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The fat girl in Thailand

A look at the realities of being an overweight female in Thailand and a lifelong struggle with being overweight.
This post is a part of the year-long Comfort Zone Project.

“Oh, why you so pom pui?” People ask me. Strangers. Friends. You name it.

Pom pui.

You’d think one of the first words I would learn in Thailand would be how to ask someone’s name, or how to ask for directions. But, nope. One of the first words I learn other than “drunk” is pom pui or “fat.”

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The Comfort Zone Project

“Life’s not about living happily ever after … it’s about living.”

That is the tagline for my blog, and was the motivating factor in the major decision I made nearly four years ago to quit my job in public relations and take a career-break and head out for a solo travel adventure.

It’s the same motivating factor that pushed me to quit my job again in 2012 and head over to Thailand to live as an expat and work for Save Elephant Foundation.

But, during my time in Thailand, something happened:

I lost my focus.

I lost my motivation.

I lost myself.

It’s easy to do, really.

Asia Expat Life Thailand The Comfort Zone Project

5 ways to beat the Expat Funk

Just like hitting the Travel Funk, as an expat, I’ve come to learn, you hit the Expat Funk, too. Know what I’m talking about?

It’s that shitty feeling when you wake up in the morning and you can’t be asked to go about your daily routine. When the things you once found charming, like the slow-paced walking though the early morning market on the way to work, dodging motorbikes, staring at the moat and looking at the lights twinkle in the murky waters … when they all lose their charm. When the wide-eyed awesome you first felt dissolves and turns into … meh.

A sunset in Chiang Mai

If you’re an expat living in one place for a long time and you haven’t felt that, congratulations.

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The things missed as an expat

The grass is always greener. Oh, the age old quote (is it a quote?) will always ring true. Regardless of where in the world I am.

Why?

Well … even as an expat, there are times I long for some of the things I miss from my American life.

Maryland

Privacy

I felt the need for privacy more so when I lived in an apartment and everyone could see my comings and goings. But, even now, privacy is difficult to achieve in my life as an expat in Chiang Mai. Walking down the street, more times than not, I see someone I know. It’s always nice to see people, but sometimes I just don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes, I want to have a bad day, or not smile, without everyone knowing about it.

Living in Vegas, it was easy to hide out. To escape from people. To be intensely private when necessary. Sure, Vegas is a small enough town where heading out to Town Square likely means running into someone, but it is far easier to avoid people there than it is here.

Home-cooked meals

Granted, I am not a cook, but I do miss the ease of being able to run to the grocery store, know exactly what I need and find it, then go home and pop it in the oven. Here? Well, if I know by photo what I want and use my translate app, I can sometimes find what I need. But, more often than not, I get frustrated and head out for street food instead. Oh, and while we are talking about food — dammit, I miss real chips and salsa. And Papa John’s garlic sauce. Don’t judge.

My family

This goes without saying, but I dream about Mom Hugs. The family I have created here is wonderful and supportive, but nothing can ground me more than time with my real family. Nothing can erase Sad or Lonely more than my family can. And, with them so far away, it can get difficult. Often times, I find myself losing perspective and only an e-mail from my mom can make that dissipate. Friendships as an expat are not always easy, and there are definitely moments when I just miss comfort only my family can provide.

The ease of communication

Language barriers aside, there are communication issues that make life here interesting at best and a struggle at worst. It is important to keep in mind my Western ideas and ways of communicating are not the same as the Thai way. I haven’t had huge problems with it, but there are moments when I wish I could express myself better … or at all. A smile goes a long way here, but even that can be misinterpreted.

Shopping/buying what I need

There is nothing worse than knowing I want to go and buy, say, a cleaning agent to wipe my counters with, and knowing what it is called in America, knowing what is should look like, and then hitting a store here and being totally unsure of what it is I am actually buying. Here, what I would imagine to be in a pretty little plastic spray bottle comes in a squishy cardboard container with a screw-off top. It’s got a photo on it — sometimes — but hell if I know what is actually is I am buying. Case-in-point: I purchased a bottle of shampoo, thinking it was deodorant. Yeah. No. Clue.

