Surviving Songkran

The stream of water from the squirt gun hits me dead in the eye. The sting is instantaneous.

“Damnit! My eye!” I whimper as I attempt to wipe the water out. But, it’s no use.

I’m in the middle of the world’s biggest water fight — Songkran — a celebration of the new year in Thailand. And, I’m in the hotbed of all of the action, Chiang Mai.

For four days, the water battle leaves me drenched during daylight hours.

Originally, this now infamous water fight started far tamer. Water was simply sprinkled over the shoulders as a cleansing or blessing for the new year. Today, well … while this still goes on, there’s far more ammo involved.

April 12: Day One

The first unofficial day of Songkran, there is an electricity in the air as I head to work. The city is quiet. A lot quieter than normal. Vendors have just begun to set up shop across from my office. Water guns, “water-tight” plastic pouches to stash smart phones and money and cameras, buckets outfitted with strings to dip into the dirty moat water … all are offered.

By the time we hit lunch, the battle has begun. Music from the bar down the street pumps, shop keepers stand at the ready with hoses, buckets, guns, aiming at passersby.

The bar next to our lunch spot is ready to take aim.

The bar next to our lunch spot is ready to take aim. Photo: My iPhone before being stashed.

I sit and smile as we eat our veggie burgers. Seeing everyone smiling, everyone taking aim and not getting mad when they get doused with water … it’s … nice.

Leading up to the celebration, I am actually dreading Songkran. I don’t like crowds, and this fight sounds like a crowd cluster-fuck.

But, I get into the spirit of the celebration nearly immediately.

“I can’t wait to get off of work,” I tell my co-worker as I jealously eye the people already getting into the spirit of the celebration. “I’m going to go and get my PVC-pipe-gun and just have a quick go.”

As we walk the few steps back to the office, we allow the kids across the street to spray our feet with a hose. But, then, when I head back out of the safety of my office, gun clenched and filled with water, it’s a different story.

The kids eyes light up, and then: Game. On.

Within 30 seconds, I am soaked by a bucket.

And, within 30 seconds, the inner-child in me awakens. I am giddy. Even as I head back into the office to sit my soaked ass in my chair, I cannot wipe the smile off my face.

The battle begins early in the day on April 12.

The battle begins early in the day on April 12.

When my friend comes to meet me in the afternoon, I skip out of work early and head down the popular “red light” district in Chiang Mai, Loi Kroh Road, to go to my friend’s shop, The Playhouse Bar.

Cold water on a hot day isn't always a bad thing ...

Cold water on a hot day isn’t always a bad thing …

Buckets of icy water are dumped over my head. Super Soakers take aim at my body. And all I can do is giggle and walk in sheer delight as we head to The Playhouse.

When we arrive, we’ve walked into the Water War Zone. Huge coolers filled with water sit outside the bar and staff and patrons alike are engaged in epic battles with bars next door, across the street, and tourists who walk by. And, those poor, poor souls who have hired tuk tuks or songthaews to navigate the fights via a quicker mode of transit.

Huge chests filled with ice and water at The Playhouse.

Huge chests filled with ice and water at The Playhouse.

I fall in love with Songkran somewhere between getting another icy bucket of water dumped on my head from the co-owner of the bar, Ron, and a little boy who goes on an icy gun rampage with me, devilish smile plastered across his face.

The next day is even better.

Day Two: April 13

“Hello, darling,” my Thai friend Dah greets me as we sit at Smith, awaiting our group to head to a party a little outside of town. “I have a truck. Want to go in the truck to the party?”

Um, yes. Of course I do.

Me and two of my other friends pile into the back of the pick-up truck and head out to the moat road.

In the truck and pre-soaking.

In the truck and pre-soaking. Photo courtesy of Nathan A.

The scene there is utter chaos and joy. No one balks at getting dunked with water. In fact, as I scan the crowd, every single person has a smile on their face. All around, water is being flung. Thick streams streak across the air, giggles, squeals, music permeates what is normally a quiet road sans the normal traffic noise.

We don’t make it two feet without being soaked.

Along the way, we stop on the side of the road so a vendor can take buckets of moat water and load our huge cans. Then, a few feet down, we stop and get large blocks of ice to chill the warm water.

And the party begins.

The truck slowly makes its way down the road, showering walkers, passengers in other trucks and more with water. We get soaked as well, engaging in battles from other trucks, people on the side of the street, people camped out on overpasses and more.

From time-to-time, Dah jumps out of the back of the truck to go and dump water on children’s shoulders and bless them.

