I’ve been in Thailand for 6 months now and realize that I probably should have brought that sleeping bag that I handed my dad before passing through security en route to begin “My Year of Purposeful Cultural Immersion.” I left the USA on October 1, 2558BE from the SLC International Airport. The things I would tell my parents about how I spend my time — some reflections recorded in this snapshot necessitate by report-writing, — are available for 24 minutes of your time directly below.

Thank you letter to my parents

Mid-Year Report to the Michael C. Rockefeller Fellowship Committee

With the vague intention to make a home for myself in Thailand, I set out in October of 2558 BE, just after the full lunar eclipse of a blood red harvest super moon. I hosted my going-away party in Idaho in the mercurial light of this rare cosmic event. As the moon finished peaking out from around the corner of the earth’s shadow, I resolved to peak myself around every cosmo-(il)logical or coincidental corner I might find in Thailand.

This report is a window. At its most romantic, it is a rhetorical stand-in for the pane of windshield on my motorbike, that transparent but thankfully gaseously impermeable panel through which I gaze upon the dust of the Thai countrysides as well as the taxi exhaust of the cities. However, given that I am a millennial, this report is probably more like an analogical screenshot of the browsing window on my cell phone, allowing you to watch me swipe through the things I’m barely beginning to understand. Hard as I might try to describe how it feels to have muggy subtropical air whipping through my hair, or illustrate how my tear ducts have a tendency to get ticklish when I see my parents’ tiny pixelated digital faces video chatting me, some parts of my experience simply will not project across the medium of the written word. It was psychologist Jacques Lacan who said, “I see only from one point, but in my existence I am looked at from all sides.” I interpret this as an inciteful remark meant to fortify writers of personal reports, to encourage us to embrace being gazed upon. Though it is very difficult to see the ground I am standing on, and even if I believe I am just drop in a giant collective human puddle slowly seeping back into the earth, I appreciate the opportunity for this admirable exercise to try to step outside myself and reflect. I thank you in advance for your efforts to read it.

I’m happy to report that I feel a bit self-congratulatory at the moment. I now speak enough Thai to get what I need at the pharmacy, to negotiate the price of my purchases over the din of the biggest bazaar in Southeast Asia, to have passed the driver’s test at the Thai DMV, to be invited to have som tam (green papaya salad) with my Thai gal friends, and to be trusted enough to be invited to the reunion of a Thai family on one of the most sacred and fun national holidays of the year, Songkran. That said, my Thai is still truly terrible. I know that language acquisition will keep me on a constant learning curve until I leave Thailand.

I am updating this report from Loei Province in the northeastern part of the country, beginning a trip to a family reunion in Kalasin Province. This journey is breathing life into my original intention here in Thailand. This time of celebration coincides with the rising of Aries (which I will playfully mention happens to be my astrological symbol), and this holiday provides occasion for Thais return to their birthplaces to honor their living elders and those that have passed away. At the time of the annual Michael C. Rockefeller Fellowship Retreat on Cape Cod, I will be meeting the extended family of my Thai grandma, Koon Yaa Thongleaim, “Grandma Thongleaim,” at their Songkran family party.

Koon Yaa was my stand-in grandma when I was growing up in Idaho. She cooked delicious Thai food in a restaurant for the local bumpkins (my family of course included) and anyone who was passing by on the Idaho freeway and happened to stop into her tiny restaurant. She was kind to me and treated me like a grandchild, and her death had a surprising impact on me. I saw her peaceful silhouette in a casket when I was eight years old, and I remember planting a tree with her grieving family members, many of whom had traveled from Thailand to view the ceremony. I remember that the number of individuals at her commemoration ceremony was very small.

Even from that distant childhood memory, a dissonance in the proceedings still comes to mind. There was such a huge tonal gap between the effusive and seemingly unending generosity and warmth of her presence in life, and the restraint and confusion of the proceedings honoring her death. Maybe it was just the eerie stillness of her face under the fluorescent lights of the funeral home that put me ill at ease. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the flamboyantly exotic subtropical variety of tree we planted staged against the background of a drab and semi-arid Idahoan hillside. Looking back, my mood at her passing was bound to be confused. After all, it was my first experience of death, the first time I felt a hole in my chest excavated by the inexorable march of time and the fallibility of the human body. Although I have since then experienced more losses of loved ones, finding “adult” methods of grieving, the oddness of Koon Yaa’s funeral sticks with me to this day. The reasons behind the oddness were made even clearer to me when I visited the temple in Thailand where she spent twenty years of her life.

