Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Top Ten Challenges Of Being An Expat In Bangkok - #9 Western Holidays

In most cultures we have significant holidays. There are times of year we stop our normal everyday life to slow down, reflect, celebrate and honor parts of our family, traditions and heritage. It can be easy to take for granted how much those moments mean. 

When you're in Asia as a Westerner this can be particularly challenging. Even when I lived in Germany as a teenager Christmas was A HUUUUUUGE DEAL! It was all snow and Kris Kringle Markets and flat out magic. There were many traditions we missed but also some that went hand in hand with our American idea of the holidays. 

In Asia this is not the case. Thanksgiving is nothing of course. Kids in school. Husbands at work unless they're government. Maybe you can get a turkey and maybe not. 

Halloween is celebrated in our neighborhood traditionally though this year it was cancelled out of respect for a time of mourning. 

Christmas the kids are out of school. So that's a plus. The malls around here attempt Christmas. It's kinda fun and amusing. There are giant Christmas trees. You get the distinct feeling that maybe Thailand associates Disney with Christmas and they think Halloween is somehow related. Now the Disney Christmas thing I'm all for so the thematic decor makes me grin. The Halloween costumes that are sometimes thrown in the "American Christmas" displays are good for a giggle. The three ancient Christmas songs on repeat can grate on your nerves but that's what headphones are for right? 

The tougher thing is sweating through the holidays, not being able to find a gingerbread house, missing some favorite foods, being away from The Nutcracker or whatever local traditions you practice. Toughest of all is being across the world not even in the same day as the people you love at home. 

Here are my suggestions for holiday survival in Bangkok- 

Halloween-

1. Bring costumes if you want to make life easier. Consider bringing favorite candy or having a friend bring it if you have traditional favorites. 

2. Make a Halloween playlist to play in the house. 

3. Host a movie day for some kids and play something only a little creepy but very HALLOWEEN. ;) 


Thanksgiving- 

1. Consider hosting or organizing an "American Thanksgiving" on Friday night. No one has school the next day so it's easier than having it Thursday. You can also prep while the kids are at school. Lol. Bonus. Also it's actually Thanksgiving in America when it's Friday here so that's when it's weird anyway. Tell everyone to bring their favorite foods. It's actually super fun. If you have a friend in the military or embassy know that they may have easier access to the group turkey and some American staples. :-) 

2. Think about going to eat lunch with your kiddo or kiddos at school on Thanksgiving Day. International schools often serve Thanksgiving type foods and it can ease the weirdness of the day for all of you to at least be together and nibble on stuffing. 

3. Thanksgiving Day, when the kids kids get home consider watching something fun and Thanksgivingish like Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin or all the Thanksgiving Friends episodes. 


Christmas- 

1. If you are moving here I encourage you to BRING your decorations. You don't know how many people I have heard regretting leaving their holiday decorations behind. It helps to bring some holiday spirit into your home. Oh.... except lights or anything that has to be plugged in with a motor. Might as well store those suckers cause they won't work. UNLESS it's something special and you use a transformer which I do with my tree and garland. 

2. Consider ordering gingerbread houses to put in your suitcase or fun holiday crafts in your shipment if you can track them down on Amazon. Also consider bringing wrapping paper if you have a big shipment and lots of room. It can be a pain to find big rolls of paper and more expensive. (If you don't have them IKEA carries them close to the holiday.) 

3. Consider packing some Christmas gifts for the first Christmas you're here. Knowing where to find things your kids will want for Christmas here can be challenging. It's also good to consider things like a larger bike for a kid that's growing in the shipment since those are more expensive here and in expat communities are often used daily for getting around. 

4. Consider bringing favorite candy for Christmas time. 

5. Consider going home for Christmas break if you can. If you can't make it home try a trip to somewhere that celebrates the holiday. All the Disney parks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo celebrate. It can also be an added boost that those places are COLD and feel more like what we may be used to for the holiday. Australia also celebrates and is a wonderful Western fix as far as food and language. It is, however, important to note that December is their summer so it won't be cold. 

6. Consider some new traditions you can start while you're living overseas to help make the time special. Are you a Christian? What a perfect time to try celebrating Advent. Watch lots of Christmas movies you can stream on Amazon. Pack some Christmas jigsaw puzzles in your shipment to work together during the holiday. Pack some Christmas books and wrap them up in paper to be unwrapped and read as a family. Make hot chocolate every night and do family FaceTime appointments with all the loved ones you miss... 

Anything that makes you feel more in the holiday spirit and closer to the people you love is a win. 

Know that the holidays starting with October when pumpkins cost $70 till New Years is just rough for a lot of us. Prepare yourself and just accept that it's ok for it to feel hard. You're normal. When you look back a lot of it's funny and entertaining to think back on. In the middle it can feel overwhelming. I think knowing how to prepare going in is half the the battle. I hope this helps! 

