Lessons learned from seven months as an expat

Today marks seven months of being an expat in Thailand. To say my life has been a blessing these past seven months is not an understatement. From exploring Sri Lanka to blissing out in Bali to rescuing elephants and all of the beautiful moments in between, I have loved nearly every moment.

What have I learned about life as an expat?

Ask for help

When I first arrived to Thailand, I had no idea what I was doing. Visas, work permits, medical care, even the best place to go and get a massage, I was clueless. I solicited people who had lived here to help, locals, social media and more to figure everything out. Don’t think you can just go and have instant perfection (which doesn’t exist). There is a learning curve for life as an expat, and you’re not immune. Even if you think you are.

Get a strong support system

Being so far from the life I know isn’t always easy. There are days where I long for my old life, a more normal and routine life. Having people by my side has been instrumental in getting me through these seven months. There are some people who only come into my life for a short time, and others who have been by my side since the beginning. All of them play roles in my life. I never for a moment thought I could go this alone, and having that support system of people I love, and who love me, is my saving grace for when I get into one of my funks. Speaking of …

D Travels Round Elephant Nature Park

A funk is a funk is a funk

Sometimes, you just have to have one. They are unavoidable. Don’t become an expat because you think it will change you. As my friend used to always tell me when I was struggling with depression and contemplating more long-term travel, “everywhere you go, there you are.” Being an expat does not excuse depression, it does not change who you are inside. While I am not depressed anymore, I still have those occasional moments of funk when I want to curl into a ball and cry, or fly home and get a Mom Hug. They are OK. So long as I can come out of them. Whenever I get into one of these funks, I have learned the best thing I can do is just take time for myself. Whether it means going to hang out with elephants or Mr. Lucky, or something as simple as taking a walk and drinking in the beauty and charm of Chiang Mai, it gets done.

Pharmacies are good, doctors are better

Many people come to Thailand and stock up on the prescription drugs you can’t get at home without, well, a prescription. I’m guilty of this, thanks to the ridiculously cheap pills like birth control. But, I don’t abuse it. When I get sick, I go to a pharmacy and tell them what ails me, and they hand me over magic pills of better. But, that isn’t always the case. A couple of months ago, I got really sick and decided I would self-diagnose myself because I didn’t feel like hauling it to the hospital to get a real examination. Thanks to some google searches, I confidently went to the pharmacist, announced I had bronchitis and then asked for antibiotics. Easy, right? Good? Not at all. In a conversation later that day with a doctor friend, who informed me it could be pneumonia and antibiotics weren’t a good idea for me to take unless I knew what I had. Short version of this story: go to a doctor if you get sick. Skip the pharmacy.

Don’t lose touch

With social media and all of the apps you can download to smart phones, it is really difficult to lose touch with the people I love the most. Which is good. There are people in my life who I count on to call me out on my bullshit, give me advice and remind me not to sweat the small stuff. Most of them are on the other side of the world.

Las Vegas home

Home is where the heart is

I come from Maryland. I lived in Vegas. Home to me is both of those places. But now, home is here. It’s weird when I am out of Thailand and people ask me where I am from. My automatic answer: Chiang Mai.  On my little street, in my little slice of Chiang Mai, I have made a home. I walk down this street every day and see my new family here. When I need a smile, I head to Ciccia’s House for some wine and laughs with my new family. Sure, it isn’t my mom, dad or brother, but I have created my own version of “Cheers” here … and sometimes that’s all you need.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

The rescue of Lucky the Elephant

“Diana! Mindy! Get off of the truck!” We hear Lek yell from the ground below at us, as we sit huddled under a wooden bench in the bed of a truck beginning to fill up with water. We are soaked. And, the elephant standing mere feet from us on the truck, doesn’t look too thrilled that we’ve come to a stop.

She wants to keep moving as bad as we do.

It’s just after 6 a.m. and Mindy and I have been riding with Lucky, the elephant, since 1 a.m. But, we’ve been traveling even longer.