A picture of a picture of the pillar containing Koon Yaa’s bones in Loei, pardon the greasy face and finger marks on the screen, but I think it’s more authentic this way.

10:00AM ICT

April 7, 2016

Loei, Thailand

…Uncle Suvit took me to see the pillar where my grandmother’s bones were poured into the concrete. (I assume they transported them from Idaho. I suppose she was cremated and not buried.) Under the watchful gaze of some very lithe monks who were sweeping the monastery cafeteria floor, I took a picture of this pillar and the embedded tile with her portrait. I felt silly. The moment was captured, but the spirit of course was not.

…I’ve had a habit of telling everyone in Thailand that I am here collecting butterflies. It’s a likely story — I have a bug net I frequently carry and I did study biology. I’ve even tried to conduct some “research expeditions” on my own to catch Thai butterflies, but these experiences have often left me feeling quite silly, similar to all the times I try to “catch” events on video.

The Thai word for butterfly is “phi seuhx” or directly translated “ghost shirts.” (Belief in spirits is entirely common in Thailand, and I have to say I am taken with them myself.) This monastery where Thongleiam spent so much of her time, Wat Tam Pah Boh, is chock full of ghost shirts. I followed Uncle Suvit through the grounds as he showed me the cave, the kitchen, the bell tower, and I craned to hear the Thai words I could understand through his stutter and the roar of the cicadas. It is the peak of the dry season, with the water festival around the corner, and I resisted the impulse to try and catch a butterfly — to put on yet another shirt, to embrace another ghost that was not my own — so I simply watched as they flitted and flapped and felt far less silly than before.

When we passed the house where Thongleiam lived, Suvit stopped to poke his head in the door. It was abandoned and creaky, and he quickly peeked back out to shoo me along. “Mai dai,” he said. “Cannot.” I asked him if he was scared or sad, and he said he wasn’t. He was hot. The weather was oppressive and we were both sweating in the sun. I told him I was sad, and he giggled.

My parents always said to me that they wished they had given me a centerpiece of faith around which I could set a personal orbit of morality. In reality, it seems they did their best to confuse the hell and purgatory out of my sister and me. We would attend services at the Korean Baptist Church, the Community Church, the Mormon Church, Burning Man, and even the Jehovah’s Witness Meetings in my parents’ attempt to give my sister and me a wide variety of insight into how other people approached faith. I attended a Lutheran elementary school and an Episcopalian high school and was well-acquainted with the phrase from the Book of Genesis: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Maybe this is not a condemning image as I always thought. It is biologically accurate in one sense, the carbon that makes up your body having cycled through the universe since the element commenced existing. That said, I don’t like thinking about life as a steady crawl back to the carbon sink from which I came. When I saw my Koon Yaa in the casket so long ago and watched with sad anticipation as the roots of that ill-fated subtropical tree began to shrivel in the dust of the Snake River Plains, I saw death framed as an endpoint. This is changing for me. Koon Yaa was a devote Buddhist, living in the quiet space of a monastery for over a quarter of her lifetime. She was essential to that place, and all of the monks still remember her there. The funeral I saw in Idaho was not at all the final word on her life. She is still embedded in the foundation of her monastery and the knowing giggles of her family members.

It’s very rare for me to riddle upon death for too long, but I think it has a significant bearing on my Fellowship year — to learn that out of an experience of mortality there might come an extra joy to living. Death might be a return to something which is in turn a departure from something, and so on. I think what I had previously failed to grasp is that a perspective trained on the earthly, corporeal presence, will always feel like it is steadily losing ground. While the beats of an individual human heart in a lifetime can be scientifically measured, I don’t think the collective hum, with all those millions of cicada tymbals and the butterfly wings and extra-cosmic implosions over an incomprehensible vastness of time, could have any such limit. I’m still working on these thoughts, but no resolution is a fine resolution in this case.


On the topic of resolutions, I had hoped to come to Thailand to release paper lanterns into the sky during the Loy Krathong Festival and remove myself from the mechanized track of worldly success. Such lofty intentions, and although I did manage to release a lantern in Chiang Mai, I saw in real time what the Internet didn’t mention — the hordes of other Google image-seekers. I slowly came to realize that the city in Thailand that I had originally selected to live was a mecca for a group of people that call themselves “digital nomads.” These people, mostly twenty and thirty-somethings, work on the Internet from cities with low costs of living. Before I throw shade towards this extensive tribe of people around my own age and travel-seeking orientation, I should check myself before I wreck myself. I think the thing clouding my empathy for any self-identified “digital nomad” is probably a latent and bewildered nomadism of my own. One of my own frequent frustrations in this year abroad thus far is my restless constant movement to a multitude of welcoming households. I have permission and a passport to explore all of these new households and sometimes this leaves me feeling perpetually homeless. I believe there is a certain degree of accountability and investment that comes with orienting myself around something immobile. But letting something external be the node for the concretions and layered building of my intention has been difficult. How to resolve my desire to keep moving with my hope to plant my Idaho potato self in this subtropical oasis is one of my ongoing questions.

