Friday, November 17, 2006

For Caro... living here, being there....

Your comment last night caused me to think. (They often do that! :)

Is it possible to live in this culture, having fully adopted another?

Yehm. It's possible. Culture is just a set of behaviors based on customs and values after all.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not saying that Thai culture is superior to all others. It is just the one that is right for me and the way I choose to live my life.

Thai culture is very sociocentric. Basically, that means that I examine my choices through that lense. Is a given action intended only to feed my own ego and for personal gain? Or am I doing it because it will plant seeds that will bring others more happiness in their lives, too? Is it for the higher good or just my own? As soon as it becomes all about me instead of about others also, it's time to rethink.

One of the things many who know me over the past few years forget is that I was raised here, too. That means lots of things are ingrained and it takes a conscious effort to review my motives. My socialization process didn't teach me to be who I am now. I had to unlearn the old and replace it with the new. If it is counterproductive to harmony, I don't do it. In a way, that is part of a new acculturation.

Thai culture is very polite. That means that I must make a conscious effort to be polite, to make others feel comfortable and content. That doesn't mean I never challenge anyone's opinion but this culture promotes annihilation of the opponent by any means necessary, including deception. Again, we have to win, no matter what. We have to be "right". At least that is my perception and experience. It is not that way for everyone, of course. It takes all the joy about of learning from others. So I disagree very nicely, keeping the other person's feelings in mind without compromising my own beliefs.

Thai culture is very family-centric. Families in Thailand care for their own. If someone is disabled, the family takes care of her. If someone is hungry, the family feeds him. If someone is in trouble, the family is there. Everyone assumes a degree of accountability to each other. It is not individualistic. It is not complete self-annihilation but it does put the group first.

Thai culture is very respectful. To a degree, they go too far in my opinion but I'm not establishing the rules for them. What I do know is that as a culture, they've been pretty solid for thousands of years. They must be doing something right.

Thai culture has a healthy attitude about work. Work is important and everyone does it in one fashion or another. However, it is not all-consuming and it doesn't define the individual. Thai people enjoy their fun, too. Honor, character and courage define the individual.

For me to live here, I needed some sort of foundation, something to frame my own behaviors. This culture has never worked for me because it went against my inherent grain. It felt harsh. My values and behavior were not able to mesh. They were in constant conflict.

In school, I used to get in trouble for questioning this stuff. I don't know where such a distaste for individualism and egoism developed. I was born in New York state, not Bangkok, Thailand. You'd think I would have internalized the values of this culture ~ but it didn't happen.

Some of the stuff I have adopted is purely superficial. The clothes and the jewelry do make me stand out and it is a statement to others, I suppose. To me, it's just pretty. My mother calls it "third world coutiere". :) I just love the stuff from the villages. It makes me happy and it feels good to wear it, so I do. But that really has nothing to do with the most important things.

And here's the amazing thing. Other people truly seem to enjoy my overall changes. They don't envy it. They don't get angry at me for it. Very few have ever gotten disgusted and dug in their heels to defend the western way of life. Some have gently challenged my thinking but there's been no animosity. They seem to believe the same as you mentioned, that seeing someone else do it shows that it is possible to have a different kind of life if they choose.

I chose this not because I hate life here but because my spirit was dying, I hardly knew it was there. My inner light just got dimmer and dimmer. I felt totally and constantly misunderstood. I often totally and constantly misunderstood others. When I was in Thailand, everything made sense and it all came together. Even the soil beneath my feet felt natural. The people took to me.. and I took to them. Even with a language barrier, we communicated. It's hard to explain without going metaphysical, but we "knew" each other.

It will be another eleven weeks before I am old enough to get a retirement visa. That will come at the end of January. It is a short time, compared to the amount I've been waiting ~ and the time I still have to wait after that milestone. The most logical thing was to begin living it right here, right where I am. Of one thing I am certain ~ and that is that I will leave this earth in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Nothing else makes sense. If by some remote chance I die here, I don't believe my spirit will be at rest.

While I am still here though, I can bring some happiness to the lives of others. This isn't ego speaking but I do know people feel good around me. I'm soft and gentle, considerate and thoughtful. I try to sprinkle around a little love wherever I go, just by putting these principles into action. Seeing others happy makes me happy, too. It is a joy being able to spread it around a bit.

This choice is probably the healthiest I've ever made but there are some downsides, too. This ain't Fox News, but I'll try to be at least a little fair and balanced. :)

As a result of these changes, there are very few people I have anything in common with truly and I don't experience mainstream acceptance. By rejecting the core values of a culture, it's easy to fall off the grid. I don't have the kind of support system a "normal" person would have here. Looking back though, I never had mainstream acceptance anyway so a fear of losing it wasn't motive to stop me. My choice was fairly low-risk in that regard.