AND you're most likely going to LOVE experiencing and learning about a few of the extremely unique and wonderful holidays that are celebrated in the Thai culture. Somehow we get to mesh together two, three or however many cultures. It gets tricky sometimes but if we handle it well we can end up having holidays that are unforgettable. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

My Top Ten- Advice For New Expats (Bangkok or wherever :)

#10- Remember You Aren't Stupid 


I don't think I have EVER felt as stupid as I did when I first moved to Bangkok! In Texas I was independent, strong, efficient and pretty durn capable. I was a world traveler. I had lived out of country more than once. I could handle this... I thought. 

Then I moved here and

I could not speak the language.  
I could not drive. 
I could not figure out where to go. 
I could not find food we like to eat. 
I could not make my kids feel safe. 
I could not calm my own anxiety. 
I could not find things we needed. 
I could not understand the culture. 
I could not be myself. 

I couldn't even use a traditional bathroom. 

Nope! Not an expert at this! 


If you get desperate look for a sign like this... 



Inside will probably be a sign like this..
I basically felt deeply and utterly STUPID. 

If you're moving to Bangkok or anywhere vastly different from your home I encourage you to realize that we all feel stupid when we place ourselves in a culture so vastly different from our own. My tools in this amazing and wonderful city just weren't there. 

I don't think that's a bad thing. On the contrary I see it as a gift. I think that it's when we are put in these intense situations that we grow and gain new tools. Those tools will serve us the rest of our lives. 

When you come into a world so different from your own and you learn to navigate it in a respectful and loving manner you change. Suddenly things that used to sound so scary are NOT a big deal. Things that used to have you tied in knots are no longer an issue. 

You've become stronger than you thought you could be. 

When you get here you'll probably feel incredibly stupid and overwhelmed but that's only step one in what is most likely one of the most intensive learning processes you'll ever encounter. 

So just hang in there and remember.. you're not stupid. It just FEEEEELS that way. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Top Ten Challenges Of Being An Expat In Bangkok #10

Nobody stays here... nobody... well almost nobody. 

We live in a beautiful, amazing expat neighborhood and our kids attend outstanding international schools. 

That's an amazing thing. A wonderful experience. But this is what it means. 

NOBODY. EVER. STAYS. 

I grew up an army brat so I DEFINITELY get moving and goodbyes but I'm gonna say this is a different level. When I was an army brat everyone was on rotations that were typically 3 yrs. When you met someone you all immediately put out there when you were leaving so you knew how long you had together. Growing up a military kid I was more than happy to quit moving when the time came. Army life wasn't always easy though it offered many rewards. 

I think here is even harder in this particular way. 

Life here is a series of hellos and goodbyes. 

Bangkok is FULL of expats. There are military and embassy here but there are MANY private companies as well. Most of the people from private companies have very little to no clue how long they'll be here or where they'll get sent next. 

They might be here 6 months. They might be here 6 years. They don't know. You don't know. 

Every 6 months in summer and at Christmas there's a massive movement of people leaving and arriving. 

You welcome the new ones and wonder how long you'll get to be friends. 

You say goodbye to people you just started to bond with and wonder if and when you'll ever see them again. 

Two of my closest friends here are scheduled to leave this summer. 

This week one of my kids had some friends over and it hit me that the majority of the group was leaving this summer. 

One of mine has a favorite teacher leaving and maybe the second favorite as well. 

Let's not talk about how many friends we've already had leave. 

It's February. As May approaches we will find out more and more about who is leaving. 

When those of us who don't get moved come back from our various world travels in August for school to start there will be a group of new arrivals flooding in. Most of them will be overwhelmed, nervous, homesick and stressed just like we were when we showed up here glassy eyed and lost. So the veteran moms will all pitch in and do whatever we can to help them feel safe and happy here the way someone helped us. 

We know how it feels to be new. So we will invite them and support them. We will bond with them over expat life in Asia and assure them they'll be fine and happy just like we are now. 

Then we will probably have to leave them. 

Ugh. 

Suddenly today I had this wave of homesickness hit me and I couldn't place why at first. I have been doing way better on that front lately. Then suddenly I realized what my brain was doing. I just wanted my normal. I wanted to escape all the goodbyes looming ahead. 

I mean sure people always move and things always change but this is rapid pace emotional upheaval every 6 months. 

I can say that it is well worth the sadness to meet people who have lived in and seen the entire world. It's a remarkable blessing to stretch and grow and know people from every corner of this Earth. It's a marvelous lesson to learn to love someone even though you may only have a little while. I know that these experiences and relationships change the fabric of who we are in a wonderful way. 

I'm so grateful for what we are all experiencing even though it means a constant goodbye. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Top Ten Things I Love About Expat Life In Bangkok #9 ASIA. IS. AMAZING.

Whether it's an unbelievable city skyline that never ends, roaming elephants, amazing waterways, ancient ruins or just your average tropical paradise... Thailand has it and Asia in general has it times a gazillion or so. 


Before we came to Bangkok I didn't begin to realize the creativity and beauty I would encounter from the buildings and places the remarkable people of Asia have fashioned. Sometimes as Westerners we can delude ourselves into thinking we've cornered the market on amazing man made locations. Not so my friends. 


