After an extra long flight across the Pacific I am questioning the sanity of my decision. It’s very cold here on the west coast of Aca Nada, in spite of the false signal of early spring by the cherry blossom community. The omnipresent downpour has begun it’s 8 month reign. Worse, I feel like the cats poured something into my coffee. Up is down, down is up, my equilibrium is shot. The Melatonin I took to sleep overnight has left a metallic taste in my mouth worse than having licked a discarded fish tin. Of course I am talking about the infamous ‘west to east’ jet-lag, the worst of the two options. If you haven’t experienced this phenom, it isn’t an urban myth like the green flash after a Balinese sunset, it’s as real as it gets. I’ve come to loath the long haul flights.
When I was young, flying anywhere under any condition was the most exciting thing in the world. The airlines have ruined the experience, with jam packed code shares and slip-back seats that no longer recline. Don’t think I didn’t go equipped. I had a pillow, blinders and ear plugs, nothing bested the sardine methodology of the airline seat designers. In all fairness, nothing is going to eliminate the dreaded jet lag after such a long period of virtually living in tomorrow as we have been doing for the past six months. Our time zone in BKK was 15 hours and an international date line ahead of the west coast. Pat and I stopped in Hong Kong to try and break it up…..we were just delaying the inevitable.
I have also come to a very ugly conclusion, which is, the longer you stay away from your common ground, the more difficult your repatriation becomes. Flying into Vancouver, for example, after living in BKK , or anywhere nice, is a poster child scenario in culture shock. Whether you have been working or traveling overseas for an extended period of time, the differences are readily apparent as soon as you exit the airport. The first thing you notice is that there are no people visible anywhere. Sure there are cars with people in them, floating by, like unseeing prisoners of a bubble wrap technology, their eyes locked on to some invisible point ahead , but not a free soul on the streets can be seen.
It’s as if a neutron bomb has gone off and wiped out the population leaving behind spring wound toys and neat rows of drab cookie cutter plastered houses. The sky is an eternal gray. The lack of intellectual substance brought on by the jet lag always makes me feel as if I’ve died and this is what I get for walking the wild side all my life. Perhaps that’s it, Vancouver is a travelers purgatory, and jet lag is the agent orange of reintegration into this lifeless berg.
I will survive, this I know. I’ll have to put away the shorts and thongs of my every day life in the tropics. I will have to wear socks with shoes. My feet actually cried when I put socks on this morning for the first time in 6 months. Gone is the sarong I have wrapped myself in to increase the airflow. Instead of writing shirtless in the cross breeze from the Gulf of Thailand , I have taken my thickest housecoat out of a storage bin and sit beside the fireplace for warmth. My favorite green grocer has been sold. The relationship I had nurtured over broccoli and frozen New Zealand mussels has cruelly vanished. I have to be friendly to a stranger all over again…yuchhh! Conversely, I had made strong friendships with all my Thai neighbors and had only just been accepted after a long period of suspicion and careful consideration. I was very sad to let all that go.
If the Thai’s sometimes seem a little less than welcoming at first, don’t cast aspersions on them, you should be questioning the prior behavior of your fellow farang for the slightly suspicious nature of the Thai’s when you first arrive. In fact you are an object of great curiosity to the locals in your area. They will watch you for months before generally deciding, as a community, whether or not you’re decent enough to associate with. If you are a decent person, and you don’t stumble around their businesses drunk, with prostitutes, drug addicts, or an idiots attitude then only after close scrutiny , they welcome you with open arms.
You will know the day when a neighborhood decides to welcome you, there will be a very big differance in the way people start treating you. The one thing Thai’s really dislike about the foreigners who display obnoxious behavior is the interlopers complete lack of awareness that these area residents live in the street you have chose to locate in. They don’t want some odious boozer with his string of hookers slobbering all over the place. If you wonder why Thai’s will overcharge some farang and hear stories of how Thai’s can be difficult at times, it’s because of all the a-holes that have come before you.
Be patient, be nice, and eventually you will prove yourself as someone deserving of respect and friendship, then it’s like a floodgate opening and you will hate to leave just as I am saying it hurts. My neighborhood has become an extension of my family. I am sad to leave and happy to know why I came back, but I have to remind myself as the cold wind howls outside my window and I know that I can’t go outside in a T-shirt and flips to pick up some snacks or have a sweet tea at a sidewalk cafe. I can hear the clock in my head banging away……179 days to go before I am ‘not here’. 358 days to go before I write another story about how much I hate jet lags deleterious effects . That is unless I get lucky and another travel assignment or a lottery takes me somewhere nice sooner . I’m crossing every finger and toe.