A Kitten in the Spirit House

When I turned twenty one, I went to Japan on a one-way ticket with $800 in my pocket. My poor parents were probably worried sick. I think about that now more often. All I took with me was a small shoulder bag. I stayed away for about five years on a journey that would eventually lead me to San Francisco.

How times have changed! These days I travel with a large suitcase, even for just a couple of weeks. Cindy makes fun of me as I carry my very own pillow. I insist on it!

Thus I arrived recently in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, after almost 24 hours travel on two separate planes. I felt dirty, achy and exhausted. I kept on looking for that big suitcase. The one with my comfy pillow and yoga mat inside. It was nowhere to be found as the last bag came off the conveyor belt.



A young female airline employee approached with a clipboard in her hand. It had my name on it. She giggled nervously explaining that my luggage was still in Taipei. I felt my throat constricting, body temperature rising, a sense of panic setting in. Perhaps the lady could sense it as well. Maybe she was expecting an angry outburst from the disheveled farang (Thai word for foreigner) in front of her. I managed to keep my calm, at least on the outside. Spoiler alert: on the inside I was not nearly that successful. Eventually, about 28 hours later, I did get that prized suitcase and proceeded on with the journey.

My re-entry, after many years, into the Thai massage school had a similar, but different trajectory.

It was a small group, which I prefer. Eight of us: all women, mostly in their thirties. I found it intimidating on so many levels and felt literally like “the odd man out”. Eventually they all charmed and surprised me though, with different stories, challenges and skills.

I had forgotten what it was like to be in class from 9 AM to 4 PM. It took me a solid three days to get into the groove. Along the way, one of the students in our group dropped out. Apparently I wasn’t the only one in the class on an emotional roller coaster ride.

Very close to the school, I stopped by a spirit house to say a little prayer. It was probably the second day of the week long course. As I was standing there, something stirred and startled me. A small kitten, sleeping right in the middle.  As if this little house was built for her!  I continued to check each day for the kitten‘s presence. I noticed that particularly in the morning a small sunbeam encouraged a dreamy nap. Somehow this image had a calming effect on me.




The school, tucked away in a semi industrial neighborhood, made for interesting meal choices. Especially compared to the more touristy center of town. Only no frills places that look more like canteens. They were filled with workers, students in uniform and nurses. I  choose one close to the school. There I often ate a very tasty beef noodle soup. The broth alone, simply to die for! Hints of coriander and tamarind. The tab: fifty Thai baht. About $1.45.




Yesterday afternoon my course ended. It left me with a mixture of regret as well as relief. It’s been intense!



Tomorrow, the journey is taking a different turn as I’m flying to Hua Hin, a little south of Bangkok. An old friend from Belgium, Guy, will welcome me at the airport. I’ll keep you posted in a follow up blog or fairly soon back in class.

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Robert de Nies

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