Sunday, April 9, 2017

Relocations!

My blog has moved and so will we be! As of July 2017, we will be living overseas again! To find out more, follow our new adventures at https://traipsingalloverthemap.com/

See you there!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Perspective This Holiday Season

Holiday season 2015, our first year back in the U.S. for the winter holidays, felt very different from this year. I knew before coming home that being back here meant being bombarded by advertisements, commercials, consumerism, and materialism wherever we went and looked. That was one of the reasons we took steps to insulate ourselves from it -- by enrolling our child in a school that allowed no technology in its lower school, by staying offline and away from the radio as much as possible, by not having a television in our house. It also helped immensely that I wasn't working for much of the holiday season last year and didn't have to hear about all the greed. The holiday season was actually enjoyable and relaxing. We visited friends during Thanksgiving, we enjoyed time off outdoors, we stayed away from the shopping malls, and we traveled during the Christmas holiday break.

This year has been almost the opposite. Life has felt hectic and overwhelming since before the Thanksgiving holiday. For Thanksgiving, we traveled to Oregon to visit a friend we met in Thailand, so the days leading up to our visit were filled with preparations for the trip in addition to working. Luckily, our visit there was relaxing and restorative, and it was so good to see my friend whom I've missed dearly.

However, since then, I've felt agitated and flustered by all that is around me. Everywhere I look, there are ads and commercials urging us to buy more, more, more! People can't stop talking about what they want for Christmas, what they're buying for their children and grandchildren. I see pictures of Christmas trees with piles and piles of boxes under them, and homes so filled with holiday decorations that there is not an inch of wall space showing. Children are urged to make lists and lists of what they want, and to keep asking for more. Look at all the "abundance" in our lives, these pictures say. Yet, the same people complain about their finances, about not being able to retire, about not being able to save for their children's education.

For this holiday, we are visiting friends whom we met in Thailand, but who recently moved to South America. Because mail is slow and unreliable there, they asked us to bring them some things and Christmas presents from their families for their children. The pile of things we have received on their behalf is staggering -- we are bringing two or three suitcases of things just for them. Looking at all the things, I only see the piles of trash that will be generated and thrown away thoughtlessly and carelessly; it makes me feel nauseated.

People are spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars just to make themselves and their children "happy" -- temporarily -- on things that will be sitting in a closet gathering dust within a month or two. Then they buy and read books on how to "de-clutter," throw out or donate all the things they had spent their hard-earned money to buy and accumulate, and pat themselves on the back for being "disciplined" and "giving." Oh, the irony of it all.

I was never one to buy and accumulate things, and always tried to live minimally. But it took me moving to Thailand to see how unnecessarily and overly abundant and wasteful life is here in the U.S. And it took me coming back to see how truly privileged our lives were in Thailand -- to be able to live overseas and experience another country and culture, to be able to afford household help and live so comfortably in a big house, and to be able to travel so much. One value I admired in Asia was the lack of waste. Everything was kept and reused; if something was broken, it was repaired, not thrown away. Things served multiple purposes. Only enough food was made to be finished at each meal. Those were ways of life I was taught growing up, but had since forgotten. I enjoyed re-learning and living those values again in Thailand.

Now that we're back, I am continuing living that way while appreciating and feeling very grateful for the fortune and abundance I've had in my life -- not just for the holiday season, but every day -- and giving back whenever, however, and wherever I can. And I hope everyone will think about how much they have in their lives as well, and think about giving back and helping the less fortunate instead of how much they are getting and receiving.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sad News

After many years of illness, which had worsened in the past week or so, the King of Thailand passed away today. The country is in mourning, and will be officially for the next year. The flag will be at half mast for the next 30 days. Government officials will dress in black for the next year. The people of Thailand are devastated as the King was truly loved and revered. He did so much for the Thai people during his time as King. A nice write-up of the King's life can be found here.

When I saw the news this morning, my heart was broken. Even though this had been expected for several years now, it still came as shock. I was devastated for the Thai people, but I was affected by the news more than I had expected, especially given the distance of time and space that I now have from Thailand. I felt as if it were my King who had died and I mourned right along with the people. All day at work, I felt sad and couldn't focus on work. But I had no one to talk to about this. Who else could understand why I felt the way I did despite the fact that I am not Thai, am not in Thailand, and it is not my King who has died?

