I remember when I was a 27 year old woman living in Canada, so unaware of what my future had in store for me. I had come to know a very inspiring group of ecowarriors in my nifty open minded community. They really opened my eyes to many different aspects of life from spiritual health and healing to gardening and natural medicine options as well as much more. It was so easy to fall in love with their kind Canadian ways and their inherited strong wisdom. I valued my time with them and considered it like school, so I was very open minded to my “teachers”.
Until one day when everything changed… At a community meeting we were discussing sustainable communities and what that might look like. I remember my excitement until they mentioned things like sharing, communal living spaces and eating together to save resources. I honestly ran for the hills as quickly as possible. I had grown very used to my private lifestyle on a few beautiful rolling acres in British Columbia Canada. The thought that I would have to give up all of that privacy and possession simply did not register well with me. I also saw nothing but problems when it came to sharing resources.
What if someone breaks something? Who will pay to replace it? Will it be equal in who brings what to contribute? What if someone makes a mess in the kitchen and is lazier then everyone else so others have to clean up after them? No, no and no. I just could not see it working for me. Especially with a new baby on the way I did not want to be in that kind of a situation at all. As they were slowly working with the city to start up their project I made my exit and looked for other options in the world.
Their lines of thinking did however leave an impression on me and made me consider how I could live a more simple and less harmful life without having to give up my treasured privacy and independence. Ultimately, that is a very big part of what led me to move to Thailand. I researched warmer climates with low costs of living, access to clean food and the possibility of medical assistance. Friends of mine from Canada had already suggested to me that I would love Thailand; it kept popping up as a possibility and eventually became a reality. In the beginning I thought I would just come for a year to be a stay at home mommy to my new little girl and then move on or move back home. For sure I did not predict the massive impact my time in Thailand would have on me and the change of life course it would bring about.
Initially, Thailand was a mixture of shocking and difficult with spurts of excitement and wonder. I finally settled into a beautiful little house on stilts in the garden of a very sweet Thai family. The story of finding this home was actually quite special in itself and maybe fate was taking me by the hand to teach me some very big lessons. My dear friends from Canada had allowed my daughter and I to be house guests with them until I found a place of my own. I was a bit scared to be out on my own but one morning, after over a month of living with my friends I woke up knowing that I really needed to find my own place. I went for a motorbike ride with my daughter to a new little breakfast restaurant in our town. On the way we took a little side road where I saw this house that hit me like a bolt of lightning. I pulled over, stared at the house and said to my daughter, “I don’t know how but we are going to rent that house”.
After a few dumbfounded minutes of staring we continued on our way to eat. In the restaurant I explained in my very broken Thai that I was looking for a home to rent for my daughter and me. The sweet woman that worked there just looked at me and smiled but as I tried to explain what we would like she seemed to be genuinely interested and caring. As we parted ways she told me her name was Pi Newt and gave us one of those beautiful loving Thai smiles that left me feeling hopeful. I decided to drive past that house again on my way home to see if maybe there was someone there I could talk to. When we pulled up I was shocked to see a man hanging a sign in English that said House for rent. Of course we went inside immediately and I did my best to talk with him. It was in fact the house that I loved so much for rent and shortly after we arrived Pi Newt pulled into the drive way behind us. It was hers and her husbands, Pi Prasit’s, home and they were happy to rent it to us. We moved in the very next day and that was the beginning of my first Thai family.
Our little house did not have a kitchen and although it was beautifully set in a lush garden it was actually very tiny. One room with a bathroom and that was it. We ate outside under the house and often ate together with our Thai family or our neighbours. They shared everything with me so very openly and easily. They allowed us to use their bikes to go to the market; they would even drive us to the main city if we wanted to go shopping. Most days my daughter would wake up and wobble straight over to see Pi Newt because she grew to love her very much. Pi Newt would often make her a few eggs and some homemade kahnom and just enjoy her company. I did not realise how much I needed that support. As a new mother she was a lifesaver for me. All of the sudden I had a support system and I started to thrive again. In Canada I had friends and support groups that I could go to for “socialisation”, as well as a friend or two who would pop by from time to time but daily life was essentially solitary. I thought I valued that and even protected that but my experience in Thailand was starting to open me up to new possibilities.
Growing up in the United States was a very impactful experience for me. I was taught to work hard and always strive for more. Bigger, better, faster, stronger was deeply ingrained into me. Fortunately, I balanced out the need for more over my time in Canada and Thailand and have calmed down quite a bit.
Although I greatly appreciate my life lessons and the opportunities I had as a child in the USA I also feel a little bit sad for the people living there. I noticed there has been a large breakdown in the family unit.
Aside from getting together for holidays (if they are lucky) most people move out of home as early as 15 to 18 years old and find their own ways in life, often relocating to other parts of the country. The typical work structures do not condone a strong family unit and it is common not to keep a strong bond with parents.
Of course there are always exceptions but I am speaking from what I observed. The USA offers retirement homes everywhere and many people opt for this simple solution for dealing with ageing parents. I see the impact that this has had on me and now wonder if, in Canada, I was not running from all of the problems of community living but rather running from having to be in relationship with others and deal with people in a more family like way? I was simply not brought up with the tools to navigate that world.
There in the south of Thailand, in our little garden, I was shown such a beautiful example of family living that it changed me. I accepted that a loss of privacy would be replaced by support from those around me. I loved that I wanted to support them back and that there was not a concern for who was giving or taking more but rather a natural rhythm of caring. This country has been greatly shaped based on a father figure loving them and seeing to all of their needs and that is a treasure in our world. My heart has been touched right down to the core and changed by this unwavering feeling of being cared for and working together.
I have also accepted that my possessions that I loved so much in Canada were of no value at all when compared to the advantages of family. That made giving them up and moving on so much easier. Since then I have never really looked back. I have spent the past 9 years living in simple rooms or houses where we cook with the family around us, eat together, take each other to doctor’s appointments and just generally look out for each other. They iron my daughter’s school uniform (I loathe ironing) and I sew up their clothes for them. We all do what we are good at.
I really love how the labels for family can be applied to many people here as well. For example, any woman around my mother’s age could be called mom or auntie. That goes for men as well and it really helps to make me feel like I have family everywhere I go in the country. I still get privacy from time to time but I do not find I miss it as much as I thought I would.
I wish for everyone this holiday season to look around them and notice the family in their community. This might be the person who makes sure to smile to you each day on your way to work or the person who knows what coffee you want before you order. I hope we can all build on that and expand our family units.
Embracing the Thai sense of family has been a blessing I would have never realised I needed so much if I had not come to live in Thailand. If you are lucky enough to have built a family community around you I wish you and yours a loving and supportive holiday season.