Daily Archives: October 18, 2005

Culture bumps – and pink glasses

So, it’s final now…. I have a ticket with the latest possible return date, confirmed, paid up, printed…. now I cannot back out of it on some silly excuse. I’m flying to Thailand in less than two weeks’ time to try my luck there. All sorts of advice is pouring in from relatives, friends and unfriends, most of them are happy and excited and hopeful that I will continue to be a prolific blogger anyway. I’ll need to carry lots of dreams with me on that long journey, bestowed on me by others, dreams they hope to dream through me, as they didn’t have the chance or the courage to quit and start over 9000 kilometres from here…. Luckily, these dreams won’t eat up my baggage allowance, just boost my emotional allowance…. if it makes sense to put it this way. But envy makes the world go round – I do get my unfair share of discouragement, negative comments, links to the latest news on the bird flu and shootings in the south, you name it. My doctor also remarked once again that I would “perish” at that climate with my asthma (this warning almost did the trick the very first time, but now I know I won’t, I’ll feel better without the regular colds I catch here in winter), and reminded me of the tsunami as well. An online friend warned me about culture shock, that I should be prepared for severe quakes, she quoted her own experience of being dumped in Saint Petersburg for half a year as a teacher trainee in the wintertime. You bet that would make me culture shocked too, freezing to solid block in a dark city 🙂 But after having dealt with a Chinese boss and a bunch of kids in Taiwan and managing to pull through over a year under extreme (un)emotional circumstances there, my guess is it will be challenging but not impossible at all to settle down and fit in in Thailand. I’m still wearing these pink glasses to watch that amazing world: I am aware of potential traps, but my positive attitude is still overwhelming, and I know the limitations of my ability to live in a different culture quite well by now. The remark got me thinking about culture shocks I have had, but it’s rather the pleasant “culture bumps” that come to my mind if I remember my five months in Thailand. The likes of:
– Great, these people have realised that not everybody is an anorexic XXS size, and they have jeans for a farang with an oversized behind.
– Amazing, men look into my eyes in the street and smile at me. And no, their eyes don’t necessarily wander further down.
– People treat me with respect despite seeing that I’m ugly, big and have a crappy old mobile phone. (Surprising that I find that positively shocking, uhm?)
– Religion is not confined within the four walls of the temple, it doesn’t evaporate into thin air when it comes out to “real life”.
– With the eyes of a layperson regarding economics – economy seems to be spinning, with all the food stalls, flower garland sellers, laundries, railway station cleaners; giving jobs to people and more free time to other people – or just the chance for longer working hours? I haven’t figured this one out yet, but for some reason, the phenomenon appeals to me. Life is on the move.
– Education and educated people are highly regarded, when admitting that I’m a teacher (to a ticket seller at the tourist office, or wherever), I didn’t get giggles or that typical sour face expressing that I’m low class: on the contrary. I’m vain, it feels awesome not to be looked down on all the time, to be honest….
But you all know that…. it’s all commonplace. I just wanted to remark that all these positive bumps and similar minute things make a huge difference. Change your facial expression. Change your self-respect. Slowly and irresistibly change the way you relate to people and yourself and the world. You open up, you learn to trust people. You dare to express positive emotions and bonding, you learn to give and get with less or no fear. And then who cares about tuktuks bumping into you, being overcharged at times, almost getting killed by funny Thai friends putting chilis in your food while you look the other way, not understanding what’s going on all the time, having your slippers stolen from the racks at a temple? Who cares you shouldn’t be angry and shouldn’t shout at others and challenge others and speak your mind all the time? You won’t often feel like shouting, anyway, that’s my guess. You learn “maipenrai”. No, I’m not scared of impossible-to-handle culture shocks. Why would I? It feels like going home now. Moving to a new house takes some getting used to as well, so you cannot get away lightly with moving to a new country.
I tell you what. The only thing I couldn’t get used to at my pre-school in Taiwan was the way small kids were humiliated. The way they were beaten up if their handwriting was ugly at the age of five, and the way they were forced to eat the food from the floor after vomiting it when they were sick. The way they were forced to go to school when they had pneumonia or other serious illness with high fever. I might even end up being able to keep a lighter shade of pink glasses if I don’t have to face similar things in the Land of Smiles.
We’ll see – I’ll keep you posted.