I see a girl on the side of the road walking quickly. I take aim. Fire. I see her tense as the cold water drips down her back. She turns to me, smiles, and shoots me back.

I love this. Love.

It’s play time, and every person out in Chiang Mai is playing. And, playing nice. For this brief time, it is as if every stress plaguing people has been erased and joy has overtaken every part of their body.

It certainly has done so for me.

Day Three: April 14

The next day, it is back to The Playhouse for more water fights. With the promise of another truck ride, we head down towards Thapae Gate to meet the truck. Only, it is nearly impossible to walk. As we near the gate, the crowd thickens. Music pumps through massive speakers. Foam shoots out from a stage.

It’s a full-blown party overflowing from the square to the street. Water floods the street as thousands trod, soaked through their clothes, around the massive event.

Incredible.

While we don’t make it to the truck, we do make it to Crazy German bar and have another water fight before we finally head back to Playhouse and calm down.

Day Four: April 15

The next day, it’s more truck action, this time actually attempting to drive the entire moat road. Which does not happen because there are parts where crowds have overtaken the street. Massive crowds that overflow from the sidewalks, blocking traffic as they continue their epic game of throw-the-water-and-be-blessed.

By the end of Day Four, I’m shocked at myself. I’ve enjoyed the crowds. I’ve enjoyed the water. I’ve enjoyed myself.

Less than a year until Songkran. And, you know what? I can’t wait.

All photos unless noted are courtesy of The Playhouse Bar. Thanks my loves for documenting the water festivities.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

An ode to my friend

Editor’s Note: Information currently circulating on the web regarding Adam’s death is inaccurate and the text written here has been taken out of context for self-serving purposes elsewhere. Adam’s cause of death was a heart attack, despite what any other posts may speculate. It deeply saddens me that his death is being used to hurt the reputation of others and is based on misinformation. I stand by my statements and the report from the hospital.

The first thing I notice about Adam are his powder blue eyes. A gorgeous blue. And, as I get to know more about him, those eyes become one of the most powerful things about him.

Why?

Because of the things he’s seen. After living in Thailand for more than eight years, teaching himself Thai and embedding himself into inner circles of circles I don’t know that I could ever be a part of, his eyes not only tell his story, but so does his work as a filmmaker.

The thing about Adam? He lives his passion. Day in and day out, he is found upstairs in our office, in front of the computer, editing, perfecting, piecing together hours upon hours of footage documenting brutality, love and more, and he does so with a smile on his face.

“Don’t ever let them know how you feel,” he tells me one hot afternoon as we talk outside. “You can never let anyone catch on if you are against what they believe.”

I nod in agreement.

“But … these people you meet … how do you hide your disgust for what they do?” I ask, looking for an answer.

“I am not disgusted by them,” he says, inhaling a drag of his cigarette. “I get to know them, I learn about them. They don’t do what they do because they have no hearts. They do what they do because they have no choice. It is their lives. It is what they know. They don’t have farangs sitting there, judging them and telling them to do something different.”

With that, I am silenced. And, with that, my mind is open.

Throughout the months we spend together, traveling, working together, I begin to understand what he means. And I begin to see the beauty in people I didn’t think could have any.

Adam stands in the background filming the rescue of Lucky in February.

Adam stands in the background filming the rescue of Lucky in February.

I love poking my head into the media office. I love joking with him and his team.

After awhile, I even can imitate Adam’s laughs … an airy “he he he” that comes from the belly but lights up the whole face.

There are times with Adam where I feel like I have known him longer than the months I have been in Thailand.

I lament about things in my life and he advises me to just ignore them, to go about my business. And, I take it to heart. Eventually, I get comfortable enough with him to even solicit guy advice, which he gives with a smile on his face.

“I’m good at this,” he says over a Chang. “I can help.”

When we go to rescue the elephants in Cambodia, there are signs. But, no one notices.

As we sit under a makeshift pavilion, he complains of his ankles being swollen.

“You should get that checked,” I advise.

“Yeah, yeah, I will when we get back to Chiang Mai,” he says, waving the suggestion off as he limps towards our van.

Then, over the next few months, more signs.

“I’ve been coughing up blood lately,” he says over a cigarette. “I need to stop smoking. My lungs hurt.”

He even leaves one morning to go to the doctor, but decides to return to the office because the line is too long.

“I have too much to do for work, I don’t want to wait in line for this,” he says, brushing off the urgency.

