Last Monday I got the weirdest school assignment ever for my Consumer Behavior class. 'Write something', the professor said. 'Something. Whatever. Just write something.' It was almost as if he knew I don't really update my blog very regularly lately. I decided to write whatever would come up in my mind. The result is a short reflection on myself, my time in Bangkok and my approaching return to Utrecht.
I’m 20 years old when I find myself at Amsterdam Airport, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. I’m leaving rainy Holland to work and travel my way through Australia, leaving behind two worried parents desperately holding their breath, hoping their daughter would return home safely. Rightfully so, it appeared. It only took three weeks for me to finish my complete travel budget. Jobs were hard to find and I saw no other option than calling my mum and dad for support. They expected me. They already decided they would lend me the money, on one condition: I would pay back every last cent. I realized this was only fair.
One year and a backpack full of adventures later I returned home. I knew this year had just been the start of something bigger and the moment the plane landed on Dutch soil I made a commitment to myself: one day I would travel the world. After working for a full year to pay of every last cent of my debts to my parents, I started saving for my ‘big trip’, while still travelling the world on as many occasions I could. Having learned from my previous trip, I decided I needed a lot of money if I didn’t want to depend on my parents anymore.
I’m 30 years old when I find myself at Utrecht Central Station, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. I am leaving rainy Holland to travel around the world. My first goal is to reach Australia without flying. So I take a train to Moscow to embark on the Trans-Mongolian express to Beijing. In Beijing, I decide I want to take the highest rail route in the world to Lhasa, from where I can take a jeep to Mount Everest Base Camp. Six weeks after having left my just-a-little-bit-worried-parents behind in Holland, I find myself standing at Mount Everest Base Camp, texting them: ‘wish you were here’.
It takes me approximately five months to reach Bangkok. It is not the first time I visit the ‘Big Monster’, as a close friend of mine likes to call it. I have been here on several occasions and I truly love the city. It’s hard for me to leave the city and I decide there and then that my next goal after the world trip would be to go live in Bangkok for a while.
I almost reach Australia without flying. After 7 months of travelling overland and sea, I am in Indonesia when I receive an e-mail that the freighter ship I booked to Perth cancelled its route. It would no longer be possible to take a boat from Asia to Australia and there is no other option but to fly. Disappointed, I realized there was nothing I could do to change the situation. I booked the flight, and several other flights and ‘island-hopped’ my way through the pacific to South America. Fiji, Tonga, Cook Island, Tahiti and Easter Island brought me to another continent I had yet to discover.
One year, 25 countries and my same old backpack full of adventures later I returned home. To the same house I had lived in before and to the same job I had been in for years. It took me a year to realize that you can’t just travel the world to go back home and do the same you did before. Travelling changes you and your old life might not suit you anymore. I decided to buy an apartment in the city center of the city I was born in. I also decided that I had been a travel agent for too many years and I would go back to school to study for my Bachelor Degree in International Business Management to be able to make a career switch.
I soon found out my study would allow me to study abroad for one semester. Bangkok was still on my mind and after working and studying for two years I heard the good news: the one available place at Chulalongkorn University was assigned to me.
I’m 35 years old when I find myself at Amsterdam Airport, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. I’m leaving rainy Holland to go study in Bangkok for one semester. My parents are no longer worried, they know I prepared well and I will be fine. Bangkok opens my eyes in a way I would have never have thought it would. A week after arrival I find myself surrounded by 20-year olds, going out five times a week, arriving in class still drunk. Some of them come across kind-of-adult-like, some of them look at me in fear when they tell me they are so shocked by Bangkok. There is so much traffic. There are rats in the streets. It smells nasty. It is so hot. I don’t like rice. I want to go home….I can’t do anything but listen and assure them they will be fine. Because I know they will be fine, as time goes by.
Being surrounded by so many young people teaches me two things. One: it’s like I look in the mirror and see myself in Australia again. Their drunken stories, their worries, their ever-existing-lack-of-money, but not in the least place their jealous-making lack of responsibility…as we grow older we sometimes take life way too seriously. Two: for the first time on all of my travels I realize how much I miss my friends at home and how much I miss being treated like an adult. The conversations at school do not go beyond ‘where did you get drunk last night’ and ‘where will you travel to next’… I feel I can hardly tell them I had a couple of glasses of wine at the Moon Bar followed by a three course meal at Nahm. And while I respect the rules and regulations about the school uniform, after a couple of months I can’t stop but feeling it takes away the identity I formed in the past 35 years.
Bangkok is and will always be my favorite city after my home city. It is raw, it is edgy, it is modern, it is extreme. It is driven by people working ever so hard, wanting to move upward on the welfare ladder. But while I love it so much, it has also taught me my heart is in Utrecht, my home, the place where my family and friends are. For the first time in my life, I will return home not wanting to book a ticket out but thoroughly enjoy the life I build for myself there.
Four more weeks to enjoy soup at the street stalls at Lumpini and an exquisite meal at Gaggan…to be amazed by Bangkoks’ extremes, its heat, its nasty smells, its excellent BTS system, the ever so glamorous Siam Paragon and paying a whopping 600 baht for a decent glass of wine...
Bangkok, you were great.
Utrecht, here I come.