Everyone has a story and this is mine. I had never travelled so far and stayed away from home for such a long time. This time was to be the best time of my life. I travelled through Australia, got to know so many people from so many different nationalities, and made experiences to last me a lifetime. I fell in love with it all. My interest in Asia was borne from seeing the Asian-influenced areas in all the Australian big cities. In Melbourne, I lived close to Little India; in Sydney I loved to sample food in China Town.
What impressed me about China Town and Little India? I can’t really tell you. I guess it was the charm of the new culture; the smell, the food, the colors, the ambience. It was like being in a completely new world.
At the end of my year in Australia, I was at the end of my visa and my purse was empty. I had to go back home to Germany – yet, I hadn’t tired of travelling. This is why I made my plan. I decided to work in Germany for a certain time to save money for a world trip. In between, I went to Malaysia and Thailand for a 4-week vacation. My trip started in Kuching, the capital of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. I spent four days there and couchsurfed my overnight stays, which was a very good opportunity to get to know local places far from tourist areas. Initially it felt strange. At one point, I was struck by the realisation I was on my own in a very different country, staying with a guy with a totally different cultural background!
An eight-hour boat trip starting in Kuching took me via the South China Sea and Rejang River to Kanowit, a small town close to Sibu. I was the only foreigner on the boat and the only one speaking a completely different language. The way I transferred boats still makes me smile. There was no wharf - just two boats, close together. We had to jump from one to the other. Our bags? Well they were just thrown on the other boat. It appeared crazy to me, but for all the other passengers it seemed to be completely normal.
In Kanowit, I was picked up by a girl from the Iban community. Ibans are a branch of the Dayak (native) people of Borneo. I lived with her and her family in a longhouse nearby town. I was treated as part of the community, and it was an amazing experience. Each day was similar. After getting up, we headed towards town to the local market to get some groceries for cooking. I helped maintain the jungle garden, fed the chickens, and collected bananas – always ending up resting on a bamboo mat with people from the community on the longhouse terrace.
Sadly, one family member died in hospital. Usually it is expected that all foreigners leave when something like this happens, but I was allowed to stay and to take part in the ceremony. The body was brought back to the longhouse. Washed and dressed in his best clothes, the dead man was laid in the middle of the long terrace for one day and one night. The closest family members had to sit next to him all the time as part of the mourning process; a suitcase containing his personal things all packed and placed at his feet.
The following morning the funeral was held. All the family members got together to honour him for the last time. Following the tradition, nobody spent money or enjoyed themselves for a few days. We respectfully stayed at home until I had to leave.
It was with a strange feeling that I flew out from Sibu to Singapore. I had started to get used to the way of life in an Iban community. When I arrived in Singapore, I was shocked by the difference. This was the first time I had ever truly been able to compare wealth and poverty. After just two days in Singapore, I took the bus to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, staying there for one day before heading towards Perhentian Islands to relax for three days on the beach.
Afterwards, I entered Thailand at Sungai Kolok by foot. From there, I took the train ito Surrathani to get the next ferry to Koh Phangan. Sitting on the train for nine hours, I experienced time moving slower. We passed through several towns and villages, all the while soaking in the scenery and people-watching. There was no hurry; no stress.
The beauty of Thailand, the society, its culture and religion made me love the country from the very beginning. The island of Koh Phangan is amazing. Days were spent hanging at the beach, protected from the sun by palm trees; eating coconuts collected from the ground, taking walks through the rainforest to discover deserted places, going for a swim at a waterfall and visiting temples to learn more about Buddhism. So many experiences in such a short time made me dream about living there. Just by chance, I browsed through Phangan.info, a pocket guide for tourists and found an interesting job advert from a company called CLBS. I kept it safe in my memory.
Finally back in Germany, and still dreaming of living in Thailand, I started researching about ways to live and work in the country that had stolen my heart. And then, there it was. The same advert I had found in Koh Phangan on a German job-seeking site. An international company in Chiang Mai called CLBS, Thailand searching for German, Italian, English and French speaking people. They would provide the visa, work permit, a long term contract and a fair salary. What better way to get involved in the Asian community and culture? I am thankful for this great opportunity. I have been living and working in Chiang Mai now for nearly a year and I enjoy every minute!
I realise now that the world is yours. If you truly want something, you can have it. Always keep your eyes open for an opportunity, and never let go of your dreams. If you are you interested in working at CLBS in Chiang Mai, you can apply at: www.clbs.co.th/seabackpacker or call for more info: +66 (0)81 024 8080 - currently seeking French, German, English and Italian Speakers.