One step closer….

I’ve been having a really miserable time since my first post, but at least it seems my yearlong dilemma has been cut short. I just need to pick up some more courage, run a few of those nightmare laps of visa – plane ticket – bank account, then close my eyes, and take the plunge. I’m just wondering why it’s so hard this time, after all, I know what it’s like to fit in a different culture (I could write a two-volume book on my experiences in Taiwan), I have already been to Thailand a few times, I can find my way around, I have a rough idea of what to expect. Hang on…. could this be exactly where my feelings of uncertainty stem from? That I have expectations of returning “home”? That it’s not just an adventure any more, not an admittedly and undoubtedly transitory phase of my life, but there is a lot more at stake? But on second thought, what on earth is NOT transitory?! I’ve been hanging on to this idea of “returning to Thailand” as a last resort, as an escape route if all else fails. And now all else has failed almost completely. But what if even the escape route fails? Then I would be stuck to say the least. These feelings have been haunting me for a while now.
What are my expectations? On first mention, images, sounds, smells, tastes come back and make me smile. Fractions of moments, snippets of memories. I have always had the feeling I had seen all before, maybe in a previous life. Everything was eerily familiar from the very first day on. After my return, I was frequently dreaming about Thailand in amazing detail and vividness. (And no, I have never ever been homesick the other way round. I longed for home meals at times and of course meeting my family, but not the place as it is.) The details…. The smell of the flower garlands, incense sticks, and curry, and the rotting rainforests. The quick smile of monks as they look at me in the eye and then realise they shouldn’t and look away, the shy faces of children in small villages. The sound of honking cars and motorcycles, and music, and fish chewing coral, and the Bangkok conductors opening and shutting their money cylinder. The touch of warm monsoon rain on my skin, and the wet red clay under my bare feet. The taste of mataba sold in a certain Bangkok street, but only very early in the morning, and the phat thai in a certain Chiang Mai street, but only in the evenings, and the milkrice at Treehouse, Ko Chang. Dozens, hundreds of fragments like this, I could start to fill another volume just by listing them all.
And then comes this feeling, this impression – six months is not much time really, I can only have impressions – that in Thailand, people are not just a bunch of indifferent people, but they are held together by myriads of invisible threads and bonds. Despite the development, and modern achievements, they have managed to hold on to traditions that go beyond the surface and relationships that make a society work. Here in Eastern Europe, there is a lot of talk about Christian values and a cooperative society and caring for each other and developing potentials and freedom of personality and speech and most of all the freedom to consume…. but somehow it’s just a nice icing on an otherwise individualistic, pushy, aggressive, depressive and disintegrating cake, oops I mean, society. Maybe I just haven’t had enough insights, or I want to cherish a dream desperately, but I feel that despite the controversial issues of a modernising society, Thai people are hanging on. The fabric of society (common values, traditions, rules, and mutual obligations) is in much better shape. And this appeals to me. Just to look at it selfishly, it’s much easier to get by in an optimistic, caring environment even as a visitor than to survive on a daily basis in a gloomy, egotistic, suppressive setting. For example, let’s just take this case of dogs and men…. next time 🙂

8 responses to “One step closer….

  1. Maybe being a visitor(and a foreignor, and female) gives you an advantage. I am from Thailand originally, a male, and have not seen too many friendly faces, except in the night-shopping district and Pat-Pong, Bkk. The society puts on an “amazing” facade as a land of friendly people, but when you are a member you will realize how competitive this country really is! Look at all the academic tutoring places that have been popping up, to supplement the merciless rigor of the Thai school curriculum, for starters. Look at the competition to get into colleges or high school. Neither can we forget about the meager scholarships available to study in the US, with its own competition, and an implication that this country is all about getting ahead. Nevertheless, it is a great country to take a vacation in, or to learn spiritual development. Your article brings back lots of pleasant memories for me.

