Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Outsider's Scriptorium....

While blog-hopping this morning, I noticed several people talking about why they do this. Why do so many of us get up each day, think of a topic, log on and write?

You know what? I have no definitive answer! I can't say for certain. There's no ultimate agenda, no profound message, no overriding need. It's just a way to communicate thoughts and ideas that pass through my life from a variety of sources. I'm an observer here.

It's a way to document a fairly unique experience. It's not often that someone over 50 deliberately chooses and adopts another culture, finds her soul's home and deliberately sets out to make it physical home as well. In many ways, it's like being a child again with the wisdom of an adult. I can embrace that culture while still having the guts and the brains to sort the wheat from the chaff. That's true outsider writing.

On the other hand, it reinforces my outsider status in the negative application. I am not part of a family unit. I do not travel extensively. My last bit of traveling will be a one-way ticket to Thailand. My life here is very home-centered, very idea-centered ~ certainly not much that would be considered entertaining to recreational readers. My site will never be filled with pictures of the moments of my life with kids, parents and the usual rites and passages of that style of life. It won't be filled with the things most consider cornerstone.

I am the rare woman who has been given the gift of a completely blank slate on which to create my life. It is an invigorating process but it also carries an awesome responsibility. The state of and well-being of my life falls entirely on my shoulders, a result of my choices. I have no outside source to blame or praise for it. It's all me.

That is also very unusual.

I grew up and experienced the majority of my adulthood as a completely disconnected person. I was not included in the ebb and flow of American life. I lived a life that many would have viewed as lonely ~ but it rarely felt lonely. There was so much to learn, so much to see, that boredom was never an option ~ even in the midst of the driest, most barren time in the desert. I'm certainly never bored or lonely now, even though I don't have the usual external stuff such as family or employment to occupy me.

So again, why do I do this? Perhaps it is worth documenting because most of the people I've known who come from my type of experience are ashamed. It can be a very damaging experience if we choose to process it that way. This culture shames people who don't have the external trappings that most people have: the kids, the house, the parents, the relatives, the employment and the interactive lives that flow from that. So they hide. They don't understand the freedom of choice they have in their lives. They don't understand or embrace the fact that many of us are wanderers in this life. We're observers.

This quote from Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings sums it up well:

'What you looking at me for? I didn't come to stay.' … Whether I could remember the rest of the poem or not was immaterial. The truth of the statement was like a wadded-up handkerchief, sopping wet in my fists, and the sooner they accepted it, the quicker I could let my hands open and the air would cool my palms."

I am not ashamed of my past. Not in the least. If I'd wanted those things all that badly, I would have created them. I would have done the things and made the compromises necessary to create them. I'm not some hapless victim who got a raw deal in life. I got an unusual deal, yes, but not raw.

I never wanted the kids, the house and the supposed American ideal. My last brief foray into the world of dating reinforced that. I really The whole idea of marketing human relationships makes me physically ill. Maybe I just don't have the same capacity to put up with crap as most people.

More outsider stuff.

And I'll continue writing. I'll continue to write between the lines of Thai values and the transformation my lifestyle choice has offered me. Without being bombastic, pedantic or a propagandist for Thailand, I can write of the way my life has changed so drastically and so completely as a result of discovering the culture that feeds my soul, that makes my life more rich and far more complete than I'd ever imagined was possible. Hopefully someone will find it of interest. Maybe someone out there will also see that having a free life is not a shameful thing. I love the life I've chosen. That's worth celebrating.




Laurie said...

This sentence, to me, says it all, "I love the life I've chosen". A lot of people don't "get" that we really do, in many ways, choose our life.

As usual Chani, well said.

Susanne said...

To love the life you have chosen is one of the best things one can say. First, having a choice and then loving it.

I often find it a little disturbing how much my social "status" depends on the same things as a hundred years ago. I didn't marry and have a child to improve my social standing but I perceived the "now you're a real grown-up"-glances.

I think none of us has a definite answer concerning the reasons to blog but I know that I think about that a lot because I like to have good reason for things to occupy so much of my time and energy.