Clothing that fits

And, while we are on the topic of shopping, let’s talk style. Clothing. Good grief, it is hard being a not rail thin woman to get any sort of cute clothing here. Or being super size-shamed. In America, I’m a medium, in Chiang Mai? Oh, 2XL. I can’t shop at department stores because my legs cannot squeeze through pant legs. Shirts? Ha ha. Not with these American boobs.

Sometimes, I find myself longing for a Dillard’s. Sweet, normal-sized clothing-filled Dillard’s.

Thankfully, I have Thai friends who can help me navigate the flowery Thai writing to determine some items I need. Others? Well, that’s when I enlist my friends and family to bring stuff over like Febreeze or a pair of size 10 Old Navy jeans.

A tuk tuk driver races down the street in Chiang Mai

A car … sometimes

When I sold my Prius back in 2012, it was freeing. And, in true D form, a bit dramatic. Living in Chiang Mai, I don’t need a car. I often don’t even get in cars as most of my friends simply have little motorbikes to zip down sois with. But, seeing as I am far too chicken/know myself well enough, I don’t drive bikes, and since the traffic here scares the crap out of me, I won’t ride a bicycle either. Every now and then I long to be able to just grab keys and hop in a car and go explore.

There are so many little towns and villages and places around Chiang Mai that I have yet to tackle largely because transportation isn’t easy. Sure, I could take a songthaew, but I love to look out the windows and see life whirl by.

A good haircut

I was a hair snob in my former life. Hair. Snob. Every six weeks, I’d go and get my split ends trimmed, my roots touched up. Here? No. Way. I’ve gotten my hair cut four times since I became an expat. The first was a simple bang job, which resulted in a thick splay of bangs running parallel across my face. The second in Cambodia where I chopped it off and ended up with a mushroom head; the third was to fix that; the fourth was at an expensive more Western salon in Bangkok, which took off inches (at my request). However, when I returned to the States in September, my go-to stylist wanted to take a “before” photo to show me just how wrecked the cut actually was.

Clean feet

Living in a jungle climate has it advantages. The weather (except in the winter for a few brief weeks) is always warm/hot which means most days make me smile. It’s all wonderful — except my feet. My poor, poor feet. Because of the heat, wearing shoes and socks is normally a big, fat no. Therefore, I wear Crocs (yes, Crocs) or flip flops. The result? A constant layer of black on my feet. Dirty feet, that even a pedicure cannot fix. Although, trust me, I try.

Diverse weather

I live in the jungle. We get cold (on occasion), hot and rainy. When I get to wear long sleeves here, I relish it. I look on Facebook at feeds of those living in America or Europe and get a tinge of homesickness when I see people bundled up in the winter … wearing light airy clothing in the spring …

Men

Being a western girl in an Asian world is not easy. The Asian men normally don’t look twice, the western men are interested in the Asian women. Where does that leave me? Perpetually single and most likely, rolling my eyes at the ridiculous antics I am witness here on a daily basis. More about this coming soon. So, for now you’ve got a teaser.

Are you an expat? What do you miss about life as a non-expat? Be sure to leave your comment below!

 

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Love and the airport

The two are cuddled next to each other. He strums on his guitar in the middle of Bangkok Airway’s lounge. Annoying considering I want silence so I can watch “Shameless” and his hectic playing penetrates my headphones blocking my ears from outside noise.

But her?

She looks at him with goo-goo eyes. Clearly, in love.

Later, I am sitting at the gate, waiting patiently to board my plane.

A girl is sleeping, her Chuck-laden feet draped across a guy.

And, across the way, another couple exchanges little kisses.

I think back to elementary school … you know … when boys threw mud at girls and girls ran away crying.
Romantic Heart from Love Seeds

They’ve conquered that. They’ve met their match. Sometime, somewhere in the world these people met their match. And now, they are sitting at the airport, putting that match-love-thing on display. They’ve overcome that “I’m single” hurdle and are in lovelovelove. Congrats, couples. You’ve done well.

