I have had more hummus in the last week than I’ve had in the last year. And I am in Thailand.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hummus. If I were stranded on a deserted island, and all I had to eat for the rest of my life was hummus, I’d be thrilled. But to find more Middle Eastern and macrobiotic delights than Thai food on a Thai island (which is far from being deserted)… it’s very disorienting.
Koh Pha Ngan — and specifically the area where we’re staying, Srithanu — is proving to be a very intriguing place. It’s full of yogis and Israelis. Hippies are everywhere, like Austin in the 80’s. Vegetarian restaurants abound. There is shockingly good pizza made by proud Italians. And delicious cheese plates and duck confit are served on a beautiful, quiet beach by beautiful, quiet people from France.
The pace, energy, and approach to life here couldn’t be more different from Kuala Lumpur — it’s been a dramatic, fascinating transition — and, much to my surprise, one that I desperately needed.
Kuala Lumpur is intense because of its chaos. I enjoyed the city, absolutely. I met interesting locals, ate extremely well, and for a short time felt like I actually lived there. But it was only when we arrived in Srithanu that I realized how much KL stressed me out. And, to be fair, that’s not all the city’s fault.
KL is where we — seventy strangers — were thrown together to get to know one another under extreme circumstances, trying to sort out our individual remote life rhythms, needs, and personalities while negotiating group dynamics, working, and exploring our new home in Southeast Asia. To say that our situation during Month One was normal on any level would be a serious understatement. But we survived, mostly unscathed. And here we are in Month Two.
Srithanu in Koh Pha Ngan is island life at its most calm and mellow (all OM, all the time). Our full group is spread out over three different “resorts” which range quite a bit in style. I’m at the most rustic of the bunch, Bovy Beach. And while I’m not typically a rustic girl (I can hear several of my friends saying “correct!”), there are certain aspects of it that are perfect for me.
At Bovy we are in bungalows directly on the sand, and I can watch the most magnificent sunsets from my porch. My fellow Bovy residents and I are in sync socially and energy-wise (that’s us in the photo below), and I feel a sense of calm in Remote Year now that I did not have in KL.
While it’s not specifically called a social experiment, Remote Year definitely feels like one. It also feels like a reality show — “How will seventy Remotes respond to traveling for twelve hours by bus, plane, ferry, and pickup truck? What happens when the giant geckos invade? Tune in tonight to find out.”
The whole experience is challenging me to seek out and identify the things that will make it right, good, and worth it for me. I am learning that I tend to prefer smaller groups to big ones. I like being chill. I don’t like drinking the way I used to (i.e. a lot). And I’m terrified of being seen as a cliché, loud American tourist.
In many ways, Remote Year thus far has also thrown me into a bit of an identity crisis. When you meet 70 strangers, how do you present yourself? All they know about me is what I tell them, and what I reveal on social media. How do I want to be known and perceived? It hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but when we had to do a quick stand up in front of the full group to introduce ourselves — a pecha kucha — I never once talked about my resume.
As someone who has spent the majority of my adult life feeling defined by my career — allowing myself to be wholly consumed by it for at least a decade — this marked an important shift for me, one that I plan to embrace but that also scares me a bit. I love what I do, but if I’m no longer defined by it, what am I defined by? Do I need to be defined at all? Maybe this is what it feels like to go nomad.
Koh Pha Ngan is a place I can see staying for a while. I wake up next to the sea every day, then go to a lovely yoga studio that is a stone’s throw from my bungalow. In every class, we work on opening something, usually our hips, which has proven to be very important since in most restaurants here you sit on the floor. I haven’t sat cross-legged this much since kindergarten, and my hips are working hard to adjust.
Opening up and being comfortable in the uncomfortable… that’s where I’m at in most aspects of my life right now. And, for this month in Thailand at least, the view — and the hummus — couldn’t be better.