Arriving in Bangkok, I was quick to remember just how HOT it can get this time of year. It gets so hot in Bangkok that there’s a huge water festival called Songkran where businesses close down and most of the city engages in one big water fight for several days. That was happening in a couple weeks.
Before I headed over to India, I stayed a couple days at a Couchsurfer’s house. Now, for those who know me, I love the social travelers network Couchsurfing. Most may think the motivation for utilizing the site is to save money while traveling, which was also my first assumption when I joined it in 2007 after hearing about it constantly from fellow traveler friends. Yet, after using it, it quickly dawned on me that the friends I was making through the network were almost always amazing individuals, full of openness, generosity and kindness. Lifelong friendships were easily forged and adventurous memories made.
So, it was no surprise to me when I came across a profile in Bangkok that had over 1,000 unique positive references that this person would be kind and generous in spirit.
I stayed at “Toom’s” house for a few nights and inside one can see the hundreds of personalized notes of thanks for hosting and sharing the local Thai life with them. A trend developed on the walls too, which was posting ones extra passport photos. Looking at the wall, it was a living memory of all the fun traveler experiences that were had at his 3 story house outside downtown Bangkok. There were literally thousands of mementos spanning as far back as 10 years ago.
I had been a few times to Bangkok and I wasn’t looking to visit any touristy spots, but Bangkok is known for it’s good food, and so I engaged in nightly excursions to indulge in street food stalls, soaking up all the flavors the city had to offer.
Toom is one of those couchsurfers who hosts multiple guests at the same time, as he has a big house to accommodate. There was an Italian guy, coming to Asia for the first time to learn Thai massage , a Cyprus couple traveling around for a year around Asia, a Belarusian girl who travels and does tattoos and teaches yoga, an Austrian who is practicing Tai Chi from masters and also doing community based tourism, and a couple from the UK who have been bicycling for 11 months from England and plan to go to Indonesia, Australia and then the US.
All sorts of travelers, nomads, seekers… I have been that full time traveler too, but just don’t do it full time as much these years.
I flew to Kolkata on a late night flight arriving at 1:30am. For those that don’t know, I have spent about four months of my waking life in this crazy bubbling city in India.
It was the city that really rocked my world as a 21 year old. I witnessed suffering on a level I had never experienced before and the realities of our humanity were in my face stronger than ever. Back then, it was hard to see entire families on the street with nothing but a mat along with little babies sleeping next to the mothers on dirty concrete surfaces and people dying due to under-resourced hospitals and seeing all sorts of human deformities caused by polio and other infections.
It was the city that Mother Teresa found her calling to work in for her life and I could see why she was moved as well back then. While she was a Catholic, she never tried to convert those to her religion so much as to just give love to those who need it. I learned in Kolkata that simple acts of love and compassion can mean so much to someone. The act of sharing a smile and eye contact with someone who is otherwise disregarded as useless or a nuisance to the society can mean the world. I shared my smile, my eye contact, and handshakes that stayed as longer holds.
This time around, I was only in Kolkata for a night before flying up to the North East region of India, so I booked my pre-paid cab at the airport, and drove to my friends house to catch up.
Wasim was also a friend I met through the Couchsurfing community in Kolkata and is one of those lifelong friends that was made. We were happy to see each other after 3 years, and eat some sweets, drank tea, and stayed up all night talking.
Around 6:30am, I felt it would be nice to visit the Mother House of Mother Teresa’s organization, where I went as a young volunteer. Anyone can volunteer with her organization, and no matter your background or beliefs, all are welcome to serve in their hospices and orphanages across the city.
As I congregated with the volunteers for that day, I was reminded of my younger self back then, as many of the volunteers looked about that age, coming from Italy, Spain, Latin America, China and other places. I talked with one guy from China who said he felt inspired to help because in his country there are not as many opportunities to do so.
I ate some chapati, eggs and potato from Wasim’s mother before heading back the airport to get to the Northeast part of India.
and we’ll save that one for the next post…