Yeah, airports make me think about that shit.

I remember when I was growing up (a teenager) and my friends would ask me why I didn’t have a boyfriend. I’d shrug my shoulders.

No idea, I would tell them.

“Well, don’t you worry,” they would all reassure me. “You will totally find your one. And when you do …”

Like it’s my God-given right to meet my match. Like every single person gets that.

But, you know what?

At 33, I am beginning to think its isn’t my right to meet a guy to settle down with. That my story doesn’t involve being involved.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was in a play with about 20 or so women of all ages. I remember very clearly sitting outside one afternoon after rehearsal in Tacoma Park with a woman named Angie. She sat on a bench, smoking a cigarette, clad in a cotton candy pink skirt. She was 40. And single.

I remember feeling so sorry for her.

“You don’t want to be with anyone?” I asked.

“No,” she said, taking a deep drag from her Marlboro Light. “I’m OK with that.”

How can you be OK with being alone?

My teenage, dillusional heart went out to her. And, I promised myself I wouldn’t be 40, sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette and wearing a cotton candy pink skirt and saying those words to a teenager.

And yet … here I am. Closing in on true grown-up life. Living as an expat in Chiang Mai, and the truth is this: I am that 40-year-old. Clad in a cotton candy pink flow-y skirt, telling people I am OK with that.

Berlin May 3 8 Amsterdam May 8 11 053

Is it true?

Yeah. Kindaofsortofnotreallybutsure. I mean, we are all dealt our hands in life, and some of us get fairytale endings in the form of love and kids and homes and such. My fairytale ending doesn’t involve that. If you asked me today if I would be at the airport with someone I love, my answer would be a staunch “no.” If you asked me tomorrow, my answer would likely be the same.

Does it mean I’m not happy?

No.

There are nights when I sit up late with my friends, indulging in Sangsom, laughing, talking, relishing our shared bond of living life as an expat in Thailand. And, then there are the other moments. When those same people pair off, head off to their respective beds and I head home where I wonder … is there more?

Airports seems to have an effect on people. The couples. The love. The traveling together, experiencing things together. At times, I relish the fact that I don’t have to report to someone. I don’t need to make sure my decisions jive with someone else. Then, there are the other times. Like on my way to Samui, or other places, when I see the unapologetic displays of affection, and I feel my life isn’t up to par with the others passing me by. The ones who have their someone else. That they get to experience these amazing things, this amazing world, and are able to turn to each other and say “Damn. This is one of the most fantastic experiences of my life, and I’m sharing it with you.”

Does it get to me?

Absolutely.

Then, I return home. To my house. To my life in Thailand. To the numerous blessings I am constantly showered with. It makes me feel less alone. And, of course, I hear from those with the “others” who bitch. Who moan. Who constantly berate each other for being too boring, being too hard-working, being too  whatever they feel like complaining about in that moment … and I realize I’m lucky. I don’t need someone’s legs draped over me to give me meaning. To give me a sense of self. (Not that all of the people who are doing the draping or are the drapees necessarily find their definition of who they are in gestures or companionship either.)

Although it isn’t always easy, sometimes I think I have it easier than others who are with someone. Granted, who doesn’t want to embark an exotic adventure with someone they care about? Then again … I’m living the exotic adventure and I’m doing just fine.

What do you think?

 

30 Life Crisis Blog Thailand

Tips on being an expat in Chiang Mai

The chill city of Chiang Mai, Thailand

One year ago today, after an epic road trip across America, I embarked on my latest chapter of my life — becoming an expat and living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

This gorgeous and relaxing town in northern Thailand is a hot spot for digital nomads, largely because of the inexpensive lifestyle that can be achieved here.

People who come here either love it or hate it. Me? I didn’t come to Chiang Mai to be a backpacker or a digital nomad, I came for my position with Save Elephant Foundation. It wasn’t the city that enticed me, it was the elephants.

