Behind the Smile

Thailand: the land of smiles. It’s great.

But the longer I spend here, the more I realize the depths that are hidden behind the smile; the unwritten social code, the saving face mentality, the expectations and cultural nuances that visiting farang fail to notice. It’s exhausting trying to figure it all out! To give yourself even more of a headache, Thai’s usually won’t tell you when you are doing something wrong because they want you to save face. Rest assured that even though you think you are doing everything just right, if your not your neighbors are discussing you in Thai as you listen in and wonder what it is they are talking about. As an American this whole avoiding correcting people thing makes absolutely no sense to me. If someone is doing something wrong, you tell them so they don’t look like an idiot.  Fortunately I work with a bunch of 13 year olds who couldn’t care less about saving my face and tell me straight up if I am crossing any lines. At least I have them.

I know it hasn’t been long, but Thailand still doesn’t feel quite as homey and I would have thought. New Zealand has become a second home for me, more a part of me than I ever expected, and there are people I would consider my best friends in both America and New Zealand. When I was in New Zealand I would be missing things back in the States but it was ok, because while I was far away from the action I was nestled into another comfort zone, another home. I didn’t feel totally estranged from everything I know and love because I was also surrounded by it. I recently read this article that my friend sent me about living abroad and a lot of it struck a chord in me. Now that I find myself on the wrong side of a language barrier and in a country and culture where I feel as though I can live in but not become a part of, I realize just how much this little life dichotomy has changed me. I would spend time in America dreaming about New Zealand and vice versa, but now I am away from all of it I realize just how much of both places I have melted into.

More often than not these days I feel even more torn away from everything than before. People are getting married left and right (seriously you guys need to just slow it down, I didn’t even know half of you were dating and all of the sudden the facebooks is telling me you got married. Say whaaaaaaat?), babies are being born, careers are being launched, friendships are being solidified and experiences are being shared without me. Just recently a friend of mine died in a climbing accident in New Zealand. It is heart wrenching not only to hear the news but also to know that I cant be there for my friends who are grieving. It’s  hard to be away from those who share your sadness and even harder knowing that I am not readily available. I cant even talk about it with anyone because I just met my fellow American co-workers and everyone else doesn’t know enough English to have a conversation past the basics.

Despite this though I can’t complain…since leaving New Zealand I have worked at a black pearl farm, jumped off waterfalls, rode elephants, pet tigers, swam with rays and sharks in some of the bluest water I have ever seen, partied on Haad Rin for the full moon, and am now teaching. I’ve certainly run the gamut of experiences lately, but I am also realizing the value of being there with the ones you care about most. My relationships with friends and family are limited to coordinating Skype dates somewhere between varied schedules and time zones. I want to write about the things I have been doing (and more has happened lately so I will), but I have been busy mulling over why it is I have felt so weird lately. I cant help but think that by the time I leave I will have meshed more into Bung Kan and will end up leaving a tiny part of me here as well. I am living the dream like I have always wanted but at the moment Thailand, for all it’s smiles and laughter, can be a lonely place.

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