I left Sydney on the morning of 22 March 2010 and arrived in Chiang Mai at the end of the same day. I still remember those first few hours so clearly that it surprises me that a whole year has passed since then. I often walk past the place where I first stayed and I can’t help but wonder, was that was really me unpacking all of my belongings in there? But there’s no need for me to recap everything that’s happened since then; if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know what a momentous year it’s been. And I haven’t even gone into as much detail as I could because I actually censor myself quite a lot — hard to believe given how prone I am to spilling my guts here!
On my blog I tend to seriously reflect so I don’t write nearly as much about the everyday things I get up to in Chiang Mai, because light hearted pleasures aren’t half as interesting to write about. I used to write a lot more about food, for example, but there’s not much left to write home about in that regard. Anyway, it’s true to say that Josh and I have had many happy moments here; as a couple living away together from home for the first time and growing into our relationship; as individuals on our own life journeys, finding our paths. We’re both the same seekers we always were, and perhaps we’re even more restless now than when we first got here once it dawned on us that there are endless possibilities out there. But at the same time it really feels like we’re honing in ever closer to our respective and mutual targets.
Even though Chiang Mai itself has been pretty easy for the most part, I’ve gotten so much out of living here, and I understand, accept and even enjoy Thai culture a lot more than before. I’m actually amazed at myself that I’ve really come around in many ways. I still get surprised from time to time that Thai people seem so unaware of what I take completely for granted (“Do they celebrate Songkran in Vietnam?”) that I need to take a step back and compare to people living in other countries. Are Thai people really that different? Not necessarily; the fact is a lot of the world doesn’t know much about the world around them. So I find that my basic belief about the world holds up: that people are ultimately kind of the same everywhere. Sure, everyone is strongly influenced by their culture and that will often shape their worldview, their openness and capacity for self-expression; but at their core, everyone experiences more or less the same range of emotions. This belief is what makes me a rather staunch humanist and I find myself constantly being moved by and feeling humbled by the people I encounter along the way. (Though I’m also more impatient with certain kinds of people now — but that’s another story for another time.)
Actually, one of the things which I haven’t written about in great detail are all the friendships I’ve made here. Not surprisingly, it’s been one of the best aspects of this whole experience; forming good friendships with my Thai workmates and teacher, and bonding with many of my fellow countrymen who called, or are calling, Chiang Mai home for a while. And of course, there are all the other friends I’ve met along the way who have been a source of warmth and friendship; there are too many to write about here, but I’ll always recall every moment in their company with real fondness. However, I did want to single out two friends in particular who have meant a lot to me (and Josh) over the past year, and who have provided endless support, laughter and inspiration. We met Katherine and Gary randomly one night at a bar called The Glass Onion…and the rest, as they say, is history. (And if it wasn’t for Katherine, there’s absolutely no way that TEDxDoiSuthep would even be happening — she helped bring to life an idea and turned it into a reality with me!)
It really makes such a difference, wherever you are living in the world, if you have good friends to share your experiences with. It’s also why I spend so much time keeping in touch and sharing my experiences through this blog, email and Skype — and equally, it’s just as important for me to know what’s going on in the lives of my friends, who I carry close to my heart wherever I go. I’ve actually felt quite homesick this past week as well, when I think about everyone back home, especially as I’m not quite sure when I’ll be going back again.
On a more sober note of reflection, I’ve also been thinking how easy it is to normalise what doesn’t start off being ‘normal’. When I first got here, I spent a lot of time reflecting on wealth disparity, migrant and child labour, and all the other glaring and offensive differences with life back in Australia. But then normal life kicked in and I started to stop noticing it all so much and got pretty well used to be an expat here just living my life and having adventures. However, I’ve been able to stay somewhat sensitive to my surroundings so that I often get moments where this feels like a glove that doesn’t fit. I see people earning a few dollars a day through hard work and determination selling food on the side of the street; I see the same young boy selling flowers to patrons in restaurants I frequent after his father drops him off every night; I see the same group of Burmese construction workers rebuilding the hotel near my workplace over the past year. The poverty here isn’t what it is in other places I’ve been to, but all of these observations have not been lost on me, and have helped to open my eyes even more to the things that have to change about this world.
All in all, things have not turned out at all the way I expected, which is why this has been such an adventure. I do hope that I’m living a more examined life though. I don’t know if I’ve achieved half the goals I thought I would, but I’m getting closer I think. Or maybe I should just accept that I’ll always be making goals and striving towards…something. At any rate, I feel so much less afraid of taking leaps into the unknown because really, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s liberating to feel so unafraid at this moment in my life.
Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid. — John Keats