Going to Southeast Asia would not have been possible, or even a real thought, without my best friend, Andrew. Andrew was the first person to suggest Southeast Asia to me, and about a year and a half ago, we told ourselves we would save up our money and go this summer. Now it’s happening!
Here’s a little background on our friendship. We met the second day of college through mutual friends. We joined the same gender-inclusive fraternity together (go Phi Sigma Pi!) and lived together for two years. He is 100% my best friend and knows more about me, highs and lows, than anyone needs to know. We’ve seen it all from each other, especially first semester senior year. Yikes.
We’ve been planning this trip and booking accommodations for the past few months, but I wanted to really sit down and get Andrew’s take on what he wants to gain from this trip, and what he’s expecting. It’s a long chat: we talk about meditating, navigating the world, and how everyone is going through life at different paces.
So we’re going to Southeast Asia…
I feel like we’re doing Comedians in a Car with Coffee.
We are. So in college, you wanted to go to Asia when I wanted to go to Europe. What about Asia intrigued you?
Two levels. I had a cousin who took a similar trip a couple years ago, and he said it was a good way to learn about how to get along in a country that isn’t geared toward American tourists. And then, I’ve been looking to explore a different mindset, meaning not only a different way of getting around the world, but also a different culture. Getting way from – “I’ve been to France, I’ve been to Ireland,” which is a whole different thing. But I’m not entering into it with the expectation that I’m going to come out a ~changed, cultural~ man as much as it’s going to be interesting to observe and watch and see how other people live their lives.
What are your three activities or places that you’re most excited about?
Well, we’ve both been talking about how excited we are to go to North Thailand, Chiang Mai, Pai, and be in the hills and more relaxation towns, rather than where we’re pressured to go out a lot. I think, very selfishly, I want to see an elephant thing, I think it would be cool – in a cruelty-free animal sanctuary…
As long as we’re not riding an elephant –
Riding. Those are the sketchy ones you want to stay away from. We’ll probably have to get recommendations.
Yeah, so so far would be relaxing, and the elephants, and what’s the third one? I am nervously excited for this meditation retreat. I think that it’s definitely more your scene than mine, and I was reading the reviews, and it sounds like everyone’s more brainwashed.
Like the people that go there?
The people that wrote TripAdvisor, saying ~*~It was the best experience of my whole life,~*~ like, calm down, Tracy.
But, when I was in high school I went on Kairos, which is a religious-equse kind of retreat where they get together all the seniors and it’s about escaping from the day-to-day, and I went into it skeptical that it was going to do anything, especially because it had that religious undertone and I’m not close to that stuff, but it turned out that it gave me a whole different perspective and was a really great experience. So I’m wondering if it’ll be a similar sort of thing. But like, this bitch can’t stretch a back more than an inch. This one review said, “The first three days I was in so much pain I wanted to cry, but then the last three days were great!” and I don’t know if I wanna go through that pain.
I think the fact that you’re going to a chiropractor is going to help.
The thing that I’m worried about is – we have an hour of meditation each day, and if they want us to sit up, that will be a bitch, because sitting up straight will hurt my back.
What is wrong with us, we both have back problems?
I’m trying my best.
I don’t think it’s going to be a life-changing, summer camp thing. I think it’s going to be great and fun and we’re going to learn some stuff, but I don’t think it’s going to be a Kairos.
Well, I don’t think we’re going to find God.
You’ll just shave your head and become a Buddhist.
But I do wonder, based off of these reviews, it’s a life changing experience for these people. I definitely think it’ll take a day or two for me to get used to it.
We’ll also have a private room.
Can I read?
I think so. And we have free time.
So answer me this. I only meditate when something is wrong, which is very Catholic of me, I only pray when things are going wrong. Essentially, a forced meditation – does that not go against meditation? If you’re in a room and you can’t do anything other than sit there and breathe, I guess you’ll eventually meditate, but to me that’s like focusing on “why am I not meditating yet?”
That’s part of the challenge of it. That’s part of the practice, letting go of that stuff.
But like, if a bitch wants to read a book, let them read a book.
No, I think during the meditation hours, you’re not supposed to read a book, or, like, bring out an erotic novel.
Everyone’s going to be crying around me and I’m bringing out an erotic novel.
No one’s going to cry during the meditation.
You’ve never cried during meditation? That’s just me?
I cried during teacher training. Not in front of people, though. I hope the retreat is not like ~*~I’m just so happy that we’re all here together, and we’re like a family, and we’re all going to keep in touch~*~ and if it is, we’ll avoid it together.
The backup plan is – and this is from reading reviews again – a lot of people said, “The only negative is that you can hear EDM blasting from the village next door.” And if I hate the retreat, I’ll just change clothes and hop over.
So what are your three, Meg?
