Photo above: Ido on Lonely Beach in Cambodia one week ago
Imagine spending a month on a serene, quiet beach with your thoughts and all of nature’s beauty. Then imagine the next day abruptly switching into a packed van with an angry Cambodian driver and being dropped off in the heart of chaotic Khaosan Road in Bangkok. And the time is 11pm, and you have your luggage, and it’s the kickoff party of their New Year celebration Songkran, where water fights are completely unavoidable.
The frenetic pace of this city is astounding. I woke early to get out of the busy tourist area with my bags strapped to my back and realized that the parade and water fights were already starting early for New Year’s Day. I rushed down the already hot street at 10 am, headed nowhere in particular, just trying to get out of the oncoming line of fire.
Songkran is a 3-day celebration during the hottest time of year. The Thai people celebrate by arming themselves with water guns, buckets of ice water, and a mysterious white substance that they smear on your face as you pass by.
I rushed through the sunny streets near Khaosan Road like a caged squirrel, looking for the nearest escape. I was nearly out of the busy district when a little Thai boy caught me on the sidewalk. He looked at me and my dry clothes and tourist backpack and smiled cheekily with his pistol, as if to say, Freeze, you silly tourist! No one gets out of here alive. And then it happened. I felt the stream of water soaking my right leg. He was delighted. The damage was done, yet I could only smile back.
After getting to a new, quieter hostel and dropping my bags off, I was finally ready to participate instead of running. Meeting up with friends, we headed to the busiest districts of the festival where we got soaked head to toe, and got our share of soaks back too. It was such a memorable day seeing everyone smiling and laughing so hard.
But now that I’ve spent a few more days in Bangkok, I find myself looking at this mega-city and comparing it with the life I was just living on the beach. This is the complete opposite environment. I browsed through Bangkok’s most beautiful shopping malls for hours. I walked through store after store looking at trendy clothes and accessories on display. I was constantly fooled into thinking my clothes were inadequate and that I needed more to fit in. But then in dawned on me- why am I letting all this advertising and hype get to me? Is Bangkok changing me into someone I’m not? What if I choose to live my life more simply and opt out of these luxuries and unnecessary purchases?
I won’t become a monk and renounce all my possessions. I still have a desire to possess nice things. But I know that the experiences I’ve had on this journey have most certainly not come from purchases or tangible goods.
Challenge: Can you think of a single object you've bought that actively made you feel good for longer than a few months? Chances are that a time came when you wanted to upgrade it since it wasn’t so special anymore, or it got thrown into the mix of other possessions you forgot about months ago.
My month on a quiet beach made me focus more on emotional intelligence- what I consider to be one of the most important things to hone in life. Coming to Bangkok suddenly made me forget all about that as I got caught up with the speed of the city. I still enjoy the pacing of big cities, but I feel something shifting inside me where I crave being back on a beach. A place to return to my thoughts. After all, isn’t that why beaches are so desired for vacation time?
Bangkok is a remarkable city, and while many can’t stand it, I really do enjoy it. It has so much to offer and has so many sides to it (you can certainly enjoy Bangkok by skipping these malls if it's not your thing). But being here alone after the transition from a small community family on the island has been shattering to what I know. But it’s also making me realize that a decision to step out of all this and live a more simple life isn’t a bad thing, even though every store and news source would have me think otherwise.
Somehow the pleasures of a good conversation on a quiet beach, under a sky lit by hundreds of stars, was far more rewarding that anything I could buy in those shopping malls. My life these days is global and on the go, but really far more minimal than ever before. I have barely any possessions now, I disconnect from the internet more regularly, and I don’t mind the fact that I have only 6 t-shirts. And anyone who has an issue with my lack of t-shirts and possessions isn’t someone I spend much time with these days anyway.
A life of chosen simplicity can be stimulating. It means being able to reach a greater depth with what you already have- including current possessions, but mostly focused on relationships and emotional intelligence. When you remove the clutter from your life you can address the things that matter most. You have time to sit and think. To talk and laugh. To lay in a park and read a book. To really see someone as they are. Life may be complex, but it certainly doesn’t need to be cluttered.
What simple pleasures do you enjoy most?