Thailand

I came to Thailand a few days ago, mostly to get away from Japan for a while and to relax. As my previous post suggests, I was a little tired after walking the amount I did and as the Japanese would say “using my care” (気を使う) with customers for so long. I thought I would get away, do yoga, dine like a king on my favorite food and get my scuba license. Here are some thoughts and observations of my time so far.

The largest pile of Pad Thai I have ever seen at the Chiang Mai night market

The largest pile of Pad Thai I have ever seen at the Chiang Mai night market

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but there are way more tourists here than I ever imagined. There seem to be two primary types: the long-term residents/retirees who soak up the sun, get daily massages and find Thai girlfriends (lots of old white dudes with Thai girls) and the young migrants who travel Southeast Asia for 3-6 months, party and stay at backpackers. There are a remarkable number of Americans, at least half of the people I meet. I’m not blaming them. Compared to Africa this is a ridiculously accessible place. It’s actually cheaper than Africa, it doesn’t have the stigma of disease and poverty, the food is better, the roads aren’t littered with potholes, it’s safe and it’s easy to meet people because there are so many backpackers doing exactly the same thing. I’m not surprised that people choose Southeast Asia.

Africa (at least the part I visited) does have English going for it though. For a country that relies so heavily on tourism, I am surprised at the lack of English ability. Everyone speaks a few preset phrases, but beyond that it tapers off to zero rather quickly. When I mentioned this to some German teenagers, they ridiculed me as a typical American tourist who expects the rest of the world to be like them. Now this bothered me because I think I have some credentials that distinguish me from that stereotype. I don’t expect the world to look or talk like me, I just mentioned that learning more English would only help Thailand. Even places like Japan and China with far more advanced economies understand the value of learning English.

For some reason this led me to looking up dominant world languages. English currently has 400 million native speakers vs. Mandarin’s 850 million, but English has over 2 billion non-native speakers and students, whereas Mandarin only has 1 billion. Mandarin is just too mono-cultural and hard for non-native speakers (tones and Chinese characters), which is why English, not Mandarin will continue to be the world language. This is only my opinion of course but because it’s my blog I can state it confidently as fact 🙂

Last thought, I never thought I would say this, but the young backpacker crowd is actually restoring my faith in travelers and to an extent in humanity. The ones I have hung out with completely reject and are repulsed by the sex tourism industry. They want to learn about the culture. They care about the humane treatment of elephants they ride on. Sex tourism especially is a huge issue in Thailand, but it is encouraging to know there is a strong movement against it.

But I digress. I’m enjoying Thailand but for some crazy reason Africa still holds a place in my heart. It’s now my measuring stick for comparing all other places. I’ve been in Bangkok and Chiang Mai so far, and tomorrow I fly/bus/ferry to Ko Samui where I am going to get my scuba license and check off an item from my bucket list. So excited. More stories to come from there I am sure.

Apparently I have only taken pictures of food so far! This amazing meal cost $1.20!

Apparently I have only taken pictures of food so far! This amazing meal cost $1.20!

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The Importance of Wearing Hats

As I write this, I’m sitting at my hotel in Yudanaka, Japan watching the snow fall outside through the huge stain glass windows. I can see the mountains leading up to the ski resorts, trees lightly frosted with this morning’s dusting. I see ancient buildings nestled up against modern apartments, steam rising in various places from the town’s dozens of public hot springs. And I think again about how different my life is from just a week ago. Last week I was winning money with my uncle at Black Jack tables in Vegas. This week I’m here. I’m not sure I could think of anything more opposite.

Snow in the Mountains

Snow in the Mountains

Yet I’ve come to accept irregularity as part of my life. Someday I want a more stable job, something that pays well, gives me the freedom to spend time with my family and something in which I gain autonomy, mastery and purpose (see the TED talk). Yet for now, I appreciate the experiences and lessons I’ve learned from doing so many things. I was trying to count yesterday how many jobs and internships I have done in my life. I counted 24, but I’m sure there are more. Some of the crazier ones include tour guiding for a Japanese movie star in Kenya, growing chili peppers in the desert, playing pickleball for money and working at a Japanese ski resort. There are lots of lessons to be learned from doing so many things, and I wanted to share a few of those:

1. One Thing Usually Leads to Another

It’s strange, but the things you learn from previous jobs always come in handy in whatever you do next. I don’t know how that happens, but it always has for me. Living and working in Kenya, I learned to think on my feet and use the resources available to me. We frequently dealt with delays, lack of electricity, traffic, corruption. Comparatively, driving Japanese customers around Colorado and dealing with the hiccups that inevitably occur seems like a piece of cake.

