The Labor Party Launches in Central Thailand
SUKHOTHAI, Thailand — Hello friends, family, editors and new fans! Welcome to the first dispatch of The Labor Party, a weblog project produced by Dan Eldridge and Young Pioneers Media. As many of you already know, I’ve been in Thailand for roughly a week and a half now, working on the upcoming edition of Lonely Planet‘s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. A week and a half — it doesn’t sound like very much time, does it? But let me tell you this: It is absolutely unreal how much I have seen and experienced and tasted and smelled and talked about since March 06, when I flew out of Pittsburgh International and spent the following 22 hours making my way towards Thailand. I can’t seem to come up with a particularly rational or intelligent way to express it in words, but it’s almost as if I’ve been living my life to its fullest possible degree these past two weeks, and for close to 24 hours a day at that.
This may sound like no impressive feat to many of you, but keep in mind that in Pittsburgh, I had been co-existing with snow and ice and sub-freezing temperatures for more or less the past three months. Personally, I find it tough to keep my spirits up when I’m living in conditions like those for more than a week or two. Although there is something to be said for nesting in one’s apartment all winter — watching TV, working whenever the inclination strikes, ordering dinner in and never going out — which is exactly what I’ve been doing with my girlfriend since sometime in mid-January. And so landing in Bangkok and then having to slog through the sticky, muggy, and unbearably hot streets of Thailand for fourteen hours a day has been something of a shock to the senses. It seems so incredibly strange, in fact, that what I do with my days here constitutes an actual job. During the past week alone I’ve had probably four or five instances when I’ve woken up in the morning, and wanted more than anything to be at home with my girlfriend and my cheap coffee machine and my pajamas. But by mid-afternoon that same day I may have met someone incredible, or seen something unbelievable. And it’s during those days that by the time I close my eyes to fall asleep, I’ve convinced I’m one of the luckiest people on earth.
For the time being, however — for today — this is my job. And yes, I’m fully aware of how painfully romantic it seems, in an embarrasingly clichéd sort of way. But the reality of my life as a Lonely Planet writer thus far hasn’t been too terribly romantic. It’s been sweaty. It’s been filled with painful bouts of traveler’s diarrhea. It’s been lonely at times. It’s been very exciting and very adrenaline-fueled at others. Often, it means painfully long days full of researching and reporting that stretch into achingly long weeks, some without any time off for rest or relaxation.
During the three weeks I spent researching my first Lonely Planet job, which sent me to the further reaches of Eastern Mediterranean Turkey, my workdays lasted anywhere from twelve to sixteen hours. I pounded the streets for seven days each week underneath the watchful eye of a very angry and very orange sun, and wasn’t able to properly unwind and process what I had experienced until I reached the ground transportation floor of the international airport in Pittsburgh. I can still remember my mental state as I stood there at the luggage carousel, waiting for my bag to appear. Sad as it sounds, I felt nothing, really. It was as if I had never left the country at all — as if I’d never left Pittsburgh at all. I knew that as soon as I got home I would check my email and have a bowl of cereal. And after that? Whatever.
This time around however, I’m doing things with a slightly different twist. My editor, for instance, suggested I spend six weeks doing on-the-ground research in Thailand, so I booked eight. Initially, I considered this to be a rather brilliant flash of pre-planning travel savvy. My thinking was that with an extra two weeks to spare, I could take the occasional day off and still have time to explore a small sampling of Cambodia and Laos before heading home and becoming one with my laptop. But now that I’m actually here and in the heat of things, so to speak, I’m beginning to wish I had booked even more time in-country. After all, it’s a simple fact that no matter how many local markets or hotel rooms or sidewalk noodle stalls I inspect during my time in Thailand, there will always be something else just around the corner that escapes my discovery, and which will therefore never appear in any article or blog entry or guidebook chapter with my name attached to it. I suppose that’s just the inherent nature of foreign reporting: It’s impossible to be perfect. This may not seem like such a worrisome thought to the majority of you. But for myself, a recovering perfectionist with one hell of a social anxiety disorder, it tends to rattle the nerves.
Throughout the past week I’ve been finding that my composure is at its worst in the early morning. I haven’t managed to work out exactly why this is happening or what it means, but since I’ve been in Thailand my pulse has been racing in the earliest part of the day. This tends to happen just as I’m opening my eyes and remembering that I’m not underneath the covers of my futon with the person I love more than life itself at my side, but rather in an odd-smelling and steaming-hot guesthouse in a very strange corner of the world. And I’m all alone.
Even in the town I’m currently researching — Sukhothai, which was the once the capital city of the Thai kingdom, and in fact isn’t even a particularly strange town — things are still strange. I’d be here forever if I began explaing exactly how and why, and as it happens I’ve made plans for a night on the town this evening with a former TEFL teacher and his brother, who is apparently some sort of martial arts expert-in-training. I met them both over a bowl of noodles at a guesthouse just a few hours ago. So I suppose I’ll save the rest for later. In the meantime, thanks for reading.