My adventure to be a part of the rescue of Lucky began a day earlier, at 6 p.m. On Thursday, Jan. 31, to be exact. Lek, myself, two other staff members, two drivers and four volunteers boarded our van and headed deep into the Surin province of Thailand to meet and take Lucky  to her new home, Elephant Nature Park.

The drive is easy, compared to the rough roads we hit in Cambodia during my first elephant rescue. But the traveling is not.

Crowded into a van, Lek and I share a three-seat bench, and drive off into the night. I alternate between sleep and ache, trying to always keep in mind the bigger picture: I am a part of an elephant rescue. My comfort is second to what we are doing.

At 7 a.m., when we stop for coffee, stretching is blissful. Then, it is back into the van and a quick stopover in Cambodia to have two staff head to the foundation’s newest project, Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia.

We continue driving, and from time-to-time I am able to close my eyes and let sleep take over. It is never long-lasting. It is never comfortable. But, I don’t care.

We finally arrive to Surin around 2 p.m. I’m off the van quickly, heading over to see Lucky.

Mindy is already there (she arrived a day earlier) and she sits with Lucky, who is chained and rocking back and forth.

Lucky from Elephant Nature Park

She is gorgeous.

And has a full head of hair, something I have never seen before on an elephant.

Elephant Nature Park Lucky Close Up

Elephant Nature Park Hook

I don’t dare touch her — she has had enough stress for the day. Instead, I take her in. One eye is milky white, the other slightly cloudy. Blinded by the spotlights from a lifetime of being a famous circus elephant.

You will be free soon. You won’t ever have to perform again.

I wish she could understand the magnitude of what is about to happen in her life.

Elephant Nature Park Truck1

The truck where Lucky, staff and volunteers will use to drive up to Elephant Nature Park.

Elephant Nature Park Truck Lucky

Elephant Nature Park Walk

An hour later, when she walks onto the truck with no hesitation, I think for a moment that maybe she does.

Less than 24 hours after leaving Chiang Mai, we board the van and head back. Volunteers take shifts riding with her. And, at 1 a.m. when the last two decide they want to be back on the van, Mindy and I decide to climb up the truck and spend the night with her.

It is even less comfortable than the van, but there is something incredibly magical at being able to sit with an elephant being brought to freedom. Wrapped in a blanket, hood pulled tightly over my head, I sit and stare at her.

Even in the dark, her beauty touches me. Against the night sky and the waning moon, the light pink freckles dotting her trunk and ears glow silver.

I stare at her for a long time, eventually falling asleep slumped on the wooden plank near the top of the truck. Finally, I curl into a tight ball and lean my head against makeshift pillows and let my exhausted body relax. I wake over every bump and stop, but that sleep is some of the most peaceful I have had. I know it is because Lucky is there and knowing what Lek has done is so important.

I wake up at 4 a.m. and look at my clock.

“We’ve only been up here three hours?” I ask Mindy. “Oh god … time is going so slow.”

I close my eyes for another hour and then wake up for good when one of the mahouts sleeping on a hammock below tickles my foot.

The black night is giving way to a cloudy and gray morning far before the sun even pokes above the horizon. I stand up on the bench and peer over the top of the truck, looking into the distance.

It looks ominous. 

During the night, we’ve headed into the lush mountains … and storm clouds. Ahead, I see a flash of sheet lightening.

Crap.

I gesture to the mahout that thunder, lightening and rain are coming and he looks ahead.

“Down?” He asks me.

I turn to Mindy. Do we want to get caught in a storm sitting on top of the truck? Driving through the mountains of Thailand? Next to an elephant?

Absolutely, we do.

“Mai pen rai,” I say to him. (No worries.)

He smiles, laughs and begins to prepare for the downpour.

It starts slow, just a few drops plunking down on us. Then, the sky opens. The four of us jump down under the bench and situate ourselves near Lucky, on top of a spare tire.

When we stop, Lek calls for us, telling us to come back to the van.

I’ve never been more soaked in my life. I scramble down the ladder and grab some dry clothes and head into the bathroom of the quarantine office we’ve stopped at.

Once we’re in dry clothes, we continue on, stopping for food for us and Lucky before we begin the final trek from Lampang to the park.

