On the 25th of February, I turned 25 years old. My golden birthday. I had scheduled my vacation for the entire week off, just in case my efforts to save over the past few months afforded me the opportunity to do something epic–possibly involving insane amounts of sequins and loud music, or statuesque young men in gorgeous dresses, lip-syncing songs from the soundtrack to my life. A flashback to my 24th or a prediction of my 25th? Hmmm…Perhaps a bit of both. So when my “fly-or-die,” Dru told me of plans for a trip to Thailand with his best friend Mo (another Mo) there was no hesitation. Ok, there was quite a bit of hesitation. Contrary to what my choice of career would lead you to believe, I actually do not love flying for long periods of time, and despite how amazing Thailand sounded in the stories from my coworkers on the jump-seat, it was never really on my list of must-visit countries. But that’s neither here nor there. I was ready to romp with the tigers and bathe with the elephants!
So I went!
Now, let me preface the following account by saying that I indeed truly enjoyed my time in Thailand, and I am far pleased with the experiences throughout my entire journey. But I now know that my gift to myself was not only the trip to a new country, but also the small truths that I learned about myself and life as a whole.
A bit of background: as a flight attendant, I have the privilege of flying stand-by on other carriers, thus our travel plans for this epic birthday excursion centered on being able to do just that. Sounds pretty awesome, yeah? It is. Most of the time. If everything goes as smoothly as everyone else seems to tell you. So imagine the excitement when we got seats on the flight to Narita with no problems! We were on our way to Thailand! Just two long flights and one more short hop and we would be in Phuket, playing hide and seek in a field of tigers and bathing with elephants off the coast, right? Nope.
From the album of pictures of me chilling with a tiger by my side, and dancing along the floating market with a python around my neck, and giving a Thai massage to a crocodile, one might reasonably deduce that I’m a pretty fearless young lady. I’m not.
In a time long ago. A time before the grand creation that is Netflix. A time when a trip to Blockbuster was the highlight of any sleepover, and late fees were still a thing, dear old Dad thought Broke Down Palace (a movie in which two young ladies get thrown into a Thai prison for smuggling drugs, one of whom has a roach crawl into her ear) was a good selection for movie night. Can we say traumatized?! So imagine the terror that ensued when I was approached by Japanese customs and informed that I (not we, I.) had a phone call after my bags had been scanned. I remained cool as a photo montage of scenes from Oz (the few scenes I’d happened to glimpse when pestering my parents when I probably should’ve been in bed) flashed in my mind. But no worries folks. It wasn’t a drugs planted in my carelessly unattended suitcase kind of thing; just a you shall not pass, because you can’t have a wild tale of an adventure with a seamless standby travel experience kind of thing.
So, very long and frustrating story short (because, even this long after, I can’t seem to find any amusement or humor in that part of the experience) we exited the airport and re-entered to attempt the next leg of our journey. On to Bangkok!
You could probably guess, nothing went as planned; and we found ourselves on a day long layover in Narita, which would include 4 hours next to the escalator that “goes to the third floor” on which one must “watch your step and hold on to the handrail” followed by a very brief moment of peace in the capsule hotel, and a quick excursion to the Narita- San Temple (which is now on my list of places to revisit) and then we were off to Bangkok! Finally. But not before a mishap in the restroom resulted in a waterlogged iPhone and a few failed attempts to purchase rice in an airport.
Bangkok. Safe and sound. Hotel bound. Or so we thought.
After finding that the train was no longer running, we hopped in a cab to our hotel. Our first hotel, that is. After two whole days of travel and sleeping on planes and in the airport, we couldn’t attempt to imagine that upon entering the cab we were embarking on a night-long quest through downtown Bangkok in search of a hotel. But we didn’t have to imagine it; we were living it. One over-priced, over-booked, run-down hotel after another, until we found the Mansion. And that’s exactly what it felt like to us at 3AM. We could now relax and spend the next four days being chauffeured around Bangkok by our new friend, Iff (our lovely cab driver who offered to take us everywhere imaginable, for the duration of our stay), cuddling baby tigers and watching their parents perform amazing feats, and getting carried through the land by elephants after a busy day of souvenir shopping on the floating market, and viewing some of the most creative fashions and performances by the lady-boys of Pattaya, and getting Thai massages, and having little fish nibble at our toes. We had a blast!
And then we had to return.
I’ll put it this way: no seats available. Seats available, however, you must make it through customs and security and to your gate within less than an hour. Sweat, tears and panic–but we made it to Dubai. Where we were informed that the next flight to the U.S. would not be until 2AM. So, a few more rounds around yet another airport, searching for ways to entertain ourselves and sleeping upright in the food court while the power drained from our devices until we could attempt our next flight to Dallas.
Wide open. Plenty of seats. Music to our ears.
Payload Restriction. A standby’s worst nightmare.
I read my companions the first three pages of Modoc: The true story of the greatest elephant that ever lived, before I drifted off with a prayer that the trip not get any worse. At 1:45AM were handed boarding passes and told to hurry to our gate. At 1:47AM we were told that our bags were too heavy as carry-ons and that they must be checked (which of course by now would be impossible, with our flight departing in less than an hour). I felt my mind drift away as I heard the tiny cracks form over my heart, ready to shatter into a million pieces. But as I came back into focus, reminding myself that I was an adult and to have a meltdown in the airport was unacceptable, I saw the agent nodding in our direction and telling us to go on through.
We ran as fast as we could to the gate.
Finally. It’s all coming together! And then I heard a thud. I turned around to see the entire contents of my wallet strewn across the terminal floor. Darn it! All of my Baht, my Yen, my dollars, every receipt from every Burger King from Japan to Dubai, the fortune from that fortune cookie from that time a few years back when I had Chinese food that read, “You will soon be making a wise investment.” All over the place. Yup. I was that person.
We made the flight. On to Dallas!
Nothing too exciting in Dallas. Just missed the first flight to San Diego, by one person. Made it on the second though; and had the pleasure of meeting a lovely woman while waiting. She asked me about my travels and I told her of my trip to Bangkok. She then asked if I enjoyed my trip.
Without a second thought I found myself telling her of all of the neat animals I’d seen and of the wonderful souvenirs I’d purchased at the market and of my travel buddies and our new inside jokes. All of the stress of the past few days and all of frustrations of my travel experience, not forgotten, rather irrelevant.
Life, to me, can be that way sometimes. Sometimes life can feel like a series of unfortunate events; but when you look back, you find that those unfortunate events have woven themselves together to create a beautiful moment. And those beautiful moments are what make life worth living.