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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Are you happy?

That’s a tough question to answer because it all depends on what your definition of happiness is. Does being happy revolve around family, career, love, creativity, or none (or all) of the above.

If it’s tough to gauge how happy an individual is, it must be mind-boggling nuts to determine how happy a whole country is.

Well, it’s apparent not that bonkers as CNN brings us this story about the 2013 edition of the United Nations (UN) Happiness Index.

For those of you who enjoy reading press releases from international organizations, this is your lucky day as you jump to this link here and read until your heart’s content.

For those who want to jump to the actual number and see where the various countries lie on the Happiness Spectrum, hop on over here.

Here is what I found interesting personally about the UN numbers.

My country of current residence, Thailand, ranks number 36 (with an overall score of 6.371 and with 10 being the highest possible score). This ranking is particularly appropriate given my fascination with the number 36 (see here and here and here for examples).

For comparison, the United States of America, my country of birth, ranks 17 (score = 7.082)

My last country of residence, France, clocks in at #25 (score = 6.764)

Denmark took the top spot with a score of 7.693 while the last spot, down at number 156, was held by the African country of Togo with a score of 2.936.

As for me, I can blog, I can eat, I have a roof over my head, I work, I write, and I have a loving family nine ways to Sunday. That makes me happy.

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I never had the assistance of domestic help as I was growing up. Okay, there was the cleaning woman who came by our house every two weeks to help out my sainted mother, but that’s it.

Even when the Mannski Family left the United States and landed on the Continent, we never took advantage of any domestic help. Okay, this was mainly because it was as prohibitively expensive as it is in the States, but we knew co-workers of my fantastic wife who did avail themselves of this option.

Actually, I’m glad we never hired a maid or helper because I know I would have felt particularly awkward having someone walk around my living space cleaning and dusting and vacuuming while I was trying to write or edit my work.

Well, all that has come to an end here in Thailand as we have had to hire domestic help and my trepidation of feeling awkward has certainly come true. While I certainly feel terribly odd about having another person wash my dishes or mop my floor when I have two perfectly good working hands and feet, this is not the main source of feeling like a fish on a bicycle.

No, it’s the conversation. Even putting aside the fact that I speak no Thai and she speaks little English (oh, why couldn’t we move to another place where they speak French) and so our dialogue sounds like it came out of a Dick-and-Jane story, this is not the source of my awkwardness. It’s the subjects of which we speak. While it would be dandy if we could stick to cabbages and kings and sealing wax and things, this is not the case.

But first, some background.

Ophelia, my youngest child and only daughter, lost a tooth during the night here in the Land of Smiles. Her missing piece of hardware was a molar so there was some bleeding. Nothing to be too worried about.

The next morning, as I was on the computer continuing my work on David’s manuscript, our maid came over with the bloody sheet. She showed me the linen with the red splotch and asked, in her halting English, “Her first time?”

Because our maid’s English is not all that good and is heavily accented, it took me a few tries to understand what she was saying. I finally did decipher three words and finally understood that the “Her” meant Ophelia.

I was still somewhat paying attention to my editing task and so my mental process was working on a reply that revolved around the fact that my daughter had lost several teeth during her short life. I actually thought it was odd why our maid thought my grade-school daughter had never lost a tooth before.

Then I saw the blood on the sheet and it hit me like a Tooth Fairy with a sledgehammer what our maid was really asking about.

She was asking if this was Ophelia’s first period.

More than watching someone wash my socks while I sat at the computer, our maid and I had now moved way past “awkward” and into the land of downright “stomach-churning uncomfortable”.

Why a complete stranger (and one I was paying) would even broach the subject of my daughter’s menstrual cycle is beyond me?

Maybe this culture has different attitudes that I’m not aware of.

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For those of you in the United States who haven’t been following along, I currently live in Thailand.

Thailand, for those of you not following along, is a foreign country that resides outside of the United States of America.

As a foreign country, Thailand has some rules, laws, and conventions that some citizens of the U.S. of A. might find odd.

Thailand has a constitutional monarchy which means, like England (another foreign country), there is a king and queen who sit as the formal head of government.

However, unlike England, it is against the law and is indeed a punishable offense to make fun of or to say anything negative about the royal couple. The name for this crime is lese majeste.

Can you imagine living in a country where you can be punished – perhaps even lose your job – for mocking the head of the government?

Of course you can. You already do.

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I’ll admit it. When all was said and done, I was smug.

