Moving To Thailand | Home Alone
Alone In Thailand For The First Time
I have been a single, working parent for the past two weeks. P has been in the US taking care of some business, while Ingrid and I stayed in Hua Hin, performing our normal, daily rituals. I take her to school every morning and then proceed either to work or to yoga first and then work. I know I have it good when I can drop into a yoga class before heading into work, or take Luna for a jog on the beach before dropping Ingrid at school–believe me, I appreciate all the perks of living in Thailand. I suppose if I had to be a single, working mother in any country, Thailand is where I’d want to be.
I have also had the luxury of working with my spouse for the past ten years. Some people tell me flat out that they’d be divorced within five minutes if they had to work with their husband/wife, and I know that it can be difficult, but overall, I love it. I love having that interaction and creative energy together, and really understanding what the other person does all day because I’m there, doing the same thing. That’s why having P gone is doubly hard: I depend on him at home and at work, and have become accustomed to having him around all the time as my grounding force and my rock, to bounce ideas off of and just to joke around with throughout the day.
Alone In Thailand and Free From The “Spousal Bubble”
For the past nine months, we’ve been working in real estate (I know, shameless plug, sorry) here in Hua Hin, and we constantly meet people from all over the world. These days, I’ve been interacting with more than my usual number of clients, and just in the past two weeks I’ve met people from Germany, Australia, France, Holland, Switzerland and Sweden. The other day I met an interesting German guy who had just moved to Hua Hin with his wife and young son. He is taking over as the assistant general manager at the Sofitel, and while I drove him around looking for a rental house, we had some very interesting conversations (it’s always fascinating for me to speak with other people in the hospitality industry–it’s like an occult club that nobody can understand unless you’ve been there). As we were chatting, he said something that really resonated with me: when living abroad with your spouse or partner, it’s really important to experience the country on your own. He said that every year, he and his wife make a point of traveling on their own for a few weeks or a month at a time. This gives the other person a chance to venture outside the “spousal bubble” and comfort zone and to make a personal, intimate connection with the country and inhabitants on one’s own.
I have to admit that for the past two weeks I’ve used work as an excuse to not explore beyond my own comfort zone, but this weekend, I pushed myself to do things I normally wouldn’t have done. Ingrid and I were invited to a birthday party for a friend of hers, and while I like the parents of the birthday girl, I wouldn’t say we are super close. Nevertheless, I was asked to make the cake. As a side note, I’ve unintentionally become Hua Hin’s resident baker. I now get requests to bake cakes for all kinds of occasions. Carrot and chocolate are my speciality, but today I had a request for a white cake. I made the cake, a modest thing really, especially since I have no real cake pans. All my cakes are rectangular, which doesn’t feel quite as festive as a triple layer round cake. I iced the cake prior to leaving the house, and as I went over the first of many potholes on the way to the party, the cake split open, revealing a huge crater down the middle. I wasn’t too concerned, thinking that it would be a tiny party and no one would really care about a crack in the cake. Well, I showed up to the house and was blown away by the sheer amount of food piled high on all surfaces. There was an enormous tray of fried chicken (the really good kind with no batter, just meat marinated in fish sauce, brown sugar and baby garlic and fried until the skin is crispy); more watermelon than I’d ever seen congregated in one place; and every kind of Thai salad imaginable (all incredibly spicy and delicious); not to mention homemade curries, relishes, grilled steaks, etc. Suddenly, my puny, cracked cake seemed grossly inadequate. I began to dread the rest of the afternoon.
The dynamic of the party was one that I’ve become used to, but will never fit into: Thai wives, Western men and their kids. The men and women tend to split into two separate groups and don’t interact with each other at all for the duration of the party. The children run around in a huge mass, all different ages and sizes, tearing through the adults‘ camps occasionally to grab a bite to eat or a cold sip of something. I started out in the men’s group, because obviously, I can communicate better with native English speakers. I noticed quickly, however, that the conversation became increasingly forced and awkward feeling, and once I excused myself and took my place among the women, the atmosphere immediately relaxed and words flowed more easily. I wish I could say it was the same for me with the women. I tried to follow along, and while I could scrape together the general topics, I certainly couldn’t contribute anything in a timely or articulate fashion. The women were very sweet, trying to include me in their conversations, occasionally translating so I could understand their jokes. I appreciated it very much, but still didn’t feel like I could relate.
It was a frustrating and exhausting experience, but very interesting. I realized, poignantly, that I will never fit in here. I can enjoy my time in Thailand, and I may even make some great friends, Thai and Western alike, but try as I might, this will never really, truly be home for me. But I’m ok with that. I don’t plan to stay here forever, and I can stand to feel like an outsider for a little while. Some people have to experience that feeling their whole lives. I’ve had the luxury of assimilating for 32 years; I can stand a year or two of discomfort. And while part of me really missed having my husband there with me, I was kind of glad that I was alone. I know I wouldn’t have sat with all the Thai women and tried to follow their conversations if P had been with me. I would have been happy to stay with him at the English speaking man table and been quite comfortable listening to their man talk.
My second experience of the day was quite different. I had to leave the birthday party early because I had another engagement, this time with a group of expat women. One of the moms from Ingrid’s school had been desperate to get out of the house without her husband or children in tow. She planned a ladies’ night out, and had invited me and a few other mothers to meet for drinks and dinner in downtown Hua Hin. I was feeling exhausted from the first party, and Ingrid was freaking out about me leaving, but I decided to go anyway, thinking I might not have another opportunity like this anytime soon. And I am so glad I went. While the first party felt like work the whole time, and I could appreciate it for the character-building session it provided me, it really wasn’t that enjoyable. The second experience, however, was pure pleasure. It felt so good to relate to someone, to commiserate, to laugh and joke about the crazy things we’ve seen and done here.
Alone In Thailand But Not (So) Lonely
I completely understand why expatriates tend to congregate together: it’s important to belong to a group. I always felt a little superior to the other expats in the sense that our family had made Thai friends early on and really tried to be as “authentic” as possible. I realize now how ridiculous that notion was–how did we ever think we could assimilate? And why did we feel that we had to? Don’t get me wrong; I still firmly believe in learning the language, trying to understand the culture, and befriend as many Thais as will have us, but it doesn’t have to be about feeling superior anymore. And I don’t have to turn my nose up at expats who stick together (though I still wonder, what’s the point of living in a foreign country if you don’t even try to interact with the locals?) P returns the day after tomorrow, and while I’ve missed him terribly and am looking forward to having him home, I’m really thankful for this experience of being on my own in Thailand. I feel so much more confident navigating life here in Hua Hin, and I realize that I like it for what it really is, not just because my husband likes it or because I like being with him. I think I’ll have to stop by the Sofitel and thank the German guy for his incredible insight. Maybe I’ll even bake him a cake.