My friend M and I were looking at new places to live when she whispered how she didn’t like the bars on windows. Many Thai homes have bars on the windows for security reasons.
“Where I’m from, this is a sign of a bad neighborhood.”
I shrugged, “I guess I’m used to it.”
Then I thought about what an interesting cultural difference this was. To Thais, bars on windows mean safe, but to the American M (and others), the bars signified dangerous. Then I wondered why I was okay with it? Perhaps seeing them in Filipino neighborhoods in Hawaii made it feel more familiar. I don’t know. Currently, I live in a house with bars on the windows, although they are decorative.
Unlike my other expat friends, I don’t go back to the United States every year. The last time I was in Hawaii was in 2009. And in 2010 I stopped over very briefly in Alabama on my way back from Ecuador to Thailand. Ever since, well, I’ve been here.
Of course, I’d like to do a grand US tour and visit family and friends. I do miss America, but not enough to do anything about it – yet. So, my expat experience of living in SE Asia feels less casual and more concentrated because I haven’t had those brief holiday family interruptions that remind me of what makes Thailand – Thailand.
At this point, I’m wondering what it will be like to go back and see – not only if and how the US has changed, but how have I changed? Is it even possible for me to analyze and see my former self, the person I was before I arrived? Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about internal changes, I’ve already written about that, I’m talking about visible ones, the habits and the everyday pickins. Let’s see if I can give it a try…
I don’t think I stand as straight and tall as I used to. You have to crouch when you walk in front of other people, even if it is just a little, to be polite (And my momma raised me to be polite). I remember when someone told me that they could tell I was not Thai by the way I carried myself. I guess I looked more confident? I wonder if I still have that quality. If I don’t, I want it back.
When I’m driving a motorbike I’m much more calm about drivers cutting me off and other rude (grounds for an ass whoopin’ back in the US of A) behavior. You have to be, because the rules for driving here are sooooo different.
And I’m sure everyone else is doing this but, I pick bugs out of my food and keep eating. I eat with a fork and spoon. I put my noodles in the little dish spoon like I saw a woman in Bangkok do every time I eat noodle soup. If I have a choice of silverware, I usually grab a spoon. And I remember when it was the fork (Sorry, fork).
Oh, I pick my nose more often, too – in public. Nah, just kidding. Well, sort of. It’s kind of dusty driving around on a motorbike.
And after 4-5 years of living here, it’s safe to say my diet and my eating habits have changed. I eat much more spicy foods. Most male expats I know lose weight. But I think because I’m American Asian, the diet here fits my mixed-mashed background of both Western and Asian foods so I don’t feel like something is missing or particularly unhealthy.
I don’t think my diet is as clean as it was in the US. I ate meat only once or twice a week, cooked at home and didn’t eat pork. Then again, I probably eat a greater variety of fruits because Thailand has so much to offer. And I’m baking less, so I’m eating less cookies. I actually think this is a classic expat debate. Are you healthier here or back home?!
Yeah, I look in the mirror more often, too. I remember walking through MBK in BKK (is there another one?) and being shocked by the amount of bored cashiers and salespeople looking at themselves in their mirrors, plucking out white hair, popping a zit or applying more makeup. Now, I haven’t gone that far, but I definitely notice that I check myself out more often. It seems okay to be concerned with your appearance here, although in the US this would be considered vanity.
I sweep every day. Did I mention Thailand’s kind of dusty and there are always critters and their business to clean up? Remember carpet?!
Not too long ago I was discussing how absurd it is that it’s considered acceptable and normal to have diarrhea on a semi-regular basis. I think we live in a time and age where we should all understand the importance of hand washing with soap and handling food appropriately, yet expats (and Thais) know that tóng sĭa is considered part of life. Some swear it’s the street food, and others like me think it can happen anywhere.
But perhaps the biggest habit or change for me is the way I dress. I’m a more conservative dresser. At my old job, I was actually known for my dresses by both the students and the faculty. I also paint my nails regularly. In the States, I never did them, but once my friend Julia turned me on to getting a pedicure, I was hooked.
Overall though, I don’t dress as American as I used to. I was a shorts, tee-shirt and sneakers kind of gal. Nowadays, I can’t tell you the last time I put on a pair of tennis shoes. I think I’ve embraced a femininity that was always there, but needed an excuse to come out. I’m not like a girly-girl, but I’m not as sporty-looking anymore. And that’s a surprise because I didn’t expect to start dressing differently just because I became an expat.
Oh, and I no longer trust dogs.
How have you changed?