Expat Tales: Chapter 5 – Bangkok and Beyond
(The continuing saga of what really happened after I quit my job.)
Bangkok often has a reputation for being a bit rough, wild, and undeveloped, but when compared with neighboring Cambodia, Bangkok seems much more orderly and efficient. It still maintains some of that legendary wildness and is a shady character, but it’s well-balanced with a Buddhist calm. It’s kind of an amazing city, but could I live there? I didn’t know, but I needed to figure out if Bangkok could be added to the list of possibilities.
After my really bad day in Cambodia, I was forced to make this quick trip to Bangkok for the fingerprinting ritual, required in order to request my FBI background check, necessary to apply for jobs in Korea. I really needed Bangkok to come through for me. My future was depending in it.
I did a little research and found a hotel near the Thai “Office in Charge of Foreigner Fingerprinting” – The “Oz of Bangkok”. Arriving at the Office of Oz, I was mentally prepared for more fingerprinting frustration, having flashbacks to Cambodia. Surprisingly, the Bangkok office was incredibly organized, efficient, and stress-free! After convincing my tuk-tuk driver to swing by a post office, I mailed my FBI background check paperwork and was done with the whole process in under 30 minutes. No negotiations required, no tears, and no face-plant! Wow!
Although I loved Bangkok’s energy and character and appreciated the efficiency, I craved a little more calm so I booked the night train to Chiang Mai. The 12-hour train ride took almost 16 hours (not sure why?), but I shared a sleeper cabin with an entertaining American couple which made the journey more bearable. Cold Chang beer and entertaining company on a long train ride – a great combination.
I had visited Chiang Mai a few times many years before, the first in the early 90’s, and a few years later with my college friend Cheryl. The small village from my murky memories had grown into a city, bigger and noisier, but I still loved it. Most days were spent in one of the many cafés in the city, sipping a latte while attached to my laptop, searching through hundreds of websites advertising teaching jobs all over the world. When my eyes began to glaze over, I’d take a break in one of the quiet temples found all over the city, and breathe deeply.
Although Korea was on the top of my list, my job search wasn’t limited to Korea or even to Asia. My options were wide open, and they were all over the map – Morocco, Turkey, Thailand, China, Haiti. With no idea where I’d end up, I clung to the belief that things would work out if I made the effort. And after all I went through to leave my life in the US, I knew this HAD to work. I cringed at the thought of moving into my Parents’ basement and working for my older sister. A mental image that terrified and motivated me!
After a few weeks in Chiang Mai, it was time to explore someplace even smaller, a village I had heard about from my housemates in Hanoi – a city called Pai. I packed up my laptop and my backpack full of stuff, and relocated to the legendary village of Pai.
Although Pai has recently been discovered and is now on the “backpacker trail”, I loved the area and it became home for a few weeks. It was a great place to base myself while job hunting, with nice bungalows for $10 a night and cheap street food available at the night market. I explored the area on my rented mountain bike, went for hikes, and spent evenings exploring street markets with the many travel friends I had met along the way.
With my FBI background check paperwork in the mail, I focused on “spamming” Korean ESL recruiters, hoping to get some contacts in the Busan area. A few weeks into my “spam mission” and I still had no replies from Korea. Very strange and a little frustrating. And then one day I finally received a response: “How old are you? The school wants to know.” HUH??
“I’M TOO OLD!”
So I turned to Google for answers and stumbled upon a blog written by a recruiter who discussed the topic of “ageism” among Korean schools. “Women over age 40 and men over age 45 are rarely hired”, according to this expert. At almost 52, I was WAY over-the -hill for Korea! I had spent a month in the “paper chase”, endured fingerprinting frustration and face-planting in the dirt, and suddenly I came to the shocking realization: I AM TOO DAMN OLD!
This mind-blowing epiphany happened on the 4th of July. Fortunately, I had plans to meet some friends at a local bar for happy hour and dinner because I really needed a LARGE dose of “happy”. I jumped on my mountain bike and raced to the bar, saw Melissa and Tanya. “I’m TOO OLD!” I screamed. So we had a beer (or two) and toasted to being too old, and to coming up with a Plan B!
Korea was now crossed off the list, and my search was narrowed down to Morocco, Turkey, Thailand, or maybe China, so I emailed my good friend, Jossda, for advice. Jossda grew up in Hong Kong and had strong opinions on the subject, and strongly forbid me to accept a position in China! She suggested Hong Kong or Taiwan instead, two places I hadn’t even considered. Taiwan? I knew nothing about it…
And with nothing but silence from Morocco, my focus was now narrowed down to Asia, still wondering if Thailand might be a good fit. It’s a wonderful country but I was unsure about living there. Bangkok was too big, Pai too small, Chiang Mai….just right? Confused, stressed, and overwhelmed with choices, I was paralyzed with indecision. Thailand or Taiwan? The only thing I knew for certain – returning to my parent’s basement was not an option.
Meanwhile – back in the US
While I was bouncing around Thailand, with all of these choices bouncing around my head, my poor Grandma was bounced into hospice. I hated the idea of never seeing her again, dreaded going back to the US (briefly) with no definite plans, but I had to do it. I didn’t ever want to regret NOT doing it, and the timing was right. My Thailand visa was expiring, my focus was narrowed, and I had a few leads. The job hunt could continue from the US through email and Skype interviews. So I went and was fortunate to spend a great day with my 98-year-old Grandma just a few weeks before she died. I felt very grateful. No regrets.
Jossda’s advice opened my mind to Taiwan, and I quickly landed a Skype interview with a school specializing in adult Business English, something that seemed like a better fit for me than teaching kids, so I was excited! “Rita-The-Boss” began the interview with “We like to hire ‘mature’ people with life experience.” I am OLD, not necessarily “mature”, but I definitely have plenty of life experience to offer! I was hired immediately, and a few weeks later I landed in Taipei…
Beyond the months of stress and uncertainty, the view is amazing!