Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The mundane...

Well, I made it. I've officially lived abroad for one year.

I've been thinking about what I would write for my anniversary post for a while now, and had a bunch of different ideas: a best & worst list, the year in pictures, an update on my initial goals, a flash-back to some of my earlier posts, or you know a list of all the profound things I've learned and the deep and meaningful ways I've changed in the past year. But none of it was sticking.

The truth is, after a year the novelty has worn off and you're left with the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday, the redundant. ;) So here it is... a list of the most boring, unromantic, and normal observations I've made while living abroad.

1. People are the same everywhere. Yeah, languages, culture, attitudes and experiences may all be different, but at a core level we're all the same. Some people are nice, some people are mean, some people are ambitious, some are lazy. Little kids are naughty, and teenagers dress like freak-shows. Most people just want a good job, time with their families, and a few beers at the end of the day.

If you include the hands, there are people from five different countries represented in this picture.

2. Traveling doesn't make you a better person. I've met some travelers here who left home with nothing more than a backpack and who've spent months exploring the world, meeting new people, eating new foods. Sure they're adventurous... they're also functional alcoholics. And contrary to what Mark Twain would have you believe, racist ideology actually can survive in the face of international travel. Don't even get me started on the sex-pat issue. Some people really are on a spiritual or intellectual quest, eager to see what's out there in the world beyond their backyard. But I think it's like any other experience in life, you will get out of it what you put into it.

3. Pictures lie! They lie lie lie lie lie! Every gorgeous scenic picture you've seen on my blog has been cropped to exclude: garbage, chubby retirees in speedos/bikinis, garbage, anything sinfully American like a KFC or 7/11, garbage, boring but utilitarian buildings, garbage, crowds of other tourists taking pictures of the same damn thing, garbage and/or garbage cans. Yes, the beautiful places exist... but they always look just that much better in pictures than in real life.

oooohhhhh .... aaaaahhhhhhh


4. The more 'exotic' a place is, the more likely you're going to have to use a squat toilet. There is nothing 'exotic' about trying not to pee on your shoes.

5. There's no such thing as 'exotic'. For the people who live there, it's just called 'life'.

6. The women are no more attractive here than back home. It always amazes me that Western guys come to Thailand for the lovely Thai ladies, but then my male students all talk about going to Japan or the Caribbean "where the women are beautiful". Good lord - never happy are they? Well, Thailand hasn't quite caught the obesity trend that's affecting Western countries, so the majority of the population is at a healthy weight. And I do mean healthy, only a few of the girls are disproportionately skinny for their height. But there are still a fair few fat folks here. Beyond that, some people are just ugly. Most people have either acne / acne scars, bad teeth, frizzy hair, split ends, lazy eyes, flat chests, cellulite, hairy legs, mosquito-bite welts, skin lightening / make-up gone wrong, atrocious fashion sense, or other flaws. In other words, most people just look NORMAL!

7. You can get internet access just about anywhere. Monks use cell phones, rice farmers have satellite TV, kids on the songthaew listen to their MP-sahms*.

8. Spicy food = spicy diarrhea.

9. My street smells bad. There's a garbage sorting / recycling center type place, then there's the restaurant's garbage cans, not to mention the sewer going all along the street. Gah. There are all these beautiful flowers trailing along fences - it looks gorgeous, but every once in a while you get the nastiest odors wafting by.

10. No matter how far from home you are, it all comes with you. Deeply set insecurities, childhood fears, everyday anxieties... all of it is packed right there in your brain.** It can all be held at bay for a few months as you try to get settled in a new place and you're only focused on procuring food & shelter; when you're so busy with new sights & experiences that you can't even absorb it all. But as soon as you get comfortable again, you'll find that whatever you were running from is right there waiting for you.

And now you have bad hair too.

TAG: Code Watermelon

* sahm = 3
** wish they could scan for *that* kind of baggage at airport security.


Exuberant Color said...

That reminds me of going to a quilt shop back in the 1970's that was supposed to be so great, and after I got there I found out we had more variety in the Chicago area and I was so disappointed. I'm glad you showed the "real beach" picture. You had me believing it was pristine clean beaches.

Bezzie said...

Dude, you had never experienced #8 in the states before??? That's called "Rocket Butt" where I come from ;-)

Cate said...

TOTALLY agree with #2 - so many people seem to think that traveling will make them a much better person but it just doesn't!

After 7 months abroad, I'm definitely over the "ooh this is so exotic" phase and sometimes wish I could just drive to a normal grocery store and not have to deal with a language barrier everywhere I go!

Rebel said...

Exuberant - some of the beaches are cleaner than others, but there are no pristine beaches. Unlike the beaches I went to in CA, there are restaurants *right* on the beach and trash is pretty unavoidable.

Bezzie - I wasn't much of a spicy-food fan in the states, so was mercifuly ignorant of this experience until I got here. ;)

Cate - yeah, it's part of 'culture shock' and it comes in waves, I think I've gotten over the major highs and lows, but yeah, I'm ready to talk to people without thinking first of how to express my needs in present simple without conditionals or idiomatic expressions.

Michael5000 said...

An honest traveller speaks!!!

Word up dawg.

Hey, and on my birtday, too!

Jonathan said...

By far one of my favourite posts!

Rebel said...

Thank you boys. =)

gl. said...

congrats on your travelversary! or is that abroadiversary? expativersary? anyway, these all seem true.

Rebel said...

Thanks GL =) I like abroadiversary! It evokes 'a broad', 'diversity', and 'adversary' all at once.... which pretty well sums up my experience. ;)