The End of the Beginning

There are some things in life that can’t be forced. Reflective writing and bowel movements find themselves at the top of that list for me, but that very well might be more a manifestation of my last week than anything.

I am home. The Conquest has returned to the States.

I’ve been trying to talk myself into writing some sort of a concluductory post since Monday. I had 27 hours in flight to think about it, but I avoided my computer the whole time. I had a bus ride, a few quiet hours here and there, and finally a 4 hour staring match with a blank sheet of paper.

I just never could figure out how to force it.

Then, as most great ideas do, it came to me in the midst of a hot shower (shower temperature and creative output have a correlation nearing 100% for me.)

This post wasn’t meant to be a conclusion or a hasty recap of the last 6 months, it was yet another jumping off point.

The Conquest hasn’t ended, it has merely entered a new phase. Every idea has a life cycle, whether a business, a diet, a relationship or evening plans. There is the exciting “eureka moment,” there is the planning stage, there is the long (sometimes arduous) process of execution, and then there is always the inevitable evolution.

That’s what the Conquest is going through now.

I struggled all week about “doing the end justice” and pressuring myself to make this the best piece that I’ve written the whole time. It has driven my digestive system into a dither, but absolutely nothing had appeared on a page.

I wanted there to be some great takeaway, something gained from the last 6 months that I could point to and convince myself (and others) that “see, I knew I’d find my million dollar idea out there somewhere.”

Truth is, I didn’t even find myself. If anything, I now have a more ambiguous sense of self than I ever have.

And then I realized it.

No greater treasure will man ever find.

**********

Surrounded by a sensory overload of smells, noise, colors and people, I found a life without distractions.

The difference between social interaction and social media regained a clarity lost in the digital din. Shared meals showed why nearly every society makes hospitality and “the breaking of bread” a cornerstone virtue. I got to experience the shared attributes of humanity, those which transcend language, culture, politics or any of the other “higher forms” of civilization, to reveal the most basic of human necessities.

I found in the midst of abject poverty, the existential truth in Mark Twain’s words, “Comparison IS the death of joy.”

I saw all the complications of life slip away, if even only briefly. We are born, we love and we die. The only difference is our reaction to these intractable truths.

That slavery will exist always in some iteration is an inviolable truth of the human condition. The absence of physical chains hasn’t ended slavery any more than a cloudy night ends the moon. Slavery to opinion, to possessions, and to expectations are chains more powerful than iron.

The cruelest forms of slavery will always be self-inflicted.

I found that there is much more that unites people than divides. I saw, that outside of our protected zones of comfort, people will seek to connect rather than exclude. However, when the status quo becomes its own self-evident good, divisions both natural and manmade will seek to separate each from their neighbor.

I found sustainable living in a place where my bank account dropped daily.

The world showed me to be a fool time and time again, but acknowledgement of my ignorance was a comfort in itself. I found that those who think they know the most are always the least likely to learn, and I impolitely recused myself from membership in that self-satisfied group.

I found that a fight between two friends willing to listen to one another is one of the greatest tools for growth that man will ever find. I also found that some friendships are less permanent than we would hope, but that an end does not define the whole.

I saw the human condition at its most vulnerable, and witnessed the strength that it takes to be weak. Death comes for us all, regardless of color, income or location.

Fear only diminishes each breath that remains.

Like Cassandra foreseeing the destruction of Troy, I stood in the midst of the jungles of Laos with tears in my eyes that this too would someday fall victim to the unstoppable force of consumerism, a natural treasure sold piecemeal as presswood Ikea TV stands and glossy paper advertisements.

The dangers of confusing technical expertise with wisdom became clearer and clearer. Just as a man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, so too does technical expertise lack the vision to see the unintended consequences of a “solution.”

As the West encroaches further and further into societies which grew up Darwinistically different values to our own, we will find ourselves trying to repair and improve mechanisms that we truly do not understand. Just as we have moved further from the values of our forefathers, cocksure in our belief that newer, bigger, and faster are self-evident goods, so to will we unintentionally destroy that which has bound vibrant communities together for centuries.

