Showing posts with label Social Networking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Networking. Show all posts

Five Years Later ...

It has been five years since we moved into this house, which in the goodness of time became our beloved home.  I have heard some argue that a house is little more than a shelter but for me it is so much more.  While comfort and convenience do come into play, they are but practical things that do not touch the deeper reaches of ones soul.  It is not so much the modern conveniences that are incorporated in the house, or even the size or the shape that are of importance to me.  It is more about how I relate to the space, both indoors and out, and how it all makes me feel.  Of course I can’t speak for others, but I believe our physical surroundings play a major role in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Surely living in concrete or wooden boxes, commuting in metal boxes and working in cubicles exacts a heavy price on the human spirit.

After rereading what I have written in the past about adjusting to life in Chiang Rai, and the phases one goes through, I found most of it still holds true five years on.  It is still a work in progress, ever evolving and changing as I believe life is meant to be.  Some activities have been tried and discarded, not likely to be revisited.  Some friendships have foundered as our paths have diverged.  As I continue to meet more people, and the circle of people I interact with in casual social settings grows, inversely I seem to be retreating from involvement with the more taxing sorts of relationships.

So many people live such messy lives and I don’t wish to be put in a position of cleaning up their messes.  Much of my tolerance of other’s lifestyles and choices is predicated on them not messing up mine.  While I am not inclined to force others to do things my way, I do equally resist modifying how I live to suit others.  I have often been too accommodating in the early stages of new relationships, leading to difficulties down the road when I start to draw lines, differentiating things I will and will not do to maintain a relationship.

With physical proximity not playing a part, due to my chosen place of abode, it does not feel compelling nor practical to limit my friendships to those who live in Chiang Rai.  The demographics of the local expat community, spur me on even further to cast a wider net in pursuit of likeminded individuals or people I find innately more interesting.  This blog has played a major role in connecting me to the kind of people I enjoy corresponding with, and when circumstances allow, meeting when they visit the area.

Sometimes I serve a passing role in the lives of those who dream of living in Thailand and enjoy reading about others who have already done it.  I play my part and then, at the appropriate time, fade into the sunset.  There are still others who from time to time drop me a line to let me know how they are doing.  Not much need to ask about my life, as much of it finds its way into the prose and imagery of this blog.  I choose to share part of my life in this more public format but I understand there is much that is better confined to emails or phone calls and I also relish those opportunities to interact on a more personal level.

For me it is perhaps a bonus that we don’t live next door to each other and do not feel the need to interact or correspond daily.  I have never been good with routines or a regimented lifestyle.  Give me freedom and spontaneity any day, over monotony and repetition, fixed to the relentless ticking of a clock.

As expected this has turned out to be my wife’s year, as opposed to mine.  Most things have revolved around her university schedule, weekend classes and midweek homework.  Her levels of independence and self confidence have grown over the year, as she has learned to drive on own and do her homework with no assistance from me.  Her first term’s, 4 A’s and a B+, were entirely hers and reflect her own accomplishments.  She has taken her role as class leader seriously and developed socially as well as personally, to a noticeable degree.

For many years the core of our relationship was companionship and our enjoyment of spending time together.  Being older and more experienced I, more often than not, took the lead in sharing my world with her as we spent time traveling, working out in health clubs and partaking of Western food, music, television and movies.  Having lived in Thailand nearly as long as she has, we do not fall into the typical pattern of Thai-Farang relationships where the husband doesn’t speak Thai and is so often dependent on the wife as translator and guide.

I guess I hadn’t realized how much control I exerted over our relationship, until my wife started taking more control over her own life.  This whole process has been eyeopening and educational, for me as well as her.  I am not always comfortable with this evolutionary process but I understand it needs to happen.  I am considerably older than her and the chances are she will find it necessary to make do without me at some point.

Though her schooling has contributed to us spending more time doing things separately, the dogs and the house are probably more responsible in their own way.  With less of it, I relish even more the time we are able to spend together.  Hopefully we will find time to travel together, one of my favorite things, during her next school break.

