Intro: Do you love to travel? Enjoy experiencing other cultures? Do you like to try different cuisines? As a blind professional who has pursued three career tracks, Paul Kurtz's third and final career as a trumpeter took him all the way to Thailand. See why good O&M skills are so important for work, fun and everyday life.

The Story: As a blind professional who has pursued three career tracks — counseling, computer science, and music — I have had to do my share of traveling both inside and outside the United States. After returning from a trip to Philadelphia where I had a complicated exit due to weather, I re-thought a promise I'd made to put down some reflections regarding a trip I made to Thailand in 2005 and decided to add other musings as well.

By the time I made my trip to Bangkok, Thailand I was pursuing my third career, music, and the trip was for the purpose of attending an International Trumpet Guild (ITG) conference. (ITG is an organization that promotes communications among trumpet players around the world and helps to improve the artistic level of performance.) I flew from northeast Florida through Atlanta, GA, to Japan, and then to Bangkok. The trip took about 21 hours, went up across Canada and around the North Pole. However, I didn't know this until after I reached Japan.

Picture of Bankok, Thailand buildings and streetsThis particular trip was interesting in that my family members, who normally don't worry about anything I do, made comments showing me they were uneasy about this particular journey. Previously, in other jobs, I had had work issues with people having fears about me traveling alone, but this was the first for my family. They'd seen television reports about crime and kidnappings, as well as drugs being passed through Bangkok, and were sure that I could easily disappear while there. My thinking on the matter? I'm sure anything is possible but, I simply took my normal precautions by securing my finances, transportation and hotel reservations ahead of time. And, as always, I asked questions about where I was going, what to see, what to avoid and any problem areas that might come up. Most importantly, I expected to have a good time.

Picture of the King's Palace in Bangkok, ThailandBecause I slept a great deal on the trip over, I had no jet lag and was ready to do some sight-seeing the next morning after arrival. The hotel secured a guide for me who spoke some English and off I went. With shoes off, I got to see the outside of the King's Temple, the Palace and the King's Craft Works, which I had read about. I also talked to a carpet maker who had very, very nice rugs for sale and a lady about handmade jewelry. The latter woman was taking care of three children who had recently been orphaned by a tsunami on the coast. She is a wonderful example for all of us to follow. It is a Thai belief that if you do good to others, good will also come to you. The golden rule applies there too.

The conference was a wonderful educational experience and I learned a lot. The Grand Hotel, where I stayed, had great Thai food and once the waitresses found out how much I loved it, they had me try many, many things. I'm not sure what all of the dishes were but they were outstanding. The hotel staff was very helpful without being intrusive. In particular, one man named Prassett, who had been my initial contact via email, planned things very well.

Think of the intrigue of this, too. At the conference, in fairly close proximity to each other, you had a jazz player from Japan, mouthpiece maker from Taiwan, young people's concert band from mainland China, a tremendous brass quintet called The Brandt Brass from Russia, Thai groups from Mahidol University, and conference participants from all over the world. Music brought us all together and everybody worked in peace and harmony. Together we had a wonderful concert at a naval auditorium on the river and the public was invited.

Picture of Bankok, Thailand at sunset

After my work was done and the conference was concluded, I had the chance to see the famous Bangkok Zoo and a soccer game between elephants. (Yes, between elephants!) I explored and traveled around some more in the city and had more great food at a restaurant. Then I got a massage which made my body feel ten years younger. (smile)

Because of the way flight schedules worked out, I was able to spend eleven glorious days in Bangkok. I flew back through Seoul, South Korea and New York and brought back a lifetime of memories of people and places I'll never forget, and a wonderful tailored suit to boot.

But, more importantly, I brought back affirmation of some things I believed then and still do. First, if we have any desire at all to work, travel, explore and be independent, as people who are blind or visually impaired we must have good blindness compensatory skills, especially orientation and mobility; this one thing will free you. Second, we shouldn't be limited by fear of those we don't know. If we take good common sense precautions we can travel and enjoy those around us. Third, if we go into a trip ready to enjoy and learn about our temporary new environment and the people we meet, we'll learn a great deal that we can appreciate. Fourth, if we are willing to adapt in cases where there's not a safety, monetary, or life concern, we can make our trip enjoyable for those around us as we go. Fifth, whether for business or pleasure, if we travel determined that those who serve us will also enjoy themselves both through good gratuities (since it's their livelihoods) and through our cheerful enjoyment of them and what they have to show us, we'll get more good things than we bargained for. Sixth, although there are security concerns that didn't exist even fifteen or twenty years ago, our good relations with the people we deal with on trips will likely steer us clear of most any problems.

I'd go back to Bangkok in a heart beat if the opportunity presented itself again. I had a ball! Having traveled to the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, and Thailand, I know that we blind people can become experienced, well-traveled individuals and have a ball doing so. I did and you can too!

If nothing else, I hope this story will brand your heart with adventure and cause you to understand the doors that good orientation and mobility will open for you both in work and fun. Imagine where you could go if you add other important compensatory skills such as braille literacy and assistive technology to your “elements of success” toolkit.

The Contact: Paul Kurtz

Enjoy on YouTube a recent performance of the International Trumpet Guild at a Minnesota Twins game that Paul Kurtz attended.

Photo of Paul Kurtz courtesy of the International Trumpet Guild.