If somebody asked, “Ginger, what did you do on Sunday?” it wouldn’t have been watch the Cubs game.
I was in Bangkok and met a friend for lunch at Yemeni restaurant in the Nana district. As a young girl in a colorful hijab brought a mountain of aromatic rice and roasted meats, my eyes drifted to a wall of hookah pipes–or actually, what was behind it. The twisty pipes concealed a dining area for males only, where a group of men devoured an Anthony Bourdain sized platter of lamb and rice pilaf. I prayed they used hand sanitizer as their fingers were their eating utensils.
Bangkok. Yemini food. Colorful hijabs. Mysterious men and hookah pipes. Sounds as exciting as a James Bond movie. But don’t let your imagination run away.
My friend and I weren’t conspiring with Agent 007 on how to rig a Roulette wheel in Monaco. We were griping about the increased deductibles of our health insurance policies.
As for the men swooping piles of lamb into their pie holes in the special room behind the hookahs? Most likely, they were in Bangkok cheating on their wives.
Exciting? Yeah, right.
Sorry. Life overseas isn’t the exotic adventure you imagine. It’s not that much different than yours.
It’s easy to imagine glamourous lives for every person you pass on the streets in Bangkok. The Japanese fashionista teetering on stilettos. The backpacker with dusty dreadlocks and Birkenstocks. The German in cool eye frames and Gustav Klimt t-shirt. What are they doing here? What stamps fill their passports? Are they selling government secrets or heading to Starbucks to grumble about their insurance premiums?
Everyone else’s lives can seem more interesting than one’s own, especially in a world obsessed with posting retouched selfies on facebook. Single folk wish they were married. Married folk wish they were still single. Kids wish they were grown-ups. Old folks with for their youth. Those kvetching in Asia wish they were watching baseball in America. And so on.
But other than the never-ending variety of smells, AND the meat section at Walmart, AND motorcycles driving on sidewalks, AND the fake Arc de Triomphe outside my bedroom window, living in China has become as routine as living anywhere else.
For starters, the reason I am in Bangkok? I’m getting my semi-annual boob squeeze at Bumrungrad Hospital. Hospitals in China do not have JCI accreditation (an acronym I didn’t even knew existed until I moved to the flipside). This assures you that the hospital has a stamp of approval before a polyp removal. That’s why expats in China routinely go to Bangkok for a poke, scrape and probe.
Food choices in China-even in my quaint village of six million–are expanding. You no longer have to smuggle cheese in your suitcase when returning from the States. Good Mexican food is rare, but in Shang Hai, Taco Bell does deliver. Gatorade periodically appears on the shelves of Carrefour. Molasses is still as hard to find as a size 8 women’s shoe.
In a few days, I’ll return to the USA for a month and will be overwhelmed by things you do not notice. Things you think are boring but I will find exciting. They include new samples at Costco, a new haircut for the Channel 5 weatherman, another variation of orange juice beyond pulp-free-calcium-fortified-low-acid. Toilets with seats. Signs in English. Ketchup that tastes like ketchup.
As I give up my seat to a monk on a city bus in Bangkok and you give up yours to an elderly person wherever you are, we can only hope that somewhere in the world, life is as exciting as it looks in travel brochures.
But everywhere else? The rice pilaf is always fluffier, the pad thai is always paddier, and the grass is always greener in Vietnam (that’s only because of residual Agent Orange).
It’s just the same-same but different.