There is a famous quotation that comes to mind from Pliny the Elder, “home is where the heart is.” Right now, I recoil from the idea that my heart could dictate my home. If my home were with all the various pieces of my heart here in Thailand, I’d by now be a scatter-cloud of cosmic dust. I would say rather, “home is where the moms are.” I admitted at the start of this report that I’ve readily accepted and embraced and embodied confusion…and come to think of it, this is probably why I am a magnet for mothering. Moms are not usually as ubiquitously found as my report of my experience is about to suggest, but I have been especially lucky in this regard. It turns out motherhood is not a talent that all people naturally possess. It requires a very special person and a very special set of circumstances to make it work. My maternal grandmother effectively finished mothering when she brought my own mother to the United States, and my paternal grandmother opted to join a convent as soon as her children were old enough to make it on their own. Both my mother and my father began to build their own homes from a very young age, and I’m realizing just how lucky I was to have parents with their level of savvy.

If you’ll allow me to wax a bit lyrical for a moment, moms are, for me personally in Thailand, the backbones and the bedrocks of my experience here. I’ll describe just a few of them, and I hope they won’t fault me for writing about them. I know I am lucky to have been offered such an intimate place in their lives, so I will do my best to describe their warmth and what drew me to them while refraining from over-wringing the details.

Pi Pan watering the well-cared for and abundant plants near Suthep Road in Chiang Mai.

My first mother in Thailand was Panchit Warrit, a chain-smoking fire-cracker and scone-baker with the most adorable British accent and a serious addiction to buying orchids and ferns. This lovely Thai woman hosted me for my first two months in Chiang Mai, the “sweet and slow and sabai” northern city full of digital nomads, allowing me to live in her home at the recommendation of her son. He was a professor of entomology at Chulalongkorn University, who only knew me because I studied bees in college. (Bees always happen to be this central and refocusing life force for me.) Pi Pan, Thai for “Big Sister/Aunt Pan,” helped me to find everything I needed from the outset. I love her dearly and she is my number one contact if anything might happen to me while I’m in this country.

Ekua doing what she does, entertaining artists in her residency, Project 189 in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

For the past two months I have been the spoiled adopted apprentice of a woman named Ekua Yankah in Bangkok, where I am helping her to run Project 189, an artist-in-residence program housed in a functional ruin in Bangkok’s Chinatown. She is a former UN consultant and long-time student of Masahiro, one of the world’s foremost masters of TaoZen Life Practice, and someone under whom I hope to study. Ekua’s three-story shophouse/studio/living space stands alongside spice warehouses, multi-generational family homes, workshops, laboratories, galleries, restaurants, and more on a street called “Soi Nana.” This neighborhood in Bangkok has really embraced me in a way I can’t describe. Through Ekua, I have been introduced to and internalized the quirks and quintessence of both the building and the dramas of a little island of bohemians and otherwise. I’ve been given opportunities to be an extra in foreign films, visit hundreds of respected massage schools and instructors, study essential oil distillation, work with a water buffalo leather designer and former student of the late architect Zaha Hadid, and experience the healing powers of Reiki at the hands of woman not too much older than myself. My time in Bangkok is always a hubbub of intensive learning, especially thanks to the guidance of Ekua.

Yong Chu, my “actual” mother, in a gold shop at the Anusarn Market in Chiang Mai.

You’ll notice that I’m neglecting, for now, two months in the middle in between mothers Pan and Ekua, because my actual mother, Yong Chu Murphy (along with my father and sister) came to visit for Christmas. Their visit was nothing short of miraculous and was riddled with familial epiphanies. It was by far one of the most important trips, being the only one abroad, that we’ve ever been able to afford to take as a family. This would not have been possible for me without the Rockefeller Fellowship. And I would not have been possible without my mother. Very obviously, this report must thank many parties, but in particular I’d like to thank my biological mother and father for allowing me to wander, and the Rockefeller Committee for putting me in a position to ask them for permission.

