into a Facebook friend request, dinner with a group of other wanderers, or beers by the crashing tide. In an ideal scenario, you’ve made a travel buddy who you can explore with (and who will take photos of/for you so your selfie stick can stay in your backpack). If you’re lucky, you are offered a place to stay if you ever find yourself in x city. A fling can go poorly and carry little/no consequence (just be safe and consensual about it, people!!), or can go well with its participants understanding, sometimes begrudgingly, the low likelihood of there being anything more/else between them in the morning. Either way, the next day, regardless of the connection, they or myself are gone, and life goes on as it tends to do.
I apologize, dear readers, for I am nearing the end of this post and have not yet pinned down one “point” of all of my rambling. Sorry. This has been a rather cathartic hour and a half of sitting in a fancy coffee shop typing and making, and then avoiding, eye contact with a handsome man a few tables down from mine. My caffeinated rant has been fueled by my first cuppa’ Joe since Vietnam (the trip, not the war, but both were some time ago). I think what I am trying to say, mostly as a reminder to myself, is that the point of travel is not to fall in love. With anyone else that is. And because I take my Professional Development as a film teacher seriously, here is what I learned after a brief analysis of Eat, Pray, Love. Julia Roberts hit pause on her social and professional lives and traveled because she wanted to fall in love… with herself. She did all the eating and the meditating and had all the sex in an act of self-love, (devouring carbs and gelato and being on a beach in Bali is my kind of love — you go, Julia) until the other love (in the form of a hunky bearded man, Javier Bardem,) found her. Actually, he almost ran her over with his truck.
People with upcoming travel plans often say that they are excited to learn about themselves on their trip, especially trips that are unlike the roadies and family vacations they’ve grown up with. “I am just so excited to find myself on this trip.” That quote was not meant to mock. Travelling is the best way to learn about yourself because you have intense introspective moments every day. This is partially because you are constantly lost, or sweaty on a bus/train/plane/donkey, constantly in awe, and constantly bombarded with new stimuli. Your reactions to these strange and newfangled sights/sounds/smells/sensations teach and encourage you to reconsider things you like/dislike, value, believe, and know/don’t know/thought you knew. And that feeling is addicting. Travel begets more travel. Once you embark on a journey, no matter how small, the longing, the need to do it again is so strong it’s almost intoxicating. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get through a day, or a conversation without thinking about a new destination, even if it is just a new coffee shop or restaurant down the street.
I do not speak German, aside from “bratwurst” and “Fraulein” (thanks, Sound of Music!), but I will hazard a guess that this powerful, unshakable wanting for travel is, at least partially, why the feeling is called “wanderlust”.
To conclude with a very cheesy, rom-com inspired ending, I leave you with a final thought:
the secret to finding love while travelling is, first and foremost, to love yourself first and most.
Your hunky bearded man will come.