My friend looked at me wide eyed. The straw that he had been drinking a fizzy pop from moments ago was still dangling in his mouth. I could see what I had just told him go through each level of his brain. There was bewilderment written all over his face. Of all the things he expected to hear this was not one of them. I knew this not only from the straw, but also because he said so.
He looked around. He had hoped no one else had heard what I had said because if no one else had then he could go back to drinking his fizzy pop. He eyes met mine. He was waiting for some punch line. He was waiting for me to say this was a joke that had gone horribly wrong, as is often the case. He waited.
“ I am not joking” I said
“You can’t possibly be serious?” He was suddenly quite upset. “It is just not natural.”
I didn’t see what was so unnatural about it. Every man goes through this once in his life.
I leaned in closer to drop what I had thought was a totally innocent remark, a remark that had obviously damaged our friendship for good. But so what? It was how I felt. It was time I was honest about with myself about who I was. My friend jerked back. He may be liberal but apparently he was not that liberal. “Are you sure?” He asked nervously “Maybe it is just a phase you are going through?” Perhaps he was right maybe it was just a phase. But it felt good. It felt liberating.
“I don’t think you can be,and I want to put it your words, ‘content’” He took his straw out of his mouth. He was disgusted.
But I was content. Sure I had no reason to be. Sure I had spent a lifetime picking apart arguments and showing the idiotic flaws in them. But I was, well, content. I was bordering on feeling happy actually.
It was not as if it had happened overnight. As I waited for a friend to meet me in Ekkami bus station I was far from content. I had composed in my mind a brilliant blog about how a “medical mall” I had passed was the perfect symbol about how dysfunctional the world had become. It had been about how Thai people are suffering with debilitating injuries that could have been easily fixed had they had affordable health care and doctors who were not busy tending to the needs of rich foreigners who come to Thailand, for all things, cheap medical care. How this ‘serve the rich at the cost of the poor’ attitude not only in Thailand but also around the world would has affected all but the super rich. I then was planning, as is the trend these days, to link these two things to the resignation letter written by an angry AIG employee. In it he criticized AIG not for putting through reckless deals that harmed America’s security. He complained of all things how AIG failed to protect him. How he had followed what his bosses had told him to do and and AIG turned his back on him by answering lawfully submitted subpoenas and making promises to Congress. After all why should he have been responsible? Sure AIG did not follow the important part in the social contract with America, which said quite clearly you are not allowed to get rich at the expense of the nation. But that social contract, which has been abused time and time again, did not matter to him because he was (and I assume still is) rich and he deserves to be more rich. Even if it is at tax payer expense.
I then went on quite a rancorous bit about the trip I had come back from. How my traveling partner did a lot of complaining. She was not happy that the air was clean. Or that we got to fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean crashing or wake up near dawn with the sound of birds chirping. I had grown so tired of her complaining that two hours after we had woken up, I had decided it was time to leave. Here she was on Si Chang Island, a place that many of my Thai friends had not been to ,despite its proximity to Bangkok, and she could find nothing right with it. The sun was too hot, at night the wind was too cold, and the though of mere talking on the beach being a substitute for watching a drama she didn’t even like, well it bored her.
And then on the bus ride back I realized something. All these very same flaws I saw in everyone, I had in myself. So what if I had been only on the island for about 16 hours. I still had seen and experienced a lot. From the breath taking views as the driver brought us to the bungalows to serene quite of the Chinese temple that was near the harbor. Okay sure I had to walk up many stairs in the grueling heat to see that temple, but things could have been much worse. Instead of watching my friend make merit at the Buddha image I could be some bar girl waking up near some sweaty foreigner wondering when he was going to pay me so shecould go back to her room above the bar with no air-condition and no fan . Because in that room the bar girl can pretend that she too is on a beach that she has never seen.
Instead of eating spicy Thai food while I look at the stars, I could be a farmer awake at night in my two room home , worried to death about how to pay for my daughters education so she does not have to become a bar girl and instead can become a doctor, or business woman, or some other profession that allows her to save money and live a life I could never dream of.
Instead of taking pictures of the royal summer palace of King Rama V as the boat pulls away from Si Chang island, I could be the boat operator who brings tourists back and fourth every day to the island. My lungs destroyed by diesel fumes. My life spent being an over glorified taxi driver and barely making ends meet. And never having time to go fishing in the sea that mocks me. The sea I grew up near. The sea that I want to die near, although not as early as I probably will because I have the horrendous cough, and there don’t seem to be any doctors avaible at the Thai hospitals, although I had heard the ones at the ‘Medical Mall’ are quite free and have nothing to do.
As the bus drew nearer to my home I realized that if I thought about the good things in my life, how much better life was. How good was it that I have a friend to be with, even when she complains? How cool is it that I am in Thailand when there are people in my home, in America, who are living on the street. I was defiantly content with my life, because even though it is not perfect, it is a good one.
Life isn’t always beautiful, but today it is.