Sunday, March 11, 2012

Leaving the Island and Making Peace with Opposites

After a number of days that neither me nor Katie can remember, we decided to postpone our ferry ride on our last night in Koh Phi Phi Don. And if you ask any ex-pat that’s how it all starts. Countless people we spoke with said that they came for two days and stayed for two years.

I would say that living on the island was very similar to going to school at Hamilton. Both are very small communities that are somewhat isolated from the outside world, complete with a unique set of social norms and cultures unto their own. Everyone seems to know everyone. There are local hangouts where you just know to go on a certain day, and beaches far from the main isthmus that are highly coveted quite places away from the strip of bars and sunburnt tourists.  In short, staying on Koh Phi Phi and getting to know some of the ex-pats there made me feel like I was entering a bubble. The only difference between the island and Hamilton is that people stay at school for four years (or five for the super seniors) but, there, everyone seems to come and go.

While I definitely see the appeal to just canceling my plane ticket home, getting a bartending job, and spending endless days letting my skin freckle, I don’t think that this island is the place for me. It’s comforting, and it appeals to the inner hermit in me that wants to put down my roots every time I stay in a place for longer than a week, but by the end I started to feel a bit claustrophobic—similar to how I feel in Tennessee sometimes and even Hamilton. Because the other part of me is too curious to stay in one isolated place for too long. There are cultures to study, political systems to learn about, conspiracies theories to flush out, countries to monitor, and issues to raise.

And most importantly, part of this traveling experience is supposed to teach me how to keep moving forward, to push through changes and accept them, and to become more comfortable with my fear of the unknown and the things that are out of my control. NOT to drop my bags, rent a bungalow, and stay in one place to avoid change. Because most days if you asked me if I could be traveling around Asia or at home with a job, friends, routine, and a settled life, I would almost always pick the latter.

Pretty much my whole life, I’ve felt like a person comprised of opposites—incredibly curious and interested in the world but afraid of travel, someone who moves around a lot but would almost always prefer to stay put, willing to jump off of a cliff but afraid of fish, someone who seeks balance but who has a bit of an all or nothing personality, someone who desperately wants independence but who really depends a little too much on everyone else, shy and loud, someone who enjoys bucket showers but goes crazy without internet and, finally, a Libra Dragon for those of you who know anything about astrology.

I need to learn how to accept all of those parts of myself, but I also need to understand that sometimes doing what a part of me wants means triggering feelings of anxiety or discomfort. One day I will have a settled life, and I won’t feel homesick or anxious about change. But I also know that that time will only come after having the experiences that I am having now and growing in a way that will help me make peace with all of my opposites.

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