Luckily, a good friend whom I met in Thailand, and who returned to the U.S. just a mere three months ago, called me tonight to commiserate. She has been feeling the same way as I do, just completely crushed by the news. She even had a good cry this morning after hearing the news. We talked about how strange it is that we only lived in Thailand for two (me) to three (her) years; yet, we feel so close to the people and the country that the loss is like our own. It is true that Thailand still fees more like home to me than the U.S., but my grief still took me by surprise. It was nice and cathartic to be able to process this and talk to someone who understands and can sympathize without me having to explain anything.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

One Year

It was one week ago last year that we packed up everything we took to Thailand--and a bit more-- and came back to the craziness that is America. I remember well the day we left--going through our house with its empty rooms, with so many memories created there, one last time; our driver packing all our belongings onto his pickup truck; driving through the streets of our village and seeing for the last time all the shops and people that had become such a big part of our lives.

It was one year ago today that I wrote what appears below, having been home for only one week. Since then, our physical environment has become more familiar, but I still feel as foreign and out of place as I did then. Oh, how I miss that place and that life.

Here's what I wrote one year ago today:

Signs that life in America might be almost as foreign to us now as life in Thailand once was:

- Even when it's 90 degrees outside, it still feels cool enough to me to put on pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
- When paying for the bill for a meal, my husband wonders out loud if we need to tip, as if not tipping were an option.
- Everything now seems negotiable, regardless of what we're shopping for.
- Getting use to having and operating voice mail again.
- We miss seeing Asian faces around, even though we are already in a town with a good-sized Asian population, so we go to the local Asian market just to feel at home.
- The kid has been mispronouncing words the way he's heard them pronounced the past two years: "kitchen" is now "kitshen" and "chips" is "ships."
- Forgetting about and getting used to the tedious process of credit and background checks just to rent a place, instead of being able to just show up and sign a lease on the spot.
- Paying for everything with cash.
- Forgetting that we no longer have free access to virtually any book, movie, or music we will ever want.
- It feels too formal and impersonal when people address me by my last name.
- Being unused to hearing European foreign languages instead of Asian ones.
- American food is no longer appetizing, feels overly processed and "fake," and doesn't taste good.
- Feeling closed off from the outside world because the doors and windows of all the houses are always closed, we have to drive to get anywhere and can't just walk or use a scooter, and don't hang our clothes outside to dry.
- Forgetting that we can't just buy minutes at the 7-Eleven to use our cell phones.
- Looking at 7-Eleven stores with fondness instead of indifference.
- Forgetting that many places you need to go to are closed on the weekends.
- Not blinking an eye when my kid runs off out of my line of sight at a public place full of people.
- Everything feels too clean, quiet, and sterile.
- Getting used to seeing so much green in all the trees and grass again.



Sunset in Ayutthaya.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Yearnings for a Distant Time

It's been ten months since we moved back to the U.S. from Thailand. The longer we stay here, the more I long for our life abroad. At least once a week, I think back to what my life was like a year ago on that particular day, and I can't believe that was me, living that life. That life seems so distant now, so dream-like, so surreal. Was it really me riding on a scooter through the streets? Was it really us strolling through the markets, bargaining with people with gestures and in a foreign language? Is it really possible that we saw, walked through the streets of, and ate amazing food in all these different cities in Asia every few months without even a second thought? Was it possible that we were surrounded by people unimaginably rich and improbably poor, all of whom were kind and friendly? And that everyone, educated and uneducated, knew more about the U.S. and the world, and what was going on here, than I did?

It's worse when we speak with our friends abroad. Every little thing they mention about life abroad makes me ache for the "good old days," when every day was filled with interesting sights and sounds, kind and friendly people, and amazing and fresh food. Right now, I feel as if I'm in limbo, just biding my time until we can move abroad again. We are working towards our goal professionally and personally, keeping our eyes and ears open for international schools, and asking our friends abroad to keep us posted on any openings at their schools. Another family that we became close with in Thailand has just been offered a job in Chile, at one of the best schools in South America. I am so happy and excited for them, but at the same time, it fills me with impatience and anguish because I want to be there with them right now, not two or three years from now.

There is something about life in the U.S. that is constraining and suffocating. It is sad and depressing. Sure, there were ups and downs when we were abroad, but for the most part, I felt carefree and I knew everything was going to turn out fine no matter what. We lived in the present, thought about the future sometimes (but not with fear or worry), and enjoyed ourselves on a regular basis. Here, there is a seemingly endless list of things to worry about and to think about. Life feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.