This morning, in addition to the heavy fog, there was a distinct chill in the air.  This is our first, and somewhat late to arrive, wintery morning of the year.  I am sitting in the car, under a tree, waiting for my wife with the windows down, something I don’t often do.  From time to time a tiny leaf drifts in through the window, as I write to the sound of the birds in the trees and the occasional footsteps and murmuring of students walking to and from class.  There is something about a university campus that is both calming and stimulating at the same time.  Wrap it all up in a cool winter morning in Northern Thailand and I am quite enjoying waiting for my wife today.

It has been a very long time since we enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Meridien but with her class ending early today, we will be able to enjoy one of our favorite dining experiences later this morning.  Apparently class is over and she is on her way so I had best sign off and focus my attention on her.

The Expat Divide ...

It can take the form of an observation, a question or an accusation.  For some it is a nonissue and for others an obsession.  On Thailand forums the topic comes up often, so it must be an issue for many.  I am more of an observer but thought I would weigh in.  Whatever ones experience with the expat divide, I see no excuse for withholding a smile and a nod of recognition.

The things that divide us as expats are not all that different from the normal divides one finds back home.  Some of the obvious culprits are language, nationality, age, sex, money, social and marital status, education, as well as a multitude of experiential and attitudinal differences.  There is one thing that should bring us together and that is our shared experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land.  That too, however, is often overshadowed by the divide between newcomers and more established residents.

The enthusiastic naiveté of the newcomer is often lambasted by the cynical old-timer.  One side asks why expats ignore or snub fellow expats while the other side asks why they have to be nice to someone simply because of their skin color.  It is not always as simple as someone being rude, or shy, though sometimes it is.  Unless one truly enjoys the role of mentoring others, who may or may not heed ones advice, it can be tiring answering the same old questions time after time.  Unless one is very self sufficient, on the other hand, it is tempting to rely on others to hold your hand and show you the way.

Back home, I dare say the majority of people ensconce themselves in an enclave of like minded individuals who share their lifestyle, aspirations and background.  In Thailand one is confronted by the fact, that just because you may look alike, doesn’t mean you have anything in common.  Even native English speakers may find they need subtitles when confronted by the heavily accented and nonstandard variances of the English language one encounters in Thailand.  Things get even more confused as you try to communicate with those who do not share your mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The age and financial disparity among expats can be enormous, leading to discomfort and misunderstanding at times.  In the emotional baggage expats inevitably bring with them, there can also be hiding numerous sensitivities and triggers for hurt feeling or indignation.  Depending on the severity of ones negative experiences with fellow expats some individuals opt for withdrawal from the expat community or limiting themselves to those of the same nationality and their new Thai family.

This is not to say there are not those who find expat life and interaction quite enjoyable.  Those who come from pub cultures will no doubt find a drinking hole somewhere, that is filled with other likeminded drinkers.  Those to whom religiosity is important, a church or temple may become a focus.  Those with children may find companionship among the other parents at their children’s school.  If one is employed things are not all that different from anywhere else, with your friends and acquaintances most likely being work related.  I sometimes feel it is the older retired expat who has the toughest row to hoe, with few of the time honored options for relating to others available to them in this strange new world.

I have found being young and single in Bangkok, or any big city, cannot prepare you for being old, married and retired in someplace like Chiang Rai.  Age, health and finances seem to take their toll on the retired expat community who find Thailand late in life and take up rural living in a village.  Many older expats live in isolated towns and villages for a variety of reasons.  Often it is where the wife or girlfriend is from.  Many express an inability to cope with city life or they simply can’t afford it.  Unlike many, I enjoyed 30 years in Bangkok and find the negative motivations of some to be depressing.  I saw our move to Chiang Rai as a positive new phase of life, not the cheapest place to live out my final days, nor brought on by an inability to live elsewhere.

The distance one must travel to spend time with other expats can be a limiting factor in Chiang Rai or other rural areas, and unless there is some parity in the effort expended, it is easy to question the benefits.  After expending a fair amount of time and effort, I too find myself drifting away from the expat community these days.  Some tiresome and bitter individuals are simply best avoided, though it can be entertaining to be nice to people you know don’t like you.  Sometimes it is the scheduling that is just too difficult even when you genuinely like the other people.

