In 2001, the classic mother/daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore took a road trip to Harvard. Staring before the enormous Harvard library with millions of volumes, Rory stood gaping at the monstrosity and screamed, “I’m stupid!”
If there’s one moment that could encapsulate my experience in Thailand so far, that would be it. I thought I had done the research and looked at maps, when in reality, I know nothing. I didn’t know how to get around or how to communicate with anyone. I didn’t have any activities planned or job interviews lined up. I didn’t even really know how to cross the street in the crazy “anything goes” Thai traffic. I didn’t know what to do with myself. And that is the most common thing that goes through my head as I walk around the city: “I don’t know.”
Here’s just a brief glance at my gaps in knowledge:
- Getting around. Chiang Mai has virtually no public transportation and the most effective way to get around is by taxis, which come in the form of red trucks called songtaews. However, not only is it difficult to communicate with the drivers (especially after I realized I had been mispronouncing my street name for 4 days), but sometimes they just don’t feel like going that way. Or they see that you’re a foreigner and try to jack up the price and you have to barter using wild hand gestures.
- Budgeting. 20 baht sounds extremely expensive for a dish of fried rice until you realize that it’s less than a dollar. It’s so easy to say, “everything’s so cheap, it’s so cheap!” until you need to make another trip to the ATM and have no idea where any of that money went.
- Speaking of money, Thais don’t break change. If you get into a songtaew with a 1000 baht and nothing else, don’t expect them to take it, but do expect murderous glances that question the nature of your safety.
- You can’t cross the street, seriously.
- Ordering food/talking to people in general is extremely intimidating. You either speak English and feel like an ugly American, or attempt to speak Thai with very, very limited results.
- Living abroad is lonely. When you’re away from every single one of your friends and family, it’s easy to have a borderline panic attack in the mall (which happened to a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous). Traveling forces you to be an extrovert, which I am not, or at least don’t consider myself one.
- The heat. Holy Rice-A-Roni I was not prepared for it. Being an already exceptionally sweaty person, this 90+ degree weather every single day does not exactly portray me in the most flattering light. Add a steaming hot dish of khao soi to make my nose run, and you’ve got one great Vogue cover.
My newest level of knowing nothing is driving the motorbike I just rented. When the guy renting the bike to me asked, “are you sure…?” you know you’re in store for an adventure. Fake it till you make it, I guess, and hope you don’t get splattered on the road.
There is so much that I don’t know. But this time next year, I won’t be able to say that.
4 Comments Add yours
Great piece. Even greater title! As a fellow traveling introvert, I feel your struggle.
A friend of mine is in BKK this week and next but is heading to Chiang Mai for a few days after… If you’d like a fellow English speaking friend who makes being an introvert easy, let me know and I’ll send you her contact info!
You are a wonder. In a way, many of us are in a similar boat. I say all the time, maybe three times a day, “I don’t know!” Sure there are a few things I have a handle on – like crossing the street in a big city or knowing how not to get pick pocketed in a crowd – but there is a mighty long list of things I don’t know. But you took a leap of faith – so you thought you’d know more than you did – but you are managing and learning. So you are right, in a year you will know so much more about this new culture and its people and customs. Me, I fear I still won’t know what I need to do next in my life. Like you, I am at a crossroads. Looking for something new – a change – a challenge – something that makes me feel valued. Only I have the luxury of time – mine is winding down while yours is just beginning. I’m proud of you, of what you are doing and not turning back because there are challenges. So what you don’t know you will learn. The great thing is that who you are will keep you moving forward. I love you. I love who you are. Try to remember you are never really alone. When you are loved, as you are, that love surrounds you all the time. So if you wake up in the night feeling uncertain think of everyone who loves you. We are right there in spirit. Xoxoxo. Aunt Marianne
Annie, as for the motorcycle – this is one instance where the philosophy of “If you can’t beat ’em. join ’em” does NOT apply!!!! You be careful on those streets!!! Or rent the darn tuk-tuk! (I just had to type “tuk-tuk’ at least once – what a great word!). You aren’t vacationing, you are TRAVELING!!! And you’re not traveling alone – we are all here vicariously experiencing the heat and the noise and the congestion and the smells with you! Thank you for the blog! Keep ’em coming! Can’t wait for the “elephant” entry! (Oh, OK, I’m curious about the job too, but you HAVE to see an elephant for me!! In the wild, if possible – and the bats…). OK, no pressure, this is YOUR trip! Love you! Paasăa tai …’I love you’.. pôot wâa yàang-rai? A.B.