Exactly one week ago, we were landing at JFK after 29 hours of travel from Chiang Mai. This included a 5 hour layover in Seoul between 6a and 11a, followed by 2 hours of sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to leave the gate, be de-iced, and inserted into the take-off queue, before 14 hours of flight time during which we watched 5 movies. Were it not for Christmas, we would have probably spent a week and a half relaxing in a beachside bungalow on the island of Koh Mak before flying home to San Francisco. As it is, we are now in Hawthorne, NY, about 30 minutes upstate of Manhattan, where it has been hovering around freezing – a good 55 degrees colder than what we’d gotten very used to in northern Thailand.
Re-insertion into American life has been interesting. We’re cold, jetlagged, and we find ourselves converting every purchase into Thai Baht, where every $1 is a bowl of noodles and every $4 is an hour-long massage. The first time I put on jeans and closed-toe shoes (and socks, coat, hat, and gloves) felt very odd. I’ve let slip a ‘khob-kun-krup‘ more than once. On the other hand, being able to drink tap water and flush toilet paper have been a welcome change.
Despite the chill we feel, necessitating being bundled up both indoors and out, our hearts are warm this holiday season. If we close our eyes, we can almost feel the bathtub waters off Gili Air where we snorkeled among multicolored corals and fish, the oppressive heat of equatorial Malaysia, or the warm fur of a baby tiger in Chiang Mai.
However, as is always the case, the real warmth comes from the people that we are blessed to know. We met so many wonderful people in our travels, making new friends in strange places. There was Kristie & Matt, whom we met on the boat from Bali to Lombok, Penny in Penang, with whom we shared dim sum with every morning, Katie who was waiting at the gate to Kong Lor and reading a book, and Peter & Claudia who shared the hell-boat with us up the Mekong and Ou rivers. With five weeks during which we entrenched ourselves, we met dozens of people in Chiang Mai. Between students of ITM, residents of WaLai House, and members of Team Chiang Mai, we made many friends that filled our days and nights with companionship.
Holding those we met in our hearts, they are joined by those who were already there, our family and friends that have welcomed us back into their lives. As soon as we exited Korean Air flight #81 last Friday, we were met on the jetway by a family member who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at JFK, who escorted us personally onto American soil. Liz’ mom was waiting for us in the terminal with coats. At a family holiday party the next day, everyone was excited to see us and asked about our travels. We had tea with a Boston friend passing through on her way to NJ. Christmas Day will see even more family, and next week we fly home to San Francisco, where friends and cats wait patiently to welcome us home.
Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, the reasons for celebration are the same. We illuminate the darkest nights with candles and lights, looking forward to the days getting longer. We revel in the company of family and friends, sharing in the joys of the season and a continuing presence in each others’ lives.
Happy Holidays to everyone,
and may you all be surrounded by love and laughter.