On an almost daily basis, I listen to my colleagues bemoan the number of bills they have to pay, the high cost of living and health care, and the high cost of higher education in this country. I am ashamed and sad when I see the numerous homeless people in Washington, D.C., the national capital of what is supposed to be one of the world's wealthiest countries. I am outraged when I see the Smithsonian museums put on an amazing event for children, but the cost is so high that only the affluent families of the suburbs of D.C. can afford it, while the inner-city kids are left out once again. After having been in a developing country where even the poor people can live a decent life, where health care is affordable and good, where people take care of and watch out for one another so hardly anyone goes hungry or is homeless, the gap between the haves and have-nots of this country, and the lack of caring, is more apparent to me than before. It is a disgrace and infuriating that a country such as the U.S. is in the state that it is, and that life here is so oppressive and miserable for so many. So, so many people just think of themselves, are apathetic, or don't feel any responsibility whatsoever towards helping fellow human beings. Others are either willfully or unintentionally ignorant, but have no desire or curiosity to learn and question the status quo.

Many Americans insist that America is great, and everyone else loves and wants to be in this country. That is not so. Most of these people don't want to see or know the truth. They have no idea that people all over the world don't like this country or its people, and that we are the laughingstock of many in this world. Most Americans live in a bubble and are completely ignorant about the rest of the world, even when it comes to simple, basic knowledge such as where a particular country is located, let alone current events, views, and cultures around the world.

Most of my current views about this country and its people are negative. As I told a friend overseas, when I went to Thailand, I regained some faith in humanity, but completely lost it again once we returned home. I hope one day we'll be among more caring and kinder people, those who care about each other as human beings, again.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Whole New World

Traveling is addictive; the more traveling you do, the more you want to do it. There is just too much in this world that is too beautiful, amazing, fascinating, interesting -- the adjectives are endless -- to pass up. From the time we returned to the U.S. in July up through this point, the most traveling we had done was a ten-day road trip to the mid-west, so we were all itching to go somewhere again. We've missed being able to travel like we did in Thailand, exploring a different country and culture every few months. We also love and wanted to continue this new tradition of being abroad during Christmas time, which allows us to get away from the holiday craziness here while continuing to see the world.

Still, given how expensive it is to get out of the U.S., especially during the holidays, we didn't want to break the bank. So we decided to book a short trip to Bogota, Colombia, during the winter break. This was going to be our first time in South America, making it my husband's and my fourth continent and our son's third. It wasn't as long of a trip as our previous holiday trips to Vietnam in 2013 and Taiwan in 2014, but it felt wonderful to be out there again, experiencing and exploring and learning. Our trip there also made me realize a few things; I will elaborate on that later.

To prepare for the trip, we sought advice and recommendations from friends who had lived there and who are currently living there. My son's Spanish teacher also is from Bogota and gave us a lot of good advice. My husband brushed up on his Spanish, but I didn't bother. We both had been fluent in Spanish many, many years ago -- he had taken four years of classes while I had had six years of classes in school -- but it's been over 20 years since we used the language, so I knew that a few days of studying wasn't going to help me. My husband, though, was able to hold basic conversations with the locals while we were there, which helped tremendously as most people spoke very little English. It took me a while, but after our time there, I was beginning to understand more, though it still felt very strange to speak it again. Then, when we first got there, we started speaking Thai again! I don't know what it is with Spanish and Thai, but we constantly get those two mixed up, speaking Spanish when we should be speaking Thai and vice versa. It was pretty funny.

Our first activity and one of the highlights of our trip was a graffiti/street art tour we took our first full day there. It was a wonderful way to see the city, learn about its history, and the issues that it's dealing with. The tour was free (imagine that!), but it was very well-done and our tour guide was very knowledgeable. She was German and had been living in Bogota for 3 1/2 years. Our tour group was very diverse -- there were people from all over the world, including a couple from Seattle who used to live in Washington, D.C. We walked around the city for 2 1/2 hours, learning about how street art began in Bogota. Bogota has a vibrant street art scene -- there are 3000 to 5000 artists in Bogota creating street art, so our tour guide focused only on the prominent artists, some of whom are world-renowned. The art is used to promote art itself, but also to bring awareness to and protest against some of the social and political issues in Colombia, such as poverty, homelessness, the living conditions of the indigenous people, industrialized farming, and violence against women. Of course, among the country's many problems is the U.S., which has its hands in so many things all over the world. The more we learn about our country from those abroad, the more we're embarrassed to identify as Americans.

All the art was so interesting and vibrant. There were so many different styles, from paint to stencils to paste-ups. Because artwork is often painted over quickly, a piece of street art is considered old if it's six years old.

