I’m unsure how long I anticipated living in Bangkok when I moved here three years ago, now I find myself wondering how I can leave. “how I can leave”, ‘how’ is the correct adverb as leaving Bangkok is not a ‘can I leave’ decision, it is how to leave the life I lead here. At some point over the past three years, I stopped living in Bangkok and began to live in the culture of Bangkok and of Thailand. I stopped trying to live ‘my’ life in Bangkok and started trying to live a Bangkok life; blending my life with Bangkok and the Thai culture.
At this point, I am so accustomed to the Bangkok way of life, which includes everything from street-side eating to paying your bills at seven-eleven, that I have basically forgotten my former way of living. The same thing happened to me in San Francisco, as a local you don’t notice the oddities of San Francisco and the people that make the city so unique; Bangkok has become the same, in a good way.
Leaving a city is easy, leaving a culture you enjoy and that you have not fully explored, grasped and understood is difficult; or, maybe not difficult, but not something I am not inclined to do at this point.
A common question I have been asked over the past three years “how could you leave San Francisco? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.” San Francisco is, and will always be, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When you live there, it becomes the center of the world. After 15 years I understood San Francisco, I was bored with my love for the city, I wasn’t exploring the city anymore, I had reduced the city to ‘my city’ centered around my neighborhood (Haight Street) and favorite places.
A benefit of living abroad has been the expansion of ‘my city.’ Bangkok as ‘my city’ started small, a comfort zone where I felt confident and filled with those who could understand my Thai, my grunting, sweating and pointing. As my confidence grew, so did ‘my Bangkok’ and then ‘my Thailand’. I have become more comfortable, my understanding of the culture has grown, I have left the friendly confines of the ‘farang soi’s’ and been able to explore more of the real Bangkok and Thailand.
This exploration has gone from the famous- Krabi, Phuket, Chiang Mai and more, to the small and off the beaten path- Koh Mak, Wang Nam Kiaw, small beaches in Rayong. The more I explore Thailand, the more I feel there is to see, to experience, to understand.
I have changed my life, it’s simplified. I didn’t buy a car and rent a furnished condo, this eliminates loads of responsibility, bills and upkeep. Like many, I pay the few bills I have at seven eleven, so there is no need to even have a checking account. The simplification in my lifestyle and reduction of the multitude of issues of things like a car has added to my enjoyment of living in Bangkok.
I also eat out, mostly street-food, almost every night. I enjoy the experiences of eating out, it’s probably cheaper than going to the grocery store and buying everything to cook at home and is certainly much tastier. The widespread availability of food is great part of Bangkok and keeping things simple- it would be an odd concept for me to move back to America and not be able to find fifteen different kinds of street-food within a ten minute walk of where I live.
I no longer mull the question of ‘when’ I will leave, it has now become ‘if’ I will ever leave, the changing of ‘when’ to ‘if’ is the definitive measure of my time in Thailand- it has been great and I have grown and learned from the experience.
There are days when I miss ‘home’- many times it’s the simple aspects of life at home, like being able to speak in my native tongue or the ability to grab comfort foods quickly that I miss. Being abroad for this amount of time also brings up the topic of relevance, my views on many American issues are not up to date, I cannot put forth relevant points, arguments and facts about many of the key issues in America as I don’t watch television and my reading of American newspapers and magazines has fallen off over the past eighteen months.
What I miss about San Francisco includes: the fog, Golden Gate Park, the beer, wine and cheese; the live music (I still check the concert calendar for the Bottom of the Hill club weekly),the hills, the hipsters and the coffee houses.
Of course there are things that frustrate the hell out of me in Bangkok: motorcycles driving on the sidewalks, graft, the traffic, walking through a massive cloud of MSG from a sidewalk vender frying something up and of course there are days when it is so hot outside you just laugh. And stay inside.
There are many great countries and cultures around the world, living in one other than your own is a great experience. Living in Southern Asia has allowed me to see many different countries, 8 different countries are within a 2.5 hour plane ride. I enjoy living in Thailand, it is certainly my choice for Southern Asia. I’ve learned a great deal about Thailand, culture and the entire region during my time living here. As much as I have learned about countries and culture, I’ve leaned a lot more about myself by living here.