Giant Swing

A Fresh Take on My Favorite City

A few days ago, while waiting for my flight over the Pacific in San Francisco, I noticed a young woman walking into the Japanese restaurant where I was having lunch. She sat down and ordered a drink from the waiting server, and began placing her belongings on the ground.

“Are you from Australia?” Another restaurant patron asked her from across the way.

The girl, whose accent was about as far from Australian as one can get, smiled. “Nope,” she shook her head. “American – from Texas.”

I had no choice but to interrupt, the awkward circumstances of her exchange with the customer who mistook her nationality notwithstanding. “Two Texans in one restaurant. What are the chances?”

Our brief meeting proved serendipitous in more ways than one. Sunaina, as I soon learned her name to be, was on her way to southern India, where she would be spending time at a Sufi temple, so when the topic of travel – and, more specifically, the effect it has on spirituality – came up, she had an interesting perspective.

Love travel photos? I’ve got hundreds more.

“My philosophy,” she explained, when I described to her, in as much detail as one can in a rushed airport-meal setting, how I believe my worldview had been partially to blame for the demise of my recent relationship, “is to ’empty’ yourself completely prior to interacting with someone.

“That way,” she continued, “you can fully accept them and their energy, regardless of the extent to which you might be different. Does that make sense?”

I nodded. What Sunaiana said did make sense to me, inasmuch as that it succinctly encapsulated the approach I’ve been trying to employ when I interact with people for a very long time, even if said approach (or, more likely, my implementation of it) had ultimately failed the last time I attempted to put it into practice.

But what I didn’t realize, as I bid her farewell and made a mad dash to gate G92, where my United Airlines plane was already in the first stages of boarding, was how this idea – that we should “empty” ourselves prior to interacting – might apply to travel itself.

 

I was headed over the Pacific to Bangkok, which I’m using as a jumping off point for my two-week trip to Sri Lanka next Monday. When I learned that Jason, who runs the Hiatus4Life blog, would be in the Thai capital at the same time as me, I was eager to show him the best of my favorite city in the world.

The challenge was to be able to see a city I’ve seen so many times, and at so many different stages of my life, from a fresh perspective, not only to depict it interestingly through my fifth series of Bangkok travel photos, but to present it in a way that would allow Jason to love it like I do. My  work – to provide Jason with a comprehensive overview of Bangkok in just one day – was cut out for me.

 

After meeting Jason at the Sala Daeng station of the Bangkok SkyTrain, we headed to Saphan Taksin, where we boarded a Chao Phraya Express boat bound for Memorial Bridge. “We’re going to start,” I explained to Jason, as our boat headed north along the muddy river, “by seeing some less-visited, but no less spectacular Bangkok attractions.”

As we began walking over Memorial Bridge toward Wat Prayun, a “white” temple I’ve visited on my own more than a few times, Sunaina’s words echoed in my mind. Empty yourself completely.

 

Initially, this proved to be a frustrating pursuit, if not an impossible one. It seemed futile to attempt not replicating shots I’d taken before, even subconsciously. And I didn’t want to impinge upon Jason’s first time in Bangkok by prioritizing photography over tour-guiding.

 

Yet slowly but surely, as we moved on from Wat Prayun to the Portuguese-colonial Santa Cruz church and then to the epic Wat Kalayanamit, I not only emptied myself of past experiences in Bangkok, but of my typical travel disposition – that is the solo traveler who talks and thinks to himself incessantly, because he is alone.

By the time we crossed back over the Chao Phraya and stopped for lunch, I found myself throughly humbled by what a fascinating, sweet person Jason (who has been my personal friend for quite sometime, in addition to being a reader of this blog) was. Prior to arriving in Asia for the first time, he’d spent more than a month backpacking through Central America.

 

The tales he told me as we traipsed first through the iconic Wat Pho temple, and then through the Rattanakosin old city up to seedy Khao San Road, were riveting, and not just because they recounted a journey I didn’t take, through a part of the world I’ve never visited. His perspective on the world, on travel and on life was fundamentally different from, and yet in a way totally complementary to, mine.

Not surprisingly, the photos he took of Bangkok were profoundly dissimilar to mine. “It’s kind of surreal,” I gasped while flipping through his camera roll in the tuk-tuk on the way back to where we’d begun our journey earlier in the afternoon, as the moon rose behind us. “It’s as if – and I mean this in the very best way possible – we were in totally different cities on totally different days.”

 

After Jason and I had dinner and drinks together in Silom, we bid each other farewell, and made tentative plans to meet the next day. Although nearly too exhausted to think, I smiled to myself as I walked through the sleazy Patpong Night Market to my hotel, and reflected on my brief, serendipitous meeting earlier in the week. Thank you, Sunaina.

About The Author

is the author of 711 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa June 6, 2013 at 6:48 am

I love this, the idea of emptying oneself to allow for acceptance. I’m a traveler, but my homebase is in New York. I used to find it quite difficult to act as tourguide for friends- it took a certain amount of ’emptying’ myself to be able to see the city with new eyes. Love how you and your friend, Jason, took vastly different photos of the city you love. In my neighborhood of Brooklyn, a group of 12 kids I know once walked around a single city block taking photos of whatever caught their eye. I swear each of those kids were walking on different blocks- they captured objects, people and locations I had walked by a million times but never noticed!

Robert Schrader June 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm

That sounds awesome, Melissa! I think New York kind of epitomizes the extent to which people are able to see the same place totally differently, which is part of why it’s as awesome as it is. Thanks for the comment.

Ed Hewitt June 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Love the idea of seeing a city from a new perspective. Particularly Bangkok. Probably my favourite in the world yet a view shared by very few other travellers. I tried to test this idea of seeing my own city from a new perspective a few months ago when I couchsurfed around my own city – London – for a month. http://bangkok2birmingham.com/category/couchvember/

Robert Schrader June 7, 2013 at 2:08 am

You know what’s interesting? Travel and Leisure magazine named Bangkok “Best City in the World” two years in a row. Yet, as you mentioned, most travelers seem to despise it. Oh well, more for us to enjoy. Also, very interesting RE: couchsurfing in your own city!

Ed Hewitt June 7, 2013 at 2:28 am

Haha. Brilliant. Everyone seems to be complaining about it on Khao Sarn rather than visiting some of the other great things as you mention in your blog. Very topical – today i just finished a series of ‘docu blogs’ about water in the city if you’re interested in that side of things… http://bangkok2birmingham.com/category/sustainability/bangkok-water-pollution/

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