This March marks a full year of my living in Bangkok.
I love Bangkok more than any other city in the world, and this year has fully cemented that.
From fully endorsing the sabai sabai lifestyle and eating almost every waking hour to grumbling about traffic and the lack of street vendors every other Monday, I definitely feel like a Bangkokian.
Not much has managed to dent my fondness for the city although this year has been nothing short of a 366-day learning curve.
Here are a few of my takeaways from the last 12 months – some personal, some petty, some unintentionally nihilistic.
We are the same person wherever we are in the world
‘You can’t run away from your problems’ – often spouted, often ignored.
While I arrived in Bangkok more or less baggage free in an emotional sense, I’ve been unable to free myself from the shackles of my routines that dominated my life back in London.
I expected my life to completely turn itself over, inside out, when we moved. Instead, I’ve found that I essentially live the same kind of life as back in London, just a little bit better thanks to the affordability of Bangkok. There’s been no culture shock, no intense homesickness; just normal living.
I get up at the same time, live with my boyfriend and puppies, studiously ignore phone calls, spend too much money on grilled artichokes and sausages, and drink a healthy dose of wine at the weekends – just like I did in the UK. The details may have changed – I’m generally eating Somtam for lunch rather than a Pret-a-Manger sandwich – but the essence of my days are the same.
I met a fellow Brit at a university reunion a few months ago in Bangkok. He’d had an overbearing wife back in the UK and suffered a messy divorce because of it. He moved to Thailand about a decade ago, only to marry an equally overbearing Thai woman (“but she’s so pretty and slim!”), and to seemingly endure the same sort of emotional abuse as he did back home.
You can’t expect to lead a different life just because you’re a few miles from home – change yourself before you change your surroundings.
I am not Thai
(Before you ask, yes, I did know this before.)
My point is that we are almost totally defined by our environment and upbringings. People are not just ‘people’ wherever you are in the world. Each nationality has their own underlying culture, politics and groupthink which drive the basis of our personalities and egos.
Aside from a love of food and a partially-adopted sabai sabai mentality, there are certain aspects of my culture that simply don’t align with the Thai way. Although I respect these differences, there are parts of ‘Thainess’ that I just don’t understand and probably never will – the concept of loss of face, in particular.
Obviously, this goes both ways and I know that there’s parts of my ‘Britishness’ that my Thai friends find laughably incomprehensible.
This certainly isn’t a problem – it’s brilliant to be alongside people who think and live differently from us – I just scoff when I hear people say “we’re all the same!”
We’re not. And that’s fine.
The universe is huge and we are infinitesimal
Cue the nihilism.
If there’s one thing that travelling reveals to you, it’s just how utterly inconsequential you are.
That’s not meant to be depressing; if anything, it’s totally liberating.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to comprehend the enormity of the universe, but living and travelling around Asia has at least marginally enlightened me to the fact that I don’t really matter. There is so much life and matter in our earth alone, never mind the universe at large, that what I think, believe and do means essentially nothing outside of my tiny network.
So when I start panicking about minor events and annoyances, I just try to breathe out and… “mai pen rai.” It just doesn’t matter.
But then, to contradict myself, it’s hard to distract yourself from the realisation that…
I am definitely going to die at some point
Pretty obvious, right?
Alas, the arrogance of youth had me, if not believing in my own immortality, at least unconsciously believing in my enjoying a life well lived before peacefully passing of old age.
Bangkok, however, has hammered home the sense of my own mortality hard, and at least weekly. Mostly in taxis along the highway.
As Somchai barks into his phone – usually iPad sized and held up to his ear Trigger Happy TV-style – while swinging me around corners and undertaking minivans at totally unnecessary speeds, I worry.
I worry about who will look after my dogs if I have a crash. Who will tell my parents. Who will find the insurance paperwork hidden deep down in my definitely-not-inbox-zero Gmail account.
Paranoid? Probably. But I’ve seen two fatal crashes in this past year, so I suppose paranoia’s inevitable.
We are much nicer in real life than online
What with running this site, I have read more online news stories this year than ever before, which has inevitably exposed me to the horror that often lies within comment sections.
Although heartfelt and intelligent discussions are often exchanged, the comments that inevitably stick with you are the dismissive, rude and sometimes just plain wrong.
Sure, this is part and parcel of the online world. No problem. Opinion pieces in particular attract others’ opinions and that’s a good thing, even if we don’t always see eye to eye.
But occasionally, there’ll be a human interest story where the coldness of the comments are tough to swallow. Where the subject will be fighting for their life in hospital but all certain commenters can focus on is the fact that she’s uninsured and has set up a funding page to help her parents fly her back home.
Or, when commenters respond with glee after a tourist has been trampled to death by an elephant.
It’s baffling to know that these people are probably much more patient and forgiving in the real world. Sensitivity should extend into the online realm too; it’s easy to forget that the families and friends of the people you’re deriding may well be reading what you have to say.
We’re all human, all ignorant, and we all make mistakes – even the people voraciously commenting.
Bangkok is what you make it
While crazy driving, a complex culture, personal problems and rude commenters are all part of the fabric of my Bangkok experience, issues like these can be found in different guises in any city in the world.
It’s easy to project problems onto Bangkok – it is just a canvas after all, coloured in by its people and visitors – but it’s also easy to make the most of your time here. It’s one of the most ‘alive’ cities I’ve ever visited.
I love Bangkok, flaws and all, so I’m making it my home, flaws and all.
Has Bangkok taught you anything?
Featured image is by Transformer18 and used under a Creative Commons licence