One Man’s Struggle Is Another Man’s Lesson

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I sat back and watched as Bangkok slowly disappeared from beneath me. Gazing out of the small, double-paned airplane window I couldn’t help but contemplate the past twelve weeks of my life. I knew, as was always the case, that the further I flew away from the Land of Smiles the more it would appear that I’d never even been there. As the distance increased between myself and the small country nestled in Southeast Asia, and with each time zone the airplane crossed, the thoughts in my mind slowly changed. Like all my previous trips, somewhere over the snowy arctic, under the brightly lit moon of our heavens, the reality that I would soon be back in the states slowly encroached. Subconsciously, it was as if my mind knew it had to shift gears to survive in the aggressive, postindustrial western world that is America. Many times before I’ve tried to hold on to the jai yen outlook that I’ve come to learn of in Thailand, but I knew once I reached the customs line at JFK Airport the angry, unfriendly face of some under paid New Yorker would be waiting to test my cool heart against his poor attitude.

I tried not to imagine how it would be; returning to a mundane life filled with mortgage payments, unfulfilling responsibilities, and let’s not forget – work. I also thought about how these forces – you know, the one’s governing my existence as a good little citizen in society – held me back from truly living. When it comes to living, I never feel more alive than when I’m in Thailand. The sights, sounds, tastes, and scents, combined with the people I’m continually privileged to meet, all awaken within me some sleeping passion to remain in Siam. It’s because of this that I couldn’t fathom the idea of facing my supervisor, the passionless drone whose job it was to analyze every detail of my timesheet and pass on his uninspiring energy to the rest of the populace. Nor could I face the mentally imprisoned workforce that hassled me for giving up months of pay to go to a “third world country.” Half of them never even left the tri-state area so how would I be able to convey to them the sum of my experiences? Who would hearken my words?

Just how would I be able to describe the place where I’d spent the last two-and-a-half months? A place where children, some just eight years old, slept under the ring, popping their heads out from behind the apron to reveal the flickering light of a television set underneath. Others slept on the ring, protected from the insects by a tattered mosquito net. The lucky few – the fighters who’d been there the longest – got to sleep inside, sheltered from the elements of Thailand. I’d never be able to forget how the Thai’s warmed up their bath water over an open fire, or how the trainers picked at peanuts and sipped on whiskey during dinner, breathing life into the cyclical existence of nights spent in the Muaythai camp. Only later would I come to miss the cool shower taken out of a basin of water alongside the camp walls. Standing in my own bathroom, I could only laugh at how absurd and needy I’d felt, surrounded by everything I’d bought into as mandatory for my survival in the west.

I remember stepping into my house for the first time after twelve weeks. It felt soulless. I’d always imagined it as box; four walls and a roof that provided shelter. Even after nearly four years of barely putting a dent in the mortgage, I never looked at it as a home. After all, how would I be able to? Especially now? It had been lacking that feel of home that I’d left behind twenty-four hours earlier. I walked in and didn’t find Kittisak strumming away on the guitar, surrounded by the younger fighters who would sing along. I didn’t find Jack or Don sipping whiskey, offering me their share of spicy peanuts. I sat quietly, hoping to hear the familiar sounds that I had been so accustomed to. Instead, I heard only the thumping of my heart and it’s desire to be back in what I considered to be the greatest place on Earth. Although, if I sat there long enough, after a while I could make out the distant sounds of motorcycles, Thai music, and the ringing bells of food carts. With my eyes closed I could still make out the photographic image of the gym, the daily life for those who lived there, and the struggle they’d each endured.

This was their life, day in and day out, and long after I was gone they’d still be there. For me, the struggle ended when I boarded the plane back home. For them, however, the struggle was continuous. Nonetheless, it was in their struggle that I’d come to learn some of the greatest lessons I’d ever received, and for that I am forever grateful. How can I forget what Thailand had given to me yet again? Ever since my first visit in 2007 I’ve kept with me the notion that life isn’t about material possessions; but rather that life is about true happiness. By happiness, I don’t mean the temporary pleasures we receive through external means; I’m talking about the enjoyment for life that should always live inside our hearts. Although adverse conditions were ever-present, life for those Thai’s was lived to the fullest everyday. The smile on their faces said it all.

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John Wolcott currently lives in Thailand and works as a freelance writer and videographer. Join him on Twitter or John Wolcott.

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