home economics 101: domesticating Bangkok

I’m staring at one of my passport visa pages. It’s been over a month since we moved to Bangkok.

We’ve been busy. Literally 14 hours after our plane touched down at Suvarnabhumi Airport we signed a one-year lease and put money down on a townhouse in the area of the city where Jessie will be working. The house came with no furnishings. And in Thailand ‘no furnishings’ means exactly what it says.

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We started with walls, floors, sinks, toilets and a water pump. You can rent furnished apartments here, but they’re generally 2~3 times the cost so we thought we might as well just buy our own stuff. For weeks I sat on cold tile, writing code for my new website pictureperker.com. I’ve put in many 12-hour, no-time-to-stop-to-eat days. I’m pretty sure I’ve done long term damage to my already ridiculously poor posture.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m coming to see that the house sort of fits us. What I mean is that Jessie and I have been living a minimal, nomadic lifestyle for the past six years. We’ve lived happily (for the most part) on what we could fit into our backpacks and what we could scrounge together of castoffs on the street or from friends. We’ve enjoyed reusing this stuff and not feeling attached to it. We’ve loved the mental ease of having “ownership” for a brief time and then passing it on freely to the next person. We want to own and have around us only what is necessary and what gives us bliss. Part of living minimally is using our things for multiple purposes. I found that the most versatile things we owned for the first month were our sarongs. They quadrupled as shower towels, beach towels, bed sheets and curtains. I’m really starting to think that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could be a legitimate travel companion based on this experience alone. (If you didn’t understand the last sentence click here.)

Settling into Bangkok has been different. We’re intending to live here for awhile, and renting this barren townhouse has been a new experience. We’ve had some things graciously given or lent to us, but the simple fact is that dumpster diving in Bangkok is just not the same as in Seoul. Any couch you find on the street in Bangkok is most definitely not something you want to have in your home. Thus, the atmosphere in our place was, well, downright depressing. And then I bought a chair. Everyone, meet my new best friend: “Easy Chair Nice Orange.”

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Easy Chair was the first step in making this house feel human. I could sit with my feet up. I could put my laptop where it’s meant to go: on my lap. Together with the aid of an 80-cent pillow from the flea market down the road, Easy began to dissipate my routine neck stiffness. Both psychologically and physically, Easy Chair repaired me.

I’ve realized that I had some huge misconceptions about Bangkok, though, especially in the notion that everything is cheap here. It’s not. You have to figure out what is and what isn’t. Still, I’m continually dumbfounded by the range of costs. Why is it that we can take a taxi from one side of the city to the other  for $6, about a 45-minute drive in normal traffic conditions (which by the way only happens from about 1 until 4 in the morning), but to buy a fan that looks like it might even have a chance of holding up a year it runs at least $30? Why can we jump onto a songthaew (a truck with benches and an overhead cover added onto the bed) and take it to the mall or the supermarket 15 minutes away for 20 cents, but if we were to buy the most basic, flimsy, tacky drapes and window curtains to cover three windows and a sliding door it would cost us over $90? Why can we walk 50 paces to the market directly behind our house, choose several handfuls from the mounds of fresh vegetables that line the tables, and walk away with a giant bag full of produce for under $2, but a tiny refrigerator puts us out $150? We bought a queen-size mattress for only $70 but a 1/2-inch thick, no-frills mattress pad costs $65. We can sit at any restaurant around our house and get full for $1, but a cheap little plastic unit where we can store a couple articles of clothing would run us $30. I just find the disparity in pricing weird!

After several meltdowns (on both of our accounts), we found ourselves waist deep in the sickie, clean cut ornaments of cheap-Swedish renown. That’s right; Bangkok has an IKEA. We felt Tyler Durden‘s disdain as we followed the winding path through the labyrinth of office, bedroom, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, patio, electrical, wall covering and storage furnishings. Jessie kept musing over why so many people seem to revel in a stroll around IKEA while for us we were filled with anxiety. Still, after a month of living like squatters we weren’t leaving without some creature comforts. We aren’t crazy about having a home full of particle-board-manufactured-to-look-pretty chairs, but the reality is that $250 has really started to make this place into a home.

So if you’re wondering how I’m doing these days, let me tell you: I’m content as a Swede with a tube of caviar as I sit here on my ‘SOLSTA Ransta dark grey two-person sofa that readily converts into a bed’ with my feet propped up on our ‘LACK white 90x55cm easy to assemble light weight coffee table’ looking out the window past the ‘POÄNG rocking-chair frame birch effect veneer with Alme black armchair cushion’ and ‘Easy Chair Nice Orange.’

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seminar: Thailand days 3~4

Jessie and I have been continually wavering for the past five days between a sense of calmness and majorly freaking out! As many of you know, we’re seriously considering moving to Thailand in 2014. So this two week stint in Thailand is primarily a fact-finding mission as well as a time to visit good friends. On Tuesday we stopped by one of the organizations we’ve previously volunteered with and hope to stay connected with next year. It was great to catch up with the director and hear some of the plans for the near future and ways we might be able to contribute.

We also had dinner with a friend who’s been living in Bangkok for the past three years. She had some really valuable information as far as cost-of-living goes here. Apartment costs seem to be encouragingly affordable although electricity costs can add up and as anyone who has spent time in Thailand year round will know, there are times when air conditioning is really, really nice to have! Luckily, transportation and food are very cheap here. Our friend has been juicing for a while and she told us about a nearby market where we can get baskets full of vegetables for about 30 cents. If we move to Bangkok we’re definitely going to bring a juicer and an espresso maker!

Yesterday I met with the associate dean of English education at Assumption University. After a year of teaching elementary students in Korea, I’ve realized how completely burned out on the young’uns I am. So I’m hoping to get a job as a university professor in the English Language department. From our conversation it sounds like he’s interested in bringing me on some time next year. The job sounds like it could be fun and is a decent salary for Thailand. Also, we have a friend who worked there in the past and recommended it to us. However, there is a big downside. The campus where I’d be teaching is quite far out of the city, which would give Jessie a long commute to the volunteer organization. If we live there we’d most likely have to buy a motorbike, and I’d be a nervous wreck knowing she was driving in Bangkok traffic twice a day.

Jessie met with another dean about the Master of Science in Counseling Psychology program. She is on the fence about pursuing a masters degree in counseling, but if she is to do it anywhere she wants to do it cheaply.

After our meetings we slumped into a large booth in the central hallway of the campus. The conversation that ensued was simultaneously full of hope and concern. Can we make this work? Will we be lonely living so close to the city yet still pretty far out? Is it going to make us miserable having to spend our days in completely different realms and being on completely different pages from each other? Should I work a normal, steady job where I know I’ll get a sufficient monthly paycheck or should I use this time to pursue several of the location independent, self-employed ideas I’ve been preparing this past year?

I can tell it’s going to take many long conversations until we arrive at a decision. Luckily, time is the one thing we have plenty of right at this moment.

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