Elephant Nature Park Lek Lucky

Mindy, Lek and I climb back up with Lucky for the last three hours of the journey. Lek sits below with the elephant so she can learn her voice and grow comfortable with us.

When we arrive to Elephant Nature Park, the emotions from the past day hit me when I see the crowd of people gathered to witness Lucky’s first taste of freedom.

Elephant Nature Park Visitors

Along the feeding platform are about 50 people, all cheering and taking photos. Then, at the medical center, there are even more, filming, photographing, being a part of this elephant’s first moments in her new life.

Elephant Nature Park Lucky ENP

Lucky walks off of the truck with no problem. I wait until she is off and no one can see the tears which are running down my face. While I was just there to document the experience, being able to witness this rescue, the third now in my life, never gets old. And, my emotions always are the same: I’ve witnessed this elephant get a new lease on life.

And, THAT is a powerful thing.

Asia Blog Thailand

The seedy side of Bangkok: Nana Plaza

The girls stand around poles, clad in tiny bikinis, looking entirely uninterested at the crowd of mostly expats (and sexpats) who sit around the stage, sipping watered down drinks and gawking.

Daniel and I were unsure about going to the Nana Plaza complex, a part of Bangkok’s red light district, but after a bottle of wine and a tasty dinner, we’ve decided to hop in a bubble-gum-pink cab and learn more about the seedy side of Bangkok.

Nana Plaza

Nana Plaza was never on my itinerary when I decided to hop a flight down to Thailand’s capital and spend the weekend with my friend. In fact, up until dinner, I had never even considered supporting the sex industry in Thailand.

Then, things changed.

As we sit on the balcony of Oscar, a delicious restaurant, which overlooks many a nightclub, he tells me about the book he has finished reading, “Private Dancer.” The novel tells the tale of a western man who falls in love with a woman who works at one of the clubs at Nana.

“I just want to get an idea of where the book takes place,” he says.

After some pondering, I decide I want to see it, too. Especially since the book has just been handed over to me and Thailand’s sex industry is one I am curious to learn more about.

So, we go.

The massive three-story complex makes my jaw-drop. Situated in an area with Muslim storefronts, I find it entirely ironic that there are woman here who are wearing next-to-nothing, a thick coating of booze sticks to the floor and walking — even outside — means passing through billowing cigarette smoke.

We stand outside, hovering under a roof to protect ourselves from the remnants of the rainy season and look around. It’s old men. It’s European tourists. It’s Thai girls and lady boys sidling up to them, acting interested until something better comes along.

“Should we wander around?” I ask.

He nods, and we begin to investigate the first floor. We peak our heads through the curtains as the doormen try to lure us in with “hellos,” and “girls.”

For the most part, everything we see is pretty tame — especially in comparison to what I’ve seen in Las Vegas strip clubs.

Finally, we settle on a bar on the second floor and walk in. A cocktail waitress with a flashlight guides us into the club, weaving us through high top tables to an open seat in front of the stage.

Around us, servers sit with men, giggling, talking, pretending to be interested in what they are saying with the hopes that the men will pay their bar fine.

The stage has about 10 girls on it, some holding onto poles, some standing around. They all wear black bikinis and all look ridiculously bored, barely dancing to the music. Occasionally, they sway a bit, but for the most part, there is a dull look in their eyes as they survey the crowd. In front of us, a girl readies herself for her time on the stage, primping in front of the mirror before she climbs up.

“This is lame,” I say, so we head out and climb up another flight of stairs to the even seedier stuff.

Sex shows! Ping pong shows! Naked!

I roll my eyes at it. I find it all utterly disgusting.

We walk past one club and peak in — there are lady boys doing a dance routine.

“Oooh, can we go in here?” I beg Daniel, excited at the prospect of actually being entertained and seeing — for lack of better words — a drag show.

He agrees and we head into the dark bar. A cocktail server leads us up a few rows of seats to an empty spot and sits down with us.

I don’t want her there. 

“Where you from?” She asks, looking more at Daniel, who is seated next to her, than me.

“Europe and America,” he says.

“Ooooh. You on honeymoon?”

Say yes, Daniel. Then she will leave.