Thai malls blow ours out of the water in terms of beauty and elegance. 


The Bangkok aquarium is out of this world. Never seen one to rival it. 


I've been to hotels here that put Disney top of the line resorts to shame. 


Now don't even get me STARTED on the remarkable natural beauty. 


It's breathtaking... 


And the sounds... 




Just stop. 


And the trees... 


And the water... 


And the animals... 


And the feeling that you've stepped into another world.


I really do love you Thailand, just the way you are.. 


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Top Ten Things I Love About Expat Life in Bangkok - #10

I could go real deep with ya here or we could get real. It's me so it's all about the real. COME OOOOOOON!!! Obviously the first thing I'm gonna say is THE MASSAGES! 


Cause SERIOUSLY! Amazing massages for an amazing price ANY TIME WE WANT is craaaaaaazy awesome. On demand, inexpensive massages make up for a whole lotta hard and stressful. 

Couldn't understand anything today? 
Get a massage! 

Possibly a giant lizard in your ceiling? 
WHATEVER! Get a massage and you'll forget about that creepy shuffling. 

Can't go anywhere cause driving is terrifying for you? 
Doesn't even matter cause you can get a MASSSSSSAGE right HERE!  

You see how this works? Massage makes 89.7% of everything in life better. 

Go ahead and add onto that facials, manicures, pedicures, false eyelashes, any kind of hired help for amazing prices and it can be easy to get spoiled rotten. 

Basically, when I go back to Texas to visit I now feel a deep massage void. Ha! Thailand life is good in the pampering realm! 

And all the expats in Asia said, "AMEN!" 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Alternate Reality Identity Crisis

Since my last post I've been back to visit Texas not once, but twice. Going back and forth has been so positive for me but also surreal. For me it still didn't make Thailand seem like a new normal or home. 


My life when I am in Texas and when I'm here are so vastly different it's hard to describe. 

In Texas I am one person. 

In Thailand I am another. 

For the kids they have school and activities. Russ has his job. They've found new normal I THINK. 

Me?? I still have my momming. :-) Yet, that looks nothing like what momming looked like before. 

This isn't necessarily a BAD thing. I think it has some very positive outcomes. It's a stretching and growing life experience. 

Looking back I believe this was a large part of my challenge in adjusting to Thailand life. 

I went from homeschooling 4 kids, incredibly busy, self sufficient, surrounded by friends and family, our house as a social center of activity, knowing all my neighbors, deeply involved in my amazing church, constantly traveling, adoption advocate, consistently connected with people I loved, free spirit, low scheduled, night owl, grain free, organic, dating my hotty hubby on a weekly basis, shopping for bargains and loving life girlie to... 

All 4 kids in school full time, very little I felt purposeful in doing, not knowing HOW to do ANYTHING, friends and family 24 hrs of travel and thousands of dollars away, unable to handle hosting many social gatherings and not knowing that many people, not knowing my neighbors and then getting to know them and them all moving, not having our church, still traveling but trying to stuff it into school schedules and it being places I feel much more clueless about, only talking about adoption when people reach out on Facebook, feeling excruciatingly disconnected from people I love due to the 12-15 hr time difference, very little room for freedom, highly scheduled, forced to switch to an extremely early schedule with everyone out of the house by 7am due to cultural norms with schools, caving to eating grains and sugars that mess me up badly because I didn't know what to eat and my foods were no longer available, dates with my hotty husband became few and far between because they require a driver and going downtown and leaving the kids alone in a foreign country, shopping meant realizing I couldn't fit into anything in Thailand since a size 6 is LARGE especially once I gained 17 pounds from said grain... 

This new identity isn't something I chose. It's something that chose me.

My circumstances here are so vastly different that aspects of my personality just, frankly, don't fit here. 

I have been forced to become different to thrive here. I have to be tougher. I have to be calmer. I have to move slower. I have to keep my mouth shut more. I have to keep my mind open. I must dress differently. Eating what I want isn't an option. My schedule is different. My activities.. really almost everything about my life... is altered.

The only thing the same about me here is the core of who I am. My character and belief systems and who I am quietly inside. 

I have had to change. I've had to accept that my role here is different in this season and that it's ok. 

I have had to accept that for ME there is, in fact, no new normal. 

For me Thailand is an alternate reality. I go to Texas and I step right back into my other Angel. I come back here and Thailand Angel settles in for the ride. I am forced to leave parts of my personality in Texas that just don't function here. 

Adjusting to Thailand has been one of the greatest challenges of my life and I believe it has made me better. Someday I will go back to being Texas Angel. Thailand Angel will be a part of my memories. But I have no doubt that this will be a time I will look back on with  sincere affection. I believe Thailand will become a period of time that shapes me. I pray that this Thailand Angel becomes a part of the Texas me and I'm better and stronger than I wanted to be. 

This alternate reality, this identity crisis is a challenging gift but one I'm grateful to receive.