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balance (2): roller coaster

Sunday, March 6, 2005

roller coaster

there are stages that an expat goes through in adjusting to a different culture. i don’t know them exactly but as far as i remember it goes like this: for a while when you first move in and are living day to day amongst everything that is different, you are infatuated with it all. you love the people, are fascinated by everything they do, and will defend them vigorously. the language is silly and endearing. the food is strange, new, and undeniably delicious, and you are voracious for it. the sex, your conversations with service workers, the weird, cheesy tv shows and music, the crazy traffic, the styles of dress, the little quirks all make you marvel deliriously. you spend more waking time out exploring than in relaxing. i went through this phase the first few years of travelling to thailand.

the second stage is when you have been burned once or twice, as of course this being real life you will. you start to realize everyone around you is human, that “they” lie to you quite possibly more than they tell the truth. that you are an alien and will never be accepted as one of them, that the sex isn’t so great and the food has gotten boring and the way they do business is stupid and corrupt, that their priorities are nonexistent along with their morals, that they’re filthy and unsophisticated and the cities are disorganized and laws make no sense, and everything is unsafe or misrepresented. You start to look for others like you and commiserate together that the country is in short full of subhumans and you wish you could change everything but now you are stuck, having made a commitment. i have been in this stage for quite awhile (though as you can see from my last post it hasn’t changed the basic fact that i am happy here), and my relationship with thais can from here on only be guarded because of it.

the next stage i am anticipating is acceptance, when you have settled in more comfortably and start to give the people a break. you realize the place is full of contradictions and surprises and welcome them, you start to understand the language, you eat the food interspersed with your own, you have dropped some of your acquaintances and start making real friends. you know how to get around the laws, have gotten a decent job, and stopped using air conditioning and hot water religiously. you actually watch the tv shows and can hum along to the music. you go to locals spots instead of tourist bars to feel relaxed, and are irritated when you run into people of your own ilk, who just don’t seem to get it yet. you find a lover whom you don’t take too seriously but nevertheless like a lot, and the sex is good. you circumnavigate the traffic via secret routes which you have discovered, and can spot or negotiate the good bargains. you can’t imagine leaving....

we’ll see how long it takes...

what brought this up is the fact that someone sent me a free e-book written by a farang writer in thailand- 'private dancer', by stephen leather. it's the story of a british man who falls in love with a thai bargirl, who takes him for all he is worth, and is a great (if jaded) commentary on thai culture vs. our culture, and dealing with it as an expat (well, sexpat really). if you are interested in reading it, you can download it for free here (right click and 'save target as'). i read it all in one sitting.


Blogger Rice Paddy Daddy said...

I've been toying with the idea of retiring on Phuket and maybe even buying a rental property there in the meantime.

I've spent a lot of time in Thailand over the last 7 years and seem to also see it a little differently than I did the first few times I visited.

I think it's easy to get emotional from time to time while living in a foreign culture where you are kind of like an Alice in Wonderland.

Notions of what's right and wrong tend to be completely different than what we might be used to back home. Sometimes understanding the language helps - but not always.

As a footnote to your post, I read an article recently in the paper where the person being interviewed worked in the real estate business in Thailand. She was saying that it isn't unusual for these guys to arrange agreements with local girls to purchase property and houses and then when the law firms contact the girls to transfer over the title of the property they refuse.

A lot of guys get burned, apparantly.

1:28 AM  

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