Talking to Strangers

As soon as I arrived back in Thailand a month ago, I felt instantly happy and content. I find Laos such a beautiful place, but it doesn’t seem to agree with me long term – the two times I have taken jobs there, I have ended up getting so sick and not feeling like the happiest, sparkliest version of myself.

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Several days I felt like an introverted hermit woman floating around in the swimming pool and lying on my air conditioned bed. I had a wonderful time, teaching yoga in an incredible space, teaching English to a Laos family and learning Laos in exchange, meeting volunteers, being surrounded by beauty in people and nature. Sometimes, though, I think there are places in the world that have a certain energy, and maybe that energy is misaligned with your own, in that it doesn’t build you up, it brings you down, and I’m just glad I can recognise that now. We have to find the places that support our happiness and health on all levels.

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When that happens, its time for Thailand. We spent about ten days in Chiang Mai, staying in an AirBnB with a firm mattress on the floor, a balcony, a rooftop for practicing yoga and free breakfast and bicycles in the Old City – a perfect spot for us.

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I think the best thing we did was ride our bicycles everywhere – this is the way to explore the Old City. We convinced ourselves that it was our task to go out and do as many social things as possible in order to meet people and spread the word about our retreat.

The atmosphere in Thailand was a little different this time, because of the death of their King. No live music in any of the bars, everyone wearing black, a little more reserved and sombre than usual. There was a worry prior to visiting that it would be seen as disrespectful for tourists to visit Thailand during this period of mourning but in fact the Thai people were very welcoming and appreciated our respect.

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I am just blown away by the beautiful kindness of the Thai people – they are having fun with every interaction, their eyes glitter with mischievous laughter and their kindness and selflessness, innate to their Buddhist culture, brings a cycle of good energy exchange and onward flow of good karma. Free buses, sharing their meals with you, fixing your things that are broken, helping you when you are lost, being curious about you and your home and precisely how long it takes to fly there on an airplane, giving you free beers when its 1 AM by the river and you forgot to hit up the 7-11 before midnight so you ask where they got theirs. Every single interaction soaked in kindness and generosity. They will give you a smile, without asking for anything in return.

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I am currently going through a stage in my life where I talk to anyone and everyone, because I truly believe everyone wants to make friends, and we are all just curious about one another. So my task in Chiang Mai was to talk to as many interesting people as possible. As I like to say, “if it’s not a good time, it’s a good story”.. I’m very sorry to my mother, because this story involves many stories that see me talking to strange men in strange situations. But this is a great joy in life – the unknown. What will happen when you say hello?

Natasha and I went to the park in the corner of the Old City one afternoon for some yoga and sunbathing, and we noticed some pretty interesting characters surrounding us. A man came along and set up camp behind us, spreading out his bamboo mat and sipping on his sugarcane juice, his muscular tattooed chest bare. He began to stretch and practice some yoga, so I decided to take him a card about our retreat and ask him some questions. The tables turned quickly.

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“I am from France. My name is XAVIER. What is this card? You want me to come do yoga wiz you?”

“Yeah, you would love it! SO much fun!”

“You want me to show you some things that you do not already know about yoga? I know many breathings. Zey are good to practice in public places, to eradicate the ego, so zat everyone knows you do not give the shit what they thinking of you!”

“Haha….okay sure. Oh you want me to kneel with my knees out wide like that? Oh okay… cool.”

“We are practicing ze lions breath. You sucky sucky in your belly and stick out your tongue and gaze at your third eye and roar to release all the air in your body and SUCKY SUCKY BELLY raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar waggle your tongue!”

“Rarrrrrrrrrr!”

“LOUDER NOW!”

“RARRRRRRRRRRR!”

“Excellent. yeeeees.”

A small Thai woman having a picnic behind us gazes at me with astonishment, suppressing laughter.

“Now you lie down.”

I lie down, he takes my hand, and begins to caress it very gently, either the softest acupressure or the creepiest hand hold ever. Then he promptly drops my hand, stands up and walks to the other side of the park, and stands gazing at a tree for a short while. I sit up, dazed, and look around me, as if emerging from a dream.

“Cheers Xavier! You should… become a pranayama teacher! That was truly profound. I must go now. Bye bye….”

Xavier was right – I realised that my ego did not want me to do that, to protect my coolness, of which I have a lot. He gave me a sense of awe at people who just truly do not give a shit what people think. It must be very freeing.

