You Can’t Go Home Again
As I sit here and write this, we are in the middle of a major winter storm. The weather report says we may get another 15 – 18 inches of new snow. For those who actually have fond memories of winter, it is a scene right out of Currier and Ives. There is a sense of serenity that covers the landscape as thickly as the pristine white mantle setting in around me. But though my body may be here in rural Massachusetts, my mind and heart are on the other side of the planet, back in Thailand. I’m halfway through a brief visit back to America, and I’m already counting the days until I’m back home in Lampang.
Even though I’m happy to see old friends and to walk familiar streets, I feel as though I’m sleepwalking through the ghost of a reality that I’m no longer a part of. I’ve been enjoying long missed delights, such as fresh bagels ( real bagels!). So why do I miss the som tam lady so much?
I guess that 3 years living in Thailand has changed me more than I knew. I window shop in the local mall, but don’t have the desire to purchase a single thing. In fact I feel decidedly uneasy amid the affluence I see around me. I know that the folks back in Lampang couldn’t afford any of this stuff in a million years. I feel disconnected from everything I see on television. It has no relationship to my new life.
I try to explain what life is like in Thailand, and my friends nod their heads as if they understand what I’m saying, but I know that they are only being polite. The Thailand that I know is not the one illustrated in travel brochures. My adopted homeland is far from being paradise. Hell, there are enough warts and blemishes to scare away those who have not fallen under her siren song. I’ve certainly spent enough time elucidating some of the most glaring faults in Thai society. And yet now that I’m here in the land of plenty, I’d rather be back there! I must be a little crazy. After all, here I am virtually guaranteed that drivers will not kill me by running a red light. I can walk down the street without worrying that I will be accosted by a pack of mangy soi dogs. There is virtually no garbage on the ground. I don’t have to fear that my next restaurant meal will send me dashing for the toilet. Hey even the toilets here are clean and have toilet paper! There is zero chance of being “shaken down” by a local cop. So what is it that I miss?
Of course I miss my darling wife and my little boy, but there’s more to it than that. Life here, though clean, safe and affluent is just a little too dull and predictable. The shops here are so generic, that if you were led into them blindfolded, you wouldn’t know if you were in Massachusetts or Minnesota. (although many of you non-yankees might not notice the difference anyway!) In Thailand, aside from the relatively few number of large chain stores, shops have some individual character. Moreover, in Thailand you can go into a hardware store to purchase some pipe fittings and pick up some fruit at the front counter as well!
Here in America, people tend to keep to themselves. They may occasionally say hello to a neighbor or two, but tend to be reserved about intruding into their business. Back in my neighborhood in Lampang, we are guaranteed of hearing a full gossip report when my wife and I stroll my son around the block. What’s more, since Thai people only have one volume setting on the stereos (loud!) I will be treated to a serenade as well! Even though my students can at times be a bunch of unruly brats, I miss them as well. If nothing else, these kids keep me on my toes! I think that its this unpredictability that makes Thailand such a fun, if occasionally frustrating place to live. Massachusetts offers more structure and order, but come to think of it, it can be just a tad boring! In Thailand, when you wake up and head out the door, you truly don’t know what you will encounter! Some days you come home smiling while on others you are on the verge of a coronary. But at least you are rarely bored!
And right now I am feeling a bit bored. Tonight I’ll probably enjoy a real hamburger and real French fries, not too mention a real beer! (note: to all you who think America only produces swill such as Budweiser. There is plenty of tasty, locally brewed suds!) Then I will probably see a movie, which is something I never do in Thailand. I think some buttered popcorn will go down nicely. Hopefully I’ll be too busy for the next few days to miss home, but I confess that I’m ticking off the days on the calendar until I get on that Thai Airways flight. I’m sure my nostalgia for all things Thai will quickly evaporate when I gaze into the “ever friendly” face of a Thai Immigration official. I’m sure that the taxi driver who tries to overcharge me will add his bit of charm to my home coming. And just to make sure that I’m really back in the Land of Smiles, I’ll pay 3 baht at the bus station to make use of the sparkling clean sanitary facilities. Oh well, it may not be perfect, but it's home. Welcome back to Thailand!
In many ways what you describe is rather scary. Many of us who work in Thailand get fed up with life here, or at least aspects of life here and consider heading back to what we know. Thailand changes you and imagine if you were truly fed up in Thailand and headed back home to find that it had changed and / or you had changed, and it just didn't work out how you had hoped. Now Thailand doesn't work and your homeland doesn't work. It's a really scary thought!