Thailand has finally started to feel like home. This doesn’t mean that I no longer get battered by culture shock, or that I never feel homesick – I do, regularly. But I’ve started to feel a certain sense of settled-ness, and a growing amount of affection for my adopted country. To most rational souls, this probably sounds like a logical progression, but I have never made any great claims to rationality, and serenity has taken me by surprise.
When I was growing up, I desperately wanted to be ‘different.’ Anyone who met me as a child would probably tell you that I was definitely a little ‘different’ – my hair was so long that it reached my knees; I wanted to be a Hutterite; and I only listened to classical music – but I equated ‘different’ with being from an exotic country. I wanted to be anything but a vanilla, beige, Caucasian Canadian. This was a driving force throughout my teen years, and led to an almost unhealthy obsession with travel.
When I was 18, I graduated from high school, and ran off to Nepal and India for a year. I expected to finally find my true identity when I reached Nepal, and I was surprised and aghast to discover that not only was Nepal not the exotic paradise that I had anticipated, but I did not blend in like I thought I would. Life in Kathmandu seemed to bring out the worst in me, rather than the best. After 4 months of continual identity crisis, I set off for India. The combination of still looking for my ‘true’ identity and the disappointing experience I had in Nepal led to me to fling myself headlong into the arms of Mother India.
And so began a love affair. For many years after that trip, I identified myself with all things Indian. Or, at least, all things superficially Indian: I cooked curry with friends; wore bangles; and joined the Bollywood club at university. Before I agreed to marry Todd, I made him travel in India with me – I reckoned that any relationship that could survive a trip to India was probably good for the long haul – and when we did finally get married, we served curry at our wedding. My need to identify with India lessened somewhat over the years, but it still had a strong hold on my imagination.
When we chose to move to Thailand, it was not with unmitigated delight. I had hoped that Todd could get a teaching job in India, where I would complete a PhD, and embrace what I thought was my dormant Indian soul. No opportunities arose in India, though, and soon after, we were Thailand bound. I’d always liked Thailand, but as I went through the frustration of a job hunt, the language barrier, and culture shock, I had moments of idealizing India – as if the whole adjustment process would have been easier if I were there instead of in Thailand.
We travelled to India over Christmas, and I felt like I was going home. When we waited in the Delhi airport for a taxi to take us into the city, I started to cry, because I couldn’t imagine leaving again in two weeks. I also spent significant chunks of time crying on trains as I remembered my much younger self experiencing India. As Todd would tell you, I was a real gem to travel with.
After a few days, though, something began to switch in my brain. It was as though I had finally processed my Indian experience of a decade ago, and moved on. I began to see India with new eyes. For the first time, I noticed the aggressiveness, and pollution, and lack of women’s rights. I still loved India, but I no longer felt the deep need to identify with the country, or to ‘feel Indian.’ Maybe I’d become cynical and unadventurous in my old age, or maybe I’d simply grown up. Either way, at the end of the two weeks, I felt ready to leave.
On the flight to Bangkok, I realized that I felt like I was flying home. I was actually excited to go back to Thailand. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate many things about Thailand and Thai people that I previously could not, or perhaps would not. Life here will never be perfect, but I feel more able to embrace it, and I think that’s largely because I feel as though I am meant to be here. India will always have a special place in my heart, but I no longer wish that I lived there. It no longer has the same hold on me.
I know that I’ll likely never outgrow the need to feel ‘different,’ but the older I get, the more I am able to come to terms with who I am. I’m a vanilla, beige, Caucasian Canadian living in Bangkok. And it feels pretty good.