Well, it’s been more than four months since my last post, and what a long, strange, interesting, fascinating, frustrating, and largely miserable trip its been. My first official foray into teaching English as a second language has not been easy; in fact I’m leaving my position in a Thai public school (and Thailand, for that matter) one month ahead of what I contracted for.
In answer to the obvious question, no, I definitely could not have toughed it out. If there is one thing I know, it’s myself. I’m usually the stubborn-as-a mule type who never knows when to quit. The never-say-day-die type who insists on toughing it out to the bitter end. The loser who just … can’t … let … it go. But after 40 some years, I’m finally learning to distinguish when its best to stick things out and when it’s best to cut my losses, tuck my tail between my legs and haul ass. This is one of those situations that falls into the latter classification.
There have been three points in my life where I’ve traversed the rocky bottom of depression and despair: after the respective deaths of my parents (Mom, January 19, 2001; and Dad, December 16, 2008) and the 18 months (seems like 18 years) I spent in Sedona, Arizona (indisputably the most beautiful asshole of the world) that drew to a close in December 1999. An aside: it’s (not really) funny how I’m damned if I can ever remember birthdays or anniversaries and whatnot, but I can instantly recall the specific dates of my parents’ deaths.
While I haven’t sunk that deep here in Thailand, I’ve gotten deep enough at times that the sunlight no longer penetrated and the waters turned dark. So without getting into the wrist-slitting details – speaking metaphorically, of course (and I’d like to keep it that way) – I figure its best for me and my students if I move on as soon as possible; a month’s notice of my pending departure will have to be good enough.
As my father used to say, “enough is enough and too much stinks.” It’s time to go.
Ever since I gave notice, I’ve struggled over what to write here – and oddly enough, I’ve felt the urge to write for the first time since, well, since the last time I posted. I suppose I’ve just been too wrapped up in my first teaching gig, what with it being in a foreign culture and all – that, and wanting to slit my wrists (again with the metaphor; I’m more of a scotch and pills sort of person, anyway — I keed, I keed.). Usually, with so much mental stimulation I feel the urge to write, but my muse has been far away during all this – I’ve done naught with my camera or keyboard for the past four months or so, as I’ve had no creative urges whatsoever.
Another aside: is this a symptom or part of the problem? I digress; this is the third version of this post. I feel justified in leaving – my letter of resignation was two pages typed and single spaced (!), and reading it over just now, a month later, I feel it is accurate and justified (albeit a bit self righteous in tone, but I’ll forgive myself that much). But that first post was all about why I was leaving, and it was just way to much pissing and moaning; it needed cheese to go with its w(h)ine. In the second version I just tried to edit the first version, but that was the editorial equivalent of polishing a turd, hence this start from scratch. As one of my writing teachers from college would have said, I am perhaps “too close to the moment” to achieve the proper perspective to write about it.
So, rather than rant about all the things I don’t like/problems that I’ve had while teaching first and sixth grade at a Thai public school, I think I shall use this blog-cum-prism to look at the light at the other end of the spectrum. Lo these last four or five months I have learned a lot, both about myself, teaching, and about Thai culture. While it had hardly been all fun and games, it has most definitely been an adventure.
And isn’t that what I wanted? Isn’t that ultimately why I set out for parts unknown? I wanted the experience of living and working in a foreign culture, both for the personal enrichment it could offer me, as well as just for the hell of it – for the adventure it offered. True, given my past travel experiences abroad, I assumed that this adventure would largely be fun; that was naive, in retrospect (and always suspected that it might be thus). But I can say that outside of my current but soon to be ex-teaching position — outside of that, the adventure has involved more fun than not.
So what have I learned? To be honest I think I’m still too close to the moment to discuss that as well, to any significant degree; I’m still processing the huge amounts of data. To place things in the realm of simile and metaphor once more: it’s like opening a ginormous photoshop file – say a composite image with 20-some layers or something – on my five-year old Toshiba laptop with its pokey 1.3GHz dual-core processor. It’s gonna be awhile (unless I can figure out how to convert my brain’s OS to Linux).
But here are a few gleaming, golden nuggets of wisdom gleaned (not to mention some alliteration):
What I’ve always loved about foreign travel is what I like to call, in my colorful, colloquial, R-rated manner, the absolute “mind fuck” of the experience. It is constant stimulation; even simple things become an adventure. Being a stranger in a strange land way the hell out of his comfort zone is an amazing mental trip; not only do you learn things about the world around you – foreign languages, customs, cultures, etc. — but you learn things about yourself and your own culture through your own reactions, as well as the reflections and perceptions of yourself and your culture in the eyes of those around you.
But be careful what you wish for. Travel is one thing; living and working is another. The things you find interesting and even fascinating about a foreign culture can become troublesome, burdensome – even a royal pain in the ass – when taken on an unavoidable daily basis. There are things that I like and admire about Thai culture; there are some aspects of it I think we in the West would do well to emulate, to a degree. But some of those same things have driven me absolutely bat-shit insane at times, working in a Thai public school via a Thai-owned-and-run placement agency.
I don’t say this to get down on Thai culture; I’m merely making an observation about living abroad vs. traveling abroad. Maybe once I’ve digested this whole experience I’ll put pen to paper (boy, there’s an idiom that’s rapidly becoming outdated).
In fact, I’ve got a new-found respect and admiration for any foreign immigrants back home. I have the luxury of having had an education and a white-collar professional background, in addition to having a skill set that is in demand in the countries I choose to visit. Furthermore, that’s just it – I choose those countries and this life and I’m doing it for the hell of it, really; with relatively little inconvenience I can go back to my home country whenever I want to. Many immigrants to the United States don’t come there under such ideal circumstances, and on top of that have come there seeking a better life – and yet they have to deal with these same issues. I can now imagine what that must be like, and thank the Fates and various gods/goddesses that I only have to imagine it.
Which leads me to my next point, which is a bit of a cliché but nevertheless true: you don’t appreciate home until you leave it (and I’m not talking about tacos and burritos, although I do miss those). I can now appreciate things about America that I took for granted or just never even thought of before. Not that my home country and culture is without its faults; to be sure they are not. But I wish I could take all the chronic America bashers (the domestic ones) — as well as all those über-patriotic morons wrapped up in the flag – and make them live abroad somewhere for six months. Let ’em walk in my shoes for a bit. It would give both groups of people a number of things to think about – and maybe shut them the hell up for awhile.
America: leave it and learn to love it.
On the flip side, the things that used to get me constantly bent out of shape when I was still on American soil no longer seems to bother me – namely politics, as you can see if you go back through the archives of this here blog. I still see the same old stupid shit going on as always back home (meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss), the kinds of things that drove me bat-shit insane when I still lived there. Thanks to the series of tubes, I still get the same exact news feeds I got before I left. But being on the other side of the planet, and not being immersed in it, I just don’t seem to get worked up about it. If I ever do return to the States to live permanently, I think I’ll still arrange to be out of the country during election years (while the rest of you — Democrats and Republicans alike — stick your head up your ass).
Okay, that’s enough navel gazing. The next post will likely be made from Viet Nam, where I’m returning to (and in retrospect probably should have stayed in, in the first place).
But one more thing before I go. Bat-Shit Insanity: its the worst kind of mental illness, and official recurring theme of this post. I had planned to eventually rename my blog the Gecko’s Bark, given the amusing noises Southeast Asia’s most prolific inhabitants (outside of homo sapiens and 10 bezillion species of insects) make – I’ve got a great closeup shot of a tokay to use in the blog header – but maybe I’ll rename it Bat-Shit Insanity Abroad. Kinda has a ring to it, no?