“Nothing brings down walls as surely as acceptance.” ~Deepak Chopra
By Alexander Gunn
I stood at the Eva Air Bangkok check in desk at Heathrow airport thinking, “what have I done.” My two young children were fighting around my legs while my wife argued with the check in woman about the vegetarian meals.
The day before I had handed over our house keys to a pimply teenager in a cheap suit at a letting agency and given away my car to my brother. I had also stored my life-size fiber glass statue of Bruce Lee in my sister’s garage and convinced my boss, now ex-boss, to adopt our chickens. Our comfortable middle class rural life was about to change for good, and I had a dreadful feeling about what might lie in wait.
Arriving to live in a very foreign country such as Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, where we had spent a grand total of just three days as tourists the year before, was a stressful experience. We chose Chiang Mai on impulse really. We wanted to do something different before our children got too old and settled. The people we met were friendly, the place felt relaxed, there was a good (and affordable) choice of schools for the children and the sun was always shining…what more could we ask for? When we first arrived we crashed out in a cheap 3-star hotel before I hired a motor scooter and zipped around town looking for a house to rent.
I had only done about five minutes of zipping when I got pulled over in a road block by a small army of police dressed like storm troopers with knee high leather boots, guns and big black sticks and enough red and gold braid to stage a small amateur pantomime. Apparently, it is against the law to ride around Chiang Mai city centre without a crash helmet. It would have been quite nice if the woman in the bike hire place had mentioned this five minutes ago while she was giving me the hard sell about some dodgy massage place.
The policeman took out my ignition key and took off his tear drop black sunglasses and asked me where I was from. I told him that I had recently arrived from London. He didn’t seem impressed. “What are you doing here.” Now, that question presented a real problem. If I tell him the truth, he’ll assume I’m lying (why would anyone give up everything to bring their young family to live in a place they’ve hardly been to), but if I lie then I’m lying, which is worse. So, I told him I was a teacher, which I am. This didn’t seem to impress him either, and why should it, it doesn’t even impress my mum.
The real reason that we made such a big move was simply because we thought it would be a good thing to do. We wanted to give our children a new and exciting experience and escape the 9 to 5 grind. We just wanted to do something different; to shop in a Thai market rather than a big joyless supermarket, to learn a foreign language and perhaps even ride a motor scooter without a crash helmet.
After a brief exchange, which centered around how much money I had to pay to enable me to go on my un-helmeted way, I once again zipped off, 500 Baht (the equivalent to one pint of beer at Heathrow airport) the lighter.
In time, I found us a house. It was more expensive than I thought it would be but when there are four of you sharing a small hotel room and two of those four are stir crazy little people (children not midgets) you tend to say yes a lot quicker than perhaps you ordinarily might.
We moved in and walked around the empty house as though it was our first time in a real home. We flushed the toilets, turned on the air con units, ran out into the garden, turned on the unusual looking gas cooker, which was connected to a huge sinister gas cylinder under the sink and set about creating a new life for ourselves.
Five years on and those first eventful couple of weeks are etched into my brain like the first few harrowing days at high school. The experiences during those early days really taught me the importance of acceptance. Haggling with a policeman on a street corner about how much I had to pay for not wearing a crash helmet doesn’t exactly feel right, but what am I going to do? Stamp my feet and single-handedly take on the Thai military?
Getting all the money wrong in the market and not understanding anything that was being said to me made me feel as out of place as it’s possible to feel. I was trying to buy a bunch of bananas for the equivalent of a week’s wage. In the end, I just had to accept that for a while, I would be making many mistakes on a daily basis. In the end, I got quite good at it!
When I received my first water bill, I had no idea where or how to pay it. When a neighbor managed to explain to me that I was to pay it in the local 7-Eleven convenience store I thought she was joking! (In case you want to uproot and move to Thailand, if in doubt, ask in the 7-Eleven, they are the font of all knowledge, and you can pay all your bills at the same time). Once again acceptance came to my rescue.
Living in an alien environment in which I made so many mistakes really did teach me about the importance of acceptance. Without it what are we left with? Anger? Frustration? Disappointment?
I often see foreigners new to Thailand complaining and getting increasingly angry about various things ranging from traffic congestion to government policy, and I think to myself, as the old adage goes, “let me accept the things I cannot change.” Never has this been truer.
Born in the heartlands of SE Essex England in the back of a Ford Escort, Alex worked as a school teacher, college lecturer, counsellor, circus performer, and stunt pilot. He now spends his time poking about far flung places in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand where he writes, teaches and helps his wife run The Life Change People (www.thelifechangepeople.com).