On July 15, 2008 I woke up in a musty New York City hotel room, my bags packed, my eyes puffy from tears and a heavy rain falling outside. I had finished saying goodbye to family, friends and my favorite city. All that was left to do was board the plane for a new and foreign city without the slightest idea of what I would meet on the other side.
A year later, I still exit the airport with the feeling that someone has hit me in the face with a smelly, wet sock _ a sensation that was all too depressing when I first stepped into the thick, fetid Bangkok air. The language barrier continues to plague my everyday efforts to grocery shop, take a taxi, pay bills, etc. I am still annoyed by the lack of common sense, lack of awareness of others in public spaces and the unwillingness to deviate from the rules, no matter how ridiculous. I have a developed an immense hatred for cab drivers that threatens to put me in a rage at the very sight of them _ something I blame on the Thai tendency to try and rip off foreigners.
But many of the quirks and characteristics about this city that initially felt scary and insurmountable have now mostly become charming qualities _ the inordinately annoying ones listed above are exempted from this category. I have found a home here populated by great friends, exotic places to travel, luxuries I couldn’t expect at home and a friendly and relaxed environment that on most days feels like vacation.
I see elephants on the street on my way to meet friends for dinner. My ride to work on the SkyTrain costs less than $1. I eat incredible Thai food daily. And I have traveled to places I only ever dreamed of _ Hong Kong, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Singapore and the stunning beaches of Thailand.
These material benefits have enriched my life, not only providing a comfort I didn’t expect to enjoy before the age of 30, but helping me to mature, relax my attitude and find happiness. This year has given me confidence to know I will find success no matter the challenge. To discover just how much I love and care for the people closest to me. To find my way out of the maze and confusion of my early 20s and come out the other end (in Bangkok of all places) with a surer sense of self and a confidence in my choices. And to find love _ in the unlikeliest of places, on a staircase in Hong Kong.
Bangkok was the best decision I never made. The idea of moving to a region of the world I had never seen and knew nothing about terrified me. But there was never a doubt that I was going to come here. It was one of those opportunities you don’t pass up. And despite the difficulty of overcoming those first hard months, I have developed a love and respect for this city and for every place I have visited. Asia and I now have a bond _ we fight sometimes but deep down we love each other.
I love this city, its charms and its irritating idiosyncrasies. And when I leave it will be with a heavy heart and a hope that I get to come back some day.
The saying goes that if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. It’s a lie. It’s Bangkok that has given me the biggest and most rewarding challenge. One that has changed me, reshaped me and ultimately made my life.
So far anyway…