A balcony, while often viewed as a luxury, is an entity that is entirely commonplace in Thailand. And while I do see how balconies might just be the most useful thing ever, I can’t say I make very good use of mine. I rarely venture onto my dusty balcony, and I can’t say the view is very good—although I often open my door to let in the fresh air and the chaos of the busy road below (as well as plenty of miscellaneous creatures). Unlike my neighbors, I don’t string my laundry across my balcony for the world to see (although I would if I didn’t hand-wash a single piece at a time), and the only piece of furniture out there is a rickety plastic chair with a broken leg (honestly, I’m not sure how it hasn’t blown away yet…). In fact, I could even say my neighbor (a high school student who is prone to locking himself out of his apartment) has used my balcony more than I have, as on multiple occasions, I have let him in through my front door and out through the balcony door where I (anxiously) watch him maneuver himself onto the roof and then onto his balcony next door.
Last night, however, after arriving home from Hua Hin, Bangkaeo lost power for close to an hour. The sun had set a few hours earlier, and so I was left to my own devices with no light, no fan, and no way to charge my phone. While power outages are something my town has struggled with before, I’d never lost power for so long, and I began to panic: Did I pay my electricity bill for February? Am I the only one without power right now? Should I call the landlord? Cue my brilliant idea to venture onto the balcony.
Amazingly, as soon as I unlocked and pulled back the heavy wooden door, I felt like I had entered another world. The entire street was quiet and dark, and the only light came from the occasional purring car or motorbike. A boy rode past on a bicycle using the light of his phone to guide him, and I watched as flashlights clicked on and off in the homes across the street. In the distance, the street lamps on the highway glittered, and in the other direction, the neon green and orange 7/11 sign glowed hazily (tg for generators). While the stars were few and far between, the moon shone brightly, and I watched the silhouettes of stray dogs meandering across the street sniffing at every possible food source. I was mesmerized.
Over the last few months, Bangkaeo has become my home, and I was intrigued to witness it at a standstill, as that’s only happened a handful of times before. Typically, Bangkaeo, while not the most exciting town, is home to one of the largest high schools in the region, and so when I head to school in the morning, and when I head home for the day, the street is jam-packed with traffic and students. After a certain hour, the pace slows considerably, but there are always plenty of cars on the street, and as I can barely keep my eyes open past 10pm these days, experiencing a moment of peace is rather rare.
The last time I stood on my balcony, in fact, was about a month earlier in the middle of a rainstorm. I had hoped and hoped fervently for rain that afternoon, and when I woke up at 3am to the sound of thunder and rain pounding the pavement, I couldn’t get back to sleep, and I knew I had to witness the storm for myself. I stepped onto my balcony and watched as the wind blew the rain in every direction and lightning lit up the houses around me. I stood there for at least an hour wrapped in an oversized sweater and allowed the torrential downpour to soothe my heart, my thoughts, and my desire for rain.
As clichéd as it sounds, it’s in these moments of dark, quiet reflection—gifted to me without a choice—in which I am able to truly appreciate where I am and what I’m doing. A bizarre question, but: how often do you stand outside of your home and take in your surroundings for an extended period of time? (How easy it is to take our everyday surrounding for granted). How often are you able to do so in your small town in Thailand? In the midst of a power outage? In the midst of a rainstorm? For me, these times are (obviously) few and far between, and so it is inevitable that I will embrace and remember them. While the school days continue to blur into each other, and the weekends race by, these are two distinct moments in which I have been able to observe and reflect without a single distraction. These are two moments in which I have come to understand the significance of what I am doing here—living and teaching in a foreign country. These are two moments in which I have recognized myself as the merely ant-sized figure I am in relation to the bigger picture.
After my time here in Bangkaeo is done, I will quickly and easily fade into a distant memory for the people surrounding me, and yet, Bangkaeo—and teaching here in Thailand—will remain one of the most significant times in my life. It will remain a time of me living entirely on my own. It will remain a time of feeling entirely powerless and the most powerful I’ve ever felt. It will remain a time of warmth and love and laughter. It will remain a time of growth. Of acceptance. It will remain a time that is mine.
In the bigger picture, six months in one, anonymous woman’s life is nothing at all. In the bigger picture, people come and go—sometimes before their time is up—and sometimes, people stay. In the bigger picture, it’s easy to feel insignificant and worthless. Meaningless and useless. It’s easy to question what am I doing here? But in these moments of quiet reflection, I understand that this entire experience is worth it all—all of the hardships, all of the questioning, all of doubts. I understand it’s worth it to myself, to my students, to the people who come and go, and to the people who stay. Up off the ground, a sole, shadowy figure on a dusty balcony, I understand that I have gained a greater perspective.