5 weeks to go. I’ll back home in Melbourne before I know it. So, I thought I’d take a little time to reflect – on who I was before I came to Bangkok, and what this city, and these months have given me.
Let me rewind a little bit – to stranger times.
February, 2013 – July, 2014
This July, I ended a long distance relationship after a roller-coaster 1.5 years together. Our relationship was bittersweet in both narrative and ending. We began captured by the idea of serendipity, of being exceptional; we stayed together through the fights and disappointments to protect that sweet fairy tale – but we also lost our already fragile selves, and surprised each other by unearthing the most bitter versions of ourselves. Not knowing who we were, what we wanted, or where we were going, we tried desperately to stay afloat, to just stay together – because that would be enough. It had to be enough. Of course it wasn’t, and so it goes. For me, the decision to part was never clear-cut, though I desperately wanted it to be; I simply ran out of reasons to stay, of lies to effect a happy façade, and of patience to wait for when it would get better. I grew tired of the reflection I saw in my mirror and in him; but still there was no guarantee we would be any better apart. Nevertheless, it ends. Perhaps more bitter than sweet, full of heartbreakingly clichéd tears and pleas, and with an appropriate last dose of questionable decision making – we spent 2 weeks touring Central Europe together mere weeks after the breakup. Nevertheless, it ended. Relieved at the ending, but still a little bashful about the characters we played; I am thankful to him, and grateful for us. Without him, without us, I would be still foolishly bound by a naïve belief in my own exceptionalism – embarrassingly unaware that the romantic ending we fought for was not our own, but a fantasy borne of an unholy coalescence of Western ideals, and Asian heritage.
So, I come to Bangkok with little more than a desire to get by.
September, 2014 – Present day
Social Media Intern?
Three weeks ago, I make a 30-minute presentation at Grant Thornton Thailand’s October Partner’s meeting. It is the culmination of 5 weeks of work, of innumerable white-boarding sessions, rants at my overstretched but amazingly forbearing manager-cum-sounding board, and days spent percolating information and ideas. It was the stereotypical consultant cliché; I sold slides telling a story everyone already knew. Though no one had excepted to hear such a story from the ‘social media intern’. I walk out quietly triumphant – the partners appear pleased, there nods and expressions of understanding not just polite encouragement, and I will receive succinct but undoubtedly favourable feedback from various partners over the next few days. This was a little-big win. It was not my first time selling slides, nor the most difficult audience I have presented to. Yet, this small achievement means a lot to me. It was my first success at rebuilding the confidence I’d lost to a year and half of holding back, of ‘love-is-blind’ paralysis. It was an attempt to revitalise my waning belief in own potential and abilities with tangible experiences of achievement. It was a win crafted by redefining my role to contribute meaningfully, by finding challenges worth solving, and not allowing myself to settle for the busywork haphazardly assigned to me by overstretched supervisors. It is fuel for bigger and better wins.
Nights – after work
Deciding between 40 minutes air-conditioned in the traffic, or 40 mins walking home in the heat and humidity; always eating more than I should, drinking to rest my overactive mind, enjoying good company and conversation; reading borrowed books, hassling friends back home to Skype, measly attempts at laundry and keeping my room tidy, napping at unwise hours then laying awake when I should really be asleep. This is a taste of life after school, independent, and away from the comforts of home. This is growing up or attempts at doing so.
More food, movies, lazy afternoons, occasional adventures to places more interesting than my room; missing Glen Waverley, friends minutes drive away, parks after dark, the crisp clear night air, Chelsea beach at midnight, the stars and silence of the suburbs; looking forward to summer back home, friends from further corners of Melbourne, coffee and alcohol fuelled conversations on love and life, balmy nights outdoors enjoying music, films, food and drink, and more of the unexpected. These thoughts are a nostalgic luxury, a yearning for familiar experiences, a guilty reluctance to find new comforts. These are the occasional indulgences of life as a foreigner.
New old friends
I neglected a lot of my friendships during my feeble attempts at a functioning long distance relationship. No one held it against me, but I still wonder why I deprived myself of such delightful and stimulating company for so long. Here, from the comfort of my tiny Bangkok apartment, and despite the dismal internet connection, I’ve managed to reconnect with friends I’d forgotten I missed. Every call has been a welcome reminder of the sparkle I am slowly regaining, of the passionate friends I am so fortunate to have, and of the fact that I am not alone – rants against ‘Hollywood love,’ and about the rude awakening we experienced when our realities turned out not to be as the patriarchy promised; conversations about friendship, relationships, “following your dreams”, and “travelling to find yourself”; deliberations on issues of privilege, poverty and inequality. I feel myself slowly coming alive again, and coming to terms with just being.