My family’s visit to Thailand jump-started a revolving door of visitors from the USA for me here in Thailand. Of course these were fun and unexpected experiences in most cases, but during my time between Thai “mothers,” I was living in a bustling share-house in Chiang Mai called “The Orchid House.” It had a wonderful random set of travelers and energetic young expats, and it felt like a comfortable throwback to my time at the Dudley Co-op at Harvard. I have only the fondest memories of my time in both of those houses, and again, this chapter served as a testament that cooperative environments will always be some of my favorite places.

This is not Karen, she didn’t want a picture taken. This is a picture of a print of a very famous photograph given to Karen.

Another one of my new favorite places in Thailand is where I wrote the majority of this report. I would like to extend a huge amount of gratitude right now to the third woman, Karen Emmons, in Thailand who has truly mothered me at moments when I needed it most. At times, I have felt itinerant and exposed since landing in Thailand. However, in her art-filled apartment, where all the paintings haven’t been mounted yet on the walls because Karen likes the viewing angle that it creates when it is on the floor, I feel grounded. I spent a great deal of time on the fourth-floor balcony of her beautiful place overlooking the Mae Nam Chao Phraya (the Thai word for “river” is “mae nam,” which translates directly as “mother water”) watching as the dowdy tug boats chug on with their long string of trailing barges full of daily trade items. Every once in a while, a colorful long-tail boat will charge by these rigs, cutting through the curiously brown waters with a flash of exciting horsepower, the afternoon sun glinting off of their shiny new outboard Isuzu motors. Here along the Chao Phraya, a scene of modern opulence in the hub of Southeast Asia’s shopping metropolis intersects with the nittiest grittiest work and ancient relics of Bangkok’s riverboating lifestyles. The scene before me, with the dreary tugboats, the updated long-tails, and the staggering amount of paradox all around me unified by the ever-flowing mother water in the center, feels like a perfect image of my time in Thailand.

One idea from a friend that I’ve steadily worked on in order to find meaning in the madness is to try to produce some sort of personal manifesto over the course of this year. I am learning that I cannot please everyone, although I am finding that maybe the centerpiece of this manifesto is the biological truth that moms precede everything and should be appealed to at all costs. I realized this in the wake of making so many new moms, as well as reflecting back on the amount of time I spend trying to keep all my moms up to date. In my new mom-based manifest, some manner of flexible but deeply rooted personal accountability needs to be planted. Most simply, maybe I just need to actively look for the mom in myself.

Having my parents here in Thailand traveling with me took me outside of “My Rockefeller Year,” which I had hoped would be some sort of idealized purely personal endeavor. My family came here to me, and I was — for the first time — to be the host for them in a place where they felt like children. I realized just how much I had to learn about being a source of guidance instead of simply always seeking it. (In fact, we all wouldn’t have survived the visit had it not been for my resourceful Orchid Housemate William, conveniently a cool-headed travel agent, as well as an adventurous and savvy retired family friend named Dan and his beautiful wife Wipa who took us on a tour of a lifetime.)

My parents have been so remarkably unselfish for all my life, and I have always been given free-reign to structure my time, ever since I left home for boarding school at the age of thirteen. I’ve always loved to travel, to carve out new niches for myself in their absence, and this past decade of freedom has made me fiercely independent. Probably this has made me too full of hubris regarding my own self-sustainability. Here in Thailand, I have certainly faced moments where I am truly lonely in the way that traveling can induce. But even so, I’ve always been scooped out of these moments by willing moms and friends — Pan, my biological family, housemates, Dan and Wipa, Ekua, Karen, and the Kalasin family.

In considering a place that feels the most like a home, that I might describe as a type of self-made space for me here in Thailand, is Project 189, the artist-in-residence space that forms the anchor point for my time here in Bangkok. It is a place with formerly red tile floors, exposed brick poking through crumbling concrete plaster outlines, and well-worn teak stairs that have an aggressive pitch upwards that reminds me of the climb to the top of the playground tube slide. It is a functional ruin and it is a good thing I studied social insects in college because cockroaches are my primary friends in the house now that Ekua has left Thailand for the remainder of the year. Those skittery critters are in addition to the immovable spirits in the building. I previously mentioned that I’m picking up the Thai affinity for spirits. Before I arrived at Project 189, there was no spirit house to be seen inside. A “spirit house” is a little structure with incense burners and small mirrors and gilded cornices, triple-eaved roofs that match those common in the life-size Buddhist architecture. Spirit houses are a fixture of every workshop, warehouse, storefront, home, and gallery in Bangkok’s Chinatown. When I first arrived at Ekua’s, it was odd to me that this shop house did not have one, given that the building was one of the original spice warehouses on the block and had remained empty for decades.