  2. yes, I’ve had this feeling sometimes that I’m nothing more just another silly foreigner fallen for the usual “boring” clichés….
    as for competitiveness, I guess nothing compares with Taiwan…. maybe Japan and Korea. I’ve seen all that misery in the eyes of my Chinese students. children over ten cannot smile. I mean it, they cannot, they forget how to, they have no reason to. they are so tired of school and afterschool and learning English. even six-year-olds study from 7 am. to 7 pm. just give them a ball and they don’t know how to play with it. give them a box of crayons and they don’t know how to draw. they are forced to take very strong drugs when they are ill, I had five-year-olds with high fever in class, because you shouldn’t miss a day from school! mothers go back to work when their children are 6 weeks old, and leave them to nannies. there is fierce competition, friendships and cooperation are discouraged at school. the examples are endless. people have completely lost their traditions during the course of modernisation, they have even demolished almost all the traditional country farmhouses. it’s a country without roots and without smiles, where people are treated as machines. that’s what I can compare Thailand to, and there is a huge difference. Thailand hasn’t lost its soul. and I pray that Thai society will be strong enough to withhold the pressure and keep its integrity. sure, it is all coming. but hopefully there is hope.

  3. Hi Betti! I really enjoyed this last post of yours, much of it expressed feelings I have myself. You make Eastren Europe sound like America! 🙂 Your memories and impressions of Thailand powerfully returned me there. When I first came to Northren California 26 years ago and came to the area that would be my home I knew in my heart, in a matter of a day or two, that this was my home and where I belonged never to move to another place! I had a friend from Chicago who exponded a theroy that your place of birth was not nessecarily your” home”, that your home was truely aplace in the heart. I still love it here in the rolling hills of Sonoms County and our nations primere wine country. The year round moderate weather, miles of remote roads to cycle on, endless supurb restrurants, vineyards pregnant with the years harvest, and of course our jewej by the bay, San Francisco. Oh, but it no longer whispers the gentle sounds of home. My heart now dwells far away in it’s new home and one day I to shall join you there. Rejoice that you will soon be able to go there, my journy there is still years away, but know that it may not be refuge, for the only true refuge is within ones self, there is no better refuge. Understanding this teaching of The Buddha has helped me be at “relative” peace with my place in time and circumstances. Good luck to you!

  4. Bassai, I hope your time is not as far away as you think it is at the moment. big changes take a lot of courage, I might end up losing all my savings, who knows. but I know not going for it is something that I would regret bitterly when I’m old. and I’m still wavering 🙁
    I haven’t been to America, so I cannot judge the similarity, but it seems to me over here that political and economic change came out of the blue 15 years ago, and caught people completely unprepared. so everything is kind of exaggerated, and very importantly, people have lost their sense of security inherent in socialism, and this resulted in aggression and depression. I’m not one of those anti-America, anti-modernisation maniacs but I can sense a lot of dangerous trends wherever I go.
    you’re right about the true refuge and inner peace…. but I guess at this climate I just couldn’t go and live in a cave and go on alm’s round every day to collect food…. 🙂 I mean you’re vulnerable and dependent on the outside world and its rules whatever happens.
    ok, I’m just splitting hairs now. I know what you mean.
    I’d better go and get some sleep now instead of chatting and chatting….
    nice to hear from you, thank you for your kind words!

  5. Bassai: I really like what you wrote!!

    “Rejoice that you will soon be able to go there, my journy there is still years away, but know that it may not be refuge, for the only true refuge is within ones self, there is no better refuge. Understanding this teaching of The Buddha has helped me be at “relative” peace with my place in time and circumstances. Good luck to you! “

  6. Oh, Betti I already have the “big change” waiting for her visa approval to move here and a daughter who will soon be off to University, so I’m rooted here for a while! You however sound as though you have the freedom to go and only your doubts are holding you. Heck, I think you’ll do fine!!! You survived Taiwan so you have experience to draw upon! To quote the 60’s rock group The Doors, “the futures uncertian and the end is always near, the futures uncertian and the end is always near. let it roll baby roll”

  7. 🙂

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