Building a House, Building a Life ...

While considering what to write about today, it occurred to me that it might be time to revisit the house and how I came to be where I am.  Though not a new topic, it is something I have not spoken to for sometime and could perhaps benefit from a rewrite of sorts, based on where I am today but with some historical perspective thrown in.

My parents grew up in rural areas, pretty much in the center of the country, in an area called the Midwest.  Large two story homes with attics and basements were the norm back then.  Though I visited my grandparents in those lovely homes in my youth, I was raised in single story dwellings located in the idyllic suburbs of university towns.  My parents did not take up condo living until after I moved to Thailand and even then moved into a place large enough to maintain separate rooms for their two sons in case they ever needed to return home.  Thinking back, that room with my stuff in it did a lot in the way of freeing me to explore the world unencumbered.

Bangkok was my first experience with a big city, though back then there were only three buildings that could be remotely considered high-rise.  I experimented with living in various types of dwellings during my years in Bangkok but the vast majority of time was spent in studio apartments and eventually in my own condo unit for the final ten years.  Young and enamored with Thailand, eager to experience as much as I could, I spent very little time at home and basically used my apartment as a bedroom and changing area while spending most of my time exploring, often staying out all night.

In later years the central location of our condo meant my young wife and I could walk or take the Skytrain most places we cared to go.  It left us free to travel, often turning the key and going away for six months at a time.  That travel phase lasted for roughly eight years.  Over time the combination of travel and condo living began to take its toll, I guess.  We began looking for alternatives in both my home country and here in Thailand.  All with an eye to living a more settled life surrounded by things we loved.

Though we had early on discarded any notion of living in her home village, over time it started to look more promising and eventually got a vote of approval from both of us.  Having lived so many years in Bangkok, I dreamed of something as far from city living as I could find, while still providing necessary creature comforts.  Over the eight years or so that we had been visiting the village, I had time to explore as much of the surrounding area as one could on foot.  That helped in our search for the right piece of land to build on.

The external look of our house could be considered happenstance as all attention was on floor plan, orientation and views.  As for outward appearance I guess one important desire was for the back of the house, facing the road and traffic, to be as inconspicuous as possible.  With a five rai plot of land to work with, space was not an issue and we were free to spread out as much as we liked and have continued to add other structures over the years. 

Somehow a single story building with a high ceiling seems more spacious to me.  Though I sometimes find two story homes quite attractive, I couldn’t see myself living in one.  With an open floor plan one can both see and feel the space around you because everything is on that one level.  Add big picture windows and sliding doors to draw your eye to the fields and mountains that surround the house and the result, at least in my case, fills me with a calm serenity that keeps me balanced.  Indoors or out I gaze upon the same ever changing view throughout the year.

It should be reiterated that until I was in my fifties I had never considered this kind of life in this kind of location.  I sometimes feel the young, or at least young at heart, come to Thailand in search of adventure and new experiences just to burden themselves with the same encumbrances which drove them to despair back home.  For others it could be the loneliness of old age trumps all other emotions, leading us down familiar paths rather than exploring completely new ones.  In a foreign country maybe it is just easier to latch onto a woman to be your guide, translator and companion while also relieving you of your burden of loneliness. 

When I encounter people especially those younger than myself, who lust for the life I live, my first bit of advice is to slow down and take some time before taking actions that may be difficult to recover from.  Make sure you are really ready.  I wasn’t ready for marriage until I was forty five and was in my early fifties before I moved to Chiang Rai to build this house.  I can’t imagine I could have been happy here during my thirties or forties.  Even with all the years of living in Thailand, planning and forethought that went into this choice, there was no certainty as to how things would turnout.  Even now the story continues to unfold and though it still feels like the right choice at the moment, there is no way of knowing what lies ahead.

I knew I was putting limits on my freedom when we moved to this life in the village but I was perhaps unprepared for how restrictive pets and possessions could be.  I was primarily focused on acquiring the things I had lived without for so many years in Bangkok, things from my long lost childhood.  What was that line...something about being careful what you wish for?  Though we both love the comfort and beauty of our surroundings there are times when we wax lyrical about bygone days when we could just turn the key and travel for as long as we wished or enjoy luxurious health clubs and fine dining in the big city.

While there is still a small voice telling me I should be traveling more or attacking that bucket list with more gusto, there is a bigger part of me that finds the expense, discomfort and inconvenience of travel these days a real turnoff.  I am so comfortable where I am, it would seem my focus in life has shifted dramatically without my really noticing.  I was never very domestic before and viewed life as a pursuit of adventure and experience limited only by what I could afford.

I sometimes wonder if my wife, house, dogs and possessions have altered me somehow at the core or if perhaps they have just released something that was dwelling deep inside all along but was held at bay by past circumstances.  Maybe I am just getting old and this is the normal way of things.  Having followed a path far different from my peers, I’m not at all sure I know what normal is or whether that might be where I am heading.  For now I ponder these questions and others from the comfort of my house in the field, built at a time in my life when it felt right.