It seems that whatever ones situation is today there is never any certainty about tomorrow and I actually seem to like that.  In my five years in Chiang Rai, each year has been different.  A few expats I have met along the way have moved away or died, one very recently.  Relationships have ebbed and flowed as needs and interests have diverged.  You meet new people all the time and just the other day I bumped into someone at the mall who I had not seen for maybe twenty years.  Having recently met a couple of young women, one British and one Austrian, who have married local Thai men I am newly fascinated by their less than familiar expat dynamics.

Even if it feels as though there is an expat divide at times, and things don’t always go smoothly while adjusting to expat life, there is something about the freshness and novelty of ones experiences that seems to grab and hold those of us who stay.  Things back home might be neater, cleaner and more predictable but that is exactly why some of us seek out this sometimes messy and chaotic life of an expat.  We tire easily of the familiar and relish the stimulation of new sights, sounds and smells. 

Expats often find that what brought them to a place is not necessarily what keeps them there longterm.  Some of us are comfortable with where we are while others are still struggling with the place, the people and their relationship to both.  Sure there are things that divide us but they should’t keep us apart or keep us from being civil or even friendly when we encounter other expats.  Offering a smile or a nod costs one nothing and may make someone else’s day.  There is no need to shutdown due to a few bad encounters.  With a little effort you can bridge the expat divide.

Unexpected Events and Is It Really July?

Everything on the June calendar got taken care of and July is off to a much more subdued pace, creeping by almost unnoticed.  There were a few unexpected events and purchases that added joy to the month of June.  I am admittedly very bad with special calendar days, like anniversaries, but this year I got lucky.  The Apple store called while I was a few shops down having coffee at Starbucks.  The salesman was calling to see if I was still interested in the new 13 inch MacBook Air, as they had just received one in the latest shipment of new products.

We had been looking for a computer for my wife to use at school and home.  While I was impressed with the new MacBook Pro, it was clearly more than my wife needed so we settled on the feather light Air as the best option.  When I picked her up from school later that day I was not empty handed, as I have so often found myself.  “Happy 13th anniversary my dear, here is your new toy.”  I had fun setting it up for her but not sure I will be getting my hands on it very often in the future, except for software upgrades and the like.

On another weekend OMM, a frequent reader and contributor to this blog, visited Chiang Rai with his girlfriend.  It was pretty early in the day, so while his girlfriend did whatever girls do, we got together for coffee and a familiarization tour of the town of Chiang Rai.  It was nice putting a face to a name and having someone new to talk with for a day.  We basically spent our time visiting and taking in the city sites until it was time for me to go pickup my wife after school.

No two people are ever at quite the same place in life and factoring in age and different experiences it can sometimes be challenging not to step on other’s dreams or interfere with their chance to experience their own adventure on their own terms.  I must say, on this day I had a great time as it provided an uncommon break from my routines and hopefully I contributed something of value to OMM’s journey.  I found it interesting to see how some aspects of being newly bitten by the Thailand bug have changed with the advent of new technology but at the core much of the experience is not all that different from what I went through more than thirty years ago.

There have been a few recent mountain bike rides that didn’t make it to the blog.  There were some new trails mixed in with the old and some odd encounters but I have done the bike trails thing recently and prefer to mix things up on the blog.  Then again, perhaps I am just easily bored and distracted when things get too busy.  After some trail abuse, I found the back tire had a slow leak that caused the tire to deflate after a day or so.  I took that as an excuse to get the Trek into Northern Bike for a checkup and ended up with some upgrades.

Not being a racer or overly serious about my riding, I see little need for the lightest and greatest but thought some minor upgrades might be in order.  So in addition to the back tire, I got an entry level Shimano Deore crankset installed with new grippier peddles and a Cateye Velo 9 to give me an idea of how far I ride.  Nothing a true enthusiast would be impressed with but new and exciting for me.  Everything performed well on yesterday’s ride.  With heavy rain the night before and things not completely dried out, it was an interesting ride and not easy going in places where the clay clung heavily to my tires.  On the way home I took the opportunity to stop by a visit with a young German friend in a neighboring village.