It is a bit lonely sometimes. There's just a certain *something* between me and the majority of others that can't "click". We're on a different page. For example, I will not be likely to get married again before I leave. I doubt there are many American men who would be interested in someone like me. While I have good friends and we enjoy each other's company, there are certain times when it is not appropriate to include me.

So, yes, it is definitely possible to live here and not give in to all the things the culture promotes. Take the best and leave the rest. One of the values I have retained from this culture is the belief that everyone has a right to make his or her own choices. There are both negative and positive consequences to mine but overall I do feel like I've made the only possible choice. Really, there was no choice. Hope that explains it a bit.




jen said...

i love it when you talk about your home, chani. i really do. it's so obvious it's where you need to be.

KC said...

Good for you for finding where you can thrive emotionally, and spiritually. I bet a lot of people in this country harbor similar malcontent but never find the place they need to be to be truly happy.

You have done this for yourself.

More power to you.

Susan as herself said...

I think it's fabulous that you found a connection to a group of people that cannot be labeled or diminished by anyone. That is a rare thing in life---and a true gift.

QT said...

Chani - I know how you feel because my grandmother felt the same way. She refused to die here. She got her wish, and I know you are so anxious to start your new life where you can finally be at peace. You are lucky - some people never figure out what they need and remain miserable until their last days.

Here's to your home that awaits you!

Bonnie said...

Chani, I live that way too. I am a Christian and those are the values I live by. People aren't as heartless and cruel in the US as you think they are.

Thailand Gal said...

Jen, thanks. I do enjoy talking about it. Sometimes it's hard to be in such a waiting mode but I'll get there. :)

KC, At least friends of mine indicate they have some of those feelings. That's why I'm glad this is such a big world. There's something for everyone. It almost seems that Thailand found me rather than the other way around. When I think of it, "Thailand" was not in my knowledge base, even a short 15 years ago. :)

Susan, kinship is everything to me. The kinship I experienced there took my breath away. I kept wanting to slap myself to see if it was real. LOL

QT, thanks. :) Where did your grandmother want to be? There's just got to be something more to all of this than just "liking" a place. You know?

Bonnie, I know that. You are a wonderful person and I know you live your Christian beliefs. However, you've gone a bit beyond the scope of this blog. Of course everyone in the US is not heartless and cruel. This isn't either/or and it isn't a competition. I don't have to hate one to love another. I hope I haven't offended you.

Peace all! :)


Pam said...

Your mind and soul are already where you want to be and will be waiting.
Beautiful post.

Lucia said...

I thought of you when I was reading a book today, and in it, a woman said that even though she grew up in the U.S., she knew that she wouldn't live her life here (although in her case, she didn't know where). She wound up in Nepal.

Ginnie said...

Chani: Follow your dream. You have only one life and all you are going through is is not a rehearsal. My only caution is to not completely close off coming may feel the need to do so at some point. All the best.

Brenda said...

Chanakarni,(I gotta be diff'rent), I'm sure you'll be really happy in Thailand but honestly I'm going to be kind of sad to see you go. Thanks for calling today. Your timing is impeccable. Bren

Thailand Gal said...

Pam, I believe you are right. My mind and soul have already left. Now it's just a matter of getting the body to follow. :)

Lucia, what is the name of that book? I would be interested in reading it.

Ginnie, thank you. I appreciate your practical voice. It's really not possible for me to block off any possibility since Thailand does not allow foreigners to become citizens. I honestly don't know what would happen if Thailand doesn't work out ~ or where I would go. Cambodia maybe. What I know for certain is that there won't be that many years left. I have health issues. It's time to be "at home". I'm tired of feeling alienated and it happens here ~ a lot. Now it's time for me to feel "a part of".

Brenda... Chanakarni? (chuckle)Thank you for such a nice thought. I won't be leaving the planet and there's always the Internet. Glad you were available for the phone. It was good to talk. I needed it, too. Thank you.. for your time, your thoughts and all the good things you bring to the table every time you show up. :)

Peace everyone! ~


Anonymous said...


just stumbled across your thai blog searching the web for a blog niche myself.

I live in Thailand for almost 16 years now and I wish to inform you that this "thailand" we wish to 'escape' to is only to be found within ourselves!

Once I was a great fan of india and i had been given the nickname 'the indian'because everything was indian in my home,i cooked indian food, played indian music, read indian philosophy, learned to play the sitar.

I went frequently on trips to this fabulous country.

One day a close friend of mine asked me when I be going back to india and I answered: "not too soon, i guess.."

Why? He replied...

And I said: "guess india is everwhere, once you've arrived!"

my peace and wisdom be with us all!