The night he leaves for  two-week trip, he stops at my housewarming party for a couple of drinks, then he heads to the bus station.

But, not before trying to convince me to let my cat, Penelope, become an outdoor cat.

“Animals belong in the wild, Diana,” he says, scooping her little body into his arms. “She needs to be free.”

“I don’t want her outside, what if she gets killed?”

“Then, that is life. That is how it goes,” he says. “Animals in the wild … I’ve seen it … they are just happier.”

I give him a hug goodbye, wish him safe travels and tell him I will see him soon.

Only, I never will.

Five days later, on April 3, I walk into the office.

Lek is sitting at her desk looking troubled.

“Diana,” she says, looking up at me. “Adam died.”

I freeze.

“What?” I ask, running through a possible list of Adam’s I could know.

“Adam,” she says, then repeats his last name to me.

No. No. No.

I slide into one of the cat-scratched black chairs at her desk.

“What?” I ask again, my body crumpling. My head falling into my hands.

I can’t believe it. He was fine.

“He died this morning. His girlfriend called me at 5 a.m.”

I sit there. I can feel the tears gushing from my eyes but cannot move. Everything turns surreal. Lek gets up from around her desk and puts her arms around me.

The tears fall.

I fell … numb. I fell like I am in a movie and the camera is circling around me.

This is not real. This is not real life. He was fine. He was fine. He was fine.

Then, she begins to explain to me what happened.

He was at his girlfriend’s in Surin and couldn’t breathe. He went to the hospital. She spoke with him last night. She told him he wasn’t going to die.

Then, this morning, he did.

“Shit. Fuck. Shit. Oh my god,” I say over and over and over again, until the words lose their meaning and are swallowed up by my sobs.

My friend. Gone. Like that.

Heart attack. Girlfriend at his side. At the age of 42. 

“I can’t believe it,” I whisper over and over.

I stand up and walk outside to see his co-worker, Ter. I sob.

“I’m sorry,” I say softly. “I know I shouldn’t be showing my emotions … but it is Adam …” and then I cannot speak anymore.

When he goes inside, I sit on the steps, put my head in my legs and sob like I haven’t sobbed in a long time.

This goes on intermittently throughout the day, as the realizations slap me in the face over and over that I won’t be seeing him again. I won’t be laughing with him again. I won’t be rescuing an elephant with him again. I won’t be sitting next to him on a plane again. I won’t be stealing him for advise again. I won’t be doing anything. He’s gone. And he won’t be walking through that door again, clad in a plaid or striped shirt, blue eyes glowing.

I leave work early. The hysterical intermittent sobs finally doing damage to my head and causing me so much pain I can barely open my eyes. I stop at Paula’s and fall into her hug, sobbing more. Then, I go home and crawl into bed, staring at the dark wood walls of my room.

My friend. He’s gone.

Later in the night, my friend invites me to his bar to get out of the house. I leave my place and begin walking. I can feel my eyes swollen to the point of closure. I can imagine my face as I walk, void of emotion. Exhausted. It takes me back to when my grandma passed away in Croatia. That numb feeling, having a song on repeat in my head.

I’m not even here. I am nowhere in this moment. I am numb.

When I wake up in the morning, I can’t even open my eyes because they are stuck together from crying in my dreams. And, when I get to work, I find out the truth about what happened.

Blood poisoning from a cut he obtained leaving my party, which caused his body to go septic, which led to a heart attack. Plus, a massive blood clot.

I think back to Cambodia. I think back to the coughing up blood. I think back to every moment I had with him. My heart breaks all over again.

However, there is one thing that is getting me through this: he lived his life. He lived his life with passion. With love. He did exactly what he wished. And, he had so many people who cared about him. Even on bad days, you would never know because his smile, his sparkling blue eyes, they’d ease you into a calm you didn’t think you could have. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Today, I remember him as a dear friend. An animal rights activist. A vegetarian. A lover of Thai whisky. And my good friend. And, tonight and tomorrow, when I pay my last respects to him, I will treasure every moment I spent with him that much more.

I will miss you forever, Adam. Thank you for touching my life and being a part of it.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

Life is a dream at Dream Hotel

For someone that has only stayed in one hotel in Bangkok, and no idea where anything is, deciding on a hotel to find in the massive city can be … oh … just a tad overwhelming.

So, I simply go to Agoda to research hotels.

Given that this trip to BKK — and my escaping Chiang Mai —  is a must for my sanity, I decide my sanity is also in need of some posh indulgence.

