Updated: May 21, 2021
Perspectives is a column where we ask one Thai woman and one foreign woman the same question and publish their answers verbatim. For our Sisterhood issue, we asked Angel Buddhaviriya and Ketrina Hoskin to talk about community. To read Angel's response to What Does the Word “Community” Mean to You, click here.
It’s hard to imagine sharing with a group of strangers how sad and possibly mildly depressed you are during a global pandemic, particularly while living through it as a tourist at a five-star resort on a Thai Island.
I could just hear the responses: “People are dying!” “How dare you complain about being ‘stuck’ in paradise!” “You are so entitled!”
So I kept my gloom pretty much to myself in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, but later the feeling of isolation started to overwhelm me.
I posted this in a Facebook group in July 2020:
Long but I hope that's OK.
I'm looking for some advice and maybe a little empathy.
I have been in Thailand for four months as of June 28. I'm here with my partner/boyfriend/SO.
We were “supposed to” be in Thailand for maybe 2.5, 3 weeks. Then the pandemic was declared. We were semi-stuck on Koh Samui from March 12 to May 23 and returned to Bangkok because I had a dental emergency that couldn't be addressed on the island.
We were on a round-the-world trip -- we left NYC on January 15 -- that we had planned to take as long as a year to do. ...
I organized my whole life -- left my job, sublet my apartment -- to be a full-time traveler.
Now with travel possibly or probably altered forever, I'm in a place I didn't plan to be for anywhere near this long. And I want to fully acknowledge that we are [adults] and we gambled on the coronavirus hanging around for a little while and passing and we'd continue our travels.
Our gamble didn't pan out. The U.S. is a mess. Much/most of the rest of the world isn't so great either.
So my super rambling question is... is it more “responsible” to try to find a peaceful existence in Bangkok (or elsewhere in Thailand)? Try to create a "regular" life here? Is it the “right” thing to sit still and stay off planes and not be wooed by [the few] countries that are open to U.S. passport holders?
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I braced for a backlash.
It never came. Instead, with rare exception, responses were mostly in this vein:
So sorry that you find yourself in this predicament. I am a very strong believer in the power of your instincts. Also a strong believer that when you are on the right path, the universe moves to help you out. But that is very difficult to achieve because it involves disregarding options that sound logical/convenient but feel not right. ...
More than whatever anyone else tells you, I would discard all those things that do not feel right for me and just go for what I feel is right.
Paraphrasing Sherlock Holmes: Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Stay true to yourself.
I think there’s something to take away from the fact that people around the world are somewhat in the same position as you! I had to postpone my wedding in Turkey for a year or longer; no idea when we will get there!
I believe the universe has its weird way of bringing unexpected events to our lives and sometimes they turn out to be great.
You should listen to your intuition. I don’t believe anyone in this group (or anywhere else) can give you the answer you seek. There is beauty everywhere if you choose to see it, and vice versa. Only you know if Thailand (Bangkok or elsewhere) can fulfill what you need.
As far as being in BKK, would it help to connect with some of us who are local? I'm always trying to explore more of BKK, I think there's much more to the city beyond shopping. Actually I really love Bangkok because the grind reminds me of NYC, but it's hella cheaper lol. What do you like to do? Maybe I could suggest.
Since I wrote that post, my gratitude toward Thailand has only grown. Most days I’m quite content with my wholly unplanned circumstances.
I walk along khlongs and on sidewalk-less sois. I relish 40-baht meals eaten alongside locals at tables under BTS stations. I take motorbike taxis; something I swore I would never do in a million years.
While I haven’t fully embraced “sabai-sabai”, I’m a whole lot closer than I was in July 2020.
I often think of the mantra I gave myself in the run-up to leaving the United States in January 2020: “I want to be transformed but not traumatized.”
I think I’ve accomplished that for the most part. The relationship with my partner was a casualty of the pandemic strain but we remain very good friends.
As a result of finding a sense of community through Facebook and LINE groups -- and unexpected connections through mutual acquaintances and random chance -- I now have a large circle of Thailand-based friends more than a year into my accidental long stay.
(I met one woman through a LINE group only to learn months later than my father had taught her father biology in high school.)
And with that community has come a sense of groundedness, even with the uncertainty swirling in everyone’s lives.
Maybe it’s a milestone that I’ve even reached the bittersweet point of having to say goodbye to people as they move on to their next contracts, commitments or countries.
But I’ve learned from this experience that it can pay off to put yourself out there with honesty and sincerity when you’re feeling adrift and unsettled and isolated.
It could be virtually life-changing. It has been for me.
By Ketrina Hoskin
Ketrina Hoskin is a native of the state of Mississippi (USA) and a longtime resident of New York City. Prior to her unexpected long sojourn to Southeast Asia, she worked for almost 25 years in the newspaper business, most recently for more than 19 years at The Wall Street Journal. She is an enthusiast photographer, an enthusiastic foodie and a beginner Muay Thai student.
Illustration by Andrea Arias
Andrea is a Colombian illustrator based in Bangkok. Her work explores the female experience and our connection to nature. You can see more of her work on Instagram @andriearias