Residing in a foreign country is an entirely different affair compared to taking a two or three week vacation there. Experiences that were initially fresh and exciting quickly become a grind when repeated day after day. Yes, that taxi driver was certainly friendly — especially after a generous tip — but to be importuned by his ilk even when stepping out to get a breath of what passes for fresh air soon becomes an irritation, then an an-noyance.
I had lived in both Japan and South Korea before coming to Thailand. Amongst other things, I’d learned the importance of maintaining a degree of contact with my home culture to stave off the loneliness (not to men-tion weirdness) that often descends upon foreign residents. In Japan, in what was the prehistoric, pre-internet days, this involved a weekly call to my parents and taking in the latest blockbuster movie from the U.S., ig-noring the Japanese subtitles. In Korea, I swapped detective and science fiction paperbacks with my fellow English teachers and did an occasional drinking outing.
But Thailand has turned out to be a rather different place than the prim, orderly societies of Northeast Asia. Less developed and far less predict-able. Walking along a Bangkok sidewalk, I’d be dodging a motorbike one minute while being propositioned by a ladyboy the next — encounters heard of in Seoul or Tokyo. Nor could my reaction to these affronts be assuaged anymore by a call home to mom and dad. It was an entirely new set of challenges that was to prove resistant to the old solutions from my Japan and Korea days.
A new approach was clearly needed. For starters, I had to train myself to better deal with aggravating or uncomfortable situations I had no control over, calmly standing aside for the motorbikes and giving the Thai men in dresses a wide berth. At the same time, I started taking advantage of the nighttime fun Bangkok has to offer in order to have some positive, counterbalancing experiences. Nothing short of a baseball bat was going to deter the sidewalk Easy Riders, but if I’d just finished an enjoyable evening playing pool and drinking wine with some fun-loving Thai girls, I’d be far less likely to let those unruly drivers get to me.
In short, Thailand has made me a more interactive person. I had been in the habit of steering clear of life’s surprises and unpleasantries, safely en-sconced in my own private little world (behavior that comes naturally to IT people). This country will not allow me to get away with that.