Thursday morning, the managing partner at my company invites me into his office for a ‘chat’. I am completely clueless about the agenda. I enter. He tells me to get a coffee. I return with a glass of water. He leans back into his chair, and asks me how I am finding things. I must look confused. He clarifies his agenda. This is a conversation about my future. We talk business in Thailand, world economy, regional developments, my plans, my interests, his experiences, his advice, and we even talk corporate finance, and sketch me a hypothetical career in professional services. It does not start in Bangkok, but returns here after a few years experience. It travels to New York, from Melbourne to Sydney and Singapore, and involves all kinds of work and challenges. We conclude having established nothing more than that we are similar kinds of people, requiring intellectual stimulation, variety and challenges. Still, it is nice to know I have potential. I’ve been asked a lot about my future plans. Depending on my mood, I’ll respond with some combination of FMCG, Economics, Social Enterprise and Consulting. These are the vague territories on the rough map of places I’d fancy visiting, and outcomes I’m working towards. Still, it’s a map-in-progress, and mindful of continuing too far along one path because I want to it to be the right one, I’m trying to cultivate an openness to new “X-marks-the-spot” appearing. I can only wish for meaningful terrain to journey across.
Let me end now – with the first, and only time I will apologise for my writing.
November 9, 2014 (3:19am)
It is presumptuous and pretentious of me to so blatantly preach on how to live life as though I have any authority, or wisdom, but indulge me please, even condescend if you must – consider my writing a genuine attempt at expressing my being, along with a brazen request for validation of the way I live. I am not someone who has often lived in the moment; my childhood was a little too turbulent to allow me such a luxury. I’ve always sat on the periphery, watching, postulating, and then pretending to have lived the improved revisions of the blissfully ignorant people swimming through, or swept up in, the waves of life. It helped me avoid feeling abandoned by my divorced parents, helped me scrape together some semblance of understanding for their actions and attitudes, and ultimately helped me build mostly functional relationships with both my parents. Looking back, fictional Cynthia always made it through violent storms of life in better shape than her non-fiction muses. She avoided irresponsible choices and never failed to exploit good opportunities, unlike her clueless but real counterparts. She spurned natural, visceral emotions in favour of the cold, calculated emotions of certainty. She allowed no room for emotions of the unstudied kind, and living life to the fullest meant writing a sensible narrative, and then forcefully eliciting the requisite emotions, actions, and concessions from the characters involved – theatre. There was no shortage of unwitting participants for her theatre. She simply demanded people perform an eloquent, confident, and convincing act of their own, or join her circus. However, some people refused to perform, to join my circus. Of these people, there are some whom recognised, before I could, my sincere and genuine self, and attempted to ignite the passion in me that I had so long neglected. These are the people I owe the slow, but steady, dissolution of my theatre to. I’m trying to be, to move, to love; but I need stories to do it, I need meaning, and attempts at understanding to keep the absurd feeling away. I won’t apologise for this anymore. I believe happiness is embodied in motion, and some people must move out of necessity. Some people, my parents maybe, must do, must work, must not question too hard in order stay alive; and moving through these necessities is success, a kind of happiness foreign to me. On the other hand, I have been given the privilege and burden of thinking before I move, of pondering, of calculating, and of needing meaning. As such, I so often find myself paralysed with indecision, because there is no obvious choice, and no set narrative of necessity, except perhaps of conspicuous consumption, to keep one happy in the choices self-evident to generations before us – choices of stability and survival. So, I can only try to stay in motion, to let happiness surprise me, to not agonise over choosing ‘right’, but recognise when something is ‘wrong’.
Bangkok has been the place where I have attempted to throw myself into the senseless sea of life, and where I have begun in earnest to live as the characters I write. Here, I am rediscovering motion, and learning to get go of things moving in other directions. Here is the setting of a new beginning to an endlessly transient story, with no rhyme or reason but that which I write, experience or observe. For this, Bangkok will always have a special place in my heart.