I remember my first real night living in Chiang Mai. I had just returned from visiting Elephant Nature Park for the first time in almost a year. Alone, and knowing no one, I sat down at a local restaurant. Within minutes, I was under fire from the local older men in the area.

“Who are you?”

“Where are you from?”

“What are you doing here?”

At first I was really intimidated, but I quickly realized, these folks weren’t out to get me, they were curious. I was the new girl on the block, and I held as much intrigue for them as they did for me. Sure, the new friendships was an unlikely match — I can’t think of anyone over 60 in my old life who I would count as a friend — but it worked.

I still wasn’t charmed by the city … any relationship takes time and patience and a mutual understanding. Even as it relates to the non-human kind.

Now, a year later, yes, I have fallen head-over-heels with Chiang Mai and being an expat. But, life as an expat in Chiang Mai definitely can teach you plenty of lessons, as well as have its challenges. And moments of magic.

Finding a place to live is easy (as)

The view from the roof of the old city and Chiang Mai Gate

Within a day, I had a place to live when I arrived to Chiang Mai. Yes, it is that easy. There are plenty of pages on Facebook dedicated to Chiang Mai and a simple post within a forum, or a search of documents, can take you to apartment listings.

Just by where I used to live, there are three Western-style apartments complete with serviced rooms. They tend to be more pricey than Thai-style (think no AC, no TV), but regardless of your budget, there is something to be found. And easy.

When I moved into Smith, the only thing I needed to give them was a cash deposit. It isn’t like in America where they request a letter from your employer or a pay stub or any of those other things. Nope. Money equals a place to rest your head. Easy. As.

Street food is your savior

On a budget? Try dining on street food in Chiang Mai

People always ask me if I am worried about getting food poisoning from street food. My answer? Nope. Sure, I don’t see health inspectors coming around and checking to make sure meat is kept in proper conditions, etc., but whatever. It’s Thailand. You have to operate on trust that the food you are eating is OK. Yes, I have heard of instances where people get sick from the food, but it isn’t often.

Plus, dinner for under $1? Yes. Please.

Which leads me to the other topic of food …

It is easy to be a vegetarian

Vegetarian options abound at the markets in Chiang Mai

The local markets sell heaps of fresh fruit and veggies, and nearly every restaurant I eat at has veggie options. I get tired of nuts and tofu and eggs, but there are some restaurants here that offer up a sweet amount of choices beyond just stir-fried veggies. My favorite is Taste from Heaven and the little Chinese restaurant and veggie food stand by my house — both make killer fried mushrooms. I promise, they are KILLER.

Bugs are a part of life

I don’t like bugs. I seriously don’t like spiders. Or ants. Or cockroaches. And you know what? They all live together in my little house. In my old life, this would have been unacceptable. Now, seeing a spider scurry across my bed (hey, my walls are teak boards with cracks that let in sunlight) makes me uneasy, but, hey, I share my life with them. Leeches on the other hand? No. Just, no.

Same goes with the geckos. They are everywhere. I find them cute. Until they fall on the table in front of me. Then, I stifle a scream and go on with life.

If there is one thing about living in Chiang Mai, I’ve certainly chilled out in regards to the bugs. Although if one lands on me, you can bet your ass I still have a minor freak out.

Amazing people come, amazing people go

In my year here, I have made so many phenomenal friends. And said “see you soon” to nearly all of them. Whether just stopping in town for a few months or longer and then packing bags and heading to the next journey, Chiang Mai is a transient town. More transient than I imagined, and far more unstable in terms of routine than I have ever experienced before (sans my long-term backpacking trip).

It  doesn’t get easier, either.

The community here, the one I am a part of, is such an eclectic mix of people. It’s all ages. Varied nationalities. Different passions. And yet, this little community loves each other. The people in my life are all so incredibly random and beautiful, and the support I have received from them has made my year so special. When I first began to have my anxiety attacks, it was two people I had known for less than six months who come to my aid. Who wiped the tears from my eyes. Who got me out of the panic and fear I was staring dead on.

