Culture shock-ed ??? or just very งง ???
Today I feel really really miserable... and I'm not entirely sure why... I guess somedays I miss my friends back home and feel totally alienated by people and things here... It's wierd!!! I've been here 2 years now, so shouldn't be feeling like this, but sometimes... the longer I stay here the more of an outsider I feel.
A friend who studies English at Thammarsaat has to learn about 'cross cultural communication,' and she lent me one of her course texts. According to her book I'm suffering from 'culture shock' - whatever that means!!!! I say that as I rarely get schocked by anything nowadays... even seeing squealing pigs strapped to the back of motorcycles or Thai monks walking out of the duty free shop in Nong Khai with carrier bags stuffed full of whiskey and beer Laos (2 of the more unusual things I've seen over the last couple of weeks...) But, her book said culture shock isn't about that... Its about feeling totally alienated, like you don't and will not ever be able to fit in anywhere and I guess that pretty much sums up how I feel now.
Yesterday night I sat in my room like a sulking teenager, playing Linkin Park's 'somewhere I belong' waaaaay too loudly and regretting my decision to stay here for another couple of months. Had I stuck to my original travel plans I'd be back in England now, looking forward to winding up the 'trick and treaters' this evening and planning which firework display to go and see on bonfire night.
Now I have a new job to think about (I start teaching tomorrow...) and I need to try and make some sort of plan for what I'm gonna do when I do eventually head home in Spring next year.
I'm not sure what scares me most. The thought of what I will do back in England or the thought of staying here forever, feeling lonely, isolated and not sure who to talk so.
I know that when I do go back to England, I'm gonna find it very difficult to fit in at home. It was hard enough when I went home last Christmas, and I was only there for a few weeks. The thought of eating chilli-less food, freezing, rainey weather and having to be interested in crap TV (though I guess compared to some of dreadful, over the top acting in the dramas and soaps on Thai TV its not really that crap ...) horrifies me. Also, the fact that all my friends seem to be turning into baby making machines freaks me out a bit too. It's like their live's have moved on in the last 2 years whereas mine's has, in comparison, just stood still. I know that it hasn't really. I've been busy trying to learn Thai and, by travelling around have seen, done and experienced so much but, compared to their steady jobs, bf's, houses, bulging bellies (2 friends) or screaming kids (3 friends) I have nothing... I screwed my job up, broke up with my bf (long story - I won't bore everyone with the details...) and going back home with absolutely nothing really, really scares me...
But, staying here freaks me out too. I can speak a little bit of Thai. Enough to order food, buy bus tickets, give taxi drivers directions and tell them my name,where I'm from, where I've been to in Issan and exactly why I wouldn't want a thai boy friend, but not enough to be able to have 'proper' everyday conversations with people, or listen when people speak at normal speed. Although my pronunciation is atrocious and I tell people stupid things (like I want a 'slow neck' when I mean to order a cup of tea) I like trying to speak Thai. But, whenever people speak to me, they need to speak really slowly, like they are talking to a 2 or 3 year old and I know from the guys and girls at my old work that having to say 'saaaaa-waaaaat-deeeee -kaaaapppppp' at a quarter of their normal speaking speed becomes really annoying and gets boring, especially when the farang they are talking to is incapable of remembering any of the new words they get taught and makes the same stupid mistakes whenever they try to speak.
Its really, really frustrating!!! I've done all the things people learning English are normally advised to do. For instance, trying to read a Thai book for 15 mins each day, watching Thai TV and movies, listening to cheesy Thai boy bands, trying to read news tickers, road signs, advertisements, newspaper headlines... pretty much anything I see written in Thai... and trying to speak thai to taxi drivers, and almost everyone I buy food from but, I guess some people just aren't good at languages... and I guess that I'm one of them ;-( ...
I told a friend from my old work that I was upset earlier and she told me that I need to 'look into the causes of my unhappiness.' There's not much to look into as I already the cause... I'm unhappy becuase, at the moment, I feel very, very lost and lonely. When my old housemate in London used to complain about feeling lonely, I used to make fun of him. I couldn't understand how someone who had millions of friends, was surrounded by people, and spent most of his evenings going for meals with former workmates could feel lonely. Now I can totally understand how he felt..
It not about having or not having friends. I don't know that many people in BKK but I'm not exactly short of friends. It's about having friends that can understand how you feel, and that you can talk to and relate to. I probably know 50 or 60 people in BKK, more than enough to socialise or travel around with, and OK, I'm a little bit shy but I'm not exactly an unfriendly person... but when I think of the number of people that I can talk to when I feel down, and who can listen and understand why I think the way that I do (even if they don't agree with my opinion) its probably less than 3. After almost 2 years of living somewhere, thats quite scarey...
