I yearn for that peace of mind, something that has been elusive the last few years. It’s crazy how emotions can hinge on another person. I thought I found clarity in Beijing, but all that did was spur a desire for something greater, for my eyes to continue seeing parts of the world that for so long were mysterious.
Delving into foreign territory has taught that a place is just land. Tall buildings and unique cuisine are interesting, but it’s the people my mind remembers first. Many days I want to go back and rewrite the past, not to change the outcome, but the order of operations could have exercised more empathy and been less focused on a happiness that only benefitted me.
People tell me not to think so much, that my thoughts should be forward thinking and that the past is relatively inconsequential. It’s hard to rationalize that belief.
I like investing in others. It gives what I do meaning. My biggest joys happen when someone smiles on account of my good deed. Giving more and taking less. That’s a concept that nine months ago would have seemed ludicrous. Back then I was in Thailand, walking through the streets of Bangkok without a care in the world until this wild chicken popped out at the bottom of the steps. It was whining and making a scene, so to avoid the animal I turned around and looked for another route. All that sat beneath the next highway were old abandoned cars and a smell not even hutong bathrooms in Beijing could equal.
So I pushed through, running past a large chicken, and then another one trapped in a cage until I made it to the sidewalk.
None of this detracts from the fact that Bangkok is beautiful, the vibe of a city still finding its footing, much like myself. That was my first solo vacation abroad, without the luxury of friends to bury my concerns in. I could have used the help, particularly one humid evening when indecision marred an otherwise beautiful day.
But why get lost in that? First, let me tell you something beautiful.
I met Winona on a bike ride through Bangkok. She was intimidatingly pretty and spoke great English. People that can speak two languages make me feel insecure, behind the times of a world that with every tweet grows more connected.
“Do you have Instagram?” she asked before hopping in her cab to go elsewhere.
“Do you want to get a drink later?” I wanted to ask, ultimately choosing loyalty to a new relationship even though the only thing keeping me in line were values of integrity my parents worked so hard to instill in me as a child.
Maybe that was for the best. Winona and I have maintained a friendship over the months, two artists operating on different mediums with varied levels of success, hers more recognizable than mine.
Bangkok brought us together, allowing for an insight into Filipino culture. I see some of this through the lens of her camera. The rest is tucked away in the spirit of a woman with a passion not only for her country, but the rest of the world.
“I manage to conquer almost all my fears and weaknesses with the right companions and mindset,” she says, which greatly explains her position as one of the most talented and popular artists in her home country.
Without the support of those companions, many of which are family, some of her accomplishments might never have happened. She is a big believer in the power of helping others, so much that her next dream is to establish a residency for artists from around the globe.
“I want to attract artists around the world, so creating an art residency is a good plan to get to know the right people and perhaps create a guild that unites different nations,” a plan that, if proven to be successful, will allow her to expand and diversify her portfolio even further. “Collaborating ideas is a good way to express art and creativity,” she notes.
The future residency will not detract from Tipping Point Collective, her brand formed back in 2012 that, according to their website, is “more about exploration, self-expression and trying out innovative ideas without limitation with structured ideas or formulas.”
TPC deals in many different mediums, creating content that covers visual media, as well as noteworthy events both in the Philippines and around the world. They also take on numerous styling projects, ranging from weddings to larger, more public events.
Having amassed over 8,000 followers in Instagram (a large number for a smaller country), the future appears bright for Winona and TPC. There won’t be major retooling as the brand continues to grow. Her focus is simply to continue to get better.
“I’m planning to look for the best people for apprenticeships and collaborations, and we will work on expansion around the globe.”
Like many artists, Winona finds her inspiration from the thrill of the road, going to places that expand her comfort zone and clue her in to how other people not only live, but express themselves. Yet one of her biggest enlightenments came at a spot not far from home.
“Tell me about the Kalinga Mountains,” I ask, referring to the set of mountains 430 miles outside Manila.
“It was like a retreat. My life questions were answered by the serene experience in the mountains. I’m not that athletic and I don’t have the stamina to climb, rappel, or jump off a waterfall cliff,” but she still did all of that anyway, jumping off the cliff being the most fearful of her leaps into the unknown. It’s influenced her next move, a trip that will afford her more insight.
“France, Spain [for a reggae festival], Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Croatia, and Sweden,” she says, listing the countries she is set to visit later this year. To be honest, I’m envious of this pursuit.
Winona and I have many similarities. It’s clear we both feel a desire to keep pushing our limits, seeking answers that can cement our vision for what we want to express. Yet our searches for clarity have taken opposite routes.
0-fer. That was my mark after I finally caved and told a woman on Tinder not to come over. I had already given her my hotel name, but left out the room number because I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to be unfaithful.
That night, as minutes passed, duality was on full display. The correct choice was staring me in the face, but a part of me kept coming back to what I really wanted. My stomach was in knots, emotional discord now transforming into a physical pain that when looking back seems so comical. But in that moment it felt like suffering. I’ve never known the genuine, gut-wrenching pain others less fortunate than me have been burdened with, but this still hurt.
I don’t know if the pain was from the humidity of Bangkok or the real possibility that I was about to hurt someone that didn’t deserve to be put in harm’s way. Hours passed, and soon it was 3 A.M. Messages from the random woman were still coming in, but then came a surprise. It was my girlfriend, she too unable to fall asleep. Guilt rushed over every inch of my body. I knew that even though I would go to sleep having not served a crippling blow to our partnership, I still went wrong. Thoughts and actions are two different things, but if this were Minority Report, I’d be finished, banished to a state of head-shaking embarrassment.
My intentions are usually good, but when mixed with my own desires, the two don’t necessarily harmonize. This spirals into an ultimatum: inflict emotional distress on myself, or someone else. The choice is never easy, and perhaps getting older is the key to figuring out that sacrifice is not about giving anything away, but rather is a propellant into another way of life, one much more mutually beneficial and all-encompassing of those around me.
“A life without commitment is not a life worth living,” said the father of one of my friends last year. It was one of my last days in America before the wheels came up and I was onto something different.
This was a man who had seen life, his gray hair and stubbled facial strands emblematic of experiences that allow him to pass on knowledge to those who come after him.
It’s crazy how the smallest tidbits end up becoming lodged in your brain forever. That old man was just saying what felt right in the moment, not concerned with making an impression on an impressionable then-26 year old. But he did.
So what does Thailand mean to me? It’s hard to say. I can piece together moments that lead to an overarching narrative, but not enough time has passed to truly grasp what that week in Bangkok meant. Five years from now my answer will be completely different from what I put on the page today.
Life is still about the people, individuals I come into contact with and show me a different perspective than the one I currently have. It’s a chance to grow and become better than my status quo. I don’t have a wife, mortgage, kids, or responsibilities that magnify my failures. One day that will likely change, but until then, I’ll continue to take the nights that lead me down an uncertain path. There are some answers there.
Quentin Super’s debut book, The Long Road North, is available for purchase, here
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