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 annoyance.
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 mention 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., ignoring 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 predictable. 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 ensconced in my own private little world (behavior that comes naturally to IT people). This country will not allow me to get away with that.