We were late to the airport.
No, we were on time but were made late by a stop at Tim Horton’s and family goodbyes.
My mom, in tears, rolled out a piece of paper as an afterthought. She had made it some time before — a sign saying goodbye. My sister was crying too. We didn’t always get along, but for some reason, she was sad to see me go.
Eventually, I had to break away from they and the rest of my family members who had come to say goodbye.
Joining the line for security, I refused to cry. I was strong and the public would not see me weep. Mostly because I knew if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. And that would be a massive embarrassment when I joined the plane with 20-odd peers all heading to the same place: Thailand.
The land of smiles.
To say the flight was painful would be an understatement. Who knew one could be so tired from so much sitting?
From Winnipeg to Vancouver: 2 hour flight, 6 hour layover.
Vancouver to Seoul, South Korea: 14 hour flight, 2 hour layover.
Seoul to Bangkok, Thailand: 6 hours
The airport to our home: 2 hours? At this point, it’s all a seatbeltless blur.
When we arrived in Bangkok, things were a lot more “normal” than I had expected. I knew nothing of Thailand and really only chose that option because of the promised salary. I wanted to travel and the only thing that could stop me was money (or lack thereof), so I had to find ways around it.
Things weren’t as dirty as I had thought they’d be. All of my information came from Bridget Jones, The Impossible, and The Hangover 2. Other than that, I knew nothing of Thailand (and what did I really know from that?).
It was 11.30PM when we arrived in Bangkok. We had been travelling for over 24 hours and were exhausted. But nothing in Thailand is done halfway and they love pictures.
We all got together for a groggy group picture and I remember buying a banana from the airport 7-11. If Thailand succeeds at anything, it’s 7-11. It seemed excessive at first, having a 7-11 on every block (or less), but grew on me and became expected and missed when I left.
Finally, we were free to leave the airport. The doors slid open and out we went– BAM!
Humidity hit me. It was like walking head-on into a brick wall.
Winnipeg could get humid and you could feel like you were melting, but it was nothing compared to tropical humidity, which I found would be a constant in my life over the next 10 months. A constant that I would miss, even now.
Sticky moisture clung to my sweater, which I dare not remove lest the scent of travel be released. I would suffer — only for a short time.
We were loaded into vans which would take us to our homes in the next 2 hours and the A/C was on full blast — something I would come to hope against in the coming months.
Arriving at our new home in the dead of night, the pictures began to come alive. There on the left: the pool. I looked forward to being there all the time! (I wouldn’t be there all the time). Straight ahead: the office. There, I would pay my utilities and borrow the spare key to my room so I could have the key maker on the street replace the one I lost. Around the corner: the courtyard and apartment building. This is where I’d spend the next near-year.
Fragrant tropical flowers floated around me as I stumbled from the van back into humidity. It was familiar to me as I struggled to overcome the mounting culture shock. Back in Winnipeg, I loved to go to our wonderful zoo, which had a Tropical House. Thailand smelled exactly like that place and I was comforted for a little bit.
The next 2-3 hours were spent learning about the building complex (whatever they had said most definitely went in one ear and out the other) and moving our belongings into our rooms. We were an active bunch.
It was 5AM before I was finally able to contact my mom and tell her I had made it there safely.
Everything was in my room, but would not be moved until the next ‘day’ when I woke up. At 3PM.
I slept that night with the A/C blasted and a blanket acting as my sheet on the hard, surprisingly comfortable, Thai bed.
I woke up to people in the hallways doing various activities and almost had a heart attack when I saw that it was mid afternoon already. An entire day wasted.
My fingerprints were supposed to be scanned at either 10AM or 3PM, so I was up just in time… A useless endeavour as my fingerprints turned out to be nearly non-existent.
Culture shock was real. I didn’t know what to eat or where to go or how to get anywhere. I walked around the complex, taking pictures of the place for my family back home. I cried in my room, sleep-deprived and feeling like I would starve because I didn’t like Asian food (I will continue to blame the sleep-deprivation and jet lag for this). I ate Frosted Flakes from 7-11 (a godsend) along with milk that was too sweet and crackers that were disgusting.
I would soon find that 7-11 had the best sandwiches and would live off of these for the next little while.
Motorcys drove on the sidewalks and you had to be constantly vigilant. Stray dogs were the norm. While the streets were clean, there was still an occasional smell of… something. You would hold your breath from a moment while you continued.
Thailand’s King was deeply respected. If you were walking the streets at 6PM, you’d have to stop for the King’s Anthem. It was strange at first, but really interesting later on. When he died, I felt a stab of sorrow. He was a man who did many great things for his people and the respect for him was learned and ingrained in Thai society.
From what little I had seen of Thai society, I did not expect the people I encountered. Everyone was extremely polite — it was bizarre walking next to a busy street that was compact with cars and people trying to get places without anyone honking. People were friendly in the area I was living — they were used to expats and tried their best to understand us while be tried our best to understand them. If you want to become a charades master, spend a year in Thailand.
Thailand is referred to as The Land of Smiles and it’s not hard to see why. I would find that even with the stress of teaching and classes and homesickness, Thailand would help me feel at peace; like I was on constant vacation. It’s hard to be sad when the sun and warmth is so comforting and the people so welcoming.