Most of my friends have forgotten me. I left the US 11 years ago to pursue a life of travel and adventure, and once a year I go back to visit family and an increasingly smaller circle of friends. In total, 4 longtime buddies from my childhood still carve out time for me when I’m there. Though the rest of the year, even they don’t acknowledge me. I think to them I’m a little bit like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. Super exciting when my holiday comes around but basically forgotten the other 364 days. I’m not complaining. If I didn’t want to drop off the grid, I wouldn’t have moved to the other side of the planet. But it does put me in a weird state of limbo.
When I go back there, I don’t fit in anymore. I have no idea how to talk to American women. In fact, I avoid them like the plague. They seem to have all lost their minds. And I don’t understand what anybody under the age of 30 says when they speak. Especially in L.A., where the collective IQ is somewhere in the mid-50s. The last time I was there, the kid who rang me up in the shoe store babbled at me the whole time, and I didn’t understand a word he said. It was just a bunch of gibberish like the newly-made up word “fleek.” And then he had the nerve to call it “real talk” at the end. The West is a cesspool of idiocy and Metoo-ism.
I also don’t identify with the general culture of the West anymore. I’ve become too Thai. The sensitivity to saving face, cultural hierarchy, the right politeness for a given situation, focus on the present moment, and the abandonment of traditional Western values and concepts of morality are all second nature now. Western conventions seem strange and unwarranted. For example, the idea of getting married, settling down, having kids, and owning a home are completely foreign to me now. I realize a lot of Thais have those same aspirations, so it’s not strictly Thailand that has made this change in me. But living here has solidified in my philosophy an abhorrence of these things that was always there, in the back of my mind.
Thailand feels more to me like home now than home ever did. I’m a duck in water here. All is right with the universe here. The world makes sense here. I pinch myself almost daily, surprised as I am to be this happy this consistently. I’ve succeeded in cutting myself off from other farang almost completely. The exceptions of course are when I’m at work, where I speak as little as possible to other foreigners, and find their customs, conversations, and complaints increasingly nonsensical. Almost all my free time is spent in the company of Thais, who I find more interesting, more endearing, and more deserving of attention than the average farang—my two friends Lucky and Kee Mow Moo are exceptions. They’re the only foreigners to whom I’ll speak honestly. But herein lies the problem. The fact is that Thais—at least the ones who don’t know me well—will always assume I’m incapable of understanding their point of view. I will always be an outsider. One compliment I can give to Americans is, they’re accepting of anyone who moves there and assimilates. Anyone can become American simply by adopting the attitudes, ideals, and culture of America. Not so in Asia. Even in Thailand, arguably the friendliest country on the continent (possibly the planet), a foreigner will always be a foreigner. The long and short of all this is, I now don’t fit in anywhere. I’ve lost myself.
So it begs the question: can things change? Can I as a transplant who will never look or sound Thai, find an alternate identity here? There’s definitely an established expat archetype. One simply has to read Coconuts or Inspire to get a grasp of that hideous caricature. I don’t want to be in that number. Perhaps ‘who I am’ boils down to “what I do.” If that’s the case, then I’m a whoremonger who works for the purpose of funding my whoremongering. I keep a harem of young women for short-time fun and casual friendship. I frequent gogo bars and drink alcohol therein. And that’s about it. So if my common activities contribute to an identity, I’m a lecher.
But surely, more can be said. Thailand has had a profound effect on my physical and mental well-being, my philosophy, my beliefs, and my feelings about humanity and purpose. I no longer subscribe, as I did in my youth, to the idea that one must make significant achievements or outdo one’s friends in order to have purpose. I no longer believe that The West has cornered the market on liberty, morality, or a high standard of living. I’ve learned that one can be happy and fulfilled through simplicity, peace, self-satisfaction, and stasis. In Thailand, I’ve found an eye in the storm of existence, away from the despair, emptiness, and futility of a Western life, the ideals and philosophy of which amount to an ever-present collection of burdens. Back in The States, I constantly worried about money, my prospects, being loved, and “making it.” I had ulcers at age 18. In my early 20s, stress knots formed in the muscles of my back and shoulders and remained throughout my 30s. After less than a year in this magical country, they were gone. Here, I’m free of the constraints of monogamy and the fruitless pursuit of “love,” content instead to let each lovely lady come and go from my life as she pleases. My worldly possessions have been reduced to a laptop, a set of novelty Samurai swords from the Patpong night market, and some t-shirts. I don’t worry about the future. I told my boss that when I die, he should just throw my body over the wall behind the building and let the jungle have it. And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe life here has become so distilled and simplified that an identity, per se, is irrelevant. It’s possible I’ve transcended the need for an identity.
This could be called hyperbole. It probably is. It’s probable hyperbole—it’s properbole. But in Thailand, my mind and soul are free to just be. Nobody judges me (of if they do I don’t care), or meddles, or interferes. I can do what I want when I want with whomever I want. Maybe that’s a definition. My Thaidentity is just that—Whateveriwantism. The Thai phrase for that is “arai godai.” Oh God, did I just take this mental journey merely to end up as a cliché? Shhhhhit. Ah well, f*ck it. I’m going to the Pong for a beer.
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