Hey, folks! I'm back again with the second installment of life lessons learned/remembered/reinvigorated by a recent adventure to Southeast Asia with two of my best friends from grade school, Chrissy and Teresa (pictured above en route to LAX - Tokyo - Kuala Lumpor - Bangkok). Aren't they cute?
Read PART I of this post here. Let's continue with the countdown....
5) Socks w/ flip-flops is a-okay!
chrissy demonstrates the style, wearing her geisha socks
There are certain truths in life that a person takes for granted. It will snow on Easter in Cleveland. Politicians will lie. Socks with flip-flops is not cool. Knowing these things makes it a little easier to move forward in life. You can make assumptions and be safe.
You can imagine my chagrin then when not only many people, young and old, hip and homely, were sporting the socks-with-flops fashion in Southeast Asia, but also my very own best friend had assimilated the look into her wardrobe. Hitherto, it had been my understanding that this look was a laughable offense, one reserved for old folks and teenage girls after soccer games. I wondered how it could be possible that my capital-T Truth could be so shaken.
The truth of the matter is, it's a big world out there. Most places we visited didn't have flush toilets, internet after midnight, or any sort of restaurant codes or regulations, and STILL this flip flop thing was the most startling "norm" to have shattered. I realized that if this is true in Southeast Asia, there may be many more parallel universes in which all sorts of "rules" are broken. Underpants may be worn as outerpants somewhere. Picking your nose and eating it could be a local dietary staple. The outfit you're wearing right now might get you put in jail or stoned to death.
If these possibilities are true, and we are so fortunate as to wear whatever we please without corporeal punishment, then it is also true that we have a responsibility to own whatever we so choose. Hungry to be an artist but scared of what your family might think? Stuck in a relationship you know is unhealthy but you cannot seem to eek out of? Afraid of failure, in its many multitude forms? Well, its time for boldness, my dear reader. Somewhere, in a parallel universe or a not too distant future, there can be you - free from whatever subjective rule you have allowed yourself to be blocked by for too long. You too can rock flip flops and socks, or whatever fashion you imagine. Do it, I dare you.
4) It's okay to be (a little) afraid
Flip-flop rule aside, it really is okay to be (a little) afraid sometimes. A little fear is not only natural and healthy, it is also helps amp you up for an amazing, well-deserved, flush-of-a-payoff.
Take this photo for example - one of my favorite shots ever, let alone from the trip. The morning we rode elephants, I woke up in Chang Mai, Thailand, with a curry-frog-street-soup-extra-large-Chang-beer hangover of frightening proportions (I hate puking and avoid it at all costs). I left my belongings under the supervision of the front desk staff at my guesthouse and hopped into the back of a covered pick-up truck for a 1.5 hour drive to the jungle outside of the city center. I've since learned that merely stepping foot in Thailand increases your chance of a vehicle-related accident 100%, but I had a sneaking suspicion this might be true while I was there, so my apprehension kept rising. Once we arrived at the camp, we attempted to memorize the commands which direct the massive animals to move forward, back, stop and raise and lower us. As I said, my brain was a little Chang-soaked, so you can imagine my confidence. The whole morning was one overwhelming thing after another! I was -eek! - afraid!
Once I was up on the elephant, though, my legs wrapped around its neck, I understood the mahouts and how one can become close to such a large, lumbering animals. I was clumsy and awkward taking command and more than a little afraid of falling off but damnit, I was alive. The elephants started doing tricks, turning their trunks into swings and lifting us into the air, huge smiles seemingly spreading across their faces and most certainly plastered upon ours. We rode them through a village to a watering hole and bathed and brushed the animals, and it wasn't until they started shitting balls of feces the size of my head that I remembered exactly where and what I was doing. We got back onto the elephants and rode them back to the dirt field we began in, communicating only in pop songs with the teenage elephant handlers who guided us along the way. It was the stuff inspirational movies are made of.
Yes, I was right to be a little afraid - I was stepping outside of my comfort zone, trying something completely new (and potentially a little dangerous). I believe though that everyday we should be so fortunate to be in that situation, to get to choose to do something which frightens us, makes us grow, and plasters a look of bewilderment on our faces. At very least, it would make Facebook and Instagram so much more interesting.
