I was standing by myself in the warm water off the beach in Koh Samui, a tropical island in the southern part of Thailand, and I was contemplating the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Some might wonder why I would be thinking about such a deep subject, and the only answer I would be able to give those people is 42. Some would understand that answer, they would just ask me what the question would be. For those that would scratch their head at the answer 42, I would have to refer them to Douglas Adam’s masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In that story, a group of intergalactic mice create a computer to determine what is the answer to life, the universe and everything and they are told 42. Of course, they were disappointed in the answer, and the computer told them in order to understand the answer to life, the universe and everything, they must first know the question. In order to find out the question, they created another computer they name Earth.
Now, I know you are wondering why somebody who is standing in the warm water of the Bay of Siam on the edge of fall would be thinking about such a thing. Well, it was because I was presented with the number 42 earlier that day as I was traveling on a short boat trip through the Marine National Park of Thailand. While partaking on this tour, I was able to visit secluded beaches, hike up to a private lagoon, watch sea life while I snorkeled in the clear water over a protected choral reef, and watch flying fish and dolphins while I kayaked around the islands where they filmed the movie, The Man with Golden Gun. I was also told on that trip that there are a total of 42 protected islands located in the Marine National Park of Thailand. The coincidence was uncanny. How could I not stop and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Maybe I could come up with the all important question, and we will would all be better off for my having discovered it.
That’s when it hit me, the question. Here I stood on the edge of southeast Asia with the question that gave meaning to life, the universe and everything. Of course, according to the book, this would be the exact moment that the Vogons would come down to blow up the Earth to make way for an intergalactic highway, so I looked up in the sky to make sure my life wouldn’t instantly end. No big spaceships were there ready to blow up everything that I knew, and I could rest assured that the knowledge I now possessed allowed me to reach an epiphany of what it means to live life.
But what does all this mean? Many wise, old men will tell you that life is not about the destination, but instead about the journey. If we are always worried about what the destination is like then we won’t enjoy the moments that we have in getting to that place. Everything we have placed in the destination will be lost to us, and we will have missed something more important along the way. But the problem I have with that philosophy is when the destination is like this:
This is what I had to wake up to every morning I spent on the island of Koh Samui. If you close enough out in the water you can see the speck of me standing out there contemplating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. My destination was a villa I rented with five other friends. It was really hard to do anything but relax at this place. Every morning, I could walk out the back door and see the ocean waves gently crash against the beach that was only a mere walk away from where I was enjoying my coffee. If I wanted to go stand in the middle of the ocean to ponder the greater mysteries of life, I could do it without hesitation and not have anything holding me back. I could take a nap on an outdoor bed while the gentle fall breeze gently whispered me to sleep. A few houses down from our place was a restaurant where I could enjoy some delicious Thai cuisine or an adult beverage. What was there not to like about this place? This destination rocked. I was in paradise, and enjoying every minute of it. Maybe life was about the destination and those many old, wise men had gotten it wrong all those years.
This got me thinking about my life so far, and how lucky I had been. I have had some amazing experiences, and have seen some incredible things. I have been able to do it on a shoe-string budget and the only cost has been I have had to discard a few superfluous luxuries along the way. But I wouldn’t give up all of my experiences for all the luxuries the world had to offer. Some of my experiences were great like the beach on Koh Samui, and some of them were crazy stories such as my tuk tuk ride in Bangkok. But I came to the realization that the bad moments are just as important as the good ones and sometimes tell the better stories.
One day on this trip while in Bangkok, my companions and I went to visit the Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace, two of the bigger tourist sites the city has to offer. We started at the Wat Pho where we wandered the expansive grounds, and got to look at the Reclining Buddha. It was fun to do the touristy thing for awhile, but rain clouds started to roll in and we wanted to figure out a way to get to our next stop, the Grand Palace. We innocently asked a man dressed in tour guide garb if he could point us in the right direction, and he proceeded to tell us all about the other wonderful sights the city had to offer. He asked a lot of personal questions which is common for people in southeast Asia with their belief in Confucianism so we gave up that both couples had been married for at least a couple years. It seemed like the polite thing to do while he secured two dry tuk tuks for us to take on our citywide excursion.