Our tour guide told us of the origin of the legality of street art in Colombia: In 2011, a 16-year-old boy who called himself Felix the Cat was doing street art in Bogota. At the time, street art was illegal there, so the police came to stop him. He ran away from the police, who shot the boy and killed him. The police officer who shot him didn't receive any consequences for killing him. The people of Bogota were outraged, and were further inflamed when, shortly thereafter, Justin Bieber flew into Bogota with his own private entourage and blocked off a street just so HE could do "street art." And what did he spray paint on the walls of the city? A f*cking marijuana leaf. Then he left, with no consequences. The locals, of course, were completely beside themselves given the disparity in treatment between the two street artists (using this term loosely for JB, of course) just because of the differences between their social and financial statuses. They quickly painted over JB's "art," protested and petitioned, and finally, a law was passed to legalize street art and protect street artists. The police officer who killed Felix the Cat was punished for his actions.



















We also had an opportunity to visit a salt cathedral in Zipaquir√°, which is about an hour's drive north of Bogota. It is an underground Roman Catholic church built within the maze of tunnels of a salt mine. Through our hotel, we hired a driver for the day to take us to a local market, then to the salt cathedral, and back to our hotel. The market was very extensive, with food stalls and vendors selling all kinds of vegetables and fruits, eggs, meat, fish, flowers, and household items. We were the only tourists there. Because it was Christmas Eve, the market was full of people buying food for holiday celebrations. There was so much energy there.










The drive to the salt cathedral was beautiful, with mountains and fields along the way. We got to know about our driver a little bit, using what Spanish we knew to converse with him. Once at the salt mine, we explored the grounds a little before going underground. We fell behind a Spanish-language tour and just followed the group, understanding only a little bit of what was being said. It was only on our way out, after running into an English-language tour group, that we realized there were tours given in different languages. It was a pretty funny experience.

The salt cathedral was amazing, lit up with lights that changed colors. There were giant, elaborately carved crosses, chapels, and sanctuaries with rows and rows of pews; beautiful statues and carvings of angels and other religious symbols; and religious artifacts from different parts of the world. After the tour that we didn't understand, we had lunch outside, overlooking the mountains. Our driver then drove us to the main town square, so we could walk around and take photos. It was so quaint and charming. So many people were out enjoying Christmas Eve festivities. Unlike the U.S., Christmas Eve seemed to be an actual holiday with most places closed.













Another excursion was going to the top of Monserrate, which we did by taking the telef√©rico (cable car). It was really cool, but a little nerve-racking to be in a glass enclosure so high up. The view at the top of the mountain was gorgeous, with a church and pathways all decked out for Christmas. After coming down from the mountain, we went to a Mexican restaurant that we saw on our graffiti tour (for the street art on its facade), where we had really good and different limonada, fajita, enchilada, and quesadilla.






 







In between those big outings, we also meandered among the narrow streets of La Candelaria, a historic neighborhood, with its quaint and charming European-style buildings and cobble-stone walkways. We felt as if we were really in Europe. We also took in a few museums, the magnificent churches and government buildings; happened upon and enjoyed a chaotic, but vibrant, street festival packed with Christmas revelers; and sat on the steps of plazas to people-watch and bask in the brilliant sunlight and blue sky. We ate amazing food such as tamales, empanadas, ajiaco, avocados, enchiladas, and chocolate con queso (hot chocolate with cheese). And everywhere we went, curious Colombians looked at us. On our flight there, I sat next to a young woman from Colombia going home to visit her family. She told me that people in Bogota were unfriendly and rude, like Americans, so I was expecting American-like manners. But we didn't find that to be the case at all. People were polite, friendly, and helpful. They were also very good-natured and understanding when we mangled our Spanish. I found the Colombians there to be easy-going and likable. 





























Before the trip, I felt ambivalent and reluctant about it, as if I had never been out of the country before. I was nervous about being in a country for which there seemed to be so many safety precautions to be taken. But after getting there, it was like I was home again. I realized how contracted my world had become again already, after only six months, and how unaware of this change I was; it happened slowly, over time, and was hard to detect. Being back in the suburbs of the U.S., with no culture and no stimulation of any kind, my mind shrank and my mentality had already changed a bit. Being in Bogota, I felt myself come alive and become energized again. I was interested and stimulated. I could see the same thing happening to my son: the light came back on in his eyes, and he was taking everything in, asking questions, engaged, writing his heart out in his journal, which he hadn't done in a few months. It was an unexpected, but amazing, transformation that occurred almost immediately, even after spending just a few days there. Then, after getting home, I felt the same transformation in the opposite direction happen again, almost immediately. It was then that I realized I no longer have a viable future in the U.S. and that we will have to leave it again. There are just too many things I can no longer deal with in this country and too many things I long for that are not here. While living in the U.S. has its positives -- most of them related to the conveniences and resources that it can offer -- they are outweighed by the considerable number of negatives, in my opinion. Maybe I'm seeing life abroad through rose-colored glasses at this point, but we hope to test out our thinking in the next year or two!