March 31. An air of excitement surrounded me as I awoke this morning to pack. Leung was already up, watching TV. He gave me a bright and cheery “Good morning!” as soon as I stumbled out of bed, but I wasn’t fooled. As soon as he turned his head away I saw his shoulders lower in sadness and he let out an audible sigh. After I was packed and ready for my flight, we had breakfast at the hotel. I loaded my plate with sweet dumplings and noodles, intent on eating as much Chinese food as I could before arriving in Thailand. Before I knew it, it was 11am and Leung was waving down a taxi to take me to the airport.
Leung dragged my suitcase (now packed to its capacity) towards the check-in line when we arrived at the airport. I tried to carry the bag myself, but he snatched it away from me, not unkindly, saying “You need to be comfortable before you arrive in Thailand.” So we came to the check-out counter and realized that I couldn’t receive my boarding pass for another hour. I sat down near the counter, completely prepared to spend an hour alone, but Leung refused to leave before he had seen me through security. I was touched by his kindness and spent the next hour reminiscing the past month and talking about his future in China and Cambodia. Leung’s presence made the time fly by and all too soon I had my boarding pass in hand and I was waving him goodbye. Now that I think back on it, he looked utterly miserable when I left, but I was too excited to realize at the time.
As I flew to Bangkok, I wanted nothing more than to share my experiences with someone else. I wanted to voice everything that had occurred in the past 2 months, the changes I have noticed within myself, and my expectations of the next month. I turned to the person next to me, who was a westerner, and asked the usual conversational questions. After a while, we began to discuss what brought us to Thailand. I gave a brief overview of my travels, hoping to expel some of my experiences, and she seemed politely interested at first. She asked a few questions and I eagerly gave details, but after about 5-10 minutes on the subject, she switched the conversation abruptly. She didn’t contribute to what I was saying and she didn’t seem as interested in my travels as I had expected. I pondered this while she rambled on about her studies in business in Alabama and her mother’s treatment for a staph infection, which is what brought her to Thailand (I say ‘rambled’ because business doesn’t particularly interest me and a staph infection is not typically serious). Then I remembered something that Erik had once said to me on one of the first days I was in New Zealand. “When you go home, don’t expect your friends to hang on your every word as describe your travels. They probably have nothing to compare it to, so they won’t understand what this has meant to you.”
At first, that meant nothing to me, because I had barely begun my experiences. But now I fully appreciate his words. I could have sat with that woman and given her every detail over the past 2 months and explained every emotion that I had felt. Yet, she wouldn’t have been able to imagine everything I have gained. Even now, when I write at least a page a day, I can’t explain to you the difference between how I was 2 months ago and how I am now.
This wonderful realization, it was wonderful because I knew this trip was beyond anything I could have hoped for, kept me thinking until I had landed, and the happiness did not die within me when I stopped pondering it. I continued to my connecting flight to Chiang Mai, though I couldn’t resist stopping at a Burger King on the way there. Then, an hour later, I was whisked away to Chiang Mai, though I had barely time to finish a chapter in my Lord of the Rings book before I landed, yet again, 1 hour later.
I picked up my baggage went out to meet the Rustic Pathways staff who would take me to the orphanage. When I didn’t see them, I planted myself down on the ground and waited, blissfully content as I read my book. 30 minutes passed before two small, muscular Thai men approached me and asked if I was Jimmy Mack. When I said “Yes.” they immediately began apologizing profusely that traffic had held them up, which caused them to be late. This reminded me of when I had met Leung and I immediately knew I would be friends with both these guys. They introduced themselves as Bay and Chaichai and hauled my luggage towards their van, just as Leung had this morning, and just like Leung, they refused to let me carry my bags.
Both of these guys spoke reasonably good English and it wasn’t hard to have a conversation with either of them, though it took longer than normal because I needed to pronounce my words with care. I soon learned that Chaichai is an orphan of 19 years old who is staying in Chiang Mai for the week to study website developing. Bay is 24 and has worked with Rustic for 5 years now. Bay constantly asked me if I was hungry, but since I had already eaten, I politely refused his offer each and every time. Bay also told me that we would be staying at the Rustic base in Chiang Mai because the orphanage is over a 3 hour drive. I was fine with this and we soon arrived at the one room building that was the base house. Bay and Chaichai could probably tell that I was exhausted because they said goodnight after showing me inside and went to grab some dinner. Without bothering to undress, I lay on the one bed and, I’m guessing, fell asleep instantly.