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A Longing for Here, a Yearning for There
On holding hands with two different forms of nostalgia
I’m gonna pull the curtain back on my writing process before we get any further here, in this post. This post and, actually, the last two posts you’ve read (“The Time Has Come” and “The Here, the There, and the ‘How’”) were initially composed as one long—one very loooooong—piece. Though it pained me to do it, I knew I needed to make a three-course meal out of what was initially an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stew. It would’ve been a lot to make you eat all my ponderings, questions, and emotions in just one sitting; so, while sitting in Chiang Mai airport, I started to chop up my words and simmer down all my thoughts to separate them out into three dishes where respective themes could shine through for each one (well, at least that was my hope—how’d I do?).
This final one is the dessert. Sweet, salty, and bitter with all its notes of nostalgia. It’s a listicle I wrote over the course of our last week or so in Chiang Mai, sprinkled with some photos taken by me and some shots on film beautifully captured by Brooks. In many ways it was, and still is, an attempt at answering those three post-travel questions I mulled over in my last post. Though it’s been more than a month since our return, I still can’t get my thoughts together. I want to let the memories settle a bit more before I reach into my metaphorical photo box and retell some stories.
Chiang Mai, Thailand / April 17-20, 2023
I’m excited to travel back to a land of which I am a passport holder and to once again live in a place that doesn’t register one-hundred-plus degrees for three weeks straight.
I’m not so jazzed to once again be living in the eye of so many politically turbulent storms.
My bank account and I are deeply depressed to be returning to the overpriced nonsense of the West. It would be a way smarter financial decision to remain out here for as long as possible, but I don’t want that to be the sole reason I stay somewhere. I will miss the affordability of living out here. When Brooks used to compare the financial reality out here to back home, I’d roll my eyes a bit. Now, having lived out here, I roll my eyes thinking that I used to think a $15.00 drink was a steal. Out here, in Thailand, I went to the clinic for the equivalent of just a little over $5.00, and Brooks went to the dentist a week ago—X-rays and all—for under $50.00. Our rent for three months here was less than the price we paid in Connecticut for one month of rent.
Yet, sometimes you do get what you pay for. I will not miss the hard beds out here, the springs that poke me asleep and prod me awake at night. Give me that Tempur-Pedic good-good mattress, please!
Hard bed aside, I will miss being in our little studio apartment. I will miss suddenly shooting up in bed for fear that there is a gas leak or a mini outlet fire when, in fact, it’s just Brooks chewing on a Durian candy.1
I will miss getting to spend my days writing in cafes. We’ve used our free time to cultivate our own writing retreat of sorts, and it’s been a true delight.
I’m so pumped to go grocery shopping in markets that are familiar to me and to cook for myself and my loved ones once again. Eggs, toast, and pasta are all I’ve managed to chef-up since we left in November. If you know me, that’s very out of character. Although I’d like to believe getting back in the kitchen will be like riding a bike, my tofu stir-fry attempt leads me to believe it'll be more like trying to juggle.2 Nevertheless, I’m enthused to get back in the groove.
I’m beyond thrilled to be returning to such a diverse landscape of cuisines—a great perk of living in a melting pot, indeed. Just thinking about that first bite of a dolma or some fresh tacos with a side of yellow rice and beans makes my taste buds dance in anticipation. The thought of biting into a hearty Italian sandwich—mmm!! Or munching on a robust, fresh salad without fear of the runs leaves me grinning ear to ear.3 Don’t even get me started on slicing into a nice medium steak once more—nearly orgasmic! (Good beef that doesn’t have a slight note of barnyard is hard to come by out here.)
Oh, but I will certainly miss the food here, specifically the market food and mom-n’-pop shops we’ve grown to be loyal, frequent customers at. It makes my heart hurt thinking that we knew we’d had our last meal from them, but they didn’t know they prepared their last meal for us. I could shed a tear thinking about living so far away from my favorite Khao Soi spot; from the chicken biryani stall; from moo dang; from Mu’s Katsu; from Anchan, one of the best vegetarian restaurants ever; from the succulent chicken and rice; from the Burmese restaurant we feast at for 200 Baht.4
I will miss eating with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other at every meal. I’m excited to use this functional dining custom back home, when the dish calls for it.