“No.”

Damnit.

We both sit there, taking everything in. The drag show ends quickly and is replaced by some of the most gorgeous lady boys I have ever seen. I mean — they are more gorgeous than most females I have seen. But, like the club before, they seem entirely uninterested. Except a few who don props like fake eyeglasses, and show off their numbers with the hopes that someone in the bar will ask them to come off the stage and sit with them, order them drinks and then pay their bar fine.

I look down the rows of seats and see a woman straddling an older man. She licks his ear and he grabs her breast. I roll my eyes and turn around, saying softly under my breath “gross.”

“You buy me drink farang,” the woman next to us says to Daniel.

I smile, grab his hand and squeeze it.

“No,” he says.

Then, she gets up and leaves, clearly disappointed she has even wasted a moment of her time sitting with us.

I look back over at the couple and the man now is sucking on the lady boy’s breast.

“Seriously,” I murmur to no one in particular. “I mean … come on. This is just … horrible.”

We sit a few more minutes as my mind is blown by this entire culture, then we leave the bar. Leave Nana Plaza.

Grime still on my feet, we head towards a Thai nightclub to grab some whisky and get Nana out of our minds.

Asia Blog Thailand

Giving thanks

Maryland

I’m sitting in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Around me, I can hear the happy chatter of my mom, dad and brother. I hear the jingle of metal from the tag on Barkley, our old and gorgeous springer spaniel’s collar. I look outside at the naked trees against the bright blue sky.

I’m home. And so grateful to be here, in this beautiful moment.

Only, this isn’t my home anymore. In fact, my home is thousands and thousands of miles away. On the other side of the world, actually.

This Thanksgiving is the last one at my childhood home. It is the last Thanksgiving in Maryland. Next year, my house will be in Delaware. In rooms with no history. No ghosts of my former self to wrap their arms around my memories. This Thanksgiving is also the last with Barkley. He’s been around since 1998. Truthfully, I never expected him to last this long. He’s a good boy, and I know his next life will be even more awesome than this one.

It’s all so hard to comprehend. At times it feels as if the life I have in Chiang Mai is this sweet, sweet dream and any moment I will be awakened and back in America, going through the mundane motions of my previous life. I have two very different realities — my American and my Thai — and sometimes they are hard to separate.

I miss my family when I’m not around them. But, I don’t miss my old life. At all.

My life has changed so much in the past year. From working as the director of communications for a Las Vegas restaurant group to coping with major depression to quitting said job, to uprooting my life and heading to the jungle in Thailand to be an expat. It’s been a wild ride and I am so thankful for every single moment.

Chiang Mai apartment

Not every moment has been easy. There were times when I doubted myself. Times when I missed home and realized that being an expat wasn’t what I thought it would be. But, for the most part, life has been a dream.

So, this Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks to the people in my life. The readers of d travels ’round. You’ve been on quite the journey with me this past year. And, I want to give thanks to the people who have supported me: my family, my friends, the amazing Lek Chailert and the entire staff at Save Elephant Foundation.

I want to give thanks to that damn rooster that caws every morning just before sunrise. And to the tuk tuks that putter down the street in the middle of the night and tell me my baht isn’t enough for the quick ride to my apartment. And to my amazing friends in Chiang Mai who keep me company on those humid nights at old wooden picnic tables and make me laugh. I want to give thanks to the animals — especially Mr. Lucky and my favorite elephants, Medo and Navann. Life is even more fulfilling when there are animals to love, who love you back (even if Mr. Lucky likes to clench my nose between his sharp little teeth).

Finally, I’d like to give thanks to my parents. I know my decision to live abroad isn’t easy. And, Thailand is not close. But, they have always loved me and supported me and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

At the end of the day, I know this one truth above all else: I am incredibly lucky. And, I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night knowing this truth.

So. Thankful.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

Old and Lonely: an expat tale of (not) dating in Thailand

It’s one of those thick and gorgeous nights in Bali, when the air gently whispers in your ear, the ink black water of the Indian Ocean licks the soft butter-colored sand, and you can just barely make out puffy clouds lingering in the night sky.

