Following My Dreams to Thailand
Lisa J. Rutherford, RMT - Registered Massage Therapist
I dreamed of visiting Thailand my entire life, and the desire only increased when I became a massage therapist. I attended Trillium College for Massage Therapy when I was almost 40 years old, so I had to get straight to work after graduation to pay the bills. A friend from college went to Thailand after she finished school and took a weekend Thai Massage course. I loved seeing her pictures and hearing her stories, but I always thought, “why just a weekend course?” I knew that when I finally got the opportunity to travel halfway around the world, I would want to learn all I could!
I visited my biological mother in August of 2017, just one month before she passed away. During our time together, she was passionate about how much she wanted me to follow my dream and take my trip to Thailand. She insisted I have to do this -- I must. Taking her encouragement to heart, I turned my dream into a goal. There were many challenges ahead, but I was determined to turn each challenge into a positive learning experience.
On February 14th, 2019, I began my solo journey to Thailand. My schooling was booked: four weeks of Thai Massage, one week of Thai Yoga Massage, one week of Reflexology, and one week of Russie Dutton Yoga. A friend pointed out the risk of enrolling in all the courses before I knew whether or not I would like the school. Yes, it was a risk, choosing a massage school for two years in Canada was also a risk -- one that paid off. I read many positive online reviews of the Thai school, and its proximity to the beach was going to be a nice bonus to the trip. In my preparations to finally reach my goal, I did a lot of research about where I was headed, and I saved money like I have never saved before.
After arriving in Thailand, I had three weeks to relax and get acquainted with my new surroundings before school started. I rented an Airbnb near the beach during this time and it was worth every moment! I visited some islands south of Phuket: Phi Phi (pronounced pee pee), Ko Racha Noi, Ko Racha Yai, James Bond, and Rang Yai. Phi Phi island was overrun by visitors after the movie the Beach was released starring Leonardo DeCaprio and is now indefinitely closed to docking boats. The corals in this area had died from the influx of anchors and the tsunami on Boxing Day of 2004, but new corals were planted in hopes that they will thrive again.
I carried around a small container of my biological mother’s ashes, wanting to find the perfect place for them to rest. One day, a friend and I rented a taxi to visit Big Buddha, located on a big hill looking over all the little islands south of Phuket, all the southern peaks of Phuket, and a very majestic statue and temple. My biological mother was Christian, but somehow this place seemed perfect; there was a calmness to this place and looking out from the view, it was hard to believe I was really there.
I met a few friends in Thailand, but I spent most of my time alone. I rented an apartment for the six weeks I was in school. I had a giant hard bed (on which I slept perfectly well), a bathroom, a bar fridge, and a kettle. There were no frills, but it had air conditioning and a television. Although I spent a lot of time by myself, I did not watch the TV. I had music, but once I was in school, all I could do was study. I found myself being quite introverted -- if you know me, you may have a difficult time believing that!
I knew that living in a new country where I did not know the language would be difficult, but I decided to meet this challenge head on. While I was there, I quickly realized that often when Thai people spoke to me in English, they were using all the English they knew in that one introductory sentence. Not knowing the language, I needed to learn how to communicate in different ways. Body language and facial expressions helped me to communicate more effectively, and my skills increased as time went on.
I thought learning Thai massage would be easy, I am a massage therapist after all. I thought wrong. I was in Thailand by myself, so I could not practice my newly learned techniques on anyone. The realities of school were demanding. The necessary memorization was a challenge, as were the practical tests for which I only had in-class practice. The classes were five days a week for six hours a day and included a one hour lunch break where they took us to different local restaurants for a great variety of eating options. Each day after school, I was tired and had worked up a big hunger.
After the first week of school, I realized how difficult it was to get around on foot. Walking was dangerous and crossing the streets was almost impossible. I used to laugh and say I had to “Frogger” my way across the street. I researched motorcycle courses -- how can I learn to ride a scooter on these dangerous Thailand streets where people are in accidents every day? I paid someone about 200 Canadian dollars to teach me in two classes of three hours each. The first day was learning skills for turning and handling the bike, u-turns, the emergency brake, and using the indicator. Did I mention Thailand drives on the left side? That was a new experience! The second day I rode with my instructor on the back of my scooter teaching me how to stay alive, what to avoid, and what to watch out for. He took me up a mountain to make sure I could handle the bike on the way back down; I was terrified the whole time, but what a rush! The next day, I rented a scooter for a month and a half.
Having a scooter opened up so many doors for me including restaurant options, grocery stores, markets, special sites to visit, the mall, the beach, many trips back to Big Buddha, and the list goes on! I opted to not drive after dark or in the rain. I saw many accidents while I was on the roads, but luckily, I was not one of them. I had the time of my life riding the scooter. The highest speed was around 70 km/h, with an average speed of 50 km/h. I visited every corner of Phuket while I was there! One time, I pulled over for a ride on a giant ferris wheel, and there were many trips to markets for some shopping -- one of my favourite things to buy in Thailand was soap. I also bought clothes, incense, buddhist charms for necklaces, and some massage ointment. Unfortunately, this ointment stains white sheets green, so I will not be using it at Wellness for the Body until I figure out how to keep the green off our sheets!
During my dream trip in Thailand, I was the farthest outside of my comfort zone than I have ever been before! Learning new skills is always difficult, but it was so rewarding. One of the biggest lessons I learned this past year is to make sure you make “it” happen, whatever “it” is for you. It is easy to procrastinate, especially when things are difficult; however, sometimes you just need to put every effort forward to make your dreams happen. You may think that now is not the ideal time, but remember that tomorrow is never promised.