I know you’re about to be very confused, but I have changed locations on you. Rather than typing away from the back corner of the Coffee Garden, I have moved next door to the Noodle Garden (yes, this is actually the name). I just ordered chicken with rice aka “gai” and “khao” and agreed “chai, chai” to a fried egg on the side—“kai dow.” This is about the extent of my Thai, by the way, but I’ll be the first to tell you… it’s come a long way since I first moved to Bangkaeo.
The women who work here are always excited to see me, and definitely not because they like to practice their English. In fact, they seem to be convinced I speak Thai, and my guess is that they might just be excited to have customers at all (I’m typically the only one in here), but alas… I usually just exchange a small greeting of “sawa dee ka… sabai dee mai ka” and then grin from cheek to cheek every time I make eye contact. As explained during my TESOL course, a smile goes a long way here in Thailand (doesn’t it everywhere?), but as much as I thought I might be constantly forcing a smile, there’s no need to force anything. Whether it’s my students mimicking me (oh my goodness) or the woman at the local noodle shop squeezing my hand and being genuinely glad to see me, I have no reason not to smile. There’s no reason not to feel happy. When I look back on my time in Thailand, that’s going to be the thing I remember most.
Similarly, I’ve been thinking a lot about a Thai phrase I learned during my TESOL course in Chiang Mai: jai yen. This literally translates to “cool heart,” but in a deeper sense, this phrase might be similar to staying cool, calm, and collected—maintaining a heart and mindset characterized by patience. While the idea of staying calm and patient is something I have always related to, this way of life has slowly but surely etched itself deeper and deeper into my existence. In a country that has been slowed by the hot sun and the values of Buddhism, a calm and patient heart has allowed me to forgive what I once might have viewed as hideous offenses. I no longer feel the need to huff past everyone walking at a snail’s pace on the sidewalk. I no longer feel the need to ask for something and have it be presented to me immediately. I no longer expect those in the food industry to be overly-efficient. I no longer feel as if my students should understand what I am saying, the first time I say it. I no longer expect to adjust to a new place in an accelerated manner just because I feel like I should.
But adjust I have. I’ve adjusted to this new way of life (in large due to the values of “jai yen”), and as the pages in the calendar quickly flip by, I grow more and more accustomed to Bangkaeo and Thailand in general. In fact, I’ve been feeling slightly sharp-edged about going “home” in a couple of months. I feel upset that I booked a plane ticket home so far in advance (shocker), and I wonder what I should do. Should I stay or should I go? Should I extend my time here for a few more months? Should I head home to make more money in preparation for my next adventure? Should I remain somewhere for the sake of the relationships that I’ve built? For the sake of a minimal-responsibility lifestyle? For the sake of slowly falling in love with my surroundings and the people around me?
To be honest, my head is spinning in circles. Like I expressed over a month ago, I’m not sure there is a right or correct decision. Can you ever really know until you commit to something and then—maybe years down the road—gain some perspective? Couldn’t just about anything be labeled as the “correct” decision—the correct decision for you in that moment, at that exact time—whether it feels correct or not? Won’t I and can’t I make it work either way? Similarly, I understand that a plane ticket can be changed. But staying means finding a new job and a new apartment, as I will no longer be in Bangkaeo. It means surviving for two months without an income. It means giving up a lot of what I’ve become adjusted to over the past few months. Staying means giving up the opportunity to go home and make enough money to travel more extensively. Staying also means pursuing and building upon the multitude of amazing relationships I’ve created here. It means seeing more of Thailand and Southeast Asia, and it means continuing this experience that I fear might be cut short if I leave in April. I feel like I need to stay, and I feel like I need to go. Where is the middle-ground?
To make matters even worse, nothing seems to be falling into place for this summer—although I have applied to a number of different jobs (is this just another sign to stay?). I’m afraid of taking even the smallest step backwards, especially after such a monumental and life-changing experience such as this one. I want to keep moving forward, and I want to keep moving forward at the same, seemingly-life-threatening speed. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and addicting. And while it’s certainly not sustainable, it is always pursuable.
Does anyone want to make this decision for me?
In addition, I’m even more confused by the fact that the school year is about to end (at the end of February no less), all of my students have an end-of-the-year mentality, I’m finally getting adjusted to teaching, and the weather is getting colder and colder. Tell me how to wrap my brain around that!
As “summer break” approaches, we’ve officially stumbled upon another cold spell here in Bangkaeo, and I can’t say I’m complaining. Walking to school in the morning, the temperature averages around 60 degrees, and when I walk home in the afternoon, the highs are typically around 80 degrees. Amazingly enough, a cardigan and light scarf have officially become part of my uniform, and I no longer arrive to school (after a ten minute walk) looking as if I had just run five miles. On my daily walk to school last week, I ran into the head of the Foreign Languages department, and she paid me (what I consider to be) one of the highest compliments: Thank you for your kindness and sweetness to our students, she said. They love you! You are- what do they say- beautiful on the outside and the inside. Immediately, I could feel myself start to tear up (is anyone surprised that I’m being sappy again?), and in a place where so much emphasis is placed on appearances and external beauty, it felt (put eloquently) freakin’ awesome to be validated for exactly what I came here to do— to make any sort of difference in a positive, meaningful and kind way. Similarly, my M3s (who graduate from the MEP after this year) expressed that they were hoping I would be teaching their M4 class next year… no such luck, but it put a smile on my face all the same. How will I leave this behind?
As I push away my (now-cleared) plate of rice and chicken, I feel sedentary and more than content. I feel satisfied and happy. At this very second, there’s no need to make any rash or hot-headed decisions… there’s only the need to be right here, right now. And the need to pay my bill… Jai yen.