I like the outsider writing because it often shows a better picture of the culture. And your story is exceptionally interesting and unusual. And I like meeting people who question, think and change.

Fonzi said...

I am confused.

One, you are obviously a wise woman.

Two, I don't think you "get" Thai culture.

Honestly, this contradiction is driving me a little nuts.

Plus, many of the things that you criticize American culture for are actually much worse over here.

There is part me that says just shut up. I don't want to put negativity in your space.

But I have to be honest, I think you are deluding yourself.

Right now, Thailand is literally imploding from its own contradictions, its lack of integrity, and its hypocrisy.

We are living under a military dictatorship, there is civil war in the South(two teenage girls were shot on their way to their exams yesterday), schools are burning upcountry from arson attacks, the bureaucracy is hopelessly corrupt, and I can go on. And when the king dies, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

You don't think you will be judged here for being an unmarried 50 year old plus white woman who has chosen to live the twilight of her life in Thailand?

You seriously think Thais are not materialistic or don't care about careers, homes and children?

That is all they care about.

Thailand is a country that is built on social hierarchy. It is a highly stratified classist racist society.

Your "status" will be the topic of gossip for every Thai you meet. Seriously.

You may say, "America is not better."

America may have her faults, but as a citizen, there are thousands of ways to chose from to make a difference in your country.

In Thailand, you will have no power at all. Culturally and legally, you will be an alien. Indeed, you will be running from one alienation to another.

I am not telling you not to come, because people have to be responsible for their choices in life, but I hope you at least have a back up plan.

Thailand Gal said...

Fonzi, thanks for writing :)

All of the issues you've raised are valid ones and I am aware of them. Most of it, I have not chosen to discuss here yet because of context.

The contradictions you cite in Thai society are ones of which I am very aware.

I've certainly not tried to indicate that I don't value marriage and family. They are very important to me but not here.

The one thing I promised myself when I began this project is that I am not going to turn it into an anti-America blog. That is not what I'm here for. Also, it would serve no purpose. Just because it's not right for me doesn't mean it's not right for a whole lot of people.

We all follow our own paths and certain things appeal to us for certain reasons, not always ones we choose to discuss publicly. Some of the things that draw me to traditional Thai cultural values are things I do not intend to discuss publicly because somehow it always ends up, especially in discussions with Americans, into a pissing contest.

That is why some of the things I've said here probably drive you nuts. You see one thing, a small peice of a very intricate puzzle ~ and I see the whole thing because I am living it. I'm aware of the flaws in Thai society and I think I understand the historical context. I am aware of the pitfalls I will face there. I've already been there and experienced them.

Am I willing to tolerate those things in order to experience the good?


Am I willing to go through the hard times I will face to be a part of something that is so ultimately meaningful to me?


That is my choice and I am not deluded. If anything, I'm a rather hardcore realist who made my choice for some very specific reasons. Many of those reasons will be discussed on this blog in the future. Some of them will not.

I appreciate your perspective. Of course I always have a Plan B. It's my nature. One core freedom in my life is to replace a wrong choice with a new choice.

However, I don't believe Thai culture is a bad choice for me. Honestly, I've never felt so whole, so filled up, in my life. And there are many reasons why that may never make sense to you. You'd have to know me ~ and you do not.



meno said...

Well, i feel alittle silly posting a comment after that wondrous exchange with fonzi, but i've never let feeling a little silly stop me in the past so..

The kind of freedom to completely create a life of your choosing frightens most people. It frightens me if i think about it. How will we know what to want if it could be anything?

Interesting to think about.

Her Bad Mother said...

BEAUTIFUL. *Do* keep writing.

Thailand Gal said...

Meno, I hope you never feel silly leaving a comment here. Fonzi's comment was great ~ which is why I took so much time to answer it. He raises good points and if I was not aware of those things, would be saving me a lot of heartache. The differentiation, I think, is that Fonzi is looking at Thai culture from a western, non-traditional, point of view. I view Thai society from a traditional Thai point of view. It's like a kaleidoscope. The prisms change the view. I can see where the west has come along, taken a big steaming crap all over traditional Thai culture and, yes, there are now contradictions and confusions that wouldn't be there if that hadn't occurred.

