Thailand: Big Moves (Part 2)

Article written by Audrey Nelson. 

If you read part one of this story, you’d know I moved to Bangkok, Thailand when I was eleven years old for the pure sake of education and because, why not? So here’s part two, where I’ll explain the literal shockwaves that hit my skin the second I stepped off the plane into a foreign country I was expected to call “home”. 

Picture this: after 24 hours of traveling, you get off a plane, grab your bags, and get into a taxi where - if we’re being honest - you’re not entirely sure the driver knows where they’re going. When you arrive, you step into an apartment you had only seen in pictures, that closely resembles a hotel. The next day you walk down the street in an attempt to get your bearings; you look left and see street vendors selling a mysterious gelatinous treat and to your right is a 70-floor modern hotel sitting alongside the Chao Phraya River. 

If you’ve ever traveled out of your home country, you’d know the struggle of culture shock, except imagine if it never went away. 

My mom loves to run. One time she and I decided to visit a local park to go for an early morning jog. Eight o’clock rolls around and suddenly everybody stops what they’re doing and stands completely still. We look at each other, confused, not knowing what is happening. Then, the national anthem begins to play, revealing to everyone that those still running were obvious foreigners. Every day, at eight o’clock in the morning and six o’clock at night throughout Thailand the national anthem plays. As a sign of respect, everyone in the parks stands still showing their loyalty to their country. I compared this to the Pledge of Allegiance, something I don’t even remember the words to anymore. As I stood, all I could think was, “What’s going on? Is that the national anthem? Why is it even playing?” 

Over time I became accustomed to Thai culture, but it’s no secret I struggled with understanding every little detail. On the first day of school, my friends talked about Songkran, asking me if I was excited. Was I supposed to know what “Songkran” was? From kathoeys (“ladyboys”), to polygamy, to standing for the King’s anthem before a movie. I was suddenly living in a world that wasn’t just a two-week stay, but my new home. Today, I think of these foreign concepts as normal, whereas juuling and being “zooted”, a term I didn’t even know existed till about a week ago, are aspects of popular culture in the United States that I struggle to understand.  

It’s important to remember that experiencing culture shock is something that we will all go through at one point or another. For me, it was hard in the beginning, but by the end of six years, I was able to embrace all aspects of the culture. A crappy fake ID, fire limbo on Koh Phangan, whole country water fights (Songkran), and countless motorcycle taxi rides…I knew I was somewhat home.