“Time, time, time, see what’s become of me.” – Hazy Shade of Winter, Simon & Garfunkel
Since moving abroad, I’ve taken on a different perception of time. I’m convinced time moves slower. Concepts like a “long time” and “being on time” are completely relative to the landscape, the people and the mode of transportation. Living overseas, specifically SE Asia has rubbed off some of my time-sensitive Americanism. My sanity, frankly, can’t afford it to be any other way.
Childhood was an endless ocean of waiting: waiting for my mom, waiting for appointments, waiting for adults to get their shit together. We’d regularly arrive at the dentist at what felt like an hour before our appointment and then we’d wait some more because, you know, doctors are always running behind schedule.
Sitting, I’d swing my lanky legs out in frustration and start pacing, “Ugh. Why are we here so early?”
“Because they might be able to see us early,” was always her explanation and I think that happened once or twice under a Smurf-blue moon.
After living in Thailand for a while I started to notice how many Thais cued up early at government offices, clinics and hospitals. You are almost better off going later in the day when the lines have thinned out, when the grandmas and families have already been seen. I began to wonder if “getting there early” was part of a cultural kickback that my mom did not fully understand, but did out of habit.
Looking back, I marvel at her ability to remain seated, calm and patient during the longest of journeys or waits. In fact, I’ve never seen her impatient, unless it was with us kids. She’s a country girl raised on a diet of “take it easy” and “all the time in the world”. She’s walked along the road with her water buffalo and sewn homemade mattresses for sale. She knows how to be patient.
She’s so un-American.
I, on the other hand, am very American, so I’ve had to unwrap the tightly wound time bandages that keep most Americans loosely held together. I’ve learned to “kill time” during insanely long layovers just in order to save a few bucks. (Never again.) I’ve learned to sit still because the crowded bus afforded me no other choice. And I’ve learned to people watch, read a book, listen to music and not-so-simply w a i t during immigration check-ins and hospital visits which felt like colossal wastes of time. Although, when I was back in Hawaii after 5 years in Asia, I did surprisingly well sitting in exasperating traffic…
But I still get upset when I’ve been waiting too long, when my patience has reached its arbitrary limit. It’s not like living in Asia has turned me into a meditating monk or something. I’d like to say getting older has made me more patient, but I’ve seen plenty of folks older than me throw big tantrums like little children. So I have to attribute this “new found” patience to living overseas – waiting because waiting needs to happen and waiting needs to be done.
Which is ironic when I think about cue-cutters: Ecuadorians, Laotians and Thais alike slipping in front of me and other foreigners (and me) sneakily sliding between people because we’ve seen the locals do it. There’s a scarcity belief, a hunger for me-first, and a lack of patience despite living in societies that require you to wait.
What about you? Has living overseas and/or travel made you more patient?