Today is my ninetieth day in Asia. If backpacking around Southeast Asia were a twelve-step group, today’s the day I’d be allowed to qualify — to speak at a meeting about my experience, strength, and hope.
Ninety days is a long time. A season. Long enough for something radically new to become a habit, a new pattern, a new way of being. It’s long enough that you have begun to have some idea of what this new experience is about.
That’s certainly the case for me. It feels like there’s a yawning gulf between the initial anxiety and confusion of those first weeks in Bangkok and beyond, wondering how I’d make friends and not spend half a year alone, and the day-by-day exchange of one friend or group of friends for another as I bump along the muddy tracks of southern Myanmar. (It has been freakishly cold and rainy here the last couple of days.)
My moods still swing all over the place, depending on how tired I am and how much companionship I have. But I’m much more aware of how it all works, and what’s just a passing sense of exhaustion or loneliness. I know that the big cities are alienating, that I’ll feel better when I get to the little places with the interesting things to see, that I will meet other travelers on the way, that I have some friends in a few spots around the region who are happy to welcome me back when I need some time with someone I know. I know I can buy medicine when I need it, that there will always be snacks somewhere, that I can still handle the stresses of bumpy rides in tuk-tuks, night buses, weird curries, awkward weather.
It feels like it has been forever, and it’s not even half way. After Myanmar — which has been challenging in a number of ways — I will take some relative ease with a week in Thailand and a couple of weeks in Vietnam with friends. I am looking forward to good Western food, 7-Eleven, locals who speak English, and a general awareness of how service works.
But soon enough, I’ll want to get back on the trail, to head into Cambodia and Laos and see what they’re about. The journey is old enough to qualify, but ninety days is just the beginning. And even if it’s nearly half of this particular trip, it’s still just the first short phase of my new life in Asia.