Basically a tuk tuk is a three wheeled motorcycle that can be used to transport passengers through Bangkok. The rule of thumb when using this form of transportation is to determine a destination and a price before you leave, all of which we did with the help of our new friend. We went to our first destination spot which was the Smiling Buddha, our friend telling us that it was only open one day every month which happened to be the day we were in the town. How could we not go on this journey? We only had one day to enjoy Buddha’s smile. Also, if we took a picture of us smiling along with him, we would receive good luck for the year. The place was neat when we got there, but it didn’t take us long to observe the Smiling Buddha before we wanted to move on to our next destination. The group was out by the tuk tuks again within ten minutes. One of the drivers had to run to the bathroom while we waited for his return at a bus stop.
This is when we met our next “friend.” He told us about how he was going to visit the coast the next week to give his new wife a honeymoon that they weren’t able to go on yet even though had been married for a couple of years. This wasn’t his first wife either. He had lost her to the devastating tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand ten years earlier. The pain was immense, and he regretted the fact that he never showered his first wife with expensive gifts to show her how much he loved her. One such gift he wished he could give her was his new wedding ring that he kept showing us. It had a blue sapphire which he told us could only be found in Thailand.
After talking to this guy for awhile, our driver finally returned from the bathroom. It took him awhile so I suspected he had some serious business to attend to while we talked to our new “friend.” We loaded up into the tuk tuks thinking we were going to be taken to a market where we could get some good Thai food. They did take us to a market but not one where we could buy food. It was a jewelry store with an upstairs room that had a tailor. It suddenly became clear what this trip was really about. We were not being looked after from friendly Thai people, but instead we had been given a long commercial in the hopes that we would buy a product from somebody who had a difficult time getting people to his store. I get it. This is what capitalism is all about. I definitely went on a journey and the destination was not what I had envisioned it to be. Luckily, we left the shop after spending only a couple of minutes there, and the tuk tuks took us to our original destination, the Grand Palace.
The part of my experience left a bad taste in my mouth, but as that bitterness faded, I could look back at the tuk tuk trip with fresh eyes. Even though it just happened to me recently, I can laugh at the moment. It has now become a joke among my friends I shared the experience. It made life meaningful. This will be just another story I will add to my repertoire as I sit around a table with friends. I have many of these stories to tell, but why am I the lucky one to have all these stories while other people do not have the same experiences?
This was one of the things I pondered while standing just off the shore in Koh Samui. Not everyone I have met in my life have lived such a mundane existence. I have listened to wonderful tales from many people about their experiences. Some people have had more of these stories than others. The people who I have recently met with my new position at an international school for the most part are some who have more experiences to share than others. What do these people have in common with me that give them such great experiences? The answer was pretty obvious. They were world travelers. They go and see all this world has to offer, and now see different perspectives because of this. They were always on the journey. The path was always in front of them.
The best part about these world travelers is they are no longer on a journey because wherever they are, they have already arrived. They have made the world their destination. They can quit worrying about where the journey is going to take them, and just live in the moment. They can begin to soak up all the world has to offer.
You would think that this would make people jealous of world travelers because they have not been given the same opportunities. They can’t wake up some morning and find themselves a mere feet from a beach on a tropical island. But I think they can. It take just an adjustment of perspective. Make the world your destination. This way you can quit worrying about that pesky journey all those old, wise men have told you about throughout your life, and you can start to enjoy your life for what it has to offer in that moment.
Partake in the bounty placed on the table in front of you.
Take the time to enjoy that piece of art you’ve always wanted to examine closer.
And most importantly, when given the opportunity, dance.
All these thoughts rambled through my head as I pondered the question to life, the universe, and everything, and some of you might want me to share that question with you so you can make sense out of the number 42. But I am not going to. You need to find your own body of warm, salty water to stand in so you can let these thoughts bounce around your head. You will probably come to the same solution that I did on that fateful day, and when you do you will have finally arrived.