The list of observations I made could go on for days, but they all lead to the same inexorable conclusion. For all the knowledge that my travels afforded me, they merely showed how woefully insufficient the framework I use to cobble it together truly is. Only by acknowledging our own stunning ignorance can any of us hope to truly learn, and only by questioning those “truths” we’ve held as absolute can we ever be sure of anything at all.

Even as the world becomes interconnected at an ever increasing pace, it appears to me that individuals are retreating further and further into our own rigid beliefs. This would seem, to a mildly logical man, to be two opposing forces eventually destined for direct conflict. Will people simply pop their heads out of the foxhole after the battle occurs and acknowledge the “truth” as told by the victors?

History doesn’t seem to think so, although through most of human history, we didn’t encourage our best thinkers to become “excellent sheep.”

I hope to have avoided that comfortable affliction.

**********

The Conquest gave me what all great conquests will, the confidence to chase a new horizon.

I didn’t come back with a multi-million dollar idea and I didn’t come back with a groundbreaking novel in the can. I didn’t bring home the woman of my dreams (even if I now know a few locations where she might be hiding.)

I made some of the best friends I could ask for. I saw a side of myself that I didn’t think existed. I freed myself from the endless barrage of manipulated messages, both commercial and from a fear-inducing media, and the world I found turned out to be a safer and more wonderful place than I could’ve possibly imagined.

I saw that there are really a million ways to die, and that to live in fear of any of them is a fool’s errand. I made peace with a few deaths that I hadn’t properly processed, and I realized through bitter tears on an empty Thai beach, that you can say a proper goodbye to a loved one without a body or a suit.

I found friendships can be deeper after 3 days than some can after 10 years, and I saw the power of the human spirit in overcoming adversity.

I saw the good in man that I thought that I’d forgotten, and I saw some of the forgotten faceless in places that won’t ever get talked about on the news.

The man in the mirror looks back at me differently today.

He smiles a lot more. He reminded me that he’s the only one in this life that will take every step with me, and that if I don’t make peace with him, what the hell chance to I have with the rest of it. He showed me that I can be as happy in a bunk bed as I can in a multi-million dollar house, and that sometimes the best look we’ve got has a few tears running down our face.

I missed many things while I was gone. I missed a parcel of babies being born, and the weddings of some of my dearest and oldest friends.

Nothing is without cost, yet another universal truth that I uncovered.

The former commodity trader found that there are only two commodities that really matter.

Love and time.

As I returned home and picked up the 2 month old daughter of two of my best friends, I realized that instantly. Even if that were the only thing the Conquest had taught me, it would’ve been enough.

Thankfully it taught me so much more.

************

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to follow my blog. The support that I’ve gotten from friends, family and total strangers who happened accidentally wandered on has been stunning and humbling.

I hope you enjoyed reading about it a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it. As I re-integrate back into “reality”, there will be more posts of reflection about some of the things I’ve seen and done. There will also be some thoughts on life back in the Western world as I re-acclimate myself to a reality that was once the only one I’d ever known.

If I can offer any advice on travel, the first piece is “Do it.” Anything more specific, please reach out to chrismoorman13@gmail.com and I’d be more than happy to offer tips or advice on any of the places I’ve been, or backpacking in general. We were all blessed with a wide and wonderful world on which to live, and it is a true shame to relegate ourselves to only the small corners where we were born.

Life as a hastily planned adventure works. Just poke around my ramblings and musings on this page if you need proof.

A Two Holed Time Machine

As I strapped on the pink “farang” gloves this morning in the gym, I took a quick glance around the scene.

Si-Nook, the resident gym mutt was lounging ringside while two cats that weren’t quite stray but weren’t exactly owned lay near the fans.

Zack was standing in his preposterous rubber sweat suit, occasionally opening the elastic arm cuff to let loose a deluge of sweat. I’m “glistening” standing bare chested in shorts short enough to make the most even the most risque teen girl think twice.