So... I am always glad for the Fonzis to come along and challenge me ~ but I hope it will never leave anyone else feeling silly or uncomfortable. :)



Thailand Gal said...

Meno, now the second part of your comment. LOL

How do we know what to want when it can be anything?

That reminds me of the scene in the old movie "Moscow on the Hudson" when Robin Williams expresses confusion because there are too many choices.

I felt that way for a long time, too. What I had to do is figure out the things that are most important to me, what I wanted from my life and what I wanted to give to it, what my core values are, etc. ~ and then search for what would give me the best operational framework for that. Of course, then I had to remain open to what that operational framework would be. Thai culture (I feel like I should always say 'traditional' now..) came up and bit my behind ~ and then I knew I'd found the right outlet.


Otherwise, without some context, yeah.. it's just too wide open.



Anvilcloud said...

Why blog? Why not blog?

Anonymous said...

As a neutral (?) observer, I see many traces of American culture in your blogs, and none of Thai, even reading between the lines. But maybe it will comes sometime ?
As to "choice" of life and be "free"... I am really skeptical about those concepts... Everything is relative though..

flutter said...

I am more glad that you write, than you could possibly imagine

Thailand Gal said...

G, it largely depends on how you interpret what I write. The primary American trait you'll see in my blog is that I am very open to all lifestyles, as long as it is not harmful to anyone else. That, yes, is different than traditional Thai culture which is a bit more rigid.

And that's okay. I am not a propagandist ~ and it's perfectly okay for me to disagree with some aspects of Thai culture. That doesn't negate all of the good stuff.

As for other things you may see here, yes, I use American events rather than Thai. The people who read here are mostly American so they know of the events and it makes it easier to make a point that way.

There's plenty of Thai culture in me and my views ~ but my presentation tends to be more American. (Again, that's mostly who reads.)

There are certain aspects of traditional Thai culture that I won't be discussing here, yet they are very much a part of my everyday life.

I'm not here to "sell" Thai culture. It doesn't need to be sold. It's not going to be right for everyone and I personally dislike anyone who pushes their views on another in an aggressive way. At the same time, some of the views and aspects will be rather impossible to hide but they'll come through naturally.

If anything, I'm here hoping that my searching and discovery will encourage someone else to seek and discover for themselves.

That's freedom of life... making choices. And, of course, it is relative.



jen said...

i love where you took this. we all have something to say, but yours is about freedom, and i think that is so wonderful.

Hel said...

And I will continue reading what you write and thinking in a new way.

Thailand Gal said...

Laurie, that seems so critical. If we don't like the life we've chosen, it seems that choosing another only makes sense.

Susanne, I'm not sure how that particular structure of "social status" came about, but it exists everywhere (even Thailand). For me, as a divorced post-50 woman, there are a lot of assumptions made about my status, none of them accurate. :)


Bad, thank you. :)


Anvil, does a branch in the forest make a sound when.... LOL


Flutter, thank you. Thank you. I'm truly glad it means something to you. That's what keeps me doing it.


Jen, yes.. it's about freedom, choice and responsibility. I suppose that's the Cliff Notes version. I was just having a conversation about this, that when we are given a choice, we need to make one.

My choice is unusual, I know.. and I just spent over 2.5 hours at lunch with someone who helped me kind of process this out. (Of course, he "gets" the whole Asian values thing.. and understands what I am doing.)

We all need a roadmap, whether we like it or not.. and we'd better choose the best roadmap for ourselves or we end up lost.


Hel, thanks. I'm glad to know you will be reading. You are so light years ahead of me in many areas. I'll be reading you, too. :)




Anonymous said...

I see "americanism" here, not in the mentioned events, but in some details of way of in the bloggers'comments - which are widely flaterring, and not agressive, indeed ! Not to be critical, I was just interested in discovering another culture than the too well known western one. Finally, I realize that it is just impossible

Thailand Gal said...

