I love this photo both because of the solemnity of the pose as well as the tactile nature of the piece from all of the gold leaf that Buddhists have rubbed onto the icon. The application of the gold leaf was another way to send your wishes out into the Universe. And if I had to guess, my wish at the time I took this photo was perhaps more time to take photos and a little less time with the group.
I have been struggling with whether or not to express how I really felt on parts of this trip because it might hurt someone’s feelings. But in the end, I think I have a readership of five on a good day and my blog has never really been about anything more than writing, preserving some things for my son and processing how I feel about certain situations. And so the gloves come off and away I go. As I have previously mentioned, the group I traveled with was extraordinary but that does not mean all things were perfect all the time. As with all group dynamics, there were moments and exchanges that I could have handled better – and not to finger point, but there were times when some folks in the group were just rude.
From my perspective, I tried very hard to keep up with the group and to never make them wait on me because I wanted to take one more photo. I could have visited a dozen more temples and taken a thousand more photos. But by the time we hit days three and four in Chiang Mai, the majority of the group was “templed out”. Each new location brought eye rolls and sighs of dismay that we were seeing yet another gold Buddha. And while many in the group may have thought I did not hear or didn’t care if I did, the temples were the main reason I was there. As a result, I started to get a little resentful that while I was acting responsibly, being prompt and deferential at their activities, they were beginning to get a little fed up with what I wanted to do.
God bless our tour leader Pranee and the Tammy the guide, because I know they started to feel the tension. Don’t get me wrong, we were all super polite to each other at meals and at most interactions, but we all had different ideas of what we wanted out of the trip. And in the end, I’m afraid that I may have let my feelings of resentment creep through a bit more than I thought. A friendship that was tenuous at best began to unravel and I sat further and further away from most of the group as we got deeper into the trip. At times I felt ignored by the group which was probably correct. If I was withdrawing, why would they pay attention to me? My roommates were fabulous through all of this and did their darndest to include me or at the very least, acknowledge me throughout the day. But in the end, the city that I adored the most ended up being the one I had the worst time in. From getting lost and walking alone for two hours trying to find an art gallery, to an elephant ride that left my back screaming, to a spa experience that was less than pleasant, many entries in my journal were full of hurt or loneliness.
One particular experience happened when we went to go see the elephants. I had no real desire to ride them and really thought the ride was optional and cost extra. So I was surprised when we were ushered to the platform, paired up and assigned an elephant. We were seated in a box on top of the elephant and with each slow, lumbering and plodding step, the box bounced right and then bounced left. The trip was up hill and for a portion of the ride we were tilted back and then going downhill, we were tilted forward. I couldn’t figure out where to place my feet which left them sort of hovering awkwardly and some of the group hollered to ask me to take photos of them which left me twisting in the seat. The guide spoke little English which left some awkward silences. And as a result, I just didn’t think it was a particularly special event. Had I been able to actually sit on top of the elephant, I think I would have liked the experience a whole lot more. Everyone else in the group apparently had a fabulous time. But when I was asked about the elephant ride, I truthfully said I really hadn’t enjoyed it. I was only asked by two people and one of them walked off like I was a rude, crazy person and the other left her mouth dangling open so long I felt I must have offended her. Not once did either of these women ask why I felt the way I did. And to be fair, I didn’t offer. But what happened between that experience and the act of my withdrawing, is that I was branded as a negative person. Which, as I think about if now still makes me sad, but at the time, when asked about the elephants, I just thought being honest was best.
It was not until a week after we got back from the trip, after a party I had, that I learned that even though I had a wonderful time, lots of my fellow travelers thought I was a bit of a buzz-kill and less than pleasant to be around. I have spent quite some time feeling very sad that the group didn’t understand me. I clearly don’t do well with groups, and never have. Part of that is being introverted. I hate to even bring that up because of how often people are throwing that label around these days. But overall, I have come to realize that I cannot change how people see me. I can walk away from this being a little more self-aware, but that’s about it.
And so we move on. A little battered and ego bruised but likely better for it. Until next time…