Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ah, So THAT'S Why I'm Here...

Since I started working as an exporter years ago, developing close ties to Japanese and Korean expatriots living in the USA, I always asked myself if I could do it. That is, live abroad. I marveled at my customers' abilities to pick up on the language, customs and culture, and often fit right in. They seemed to relish being able to move freely and easily between two very different ways of living and thinking. From a business standpoint, alone, it was a huge advantage.

Not only was I curious about my ability to adapt, long term, but I wanted to "get below the surface" of cultures I had only observed from the outside. I wanted to get in on the inside. What little I had learned up to that point with my foreigner-friends had become the most mind and soul-expanding knowledge I had ever happened upon. I wanted more.

Traveling as a businessman and tourist to 30 countries didn't satisfy the urge, only deepened it. Finally, desire, time and opportunity married and I took the plunge into a foreign culture. Among the seven or eight cultures I had been closest to, I knew the least about Thailand. Therein lay the challenge I wanted.

Three years later, in retrospect, it was the best decision of my life. It has been like being "born again." New ways to talk, read, eat, think, sleep, bathe, keep house, shop for food, relate to people, work--and the list could go on to include all the variety of human life. Yes, it's mind-expanding and deepens the soul. Yes, it shows one how very limited his world and life view has been up until then. Yes, it's sometimes frustrating. Yes, it's sometimes exhilarating.

Have I rejected my old culture? Of course not. My students are eager to have that "foreign" contact, and I need to preserve that opportunity for them. Rather than rejecting my native culture, I have simply embraced a new one as well. I am becoming a child of two cultures. Both cultures contain things to embrace and things to reject. I hope to be wiser for integrating the best of both, and jettisoning that which doesn't edify.

The zenith of this experience is to really "connect" with other human beings from diverse ways of life. In some ways they seem like absolute extra-terrestrial aliens. Especially when caught by suprise in an unfamiliar situation, you often think you've landed on another planet.

Yet in many more ways, you are reminded that the Family of Man has undeniable traits that are shared by all. They appear to all be made in the image of a central alpha figure. You get below the exterior and you find the same dreams, fears, hates and loves you've known since childhood. Amidst all the strangeness, it adds a familiar comfort.

Karen Conelly, in Dreams of a Thousand Lives: A Sojourn in Thailand, says it best:

"I now conceive of travel, and more particularly of living abroad, as responsibility, neither a right nor a privilege but a profoundly human act. To slow down, to listen more carefully, to watch the surface until we glimpse what is underneath, to learn from people who know well what we do not know at all: these are choices, steps towards dismantling the barriers that separate not only nations and strangers, but neighbors, too."


lillian said...

Very well writen. I think its a great character building if you take on the learning attitude . I love learning about thai culture. Just not happening as easily as I thought. Having kids in an international school doesn't help...

him said...

Sorry to just post this, but can you set up the rss for this blog? Much easier for many of us to read, then. I thnk blogger does it automatically, if you turn it on...

JD said...

Him, you did me a service, giving me this feedback. I remember turning on the feed over six months ago, and my blogger's settings currently show it's "on." The full content of the post is syndicated, and the site feed URL is

Does this added information help? Please let me know. If you still can't get RSS feed, I need to take up this issue with my blog service.


him said...


Well, the reason I asked was simply because I couldn't find a link or button on your blog saying it was available!

So I tested your link:

It works fine in a browser, but not in a reader. Very weird. I did some digging and tried to actually verify the feed with

And your rss feed is, unfortunately, classed as "obsolete"!

I'm not sure why this is, as I take feeds off other blogger sites. Perhaps you need to reestablish it?

Failing that, I can recommend

as a good way of rss'ing your site.

sorry to deliver the news :)

JD said...

Invaluable information, Him! My gratitude to you. I'll check into it this week, and notify you when I get a new and better RSS set up. I'm just new enough at this stuff to be dangerous!

SiamPhile said...

I am a bit greedy and would like to live many lives in a sigle lifetime. I have been a hawker when I was small, started my own business in Photography lab, work in University, work in Mattel toys factory, work in Bank, work as Project manager, consultant. I also have a family and brought up 2 kids and spent my hard-earn money sending them to US colleges. Now I want to have my way of life not dictated by social norms. I want to be a monk, a teacher, a farmer (well even one day, like you), etc. We are lucky as some of our friends could not havethe opportunities.
Thanks for the head up on "Dream of thousand life - sojourn in Thailand". Will get a copy as I am sure I will love it.

JD said...

Ah looks like "Finally, desire, time and opportunity married.." will soon happen for you!