What first drew me to Southeast Asia was the food. The Thai restaurants in Montréal and Toronto served some of the best food I'd had anywhere as a young man. When I was 19, I travelled to India with my family and we had the option to go back over the Pacific. I was thrilled to have a chance to spend a few days in Bangkok, and once there I fell in love: the spectacularly beautiful Thai temples, the all-night urban excitement, the hippie backpacker mecca of Khao San Road, and of course the best food I'd ever eaten.
So it was the chance of a lifetime when my father, while working with the United Nations ESCAP, suggested me to do a contract job with them. I was in the last semester of my undergraduate degree. They needed somebody to edit a document on assistive devices in Asia and the Pacific, and they thought my background in international development would serve me well. They needed me right away, so I skipped my own graduation ceremony and flew off to Bangkok.
I lived and worked in Bangkok for five months, exploring many corners of the city and learning enough Thai to read restaurant menus. But where it really came to move me was when the job was finished. Then I travelled "upcountry" through Laos and through northern and northeastern Thailand for a month, writing ever more furiously in my journals as I thought more about my life and the world. That was when, with the help of the Buddhism that was all around me, I came to the realizations that changed my life, and would keep turning back to Buddhism to deepen them.
The next stage of my life was a master's in international development. I applied to Cornell in large part because they had such a strong program in Southeast Asian studies. My master's thesis there explored the politics of Singapore.
I had the chance to return to Thailand once a few years ago with my wife, along with Vietnam and Cambodia. I can't express how delighted I was to be there again; in some ways it felt like coming home. It will always be close to my heart.