Spots of Time

February 04, 2004

And Then There Were Two

Hello again! I bet you thought it was all over! Well, you were wrong! Spots of Time continues! I'm not sure for how long, or how regularly, but after a month break, I decided it was time to get back to business. First, I liked writing the column. Second, legions of fans said they missed it. (Ok, three - and one was a relative...) And, third, it somehow seems wrong to stop the stories in the middle of my trip.

As an added bonus, my web master, fellow writer Bradley Charbonnau (and new father!) is reworking my web site. So, stay tuned for a fab new site complete wtih New Stories! New Pictures! Scratch and Sniff Screens! Time Travel Capablities! (OK, kidding about the last two. However, as Sasha would tell you, the Scratch and Sniff screen would be the LAST thing you wanted to know about Asia. Did I mention my regular haunt in BKK is across from a fish market?????)

Miss you all and hope you are well!

Love,
Melanie

"I thought you were kidnapped!" my brother yelled at me, as I emerged from the public bathroom in the shopping mall in downtown Manila. "You were in there forever!"

"The line was like 40 woimen thick!" I said with a tinge of annoyance in my voice. "And, once I realized it was going to take forever, I was in the middle of the line and there was no way I was going to break out of it to tell you I would be a few extra minutes!"

There is a huge difference between traveling alone and traveling with someone else. When you are alone, no one is looking out for you, worrying what time you will meet them, where you will be or what you will do tomorrow. But, when you are traveling with a companion, this all changes. Suddenly, even the time you take in the bathroom is important.

Just over one month ago, my brother joined me in Bangkok for two months of travel adventure, family bonding time, and as much sun, surf and sand as we could fit. Since then, we've traveled in three countries, on more bad roads than I care to remember, and gotten to know each other as grown up siblings. Oh, and we've had to adjust to spending 24/7 with each other. No small feat considering the last time we spend this much time together was....well, never.

For over a year, I was the master of my own fate. I was the director, talent coordinator and producer of my travel documentary. I answered to no one, and no one answered to me. This was great in some ways, but not so great in others.

Now, there are two minds doing all the planning, dealing with all the inconveniences, and enjoying all the experiences. And, as much as I am surprised to say this (stuck in the world of independence that I am) I quite like having a travel companion. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is more fun than traveling alone!

Traveling, especially in a third world nation, can be confusing, difficult, and frustrating. And, with a language barrier - very isolating. Having someone with you makes it easier to joke about the problems, get past the bull shit, and laugh when you want to cry.

Traveling with a partner means there are times when you can say, I don't want to decide. You make the plan. This seems like a little thing, but really it is huge. Traveling is not all fun and adventure. It is constant planning and decision making. There are days when you just don't want to think - and on those days, you just say to your travel companion - you decide.

Traveling with family, as opposed to anyone else, also has some humbling qualities. Being a "little brother" means political correctness is not a norm Sasha deals with in his relations with me, the older sister. When I make a mistake or am caught being rude or condescening or whatever other of my many faults, he calls me out on it. Frankly, its annoying - at first (ok, all the time!). But, when you know it comes from love, you have to face it and then move on. And whether you like it or not, you grow from it.

It's not all sunshine and roses, however. We've had our share of fights. Two strong personalities, and being relatives to boot, means that lashing out can happen and often does. While two of my friends take to wrestling each other when they get annoyed, I realize Sasha would crush me - so we just yell at each other for a while. But, considering how much we fought in high school - when we each had our own room, our own friends and our own "space" - I think we are doing really, really well.

Sure, there are things I miss about traveling alone. My own room, whenever I want it. Being able to change my mind without a conversation (or a debate). Not needing to wait for anyone to get ready, finish showering or get their ass out of bed. But, they are little things and I know that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Having my brother with me has opened my eyes to things that I would not have seen otherwise. Seeing a third world country through the eyes of someone who has never travelled in one before. Private jokes that keep us laughing on long bus rides or while waiting for our food to be cooked. Someone to pick you up when you are feeling down - whether worn down by sickness, travel or stress.

I'll end by borrowing the (AmEx? MasterCard?) commercial we all know and love.

1. Thai banana fritters (served to you barehanded by a woman who had previously been massaging her dirty feet): 20 baht ($.50 US)

2. Dinner for two at a Cambodian street stall (served to you by the same waitress who, while taking your order, had a finger actively digging in her nose): 3000 reils each ($1 US)

3. Paying extra for a 20-bed room on an overnight ferry in the Philippines (then ending up in a 100 bunk bed room while the porter says, same price, same price): 800 pesos each ($16.00 US)

Sharing it all with your little brother and realizing you will have these memories for a lifetime:

PRICELESS.