Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy New Year 2014


New Year Greetings from a Foreign Land,

 

As nearly a year has already passed since the start of a new life in a new land, I thought a little update is in order.  Just to note, I am having the time of my life here and regret nothing about the move with the exception of leaving friends.

 

I am loving Thailand for many reasons which include economy of living expenses, Buddhism as a “to each, his own” way of life -not even a religion really-, relaxed no hurry atmosphere, being able to get anywhere in the city within 15 minutes on a motorbike, Thai food, and the intrigue of the very different Thai culture.

 

In preparing for this move, I learned that many expats become bored with Thailand after the exoticness has worn off.  They become frustrated with “Thainess” and the inconveniences –which there are many- as a trade-off to live here.  These expats usually have never learned the language and have limited their friends to English speakers and never tried to integrate into the culture.  My lesson in reading about this prompted me to get culturally involved as soon as possible.

 


My connections here have largely been made through Albert who I knew back in Three Rivers decades ago.  He had moved to Alaska to become a fisherman and he and his Alaskan friends have been spending winters in Thailand for many years.  So on my initial vacation trip here two years ago I began to meet some of these Alaskan “part timers” who enjoyed the warm weather, Thai food, and inexpensive living.  As I honed my preferences of where in the country I wanted to live, I found Dave living in Chiang Mai with his girlfriend Nut.  Correspondence with Dave lead me to my present apartment where he and Nut reside also.  The apartment rental price is low, location good, and the landlady is very accommodating.  My unit has a furnished living room, large bedroom with two beds, built-in closets, and an open balcony facing the direction of town with a kitchen at one end and a bathroom at the other end.  I like having the kitchen outside (enclosed on three sides) since the odors of cooking and kitchen heat don’t permeate the living quarters.  It is also always warm enough to shower in the enclosed bathroom.  In fact I have only closed the sliding glass doors from the balcony a few times in hot season to use the aircon since the weather is most agreeable in all five seasons.  Thailand has an added “rainy season” to the winter, summer, spring, and fall.  Short sleeves can be worn year-round except, perhaps, on an early morning motorcycle ride in the cool season.  A light (very light) blanket is only necessary on the coolest nights.

 


The weather is very tolerable with a minimum of bugs and mosquitoes.  Life is easy not having to dress for anything except warm weather and the occasional downpour that will last a hour at the most (in rainy season only).  Fruit grows wild all around and quite good street food is available everywhere for a dollar.

                   

I ride a motorbike since owning a car would be a burden.  Motorcycles are kings of the road and a 15 minute trip on a bike would take 45 minutes in a car.  Mountains, well high hills, are right at our back door and riding up there is a cool and pleasant outing.  Even 3 or 4 day trips are easy on the motorbike since the weather always cooperates.

 

In the first months of settling in, I joined a quirky choir I first heard perform outside town.  It was a strange combination of foreign harmonies and words to my ear.  I learned that these were traditional  ancient Bulgarian and Georgian songs sung a’capella and the harmonies were rich and complex.  I last sang in high school almost 50 year ago, but my love of singing still lingered.  I’ve been with the choir for eight months and we’ve performed a couple concerts and even at a TED talk.  The choir, called Global Harmonies, is becoming better known here and I expect we’ll be doing a world tour soon (just kidding).  My friends there speak with many different accents and conversations often break out into Dutch, French, and German.

 

Learning the Thai language was a priority in order to be able to function in a community other than the expat enclave.  There are many, many Thai language schools around, but most are short term sessions in 4 or 5 levels.  I knew Thai is difficult to learn and I could imagine myself taking one level and being discouraged enough to not take another.  The solution was to jump in with both feet and sign up at the local university language institute for a one-year course, so I’ve been studying there for 7 months.  We are not only learning to speak, but read and write as well, which the other courses do not offer.  Why learn a language if you cannot read it?  The class is also an introduction to Thai culture and we take field trips to museums, temples, craft outlets, and other things of interest.  Next week we’ll be cooking Thai food in class of our favorite foods.  We’ve each been given a recipe and list of ingredients which we’ll buy at a local market, bring back to the class kitchen and prepare using our recipe written in Thai.  We also must present our recipe and explain how to cook it to other classes that will come in to hear it.  They will ask questions which we must answer to the best of our ability.  Next week we’ll be making “sky lanterns” which we’ll launch in the upcoming Loi Krathong festival.

 


Life in Thailand is very difficult to explain since the concept of “Thainess” is such a cultural departure from anything I imagined or learned about in my one-year preparation to make this life-changing sojourn.  The first exposure to the Thai way for the western visitor is the concept of “saving face” which is taught from infancy as one of the most important personal aspect of a person’s identity.  To avoid loss of face a Thai person can never be made to feel uneducated, inadequate, in the wrong, or even mildly unaware.  This “lose of face” is a personal affront to a Thai person which manifests in what westerners would call outright lying.  To a Thai it is perfectly normal to make up a fantastical story rather than to appear to loose face, so a westerner can never tell if the information is correct or not.  Fortunately some stories are so outrageous that it becomes obvious immediately.  The answer to a question will never be “no”,  or “I don’t know” which makes it difficult to get directions, find something in a store, or even to find out what a Thai really thinks about something.  If a question about preference is asked of a Thai person, ie. “do you like this”, what would you like to do”, the answer will always be “up to you”.

 

I love my choice, but as always in Thailand things are subject to change.  At the present we have protest demonstrations in Bangkok pro government against anti government.  Apparently this happens fairly often and depending on the outcome sometimes can make changes to expat life in terms of visa regulations, healthcare, etc.

 


I welcome visitors any time if you can tolerate the long flight, but the best weather is Dec. through mid Feb.   March and April are not recommended since agriculture burning keeps us in a blanket of smoke from forest and rice field burning.

 

My best to you all