In reality, I’m sweating harder than the ne’er-do-well boy hiding under said risque teen’s bed after her parents came home early.

Zack’s covered from ankle to neck in a rubber suit.

I’m about to faint from heat stroke just thinking about it.

Koh is running around like the magnanimous maniac he is, shouting this and that in Thai, occasionally peppering it with a little “well chewed” English, throwing a few shadow punches and kicks as I wrap my hands.

Khan, the 17 year old (easily mistaken for a 12 year old) Thai “pride of the gym” is laughing at me while laying in the middle of the ring with one of the stray cats, making crude hand gestures back and forth with Zack. Finally he jumps up, and starts miming a hide and go seek around one of the punching bags. I have no idea what is so funny, but he and Zack are splitting their sides laughing.

The only other “farang” in the gym, an Englishman named Glenn, is warming up by jumping up and down on old truck tires, the old “Thai trampoline.” He quickly moves on from this to grab a “jump rope”, a pinky width length of hard, clear tubing with two hand carved wooden grips on the end, held together by a bolt and washer.

As I finish wrapping my hands, I move over to one of the punching bags. This one consists of 2 SUV tires bolted together, swinging from a heavy chain. What it lacks in sleek looks, it makes up for in utility. I’d rather be punching this than either of the “professional” punching bags swinging to its right and left. The give from the tires keeps it from swinging as violently, while still giving enough weight to really feel it in the shoulders.

The smell of “gym” is omnipresent. Every time I slip my sandals off and take that first deep breath, I am immediately transported 9200 miles and 10 years in the past, to a long ago August in a hot, old, poorly painted locker room on the south end of the BNL Fieldhouse.

If I close my eyes, I can hear Zac Gary’s voice, always an octave higher than normal when he was excited, shouting what he planned to do to someone poor soul as soon as “stations” were done and “Oklahoma” started.

Every time he really gets going though, the even higher voice of DJ Horton drowns him out, “Gary you chucklehead why don’t you shut your mouth and show me something on Friday instead of telling Flick what you’re going to do to him after practice.”

I swear if I look left, I’ll see the big head of Paul Spreen bouncing slowly as he emits his famous “hut hut hup” laugh.

Amazing how a smell can bring a decade old memory back with clarity that makes HD seem like an RCA box TV with bunny ears.

For all the gifts God gave us, that protruding two holed time machine is among the greatest.

After I’ve been appropriately slathered down with Tiger Balm and boxing liniment, the real training begins. 4 minutes of shadow boxing, 1 minute rest. 4 minutes combo work with a trainer shouting commands and holding the pads, 1 minute rest.

After the 4th round of combo work, I’m trying to drown myself in water which 20 minutes ago was straight from the fridge. Now it is room temperature and climbing, sitting in a pool of sweat which rivals my own.

The shirt I’m using to wipe my face is completely drenched, my hips feel like I just gave birth to a hippopotamus from the continuous strain of high kicks on my brutally inflexible hip flexors.

As I look in the mirror, I look like a 2 legged contestant in a greased pig contest.

As I told my parents in an email after day 1, “You know the flames that jump up from the grill as the fat from a nice ribeye slowly drips down? Thank God I’m not training on a grill, or my doughy American ass would be CHAR-BROILT!”

Oh by the way, it is only 8:25AM. Not even halfway through session 1 of 2 for the day.

For all the memories of high school football that flood my mind, none of them seem to be able to remind my sorry 27 year old carcass of what it once was.

Real shame, because that 17 year old body would really be handy right about now.

I guess the aches and pains of my current form are a small price to pay for a ride in that two holed time machine. A quick trip back to a place where our problems were laughably small and our guts were even smaller.

We were all still invincible back, because Life had graciously saved those lessons in mortality for a later day.

To spend even a moment back in that long gone time and place. That’s worth every ounce of sweat. Every ache and bruise.

In fond remembrance of Zac Gary.