That’s when I see the listing for Dream Hotel. Five stars. Excellent reviews. In the neighborhood I want.

Sold. Booked.

And, what a dream the hotel is.

Bangkok's Dream Hotel

The room

After breezing into Bangkok and hopping into a cab, my driver turns down Soi 15 in Sukhumvit and immediately I know Dream isn’t going to let me down. The sparkly, spin-y disco ball cube spinning in the middle of the driveway makes me smile. And, in this moment, I need to smile.

The lobby is swank, sleek … hip. And then, there’s the room.

My oh-so gorgeous room with blue mood lighting under the bed and on the wall. It oozes sexy.

Then, there’s the bed.

It speaks to me.

“D,” the fluffy white duvet whispers, “don’t I look amazing?”

“Put your head on me,” tease the pillows.

Compared to my apartment at Smith, this bed simply looks like heaven.

I toss my carry-on onto the little stand and immediately jump into the bed.

Holyshitmarshmallowgoodnessinasleepingapparatus.

This bed is heaven. Soft. Perfect. If I didn’t have a hair cut/color in two hours, and work to get done, I’d skip the entire day and just pass out.

Which I do later that night after dinner with friends.

Needless to say, the sleep I have is incredibly restful … and incredibly comfortable.

Dtravelsround at Dream Hotel in Bangkok

In the morning, I head down to breakfast in the restaurant and grab some food. While it’s lacking in vegetarian options, what I do manage to grab is good.

Then, it is off to the spa for some more ahhhh.

The spa

Because I book in early (before noon), I get a 1000 baht discount, which means the honey body scrub, oil massage and facial is only around 2000 baht AKA highway robbery in America.

In the spa, I disrobe and let my practitioner work the scrub into my dull skin. While it is super sticky (it is honey), the shower at the end of it leaves my skin feeling softer than a baby’s. Super soft. And, yeah, glowing.

Then, time for the massage.

I love massages in Thailand. LOVE. But, this? This isn’t a Thai massage. It is akin to my treatment in Bali at Grand Mirage … gorgeous.

I lay there as she rubs my muscles and try to get over my funk. To get over my rut. I repeat a mantra in my head for more than an hour as she massages my body and gives me a facial.

When the treatment is over, I feel like a new person. And, far happier than I was before. There’s something to be said for just letting yourself breathe.

The pool

Relaxed, I head across the street to Dream’s other location and up to the top floor to get some pool time on the roof deck. Immediately, I head to the bar and grab a white wine and sit back, getting lost in my own thoughts for a bit before I jump into the chilly waters. Once the initial shock of the cold subsides, I refuse to move another inch and just soak as I sit and laugh with my friends.

The bottom line

For the $74 I paid for a king bed each night, this place is perfect. Staff are great. Facilities are nice. Restaurant is a bit overpriced, but I didn’t even mind. This was my mini-vacation. As I leave back to Chiang Mai, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m ready to go back home. At least for now.

Asia Blog Hotel Reviews Spas Thailand

Escaping Chiang Mai

Shortly after my seven-month anniversary as an expat in Chiang Mai, I hit a wall. Actually, I don’t really hit a wall, the walls start to close in around me.

Dramatic as I am, I even wrote that in a Facebook message to my friend one night.

“I need to get out of here,” I cry virtually via instant message. “I just need a break.”

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Don’t get me wrong. I love Chiang Mai. I love my life here.

But, living here isn’t always easy.

There are plenty of struggles being an expat. And then, there is my work. My work for Save Elephant Foundation is my life, but it also exposes to me to harsh realities, namely the disgusting abuse of animals that takes place here and around the world, and the often times very hard-headed people who refuse to change their views. The constant battle can be exhausting and emotionally draining.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

After a particularly discouraging night, I throw my hands in the air. Well, virtually anyway. In said Facebook chat.

I toy with the idea of heading to Bangkok for some R & R.

Yes, Bangkok. 

I don’t like Bangkok. I think it is hot. Humid. Far too crowded for me. I prefer the chilled out Chiang Mai to the hustle and bustle of the big city. But, I don’t want to leave work for too long, and quite a few of the most important people in my life are actually in BKK at the moment. So, I book a cheap Air Asia flight and head down south.

Before I leave for my flight, I sit with Paula down at our local hang out, lamenting how I need a change. (I know, I have no idea how my friends even want to be around my whiny ass at this point).

“Maybe I should book a hair appointment,” I say. After all, whenever I used to feel bad or in need of control, I’d just head to Tonic Salon in Vegas and have them work their Super Model Magic on my tresses.

