Carried Away (the culture shock post)

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I think this is up to code…?

Friends and family ask us how it is living in Thailand.  I usually say that we’re doing well.  I talk about what we’ve accomplished since being here, the things we’ve learned, maybe a funny situation or two or perhaps some sort of oddity that is normal here but you’d never see in the States.  But this doesn’t really answer the question.  My answer does a decent job of diverting the real question and changing the subject.  The reason for this is simple: I don’t know the answer.

My family spent eight months preparing to go to Thailand.  My wife, being the wiser of the two of us, read about the culture so she has a greater understanding and appreciation of what we experience here.  But by in large, we mainly focused on unloading our possessions, preparing our house to rent and telling our story to those who may want to support this endeavor.  Of course, we knew the culture would be difficult to assimilate to, and I’m not surprised of how difficult it has been.  But nonetheless, I’m finding myself in the midst of culture shock.

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Our bathroom for the first few weeks in Mae Sot. We’re so thankful to have had it… but it definitely takes some getting used to bathing in cold water next to the toilet.

Culture shock, to me, is like the grieving process.  From a cognitive perspective, grief is the brain’s attempt to make sense of the world in the absence of a loved one.  My mind is trying to come to grips with a completely new reality.  In some ways, I am grieving a loss: the loss of normalcy, my American culture.  It’s ironic that I would mourn the loss of something that I’ve criticized so much in the past, but I digress.  Practically everything is different here.  From bathrooms to hygiene to food to cars, even electricity is different.  And I’m honestly okay with these differences… well, most of the time.  But everything is so different that my brain is finding it difficult to find a way of understanding it all, to form new neural pathways and fit it all into the schema I use to navigate life.

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Myself and Bird keeping our new wardrobe from falling over in the back of a truck. I like that the laws are more lax here, but it doesn’t make me feel any safer standing up in the back of a moving truck.

Consider our first two weeks since being here. Withing 48 hours of arrival, I was already driving a vehicle on the left side of the road.  I’d had my blood test taken for syphilis(!) so that I could apply for a work permit.  I had three children to protect in an entirely foreign environment.  Everyone speaks an unknown language around me, and I had no idea if what I was doing was respectful or insulting.  Let’s not forget the mosquitoes that were trying to suck us dry.  In the background of all this is the realization that we do not know how long we will be living here, meaning that we don’t know what level of emotional commitment to make to people, institutions, language or culture.

So how do I respond?  In the heated moments filled with frustration, I get angry and complain.  But for the most part, I do nothing.  In the past, I would have tired myself attempting to understand everything about the culture and acquire the language.  The driving force behind this is the belief that I need to “grab the bull by the horns.”  But for some mysterious reason, I feel permission to just sit and do nothing.

I’ve pondered this and wondered whether the effects on me will be positive or negative.  I get a picture in my head of myself floating in a stream.  I’m being carried down the stream by unseen forces, whether they be cultural, emotional or spiritual.  But the point is that even though I’m not doing anything, I’m still moving.  There’s still progress: I may not be trying to fight my way through this grieving process, but my brain is still making the much needed connections.

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Hold on! Before you go calling Child Protective Services, this is just a photo-op. I’d make sure to wear him in a child carrier on my back if we were really going for a ride. ;p

I guess my point in all this is, “Why fight it?”  I could gripe and complain that things are different.  I could spend hours expending my emotional energy trying to get used to everything all at once… and then burn out.  Or I could choose to exist in the moment, try not to overreact when life doesn’t  and just live.  I won’t pretend to understand this process, but at least I can see that somewhere along the way, I will find the Good Life…  and maybe some more Pad Thai.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jackie Mckune says:

    I really enjoy reading your blogs, and this one I relate to on a small scale! What was my biggest concern moving from one culture to an other was “when you have no idea if what you were doing is insulting or disrespectful”.
    But in the long run those unknown feelings is what makes you alive and makes the experience all that better! Miss you in the ED
    Jackie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oldmcfarmer says:

      Thanks for comment Jackie. My current plan is just get out among the people and fail miserably at communicating for them, get accustomed to them laughing at me and hopefully(!) learn the culture and language.

      Like

  2. Linda Fischer (Hopkins) says:

    This is a great post. Sounds like maturity to me. Miss you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jandkmagee says:

    I’m wondering how your kids are dealing with the cultural / material differences? I suspect, like a lot of children, they’re resilient and receive the changes with refreshing simplicity…and I hear in your words a desire to receive, with the innocence of a child, all the blessings of God’s Kingdom in Mae Sot. I’m grateful that His promise is to not leave us alone in our weakness… “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in His arms, He laid his hands of blessing on them.” Mark 10:15

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oldmcfarmer says:

      I want to be one of those children!

      Like

  4. Helle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I have been waiting for this since you guys left. We have been going thru the same thing since we arrived in the Middle East in October 2014. Some of the questions you will answer as time goes by. The effect on my child is the important one, I can “float” for a while but where is the limit for my child? After 10 months I have some of it figured out and have started the countdown till June 2016 when we will be retiring to the U.S. Lots of great adventures and trips but our family needs a HOME – and this is not it. This is our adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oldmcfarmer says:

      Arrggg. I see a picture of a bouyee in the middle of the ocean as I read your comment. Sounds very challenging and trying. But there’s also hope in the distance. The ship is coming soon to pick you up! Enjoy the Middle East while you can. 😀

      Like

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