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Life and Thoughts Lately from Koh Tao

April 16, 2018

I had a particularly but unreasonably emotional goodbye a couple nights ago that has stirred up some thoughts for me…Which is a good thing because as time goes on, I’m noticing my ability to self-reflect and articulate my own inner experience is drifting away from me. I talked with my longtime friend Jordan about it on the phone, and we think maybe it’s a use-it-or-lose-it type of thing.

Backpackers in Koh Tao around picnic table
Blurry Hive pic

Like if you’re living in a place where everyone is in holiday mode all the time and friendships are fast and shallow, and you’re not doing any brain gymnastics but instead exploring the island, swimming, hiking, talking, eating, drinking, and otherwise enjoying yourself, then yeah your self-reflection muscle isn’t being exercised.

I spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about which tattoo I want to get next, which boys I think are cute, what color I want to paint my nails, if I want to go out tonight or not…It’s all so vapid and superficial. I think the way this post is written is going to reflect the state of my brain.

So yeah anyways back to the sad goodbye.

I have to say goodbyes here ALL the time. But saying bye to Pauline, Max, and Kev broke something in me. I’m not sad and miserable, just sad and…hungry.

Hungry for intimacy. I’m craving that feeling when someone really sees you.

Connection is so important, I’m pretty sure it’s the whole point of life. It’s amazing how many people you don’t connect with though. Like I’ve probably met hundreds of travelers so far and that feeling of really being seen has only come about a handful of times. It’s rare.

Let me tell you more about my life here:

Living in a hostel is like having a neverending case of FOMO.

At all times of the day and night, there’s the feeling that there’s something fun going on downstairs and there are new people to meet and you better finish up whatever the hell it is you’re doing alone in your room (likely working in my case) and go join the fun. It’s irresistible.

Thailand backpacker group photo

In the morning when I wake up, I swing open my balcony door and step out into the day and hear the music (yes my life is a Disney movie) from the common area downstairs where new backpackers who have arrived from the morning ferry are sipping instant coffee around the picnic table.

Hills of Koh Tao
The view from my balcony

I grab some things I need to make my own little breakfast and go down to eat with the new faces, and of course some old faces — friends who live here (for now) like I do.

If I want to go on a hike to a viewpoint or go out for lunch or dinner, I can literally walk downstairs and ask if anyone else wants to join. I do things alone sometimes but that’s more because I want to, not because I have to.

It’s honestly pretty wonderful to be surrounded by people all the time. People who are happy and enjoying their holiday or their time living and diving on a Thai island…I’m truly never lonely here.

Girls at the John Suwan Viewpoint in Koh Tao
Photo by Leng

Lonely, no. But disoriented? Yes.

The brevity and uncertainty of relationships distorts my sense of time.

Short but intense friendships feel like we’ve known each other for years — but the days rush by like seconds. Yesterday was New Year’s Eve, I could swear it! But I’ve also lived a million lives and stories and experiences with a million different people since New Year’s Eve.

If you can’t rely on anybody or anything to be there tomorrow, how do you live your life? How do you stop to reflect when you’re so immersed in trying to enjoy what you have right now knowing you will have to say goodbye tomorrow? If you aren’t ‘seen’, how do you look inwards and ‘see’ yourself?

The indulgence of it

There’s no end to the treats you can bestow upon yourself here…

Just last night, after I was feeling melancholic from the goodbye, I went for dinner at a place by the sea and watched the sunset while eating delicious barbecued chicken, baked potato, and salad for less than $3.

Sunset at dinner on Sairee Beach in Koh Tao

Then I got not one but TWO lemon sugar roti for dessert and contemplated getting a massage for less than $20 but changed my mind and headed back to The Hive instead. People were gathered around the picnic table playing guitar and singing and I eagerly joined in. I love the nights that conclude with us singing together around the table.

I love the days when I wander downstairs and find Isabel, our 5-year-old neighbor, hanging around in the common area. She and I play kadima or paint together and life feels so pure and simple.

Hiking in tropical heat has never been so rewarding: you can climb to a rock on a hill and see a 360-degree view of the sunset over the ocean.

Panorama from Fraggle Rock hike viewpoint in Koh Tao
Them viewpoint sunsets

Even a simple ride on the back of someone’s scooter through the sunshine and palm trees of the hills of Koh Tao feels like absolute magic. Doesn’t matter where you’re going. Although yes arriving to a white sand beach and laying in the sun working on your tan with breaks to snorkel amongst the coral and fish is an excellent destination.

Today I went to the fruit lady for some tangy passion fruit. She cut them in half for me and I scooped their jellied, juicy seeds with a spoon. A $2 treat to myself for absolutely no reason except that passion fruit is delicious.

Even when the rains come and the winds blow my balcony door open; the streets flood, the air cools, the mosquitoes come out, and the island grows moody and cool and dark…It feels so good to hike to the Burmese Pagoda at the end of my street and feel like I’m in a rainforest with the living, breathing weeping earth.

How amazing it is to just look around at all times of the day and say My god this place is beautiful. This place…this place…

But all fun and no work makes Jack a dull boy as they say. (Is that how it goes?;)

I’m missing a certain balance of work/challenge/learning/intellectualism here. I’m missing an intensity and depth — of my conversations and relationships with people. How ridiculous to complain that a place is TOO MUCH FUN.

I’m not really sure how to recapture that side of myself. Maybe it will come back when I meet someone I feel really connected and close to. Maybe when I move somewhere else, to a different city with different types of people and a different vibe.

For now, I’m still kinda bummed about my friends leaving. I’ll be sad for a day or two, or maybe a while.

But from what I’ve found, the only way to get over it is to keep going. Wake up, go downstairs, and meet the new people who have arrived on the ferry just this morning. See what the sea brought in.

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