A lifetime has passed since the last time I was here. Back then, the first time I sat down to contemplate my new future as an expat, a stranger in a strange land, it was all very glamorous. It was, of course, based on nothing real but my own fantasies of what I imagined expats must have been like back in the days of Hemingway, or Wright or Baldwin. Of course there are some very key differences here. This is Bangkok, and I am not a literary giant. I’m not even a literary ant. All that aside, I was hopeful.
I was ready to shake away the things that conspired to break me. But in the process of shaking away the bad, I threw away bits of myself that made me me. I became guarded where I used to be open. Anxious where I used to be carefree. Afraid where I used to be not fearless but strong, aware of the dangers but confident I could overcome them. One by one, the very things about myself that I never even recognized enough to appreciate were chipped away by the closed-off existence I carved out for myself.
But what’s even the point of any of this? Would I have known that something so important was gone, had I stayed where I was three years ago? If I had stayed comfortable, and never felt the isolation, the abject failure, the crippling loneliness or this life, would I know what parts of my own self had retreated? Would I know what parts of myself I valued the most had I not suddenly seen who I became without them? And if what I suspect is true and I never would have known what I had until I lost it, then surely it’s worth it?
I don’t have any secrets or wisdom about the expat experience. Mostly it’s just a lot of confusion, a lot of self-doubt, a lot of changed plans, a lot of new friends, a lot of new foods, a lot of new smells, a lot of change. It’s a lot of life.