Grand Mirage Resort Bali

Sitting outside at the Jukung Grill at Grand Mirage Resort, Daniel and I are enjoying overly-full stomachs, thanks to a decadent dinner, and more rose wine than we should. Late into our evening, an older couple sits across from us and we all begin chatting.

From the Isle of Mann, the two are on a 12-day holiday and this is their last night in paradise. Eventually, Daniel converses with the husband and I chat away with the wife.

She tells me of her battle with cancer (she’s been in remission for five years) and her need to just get out there and live. I tell her about my travels, my life today.

And, that’s when she says this:

“Please, dear. Do me this one favor.”

I raise my eyebrows, awaiting her response. Her face immediately turns from bright and sunny to a look of remorse.

“Please, with your life right now and traveling and everything, please do not turn Old and Lonely.”

Old. And Lonely.

Within a second, my airy October evening goes from light and happy to serious.

Old. And Lonely.

“Oh,” I say quickly, waving my hand, “I won’t.”

I try to say it with confidence, but there is none in my voice … or in my heart.

The truth is, being Old and Lonely is one of my greatest fears. I’m the single girl. I’m the girl that always gets asked by the perpetually-in-a-relationship girl “why on earth are you still single?”

As if it is a curse.

It’s not that I haven’t been in relationships — I have. Although most of them were horribly self-destructive. And, it’s not like I haven’t dated — I have. Although, most of the guys I have dated were total assholes. (Yeah, my taste in men has — up until very recently — sucked).

For many years, I stopped caring if I had a significant other. I mean, when I quit my job at 30 to go and travel, I was so thankful I wasn’t leaving the Love of My Life in Atlanta. Then, when I went backpacking, I was so thankful I wasn’t in a relationship with the person on the train next to me. But then, I was 31. And decided to move to Las Vegas. Which is like a cesspool of sleaze as far as dating goes. Ask any of my single (and amazing) girlfriends there. Finding a decent guy is next to impossible.

When I told my parents I was moving back there, I also told them I realized this decision would likely impact one of the things I wanted most in my life — to have children. Because, let’s face it, I wasn’t going to meet the man of my dreams living in Nevada.

It wasn’t until recently, I felt this sudden sense of urgency. This feeling of holy-shit-I’m-still-single-and-there-aren’t-even-any-potential-people-in-my-life moments. I mean, suddenly, I am 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, (gasp) 33 and I have … no one.

Old. And Lonely.

Arriving to Thailand, I hoped things would be different than Las Vegas.

Guess what?

They’re not.

In fact, it is worse here.

A few weeks ago, I was walking with an American (guy) friend and we were talking about dating.

“Shit, D,” he says to me as we walk down the street talking about him meeting Thai girls, “it must be just awful for you here in terms of dating.”

Thanks, buddy.

“Yeah,” I sigh, trying not to let the sting of his words penetrate my skin. “It pretty much sucks. The western guys want to date Thai girls … and the Thai guys …” I trail off.

So, on the gorgeous Bali evening when the woman tells me not to be Old and Lonely, it hits home. Hard.

As soon as I return from Bali, I make a promise to myself to go out more. To meet more people. To engage. To try and date in Thailand.

I’m in no rush to meet someone. I’ve waited 33 years for Mr. Right to walk down the tarmac. I don’t doubt it will happen at some point. And I can promise this: I will not be Old and Lonely. Just Old.

Asia Blog Expat Life Indonesia Thailand

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: the day trip

The early morning rays of the sun are barely creeping through my apartment window when my alarm buzzes.

Time to get up.

It’s a Saturday, and I am awake at 6 a.m. for a good reason: I am going on my first journey outside of Chiang Mai. Today, I’m hopping into a Top North minivan along with two friends, and heading out for a 13-hour tour of the Chiang Rai/Golden Triangle (Myanmar and Laos) area.

We hop into our van, which is filled with other travelers, and begin our journey.

The first stop, around 8 a.m., is a hot spring about 45 minutes outside of town. In my mind, I envision a bubbling, sulfur brook surrounded by lush jungle vegetation.

It is nothing like that. Not even remotely.

