The Thai language uses the same phrase for goodbye and hello. Two and a half years have passed since we said ‘hello’ to Bangkok, apprehensive but determined to make the most of it. And now here we are, on the brink of leaving. Our air shipment has arrived in Germany (hooray…now, what did I pack as my ‘Important, must have’ items? There was definitely a corkscrew…) we are still in Thailand and the rest of our belongings are packed into a 40ft container which is, at the moment, somewhere at sea (my geography failed me when I tried to figure out exactly where it would be…do container ships sail down the Suez Canal?). One foot in Asia, one in Europe…and, like all our worldly possessions, I am feeling all at sea.
But how lucky we have been! Has it all been plain sailing? (excuse the extended maritime metaphors…) No, it absolutely has not. But looking back on our time in Asia, the highs far exceed the lows. We have visited some incredible places, watched the sun set over temples and beaches, sipped cocktails on rooftop bars and slurped noodles on street corners. We have lived through protests and under a military coup and managed to party despite a 10pm curfew. We have waded knee high through flood waters, got soaked in the monsoon and watched the most spectacular thunderstorms from our balcony. We have swam and snorkelled, seen sea snakes and turtles, monkeys and fireflies and were lucky enough to give an elephant a bath (the girls still talk about all the elephant poo that was floating in the lake…)
Bangkok is a city of extremes – wealth and poverty, skyscrapers and slums, the stench of the khlong followed by the sweet scent of jasmine. It’s a love it or hate it place, though frankly I can’t understand the haters. Maybe it’s these extremes that mean the people who move here bond so quickly – the highs are higher, the lows are lower, everyday situations arise that would never happen at ‘home’. There are so many reasons why Bangkok is an amazing place to live – the weather, the food and let’s not skip over the fact that, as an expat, the standard of living is pretty great. But for me, it’s the people; the relaxed attitude, the smiles, the helpfulness, the fun-loving-ness (where else other than Thailand at Songkran would you see police joining in a water fight?) that made living here feel like home.
But moving to Thailand was so hard. I was heartbroken to leave my family; the thought of being so far from my Mum made me feel sick. Knowing that the rest of my family were together, part of the fabric of each other’s daily lives, while we were on the other side of the world trying to connect with patchy Skype and intermittent viber signals, well – it hurt. And yes, I know it was a self-inflicted pain, but it was pain nevertheless. Our friends threw us a leaving party before we left England and I knew then that I would never have friends like that again – my amazing girlfriends from uni, my antenatal friends, the girls I had grown close to and come to rely on in our local village. And when we arrived in Bangkok I didn’t want to make friends. They wouldn’t be the same.
And they weren’t the same. But then weeks passed and, to paraphrase Blanche du Bois, I came to rely on the kindness of strangers. And it is through these acts of kindness that these strangers became friends. The invitation to join a playgroup which was a weekly saviour for me and my youngest daughter; the warm welcome to a monthly book club through which I met some amazing women. The open door and open arms of a neighbour after a particularly bad day – and the enthusiasm with which the good days were celebrated.
I have met a lot of people over the last couple of years. Some of them I know will be friends forever. With others, our lives touched briefly but then took different directions as people moved on to the next expat assignment. I am thankful for all of them.
And right now, I can’t imagine I will have friends in Germany that come anywhere close to my friends at home, or my Bangkok friends. The thing that struck me on our visit to Germany at Christmas was how sombre everyone looked how. How I will miss the ‘Thai smile’! But that is something I can take with me, as well as the knowledge that a little kindness goes a long way…and hopefully people who are strangers to me now will become friends.
Sawasdee Ka Bangkok. Love you longtime