Chapter 12: Where Have All the Cows Gone? (Or, Living a Life Unpredictable)
Zoning laws are held loosely in Thailand, if there are any at all. Which is why, as long as I can remember, there has always been a wide open field with a few trees and even fewer cattle, right at the entrance to the university where my hubby works.
Houses and high-rises have been and continue to be built around this field, but the field stays. It even seems like the cows that are there today were the same cows that were there in 1997. But of course, that's ridiculous!
I love this pastoral field of quiet, the gentle cattle meandering about eating grasses, then resting under wide-spread trees in the heat of the day. It takes me back to my Canadian-prairie childhood--a little taste of home in a faraway land. But then one day last month, the cows were gone. The field was empty. I walked past and felt betrayed, abandoned by the unpredictability of life in another country, another culture. I felt an inner sadness that surprised me. While I missed the "home" connection, I think that what was even more emotional for me was this feeling of never quite knowing what's going on--the uncertainty which comes with being a stranger, a foreigner, in another land.
Despite the total number of years we've lived in Thailand, I feel like I know and understand so little. But this one thing I DO know: The certainty of uncertainty will always be part of our lives here. And anyone who's spent any length of time living in another culture knows what that means: STRESS!
Unpredictability is stressful--and there's always more of it during those first few months of arrival. Here's a list of a few things we didn't expect, or that had changed:
The water heater (water on demand) in our shower was broken when we returned (we'd been subletting our place for the last 2 1/2 years). Because we were moving in a month, we never fixed it, which meant no hot showers for that first month--with the night temps outside and in the house dropping to 12 or 13 in January, those morning showers were a real jolt to the system!
No water at all. Sometimes we woke up to no water upstairs at all--not enough pressure for the water to get upstairs and even very little downstairs. What did we do? Have cold bucket showers in the Thai bathroom downstairs, of course.
Phone issues. Non-Thai phones don't work here. And it wasn't as simple as getting a new SIM card. In fact, trying that, totally messed up our phones. We bought a second-hand phone which completely stopped working after three weeks. Thankfully we got our money back (that doesn't always happen). All that to say, it took 1 1/2 months before we had an actual phone we could use in this country.
Paperwork. Paperwork. Paperwork. Foreigners that work here are required to keep their paperwork in order. The problem with that is, the requirements for this said paperwork seem to always be changing. Go to immigration here. No, that's changed. Over there. But it's closed now. It's closed today. The line up is out the door and nobody knows what's going on. You're at the wrong building. Take a number. You need another photo. Oh, and you need a different form from your landlord, from your work sponsor. Go home. Come back another day. Sign here. Don't sign there. It may take 15 minutes to get it done. It may take hours one day and then again another day. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW! And so you just have to learn to be flexible and patient. Because if you're not, incomplete paperwork will force you out of the country. It has always been this way. We know it. And yet,THIS is still one of the biggest stresses.
Air travel. Covid has definitely added to the unpredictability of air travel. But even then, being in the wrong line, or being told to go to some office "down that way"to pay some unknown extra fee, increases stress levels.
Internet connection. Because we're subletting the house we're in, we have no control over the wifi company choice and strength of the connection. With the work that we do, my hubby and I need strong wifi. It's been an adjustment (I know. I know. First world problems!).
Shops open one day and closed the next. Eateries open one day and closed the next. Streets open one day but blocked off the next. These things happen often with no rhyme or reason why. Again, it's just the way it is here. Unpredictable.
There are many other little unexpected things that occur from day to day. However, I will say that many, many of them are good--little surprises (and sometimes big ones) that make me smile. Like the song birds we wake up to and hear all day, the neighbour lady who brings us oranges fresh from an orchard, the grocery store that one day has still-warm sourdough bread, the English-speaking church that meets just down the street, the delicious yum khay daw that we've never eaten before.
AND, of course, the return of the cows!
Just as quickly as the cows disappeared, they returned a few days later. I was so happy to see them. And a little part of me thinks they were happy to see me too--or at least to be back. Because as I walked past the fence the day after their return, one of the cows looked up at me while chewing her cud.
"Hello brown cow," I said. "Good to see you again."
"Good to see you too," she replied.
At least, in my imagination she did.
Sometimes the unpredictable is a welcomed friend.