I haven’t been feeling brave enough to do my follow up post on my own failings at self-compassion, so instead I’m going to finally share some of the last 2.5 months I’ve been in Bangkok.
On my first experience with homesickness, and finding my feet in Bangkok.
Adventures are hardly as glamorous as one imagines they will be. Despite having the fortune of being rather well travelled, I’ve never been away from home, or my family or friends long enough to develop any real homesickness. To be honest, I hadn’t really put much thought into the practicalities of the move; especially since the managing partner had mostly assured me I’d be well taken care. However, the reality of the move was vastly different to my expectations; and I spent most of my first 6 weeks just trying to stay afloat amongst all the new and unexpected demands of setting up home in a new city.
On my first day of work I stumbled through my first ever salary negotiation, and came out feeling totally ambushed and disorientated. Then began the frantic search for an apartment to move into before my 2 week hotel stay ended; something my boss had kindly neglected to tell me about before my arrival at work 4 days into my return to Bangkok. Rarely have I felt so out of my depth as I did during that week and a half, trying to navigate the in’s and out’s of renting in a foreign country, keep myself fed at minimal cost, and not let my soul be totally crushed by the stress of the totally inane tasks and unreasonable requests my boss was making of me – that was before factoring in how much I missed my parents, my sister, and my friends back home; and how lonely it felt coming back to the utter indifference of my hotel room every night.
I ended up signing my lease agreement the day before I had to check out. I hadn’t brought nearly enough savings with me, and so had to negotiate an advance from the company to pay the required rent and the two-month bond. The frustrating thing though was that that advance later came back to bite me when my boss was in a bad mood. Having woken up on the wrong side of bed, and being coincidentally reminded of the amount the company had advanced to me, he then proceeded to make me feel like a troublesome, unappreciative and irresponsible parasite making totally unreasonable requests that I should be capable of taking care of on my own. I almost started crying out of frustration and embarrassment right there in his office.
Sadly, not long after that incidence, I did buckle under the stress of trying to make the best of everything, and trying to accommodate the whims of people I thought I could trust, if not rely on. It’s been years since I’ve cried as much as I did in the those 6 weeks; on Skype to friends back home, who I am eternally grateful for; in the new HR director’s office, who reminded me that I want to do more than survive this year; and eventually even in my boss’s office, which though totally embarrassing did eventually lead to more constructive conversations about my work scope and his management style. I also spent a good few weeks with some kind of sickness, including a throat infection that took 3 courses of antibiotics to clear up.
I’m not just here to whine and cry though; I’ve started taking back some of my life that got swept up in the maelstrom of finding my feet, and thing are looking up. I’ve managed to pay my rent and bills on time; I’m keeping my apartment clean and tidy; establishing a routine of regular relaxation and exercise; and still working on feeding myself at regular times but getting there; though my the biggest achievement is probably doing my most hated chore: laundry. I don’t have a laundry machine, so I still send some to the laundry shop if I can’t be bothered hand washing it, but clean clothes are happening so that’s a thing. Work is getting better; mostly due to my realisation that the worst that could happen is I lose my job, and the resultant courage I’ve gathered up to confront unreasonable demands, rather than silently endure them. Some might call me brazen, or imprudent, but it’s surely better than losing my mind trying to meet the whims of my boss and doing unfulfilling work. I’ve also made some new friends, both Thai and Farang (foreigner), who have been an absolute solace to my homesick soul.
My Thai friends are lovely and inclusive as always, though the undeniable oddness of them having to speak English rather than Thai to each other in order to accommodate me, has motivated me to try a little bit harder to learn Thai. Subjecting unsuspecting wait staff, whom generally assume I’m Thai, to my poorly pronounced Thai is becoming a regular lunch break affair, and I’m starting to pick up and understand more words by eavesdropping on office conversations. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, and that’s made it a bit hard to overcome the inevitability making mistakes while learning Thai. Thankfully though, most people are nothing short of encouraging; even if they do enjoy a little giggle as I parrot random Thai words. On the other hand, making friends with other expats has been incredibly cathartic in the whole process of trying to find that feeling of home I left behind in Melbourne. It’s a challenge I didn’t really have last time I was here because I knew I was going home in 3 months, but a year is a little too long to spend as just a visitor or some kind of outside alien.
Beyond staying alive
I often end up in discussions about how to live life, and about variations on the idea that one should do more than simply “exist”. No doubt, these are worthwhile discussions, and questions we should all ask ourselves; but moving to Bangkok has reminded me that the opportunity to define our own goals and ideals of success is a privilege, that choosing to fight only the struggles we deem “worthwhile” necessitates a certain level of security and stability, and that “chasing your dreams” requires that your lifestyle affords you the luxury of dreaming in the first place.
I’ve been reminded how quickly and unexpected life can overwhelm you, and the absolute necessity of striving to be, and surrounding yourself with the type of people who know how to care, who know when and how to ask for help, who live sincerely asking the question of not only how they themselves should live, but how they should treat and love others, and how one can give help without inadvertently extinguishing what little sense of self we have left when life tramples on us. Unsurprisingly, I’m still working out how to do that, and how to demand the respect I deserve from the people who claim to care for me. But there’s progress, that’s the important part. These past few months have been a unexpected reminder for me to hold onto my optimism, and not to let life and or the people around me feed the kind of disillusionment that tramples your soul, and resigns you to less than you originally aspired to. In hindsight, I’ve definitely let people too easily challenge my convictions, and have given in on too many occasions to the cowardice that avoids risk and failure by allowing myself to believe excuses, and indulge in complacency.
“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” – Niccolò Machiavelli
I remember one of my first posts was about being an “old soul”, my gratitude towards having the privilege to pursue art over food, and my desire to create something unique in the world. I look back 3 years and wonder a little what happened to my earnest desire to live and love, and contribute what little I have to making the world a better place. I know clearly that I have the luxury of striving to be exceptional, of pushing myself beyond the limits imposed on me, that I have all the basic life processes I need to take on bigger and more difficult challenges of self-mastery. Yet, I still come back to the trivial struggles, primitive concerns, trying to fight emotions and inevitabilities, and turn myself into a perfect robot to be judged as successful by whatever system of external expectations I’ve unwittingly subscribed to over the years. I get caught up in worrying about things I can’t control, and find myself trying to return to the safety of theatre and the finite certainty of narrative. Still, if I am kind to myself, I must also acknowledge that recognising one’s weaknesses is half way to overcoming them, and being brave is not an easy thing.