“This is weirder than Bangkok,” Rick mumbled and looked at me in disbelief as we stood in the middle of Fred Meyer wondering where our full-to-the-brim shopping cart had gone. We had just finished a grueling, grocery marathon of Christmas dinner stuff – two days before Christmas. Rib Roast, fancy IPA beer and local wines. While all are available back in Thailand, these speciality items cost about a million Baht. So, this was going to be an epic American meal.
And then, “Let’s just get a few pairs of socks”, I say. “Let’s just leave the cart over here for a minute”, I say. Gone. Someone took our full cart. The weirdest thing is, we hadn’t yet purchased anything. I hadn’t even left my purse in the basket. Why in the world would someone take our cart? Our first thought was someone accidentally took it instead of their own. Customer service helped us search the store for an abandoned buggy. Nothing. Finally, our frustration got the best of us and we just left. But, as we walked out of the store, it occurred to me that it was entirely possible that someone just took our food and ran. It would have been easy given the hordes of shoppers and nothing in the cart that would set off an alarm. A person with a cart-load of food would have just blended into the maddening crowd.
My heart softened a bit. My inconvenience, yes. But someone else’s desperation to provide a lovely – and I mean lovely – holiday meal. Just the day before, we had been watching the news. There was a feature about all kinds of alarms and cameras and gadgets that are available to ward off Christmas Gift thieves. The heightened and overwhelming expectations of the holidays. Both material… and emotional. My own included.
Coming home for the holidays. I didn’t think I had “heightened” expectations, until I got here. I read up on “reverse culture shock” and similar to when we arrived in Thailand, I thought I “knew.” Well, not so much.
I have had a few dashed hopes and expectations. For example, do you know how dark it is in the Pacific Northwest? I’ve only lived here for well, my whole life, and had no idea just how dark it gets. Even on a “sunny” day the sun never gets higher than about a 45 degree angle from the earth. Amazing. And dark.
Donald Trump won the election. Wow. And, while some people are happy about this, others’ want to have the PNW secede from the U.S. to become Cascadia. I had no idea. My question. What will the flag look like?
Everyone is super casual here. A bank teller in jeans, flannel and fleece? Really? This isn’t necessarily bad but, where’s the perfectly tailored uniform with snappy hat? I kinda miss that.
Boy, it’s expensive!! Are you kidding me? $80.00 for a room at the Motor Inn (Thai equivalent – $30.00) ; $10.00 for lunch (Thai equivalent – $2.00); $1.50 for bottled water (Thai equivalent – $.30); $60.00 for a one hour massage (Thai equivalent – $6.00). Good thing for the boys that I did my Christmas shopping in Bangkok!
Traffic is crazy!! It makes no sense!! People drive on the other side of the road, stay in their lanes and wait for an opening of at least two car lengths before merging. Then, they get mad and honk their horns at you when you simply pass on the right. Plus, you are expected to look before you change lanes. Whatever.
You can drink water straight out of the tap! O.K., this is NOT a dashed hope. Actually, I’ve been going hog-wild on this one. (See “cost of bottled water” above.)
Seriously, who would have thought that Thailand would ever start to feel normal. I have actually stopped doing “double-takes” when scooters with five passengers go by; I feel constrained when I wear my bike helmet; I arrive to work after my morning market ride and can’t remember the exotic details of my journey; I get cold in an air-conditioned room and turn the temperature up; I eat soup for breakfast and add more chili to my curry.
And, because it feels normal, I realize that the trajectory of my life has changed ever so slightly.
Recently, a friend told me she has decided to leave Thailand and go back to Canada at the end of this year. We talked of our shared fear of returning to our home countries. Mundane fears about the cost of living, the weather and driving on the other side of the road. And our deeply raw fears: fear of the negative results of untended relationships and long forgotten family obligations; the fear that our most treasured friends and family will not understand our experience. The fear of not belonging.
The fact is, this international life changes you. And the change isn’t like this great epiphany or some sort of enlightenment. It’s like gradually stepping outside of everything and not being able to – and perhaps not wanting to – step back in. Yet it’s not a rejection. It’s just a fact. And when you think about it, not all that weird, really.