When I was told the hotel was “completely full,” and there was “nothing to be done,” immediately my mind dusted off my Catholic background and went to the story of Mary and Joseph, wandering around looking for an inn on Christmas Eve, but to no avail. I decided this was worse. Because at least Mary and Joseph had each other, and unlike me, they hadn’t paid Expedia the equivalent of $157 in non-refundable gold.
After almost 20 hours of travel – San Diego to LA, LA to South Korea, South Korea to Bangkok, i.e. cab rides, rental car drives, almost being killed by an idiot Los Angeleno in a pick up truck, crying babies, restless leg syndrome, language barrier issues – I held it together for a little bit, but eventually burst into tears when the manager at the hotel I was staying at in Bangkok told me my reservation had been booked for the wrong dates. April 13th-16th. Not May 13th-16th.
If I was imperfect, this hotel manager was the opposite. He, with the impeccable English, brown skin and heavy freckles across his nose, gave me my key card and with a voice dripping in sympathy, told me to rest. I didn’t. With chronic sleep-deprivation and a hurt ego, I was basically a mental health patient/character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I decided the best course of action was not to sleep – even though it was 2 a.m. Bangkok time, my vision was blurring and I didn’t know what day it was – but to call Expedia to transfer blame and unleash a barrage of emotions. Three unfortunate representatives, forty minutes, and $60 later, I tired of being on hold and hung up. I decided to go to sleep, and at that point, not even the lady boys laughing and smoking cigarettes under my window could disturb my slumber.
When I woke in the morning, it was a new day. The first of my seventeen day tour in Southeast Asia. I spent it watching a man offer prayers to Buddha by bending over his golden toes, four feet long, littered with pink flowers, and sided by urns filled with sand stabbed with burning incense sticks. I admired cashmeres and silks, while puncturing a free water cup with my straw and flipping through catalogues of pencil skirts and black suits. I was impressed with how confidently and quickly a thin Thai woman chopped off the top of my coconut with a machete before I wandered around a courtyard cupping a temple made of white marble. I scraped coconut flesh off with my front teeth, and watched a vendor swat away a few flies before dipping a raw chicken into boiling oil.
Like holding your own child for the first time – knowing that it’s your blood flowing through his or her little veins – traveling to a new place is doing something you’ve never done before. It’s feeling things you’ve never felt before. Like the heat of Southeast Asia on your skin and running down your back. It’s meeting people with different points of views. Living in a different way, that tugs you from routine and boredom and makes you feel alive again. And if I ever have a daughter, I want to tell her to do a lot of things she’s never done before. Maybe that’s taking a dance class with a group of strangers. Maybe that’s traveling to a foreign country. Learning a new language. Whatever it is, I think, that in addition to other things, like being kind and having courage (I watched Cinderella on the plane), the meat and bones of living a life you’re proud of is doing things you’ve never done before.
So why a daughter? Specifically? On my trip, I went on a river boat cruise up the Mekong River and we stopped off at a 450 year-old temple in a cave nestled into the side of a limestone cliff blackened in places and topped with dense jungle. The cave was filled with hundreds of buddhas, and in front of the largest one, you could shake a cup full of sticks with numbers written on them until one – only one – fell out. Nearby, there were pieces of paper with Laotian characters on them telling you what your number meant, and what your fortune was. As my guide read my fortune, I felt relieved. He said that I was lucky. Among other things, my fortune said that if I ever decided to have children, my first child would be a beautiful daughter. A few minutes later, after re-boarding the boat and taking off, I spotted an elephant drinking water by the river. On its own volition, and in its natural habitat. I pointed, and squealed and half the boat came to my side. I thought it was a sign. A good omen, if you will.
Maybe I won’t ever have this daughter. But if I do, I will tell her that I hope that in her life she does a lot of things she’s never done before. I will tell her not to be afraid to try something she’s not already good at, like salsa dancing or surfing (but let’s be real, if I have a daughter, she’s trying surfing whether she likes it or not). I will tell her she should try things without being afraid to fail at them, because fear often stops us before we even try.
If I ever have a daughter, I will tell her that there’s no time limit. If she’s not living a life she’s proud of, I hope she has the courage and the strength in her to change that.
I’ll tell her to wear sunscreen, and not celebrate her successes for too long. I’ll tell her never to depend on anyone else to support her. I’ll tell her to travel widely, because I believe you learn so much from seeing the world. I’ll tell her to believe in herself and be brave, but I’ll also tell her to do things she’s never done before. And I hope she does.