When I first came to Thailand, I met Ricky, a Canadian woman, almost 20 years older than me. I really liked her and we became quite good friends but most of the people on the same teaching course as us derided her for being stupid - as she didn't have that much self confidence and her personal life was really fucked. Her ex dumped her so that he could shag thai prostitutes, but continued to live in the same building as her, so he could bum money or beer off her or (even worse) talk to her about the 'problems' he had with the new 'loves' of his life and ask her for her advice...
She was such a cool person (genuine, friendly, fun to talk to and sooo bright it was unture) but after 5 years of being a single western woman living in BKK, was so desperate for people to like her that she hung out with some real arseholes. She had a raggle taggle bunch of friends, and a few of them were really nice people but most were insincere, and just used her when they needed someone to buy them a beer or someone to have intelligent conversation with, when they tired of the bar girls in Sukhumvit. She was such a brilliant person and deserved soooooo much better friends than the scumbags she let herself hang out with...
I have days when I worry that I'm turning into her. I find myself going to Khao San just so that I'm not totally on my own, drinking beer with the sort of people I wouldn't normally want to hang around with. I also go back to my old work a lot... to practise my thai by talking to the maids and to the guys from my old office.
My gut feeling is that they don't really want me to be there but they smile and tolerate it, thai style. Sometimes I feel awkward hanging around there, now that I don't have a job or a valid reason for being there anymore, but I have to keep going back. I think I'd go crazy otherwise!!!! Much as I like the place where I live, I don't know that many people there, and, for someone thats been living there over a year and a half that's pretty poor. The cafe in the lobby of my apartment building is full 19 year old girls who giggle hysterically and say 'farang maaa' whenever I walk in. Given the fact that they can't even say hello without bursting into laughter, I guess attempting conversation would be pretty much impossible.
Another reason why I am feeling on such a downer today is that I went to a wedding this weekend. Whenever I have a good time upcountry I always feel a bit down about returning to Bangkok. The wedding itself - an issan style do in Mahasahlarkam - and the and the trip up to the north east were fantastic.
We arrived at Poon (the bride's) father's house on Saturday afternoon and the beer started flowing soon afterwards. Friends of the family were hacking at a newly killed pig, and cutting up veggies for our evening meal. Poon's father and my friend P'Nu (the guy who invited me to see his little brother get married) set about fishing, whilst the ladies sat near the pond, eating and catching up on the family gossip. P'Nu introduced me to his brothers and sisters, along with their husbands, wifes and kids. There were so many new faces that I forgot their names almost instantly. I spent the afternoon staring at the rice fields (now the rice is almost fully grown, they look beautiful) drinking beer and answering the occasional question about where I was from and where I had been in Thailand. The afternoon disappeared into a haze of beer and BBQ fish and when, after visiting his mother and another sister, we finally arrived at our hotel room in Mahasahlarkam, I fell asleep almost immediately.
The wedding itself was amazing experience. I've never, ever been to a Thai wedding before, so wasn't quite sure what to expect. We arrived to see the monks leaving, and lots and lots (maybe 60 or 70) of people eating breakfast and necking beer chang. The upstairs of the house was already full of people, mostly old women from Poon's village, chattering away. We squeezed in, said our hello's and then went back out again to find some breakfast. After breakfast the groom's family had to go to another house a hundred or so meters up the road, and being a friend of the groom and his older brother, I went with them.
Pern, the groom, looked stunning in his traditional white suit. After posing for some photos with his family, I asked him whether he was excited. He said no. I asked him whether he was nervous, expecting him to reply that he was a little bit anxious about the ceremony ahead. "No," he replied. "why" I asked. "Because I've done this 2 times already," he said. I wasn't quite sure what to say after that so I just wished him luck. A couple of Pern's friends from my old work arrived soon afterwards and, after a couple more rounds of photos the wedding procession set off for Poon's house.
When we got to Poon's house, Pern's family had to make offerings and give money to Poon's family. Once we were allowed to enter the house, we went upstairs where Poon's family was already counting the cash. I was surprised by how much time seemed to be spent counting the money, and wondered why the wedding dowry seemed to be paid in 100 baht notes. 1000's would have been much more convenient.
A thai wedding ceremony is very, very different to an English one. Once the monks have left there are no religious or government officials to watch the proceedings. Unlike in England, couples get married then sign the marriage register etc. sometime later.
The ceremony itself consisted of the family and friends giving their blessings and good wishes to the bride and groom. As a friend of the groom, after giving them my congratulations, I recieved a 'pa-kao-maah' and a traditional thai style pillow, unexpected gifts which were really cool.
After everyone had given the happy couple their blessings and had a few more glasses of beer chang, we set off back home. The trip back, via a gorgeous riverside restraunt in Kalasin, the town of Pee Mai and numerous motorway service stations was fairly uneventful. P Nu's kids were playing games on their phones, listening to MP3's or sleeping, and I spent most of the time staring at the scenery, trying to read any signs I saw before we'd sped past them.
