Living and working overseas with a group of diverse individuals, in interests, heritage, race, allergies, preferences in pets and experiences with trying new fruit, has simmered down to one phrase for me:
Your individual experience is not universal.
While our individual experiences, however, may not be universal, the emotions we feel are.
They simply vary by the moments which trigger it, the extent to which we communicate them to others, and in how much colour we feel them. We all at some point here, have felt awe, shock and longing, amongst others.
Bright purple sunsets. Bustling night markets. Big buildings, readily offering you that relieving feeling of insignificance.
The price of street food and the endless product offerings at each restaurant, hole in the wall joint, and mall. Or, the number of malls in general within a 2 kilometre radius.
Mango Yakult smoothies existing. The friendliness of every single person I have met so far.
For me, the shock has been relatively dull and muted. I would define shock as the immediate response, when you realise the difference between your expectation of a person, place, or situation, and the reality you are presented with.
Expectation: For first year university students, our duties will include proofreading documents for spelling and grammar, or the ever so stereotypical coffee runs.
Reality: For 8 hours a day, the company I work at gives us the responsibilities of graduate interns. I compile due diligence documents to lead client correspondence and meetings, research and consolidate findings about the IPO process in the Thai Stock Exchange to create a comprehensive guide for prospective companies, and rewrite articles about Thailand’s current legal and business environment to sound captivating. Within those 8 hours, I have two minutes, maybe an hour apart each, where I simply stare out into the beautiful floor to ceiling cityscape visible from my desk and reflect on the work we have done.
Expectation: I will learn every skill from scratch and none of my debate teaching or policy work experience will be useful.
Reality: My knowledge from personal study into economics and finance (out of simple curiosity and interest), has been my most useful asset. The policy work for Melissa (the MP that I work for) allows me to understand some business and economic terms that I would not have known otherwise.
Expectation: The roads would be dangerously hectic, drivers would be absolutely inconsiderate of pedestrians, and the pollution would be unbearable.
Reality: The first time I crossed on a pedestrian road, two cars and a motorbike stopped for me. While you may have to be more assertive, and observant (if you walk timidly, they certainly will not stop), it is manageable. Comparative to India, which is true chaos, Bangkok is organised chaos. While usually I am a proponent of setting low expectations so that you are always pleasantly surprised, it is a disservice to the beauty of Thailand and the city of Bangkok to have been so cynical. I believe the West does this too often indeed.
The idea of “longing” has been something interesting to reflect on, as we seem to find ourselves longing to find aspects of comfort in what we do not know. While most of my peers compared their experience in Bangkok to that of New Zealand, I found similarities far more easily with my upbringing in India. The animals on the streets, the cobbled streets, the trees placed in awkward places (that somehow work), to add some resemblance of nature to a concrete jungle. I was immediately comfortable in my surroundings. Given that shock has already been characterised as the difference between expectation and reality, the magnitude was far lesser for me than some of my friends who I talked to on the trip. This is not to say that either experience is better than the other, but to highlight how different people approach assimilation.
Return to home:
I am honestly a little jealous of my friends, because shock catalyses gratitude.
Viewing my high school from the experience of a visitor, I romanticised it heavily. Why hadn’t I appreciated the football field length pool and beautiful gardens before? I knew I had always been grateful for the amenities there, but never had I appreciated them as much as I did from the perspective of someone who does not have access to them 24/7.
The novelty of new things wears off quickly, unless we intentionally decide the lens with which we view the people, places and situations around us.
When I go back to NZ I plan on treating each experience as if I was a tourist, in my own country.