The 189 Rammaittri spirit house electrified. It’s a wonder that bulb still works.

I paid no mind to this lack of spirit house at first. I started living in Project 189 off-and-on in mid-January, and by Chinese New Year, I was spending a significant amount of time alone in the shop house. One night, I had terrible nightmares. The next morning, Ekua had the wherewithal to tell me to light Thai incense and follow the smoke. It led to a crawl space under the stairs where I found a rickety spirit house with chipped red paint and a thick lacquer of the ubiquitous Bangkok dust. It had been misplaced during the renovations of the warehouse.

That night, to herald in the Chinese New Year of the Fire Monkey, I burned wishes in the spirit house’s ash basin outside on the street. I wrote my hopes and dreams on the pages of an out-of-date copy of The Bangkok Post. I spent the evening reflecting on resolutions with a visiting friend from college. Right before I put my friend in a taxi to go the airport, a celebrating neighbor on Soi Nana brought over a Thai rum shot inspired by the flavors of my favorite food, tom yum. The aromas of lemongrass and bird’s eye chili mixed with the smell of burning newsprint will forever remind me of my favorite street in the world.

The flames in the spirit basin burned lime green like the alcohol in the pit of my belly, and I think the spirits at the start of this Year of the Fire Monkey were mainly placated. But in that moment I realized that I wasn’t being kept up at night by the spirits in the warehouse — in fact, I was kept up at night by the fear of loneliness, the fear of death probably, the fear of my college friend departing, by the fear of the looming and uncertain future in Thailand, still a new place with new people every day. I now know that I always manage to make mothers out of the people around me, but I know this habit must end at some point in my life, and I will need to find it within myself to be the vertebral backbone and the immovable bedrock. To give up my tendency to always be the sneaky snail rolling stone. I am realizing slowly that I’m not always going to have control over my environment in the way that I do now, and that it would serve me best to just appreciate these moments when can choose on my own whether to move or to sit.

Given the freedom I enjoy in Thailand, I’d be amiss not to mention the dire crisis of personal freedom faced by many of my new Thai friends at the moment, and it would be negligent for me to not to respectfully engage with the resources I have at hand to learn more than my fair share, even as a foreigner. The most recent military junta and the infamous lèse majesté law of Thailand don’t directly threaten my life here in the same it can for outspoken or radical Thai nationals, but I do want to express that I feel cowed in the face of it all. With the passing of the king sadly approaching, the transition that will occur in the wake of the loss of this beloved patriarch will likely leave the country in a state of unprecedented emotional dismay and probably further political turmoil. In order to have the chance to discuss political issues and questions of Thai modern life openly and explicitly, I am currently auditing a course to learn more about modern Thai politics. In the safety of a small five-person seminar in a political science department at a well-known Bangkok university, I have learned a tremendous amount about business, politics, pop culture, and Thai social structure. I had hoped that a fellowship year like this one would allow me to fully step away from academia, but I have found this one classroom to be a safe haven for candid discussion. In addition, it has been an important personal inlet for me to see into a system that I sometimes find oppressive and patriarchal.

My plans to both sit and also be active and aware seem antithetical, but they are coming to life as I type. I have a pending invitation from the Venerable Dhammananda, the woman who single-handedly defied the modern Thai Buddhist patriarchy to become Thailand’s first ordained female monk in decades. She has responded to my inquiry from months ago to join their community of bhikkhunis at Songdhammakalyani Bhikkhuni Arama, a radical mostly all-lady monastery with a small farm and an open call for lay people with experience in urban agriculture. I am trying to decide when the best moment will be to heed her call and to try to truly disappear for a while. Even as I type that, I know I won’t ever be too far away because my various mothers would never abide. Additionally, I cannot be sure that the monastic life will suit me.

Although Koon Yaa and many women like her are exceptional in how venerated and essential they become to certain monasteries, in most cases, women are systematically excluded from power. One of the most powerful networks in Thailand is the Sangha, an enormous and inscrutable institution which “is an ideal for all men in Thailand.” It has been off-limits to women since 1928, the year the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand banned women from becoming ordained in Thailand. This is an obvious denigration of the rights and opportunities of women. There are numerous other examples of patriarchal neglect, but a striking and terribly sad one involves the steady number of un-pursued missing persons cases in Thailand. Recently, I had the opportunity to help edit an unpublished situational analysis of adolescents in Thailand for UNICEF and one of the most shocking statistics was that 81 percent of the cases of missing adolescents were young women. In the course of editing that report, I came to understand that one of the most fundamental ways in which Thailand might affect the greatest social change with the smallest investment would be to simply de-stigmatize and then enforce the reproductive health policies granting access to family planning resources and services. Again, motherhood seems to arrive at the center of these big questions all around me.

