I left Bhutan on July 4th more heavy hearted than I ever expected. I do not know if I will ever be able to return to this magical place, and I assure you, it is indeed magical. Although the kingdom is far away from me, I expect I will indefinitely keep it close to my heart. I am woven into it now, though I never knew a fraying thread like me could be so tethered. I imagine by the end of this journey, I will be even more unraveled and knotted to other places around the world.
(If you are reading this, Kunzang and Tiger and other Bhutanese friends, I miss you!)
I spent the next couple days in Bangkok, Thailand, on the seedy-neighborhood-turned-backpacker-haven of Kao Sarn road. I was a little sad that my first of gulps of oxygen-rich air would be the humid and sweaty atmosphere of this polluted tropical city, but so be it. Coming from the cool, quiet, prayer-flag covered, nearly-empty-of-people vibe of Bhutan, it was super overwhelming to be dumped off on the street stock full of bars, billboards, tattoo parlors, street food carts, clothing shops, and more than anything else, lots and lots of scantily clad white people.
Let me be honest, I didn't really believe in culture shock before going abroad myself. I'd agree with those who warned me now, that the shock is greater on the way home, but I never thought there would be so many things I would plum forget about, or at least not view as normal anymore. Luckily, my culture shock had been treated prophylacticly when we were invited to an early fourth of July party at the American Warden's house in Bhutan (no embassy=warden instead). Not only was that weird because he and his family had American furniture and food, but I literally recoiled in shock when the bathroom had a doorknob, not a sliding latch, I had not seen a turning doorknob in months, and I had completely put them out of mind. After the meal, we said the pledge of allegiance and listened to the national anthem (twice), and I was so confused by these activities that I was genuinely worried how bad my culture shock could get when we left Bhutan for real.
I separated from my wheaties at the close of our journey together, when they went back to the States, and I flew off on my own to Europe. Alas, because of differences in the timing of security and flights, I didn't get to give them real farewells, putting a small damper of the beginning of my European adventures. This experience of snags in transportation seems to be a perpetuating theme, but I am getting better at navigating these things correctly and quickly, so that's a plus. I got to spend an unpredicted night in Helsinki, Finland on my way to Zurich, but at last I met up with my dad is Lucerne, Switzerland.
Before I tell you about my times thus far in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, I would like to write down some of the lessons I learned in Bhutan. I'm not sure if anyone but me will find them useful or interesting, because many of them are fairly obvious, but here they are nonetheless:
1. When original plans fall through, don't worry. Better ones often come along, and can reliably make for good stories.
2. Dont be afraid to talk to people. They are almost always kind and interesting.
3. (sorry Mom but,) Hitchhiking isn't that scary. Yes it is a risk, but in my experience it was fun and very great when you are low on ngultrum.
4. I tend to prefer listening over talking, but it's still a skill I need to work on.
5. Rain is no good reason not to be outside, or to go camping.
6. One can acclimate to altitude and spicy food, and this can impress the locals.
7. Not having your own computer is not so bad after all. People will share if you ask, and I found myself spending my time more creatively without so much technology access.
8. One can feel beautiful and not be concerned with beauty.
9. Living on a mountain lends itself to nice muscles.
10. What they say about facing your fears in order to overcome them is true. It was scary to walk by those dogs so many times after I was bit once, but I feel much braver now.
11. Exploring a city alone can be really fun, especially if you like people watching, as I do.
12. Really really try to make local friends and speak the local language. I do not feel I did this enough.
13. Hand washing clothes may not get them 'clean,' but it can be a very relaxing task.
14. Not being able to drink tap water is very very frustrating.
15. I don't know why, but I really like being around cows....mrooooooo.
16. Attend as many events as you can, but don't feel bad for spending time on your own or on non-eventful things. Those are important too.
17. Walk slowly. Speak slowly. Even think slowly.
18. Act like an animal. You are one.
19. There aren't very dramatic sunsets or sunrises in the Himalaya.
20. Curiosity is one of the best qualities to share with a person. Foster it. Watch it grow like strawberries in the forest.
That's all for now! More soon! (teaser: wwoofing=wunderbar)