Thailand is a wonderful country. It is also a very very strange country. Day in and day out I see ridiculous things _ most of which don’t even phase me as I near my one year anniversary in Bangkok. Yet, the most absurd things deserve note for those living in far more conventional places. And for most of them there is one universal explanation (utter by many a befuddled expat): It’s Thailand.
Today I left work for a brief lunch break and passed a couple of Thai women, wearing wellies, pouring water on the entrance to a parking garage and using an electric floor buffer to clean it. What possible use could this have? Is it not essentially a road that will perpetually be dirty? Why do they do this? Because it’s Thailand.
I was on a motorbike after work going to the pool to get some sun. But a few minutes into my trip, I saw the forbidding clouds indicating an impending storm typical of the rainy season and decided to go home instead. But despite telling my motorbike driver the change in address, he still took me to my original destination before turning around. The whole ride home I was formulating my argument for not paying him extra as I was convinced he would try to swindle me. Turns out, he accepted my 50 baht and drove off. What’s the reason for this paranoia? Everyone tries to swindle the farangs (Westerners). Because it’s Thailand.
And last night I was about to turn onto my street when a motorbike driving through the intersection bit it. He took the turn too hard and the bike slide right out from underneath him. Did he call the cops? Was an ambulance summoned to ensure there was no massive internal bleeding? No. He just dusted off his broken mirror, dragged his bike to his discarded flip flop 10 feet away _ the only casualty of the accident _ and drove off. I was on a motorbike. Second thoughts about jumping on? Not a one. How come??
Because it’s Thailand.
I can tell you quite immodestly that the expat lifestyle is exotic and exciting. I see elephants on the street every week, I eat strange tropical fruits only available in this part of the world for 30 cents, I travel to world-class destinations for less than $200. There is little to complain about that one wouldn’t grumble about at home.
But there is a sad facet of this life that one never quite gets used to: the goodbyes.
The experience of living overseas is a revolving door. People come to Bangkok for six months or a year and then return home when their contracts are up or their projects are over. Goodbyes are said, dinners are held, drinks are raised, and those of us who stay behind wish them luck before they fly west.
It is a painful and jarring experience to watch friends who have provided your only real sense of family and companionship leave. As you adjust to a new culture, language, cuisine and lifestyle your friends bring an enormous amount of comfort and reassurance. They are a support system and a family away from home. They get you through the rough beginning months with jokes and assuring stories of their own trials. And they get you through the months after, reinforcing your happiness with a deeper and closer friendship _ coming over to lend a shoulder when adversity strikes or even just visiting to help you pack for a long weekend away (whilst recklessly encouraging you to drink copious amounts of vodka and chain smoke).
Thus it is a scary and unnerving process that must be endured over and over. But those goodbyes do provide a valuable perspective, showing you the importance of each person and the friendship you have fostered.
Some leave and the effect is surprisingly minimal _ not because they meant less to you, but perhaps because your relationship served a valuable if temporary purpose.
Others are dearly missed, and memories of trips and dinners and jokes persist long after they’re gone.
Then there is the unexpected friendship with a woman whose impending departure is enough to bring tears. It is when you realize that this person who was introduced by a mutual friend based on geography and a shared experience has in fact become the most cherished friend.