“I envy people who can just look at a sunset. I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing more grotesque to me than a vacation.”
A few years ago, in Northern Thailand, I met this Australian dude.
He spent his days swinging languidly in his green hammock, reading books, drinking and smoking. I liked him. He was alright for conversation.
He often shared his woes. His girlfriend decided to go home, and he chose to stay in Asia. They’d been fighting about something, but he wouldn’t say what. Many couples go travelling together, and return home single. The road isn’t for everyone.
“Hey man, you smoke?” He asked one warm evening, while rolling a blunt on his stomach.
“I fucking miss her mate.” He said in between puffs, nearly tearing up. “But I’m on unemployment, and since I hurt my hand in a fucking scooter accident,” He held up his cast, admiring it, “I thought what am I going to do back home? I might as well stay here until my money runs out.”
I listened to his stories, about visiting temples, partying on beaches, and chilling. He was a carpenter, and was in no hurry to return to work. His main purpose for coming to Asia, was to escape. Here, it was the perfect no-stress lifestyle—except that he missed her.
“I don’t want to go back to all that rubbish. Here, I can do whatever. I can go to a beach, or read books, play the guitar. No responsibility. It’s perfect.”
“You must be wealthy.”
“Nah mate. Just some unemployment.”
“And when that runs out? You have a side hustle?”
“Side hustle? No man. I just go back to work. Try to stay close to my girl. If I still have a girl.”
Over the days he shared his philosophy, and it sounded alright. But he was always a little offended when I wouldn’t buy it. I liked having a little responsibility. I wanted to be somebody, to do something big. Just swinging in a hammock bored me. No matter where I was, I could still write. I could still exercise. I wasn’t tired of work, and I didn’t need a vacation or a girlfriend to complete me. I loved being busy. Work didn’t mean struggle, or pain. It meant purpose and freedom. And I told him this as I did pushups, which I tend to do when I smoke pot.
“Nah man.” He said through coughs. “What are you doing? Pushups? Just relax bro. You’re on vacation. I see you everyday on your computer too. Working? Why are you working? You come here to get away from work. And you’re out every night partying. Why don’t you just chill. You need a girlfriend is what you need. You just gotta chill. Take some time off work.”
“But, if I don’t work, I won’t achieve my goals. Working isn’t boring. It keeps my mind engaged. I don’t see this as work anyway. It’s a hobby, and I’m creating a better future.”
“Future?” He coughed out a laugh. “This is the present mate. This right here.” He tapped his finger on the bamboo floor. “You’re in paradise. Have a vacation.” He handed me the joint, picked up a guitar and played some old song.
It was during my second trip to Thailand when I was sitting on some other beach, staring out at azure waters and watching tourists toss frisbees that I realized, I can only truly enjoy relaxation if I’m tired. The rest period must be equal or less than the work.
I love long breaks in exotic and foreign lands—but too much rest leads to apathy. We need to deserve it, the way he felt he deserved it. Chilling just reminds me how little I’ve accomplished in my life. Maybe he was right, we only have the present moment.
A year after this trip I posted on social media: True fulfillment won’t be found chilling on a beach.
He commented: “Fuck this. I’m out,” and unfriended me.
I wonder about that guy. Is he back with his girl? Is his work rewarding, or is he just saving up for unemployment so he can smoke weed again in a hammock in paradise? A vacation should feel like a first meal after fast, or a stretch in an open field following a long imprisonment. I don’t ever want my happiness dependent on a girlfriend, or a vacation.
Without hunger, you wouldn’t enjoy food.
Without pain, you couldn’t appreciate pleasure.
Without fear, you won’t respect safety.
Without loneliness, you will never understand connection.
He savoured his time away from work, from his girl and his relationship problems. He was on a vacation.
I was just somewhere else.