I’m getting ready to head back to Southeast Asia for a bit and whenever I go back and forth I get asked about what I miss from Thailand or what I miss from the U.S. Of course, I miss my family and friends but really, for the most part, I’m pretty fine being in either place. It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust and slip into familiar old patterns or habits.
If someone really pushes me for an answer though, there are a handful of things I miss about living in the U.S. … and several I don’t. Some are superficial, some are more serious, but they’re all things I notice and think about when being back home.
Knowing what’s going on – Even though I find it exciting to travel and live in other countries, there’s an undeniable sense of relief and comfort of being in your home country. In the U.S. I don’t have to second-guess how I act, what I say, what I wear or how things work. It’s easy and sometimes just plain nice not to constantly be having to figure things out or be extra aware of what’s going on around you.
My comfortable bed – I forgot just how cozy my bed in the U.S. is! In Thailand I paid half my rent to buy a new mattress that’s…not completely rock hard. It’s also still not soft and not nearly as comfortable as the bed at my parents’ house.
Being in the same time zone as my friends and family – Even though it’s easy to stay in touch through Facebook, Skype, iMessage, FaceTime, email, Instagram and everything else, there’s comfort in knowing that when I wake up, my friends are waking up and I can shoot them a quick text to check in on their daily life instead of sending long messages back and forth ‘catching up’. I also miss meeting up for happy hour or dinner after work.
Cheese, chocolate and baking – Cheese and chocolate aren’t really worth buying in Thailand and very few people have an oven. I try to get in as much of all three as I can when I’m home.
Wearing boots – Ah, life’s little pleasures. I love boots and definitely don’t wear them in hot and humid Thailand. (I also appreciate finding clothes that fit me, an often difficult task in the world of extra small Thai sizes.)
Buying things that actually work – Most things are cheap to purchase in Thailand. And most things fall apart relatively quickly. I’ve bought bottle openers that bend and break the first time I try to use them and brooms that shed bristles leaving more crap on the floor than what they sweep up. It’s really nice to buy something, have it do its job and not break immediately.
There are so many rules! There are naturally rules everywhere, but I quickly start to feel a little suffocated when coming back to the U.S. about what I can and cannot do, where I can and cannot go, and what restrictions or expectations I have to follow. Normally it’s for ridiculously simple or unimportant things. For example, it sounds silly, but Seattle is infamous for ticketing jaywalkers. People won’t cross the street if they’re not at a cross walk and will patiently wait for the light to turn green to cross…even if there are no cars in sight. Why?? Why do I need to wait to cross the street if there are clearly no cars coming? Why can I not take responsibility for my own actions and safety?
Everyone is so busy – So busy. I’ve been in the U.S. for almost two months now and feel like I’ve barely seen my friends. How is that possible? Between long work hours, commutes, important responsibilities, supposedly “important” responsibilities that really don’t matter in the big scheme of things, and more it seems like many people I know don’t really choose how they spend their time, but are caught up in some sort of momentum that they don’t control. I’m busy – I like being busy – but after leaving my full-time corporate job in Seattle I’ve continually tried to make a conscious effort not to get stuck on the busy-train feeling like I have no control to get off. I’d like to think I succeed more often than not.
There are no palm trees – Well, there are in the U.S., but not in the Pacific Northwest. We’re lucky to have plenty of evergreen trees year round but I always miss palm trees and crazy jungle leaves. Last year when I came home and didn’t know if or when I would be going back to Thailand, I drove past a completely random, unexpected banana tree and cried – cried – because I didn’t know when I’d be surrounded by banana trees again. Clearly I need consistent exposure to tropical greenery to stay sane.
Unrealistic expectations and standards for work and money – This topic could be a whole post in itself, but let’s just say that I now still work hard, but don’t let my work necessarily define me. I also probably make less money yet am still less worried about money than many of my friends…something doesn’t quite add up. And don’t get me started about the number of vacation days American workers get or use – i.e. barely any. I can’t wrap my head around what everyone is working for or toward. It’s like whoever works the hardest or longest gets some sort of prize at the end but that’s not the case – there is no end! That said, I’m also only responsible for myself at the moment and not children or other dependents so have total control over what my time and money go toward. But still, something is out of whack here.
Chain everything, everywhere – I understand the convenience and reliability of chain stores, services and outlets, but I don’t understand why they’re everywhere, all the time. Thailand has chains, but aside from a couple big-box stores and the ubiquitous 7-11s, I usually frequent local markets, corner stalls, independent restaurants and cafes, and random boutiques. I feel like I have options. Often here I don’t feel like I have options, I just see the same things and the same places everywhere. For example, I don’t work from coffeeshops when I’m home because right around where I stay only has a handful of places…and they’re all named Starbucks.
Expensive Thai food – Do you know how hard it is for me to pay $11 for a plate of phad grapow gai, (fried basil, chilies and chicken on rice) when I’m used to getting it for $.75 around the corner from my house in Chiang Mai? It’s painful. (But I can get better cheese for less in the U.S. so there is that…)
Have you spent much time away from your home country? What did you miss? Didn’t miss?
Top photo by Sullivan & Sullivan Studios.
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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