But first, some background. For the past two years, the Mannski Family has been living in France courtesy of a fabulous job opportunity offered to my wife. Because of her exquisite ability to speak the French language, she was a no-brainer to be the winning candidate for the position. Along the streets of Paris, she had no difficulty at all dealing with the locals whether it was the guy at the cable TV office, the police officer, or the person she bought bread from. The story for me as a tad different. I had taken French in middle school and high school so I had a fair-to-middlin’ grasp of the Gallic tongue. I was able to squeak by in te grocery store as I could ask where the lettuce was, but if the conversation went any deeper, I was lost. Over the past two years, I spent a good deal of time using pantomimes and doodles to get my point across to my non-English-speaking audience. It was rather frustrating to be face-to-face with someone and not be able to convey my point because of an issue with translations. As I would express my frustration to my employed wife, she would sympathize, but I don’t think she could ever fully empathize with me. For her, language was never a barrier.

Jump to the present day and the playing field is now level.

Here in Thailand, the Thai script is beyond my comprehension. The letters used by this script is like nothing I have ever seen. Looking at all of the road signs and business marquees and understanding NONE of it makes me now understand what a functional illiterate person must feel like.

At the moment, I only know two Thai phrases: “hello” and “thank you”. Those two quivers in my linguistic quiver do me no good when I am in the fruit and vegetable market and am looking for asparagus. This is where pantomimes and doodles come in handy…along with a great deal of patience from my Thai listener.

So, to attempt to talk with someone and have it end up as a frustrating endeavour is nothing new to me. The story is different for my wife. A few days ago, she was finally able to see what life in France was like for me.

After an excursion to a local grocery store – that quite honestly looked quite similar to a Walmart – Mary and I saw that we were running late and decided to grab dinner at McDonalds. My wife decided to order while I watched our shopping cart to make sure no one walked off with our durian. She was set to order (for the kids) chicken nuggets, cheeseburger, and Big Mac. She was going to get a chicken sandwich and I was set to try a samurai pork burger.

From my vantage point outside the eatery, all I saw was my wife doing a whole bunch of pointing. Later, she told me that the cashier spoke not a lick of English and so she had to order solely by pointing to each item that she wanted. The cashier would also point to each item and my wife would nod when the cashier arrived at the right item. Mary told me that it was quite aggravating to not be understood.

As the cliché goes, “Welcome to my world!”

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The Mannski Family was faced with a choice and that choice has been made.

Nearly two years ago (March 2011), the Mannski Unit made the decision to move (temporarily) from our home in Virginia to France. The genesis for this lateral move was the fabulous opportunity presented to my wife to use her PhD for a non-profit.

My wife’s contract expires early next year and we were all set to move the family back to the Old Dominion.

Then, as usual, something out of the blue appeared over the horizon, took a cab to our apartment, and brought a croissant to munch on our balcony while it gave us the following opportunity.

My wife, through the contacts she has met here, has been offered a position with a multi-national corporation (MNC) to use her degree and experience to assist their affiliate in…

…wait for it…

Bangkok, Thailand.

It probably took us slightly over a day to make our decision.

Come the middle of 2013, the Mannski Family will be setting up shop in the Land of Smiles.

For my wife, the professional advancement and experiences offered by this position made her decision easy.

As for me, the non-working spouse who hit the pause button on his career, the choice to move across the globe from our Virginia home was also easy but for a different set of reasons.

I have been bitten hard by the international bug after living abroad for over a year and a half in a foreign country. Seeing new things, experiencing new cultural traditions, and eating new cuisines (to name a few) have been beyond my expectations and I do not want it to end. Thailand will only accelerate and intensify this broadening of my cultural horizons.

Reason Number Two (which dovetails with the first reason above) is that I believe that living abroad will also broaden the cultural horizons of our three children.

However, there is another reason why I am opting to not return to the country of my birth. That reason is because, in over a year away from the United States, I have come to the conclusion that the red-white-and-blue is completely bat-guano bonkers.

From the over-the-top negative tone of the 2012 Presidential campaign…
To the endless red-state versus blue-state sniping seen in news programs and Internet comments…
To the paralysis of its politicians (I point to the debt ceiling limit “debate” of 2011 and the “fiscal cliff” negotiations of now)…
To the lack of tolerance towards those with any dissenting views (I point to the on-line petition to the White House to deport CNN personality Piers Morgan)…
To, finally, my desire that I don’t want the lives of my children cut short courtesy of the “gun culture” of the United States…

For all those and other reasons, I have opted to not reside again in the best country in the world, the United States of America.

I am astounded at how much my perspective has changed after being away for a scant amount of time, but changed it has.

It is my sincerest wish that whenever my wife’s employment with MNC ends (whenever that may be), that the wonderful people and policy-makers of the United States of America get their act together and work together to make the “land of the free / home of the brave” the shining beacon I know it can be.

Until then, I will enjoy the view from the outside.

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