I will miss the convenience of having a 7-Eleven right next door, on nearly every corner.
I will miss the taste of Thailand’s mangoes and the freshness of the coconut ice cream. Oh, and the taro ice cream! The passion fruit! Nothing compares. My taste buds will soon whine for a sip of overly sweetened Thai tea.
I will miss the ease at which I sweat out here. Simply sitting and eating a bowl of soup makes me feel like I ran a marathon. Surely, I won’t miss the intense heat, but some of the health benefits from living in an actual sauna and sweating day-to-day will be missed.
In that same thread, I will truly miss the ease at which I can slurp soups of various kinds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The idea of having water that doesn’t come from a plastic bottle (!!!) makes me want to chortle with glee.
I will not miss the infrequency of a clean bathroom and the overuse of air fresheners. I will not miss the fear of being caught somewhere after going number two, only to realize there is no toilet paper in the bathroom…and I don’t have my phone on me to phone Brooks for some emergency tissue.5
Shoot me, but I can’t wait to relish in the creature comforts and diversity of selections that a more developed country has to offer. On the flip side of the same coin, I’m already overwhelmed thinking about just how many options I’ll once again confront. I’ve enjoyed the minimalist living that comes from being on a tight budget and not having as many choices. It’s something I’m going to try and keep up once I return to the land of plenty.
Oh, the land of the plenty…. For such a place of choice and development, my time away has further solidified some of the truths and suspicions I’ve had regarding just how undeveloped and wasteful the U.S. really is.
But, I myself am a product of this consumerist culture I internally wrestle with. I’m a hypocrite—and I say that because of what I’m about to say next. I cannot wait to be reunited with my Mini Cooper. I’ve missed turning on some good tunes and driving.
I will miss the friendliness of the people here, the happiness in the air and the wind in my hair on the motorbike.6
I’ll miss people smiling at us at the stoplight, no car window separating us from them. I’ll miss having someone whiz past us on their bike and give us the peace sign, hang-ten sign, or shout “Yahoo!”
Though I can’t say I’ll miss the alarm-clock song of the Asian Koel, the bird I suspect is nesting in the overhang outside our balcony, I will miss the “thousand bird chorus” that sings in the trees and sits on the telephone wires as we drive to go to our favorite market. Though a marvel, I can’t help but think of Hitchcock’s The Birds every time I hear them sing.7
I will miss the steadiness of the barometric pressure out here and the lack of spring allergies, but I can’t wait to re-experience the variety of time that only the four seasons can bring.
I will not miss the smog that stuffs my nose and makes my eyes turn red.
I can’t wait to relish in the holidays this coming fall and winter, to wear boots and sweaters. I feel all warm and fuzzy knowing I’ll be reunited with (not all but most of) my closet, so I’ll be able wear something other than my Teva sandals and t-shirts once again.
I will miss seeing the neighbor’s cats dressed in their many festive outfits, cuddling all together in a puddle of fur, soaking in the sun through the sliding glass door.
I will miss the people and cultures I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, bear witness to, and participate in.
I will miss the patience, encouragement, and enthusiasm of the Thai people who instilled confidence in me as I tried to speak their language and navigate their terrain and communities like a local.
I’m relieved to be closer than a day-plus plane ride away from my family and friends once again.
I will miss the uninterrupted time with my lover, but we’ll have plenty more of that when we’re back in the States.
Thailand, I will miss you dearly, but I’ll see you soon. How sweet it’ll be to be reunited again.
Laos, you were certainly eye-opening.
Bali, you were fun and trying. Maybe I’ll give you another chance someday, but I’ll be honest, it’s not a sad goodbye. If anything, thanks for the memories that we can now look back on and laugh at (finally).
Israel, I surprisingly look back on you fondly and with a rumble in my stomach. I’ve definitely been craving some shawarma and kubbeh as of late.