Another friend recently arrived for his yearly visit, has found himself spending a few days at one of our excellent local hospitals.  It just so happened that on one of those days I was in town to take care of the bike.  In these parts it is the done thing to go visit people in the hospital, with family often spending the night to help take care of the patient.  I’m not big on hospitals myself but took the opportunity of being in town to stop by for a visit.  It gave us a chance to catchup on what had transpired in our lives since last we talked.

There was one more chance encounter I remember, though I’m sure there are others that don’t come to mind at the moment.  There was a new female member posting on a local forum early last month.  She posted nothing revealing about her identity on the forum but on two different occasions I saw a young woman at the Central Plaza and there was something about her that caught my attention. 

Call it intuition, or being nosy if you like, but on the off chance I might be wrong, I sent her a private message to confirm my suspicion.  A man I may have approached more directly but I didn’t feel that was the correct approach in this case.  A bit astonished that I was able to guess her identity, she acknowledged that it was indeed her on both occasions.  Later I spotted her with her Thai husband talking with a local real-estate agent as I entered Starbucks.  We ended up having an interesting conversation first in English while her husband was finishing up his business and later in Thai when he joined us.  Eventually my own wife showed up and we all got a chance to visit.  Hopefully, we will all get together again soon.

Though I don’t find spontaneity as easy as it was in Bangkok it is still an important aspect of life for me.  It is the new, different, unexpected and unplanned that adds spice and color to my life.  Sometimes I find it by seeking out new trails on the mountain bike and other times the unexpected happens on our trips to town.  I never know where, when or how but I always know something new will cross my path, even after more than 35 years in Thailand.

Social Networking ...

I have mixed feelings about social networking, but in general, find it to be an interesting addition to normal human interaction.  I’m too wordy for Twitter, I find, but some use it almost like an RSS feed to be notified when I post something new to the blog.  Chat really isn’t my thing, either.

Facebook tends to cannibalize my comments a bit, with readers posting on either Facebook or my blog, but not both.  For those who have tried to “friend” me on Facebook, very few have made it through.  If I can find out something about a reader of my blog I might say, ‘Okay’ but it all depends.  I try to keep my “friends” to people I actually know, like friends and family.

Granted, many members of my extended family I have never met and I have lost contact with many friends from the past.  My own fault, I must admit.  Most of my cousins I have not seen for close to forty years.  Often it is their kids that are more active online, including my brother’s sons.  My mother’s side of the family is less digitally challenged than my father’s side.  For those I have made contact with, even though they do not communicate directly, it is nice to see pictures and read what they write to each other.

My wife has her own Facebook identity now and they seem to enjoy sharing pictures of themselves and where they go, commenting on how they look in their pictures seems to be a must.  Through her postings, my own pictures are much more widespread.  We do put all settings for Facebook to ‘Friends Only’ for obvious and oft-discussed reasons.  For more important things we both email or call on Skype.  Better yet we try to get together as often as we can.

Despite the negative image of the Thai Visa Forum, the Chiang Rai sub-forum, has morphed into a social networking hub for many of the residents of the Rai.  It has facilitated many of us meeting and subsequently getting together on a regular basis through social events scheduled in our area.

For me there is clearly no substitute for a face to face meeting.  Whether that be over coffee, a meal, a private party, exercise, or an impromptu encounter at a social event, or while shopping, it is always good to see a friendly face and catch up a bit.  Perhaps this only pertains to people like us who live far away from others or are retired and don’t go to work everyday.  In the Rai we are spread out over a wide area, however, and it takes a little more effort to get together regularly.  Social networking is no substitute for the real thing but it often facilitates it.  At least that is my take on it.

By the way, a little feedback on the new color scheme would be appreciated.  After a few years of black, I thought a change might be nice for 2011.  So what do you think of the blogs new clothes?