My culture-crossing experience when I moved to Thailand wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I thought it would be. I imagined that I’d feel so out of place, see one too many cockroaches, and have some kind of public meltdown. While I definitely had my moments of frustration and utter confusion in that year and a half, many of the differences were welcome changes for me.
People see you. They say hello and offer you something, even if they have very little. The generosity is so humbling. They invite you into their home, they feed you, and they don’t waste any energy trying to portray some kind of A+ lifestyle. They put themselves out there, for better or worse; and they let you do the same. And thankfully there were no fashion police around. My hair drier caught on fire the one time I tried using it, so I was fine with settling into low-maintenance mode.
Life is simple. Homes are small, motorbikes or bicycles are sufficient, and the local shops or markets have everything you need (although maybe not everything you want, like Blizzards from DQ or granola bars). There were no malls or movie theaters, so you had to be creative and learn to enjoy the simple stuff. My friend and I used to buy ice cream and go sit in front of our favorite field when we wanted to do something special.
And people there share. They aren’t possessive of their things, but are happy to give whatever they have if it’ll help someone. Neighbors look out for each other. Actually, they need each other. They rely on one another for the daily stuff just to get by. In extreme cases, someone in the community will even take in a child as their own if the parents are removed from the picture for whatever reason.
It’s beautiful. There are so many things I saw and experienced that I want to keep with me back in here the US, but the longer I’m stateside, the less I’m shocked by a commercial for a pill that relieves dehydration, or by our sexualization of women, or our infatuation with celebrities. We’re encouraged to have more and better, and the clutter can be numbing.
But no culture is perfect, and there were things that I was sad to see in Thailand, too.
Many men cheat on their wives, and it seems to be expected. Customer service is non-existent at best, infuriating at worst. Conflict is handled by avoiding it, and it’s not okay to just bring up issues. I learned this the hard way when my friend was asked to find another place to live after we showed our frustration with her landlord. Also, it’s okay to tell a woman she’s fat... something I never happily embraced.
I’ve been able to feel at home in two different cultures, and at times feel like I was dropped from outer space into both. I hope to experience more, though, because seeing different ways to live allows you to decide if you want it or not. I think God had an idea of what everything would look like, how we’d all treat each other, and that we can see pieces of it in play in different places... like we’ve all taken a shot at trying to live with one another, and we’ve all gotten some things right while falling painfully short at others.
It’s contrary to the way I grew up, but I’m interested now in having less and depending on other people more. And I hope I don’t ever settle for thinking that I have it all figured out, but will be willing to feel like an alien if it leads to experiencing life more like it was designed to be.