Breaking up [with a city] is hard to do

We were hanging out with some good friends at their place on the weekend, discussing how it seems that once you decide to leave a place, it will inevitably find ways to draw you back. It makes it much harder to have a clean break — if there really is such a thing. This morning I was reflecting on some of my past experiences and remembered, indeed, just how difficult it has been to end relationships, even when it was clearly time to move on. A little kick is enough to give those embers a bit more oxygen, and create a warm glow that draws you in once again.

I guess I’ve had a few emotional moments this week when I think about the fact that I need to start wrapping things up over the coming months. Even though it was never going to be a long-term affair, this has been my home this past year. And a very nice home at that.

A big truth about breaking up is that it can be much harder to leave relationships that are the okay ones — the ones that aren’t great, but they’re really not that bad either, and you’ve had lots of laughs and good times together. We discussed last night that that’s how we feel about Chiang Mai. We really like it, but we don’t love it; and by extension, Thailand will never win us completely over, but it certainly has a place in our hearts. Maybe that’s fine; it doesn’t always have to be about love, which can so quickly turn to hate once things turn sour. It’s nicer to think that we’ll stay friends with Thailand, even when we’re not here anymore.

Having said that, I’ve been seriously thinking that maybe we would move back here again in the not-too-distant future, though to Bangkok rather than here; we’re in perfect harmony about this. The good thing about going through a break up is that is provides ample opportunities for self-reflection to think, “What would make me happy?” I’ve realised that I’m very much a big city person and being here I’ve missed the energy and inspiration of a complicated urban environment. Somewhere like Bangkok would be great for a stint. But hey, maybe it’s just as well that I haven’t lived there this time, because keeping up with life here has already been quite a task.

Outside Panthip Plaza...before I fell down the stairs
Outside Panthip Plaza…before I fell down the stairs

This week in Bangkok, where I spent three days for work, and even back here in Chiang Mai this past day or so, I’ve been having great conversations with various people and I’ve felt myself wanting to form some serious creative collaborations. And the other night in Bangkok I had a funny half hour conversation with a taxi driver that was mostly conducted in Thai — and even though I only understood a fraction of what he said, we even managed to get past all the basics and have a little laugh about the funny terms of endearment that English speakers use. He declared effusively as I left his taxi, “Chok dee! Chok dee!” (“Good luck! Good luck!”) Little wonder I have felt this week that maybe I’m not quite done with Thailand just yet — all these new people I’ve encountered have caused me to think that I could make even more of my time here if I wanted to.

Even my workmates have started to say things like, “Oh, when you leave…the person replacing you, maybe we can’t speak Thai-English to them like we can now,” referring to the mix of words they use to explain things, where I seem to have an uncanny ability to make sense of what they’re saying, much like the way my mum deciphers my Vietnamese when I start talking about things that are a little out of my depth. With that comment hanging in the air, we all looked at each other and made sad faces. I’m going to miss these guys and the fun times we have in and out of the office, and it’s nice to know that they feel the same way about me. Yesterday there was another funny moment while we were all eating papaya from the tree in our garden while sitting at our desks. The two workmates I sit near often shoot the breeze while they’re doing design work and for the most part I tune out because I have to concentrate on writing and editing; so the sound of spoken Thai has become a familiar aural backdrop more than anything else. But yesterday I wasn’t focusing as usual so was half-listening when they were talking about eating papaya. Then one said, “mai me fuhn“. My brain didn’t quite compute — who doesn’t have teeth and what’s that got to do with papaya? So I asked them and as he started to explain what he meant (i.e. the papaya was so soft that you wouldn’t need teeth to eat it), the silliness of the banter was reflected back at them, and we all dissolved into giggles. Somehow they bring out a very different side to me that doesn’t usually come out at work.

It sucks getting older and accumulating baggage; having relationships behind me has been more than enough to deal with, but it’s been hitting me that leaving behind workplaces also leaves its mark. And now, leaving behind places as well, with Chiang Mai being the second city I’ve now lived in outside of Sydney. Some people I’ve met love that feeling of starting over and over again whereas I’m not sure I do, and I don’t love being an expat on the whole. I really do understand why most people feel no desire to live somewhere other than home because it takes a lot of energy to start again each time to make new friends. Especially if you’re like me and you really need to connect seriously with people, otherwise it’s too dissatisfying and superficial. So many people have come and gone during my time here, and I find myself yearning for the familiar faces of friends and family, and relationships that I know will continue.


3 thoughts on “Breaking up [with a city] is hard to do

  1. Sheila,

    What you manage to describe so eloquently, I call life – its a complicated beast, especially once we begin to consider emotion and the role it plays. I forever try to rationalise the irrational knowing full well its an impossible task, but I have no alternative!

    Your comment “It sucks getting older and accumulating baggage” made me pause. In fact, I found it a little pessimistic… even for me! :-p Your baggage is what I think of as life experience. As you get older, I think you’ll reflect on how valuable your baggage is and how it allows your life to develop positively. Perhaps replace baggage with toolbox. Its a collection of lessons and experiences that you continue to add to and most importantly draw from to continue building your life as best you know how. How else would one expect to continue to grow and explore themselves? Quite frankly, I think the bigger your toolbox the better!

    For the most part, it seems your experiences have been positive ones which is a real bonus, because usually all experiences have some value, so if you actually enjoyed the process, all the better!

    Although its now a time for you to reflect, its also a time for you to acknowledge and celebrate everything you have achieved, the people you have met, the good times you’ve had. For if not now, when?

    Its all part of the journey to greater wisdom, savour it.

    Best wishes and a heartfelt hug from Oz,


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reflections Damian. Of course, in my better moments I call it ‘life experience’ and I feel sure that I’m better off; but at other times it really feels like extra weight I’m lugging around the world… :-)

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