The Last Hurrah (Grad Trip Reflections)
Those who know me well will know that the one thing I detest are clichés. As ironic comments, yes, I’m all for using them in abundance. But as a life philosophy and/or a manner of speaking, behaving and interacting with others?
A grave injustice. That’s what it is: a grave injustice to the incredible, breathtaking breadth and depth of the world, which celebrates individuality, uniqueness and our wonderful right to be whoever we are regardless of how anyone else feels about it.
So it was a little uncharacteristic of me to wrap up my high school days with a cliché, manifested in the form of the ‘Senior Grad Trip’. Or, to put it more specifically, the ‘Senior Grad Trip to Koh Samui’, fondly known as the annual week of teenage debauchery kindly sponsored by international students based in the East Asia region. On the 12th of June I boarded a flight with the full knowledge that I was going to spend nine days surrounded by a lifestyle I was unfamiliar with, in an environment filled with people — locals and travellers (or revellers?) alike — with intentions involving intoxication, intimacy, among other in- things (perhaps injury would also be appropriate).
Being in a cliché makes it inevitable to live a cliché, which, in Koh Samui, looked like late wake-up calls, breakfast at lunchtime, house parties, going out to dance in Green Mango until two in the morning, getting Burger King after. Essentially, the typical ‘Koh Samui experience’ was a very specific kind of experience, which often meant that I had to fit myself to it in order for me to feel the ‘grad-trippiness’ of the entire affair. With the abundance of social media the cliché became even harder to escape, as people curated the halls of their Instagrams and Snapchats with FOMO-inducing images that constructed what it meant to ‘be’ in Koh Samui, to have ‘graduated’ and finally let loose.
Which I confess was exhausting at times. As a self-professed premature geriatric who routinely wakes up at 7.30AM and doesn’t eat Burger King’s legendary chicken tenders, rarely snacks after 7PM and — unfortunately — has a legitimate, WebMD-certified intolerance for alcohol, I found myself struggling to keep up. The worst of it was the fact that I lost my tether to what I was familiar with, which left me in an emotionally taxing state of limbo between the glorified outer world of parties and the calming inner world of writing and reflection.
On nights I chose to stay in, I would spend long stretches of time mulling around and feeling as if I’d been emptied of some greater, creative substance that could lift me from the depths of feeling like too much of a conformist. As if being creative and being on a grad trip were mutually exclusive, one being the trade off for the other.
Here clever readers may say hey, it didn’t have to be that way. I could have found other activities to take up my time, like long poetry sessions on Chaweng beach followed by walks at sunset. I could have done it all, spend equal parts of my mental energy on all-nighters and prose writing, that kind of thing.
Which I admit is true.
But I wanted to go all in, to bellow this last ‘hurrah!’ with a cohort of people I grew to love over the course of several years. And if the life of the island dictated parties and dancing and booze, the former two being things I do enjoy, then I’d do it. Besides, sometimes it’s fun to live in a cliché for a while, especially if that opens doors to talk to others about mutual experiences, sorrows, joys, acts of hedonism, etc. A path to human connection, which I guess is the purpose of this whole grad trip business…
…and, in the best of times, also the long-term outcome.
Despite my idiosyncratic up-and-down ‘see-saw’ experiences in Koh Samui, I’ve returned home with fond memories that will stay with me forever: late-night talks with villa mates about childhood crushes; dancing in jean-shorts at the veritable sweat-fest otherwise known as Green Mango; post-party cup noodles; stressful (yet later, entertaining) cab rides across unfamiliar terrain; an abundance of pesto and sweet potatoes at 2PM lunches; getting lost on 100 baht tuk-tuk rides; raves over pad see ew and morning glory; poolside conversations with friends new and old; birthday parties; Breezer pong; bro tanks; addictive songs featuring expletives I refuse to use in everyday life… the list goes on.
The moments beyond the cliché. Individual moments that cannot be replicated again, with the same people, at the same time, in the same place. Moments that wrap up the time of our life characterized by its association with ‘high school’ — a ‘cliché’ in itself. Now, after having said our farewells through enthusiastic dance moves and arms slung over one another’s shoulders, through poolside dances and late lunches, we move on into bigger and better things, into the wider, adult world that lies ahead.
It is daunting, but we are ready for it.
After a week’s worth of sleep and a hardcore alcohol detox, that is.