The diversity. It never ceases to amaze. More than 250 people jumped on my list yesterday, a good chunk of them hitting up my inbox with introductions I spent the last couple of hours responding to. Teenagers, retirees, single moms, family men, digital nomads, a lady on a motorcycle odyssey, a gay guy from Pakistan. I flow between gratitude and guilt, the latter because I’m never entirely convinced they’re smart to believe in me.
We’re sitting in the back of a red ride speeding along wet and winding roads. I met her and the driver less than twelve hours ago, but you wouldn’t know it from the conversation. We’re on to religion now. I’m telling the story of hitting on a member of a church group last year in Kathmandu. Fifteen minutes later I was surrounded by six of her fellow disciples, palms laid on me as they prayed for a Jesus save.
Blind spots. I caught one for a friend today. He’s been doing a lot of work pro bono, saying he likes helping people out. But really he’s afraid to negotiate prices and ask to be paid. I wonder after our call if I’m suffering from similar self-sabotage, keeping busy with emails and blogging as an excuse to avoid writing books and building a software business, my good getting in the way of my great.
The Burmese waitress with the botched lipstick is flirting with me, but I’m more intrigued by the redheaded farang who just walked in. I strike up a conversation and it flows easy past the hook. Then I ask about the tattoo on her shoulder, an attractive vine design spelling out the words Sought After. She tells me it’s for Jesus. “I wouldn’t be alive today if not for Jesus.” In my head there’s a glass hitting the floor, a record scratching, a dance destroyed.
But only in my head, and I’m growing intolerant of the routine. I’ve shaken off many of my poisonous people-pleasing tendencies over the years, but I still struggle face-to-face. Still too often, I hide my true feelings, bite my tongue, steer clear of conflict. It’s a dishonest and manipulative way to operate. You think we’re best buddies while I suppress an eye roll. Next time, I tell myself, next time I’ll speak up.
Last week felt like catch-up, getting back into a routine. This week I’m moving from reactive to proactive. I get up at six and run down to Nong Buak Hard, do my first stretching since Hong Kong while surrounded by taichi practitioners, dry bird shit and the mouths of gaping fish. Afterwards I forget my meditation and run home an alternate route, on the lookout for a pull up spot.
Someone asked via email today how my business ventures are going. I didn’t have a good answer. I’m busy as usual but very few of my current projects are likely to bring significant income. At least not anytime soon. And that makes it sound like I’m laying the foundations for some kind of master money-making plan, but that’s not true either. I wonder is the Sigma 6 income a gift or a curse? Without it I’d surely have carved another stream by now.
I had a box full of coins when I arrived in Chaing Mai, monetary metals from Turkey, Romania, Iran, Nepal, China… Not as keepsakes; more because I’m a cheapskate, felt wasteful to part with them. But here I’ve embraced the waste, been dropping a couple coins at a time in tip jars around town. Paying for breakfast this morning I got back a ten baht piece. Or so I thought. Later inspection revealed it to be a fifty kuruş coin. Wonder how that got there.
What do you do when someone you respect and admire tells you they don’t like your work? That is, in response to something you did specifically to make them look good, something you invested significant hours in, they write and tell you, “I’m not really a fan.” Hit me like a plank tonight, knocked the wind right out of me. The most upsetting thing is that I find it so upsetting. Methinks I’ve been out of practice, criticism has been lacking.
On the way in I salute Alex, a kids’ entertainer who lived many years in Spain. At the counter I order the usual two dishes from Tony, who likes to flirt and calls me Mr. Handsome. I say hi to Natasha conversing in a corner, then find Richard and Ellen seated side-by-side upstairs. Still strangers, so I introduce them. Later I notice Conor off to the side so I say hello and chat for a bit, before Zach and Marianne arrive and we all share a table.
I walk into a foursome and introduce myself. It’s a little awkward, but I stick with it. The guy seems solid, talking about the challenge of befriending Thai men, tricky business if you’re a single dude who doesn’t speak the language. Then the group breaks and it’s just us. “So what do you do, Mark?” He’s a half sentence in when I realize he’s that Mark, and I turn all fanboy about his book. It’s a little awkward, but I stick with it.
That free writing thing. Gotta be the best self-therapy tool I’ve ever stumbled across. Every single time I sit down to write about a problem I’m having, no matter how troubling, I come away feeling like the weight of the world has been raised from my shoulders. There’s serious power in getting thoughts out of your head and down in writing, massaging that jumble of undefined worries into a solid shape that can then be cut up into small, manageable chunks.
Identity is a dangerous thing, easy to fall into a trap laid by our own stories and expectations. What would I do if I awoke tomorrow with no memory, no identity… and if there was nobody around to fill me in on how I’d been living my life and why? No expectations, nobody to disappoint, not even myself. Would I still opt for the life of a non-flying, self-employed blogger, or choose something completely different?
We’re sitting there listening to this dude, amazed he can’t see what we see. When the waitress smiles and banters, she’s obviously giving him special attention. When she’s cold and blanking, she’s obviously playing hard to get. All the while he hangs back, waiting for a miracle to make his world come good. It’s that nice guy syndrome, an ego bubble-wrapped in self-delusion, reasoning the unreasonable.
A month ago, for the first time, I tried bribing a border official. He wasn’t liking the date on my double-entry. “No problem. I pay a fine. How much I pay you?” He didn’t go for it, the only honest official in the kingdom. As a result, I found myself border running to Burma two weeks back. And now I can’t sleep aboard a cramped minibus to Laos, the first leg of a three-day visa run, thinking how a little corruption would have saved me a lot of trouble.
Built like a brick shithouse, is how Donal describes him. He tells tales of sleeping with Laotian girls, an illegal activity for foreigners. “I got caught the first time, had to bribe my way out of it. The second time I was able to escape out the window.” Later he reveals how he was stopped entering Thailand with a small supply of weed. Airport police brought him to a room with no windows and offered two options: transfer $10k, or go to jail for a very long time.
In the comments below, let me know which of the above Momentos is your favorite. Which can you relate to?