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.