We read the items on OG’s Backpacktivist manifesto in turn, sitting in the park beside Pom Pra Sumen, one of two remaining forts from when Bangkok was a walled city. It has since poured far beyond the boundaries set by the old walls.
A girl with gold rimmed sunglasses perched on her dirty blonde hair reads the first one aloud.
“Prepared to change. The most important quality in a backpacktivist is the ability to reflect and adapt. You need to be prepared to change yourself, prepared to change your perspective of a new place, and prepared to change the lives of others. A backpacktivist isn’t just keeping an open mind. They are actively changing who they are and how they interact with the world around them.”
I smile at the quaint idea. The obligatory assertion that a trip like this will change you. I wonder if my travel companions believe the idealistic idea that a two week trip could change someone already twenty odd years in the making. I certainly don’t.
And in a sense I was right, it didn’t take me two weeks to change it took about two minutes.
One minute I stood beside the pickup truck that jostled us back to the village from the waterfall down the road. I chatted with the once strangers that travel made into fast friends. We twittered about tonight’s party to celebrate our work in the village, wondering what dance we could present that would compare to what the villagers have planned for us. I have been dubbed choreographer and I can’t wait to get to work.
The next minute screams wrench the air. I jerk towards the sound before I realize I shouldn’t. Four men circle the little black pig that lives at Pi Akong’s house. One of them pins the pig to the ground with a knee. Pi Akong, our main guide in the village, crouches close to the pig’s head. The pig knows better than I do what happens next.
I turn to my right and see Chrissy’s wide doe eyes mirroring my panic.
“Go for a walk?” I ask.
“Go for a walk.” Chrissy says.
I eat the pig that night. I don’t know how not too. I sit at the omnivore’s table like I always do and the village leader sits two seat to my left. Every dish on the table features pork. Delicious pork that makes my stomach turn. A feeling I have blissfully avoided gobbling down countless pieces of bacon back home from pigs that lived much worse lives and died much less appreciated deaths.
For the rest of the trip I became a covert vegetarian, only eating a small handful of chicken in our cooking class, because I didn’t want to announce my vegetarianism to the group. I shrouded my new lifestyle with the choices of the many vegetarians and vegans on the trip.
Only my roommate wizened to the change when I stopped sharing meals with her, and our daily food pictures stop featuring chicken. She would look at me curiously, but waited until I broached the subject on an overnight bus back to Bangkok to admit her detective work.
Three months later and I am still a vegetarian, a change I never thought I could stick to.
Ever been surprised by how much travel changed you? Share your story in the comments!