Chiang Rai hot springs

 

Instead, there are two little areas with water, both not natural-looking at all. Essentially, a large tourist area has been created around these two warm waters, which are now manicured and contained in stone casings. Around the hot springs are little huts hawking everything from food and coffee to T-shirts, bags, and other random souvenirs. It’s a well-done tourist trap with some water features. That’s it.

Chiang Rai hot springs

Fortunately, the hot springs aren’t really on my radar in terms of things I want to see. What I care about is the next stop: the White Temple, or Wat Ron Khung.

Chiang Rai White Temple

The intricate temple began construction in 1997 and is still a work-in-progress today. Created by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple is designed to be open to all and to symbolize the passage into heaven, including passing through hell. The details here are breathtaking — from the twirls of smoke on the “no smoking” signs to the hands reaching up from the pits of hell as visitors walk across a white bridge towards the temple.

White Temple Chiang Rai

White Temple Chiang Rai

Even inside the temple, which was under construction when I visited, details abound. The murals, which have sparked some debate, further show heaven and hell, tying the concept to today and news of the world. Painted on the walls is the tragic 9/11, Superman and more.

We stand, silent, taking in these images for a moment before we notice a wax monk sitting at the head of the room.

Odd.

But, it seems to fit with everything else.

The next stop for us is the Karen hill tribe village.

After what seems like forever in the van, we head off the main road and down a windy path to a village with one dirt road. Only, it isn’t really a village at all. It’s more like some huts with villagers selling their goods, encouraging us to buy, buy, buy.

I don’t even take my camera out when we visit the long neck tribe. It just feels like we are exploiting them as they sit there, brass encircling their necks, arms, knees, and smiling for photos. Our guide even pulls out a picture showing us what they look like when they sleep.

I’m not impressed.

In fact, if there was one aspect of the trip I would skip, it would be this. I know there are other ways to support hill tribes and simply heading to a remote spot where they set up shop and are on display for tourists isn’t my idea of how it should be done.

“I hate this,” I whisper to my friend as some of our tour group stops to take photos with the token twins in the tribe. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

My friend nods her head, rolls her eyes and together, we walk back across the rickety bamboo bridge to where a litter of puppies are curled up.

Yeah, we’d rather play with puppies than “ooh” and “ahh” at hill tribe people who essentially are a tourist attraction.

After we don’t buy anything at the “village,” we journey onward to the Golden Triangle. What used to be vast opium fields, today the area is simply where three countries — Thailand, Myanmar and Laos — converge.

Golden Triangle boat ride

Golden Buddha

Its got casinos, huge golden buddhas and a quick boat tour that has  a stop on an island in Laos where people can drink Laos beer, try the whisky with dead animals in it, or shop for “genuine fakes.”

The stop in Laos

We hand over our boat ticket and when we get back on the boat, the ticket is returned with a Laos stamp on it.

Again, not impressed. But, the boat ride is nice and I love the idea of straddling three different countries at once.

Finally, we head to Mesai on the border of Myanmar. Typically, this is where people who need to do border runs head to get their stamp in and out. We are given one whole hour (compared to the 30 minutes we normally have at each spot) to shop (of course). But, its sweltering hot and the shops are all offering the same goods for the same prices.

It’s nearly 4:30 p.m. when we finally head back towards Chiang Mai from the Chiang Rai region. We’ve got a four-plus hour drive back to the city and the rain clouds are hovering. Eventually, they give way to thunderstorms, which at least lull me to sleep for a quick bit.

By the time we get back to Chiang Mai, I’m well-rested (hey, there were ample opportunities to nap in the van during the 14-hour day) and a bit disappointed in the experience.

The bottom line: I would not do the tour again. While the tour guide is great, the tour itself if lacking. It seems there are plenty of tour operators all offering the same itinerary. But, not enough time is given at the various places to explore. And, most of the time is spent on the bus. I’d prefer to head simply to Chiang Rai for two days and explore the area that way, instead of being ushered around with time limits and extensive periods sitting on a bus.

 

Asia Blog Reviews Thailand Tours

My dirty little expat confession

Chiang Mai

For two weeks, I am in Thailand Expat Bliss.

