180 Days in Thailand: Major Changes That’ve Caught up With Me

This October 12 will mark my 180th day in Thailand after I quit my job from a private university college early this year to embark on an otherwise long travel in Southeast Asia.

If nature didn’t have another plan for me, I would probably have been in Burma right now, pursuing short-term ordination as a Buddhist monk. I would not have been teaching some 180 kids away at the school I’m currently attached to, and living a simple life in the outskirts of the Chumphon province in the Southern Thailand.

Also, little did I know that my decision to resign as a lecturer to travel and eventually become a teacher in Thailand would attract the attention of social media and two local radio stations.

I went viral overnight in July.

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I had however turned down the offers to be interviewed by Hitz.fm and BFM89.9 The Business Radio Station, as detailed in this Facebook post:

I honestly don’t care about fame and taking advantage of it. I could have made use of that temporary fame to promote my book Wanderful Odyssey, but whatever that I’m doing, I’m not doing it to be famous.

And I don’t want to be seen as that cool dude who quit his job as a lecturer to receive less salary being a teacher in Thailand. There is nothing cool about it. There is a price to pay, and it comes with some sacrifices. It’s just not as superficial as it seems.

Upon extension of my non-immigrant visa last week, the seemingly strict but rather chatty immigration officer told me I am one of the very few Malaysians working in Chumphon. Asked if my remuneration was sufficient for me, I said it’s lower than what I used to earn in Malaysia, but enough.

Taken by surprise she asked why then would I still want to work in Thailand. I said that while Malaysia is a lovely country, I’m feeling spiritually happier here, and people here are such a friendly and generous lot. The officer gave me a very, very pleased smile.

Friends on my Facebook would be able to relate to how much I appreciate my stint here. I love Thailand. I love its food, its people, its culture.

Though I’m living a relatively much simpler life here than in Malaysia, several changes have caught up with me during these six months that I have been in Thailand.

1. Waking less, yet travelling more

Well, I bought myself a cheap, second-hand motorcycle, and it was one of the best decisions in my life. I am someone who can really walk. I’m restless like that. But after having stayed in this relatively remote town for a little while, I figured out that having a motorcycle would make a difference. It would bring me so much convenience.

My area is blessed with beautiful beaches and bays. While it would take me an hour and a half to walk to the nearest one, a bike can easily get me there in less than 15 minutes.

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Thung Maha Bay in Chumphon.

Owning a motorcycle is a good thing, as I have gotten to learn a couple of things from it.

I have simply learned how to ride it, because truth be told, I had never ridden one before. I have learned how to check the engine oil and how many PSI to inflate the tyres.

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I also get to learn about the roads around my area and in the city of Chumphon. Days ago I jokingly said that I was getting better in two things in a bad way:

  1. Speeding
  2. Overtaking vehicles

No matter what, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and achievement to be able to explore places every other weekend and learn where major roads lead to.

2. Becoming accustomed to Thai culture and traditions

They say when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I have always had a thing for the Thai culture. The way the Thais greet, they way they talk, have always struck me as gentle and polite. And I must say that I have a soft spot for kids who greet me with a ‘wai’ (a slight bow with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion). I think that is just so sweet and warm.

Now that I’m working and staying in Thailand, this would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the Thai culture and traditions.

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Showering the hands of History teacher Mr. Suraphon during his retirement ceremony as a symbol of blessing for his retired life. Photo credit to P’Jib.

One great thing about Thailand is that its culture and traditions are still very much relevant and emphasised upon even in this age of modernity and Westernisation. Comparatively, you don’t quite see the Chinese clad in Changshan and Cheongsam anymore today.

Celebrating Sunthorn Phu Day with fellow teachers.
Celebrating Sunthorn Phu Day with fellow teachers.

Thailand is among the most ideal places to learn Theravada Buddhism. As a Theravada Buddhist myself, I have benefited a lot in this sense from this beautiful Buddhist land.

On the 15th day of the last lunar month, which was also a “Wan Phra” (Buddhist Observance/Holy Day), I was at a temple called Wat Kow Chedi which I would normally frequent. However that marked my first time bringing food over to be offered to the monks.

Way Kow Chedi in Pathiu, Chumphon.
At Wat Kow Chedi in Pathiu, Chumphon.

I was hesitant at first because I had no prior experience in offering food and didn’t know how to go about it. But I decided it was about time to learn. And so I did and it turned out great – the devotees were generous enough to have taught me how to do it.

I must say that not everyday in Thailand is a smooth-sailing day and that it isn’t always easy to learn to adapt to the local culture and traditions. However it is the gratifying feelings of being able to pick up something new and overcome that little fear of doing something I’m not familiar with, that have kept me going and content all this while.

3. Living the ‘raw’ life

Like I said, my life here is a lot simpler than in Malaysia. It is also more natural in many ways. Here I eat like a local, live like a local, and play like a local.

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Parents here don’t overprotect their kids like how those in the big cities would. Most kids in my area have the freedom to loiter around. Often I would see them cycling with their friends or playing sports in the school compound, even in the blazing sun.

While most of my hometown friends would prefer to travel from point A to point B in a car, the folks here prefer a bike. A primary 6 female student of mine rides a bike to school everyday, and some boys the same age are capable of fetching their mother to the market on a bike.

While ladies would do anything to make themselves look fair and lovely – as like most Asians, most men and some women who have to work hard to make ends meet couldn’t care less about getting dark skin. They just carry on doing what they need to do in order to live their simple daily lives.

I really admire such rawness and simplicity of life, and thus for the most parts of my life here I’m just living my life like any ordinary Thai folk and spend a lot of time outdoor. Perhaps this is why people are saying that I look more and more like a Thai now.

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4. Having found the other half

When I started pursuing this journey, I was certain that it was going to be filled with surprises. But never had I expected a surprise of this kind to befall me.

Having been single for ten years with no plan to get married, I had honestly never imagined myself falling in love or being in a relationship again. But nature always has a way to prove us wrong, and it has blessed me with a beautiful girl from the land of smiles.

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Neither me nor her has forced this relationship to happen – it has come so naturally. So let’s just say that this is the greatest gift from nature.