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Another hilarious interaction was with a complete stranger from Canada. We met on the street, we drank beers by the river (which were gifted to us by a kind group of Thai people who just wanted us to have a good night), we saw a few rats and cockroaches and exclaimed on how fat and happy they were.  He was about half a year younger than me, and exuded this youthful enthusiasm that reminded me exactly of how I was at the beginning of my travels, and reminded me to find the excitement in all the little interactions. He exclaimed with disproportionate excitement for a stranger I’d just met, when I told him I was working in Southeast Asia and leading a retreat in just a few weeks time. He was like a reflection of myself and lit a little fire reminding me to enjoy each moment, after a brief period of feeling very tired of Asia in all its glory. I mostly enjoyed his self deprecating humour and ability to laugh at himself, telling me a story of himself when he was little, that he wore an eye patch and was a little chubster, a wee fat pirate, and I thought to myself that it was the most attractive story a man could ever tell me. Maybe this is what I’m into?

He told me he always pats the stray dogs even though they probably have rabies and fleas, because he believes they deserve a little love too, which made me think he is the male version of me. He turned to me at one point and said “can I kiss you”? And I just laughed in his face and he took it remarkably well. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was a handsome chap, I suppose I’m just not that kind of girl. I have left his name out of this because maybe he doesn’t want his mum knowing he went on a date with a hobo girl in a tie-dye dress on a bicycle.

I drove home with him on the back of my bicycle, he rode glamorously on the back, I tooted my bell at passers-by, then I left him on the street and conked out on my bed next to Natasha. When I woke up I felt that it was all a dream. I checked my inbox and he had written a message ending in “wishing you nothing but the best.” Gave me something, asked for nothing (much, haha).

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Natasha and I visited Zoe in The Yellow (the place to party in Chiang Mai) one night and ended up hanging out with four Spanish guys. Two of them were policemen from Spain, and were probably the most genuine dudes ever. They were so nice to each other, saying to me “wherever he goes, I go.” Two huge, muscular guys with so much kindness. They ran alongside our bicycles on the way to Spicy club, waited for us at each door, offered us drinks not to get us drunk but because they wanted us to have the best time possible in their company, they cleared out the mens toilet in the club and stood by the door so that I could go to the bathroom. They carried a bag of souvenirs for their family back home with them all night, little bobble-heads and fridge magnets, which I believe says something about a person. They wanted nothing from us other than to spend time in our company and it was such a refreshing notion.

Then one night we were sat in the night market eating our nightly feast of pad thai and papaya salad, and I noticed a man sitting a couple of tables down from us by himself with a large beard and a pensive look on his face. I recognised him instantly but I couldn’t put my finger on how. We made eye contact a couple of times, Natasha went to leave and go home and I decided to stay and chat to him. I wandered up to him and said “HI! How are you? Have we met before?”. He looked mildly astonished at this bold girl approaching him wearing a floral onesie, no makeup, a slightly troll-like hairstyle, and no hidden agenda other than a genuine curiosity about what was behind his man bun and sad eyes. I told him he looked sad, and he just laughed and said, “Shit! I think I was just really involved in my dinner”. That makes sense, but also, how unfortunate to have a sad dinner face?

He had been living in Chiang Mai for almost 6 months, so I definitely had seen him before. I never forget a face. We sat at this rickety table in the night market for over four hours with no food, no drink, no phones, no music, just two people sitting opposite one another conversing authentically, which can be a hard thing to find these days. He told me he could tell as soon as I approached him that I didn’t want anything from him. I’m just a curious child. He told me he learned years ago that he was surrounding himself with people and situations who wanted something from him, who wanted to take away from him in some way – sex, drugs, alcohol, love, money. He made a complete lifestyle change, quit drinking and drugs, and started to build himself up rather than allow himself to be drained. He chose to spend time only with select people who he knew were good for him, who encouraged positivity, and who understood the importance of a healthy energy exchange in life, of karma and the consequences of actions.

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So we rode his motorbike up into the mountains in the dark, which in hindsight sounds like a bloody terrifying thing to do, but my gut was telling me to just go with it. We wandered into some abandoned temples, found some people praying for the king by candlelight, we drove to his apartment and sat on his balcony and he played me some songs on his guitar, including a song he wrote himself, which he was quietly proud of, I could tell.

We snuck into his apartment sauna after hours, then realised it was turned off, so we just sat there in the dark and stared out over Chiang Mai by night. I asked him to take me home, realising suddenly I had left my bicycle in the market carpark, unlocked, and he drove me back. We said goodbye and he thanked me for coming to talk to him – he had been planning to just go home and sleep. We connected on Facebook but I knew we were saying goodbye for good. And that was quite fine.

These people, giving me everything, hilarity and wisdom, insight and protection, without even realising it, and asking for nothing in return.

This is what can happen when you talk to strangers. I guess I just love the possibility of people.

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