“I left Europe with the naive idea and picture in my mind that I will come in Asia and work with poor kids in a remote village but I ended up working at one of the top schools in the city, more hours than I ever did back home, although this was the first thing I wanted to escape.” These words come from a girl named Cat, whom I haven’t met in person, but we seem to have similar mind-sets and have gone through similar experiences.
A few years ago I found myself at a crossroad between considering future prospects at a job I was only partially satisfied with, and just quitting everything. With very little enthusiasm for staying at the workplace, I approached a business-minded man twice my age, expecting a monologue about financial stability and long-term career objectives. To my surprise the answer was “go for it, do what you feel like doing”. I was blown away by such a simple yet encouraging response, so I quit my job the same week. Next thing I knew I was at the best job I had ever had in England, saving for and planning my travels.
Similarly to Cat, I thought of Asia as a rather undeveloped, poor and exploited continent – as these are the keywords used frequently in the ‘western world’. It turns out that many Asian people have a view of Europe as a wealthy, organized, and money-growing-on-trees type of place, where everyone is happy, educated, and polite. Even though some of it is true, both perceptions are somewhat distant from reality.
When I was in Chiang Mai I met a guy at an internet café/print shop, who looked like a stereotypical hippie-like employee: unshaven, long-haired chubby man in his mid-20s, wearing a colourful t-shirt, playing some NinjaTown/Farmville-like online game, possibly stoned, and overly friendly with random customers. He told us he had never been outside of Thailand, and then complained that the working conditions and the pay were rubbish, unlike the jobs in Europe (England). It was very interesting to hear somebody’s honest opinion of Europe, even though it was more of a perception than an opinion. I don’t blame him – I was also full of perceptions in my head about Asia!
When people travel for a long time, they seem to have a ‘base’. For example in Thailand, most people base themselves either in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, mainly due to the well-developed infrastructure. Whenever I leave my ‘base’ in Bangkok, I try to have my stays at different ends of the spectrum: from cheap backpacker hostels, to higher-end hotels – just to get a more varied experience. When it comes to food, I always prioritise street vendors and local markets, but once in a while treat myself to a fancy meal or a cocktail at a rooftop bar. Not only does this allow you to see different sides of the country, culture, and food, it also generates more ideas as you are exposed to a more diverse group of people.
I think there are many travellers who just backpack their way across, let’s say, Asia, whose experiences are undoubtedly totally different to a family’s packaged-holiday stay. Hence, the experience can be limited in a way. I travel around Thailand and I love it here, but I also work here. Even though I enjoy the work, sometimes it’s just too much, and I feel very tired, have to put up with unexpected issues, both organisational and cultural, language barriers, and so on. I still love it though, as it only makes my experience here richer than I ever thought it would be.
I encourage anybody who likes travelling to really take in as many aspects of the country as possible, instead of just ticking off tourist destinations off a list. Not only have I learned so much about the people, culture, and food in Thailand, I have also taught others about Europe, breaking some common stereotypes.
Since I left Europe, my perception of Thailand has completely changed, and I can again easily relate to the words Cat has written:
I left Europe with the naive idea and picture in my mind that I will come in Asia and work with poor kids in a remote village but I ended up working at one of the top schools in the city, more hours than I ever did back home, although this was the first thing I wanted to escape.