The first part of my Thailand experience is about to end so I thought I would take a moment to pause and reflect – as though I haven’t done enough of that already, haha. I’ve been here on my own for that past two months but that all changes later this afternoon when my other half arrives which is very exciting for the both of us. Asia is a big part of both our lives and yet we’ve never been to Asia together. When he gets here my sense of belonging and what home is will completely change because, as Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros sing, “home is wherever I’m with you”. Yes, that is currently ‘our song’.
There’s been more I’ve been wanting to add about what I wrote in ‘On belonging’. There was a British guy I met soon after I arrived – who I bought two bicycles off and ended up hiring as a web consultant – and he said to me over drinks one night, “I like feeling like a foreigner”. I’ve reflected a lot on that statement since and realise that that doesn’t personally interest me in the slightest, and my modus operandi is to try and understand as much as possible about countries I end up in. Being here makes me realise I don’t enjoy being an ex-pat per se – in fact, I feel pretty uncomfortable living on top of Thai society. Which is why I’m so motivated to learn Thai, and why I’m actively trying to get a better sense of how things work. But a lot of people do enjoy being outsiders, which is why you find ex-pats in random places in the world without a particular purpose – it’s different for those who come for a reason such as work. I guess we all want to believe that we’re different and one sure way of being different is by being an ex-pat. I don’t mean to be disparaging because people can live however they want and everyone has their own story, but I think it’s true that at some level there are people out there who choose to live in other countries because back home they’re nothing special, not too different to the rest of us. On a smaller scale, I used to sometimes think I stood out a little by living in Sydney’s suburban heartland, but if/when I moved to the inner-west I would disappear into the crowd of thousands of left-leaning, well-educated, professional, and culturally switched-on twenty- and thirtysomethings of Sydney. It sounds terribly reductionist to describe myself in those terms but it’s something very near the truth too. Which is why I largely relate to stuff that white people like, even though I’m not ‘white’. I can tick more than three quarters of the list as stuff that I like which shows how depressingly unoriginal I am. Aside from the fact that I AM one of the things on that list – #11 Asian Girls. (By the way, check this out: #71 Being the only white person around – relating to what I said above!)
Another thing I haven’t really written about at all, and which is an obvious omission, is work. It is, after all, the only reason I’m here in Chiang Mai and not somewhere else. Firstly, one thing I love is that I literally take the same amount of time to walk from home as I did to walk to work from my parked car in my last job in Sydney. As for my job itself, the moment I walked in the door it was like coming home, professionally speaking. It seems that in the past 3 years I have specialised in an area of work which is a natural fit for my skills and interests. So it’s going extremely well and has opened up my mind to a million possibilities about international work. I am a little skittish about mentioning who I work for and it’s why I don’t like to mention names in my blog posts, but of course it’s not really a secret. I plan to stay in this role for as long as I possibly can as I already feel a huge amount of loyalty towards my boss and his consultancy and would like to try to help him evolve the business. Oh, one little thing about work which I think is cute – in Australia, the end of the work day used to be when I’d kick off my shoes at home. Here, it’s the opposite – the work day starts when I kick off my shoes at the door and enter the shoe-free office. It’s a very laidback environment and I often sit in unladylike fashion at my desk with my legs crossed on the chair.
I was saying to my boss recently that I’d love to live in New York one day because I’d meet so many interesting people there. His response was, “It sounds like you’re already meeting a lot of interesting people here.” And it’s true, and I had totally glossed over that – I try so hard to stay in the present but I am always getting pulled into the future! I have previously alluded to my landlady’s mother being an interesting woman and now that I’ve spent some time with her I can indeed confirm this. Patricia is probably the world’s foremost expert on Thai-Lao textiles and has lived in South-East Asia for more than twenty years. She has a relatively obscure specialty but an important one for this part of the world nonetheless. She lectures at the university on it and has written a very comprehensive book on the subject. Her daughter, my landlady, runs the businesses attached to this lifelong project of promoting the work of local weavers. They’re a really nice family and I was so fortunate to find this house to live in. I haven’t heard Patricia speak Thai but my landlady’s Thai is exceptional and even now I’m still amazed to watch her speak Thai. I can tell she speaks like a native because she gets has all the right mannerisms and emphasis too.
So belonging is not just about hanging out with your own ‘kind’ in terms of ‘race’ which of course I have always, always believed. It’s not about what you look like at all – people just like to think that because it’s easier to categorise that way. You basically belong where you fit in best – and lately I’ve been reflecting that there’s no getting away from the fact that although I’m Asian and look like I belong here, for many reasons Sydney will always be my true home.