G, I can understand that you want something different. That is what caused me to make many of the choices I've made... and to change my thinking as I have.

I have to carefully balance presenting my rather unique way of living this and still managing to not alienate others. That is why I present the ideas obliquely at times ~ and keep a healthy portion to myself.

I'm not mindless and of course don't accept every aspect of Thai culture as being The Truth. The fact is that I don't believe in an ultimate "Truth". We pick our poison and do the best we can with it.

I am not an apologist for Thai social inequities or the Thai government. I will not be the one to solve or fix it. There are problems and inequities in every society.

I will not be the one to end American cultural hegemony, no matter how hard I try. All I can do is bring a few things to mind, in the form of alternate ideas, and see if they "take". Doing that in any aggressive or argumentative manner would defeat that from the outset.

All I can do is balance these things as best I can and continue to grow into my choice ~ which works for me on most levels.

Some of the things I believe are controversial. Those will likely not be addressed here for a variety of reasons, some big ~ some small.

The comments are generally positive because I think people recognize that I am not an aggressive person and they like the softer, gentle way I present my views. I am not argumentative or brash. To do so wouldn't serve any of us well, least of all in representing the culture I've chosen.



Penny said...

Chani, you say it all, so well.

I wish I could get in my car, go for a drive and pull up at your house to have coffee in your backyard with you and your flowers and your insight and your stories.

"Marketing human relationships". Loved that.

I make my life, too. What I need more practice in, is controlling the thoughts that work against this creation.

Fonzi said...

Dear Chani-

I think you are a lovely woman, so I don't want get into a nasty confrontation with you. I think you appreciate that. By the way, I didn't mean deluded in a negative way. I meant deluded from a Buddhist perspective.

Maybe I don't get you. That's cool. Maybe I don't. And your reasons for your connection to Thailand are yours. They may be spiritual. They may be soulful. I can't take that away from you. Your reality is your own.

My point was that things over here in Thailand are not any different than in the US. In fact, I think they are worse, at least from the place where you are condemning the US from, politically, culturally, economically and socially.

I see that as a contradiction. You don't. Enough said.

Yes, I live in Thailand(for many years), I speak the language, and I actually have a MA degree in Thai studies, so I think I qualify as an expert to at least some degree, or at least I know what I am talking about, from both a real life and theoretical perspective.

I have a very deep knowledge of the country in every respect. I am not talking as a 2 week tourist who had a horrible time.

Lastly, Thailand's problems have nothing to do with US cultural hegemony. Every Thai problem has a Thai source, stemming from its own culture and long history.

Classism, racism, sexism, social stratification, violence against women, sexual hypocrisy, religious hypocrisy, war mongering, and so forth were part of Thai culture long before any white man stepped foot on Thai soil. Many things that are considered to be Thai culture today have been recently created to justify the rule of the elite and/or to civilize the masses.

These are facts. I may be using the English language to describe those facts, but they are facts, nonetheless.

Those facts can't be blamed on America or its cultural hegemony.

Pointing out the parts of the Thai condition that are inconsistent with human dignity and human rights doesn't make me myopic or make me lack understanding; rather, it makes me consistent with my own integrity.

I understand why teenage girls are circumcised in the Sudan, but that doesn't mean I agree with it just because it is their culture.

If Thais want to worship idols or sell their daughters into prostitution or kill people over face, I can understand why they do those things, but that doesn't mean I accept it or condone it.

We can agree to disagree, however.

I have said my peace and wish you the best in the life you have chosen.

Thailand Gal said...

Fonzi, thank you! I appreciate your sharing your perspective with me. In the end, it's probably a half full/half empty issue. There are certainly flaws in Thai culture, just as there are flaws in American culture. Many of the flaws are similar. When something is really important, we somehow reconcile the contradictions.

We'll just have to agree to disagree on the cultural hegemony issue. :)

A degree in Thai Studies.. and State Department documents.


Thanks again for dialoguing with me.