I’m officially an expat, now what?
Life in Thailand so far has felt a lot like an intricate cha-cha. Take two steps forward, three steps back, actually take a seat and watch the professionals do it. Some of it has been very frustrating because in this dance, you can’t control many aspects of your immediate reality. I’m learning patience and trying to develop that go with-the-flow attitude that I was so sure I had when I came to Thailand, I was wrong. I am living in this space that is not quite a traveler but definitely not a local and I’m desperately trying to find out what that means. Although some of the experiences have felt like sandpaper to my face, living here has many upsides that I hold on tight to until everything else falls into place.
Which brings me to a list of important lessons I’ve learned...the hard way.
1. Patience is a virtue. The most important of all lessons I am trying to master. In Thailand there is a lot of waiting. You might wait for the bus to leave on time, or not. Or you may wait for the one truck in town that drives to the beach, it might come that day, or not. Wait for things to be ready, wait for the answers to questions you feel like are very important. There has been times that I have been told to wait and I didn’t even know what exactly I was waiting for. Things move in retrograde here compared to my pre-programmed fast moving cultural mind-set, and I will not have a choice other than to develop patience.
2. Develop ninja like reflexes. So far I have almost been attacked by a rat taking out the trash, saw a scorpion emerge from the depths of my sink drain and got bitten by a fish in the ocean. I encountered countless packs of disgruntled stray dogs, had to matrix dodge a flying ocean fish (look it up, they have wings), cohabited with a few lizard, and killed endless armies of ants, spiders and cockroaches. I have also had encounters with many well-trained monkeys, like the one seen chilling like Bob Dylan, below. Most recently, I have even seen a large snake randomly fall off the roof at my school. After being extracted from the large bush, it took five workers and countless garden tools to finally kill the thing. Who knew snakes kept going for it after being cut in half like some sort of magic trick? Many species of plants and animals look like they came straight out of the Mesozoic era, and lurk around with no shame. All of these examples, and many more have taught me to always have my game face on. Nature is much closer to humans here than it is in the United States and it is definitely something to get used to.
3. Brutal honesty is always the best policy, in Thailand. At any given time it will be made known to you if perhaps you aren’t having the best hair day, if you do not carry a small Asian like body frame, or if your outfit for the day lacked good judgement. In Thailand, it is not an insult to tell people about their appearance, it is just said as a fact. Swallowing pride, getting used to brutal honesty, and rolling with the brass-knuckle covered punches, is all part of the process. I don’t know if a little kid, telling you your hair looks, ‘very messed up,’ will ever be an easy pill to take.
4. Live outside of your comfort zone. There is a big difference between trying things that are new and eating, sleeping and breathing things that are out of your comfort zone. Living in Thailand takes you from dipping your toes into new things to throwing you into the deep end and hoping you come back up for air. Ending up in one of the biggest red light districts in Thailand on accident, buying a bus ticket to the wrong place due to communication errors, or eating food that I have no idea what it contains are all examples of living this new level of discomfort. It’s worth it and I am growing and finding my way through each experience, but much like residual sand stuck in your bathing suit, it isn’t the most comfortable of all things.
5. Building community is key. I have only been in Thailand for about 2 and a half months. I now have what the young kids call, "my people." I have met both local Thais, vagabond-wanderlust seeking travelers and everyone in between. The community of people here has most definitely propelled me forward and make it easier to build a life in this new place.
6. Failure to communicate is a real problem. Communicating with people in the USA has been difficult to say the least. I feel like I am solving a difficult math equation, trying to convert military Time back 14 hours to the United States. Then finding windows of time when each participant is available to speak. Let alone finding a phone plan that lets you call abroad. Shout out to my family for helping me figure it all out. This double life thing is complicated, but I get by with a little help from my friends, family and basically everyone I know. When I say little, I mean the largest quantity of assistance at all times, possible. Communication between locals and foreigners is also difficult. Finding yourself in that no-mans land between spoken languages. That area where there are no words in either language that both parties can exchange for any type of mutual understanding. Although my communication style usually entails delivering my best charades performances, I am usually met with confusion or a smile and nod. In the instances that I am asking a yes or no question, there is a 50% chance that I get the answer that I need. Needless to say, learning the basics in Thai has been crucial in getting by here. I hope to learn more but there are some sounds in Thai that just haven't found a way of being formed in my mouth/ vocal cords.
8. Holidays aren’t the same when you are away from family and friends. This year was the first year in my entire life that I wasn’t near a single relative or friend during two of the biggest holidays, Christmas and New Years. It was a strange feeling. I ate Chicken and rice, the only Christmas tree I personally had anything to do with was a design in the coffee I bought, and instead of having a white Christmas, I had a tropical drink at one of Bangkok’s infamous sky bars. Thailand doesn’t celebrate Christmas as much as it just decorates for it. In typical Thai fashion everything is decorated in lights, fancy back drops, two story sized blow-up polar bears, but when you aren’t at home in your normal life, it all feels a little tacky and gimmicky. Coming from America were consumerism is off the charts, that is a bold statement. Getting a little perspective never hurts, and I will definitely appreciate the time I have with friends and family in the future.
An activity I did with my students for Father's Day in Thailand. Who wouldn't wear these?
I'm not a blogger so I don't know for sure but I feel like this is part where I tie it all together and add some quote about living and learning. I'm not going to do that, that is what bumper stickers are for. All I know is that I have no idea what I am doing here, I just know that for as long as I am here, the sun will rise again and I will live on to fight giant spiders, another day.