Moving isn’t something I often do. Be it moving countries, cities or even homes within a city. The last decade-plus I’ve been residing in an apartment that was very close to work, great value for money and pretty comfy. The building, Jo Joke Mansion, is located on a typical suburban Thai soi (side-street), far from the modernity of Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road and tourists. Being ‘local’ is part of what made it really appealing. Most of my friends tended to live downtown, near rapid transit and were always wondering why I lived “so far away”? After 12 years in the same building and ten-and-a-half in the same unit, I walked out the door for the last time on Friday, July 12th. Not only did I leave the apartment, but also Thailand, my adopted home since September 29, 1999. My wife had taken a job in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I sold my ownership in a travel business I co-founded a few months before and there was no reason not to give something new a go.
Approaching July 12th I wasn’t sure how I would feel that big day and was privately a bit anxious. While generally well composed I can be a bit emotional during goodbyes, and saying farewell to my longtime residence and a country I love so much was weighing heavily. Two days prior, all within a few hours, the movers had emptied the apartment, leaving a hollow echo throughout its rooms. I’d lived longer in this unit than any other place in my entire life. It’s staggering how quickly a home can become an empty shell, devoid of the comfort and familiarity that was just there. I looked around the apartment four-five times before finally walking out, and off we went (my eyes were a bit wet)…
Touchdown late at night in Kuala Lumpur and straight to a nice serviced apartment my wife’s company arranged. Out for some dinner and I immediately knew I was no longer in Thailand. No street-food in sight, flat sidewalks, cleaner air and no stray dogs about. But this blog isn’t about weighing the differences, pros or cons: it was just different.
Life’s changed greatly since jumping a plane to Thailand from my native Calgary, Canada. I was 26-years-old at the time, had passed-up a job in television news to try starting a customized travel company with my good friend, was debt free, single and had nothing to lose. That’s nearly 14 years ago and at the same time feels like it whizzed by in the blink of an eye. What my mom told me when I was young, “time will go faster as you get older”, sure is true and I can hardly believe I’m now entering the second half of my life already and the incredible journey that was Thailand is behind.
Letting go of Thailand was harder for me than most people and will continue to be for some time I suspect. As the owner of a travel company I’d developed a deeper association with the kingdom and its people than the average expat. I got schooled in its history, became intimately versed on the food, dove deep into many far corners of the country, started a number of community development programs, hosted hundreds of guests on cross-country journeys and set deep roots throughout a myriad of societal segments. I know more about Thailand than my own country! Letting go, packing up and moving on is tough.
A good friend of mine from Canada has a history of very light moves. He left Canada for Thailand (not knowing he was moving for good) with a small handbag, then years later redeployed to Cambodia with two quickly packed suitcases. For him, leaving possessions, changing continents and countries, was merely a jump from one zone to another, and I think he embraced all the new things to come as a major high point and positive, not fussing about the past. He recently, and very accurately confided that these moves present an “immediate sense of vulnerability”, which succinctly sums up where I am now.
My Thai is no good here, I don’t know the food, there’s no one to call, I’m not sure where I am in the city or how it’s laid-out, I’m figuring out how to rent an apartment, get a mobile phone plan, how to get an internet connection at home and so on. Rather than these being points of stress or concern I’m trying to remember what it felt like when I moved to Thailand all those years ago and tap in to the excitement of the unknown and appreciate new discoveries to come. At my former travel company we encouraged people to step out of their comfort zone. Making this move, switching careers, looking for a job for the first time in my adult life and supporting my wife is just that. I’m now practicing what we preached for so long. And I hope life does in fact begin at 40, which is just a couple weeks away!