I've finally arrived. Friends ask how I like it in Thailand on text messages. They don't see the wild grin as I pause to reflect before I answer, "My outsides finally match my insides."
There is another pause before they text back. I can not see the perplexity on their faces, but I hear it when they reply, "I'm glad you like it."
I made a friend on the 13 hour flight to Taiwan. She grew up in Bangkok and lives in Washington State now. Upon hearing I grew up in Houston, she replied, “Oh that’s very similar.” I laugh and reply, “Thailand Is Just Like Texas. That’s a new one.” Not long after landing in Chiang Mai, I understood what she meant. The weather has the same feeling of wrapping you in a perpetual hot bath. I love it. Growing up barefoot in the Houston year-round warmth has perfectly prepared me for staying in Thailand. There's a comfort and a nostalgia even though the rest of the environment is wildly different. The mountain to the west with the Buddhist temple looking out over us, the open-air "tuk tuk" taxis, the buildings pieced together with gum and bamboo, are nothing like my childhood but comforting to me somehow.
Everything is different but it's perfect. Another text from home, "How are you handling getting around when the language is so different?" "Better than in Spain." It's true. I don't speak Thai, though I am picking up on small greetings and other necessities, but I feel less judged for not knowing the language than I did just trying to leave the airport in Alicante. Yes, I struggle to get what I actually am looking for sometimes, but it's always an adventure and I always end up where I am supposed to be. Sure, I ate something that looks suspiciously like feet, but I was hungry and might have got my picture pointing wrong when I ordered.
Buddhist culture is not unfamiliar to me. I've spent the last two decades doing yoga, listening to Jack Kornfield, reading Pema Chödrön, and Thich Nhat Hanh. A few years ago I added meditation. These teachings snuck in and made themselves at home and continue to shape me as I grow in to the person I am becoming. It's helped me find a space of belonging inside my own skin, a place more unfamiliar to me in my first three decades than walking off the plane in Chiang Mai last week.
I certainly didn't need to go halfway around the world to realize how much the past few years have changed me. I knew it before I left. But something solidifies as I see my expanded understanding in the faces of the people where I purchase my coffee. I share a nod and a wide grin with the older woman at the table next to me who gestures how to eat the questionable meat that arrives at my table. I laugh in unison with the Grab driver as I snap the seat belt accidentally back as he takes off to The Old Town.
I flew 20 hours and 7,200 miles and when I arrived, I found out I am where I am supposed to be. And always have been.
More from Thailand: Part 2: When Things Fall Apart