26 Mar 2013 Phanomsarakham, Thailand: My Grain of Inspiration
This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Moses Utomi from America. Thanks for your entry Moses!
Anyone can write about a meteor hitting the Earth; only a writer could write about a grain of sand hitting the beach and make it feel just as impactful. For us writers – we lucky lunatics who, for better or worse, can rearrange the pieces of the world with sentences and paragraphs and pages – there’s no difference in importance between the little things and the big things.
This explains, then, why a life in Las Vegas and a college career in San Diego left me inspirationally barren. Sure, I wrote things and enjoyed myself and found parts of my environment to appreciate, but it felt like the typical grind of writing, not the surreal flow of inspiration. Those are two massive, magnificent cities, with as many people as lights and meteors crashing everywhere when all I needed to do was inspect some sand.
Five months ago, I moved to Thailand. More specifically, I moved to a small town in Thailand called Phanomsarakham. My understanding of a small town before coming here was colored by my elitist American prejudices, unfortunately. I imagined a Southeast Asian Texas, with the Thai equivalent of hillbillies who harbored a general distaste for critical thought and education.
What I found, though, and what I’m continuing to find, is that Phanom has become my home. For four years, I felt like a visitor in San Diego, and for 16 years before that, I was just making a pit stop in Las Vegas. Phanom isn’t a place I’m visiting, it’s where I live; this experience I’m having isn’t a six month vacation, it is my actual life, just as real – if not more so, in many ways – as any other six month section of my 24 years.
Strangely, it’s this homeliness that makes it difficult for me to explain why it inspires me so much. Can you really explain to another person just how insane and dysfunctional and lovely your family is if they aren’t a part of it? When I leave my house in the morning, the street smells like trash. Riding my bike to school, I have to make sure not to run over the street dogs and their feces. At school, classes are frequently cancelled or changed without any prior warning and since the teachers found out that I play an instrument, they like to surprise me with impromptu and short notice performances.
This doesn’t sound like much in comparison to the locations that typically inspire people. I’d like to talk about cascading waterfalls and burning honey sunsets or even an industrialized metropolis with bullet trains and enough skyscrapers to make sunlight a holiday, but those – which I try to partake in on my weekends – only provide me with adventure or relaxation or awe, not inspiration.
That’s because inspiration can only come from intimacy and, call me old fashioned, but it takes me longer than a weekend to get intimate. Intimacy allows you not only see the beauty of her face, but the make-up that smoothens the stress lines on her forehead. Intimacy let’s you see through a field full of tall weeds to the struggling shrub in the center. A grain of sand is far more intimate than a meteor, Phanom is far more intimate than Las Vegas, and six months in the right environment is far more intimate than a decade in the wrong one.
See, the trash that smells is my trash. Those mangy, occasionally aggressive dogs are my mangy, occasionally aggressive dogs. The teachers that make a mockery of my schedule and force me to perform like a trained monkey are my mothers and my sisters and uncles and grandparents. Not only does it not bother me, but I genuinely, truly, entirely enjoy all of it. I have inside jokes with people with whom I don’t share a common language. I’ve met more children in these five months than I’d ever known in the previous years of my life, and I’ve watched them grow and learn to walk and speak and drive their parents insane. Sure, the street dogs harass me sometimes, but they let me play with their newborn puppies sometimes, too (while keeping a watchful eye).
Phanom has given me all of the comforts of a stable suburban life – family, kids, pets, friendly neighbors, a pleasant job – but without all the first would stress and shame. When I leave town, to go to Bangkok or some other such city, and I mention my beloved Phanom, most people have never heard of it. With all of Thailand’s lovely islands and plentiful beaches, most aren’t interested in my little, unremarkable grain of sand.
As a writer, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring the unremarkable; instead, I enjoy the honor of being inspired by it.
About the Author: Moses Utomi is a traveler and aspiring writer based in Oceanside, California. When he’s not procrastinating writing, he’s browsing the internet for useless knowledge, traveling the world, and engaging in any number of ridiculous, nerdy, and potentially dangerous hobbies. colormethai.wordpress.com