Overall it was a great trip and I had a brilliant time, but whenever I travel anywhere with Thai people, I have a sneaking suspicion that my presence makes them feel uncomfortable, and they do things especially for me that they would not do otherwise.
It's happened loads of times before. One time, a friend gave me a ride to Sisaket and insisted on playing the beatles for 8 hours... An hour or 2 would have been OK but theres only so much of 'hard day's night' and 'can't buy me love' that a girl can take. When I said it was OK to play Thai music he said he didn't have any. He'd thought that I wouldn't be able to listen to it (as he likes MorLam and Luk Tung) so he'd taken his CD's out of the car, when he cleaned it out the day before the trip.
...And, I've lost count of the times that I've been to a Thai restraunt with Thai people that I know, and they've ordered everything 'my pet', insisting that I won't be able to eat 'normal' tasting Thai food and refusing to believe me when I attempt to say 'chan gin pet dy ka..'
I know Thai's are supposed to be 'graeng jy' and consider other people before thinking of themselves, but sometimes it's a bit excessive and leaves me feeling very awkward and uncomfy.
Fortunately P'Nu knows I can eat pretty much anything and we had pretty decent music on there and back, but there were other little things. We were supposed to be staying at someone's house with his family, but his sister insisted on putting us up in a hotel. Now, I don't mind staying in hotels (esp. ones with decent cable/sat. TV) but I felt very awkward about his family paying for it - as I'm sure that if the farang wasn't there they would have stayed in their relative's house, as originally planned.
In P'Nu's case he refused to let me contribute towards the cost of the hotel room and the petrol - saying that his sister had already paid for everything for everyone. I know its a cultural thing - and that in Thailand the oldest, or most important person normally pays for things - but I feel uncomfortable with people (especially people who may have less money than me) insisting that they pay for everything. At home people share, or find some way of paying people back and saying thank you for the things they recieved.
As it was I never got to thank P'Nu's sister. After eating lunch I went to the bathroom and arrived back at the car to find that everyone had already said their thanks and good byes and had started to head home. Maybe its an English thing, but 2 days later I still feel awkward about the fact that I recieved so much for nothing. Yesterday I went back to my old work and gave them prints of a couple of the photos I took. But in comparison to what I recieved (a free trip upcountry, the chance to see a traditional thai wedding, the chance to meet and talk to the members of my friend's family, and more food and drink that I could have imagined...) I feel like I've done nothing in return.
The other complaint I have and the other thing that makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable going out with Thai people (yep... I'm afraid theres at least 1 more...) is that sometimes, I'm don't really know to behave. I know that I do things wrong, as most of the time, when I meet new people or attempt to talk to them, I'm not quite sure what to do. For example, who or when, or how to wai... or who I am or am not supposed to say 'ka' to.
I know I probably did a lot of things wrong this weekend, as I heard several people make comments about the farang being 'my suparp...' But, at the same time I have no idea about exactly what it was that I did wrong. I know its Thai style not to make negative comments to someone. It's much easier to smile, and then complain or and gossip about the social faux-pas amongst friends, rather than confront the person who committed it. BUT... I'm not a mind reader or someone who has ever studied thai behaviour and culture. If I do things wrong, I need to be told, if only so I don't make the same stupid mistakes again and again. OK I've been in Thailand for 2 years and I should know some of these things but I haven't spent that much time with Thai familes and am still pretty confused about social etiquette.
When you behave impolitely here, Thai people never say anything. They just talk to you in a sharp or harsh tone of voice, or even worse just smile and don't say anything to you. I'm normally left feeling very bewildered and confused as to exactly what I've done wrong. I know thai people are supposed to be able to sense when someone is upset but.... I'M NOT THAI!!! I can't sense feelings that westerner's aren't aware of... and I think that even if I stayed in Thailand forever I would still not be able to sense the moods and feelings that Thai's have. They are much subtler than English moods.
Most of my Thai friends know that they need to tell me if and when I do things wrong, and most of them do it, but it infuriates me that some people still prefer the say nothing then 'bitch behind their back' approach.
So, much as I love hanging out with Thai people, I figure that I'mnot that great at it. I find it hard to make conversation and my presence seems to make most of them feel awkward and confused too... I can travel somewhere with them, and have an amazingly brilliant time, but come back to Bangkok feeling more lost and confused and miserable than ever.
So after 2 years here... all I know that I don't really fit in anywhere. I despise a lot of the older, balding, sex hungry farangs I meet, I struggle to talk to thai people, yet I'm totally freaked at the idea of going home. I feel like I'm straddling 3 world's. I don't want to fit into the 2 that I'm supposed to, yet can't and never will be able to fit into the 3rd... I guess this is what Pam's book meant by 'culture shock...'
|Create Date : 31 ตุลาคม 2549
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