Seeing the Beauty

Seeing the Beauty

“Live life to the fullest.”

I’ve heard this phrase thousands of times, and I bet you have too.

Do we really know how to live life to its fullest potential? The phrase is often perceived as a declaration of time, in which we must strive for experience and seek to find a deeper meaning in our lives before that precious time runs out. It suggests that we “live in the moment” with little regard for our past and future. It means something different to us all, because each and every one of us has obstacles to overcome, a personalized mark to make on the world, a goal to reach that sometimes feels unreachable.

Living life to the fullest, as I’ve come to realize, is not just about making our time on this Earth worthwhile. It’s not just about fitting in experiences in fear of never making our “mark”- the intangible bar we set so high that we sometimes fail to jump.

In order to truly live life to the fullest, we must see the beauty that surrounds us every day. Because if we can’t see beauty, what makes our lives worth being fulfilled? No matter where we are located on this planet, no matter how old we are, no matter our financial situation or social status, there is beauty in life waiting to be found if we have the simple desire to look.

I am currently located in one of the most rural parts of southern Thailand. I wake up every morning to the jubilant sounds of roosters and cows, and I am lulled to sleep by the loud chirping of geckos and crickets. Ants swarm my apartment daily, and I find at least five new mosquito bites on my body every morning. The only thing to do in Sawi is to drive along the main roads and hope for a pleasant outcome. I define success by finding another restaurant that serves stir-fried vegetables, because that is the only healthy dish I know how to order. I try to have conversations in Thai, but they almost always end in frustration or confusion.  I eat and drink alone most evenings, every now and then enjoying the company of another American teacher who wants to (and eventually does) get the hell out of here.

Even I still sometimes have my doubts about Sawi, especially because it is so hard to leave when desired. There are so many places I want to see and so many things I want to experience in Southeast Asia, sometimes I catch myself wondering why I decided to move to the middle of nowhere in the first place. I wonder if I am digging myself into a deeper hole, losing time that I won’t get back in a place where I can’t see much or do anything at all. After feeling like this a few nights ago, I mustered up the strength to finally put down the Lonely Planet Thailand book and rushed to my Buddha-adorned journal given to me by my grandmother upon leaping into the unknown. I then read aloud to myself the scribbled details of an amazing day in Sawi. Here they are in words:


I was alone, like usual, sitting on a towel in the warm, dampened sand. It had just rained a few hours earlier, and the sun’s rays burned through the clouds, penetrating the Earth with immense force. It was the Fourth of July and I cracked open a can of Leo, celebrating America’s freedom on the other side of the world but somehow not feeling too far from home. The sky was an impeccable light blue, the Gulf of Thailand so brightly turquoise that the two shades of blue complimented one another in perfect harmony. The skyline was the straightest line I’d ever seen, as if I’d never seen a full 180 degrees until that moment, and I imagined the complete and utter stillness that must exist beyond eye’s sight. The breeze was so perfectly light, enough to relieve the sweat dripping from my back but not too strong to cause me to worry about a gritty, sandy beer. There were no bars or restaurants in sight, just a group of locals who occasionally muttered “farang,” and their chatter softened into a mere whisper. The islands in the distance spotted the gulf like a spots on a leopard’s coat, naturally yet perfectly placed. The sand crabs kept me company, as I would see one or two pop out every so often and scurry to their burrows in the sand. After a time of solidarity, I matched each of my breaths with the slow tide of the gulf. I fell asleep, only to be awoken an hour later from light raindrops and a rainbow in the distance.


Sounds nice, doesn’t it. Well, it was more than nice. It was perfect.

For every boring, uneventful day I have in Sawi, I have six wonderful ones (and they don’t all start that way).

If I hadn’t ventured into the vast wilderness with nothing but a few lines of Tinglish directions in a text message, I never would have found the beautiful beach described above.

If I hadn’t had the desire to see the beauty of this place on my own, I never would have met my good friend Bee, the only fluent English-speaking Thai woman within a 20 mile radius. I never would have been welcomed into her home as part of her family, given a private, customized tour of Sawi, or have been able to pick fresh fruit from the trees of her mother’s land. I never would’ve been able to watch her thriving 94 year old grandmother systematically shave bark into strings (Mai Klad) that wrap Thai-style sweets in banana leaves, or play with her adorable two year old son Magnum. I never would have really experienced life in rural Thailand if I hadn’t met her, or taken that last minute turn into Wat Phra That Sawi on an exceptionally hot Saturday.

A few days ago I was grading my sixth graders’ math tests, which consisted of the extra credit question: “Who is the current American president?” Their answers, among many interesting others, included: “Back City,” “Dara Cobama,” and “Barang Obamar.” I don’t think I’ve belly laughed so hard by myself in my entire life – and for a straight ten minutes! Pure, genuine laughter is indeed beauty.

If I hadn’t embraced the beauty of my classroom, which lies in the deep brown, curious eyes of my Thai students and the bright, beautiful personalities that shine through their inability to communicate with me, I wouldn’t have such a desire to be right here, right now.

Every gecko that roams the walls of my apartment has a name. Every night I race home to my balcony to see the unique picture the sky paints just for me in the form of a sunset.

If I were unable to see the beauty, I’d probably be on the next loud, rackety train out of here.

But I’m not – I am here, living life at it’s absolute fullest, and loving every minute of it. This is the difference between me and almost every other farang who comes through this town.

I will not rush to experience. I will not look further down the road than tomorrow. I am a wide open book waiting for pages to be filled with beautiful images of my everyday life abroad – whether they are written in the small town of Sawi or the bustling city of Bangkok.

Someday, when I travel back to the United States, I will recognize the beauty in all that I’d failed to see – the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, hell even the White House, because I was too stubborn to look for a highly accessible source of beauty right in my backyard.

Sometimes, to live life to the fullest, to see all of the impeccable beauty the world has to offer, all we have to do is step right into our backyard.

My Backyard - Hat Sairee Sawi

My Backyard – Hat Sairee Sawi

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