Everyone helps everyone out. People put aside their differences and at the end of the night, can all still sit together at the local restaurant or at Smith and have a beer. The attitude of “hey, we’re all in this together” is universal in the expat community. It’s evident even with strangers — there are heaps of Facebook groups like “I ❤ Chiang Mai” that encourage interaction.

It is comforting. It is nice. It is the next-best-thing to having my family here.

Yes, it changes. It morphs into shades of different often, but at the end of the day, the attitude is the same — we all have each other’s backs. It is a beautiful, special thing that I have not found anywhere else in the world.

The cost of living

Thai baht and your cost of living in Chiang Mai

Life can be cheap in Chiang Mai. Super cheap. When I first checked into Smith, I was shocked that my room was under $300 a month. Going from a paying a lot to a little is intoxicating. Then, paying $1 for pad thai, under $2 for a beer, under $1 for a “cab” ride … it made me dizzy. And, I started taking advantage of the cheap living and spending, spending, spending. A bottle of big water for 15 baht?!? That bottle is at least $2 in America .. and here? 50 cents? Dear god, yes.

I eat out a lot. Every meal, actually. Why? Well, for nine months, I didn’t have a kitchen. I had a microwave and a little fridge. And it was so much easier just to go out to the market by my house and drop 30 baht than anything else. Today, I’ve got a house, a big fridge, a gas stove and a microwave oven. You know what? I still go out to eat. I’m a crap cook, I’m a crap buyer-of-produce and I prefer instant (or near instant) gratification. Therefore, I fork over the money for this.

I can get by on about 20,000 baht a month, all in. Sometimes, I spend more. Like, when I want to go shopping or have a nice night out at a wine bar. Or indulge in my weekly (or more) massages. But, hey, for under $5 for an hour, why wouldn’t I treat myself to a little decadence as often as possible?

Everything you need exists at Tesco Lotus

When I first arrived here, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to find clothing. I’m not a teeny tiny Thai person, I’m a Western gal and my leg is not the size of my arm, which makes buying clothing here a challenge.

Enter Tesco Lotus.

Sure, I’m an XL at the store, but it doesn’t matter to me. It means I don’t have to ship in clothing from America (which, by the way, would not suggest doing unless all tags are removed and clothing is washed; otherwise you are slapped with heavy import fees). Oh, did I mention the clothing is cheap? 300 baht for a pair of capris. 400 baht for a cute dress. Yeah … I’m in cheap clothing heaven.

Plus, my TL is like a Target. Seriously. I could spend hours just wandering the store. It’s got everything. Bedding, candles, cleaning supplies, furniture, groceries. [It should be noted if you have any fashion sense at all you will lose it once you move here. Seriously. I live in comfortable clothing to beat the heat.]

Yup. In. Love.

No ride in the Old City or around the moat should be more than 20 baht

A ride around Chiang Mai's moat should be 20 baht

“D, I am in a songthaew right now coming from Chiang Mai Gate to Loi Kroh,” my friend says into the phone. “He charged me 30 baht.”

I put my head in my hands.

It is so easy to get scammed by the songthaew drivers here. There have been plenty of times where I ask for a ride that isn’t more than five minutes and the driver tries to charge me 100 baht.

“Mai chai,” I always say. “I live here. Twenty baht.”

Normally, it isn’t a problem. If it is, they pass me up and I hop in the next.

Chiang Mai tuk tuk

Or, if you want to spend a little more (or if it is late at night/early in the morning), your only normal bet is the tuk tuk. The prices can be jacked up for a tuk tuk, depending on location. Never accept the first offer, normally you can talk down a driver at least 20 baht or more.

Get a motorbike

Need transportation in Chiang Mai? Rent a motorbike.

I’m a serious chicken when it comes to motorbikes. It wasn’t even until a few weeks ago I let my friend give me my first lesson, which included about two minutes of sitting on the bike, clutching the gas and brake and propelling myself about a centimeter.