There are so many facts like those above that would not have become visceral hard-cutting realities in my life had I lived anywhere other than Thailand for these past six months, and for this I am intensely grateful. I’ve learned a great many small tidbits and facts I wish I could share in long form. I’ve heard brevity is the soul of wit, so I’ll keep my insights short, sweet, and in list form as follows: the most delicious taro sticky rice parcels on the block are always next to the bus stops; do not catch the bus in Chinatown if you are trying to avoid Bangkok’s worst rush hour streets (maybe worth it if you have your sticky rice parcel to munch on while you are stuck in the second-worst gridlock in the world); regular meditation is said to increase the number of small bone-like concretions you leave behind after cremation, which in turn are a measure of your piousness in life; it takes three drops of pure essential geranium oil for every 100 mL of jojoba to ensure the most success in purifying your urinary system; after three minutes of hand-roasting green coffee beans over a campfire flame, you will know it is going well if you smell whole grain baked bread; it is best to circle your thumbs on sensitive muscles before applying direct pressure to tension points; always go to the self-service gas pumps and fill your scooter with lower test fuel as it doesn’t matter for a 125cc engine usually anyways; it would take over 40 million water buffalo leather belts to span the circumference of the earth; and to cool your computer down, about five minutes in the refrigerator usually yields another thirty minutes of use in subtropical climates.

Alas! There are so many stories I wish I could share right now that would run under headlines like: “Cursed Trips to Sacrificial Animist Shrines and Singha’s Farm Fest Four”, “Life in an Orchid Lover’s Garden”, “The Physical Rigors of Muay Thai Training and the Injustices of Mandatory Military Service”, “Christmas Journey with the Murphy Family to Thailand’s First Elephant Hospital”, “What Water Buffalo Leather Tells Us About Start Up Culture”, “Introduction to the Cult of Thai Coffee and the Akha Ama LONG Project”, “How Bees Can Reduce Human-Elephant Conflict”, and “Around Laos in Eight Days (by Bike)”.

Maybe I will someday write them down, but for now I’m spending time periodically building a skill that I hope will be ritually recalled and practiced for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, this skill is probably not the Thai language itself, because even with avid practice and investment in tutoring, I am still finding the Thai language notoriously tricky for its tones and its beautiful but complicated written alphabet. However, one of my biggest achievements, if I can call it that, does have to do with learning a new language — I can now make myself directly understood with my hands and feet. The art and practice of nuad boran (traditional Thai massage) gives me unchecked access to a discipline requiring comprehensive communication between bodies. It is intense, but I am happy to say that a large portion of my research and study involves receiving massages from amazing teachers and friends. Thailand is truly a touchy place, and studying massage has shown me that care for the body, for the bodies of others, attention to how your loved ones are feeling, that doesn’t require cosmic maturity really. Just noticing small subtleties, taking the proper time and making head space to interact with other in an attitude of healing, it’s a real force of magic in this world.

Apparently I decided to give this person 2 free practice massages. “5555” is “ha ha ha ha” in Thai, so it is effectively the same as saying “lol”

At the dawn of the Chinese New Year this year, I gave out red envelopes to my friends with hand-written coupons for “1 Free Hour-Long Practice Thai Massage to be Used in the Year of The Fire Monkey.” The lunisolar period I’m referencing lasts until January 28, 2559 BE. The Buddhist calendar (BE) is the one in which Thai people recall their birth years. When I arrived in Thailand and asked Pan, my first Thai mother, how old she was, she had to write down her birth year on a piece of paper, subtract 543 to convert to the Christian calendar, and then subtract that number from the current year. It has been moments like these where I do feel I am out of the regular progression of time. My experiences have demonstrated to me that a “fellowship year” is a slightly arbitrary amount of time embedded in an even more unpredictable length of a lifetime. The solid ground for me right now is that I am happy to know the mothers and friends I’ve made so far will spill abundantly into the rest of my life, and for that I will be perennially grateful regardless of the date. (This also means I’ve decided those coupons have effectively no expiration, so the offers for a practice Thai massage session are eternally redeemable.) Wish me luck! Thank you for your attention.


Li Murphy