Five Expat Lessons from Bangkok

Nothing beats doing what you love as a job. I never thought that I would take such a huge pay cut, but when the opportunity came up to write for a living it was worth it. I was lucky that I worked out what I wanted to do and managed to find a job only a few months after that. It took me seven long years of doing a lot of dull admin before that, but it makes it all the sweeter. Don’t listen to those who say you shouldn’t or couldn’t do it. If you keep your focus and put the hard work in most things are possible.

You don’t have to be geographically near someone to feel close to them. I haven’t seen my mother or brothers in the flesh for over two years, but I don’t let it worry me. I know that the next time we end up in the same room it will be as if I have just popped away for the night. With Skype, instant messaging and email they are as much a part of my life as if they were around the corner (plus side – I can keep all the cringe-worthy moments hidden from them if I want).

Don’t let the fear freeze you. I get so worried about things and sometimes I just don’t seem to be able to move forward, but this year I have had my hand forced and it has been great. Whether it was interviewing 20 consultants in Jakarta or running around Singapore hunting down 70 stories and taking 900 hundred pictures, I always feel much stronger after facing what I dread.

I need to try more new things. This year has been a blend of successes and failures on this front. I have tried chicken feet, century egg (black inside, eeewwww), white-water rafting, a three-person bicycle, and plenty more. Still no cricket munching though.

The best relationships in life don’t come for free, they require investment, but for the most part what you give you will get back tenfold. There are times when you will have to love harder than before, have faith in the people close to you and forgive them for hurting you. I am not religious but I believe in people, and whilst there have been times I have struggled, especially as someone who has a memory like an elephant; it is much easier to let go of anger and allow people back into your life. No-one wants to end up bitter and alone.



Travel Less, Explore More

Picture courtesy of my fabulous colleague Monster, check her pics out here
Sometimes I dress like an angel. Picture courtesy of my fab colleague Monster, check her  other pics out here

Unlike many folk who write about travelling on their blogs, my 2014 to-do memo does not contain a list of places to visit or countries and cities to tick off. It’s not that I don’t like exploring new places, but one thing I’ve worked out over the past few years is that I am much more suited to long-term investigations than short-term jaunts.

I think that the only way to really get to know a place is to spend a significant amount of time there.

We’ve just returned from an amazing two weeks in Myanmar, which I adored. It’s a beautiful country and the people are warm and welcoming. I am aware of many of the issues that the country is facing, but being a border country to Thailand, where I currently live, I wanted to visit whilst it was on my doorstep. We took the advice of those who have been recently, such as staying in local guesthouses and hiring guides rather than going on tours.

It was an amazing trip, but I just came back wanting to know more about the country, and the small slice I had seen of it just didn’t feel like enough.

The thing is, when you live in a huge city like Bangkok, or London (where I came from), there is no end of places to explore. Sometimes the desire to see more of the world and getting comfortable somewhere makes us forget about all the excitement that is on our doorstep. After three years as an ex-pat in Bangkok, I sometimes get stuck in a rut, going to the same noodle shop and meeting friends at the same bars.

I want to stop wearing the same tracks thin. I only get bored because I allow myself to. There’s still so much here that I haven’t seen, and every new place I discover in the city I live in adds another piece to the unfinished puzzle. I like to be the person who recommends tiny secret restaurants, who can reel off the names of the best spots to get a rooftop picture, and who photographs things that other people find insignificant but I delight in finding.

I am a nervous explorer. I feel more comfortable taking things slowly and getting to know somewhere well enough that it feels like home. Standing still will always be preferable to running around the world in 80 days. I still want to see some of the world, just at my pace.

For me, there’s no way that a short trip could match that  mix of confusion, joy, frustration and acceptance that I experience when settling a little while somewhere other than my country of birth. Being here has given me confidence, allowed me to work out how to do what I love as a living and taught me a few important lessons about what really matters in life.

As much as I am loving my time in Asia, I’ve also come to the conclusion that I can’t stay in Thailand forever. But Bangkok doesn’t need to worry, because the love I have for it will last a lifetime. Whatever happens next, no-one can take the time I’ve spent here away from me. Letting it consume me means it has, and will continue to influence the direction my life will take in ways I can’t possibly imagine.

I was an expat kid

A trip down expat memory lane!
A trip down expat memory lane!

This is not the first time in my life that I have been an ex-pat.

When I was eight and a half, my parents, two brothers and I moved to the South of France. It might not have been quite the same adventure as moving to Bangkok, but it certainly gave me a different perspective on life and helped me cope with Thailand.

I can honestly say that in my 30 years on this planet, nothing has been more beneficial than being transported to another country where I didn’t speak the language or understand the culture.

The move itself was quite exciting, because I wasn’t scared (although 13-year-old me was very VERY grumpy about the idea of moving back to the UK). We had been on plenty of holidays to France, so I pretty much expected to be an extension of this, with a little more Orangina.

My parents had promised us a swimming pool in the back garden. It was an easy sell to three children under the age of ten. You can imagine how impressed we were when they offered us our first pet on top of that!

We started school only a few days after we arrived and because of my lack of language skills, I was moved down two years to sit with my brother’s class.

On our first day we sat together on the climbing frame in the playground and kids came up to us and said “I love you”, which seemed to be the only English phrase they knew.

The move gave me a stronger bond with my siblings, because to start with we could only speak to each other. I remember being frustrated at not being able to communicate, and on one occasion, vomiting down a set of stairs because I couldn’t tell my teacher I was feeling sick.

My first entire French conversation happened thanks to ‘Bigoudi et companie,’ a book about two kids and their pets. Our new kitten went missing, thankfully mirroring the story in the book, which meant I could explain the situation to the neighbours in the hope they would help with the search.

Bigoudi

We lived in a small hamlet, another thing that brought me closer to my brothers. There really wasn’t anyone to play with, and they became my nearest and dearest playmates. It was as close as I ever got to being Laura Ingalls-Wilder.

In Thailand I still sometimes feel like a stranger looking in. But in France I didn’t have that problem. As a kid you’re a sponge, more open to things and more likely to accept a different way of doing things.

The understanding of the subtleties of culture – jokes and festivals, habits and food came from my classmates, although my refusal to eat vinaigrette on my salad still perplexes many of my French friends. It’s such a gift to have the doors opened on a different way of thinking and living.

France is really a second home that will last a lifetime. I feel different the moment that the Eurostar pops out of the tunnel near Lille, like I am back where I belong.

The advantages of being an expat child never stop. Getting my degree was certainly easier because of the time I spent in France, because despite it sounding like a bit of a cop-out, I studied French. I was never the most academic person, but the advantage on the language side meant I could focus a lot more on the bits I struggled with.

I know without a doubt that I am a much more open person because of time abroad.

It’s coming up to the end of a 9th year that I haven’t lived in my country of birth and of course I miss family, friends and cooler weather. I would still describe myself as a nervous explorer, but coming to Thailand certainly seemed less scary because of the time I spent abroad as a child.

Mini Mykura goes on an adventure (I sadly don't have a pic of me in France on my Bangkok files).
Young me goes on an adventure (I sadly don’t have a pic of me in France on my Bangkok files).

Shopping, Restaurants and Exploring in Bangkok