This essay was originally published March 12, 2018.
We document to preserve; and yet, I am astonished at how quickly the memories fade. Sights that once brimmed with details so precise that I could paint a hologram in my mind, have morphed into a hazy field of pixels-- an image enlarged to the point of distortion.
Occasionally though, I’ll swipe past a photo that prompts a flashback. I’m thinking of my visit to Wat Pho, the reclining buddha in Bangkok. It’s around the corner from the Grand Palace, the historic home of the Thai royal family. Unfortunately, it has become a tourist attraction so overrun with people that I felt like I was in some tragic ancient Disney World.
I see the image and remember the struggle I went through to capture the size of the beast-- my little head poking out of the bottom edge of the frame while the lounging buddha, clad in gold, loomed enormously overhead. And then, how could I forget the man who, while I was taking my photo, leaned the weight of his whole body into me like I was a wall so he could take the same picture! I had to laugh at the whole situation, especially after I tapped him on the top of his head and offended him. (Oh? You’re mad?!)
I wonder, especially now that I’m home and talking about my trip with my friends, if that guy will choose to include this tidbit in his telling of the story? I doubt it. But I do think about the stories he, and the thousands of others, will tell.
I reread the essays I wrote to you to see how they resonate with me now that I’ve been back for a few weeks. As I read them, I remembered a quote I came across a while ago by the composer John Cage. He said, “It is essential that we be convinced of the goodness of human nature, and we must act as though people are good.”
A trust in the goodness of humans allowed everything you read about, and more, to happen. From the exciting adventures to find sex shows, to the lady who grabbed us by the hand and helped us cross the street. None of it would have happened had I not trusted strangers.
It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when both Andy and Vicool (and you) were strangers to me. However, when life brought us into vibrant and unexpected connection, we chose to explore the possibility of more. And why? Because despite the knowledge that everyone has the capacity to do wrong, we trusted that the other person would do right. We gave each other the benefit of the doubt, and became friends.
When Vicool moved to Bangkok last year, it ceased to be just another name on a map or just a place for expats to escape to. When Vicool moved to Bangkok last year, it stopped being a city where 9 million people lived, and became a city where just one person lives. The same is true for Andy in Hong Kong, Ilija in Kigali, and for you wherever you might find yourself reading this right now. Life is about people, connection, and relationships. So when life threw an ocean between Vicool and me, we simply learned to swim.
Seventy years ago, in the thick of WWII, the poet, thinker, and writer Henry Beston wrote, “There are moments in which melodrama becomes life, and this is one of them.” The line vibrates again with eerie relevance. Like then, the world today seems intent on finding ways for us to cleave instead of to converge. But our saving grace against this wave of cultural destruction comes from the power of community, which says, “I may not know you, but I see you— and I’ve got your back.” It is recognizing ourselves in each other, and then allowing life to thrust confidently outward into the world.
We document to preserve; and yet, I am astonished at how quickly the memories fade-- but the feelings do not. When someone makes you feel, they become part of you. I think that’s why this trip for me has been so incredible. It’s not just the things I did or the sights I saw, it’s the people-- the ones I shared with you, and the dozens I didn’t. I wanted to document, but how? Feelings can’t be documented in words nor in images. Feelings are documented through actions. The people I met on this trip made me feel so rich with life that I was driven to share them with you. And their stories, through my words, inspired so many of you to write back. Through that interaction, we established connection and fostered community. Having you all-- my community-- along with me on this journey amplified this experience in ways that I could never have anticipated. And so, for this final installment of #JajaInAsia, I have nothing left to say, but thank you.
Until the next one! <3
Los Angeles, California, USA
March 12, 2018