“You should,” she says over a cup of coffee. “Go and get some highlights and feel better!”

So, I book an appointment.

Then, I’m off to the airport.

As the plane taxis down the runway and takes off into the thick smoke, thanks to burning season, for the first time in a long time I feel relief.

Relief to be getting out of Chiang Mai. Relief to be able to take a couple of days for myself. Relief that I will gain some much-needed perspective on issues which are beyond my control, and yet slowly chip away at me.

From our crusing altitude, a huge smile sweeps across my face and I lean back in the tiny leather seat and feel good.

Even if Bangkok isn’t my thing.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

When words fail

For the last 8-plus months, I have been living as an expat in Thailand. I have been living, breathing animal rights — particularly as it relates to Asian elephants — traveling and getting caught up in the same little things I got caught up in when I was living in Las Vegas. Namely, personal relationships.

Cambodia child

When words fail, how about a cute photo of a little Cambodian boy instead?

And, because of this, I haven’t been able to write. Well, write about  my life. About the people who make my life my life, because, unlike when I am moving around and traveling, I am stationary. The people in my life are actually in my life. They aren’t fleeting affairs of the heart, random moments with strangers talking travel, wild nights out or quiet nights in watching “Glee.”

This has caused a problem.want to write. I want to tell you about Gary, the often-times charming older man who used to be my neighbor. I want to share my stories with you about Aaron and the cheeky conversations we have and the amazing support he has given me. I want to tell you about the time Paula and I sat at Ciccia’s House and downed a bottle of Sangsom and our revelations about our lives. I want to dish  about the crushes I’ve had. The  people who were in my life and left — and the reasons why. And more. But, my problem is I can’t.

For many reasons.

The biggest one is my loyalty to my relationships with these people. Where does it cross the line between writer/blogger and violating the trust/friendships/non-friendships of people? How can I express my feelings I had for someone who may or may not read this without exposing myself when I don’t want to be exposed? The people in my life are extremely valuable and I don’t want to lose the trust we have with each other by sharing my stories here.

Elephant Nature Park

A beautiful relationship I can write about — Lek Chailert and her elephants.

What happens at the end of the day, when I’m living my life and the words I want to share can no longer be shared?

It’s the reason I’ve been quiet on here … I’ve been pondering where I go … what I do with my writing as my life here becomes more permanent.

Then, there is the issue of time. I want a life here. I try to have a life here. When I lived in Las Vegas, I was able to balance work, writing and a social life. Here, it is a bit different. The lifestyle here is what Thai’s refer to as mai pen rai, no worries. It’s so easy to just be walking home from work and get roped into a chat at the local watering hole, grab a beer and get sucked in. And, in the past few months, I’ve actually developed a social circle, which has been wonderful for me, not so wonderful for d travels ’round.

Sure, there are things I plan on writing about. Photo essays I know I will share. Little juicy morsels of life here … just different from the way it used to be.

Oh, and plus, I have this nasty case of writer’s block. And I need to edit my book (which will be out sooner than later, I hope).

I hope you’re OK with that. I hope you still support me. And, I hope my stories can still provide you with what it is you are looking for when you visit here.

What do you want to read about?

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

When tragedy strikes the expat life

D,” W says over the phone, hiccuping sobs, “J’s dad. He’s passed.”

Muffled cries, inaudible words.

Oh my god,” I manage, feeling the pit of my stomach tighten and tears instantly fill my eyes.

I think I hear her ask me to come to where she is. Even if I don’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s Feb. 27. J’s birthday. And, over dinner with friends, they have just gotten word that his father passed unexpectedly. In Wales.

I grab my keys and rush down the street to where they are. My heart breaking into a million pieces just imaging the pain he is going through.

W stands on the street outside of the restaurant, surrounded by friends. I walk up silently to her and wrap my arms around her. She turns to me, streaks of wet rushing down from her swollen eyes. Her normal smiling face eclipsed by the shock and grief.

I grab her again, hugging her hard.

I’m so sorry.”

She takes my hand in hers and we walk down the street.

Come over and have a drink with us,” she manages.

Are you sure that is OK with J?”

W nods her bobbed auburn hair.

The two of us stand outside the store, waiting for J. He looks up at me.

Hey, D,” he says softly.

I can barely speak. Just looking at the anguish on his face kills me. I walk up to him and hold him tight, my chest constricting as I fight my own sobs.

He cries on my shoulder and tells me to go back with them to their home.

