The Life of An Expat

I was sitting alone with darkness surrounding me. The only light was the reflection of the moon bouncing off the white of my plate, as I sat there refusing to finish my dinner, I began thinking about what life in Bangkok was going to be like. I was only in kindergarten at the time, and an ignorant young child, unaware of the experiences I would soon face. Although I was sad about having to leave behind all of my friends in California, a part of me yearned to see what the world outside of the United Sates was like. I sat at the table, stubborn to prove that I could sit here all night and still not have all my dinner finished by the morning. My mind danced as I imagined riding to school on a big grey elephant, its trunk swaying back and forth like a pendulum and, I began to smile.

A month later, our house was filled with boxes ready to be shipped to Thailand. I scanned the house one last time before stepping into the blue shuttle van, and for the first time since I was told we were moving, I began to cry. My mind raced with all my old memories of running and jumping in the park like a monkey let loose from the zoo. I remembered jumping on our trampoline, the rusty springs clinking together with every bounce. I saw myself in my mind at the edge of the high dive at the country club ready to soar into the sparkling sapphire waters beneath me. Grief filled me as I watched the red tiles of our roof fade into the encroaching darkness, getting further and further away from the foggy window at the back of the shuttle.

The entire cabin hums from the sound of the thriving engines as the chair rumbles, sending penetrating chills down my body. Images that once sat still are beginning to move and the trees that once stood before of me are now blurs of green. My fingers stifle my ears as I try to block out the sound of the humming engine getting louder and louder. With my forehead pressed against the cold plastic of the window, I open the palm of my hand and watch as the city gets smaller and smaller, and soon enough, I am holding the city in the palm of my hand. I’m sitting here, in my footsies looking down upon the world. I imagine myself as a hawk. Maybe even an eagle soaring through the skies and disappearing into the white of the clouds.

Everything looks old, worn out and repulsive. The sides of the wall are covered with what looked like black mold, and rust surrounds the flap of my seat belt. I don’t quite understand why we chose this flight, but then again, I’m only four and I don’t know much about anything right now. I opened up my new “Rugrats” color book and as the artistic little four year old I am, I confidently aim to color perfectly in the lines. Stroke by stroke, I color moving in the same direction for that perfect effect. I finish coloring the dark orange and yellow tinted sun and I realize that I am not actually as perfect as I thought I was, that I was pretty terrible, so I decide to give up and I refocus my gaze out the window.

Have you ever felt that rush of adrenaline as you free fall down a roller coaster? The plane is flying steadily almost at the peak of the take- off when something strange happens. It was the same feeling that I got before we took off, the feeling of the world falling out beneath your feet. Once again, the high pitched whine of the engine reverberates throughout the plane and the emergency lights flicker like deranged lightning. I clench my mom’s fingers, warm tears running down my cheek, sticking my eyelashes together. “Are we going to die?” I ask her. Rubbing my shoulder in silence, I gaze into her eyes and see something I don’t usually see in her; panic. I watched the inflight video mimicking what the flight attendants were saying earlier and I was preparing for the oxygen masks to drop, but they never do. The pilot mumbles something about making an emergency landing but it is difficult to hear over all of the cries of distress. The plane veers hard to the left and at that moment, I feel that rush.

“Please remain calm” I hear the flight attendant announce over the intercom. “We are experiencing some turbulence at the moment but the captain has informed us that there is nothing to worry about and that we should be flying through smooth air shortly. Please keep your seat belts fastened and your seat backs up right.”

The cabin continued to rumble for the next couple of minutes and my stomach flipped a couple more times as the plane dipped into air pockets but as promised by the lady in the blue suit over the intercom, the rumbling stopped and soon enough, we were flying into smooth air. I looked over to my mom who had seemed to relax and said “this is going to be a long 18 hours”.

I stepped off of the plane, my legs weak and wobbly from sitting for what felt like forever. My brothers and I raced through the airport towards the immigration lines, eager to be the first ones there. We ended up being the first five people out of immigration but, of course, our luggage had to be the last ones to come out. Carrying two overflowing pieces of luggage each, we made our way to the end of terminal K. I paused for a second before going through the doors; I couldn’t help but wonder if everything would be as perfect as I had imagined it to be, clear blue skies and building that shot up into the sky and went forever. After a short pause, I strolled forward with a confident grin and jumpy with excitement. To my dismay, the place that I had pictured so perfectly was, in fact, a disappointment. The smell of smoke and thick air suffocated my lungs, and my back became wet with sweat from the humidity. The expected blue skies were nothing but grey dark clouds. The sound of whistles blowing, tires screeching and horns honking left an unpleasant ringing in my ears. I wanted to go back to California, but I was stuck here for the next six months, the thought of that made me want to cry even more. I missed the perfect weather, clear blue skies and the sound of kids laughing on my block. Only seconds had passed but already I yearned to leave.

At that moment, I never could have imagined the life I would live and the experiences and opportunities that would be afforded to me as a result of living overseas. The adjustment was difficult at first, but soon enough I made Thailand my home. I remember walking into school for the first time feeling lost in in a sea of cultures, all so unfamiliar to me at the time. I didn’t know at that time, but soon I would make friends with people from all around the world and of all different cultures and nationalities.

Shortly after arriving to my new home, I realized that the people here were different to those that I was used to in the U.S. Everyone was smiling and happy and extremely inviting and welcoming to new comers. Everyone wanted to hear your story and get you know you. As I began to meet more people and take part in all o f the different activities offered, the feeling in my stomach of homesickness and yearning to be back in the U.S started to disappear

Thirteen years passed since I first stepped off that plane. Living in Thailand these last 13 years irrevocably changed me. In America, I was exposed to only one culture, but in Thailand, I resided in a virtual mixing pot of cultures. Seeing the World through eyes other than my own was a transcendent experience, unrivaled and unparalleled. Moving to Thailand showed me the world from multiple angles. Never could I imagine having grown up anywhere else. Yes, maybe the air is grey and sticky, and maybe the traffic never moves. Yes it is across the world and the flight is 18 hours, but it is where every memory of my childhood took place. It is my home and I look forward the next time I get to return.

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