3) Litter is for losers
Littering is for Losers, always and forever. So many beautiful vistas, small alleyways, rivulets and soft-sand beaches throughout Southeast Asia were tainted by trash, it was depressing. With no pensioners or street sweeping to remedy the situation, it will likely take things getting a lot worse before action is made to clean up the mess.
Since I've returned from my trip, I've come across a lot of 'psychic litterering,' where people selfishly dump their trash - anger, insecurity, jealousy, etc - anywhere they feel like it. It's the same as throwing a plastic bag into the wind, and I believe it's high time everyone take responsibility for how they contribute to or pollute the world, in every word, action and intention. That shit adds up, and its much easier to preventatively act than clean up the mess afterwards.
2) The journey is always better with friends
on the 14 hour sleeper/party train from Bangkok to Chang Mai
When your journey gets confusing and the road gets rough, there is nothing in the world like a best friend or two to help smooth your ride.
I spent one day alone in Bangkok while I waited for Chrissy and Teresa to return from Cambodia, darting between komodo dragons and massive clumps of power lines which drooped down onto the sidewalk outside the Arts of the Kingdom exhibition, and can attest to the loneliness one feels in a foreign place. It's the same feeling I get sometimes in LA, or have had after a break up, or after an argument with a loved one. It's not that I am completely lost or terribly worried or even afraid - it's just that I know things would be a hell of a lot more fun if they could be shared with someone I love. With a friend, dodging sidewalk enemies becomes a game of Frogger. Work becomes play and intellectual discussion becomes salon, a luxurious journey of the mental sort. Every ideal is more attainable, every moment more fun.
I am so grateful for my friends and think it is vitally imperative to value friendship, to nurture relationships, and to take advantage of time spent with friends. This trip in particular was an amazing way to reconnect with Chrissy after she spent 2 years teaching in South Korea, an adventure I had to take advantage of whether it was pilot season in LA or not. When you're the only people speaking English on the back of a crowded truck-taxi chugging through Ubon Ratchathani, giggling about boys is all the more hilarious. Clinging to Teresa's shoulders on the back of a motorbike, terrified of the winding road and a 6 hour journey, a discussion of career is put all the more into perspective.
What's even more exciting is that you don't need to spend money and go all the way across the planet to get quality time with people who love you. Just gotta make the time, show up, and keep proving you're game for the journey. Simple. Awesome.
1) respect those who have gone before you
I'm used to seeing headshots lined up on a wall at a casting office or theatre lobby, but nothing could have prepared me for the entire floor of a building dedicated to double-sided walls of genocide victim portraits. These beautiful men and women were photographed before they were tortured, imprisoned, brutally beaten and left to rot in the killing fields of Cambodia. Their eyes belie confusion, anger, fear, and resignation. In the audio guide from the Choeung Ek Killing Field outside of Phnom Penh, the voiceover earnestly implores the audience to learn from history, to recognize warning signs and acknowledge that horrible atrocities can happen anywhere. The genocide in Cambodia left nearly 3 million people dead, only 30 years ago. It was a tragedy, like many others, I never learned about in any history class.
The responsibility then (as always) to learn from human history is an individual endeavor; one cannot rely upon an educational system or skill-training program to outfit you with every perspective needed to be a discerning citizen or qualified decision-maker. It can be hard to find trustworthy sources, or even be motivated to research, but if you are an artist, a business person, or anyone hoping to have an ounce of influence on humanity during your time on this planet, you owe it to yourself to spend some serious time first looking backward.
I am not the first American to travel to Asia. I am not the first vocalist to wrestle with medium and message. I am not the first improvisor aspiring to use the form to aide communities with skills such as communication, confidence, and acceptance. I am, however, humble enough to look back to those who have pioneered before me and learn from all of their wisdom. I can stare at the faces of those needlessly killed by greed and corruption and recommit myself to leaving this world a little better for me having been there. I can think and act on behalf of those who cannot do so themselves, and I can respect the fact that I may never have all the answers. Not only Can I, but I Must.
Well, that's it guys, my list of 10 things I learned while backpacking Southeast Asia. I will write more soon on the topic, I'm sure, and am happy to answer any questions or listen to any feedback you have if you leave it in the comments section. Thank you for your time and interest in my travels, I wish you many happy voyages a