Thailand Week 1: I made it!

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As some of you may know, I’m currently living in Bangkok and interning for Grant Thornton Thailand! I just arrived last Saturday night, and despite forgetting one of my bags at the airport have settled in far better than I’d ever expected. I have about 5 other half-finished posts on travel and life but here here is a collection of thoughts and things on Week 1 in Bangkok:

On conversing in Thai:

I get talked at in Thai a lot. I think it’s the black hair. That and the fact that Chinese people seem to permeate every corner of the planet – causing much confusion with my being Australian-Chinese rather than Thai-Chinese or even Mainland-Chinese. It even confuses me at times, but cultural identity is a topic for another day. In any case, over the week I’ve been tweaking my blank stare and awkward smile to signal “SORRY! I HAVE NO THAI. WHAT IN THE WHAT WHAT?” rather than “Sorry, could you please repeat that?” so as to avoid people waste time repeating themselves in an alien language. I have many other hapless attempts at everyday communication like mispronouncing to the bus conductor or taxi driver where I want to go, pointing at random menu items, or just putting up one finger to ask for one of whatever they serve, or using charades to find things at the local convenience store. It’s all part of the experience I suppose, or so I tell myself when I am curled up in bed thinking why in the world did I leave comfortable, clean, English-speaking Melbourne.

On making new friends, and keeping old ones:

In just seven short days, I’ve managed more new friends than my awkward-self thought possible. It’s surprisingly easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger when your other choice is to have no friends for three months. It turns out the world is a small place, though I’m just grateful for the commonalities that give me comfort in a foreign place. On the flight from Singapore to Bangkok, I met an Italian who was also reading Lonely Planet’s Thai phrasebook & dictionary and has lived in Australia. On my first day, I had lunch with a Thai colleague who had lived in the same suburb as me while studying in Melbourne, as well as someone who had also visited Auckland for the same case competition I went for, but in different years. On Saturday, I spent the day with a new Taiwanese friend who had visited the same obscure and secluded mountain trail in Hualien, just as I had earlier this year.

I used to worry a lot about whether people will like me, or if I will bore them by talking too much. I arguably still do, but I’ve learnt to employ a strategy of passive-aggressive ignorance when it comes to the imaginary social cues my overactive social angst dreams up. I find that the inner loner in me tends to see the most trivial of things in the most negative, worst case scenario, no-one-think-I’m-cool kind of light; which in turn makes me totally insecure and actually no fun to be around. As a defence against that side of me, I try to run with the theory that people generally want to like other people. Consequently, my default belief is that if we got along once you probably think I’m cool enough to be friends with, and I will act on the basis of that truth until I am proven otherwise. How can I be proven otherwise? Well, you’d basically have to write me some hate mail or something. I make a point of ignoring subtle, passive-aggressive ‘hints’. In fact, some might even say I not only feign ignorance about whatever is being ‘hinted’ at, but actively try to provoke confrontation. Moral of the story is: all of you are stuck with me unless you can handle being a horrible bully who tells nice people to get lost.

On office life:

I’m not sure if the 8-hour working-at-a-desk day is for me, though I do think the routine does give me some much needed discipline. Left to my own devices, I tend to just think about doing things, and decide to do them after a nap that I never quite wake up from – until I am hungry that is. Everyone in the office is amazingly friendly, helpful and welcoming. On top of that, I’ve been invited to go along to Grant Thornton’s annual company trip this Friday. I’m really looking forward to it. Well, apart from the bit of the trip where I have to dance Nobody by Wonder Girls in front of everyone in the firm because I am new to the firm…

On the fears that almost stopped me from moving to Bangkok:

For a long while after getting my internship offer, I sat on the fence about coming back to Bangkok. The reason for this was simple: I was totally scared-out-of-my-pants. I was convinced that within weeks of my arrival, someone would realise that my only credentials for doing social media strategy were being in the same generational group as people who actually use social media. Then of course, they’d realise what a waste of time and money it was to have flown me back to Bangkok and my world would fall apart. Obviously, I’d ever admit to being that overdramatic. Instead, I made up excuses about missing family and friends in Melbourne, or about the sensationalised threat of the coup d’etat and political ‘crisis’, or how the project wasn’t really related to what I want to do – it isn’t, but I don’t know what I want to do anyways so that’s moot.

However, in the end, with much encouragement, and a lot of internal pep talking, I made it here to Bangkok! I’m alive, safe and settled; and this trip is shaping up to be an all kinds of challenging and uncomfortable – the stuff of really memorable months and years. I’ve had the chance to take the bus like a local, cry because of chilli seeds, get sprayed with (probably dirty) river water while riding down the Chaopraya river, teach English to local Thai students, and visit so many beautiful temples and delicious eateries. I can’t wait to see what the next three months will bring. As always, thanks for reading!

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