This is an audio version of one of the stories from my upcoming book. The voice is not mine.
Please leave comments and let me know what you think!
“Paradise was always over there, a day’s sail away. But it’s a funny thing, escapism. You can go far and wide and you can keep moving on and on through places and years, but you never escape your own life. I, finally, knew where my life belonged. Home.”
J. Maarten Troost, Author
When I made the move to Thailand, I was 33 years-old and ready for an adventure. After several trips to the country, I was certain I had found paradise. One day I woke up and something clicked. I wanted more out of my life. I wanted to see the world, to start anew, and I wanted to do it my way. Thailand was like no other place I had seen and seemed like the ideal place to do so.
My initial plan was to stay for a year and get to know myself again sans stress. This was 20 years ago when smartphones and internet technology were in their infancy and had yet to make the world smaller. Time provides insight and changes people and I am now much different from the person I was when I arrived in Thailand.
Although I am happy with my decision to move abroad, I would be hesitant to make the same move at my current age and in my current situation.
When I made the move, the time was right. At thirty-three, I was still relatively young and had little to lose. If I failed, there was plenty of time to get back on track. The people in Thailand were charming, friendly, and open to foreigners and the country had yet to become the cliché backpacker’s destination. Bars were open all night, go-go dancers pranced around naked, and tourists willing to give anything for a beautiful piece of ass had yet to corrupt the working girls.
Still, Thailand was and is no paradise. Once you have lived here and the magic of the relationship has calmed like the morning after a fierce night of drinking, you realize that like any other place, the country has its share of flaws.
Every so often though, fate grants temporary access to paradise. The allure of paradise, even the idea of it, is strong and irresistible, like heroin minus the devastating side effects. Once seen, once experienced, no matter how briefly, the chase is on. Some remain stuck in routine, never getting the slightest glimpse of the alternative to their mundane, unhappy existence. Others pacify themselves with the thought that life could be worse.
Now older and slightly wiser, I have concluded lasting paradise is void of reality, a figment of our imaginations. Paradise is fleeting. The concept of paradise runs deep in all of us though, in some peaceful, faraway land surrounded by all that is beautiful and full of joy and laughter.
When paradise and reality collide, reality inevitably triumphs. Reality is daily chores, traffic jams, screaming children, alimony, child support, boredom, drugs and alcohol, smiling at people you dislike, talking to people you do not want to talk to, agreeing when you would rather disagree and working for a living. The cruel realization is that there is no lasting paradise, at least not in the purest definition.
Once entrenched in a foreign country, an exotic destination morphs into a place called home. Normalcy and the mundane replace the euphoria of the vacation, of the temporary. When on holiday, one must never lose sight of the fact that living in a country foreign to your own is different from vacationing in one.
Many years ago, I spent three weeks in Cannes, France. Oh, how I loved Cannes. The French were not rude. This was a myth!
The Cannes lifestyle was right up my alley. Every morning, I threw on a sports jacket, took a leisurely stroll to one of the many cafés in the city center, ate a buttery croissant, and sipped espresso. At lunch, my friends and I patronized the coolest place we could find, devouring French food and laughing at all the miserable schmucks stuck in the daily grind. Occasionally, in an attempt to look more important than we really were, we went to the luxurious Carlton Hotel -- where anyone who is anyone hangs out — all for the privilege of paying $20 for a cappuccino. At night, we dined in fine restaurants and partied until the wee hours of the night, occasionally on a yacht owned by someone whose name we did not know.
For a brief period, the south of France was one of the most magnificent places on earth. Before long I thought, “I want to live here!”
I had to find a way to make it my home. I was in a beautiful place surrounded by beautiful people and I was sure this was the life for me. What a life! C’est magnifique!
Alas, paradise was temporary, even in Cannes.
A week into the trip I rented a cellular phone. Not the brightest move on my part, but I was walking the red carpet and wanted to call my friends to gloat a little. I found a little shop near where I was staying and within 30 minutes, I had a phone.
The luxury of having the phone was costly. The deposit was $400 and after adding phone time, and sales tax, the bill came to just over $500. This was fine, I had $1200 in my checking account and as long as I did not lose the phone, I would get my deposit back. At most, I would spend $100-$200 more for phone calls.
Later that day, after realizing I was low on cash, I walked to the local ATM. I punched in my password, requested the equivalent of $500, and hit withdrawal.
Denied! Denied! Denied! You have insufficient funds to complete this transaction.
What? Pardonne-moi? There must be some mistake. Or a computer glitch. What is wrong with this machine? I just checked my account balance!
I slammed my fingers on the machine’s buttons and out popped a grimy slip of paper.
Your balance is $200. You are a loser. Go home foreigner, you are poor; Cannes is only for the wealthy.
Fortunately, I had my trusty, overpriced phone. I called customer service at my bank and they promptly informed me the friendly little Frenchman at the mobile phone shop had double charged me. Accidentally, of course. This was obviously not good, for even in paradise, cash is required.
I walked back to the store and explained the situation. Now, in paradise, the smiling Frenchmen would say, “Hello my friend, oui, oui, so sorry, let me get your refund tout de suite.”
However, this was reality.
“No! I no double charge you sir!”
“But my bank…it said you…”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“NO MISTAKE!” he said, slamming his fist on the counter.
I gave up, walked outside, called my bank again, and informed them paradise had betrayed me. Dejected, I walked back to the house I was renting. I immediately went online and filled out my bank’s dispute form. My bank was in the good ole U.S.A. and while the country might not be paradise, at least my bank had my back. They instantly credited my account with the disputed funds.
The Frenchmen would not defeat me.
My holiday ended, as holidays always do and I flew back home to Thailand.
Paradise still fresh in my mind, I dreamed of my new life in France.
When I initially thought of moving to Cannes, I knew the cost of living would be prohibitive. Nevertheless, I sat down and crunched the numbers. Thinking long-term, as a family man should, I knew life Cannes would be nowhere near as easy (at least financially) as living in Thailand.
Had I been single, I could have found a hostel or some other cheap accommodation. Living out of a backpack was not my idea of fun though and with a wife and two kids in tow, we would need a slightly higher standard of living.
Looking back, the thought of living in Cannes seems silly. Would moving to France after a two-week vacation be worth the risk to my family? Perhaps if I were sitting on a fat bank account, where money was not an issue but my account balance was pitiful.
Does three weeks in France necessitate picking up everything and moving there? No more than a night in the sack with a sexy Thai stripper obliges a man to marry her.
Cannes is a fantastic place to visit but it is far from paradise and living there would be much more difficult than I originally thought, logistically and financially. If I found a more appealing destination, would I then ask my family to pick up and move again?
What makes Thailand so enticing?
Much like Tahiti, Bora Bora, or any other dream destination, it is the illusion of paradise that makes a destination beguiling. Paradise on earth exists for those willing to ignore the failings and imperfections of a particular destination.
Crystal-clear beaches, smiling, happy people, sunny days and balmy nights can quickly turn into polluted, overpriced tourist traps. One day you notice the sun is no longer shining, it rains more than you like, the beach is less than pristine, and xenophobic attitudes surround you. Then it hits you; paradise has blemishes, imperfect like a fine broad with a big honkin’ zit on her ass. You take it anyway, zit, shit, and all.
Paradise is where and what you want it to be, and most of the time, it lies between the ears. If you find it, let me know, I want in.