After a week of illness and work, I wandered the old city. The Scary Factory, a quirky place I knew in passing, beckoned, but most nooks and crannies were distracting. Too many local flavors and ancient artifacts hiding in the wings, too little time. And my mood, like the sky overhead, was overcast. The bittersweet tide of change was coming in, and I was bracing to be swept away: my days in Chiang Mai are coming to an end. Even as I photographed the sights, my mind wandered to what I may never see. The places and people and moments I might never get the chance to experience once I’m gone. I’ve done a fair amount here but there seemed to be so much more I could have accomplished. I meandered into Suan Buak Haad City Park and, as I pondered, the clouds let loose. A drizzle became the rain became the deluge. I wrapped my camera in my shirt and ran past palm trees and vendors to the park’s small coffee shop. It was small and chic in the post Starbucks, anonymous kind of way, not the kind of place to spend some of my final, precious time in Chiang Mai. I would wait out the rain and rush out to see more, to feel more, to experience more. I knew it couldn’t stay that intense very long.
The rain knew otherwise. Two hours in, and I’d reluctantly planted myself on a plush gray couch with a Thai ice tea in one hand, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now in the other, and the muzak tinged sounds of their coffee shop mix CD blending with the rain. Young high school / University students sat at a nearby table and half studied, half socialized. Cell phones were frantically beat in text mode, secrets were whispered, smiles and gossip were shared; all in Thai, and all of it perfectly clear to me. I can’t speak their language, but thankfully cheaper than the Pimsleurs and Rosetta Stones of the world is the gift of experience. I had been them, living the same everyday occurrences, half a world away. I could see our cultures meeting in the middle, in that faux posh respite from the rain. I began to feel contented again, began to not mind an entire afternoon in the coffee shop. It was pouring outside, but the storm inside was starting to pass.
Thailand was supposed to be a new beginning. I was going to leave a better version of me, a Matt 2.0. This Matt would have his career track established and his head on straight: no more unrealistic daydreams, hours wasted dancing to terrible pop music, and over emotional flurries. He would be a true global citizen, calm and collected, one able to achieve realistic goals through a potent mix of ambition, hard – work, and pragmatism. I had waited, just as I waited for the rain to pass, for that Matt to arrive. Months in Thailand had gone by and I’d never seen him; somehow he’d forgotten to stop in Chiang Mai. I had waited through the scary, exhilarating, disappointing, and exciting experiences at the station to find my passenger M.I.A. Outside, I was lost in the question: if this internship couldn’t bring a much improved me, one who made real differences, then what could? Inside, on that couch with those things and people, I’d found my truth. Nothing could make me that man, the sophisticated one I sought, any more than they can change the weather outside. Becoming him could only happen on my own accord. I noticed my reflection in the rain - streaked window; I was 23 and looked like the person I wanted to be.
I got up, paid for my drink, and walked into the unrelenting rain.