Choosing a place with wifi, I sit down alone for my first dinner in a foreign land. I point at the fried noodles on the laminated menu. I order a Chang beer. I watch the parades of people walk by and chat with my waiter for a while. When my noodles come I slurp them up, licking the oil off my lips. Yum.
I finish my meal and stroll down the road navigating through stalls jingling with jewelry and beautiful women offering scorpions on silver trays. Reaching the end of the road, I look over and see two men, drinking beers, and sitting with their bare feet emerged in a glowing fish tank. Slightly mesmerized (and confused) by what I am seeing, I am late to realize that the men are staring back.
Embarrassed, I start to turn around when one of the men calls me over. I hesitate and then walk over – raising my camera. “Can I take a picture of you?” I ask.
“No.” he says grinning slyly. “The way this works is you do it and then I take a picture of you. Better, no?”
Meet Jean Marc.
I look down at the little fish nibbling at their feet. NO WAY. However, I want to seem brave in front of this handsome stranger so I tell him “maybe another day after I gather some more courage.” Taking a swig of his beer, Jean Marc looks at me seriously and says: “true courage is facing what you fear now – not later.”
Can’t argue with that.
He scoots over and I sit next to him. I take off my sandals and a woman washes my feet. I submerge my feet into the cool water. My heart is pounding. The fish slowly congregate around me. It’s the strangest feeling – like a combination of tickling and suction all over your heels and toes. I can’t help but start giggling. Call it nervous energy – but it is the only way I know how to deal. Jean Marc grabs my camera from my lap and takes a million pictures.
I finally compose myself and he offers me a beer. We chat while the fish nibble at our feet. He is so worldly – telling me unbelievable stories about his travels. He started a company a few years ago that jumpstarts green initiatives in developing countries. His next stop is Myanmar (Burma). He has traveled to almost every country you can imagine. Oh, except China. He confides in me that he is on their travel blacklist due to his fervent participation in human rights rallies in France.
After we finish with the fish, we walk over to a bar.
He is easy to talk to and as the night progresses (and the beer flows) we discuss with everything from family to fears to love. That’s what is so unique about meeting other travelers – you don’t have to hold back because you will most likely never see them again – there is no judgment – just fearless honesty. I ask him what is one single thing I should know for the rest of trip and he says, without missing a beat, to “follow the places that seem most boring as they always end up being the most interesting.”
That’s the thing about Jean Marc, he is worldly, wise, and full of experiences and communicates all three into ridiculously profound sayings seemingly out of Buddhist scripture.
As the night winds down he asks me to go with him to Myanmar the next day. I am tempted – but decline. We exchange info and say our goodbyes. I then head back towards my guesthouse – but not before buying another huge plate of pad Thai for my walk home.