2. You Gain Lifelong Friendships & Networks

Yesterday I put on my previously nonexistent bartender hat and waited on Taiwanese guests. Besides learning to make mixed drinks on the fly, we had a fascinating conversation, less because of the content and more because of the linguistic challenges. There were three of us, the Taiwanese tour guide, the Taiwanese customer, and myself. I spoke English and Japanese, the tour guide spoke Japanese and Taiwanese, and the customer spoke Taiwanese and English. We had a roundabout three-way conversation, constantly having to translate everything to the odd man out, both of them becoming increasingly intoxicated. As a result, they both gave me their business cards and I have places to stay in Taichung, Taiwan if I ever visit (which is coincidentally where another close friend of mine lives). One of my bucket list items is to know someone personally from every country in the world. Doing these jobs helps me achieve that.

Wearing another kind of hat

Wearing another kind of hat

3. People are Amazed at Your Life Experience

Things like growing up in Japan and working in Kenya make you an interesting person, which in turn makes people want to talk to you. In my most memorable class at Azusa Pacific, I remember the president telling us to strive to become interesting people, not to boast about our individual achievements but to be able to share our lives with other people. And hopefully that will enrich theirs. I want to be someone who exudes humble confidence, knowing that I can do almost anything but realizing that many other people have helped me along the way and nothing is accomplished by my own strength.

Japanese Friends

Japanese Friends

4. You Learn What You Love & Hate

I love cooking but I could never work in a restaurant. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way. I love helping people create memorable vacations and digging deeper into what makes a place special. That’s the sort of thing that makes me tick, and having done various jobs, I better appreciate the importance of doing something you love. Sometimes you have to do things that you know aren’t the best, but as long as those are pushing you towards something better, those are all just opportunities to learn and grow.

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Rooted and Unsettled

Over the last two weeks I’ve been traveling around the Midwest and Texas, playing pickleball exhibition matches, giving lessons and selling paddles. I’ve driven over 2,000 miles and worked 7 days a week. It’s been a fruitful, tiring and long trip.

As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten to reconnect with my extended family across the region. I’ve stayed with aunts & uncles, second cousins, first cousins once removed – you name it. I love getting to meet these people as an adult, learning about how I’m connected to them and the interesting tidbits about our family tree.

It’s fascinating to me how rooted my family is in the United States. For at least 5 or 6 generations on each side, my entire family was born here. That goes back into at least the 1800s. Many have been here much longer than that. I have slave-owning ancestors in Georgia. There are abolitionists Arkansas. As legend has it, I have native American blood from Oklahoma. I get the sense of being rooted here, like I should belong because my family has so much history.

So what the heck happened to me? I barely qualify as American and although I have history, when asked where I’m from I don’t always answer America. It’s more complicated than that. I often wish for the simplicity of being from a single place. I wish I could be content never leaving, able to invest my life somewhere. I would know people, have unquestioning resolve in what I believe and listen to the global news with a concerned but uninvolved interest. I wouldn’t have any skin in the game. I wouldn’t have to answer the question, “Where should I live?” because it would be answered for me and other questions like “what should I do” and “who should I marry” would follow easily. When eating a banana in America I wouldn’t have to think about how much better it was in Africa. Life would certainly be simpler being from one place; not necessarily better, just simpler. Yet for one reason or another, that is not my story.

It makes me think of this quote:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

It is hard knowing people around the world. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything – It’s now on my bucket list to know someone from every single country. People are the same everywhere, but the hardships and struggles that they have overcome in some places are baffling. After hearing those stories, you can’t ever go back to not caring about what happens in other places.

One last comment. I recently listened to a book called Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche from Nigeria. What a cool name. Anyway, it made me laugh thinking about the funny quirks of Africa and how similar African cultures are. It also made me think about what it means to be an immigrant and the value of knowing more than one place. I would definitely recommend it, as in many ways it mirrored my own experiences.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading