I’m not sure what kind of kid I was, if I was affectionate, ‘huggy’, or standoff-ish. Was I the kind of kid that latched onto a new friend’s leg and ‘koala’d’ them until they shook me off? I really have no idea—maybe my Mother or Father could chime in on this one. As I’ve gotten older and my relationships have become closer I like to think of myself as a hugger. I have memories of cuddling with my best friend on the couch, spooning, in the least sexual way possible. Him and I just fit so well, watching a movie and enjoying another body’s warmth.
Living in Chile where a kiss on the cheek is a standard greeting, college where a hug was normal or having a boyfriend to hold my hand, living on the west coast where a hug was the only way to greet—I definitely became accustomed to daily, multi daily embraces. My old roommate can vouch for the fact that I used to knock on her door and just ask for a hug every once and awhile. South East Asia isn’t quite as comforting.
Instead of a kiss on the cheek or a hand shake they/we wai. A simple bow, a smile, sawadee kahhhh. As funny, and as light hearted as this culture is there isn’t much physical affection—I’ve never seen couples holding hands, you won’t see teenagers making out under the stars by the river front, or old couples embracing. It’s such a change from my old norm.
I spent the last weekend in Ko Chang, an island South East of Bangkok. I met up with a friend Friday evening and we embraced after not having seen each other since first arriving and meeting in Thailand nearly two months ago. Sitting on the beach, watching the sunset and talking about how this is our real lives, a head on my shoulder an arm around my waist walking home from a crazy night—such little things but it was unexpected because it’s been two months since I was leaned on out of the blue.
While getting a Thai massage and hearing the water lap on the sand my eyes were closed and I listened to different languages be drowned out by the ocean. A woman I never met, a woman who spoke little English was sitting on my butt. She was rubbing the muscles of my back, neck, glutes, calves, feet, fingers, cheeks; such intimate touch was welcomed but again, after two months it was a struggle to relax into the touch.
I’m finding that I don’t like to be surprised by these little intimacies, I want to have them often enough that they are not a surprise. Never before did I crave an embrace and not know where to turn to get one, (there were days I would text a certain friend and he would come to my work specifically to give me a hug when I asked.) Here, I know I can count on getting latched onto by a child daily. The children have no problem wrapping their arms around my waist or legs and not letting go—sometimes I wonder where this love for embrace disappears. It’s nice, but not the same as what I’ve grown to take for granted in the US.