Perhaps it is because I have had limited experiences on motorbikes in my life, and the closest I have come to riding one is sitting on the back and whispering in my friend’s ear to “please drive slow or I may freak out and fall off and die.”

But, seriously, if you are going to live in Chiang Mai, get a motorbike. Take it from me, who doesn’t have one. Having a motorbike opens up the city and beyond. It lets you drive to Tesco Lotus instead of taking a yellow songthaew and being at the mercy of the 10 baht bus schedule. It lets you pop down to get a coffee, or go see a movie without relying on public transportation.

And, if you aren’t going to get a motorbike, get a bike. And, no, I don’t have one of those either. Remember, I’m a chicken. The drivers here scare me. However, for all of you far braver folk, you won’t be sorry. Just ask any friend of mine. They have one or the other … or both.

Get out of town

Chiang Mai is mesmerizing. It is quaint. It has adorable little quirks, hip and trendy areas and a moat (!). But, like any place you live, every now and then it is important to escape Chiang Mai, get perspective (ex. a sweet vacation in Koh Samui or an adventure in Sri Lanka) and then come back and fall more in love.

Visit the White Temple in Chiang Mai

Fortunately, there are plenty of budget airlines that grant you that wish — which can even be pretty last-minute — without breaking the bank. Three major budget airlines run out of CNX: Air Asia, Nok Air and Bangkok Air. But, that isn’t all. You can often find deals on Thai Airways and others, too. Monitor the Web sites, they all have killer sales sometimes.

Beyond escaping via plane, there are plenty of day trips or overnight trips that can satiate the need to explore beyond the backyard. Chiang Rai, Chiang Dao and Pai are popular destinations less than four hours from town. There are also plenty of places to explore even closer, like Sri Lanna National Park, heaps of waterfalls and hot springs, temples and more.

Lucky from Elephant Nature Park

And, don’t forget about spending time with the elephants!

Be respectful

You will go a long way if you can learn some basic Thai. Mine isn’t great (read: horrid), but knowing your pleasentries and numbers can help, and shows that you actually are making an effort to assimilate in the country.

It’s also important to know the general rules of the Thai culture. Take your shoes off before entering someone’s home. Don’t touch the head of someone older than you. Don’t point to anything or touch anything with your feet. Don’t walk around in your bikini top, ladies. Gentlemen, don’t take off your shirt and walk through town. Even if it is hot. This isn’t a beach and walking around semi-nude is rude.

Get to know your neighbors

Having both farang and local people in your life is a necessity. Other farang know what you’re going through when you say you just need a hug, or are having a moment. Locals are important, too. They help you create a sense of home, even if you are far away. Find a spot you can frequent, whether it is a coffee shop, restaurant or bar, and get to know the people who run it. Getting yourself a local support system is essential.

If you don’t have to be here in the “summer,” don’t

The “summer” months in Chiang Mai run from around February to the end of April. During this time, it is hotter than Hades. Disgustingly hot. No rain. You sweat as soon as you step out of your (cold) shower. It is also burning season, when visibility can be reduced to right in front of you. The air is thick with smoke and your lungs hurt.

I lasted through the season, but it is because I had to. If you don’t need to be here, skip it. Or power through it and lament over iced-down Leos about how grossly hot it is and how the air smells putrid from the smoke.

But, be here for Songkran

Experience Songkran in Chiang Mai

At least your first Songkran. The largest water fight in the world, Songkran is a time the city comes together with one major purpose: to throw water on each other. It is fun. It brings you back to childhood. I was dreading the festival, but ended up surprising myself and loving it more than I ever thought possible.

Embrace your expat-ness

Being an expat is a blessed opportunity. Not everyone can have this experience — no matter where in the world the experience is. Appreciate everything about this life — the nuances, the troubles, the beauty. You are fortunate to be where you are — never forget that. Love. Laugh. Live.

Have you ever been an expat in Chiang Mai? What have you learned? Share your comments below!

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