Calum McSwiggan

The Year of The Tiger

In Eat, Gay, Love on July 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi

‘We ditch the whole scene and end up dreaming instead of sleeping.’

– Taylor Swift

The mosquitoes buzzed noisily in the moonlight as I crept through the forest and began to climb the temple steps. Birthdays have always been like New Year to me, I’ve never wanted to be asleep when the clock strikes midnight, and with everyone else already in bed, I sat myself down in the temple and readied myself to embrace the change of a new year, and the beginning of new beginnings.

A single birthday card sat in my lap as I looked at my watch, breathed in the cool night air, and thought about how quickly the years were starting to pass. I was terrified to age another year, I still felt like a teenager, and yet already my twenties were escaping me.

What seemed like only days ago I’d just turned twenty and was celebrating the last day of my magazine internship; it seemed like only yesterday when my long-term boyfriend had gotten down on one knee and proposed on my twenty-first birthday; and it seemed like only moments ago that I’d quietly escaped my twenty-second birthday by packing my broken heart into a bag and leaving it all behind.

On that birthday I could have never imagined the things that would have happened in the year that followed. How packing those bags would lead me here, atop a Buddhist Temple in Thailand, having done all the things I’d done. It was only when I started adding things up that I truly realised exactly how much had happened.

I’d minced my way through Morocco, had a Vietnamese child find my dildo, fell for a stranger in Ibiza, and was bitten by a tiger in Thailand. I’d crushed on a Spanish student, was stood up on a date in Rome, had a sensational night in Frankfurt, and chased a boy to Berlin. I’d been left for dead on the Indian motorway, seen bandits tear apart cars, I’d written love letters to Juliet, and drank in Swiss and Austrian bars. I’d gotten into a fight in Budapest, watched a hurricane tear through New York, accidentally took a train to Russia, and had a boy stop my heart.

It had undoubtedly been the most incredible year of my life, and I was terrified that everything would be downhill now that it was all behind me. I sighed as the clock struck midnight and I opened my lonesome birthday card. A little disheartened, and totally unconvinced that this next year could live up to such high expectations, I pushed it back into its envelope and sat in silence. Totally unaware of the life-changing greeting that would await me the following morning, I climbed back down the steps and went to sleep.

The goat awoke me by kicking open the door with her hoof and bleating noisily. It was the most bizarre Happy Birthday I’d ever gotten, but as I threw on my clothes and followed her out of the room, I remembered that I’d been given the morning off work to spend time with the monks.

Birthdays are seen as a time for renewal and cleansing, and as the goat lead me down the path and towards the temple gates, I prepared myself to give my offering of pizza and menthol cigarettes. I figured that they were probably sick of rice and flowers, and my estimate paid off. My gesture was well received, and in exchange I was blessed with a year’s good luck and had the tattoo above my heart imbued with eternal protection. It was a welcomed birthday gift, but nothing compared to what was still to come.

I left the monks as the tourists began pouring in the gates, and went and found Universe in his usual resting spot above the temple. It was as I was bottle feeding him and gently stroking his fur that my favourite monk approached me and took me aside. He reached out and clutched the turtle pendant that hung around my neck, holding it close to his eyes, and asking what it was. I explained that it was a good luck charm that had been given to me by my students on the very first leg of my adventure, and had seen me through right until this very moment. He smiled and disappeared for a moment before returning with a small folded square of fabric.

This will bring new luck, he said, pushing it into my hands and watching intently as I unfolded it and revealed the Buddhist symbols and the tiger mirage inked into its surface. I admired the patterns, and just as I went to thank him, a small white object dropped out onto the floor. I bent down to pick it up, and as I held it up to the light, I realised it was the baby tooth of one of the tigers.

He tapped my turtle pendant again and told me that the year of the turtle had passed, and now it was time for the year of the tiger. I thought about what he said for a moment, and instantly knew that he was right. Like that turtle, for a year, I had kept myself protected in a shell, nursing my failures and my heartbreak, and searching for a new life, but now was the time to finally let my guard down and strike.

Wearing my new-found treasure proudly around my neck, I returned from the temple just in time for lunch. I pushed open the door to the common room and was met with smiling faces and a cake lit with twenty three candles. It was something I never expected to see in the heart of a Buddhist temple tucked away in the forest, and as my friends expressed their jealousy over my tooth, I blew out the candles and made a wish. I didn’t know it then, but that wish was about to kick start the most exciting change in my life. The Year of The Tiger had begun.

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