W and I walk hand-in-hand down the street, her fighting audible sobs as she clasps her free hand over her mouth, tears streaming down her face.

His birthday. His father. His unexpected passing.

The two of them were just getting all of the pieces to fit for their lives in Thailand … and now … tragedy in a time when everything was going right.

We sit at their house, bottle of vodka being liberally poured in the warm February night. The three of us don’t say much at first. We just cry.

I don’t know J’s father, but I know J. And W. The two of them have been incredibly important people to me since I met them in September. Seeing them so overcome with sadness … imaging myself in their position … it just shatters me.

What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?” W asks over and over, holding her hands to her head. “It’s your dad. You’ve got to get home. I have to go with you. What are we gonna do?”

I scramble to help them look for flights, researching bereavement policies, figuring out how quickly they can get home.

Fuck,” J says through tears. “Fuck.”

The tickets are expensive. Especially since they are last-minute.

What are we gonna do?”

I volunteer to help cover some of the costs, then another friend messages me and says she will cover the remainder of J’s ticket.

You have to go home,” I say quietly to J. “You have to be with your family. I missed my grandma dying, J. I missed her funeral because I couldn’t get back in time. You are going to go home. We won’t let that happen to you.”

Memories rush back to when my grandma passed away when I was in Croatia. Being alone … being so far from home … it is the worst feeling in the entire world. And those days after death? Forget. It. 

When she died from ALS in 2010, I never felt so powerless. So little. So devastated. I would never wish that pain on anyone. And now, here they are, going through something so similar.

Except, thankfully, they are not alone in this country. They have people who care about them. Who love them. Who will help them.

The amount of love the people in my life here have shows no limits, and it took J’s father passing to learn that. As W and I walk down the street to book him a flight, both crying, Nico sees us and his normally bright face clouds over.

What has happened?” He asks. W can’t respond, so I choke out the story the best I can. We sit down, and he makes W a hot booze-filled drink. Neighbors who love W come by and see her, and stand with her and talk. Later, Nico and his wife and baby, Beau and Bella, and our friend Paula (who also helped cover the cost) come to the house and we all sit together while they grieve.

As the alcohol flows, J begins to share stories of his father with us. Funny stories about his childhood, moments he spent with his dad. Between the laughs, of course, there are tears, but just being able to sit and listen to him … it is what friends do.

The next few days, I reflect.

Barren landscape in Sri Lanka

What do you do when you are an expat and your world comes crashing down?

When my grandma died, it was expected. I received an e-mail from my dad, telling me to call him.

My friends, the other night, in Thailand? They did not.

We just talked to him three days ago,” she says between sobs. “He was fine. He was fine.”

Life as an expat can be amazing, it can be beautiful, but then there is the other side. The tragic, heart-breaking side. The reality nearly every expat faces but never wants to discuss. The reality of loss.

What do you do when you get word when someone you love passes away and you have to uproot your life in order to get back? What goes through your mind about being so far from home?

Coming home to sadness is never the way you imagine your return to be. You imagine getting on the plane, excited to see people you care about. Excited to re-visit your old life (perhaps). But then … that picture in your mind is shattered. Destroyed to bits with one phone call. With one message.

Someone you love has passed away. You need to come home.

As an expat, it is the biggest fear I have. I consciously made the decision to leave my old life, to leave my friends and family on the other side of the world. But, that fear never ceases. As an expat, I know I miss out on so much. Weddings. Births. Milestone moments. Sickness. Aging. Death. But, it is a choice I made.

Sitting with my friends, witnessing their loss, suddenly I got scared. Petrified.

This could be me. Sitting with my friends. Immersed in grief and vodka and feeling entirely powerless. Utterly helpless. Then, I look at my life. Where I am. What I am doing. And, I have to wonder, what is it worth?

I know my family would never want me to stop what I was doing to come home and wait for the unavoidable. When my grandma was dying, I asked repeatedly if I needed to change my flight to come home.

No,” my mom would say. “You don’t need to come home and wait for death. You stay. You do what you do.”

Except when grandma passed, and I was alone, and so close to coming home, I was devastated. Heart-broken. Not only for my loss, but for the impact the loss was having on my family. I wanted to be there to comfort them. To ease my pain. To ease theirs. But, as an expat, you don’t get that chance. You don’t get a re-do. You don’t get the last word. Instead, you have to constantly let people who are so far away know how much you care. Know how important they are. Because, you never know …

This post is dedicated to W, J and J’s father, Roger. 

 

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

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