I never really know how my life appears to blog readers – while I sometimes read through my previous entries, it’s pretty difficult to be objective. If anything, reading my own writing about my own life is the height of subjectivity (not to mention narcissism). I seem to eat a lot of food, visit beaches, and hang out with mostly-perky, mostly-Americans. Some of my friends at home have remarked that my life seems to be a perpetual adventure. Living in Bangkok has been an adventure, but to be honest, it’s also been pretty tough. Some of this is circumstantial – waiting for work permits, for example, is never fun – but more recently, I’ve realized that some of the toughness stems from the choices I’ve made.
I’ve always thought of myself as an adventurous, culture-loving person – case in point: my years of being windian* – but when I look at my almost nine months in Bangkok, they are characterized by a lack of adventure as much as anything. When we first moved to Bangkok, I was overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my post grad school life. In some ways, Bangkok felt like a prison: I couldn’t find a job; I couldn’t understand the language; and our apartment was/is in the middle of nowhere. I was so focused on my own quarter-life crisis that I couldn’t truly appreciate the fascinating culture that this country has to offer. The job situation eventually sorted itself out, and I figured out how to get around the city, but I still haven’t done a good job of embracing Thai culture. My knowledge of the Thai language is still rudimentary at best; I haven’t made much of an effort to connect with Thai people in our neighbourhood; and I haven’t visited many cultural sites.
It’s easy for me to look at the previous nine months and say “poor self. What a hard time you’ve had. Of course you haven’t immersed yourself in this culture.” This makes me feel better in the short term, but it doesn’t change anything in the long term. I was reminded of this last week when I had the opportunity to interview the presidents of two of Bangkok’s biggest expat women’s groups. When I asked them about their experience transitioning to life in Bangkok, I was struck by the similarities in our stories. While the details – age, nationality, background, financial resources – are quite different, the underlying theme was the same: transitioning to life in a new country is tough. Both of them emphasized the choice they had to make: would they simply try to endure the experience? Or would they rise to the challenge, and make the most of it? From their obvious love of Bangkok, and the meaningful things they’ve accomplished in their time here, it was clear that they’d chosen the second option. I realized that I , too, wanted to choose the second option.
I don’t believe that self-flagellation is helpful – smacking yourself when you’re down seems to increase the “stuck” factor, not to mention the self-pity. However, acknowledging that you’ve made poor choices allows you to acknowledge that you can make choices, period. This is what I’ve been coming to terms with recently. I have to acknowledge that I’ve chosen not to embrace Thai culture. It’s not pleasant to do this, and I’m not proud of it. At the same time, I’m encouraged to think that it’s not too late, and that I can still choose to embrace Thailand. I’m not totally sure what this will look like in practical terms, but I think that working to adjust my attitude is a good place to start. Hopefully life in Thailand will continue to include lots of food, beaches, and perky Americans, but also a deeper appreciation of Thai culture, and the knowledge that I can choose how I react to this experience.
*windian = a white person who is trying to be Indian