I’m excited for the yoga retreat, and I think I’m excited for the opposite of what you’re worried about. I have no expectations and I’m going to relax for 7 days, do ecstatic dance when it’s ecstatic dance time, and whatever.
Yeah, it’ll take me a day or two to get there. And I can apply that mindset to the whole trip, we have an idea of where we’re going, but we don’t have exactly what we’re doing planned and that’s the most exciting thing for me. We’re just going – and I feel confident going with you because you’ve done this before – but we’re going, we’re going to figure it out when we get there, we have a general idea, but I’m excited to step outside my norm of planning everything to a tee, and just figure it out and have a good time. I have no safety nets, and it’ll be nice to enjoy a different kind of experience.
I feel like I’m doing enough research, but that’s what intimidated me about going to Asia first. I knew what I wanted to do and see in Europe, but this trip I don’t know what I want to do.
What we don’t want to do is go to the Skybar in Bangkok, because it’s a tourist place to go, but the drinks are 25 American dollars.
No. We’ll find a picture of the view and Photoshop ourselves in it.
So we met the second day of college. Did you ever think that we were going to go explore Southeast Asia together?
I did not. When I first met you, I thought you were funny, but I thought you were a bit much, which I think is what most people think –
And you were all about Disney, and I was like, chill out. But you were friendly enough. Sophomore year, we became better friends because of PSP, and then junior year, someone backed out of my house, and I thought “Megan’s usually down for things,” and I texted you and you handed me your security deposit. It was the easiest thing. Junior and senior year we became best friends because we have very similar attitudes about things, and dislike similar people, and for whatever reason you seemed to like me, and we bonded over relationships and not having them and whatnot. We would listen to “Proud Mary” every night together. Senior year, we did our own thing…that’s the history of us. And as other friends started to fade away, and we both had the attitude of “we don’t like to be bothered unless we want to be bothered” and it’s nice to have a best friend who understands that.
I think that you’re the only person I can travel with, no shade on any of my other friends, but you’re the one person that in the moment I can say, “Hey. Enough.” Or if I want a day to myself, I’m confident I can tell you that.
And I would love that, like “Cool, I have a day to explore.”
We’ll be doing that then.
Just because you’re on a trip with someone, doesn’t mean that every second of every day, you have to sit there, saying, “What do we do now? What do we do now?” And we both have the ability to talk to people, although you do a better job than me of talking to people. I do fine by myself, going somewhere and sitting by myself. You’ll go up to people and make friends. I’m okay with making friends but also not making friends.
I don’t think I have problems making friends in hostels.
It’s like freshman year dorms all over again. But it doesn’t matter if you make a fool of yourself, and you’re there to have a good time.
Everyone’s going to think we’re dating though.
I’m a happily taken man.
But I do want to be able to talk to local people to get a deeper understanding and get more context while I’m in the country.
It’s cliche to say, “I want to see the culture,” but I do.
That’s why when I went to Berlin, it was so gut-wrenching. I didn’t know anything about the Cold War – and I still really don’t – but learning about the reality of what happened while standing at Checkpoint Charlie was unreal. That’s why I’m interested in going to the Vietnam War Museum and the mass grave site in Cambodia.
That’s going to be a rough day.
When I went to Auschwitz in Poland, I was more prepared for it, but what I wasn’t prepared for was people taking selfies.
I don’t know. I don’t know if that behavior is going to be present in Cambodia, but I was appalled.
But anyway. Other than understanding where we are, what do you want to gain from this trip?
Well, selfishly, I hope to gain more confidence in my ability to navigate the world.
That’s not selfish.
Yeah, when I was in Ireland by myself, I was able to get around by myself and make friends, and have confidence from that. And I hope to gain a little bit more perspective. This is going to get dramatic, but I was at a funeral the other day for someone that I wasn’t really close to, and I felt more separated. I saw people giving speeches, really upset, and it hit me that people are going through emotions and experiences at their own pace. It’s weird because when I went through that, it felt like my whole world was there with me, but this time I felt separate. The whole world isn’t feeling the same thing that I’m feeling. And I would do this thing in college where I would go to a coffee shop and no matter how much anxiety I was feeling, no one in that coffee shop cared. And no matter what I felt, I had to keep things in perspective. It’s not the end of the world. I hope to see that same thing in another country. Just because they don’t live like we do in America, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or different, and I just want to see something I can’t relate to.
At this point, we reached our destination, but the conversation continued. We talked about traveling to another country and “the other,” rather than looking at people and labeling them as such. We talked about how this concept was all too forgotten when our peers attend(ed) Temple University. We talked about empathy and humility in general.
We don’t have many of our activities planned, so I’m really excited to see what we run into in Asia and what we learn. I anticipate us having a good balance of having a good time while still gaining something meaningful from the trip. Keep track of our journey by following Beat, Broke, Backpacking (there’s a sign up in the top right corner of the page.) Twelve days to go…YAY!