Thailand was a place I grew to love like a sibling that drove me a little crazy at times, but whom I loved, and the U.S. is a place that left me so glad I left it while also leaving me equally as happy (in many ways) to return to it once more. Funny enough, once I landed back home, the intensity of the converging nostalgias for the here and there I was wrestling with dissipated. It all didn’t feel so urgent and aching anymore. It all just felt like a dream.
As I continue writing, I have a feeling my posts will mellow out with their intensity of nostalgia. Before you say anything, yes, I know that seems counterintuitive. You’d think nostalgia would increase in intensity as time separates me from what I’m looking back on, but, actually, I think time will help dilute my feelings a bit more. I’ll be more inclined to do more showing of nostalgia rather than talking about it in existential, abstract circles like I am now, like I have been. I know I’ve been stirring this moment in time—our departure and our return—for one post too long. But I wanted to—no, I needed to—analyze and honor it. For the sake of nostalgia.
In truth, aren’t we all just living in some state, some dimension, of nostalgia constantly? Even when we’re longing and worrying about the past or anticipating and worrying about the future, nostalgia is always folded into the mix. Nostalgia for what once was, what we wanted it to be like.
Nostalgia fascinates me because it’s a trick of the mind and thus a trick of the heart. As our memory becomes a little fuzzy, nostalgia becomes fuzzier in the feel-good-fuzzy way. When we can no longer soak up the moment with our senses, we settle for feeling sentimental, trying to hear, smell, taste, see, and feel in our minds eye.
Nostalgia is like a pot of coffee that’s too strong, but we keep taking sips of it anyway. It’s bitter. It has its sweet notes. It makes our hearts drip melancholy. But it’s warming in so many ways.
The nostalgia I felt in Thailand, though, upon leaving, was a different form—or flavor, should I say—of nostalgia.
You see, this feeling of nostalgia I was confronted with upon leaving and returning, returning and leaving was all warped like a funhouse mirror. I was looking back on a past yet to be past, simply because I knew it would pass, and I was anticipating returning to something I already said goodbye to, that would be greeting me, once again, like an old friend—the same but also different, too. In moving forward, I was also going back. One past was was making me excited for the future and the other soon-to-be past was making me sad to move forward.
In that moment before we returned, I was holding and being held by these two forms of nostalgia, feeling pulled by their arms in different directions as I felt the sands of time shifting under me.
It’s a hard feeling to describe, so these rambles and my above listicle of emotions will just have to do.
Our country and city/province tally (for anyone interested):
Israel (Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv)
Bali, Indonesia (Denpasar, Kuta, Canggu)
Thailand (Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Pha-ngan, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Udon Thani)
Laos (Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng)
United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi)*
*The layover destinations (aka the wings-up, wings-down honorable mentions).
Yes, Durian does smell like gasoline and it is still that potent in candy form…so, imagine the smell of the fresh fruit.
When we moved into our studio apartment, I attempted to make a simple tofu stir-fry with rice noodles. We finally had a kitchen (well, a kitchenette) once again; I was jumping for joy. However, whether it was the time off from cooking or the mediocre tools I had at my disposal, it really hindered my cooking performance. I surrendered after that first attempt. Not to mention grocery shopping/cooking proved to be way more expensive than eating out!
Yes, I know food poisoning can happen anywhere (such was the joy of having to take an FDA Policy and Food Safety course as a nutrition minor), but it feels so much more likely while traveling, given the cleanliness of the water here and especially since we ate out for just about every meal.
Two-hundred Baht is equivalent to a little under $6.00.
For someone so prepared, out of fear that this exact scenario would ensue, yes, it finally happened. That’s what happens when you let your guard down and get a little too comfy and hopeful per the bathroom situations out here. I’ll spare you the full, detail-laden story, should you find yourself reading this while eating. However, if you’re into bathroom tales of woe, check out my post “A Newsletter from the Commode”.
Before you ask (Mom and Dad, I’m talking to you)—yes, I had a helmet on.