International travel provides such unpredictable experiences that cannot be planned on an itinerary. Sometimes the most interesting moments are more about inside jokes among travel companions and are hard to explain to others. Bang Wa was just such an instance.
On our first day in Bangkok, we happened to time our exploration of the skytrain system, known as BTS, very poorly. We decided go go through the center of Bangkok at afternoon rush hour and try to keep all 10 of us together. It is difficult for one person to get through the throngs of people, much less all 10 of us. The train lines are named by the final stop on the line. We needed to switch trains and move over to the line whose final stop was Bang Wa. So myself and Monti had to yell ‘BANG WA’ (pronounced Bahng Wah) to the group loudly across crowds of strangers. By the time we all got to our destination, our battle chant had been cemented. Bang Wa was our stand-in term for pretty much any emotional reaction to any experience. If we thought something was amazing, Monti or I would state ‘Bang Wa!’ in a triumphant fashion. If something was puzzling, we would give the saying a questioning lift. Within a day or so, everyone had adopted the term with reckless abandon (ok, maybe that is an overstatement). But it did become our group slogan. We even began to plan the plot of an action movie by the same name.
Not until after we had all used the term did we look up what the term meant, ‘community square’. This added to our group cohesion when we realized that we were all saying ‘Community Square’ in public all across Thailand, likely to the confusion of the local Thais. I expect that all of us, even for years to come, will think back to this trip and in the back of our minds hear the echos of ‘Bang Wa’ ringing out. I know when I think about it, I’ll chuckle inside, for sure.
To me, the most important aspects of travel are the relational aspects. It is not the iconic sites that make travel experiences meaningful. Sure, they are nice, and make for great pics, but it is the common experiences you have with your travel companions, with the people you meet along the way, and the translation of these experiences to your loved ones back home, that make travel perspective changing in the most profound ways.