Cultural Vagabond

I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a city faster in my life than I did with Bangkok. The organized chaos mixed with the utterly tranquil, Southeast Asia, if my words can do any justice, is one gigantic kaleidoscope, satiating every single sense in your body. I traveled in fear of blinking my eyes for the off-chance that I may miss seeing or doing something that I may never get an opportunity to see or do ever again.  Sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever fall asleep again without the babel of Bangkok, the chatter of street vendors, the hustle of tuk-tuks, or the sweet lullaby of water taxis.

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Back in March I made the decision with a bunch of my friends to take a 2-week Thailand medical selective. SGU offers students the opportunity to glimpse into the healthcare systems of various locales around the globe from Sweden to Kenya to Thailand. At the end of my first year and quite possibly my final summer break, I wasn’t all too ecstatic about having to fill my mere 6 weeks of freedom with having to think about more medicine, but the chance to breathe new air and roam was gnawing at me. While my brain made light-year leaps over the course of the past year, my feet were thirsting to do the same. However, it took me a trip halfway around the world to even realize what lusting for the horizon really signified.

Being the son of immigrant parents, you’re drawn neither to your ancestral home or your physical home. I was taught to fight the wave of conformity by immersing myself in my inherited culture while simultaneously feeling shameful pride in adhering to my environment. What was wrong with being culturally ambiguous? There are many an essay deconstructing the great personal plight of being a cultural vagabond, feeling as if you’re neither here nor there sometimes. Rakhad, rakhad, as they would say in my native tongue of Gujarati, means to wander. However, those that rakhad, physically or otherwise are met with disapproval. The harsh guttural “kh” sound that lies smack dab in the middle of the word always symbolically left no question as to the negative connotation of being rootless. The way I see it however, being without roots for a large part of your life makes you feel like you could be grounded anywhere and relate to anything.

Hanging out in Phranang, Thailand.

Hanging out in Phranang, Thailand.

Seemingly, feeling untethered allows you to diversify that which you become tethered to, in the corner of any continent, in the arms of any person, or in the haze of any idea. It’s a dangerously alluring feeling, sure, but this is what traveling means to my soul. It’s not about searching for a home but having the uncanny ability to find it in any nook of this world: the flurry of Bangkok, the coastline of Penang, the steep hills of St. George, or the uniform streets of suburban Chicago. We must adapt to live, but somehow I can’t help feeling that I live to adapt.

And adapt I did! In the past two months, I rode a tuk-tuk in Bangkok, rode an elephant in Kanchanaburi, went surgery hopping at Siriraj Hospital, went bar hopping in Phuket, crossed the bridge over the river Kwai, played with some tigers on the border of Burma, ate some curry in Krabi, learned some Tai Chi in Ao Nang, climbed a rock in Phranang, kayaked in the Andaman sea, trekked the coast in Penang, got lost in Georgetown, and saw the sun rise on a midnight train to Kuala Lumpur.

Never been poorer. Never felt richer. And so here I am, chasing the sun, proud to rakhad.

After my 2 weeks in Thailand, i went backpacking south to Malaysia including seeing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

After my 2 weeks in Thailand, I went backpacking south to Malaysia. I visited the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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