I wake up when it gets light (because for the first two weeks in Chiang Mai the sun refuses to glow) with a huge smile on my face. The smile never leaves. I walk to work like a child seeing the world for the first time.

Huge trees tied with colorful ribbons!

Tuk tuks honking to give me a ride!

Incense wafting through the thick, humid air!

Street cats and street dogs eyeing the new stranger in their land curiously!

Fruit shakes for breakfast! Lunch! Dinner!

An inherited family at my apartment building!

Yes, I am living life with exclamation points. Never-ending exclamation points.

On the way home from work, the night is a story of endless possibilities, mostly which circled around Ciccia’s House, the haunt of those who live in my building. Most nights I sidle up to one of the wooden benches and have an icy cold beer with my new friends.

I meet AG the second night I arrive to Chiang Mai, when I am being verbally jumped by one of the older men, Papa. (Who I have come to fully adore, despite his tendency to proposition me after a day of drinking.) The third night of my new life, the power goes out at the apartment, so I find myself sitting downstairs at the little mart having a beer and chatting with him. Which evolves into dinner. And more drinks.

Just like when traveling, suddenly I have a fast and furious friendship. Whenever I am not at the office or writing, chances are I’m hanging with him. Which is awesome. He’s been living here on and off for years and imparts wisdom in regards to how to blend in, where to go for a drink, how to get around. Quickly, AG becomes someone I can confide in. My friend.

Over nit noi drinks, we sit and talk and laugh and joke and I can’t believe how lucky I am. How fortunate I am to have a friend I can talk to so quickly.To feel so comfortable with in a matter of days. I look forward to heading down the road to my place and seeing him sitting at Ciccia’s and knowing I have someone to talk to for the night over a large Leo (or five).

But, right before Week Three of Life as an Expat, his girlfriend comes to town and he all but disappears; I get sick. And suddenly, when faced with long nights sitting in my apartment — which is really just a glorified hotel room — it hits me.

I am alone.

Sick. Lonely.

For five days, my company is my music and I turn into a reflection of whatever song it is I am listening too (mostly sad music about being loved, not being loved and missing people).

Three weeks ago none of these people even existed in my life. I had friends. I had a life. And now … I don’t have anything.

(No one ever said I wasn’t a tad dramatic.)

That’s the thing about being an expat. When you leave America, when you leave your comfort zone, you don’t have anyone to rely on but yourself. Granted, this is nothing new to me, but still … to have it suddenly slam into your face with such a fury, witch such a quickness, it stings beyond belief.

Being an expat, in those early stages is lonely. Lonely, lonely, lonely. Going from family and friends to alone is a rude awakening.

I get mad at myself for thinking I am immune to the lonely. That the glow is permanent. For thinking that I have it all worked out and, thanks to AG, have someone to fight off that alone. Of course, I know better. The entire time, I know better and yet I am so caught up in the moments, so happy to be on Cloud Nine (even for a short time), that I ignore the ever louder voice in the back of my head — “this will have repercussions soon.This is not how your life is going to be here.”

And, when the soon hits, I hate it. Despise it. Get into a war in my mind over it.

Why did you get comfortable?

What were you thinking?

And I relate those thoughts to every facet of my life.

I sit, staring at the window in my room (even though the curtains are drawn) and silently wish for human contact. A phone call from a friend at home. A knock on my door from a neighbor wanting to see how I am. Anything. I just don’t want to be alone because, for the first time in a long time, when I am alone, I start to feel like I am sinking.

For one week, I walk around in a self-induced pity party of annoying, paired with a nasty little bug. I turn on Coldplay and Damien Rice and let their sad words drown me. I stare in the mirror and wonder where the old D went, the one who saw everything with wonder and bliss.

Then, one night, on the way home from work, it hits me.

I am in Thailand. I am an expat. I did this. I followed my heart. I followed my dreams. And, everything lead me here. Maybe a rough patch isn’t such a bad thing. It’s part of life. If you don’t have the not so good, how can you have the amazing, knock-your-socks-off wonderful?

And, as quickly as my life grew empty, my happy came back.

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