Luxury Honeymoon on a Penny

This morning, Chinese New Year, we woke up in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to the sound of firecrackers. In my dreamy haze, I thought it was gunfire and tried to tell Matt to stay away form the window, following my BPS emergency “training.” The sound of the local frustrated rooster and the hypnotic chanting of monks helped me drift back to sleep with the tropical sunrise through the window.

We’ve been on vacation for so long now, it’s easy to forget we even have jobs. In Asia, a Westerner doesn’t have to work very much to live a luxuriously upper middle class lifestyle. For this leg of our honeymoon, our room overlooking the city with a view of the morning sunrise, complete with hot showers, is 150 Baht a night – that’s less than $5. The other night we had our feet and backs massaged in the summery evening, 120 Baht an hour, less than $4. Watermelon juice or smoothies, made from real watermelon, not sugar juice cocktail, are less than $2 for a large. You can eat healthy and cheaply in Thiland, a paradox in the US. Every day I’ve had muesli, tropical fruit, and yogurt for less than $2 – I don’t even think the yogurt at McDonald’s is that cheap.

Friends of ours think, “Oh, they love to save a dollar!” as if it were some hobby in and of itself. But this means more to me: My entire life has been, “When this,” or “After than,” – after high school, after college, when I get a better job, when Matt finishes law school, when it’s summer vacation, when we buy a house. I felt like I was when-ing my life away.
I imagined the life of comfort, intellectual stimulus, vacation and adventure was something I could achieve through hard work some time in the distant future or only in small doses, at great expense, maybe a week yearly.

In Asia, I’m able to afford all those things I always cut back on or never imagined I could afford. I rented a motor cycle for less than $7 for a whole day. I had a pedicure – the second in my life, the first one I ever paid for – for less than $2. I always wanted to swim with the dolphins in Florida but could never afford it – here, I got to swim with an elephant. We took a cooking class, a crazy luxury. Where normally I would have packed bagels and peanut butter to curb hunger pains in my adventures, rather than eat out, I can afford fresh tropical fruit, exotically cooked dinners. I feel like I’m living the life held so out of my grasp, reserved for retired women who had saved enough for a cruise.

There’s a strange irony here, too. America’s history is one built on moving to new places that our children may have a better life: the first settlers from Europe, then the pioneers, and today immigrants from the world over. My job is to help Chinese students prepare academically to also realize this American dream. But Matt and I, as foreigners, moved in the opposite direction and found a better life. Where our Chinese students are searching for prosperity in our homeland, we have found prosperity in theirs.

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7 thoughts on “Luxury Honeymoon on a Penny

  1. Does this mean that you guys are immigrating to China or Thailand? We’d miss you terribly!

    I don’t know what the available career opportunities are like in China, but I think Chinese and other hopeful immigrants to America are still clinging to the hope of “American Dream” that promises anyone and everyone the opportunity to do anything and be able to financially succeed. Moreover, America has the best universities, which is enticing for a lot of these foreign students so that they can come here, get a degree and either stay here or move back to their motherland and get a better job. It’s easy to overlook the fact that most people are focused on maximizing their financial wealth rather than enjoying life through simple activities and respites that the four of us consider to be “good life”. Even though there’s a large income gap here in this country and in other industrial nations, we forget that most of us who live as middle-class or even lower-middle class live well beyond the luxuries that most foreigners can only dream about in their countries. We may be tired of people driving around in their big SUVs and eating themselves to death with a super sized meals, these are things that citizens of developing nations want to experience and live the American life style.

  2. This is why now is the time to redefine the ‘American Dream’. Matt and Laura, can you please communicate to the Chinese that not everything about the ‘American lifestyle’ is worth dreaming for? Especially if we want to have a future on this planet and a spirit in our hearts….so much of our collective planetary future, I believe, is in the hands of the Chinese…

  3. You have American educations and fluent command of English — in rich/poor countries like China and Thailand where people have trouble with English, you are bound to fall into the rich category. So, how does it feel being rich? What has it done to your social activism? How does it make you view the behavior of rich people everywhere?

  4. How has it affected our social activism? Compared to the days when I was a MASSPIRG soldier? How much is due to wealth and how much is due to age? Difficult question. I often think to myself, how is teaching math to upper middle class Chinese students changing the world and fighting for social justice? Of course I can talk myself into an explanation, but one can justify anything. Has it fundamentally affected our politics? Not being rich so much as meeting people from other Westernized nations and hearing their opinions – sometimes it has reinforced my opinions and sometimes it has opened my eyes in ways I didn’t think I would agree.

  5. Are we emigrating? I’m applying to Thailand International Schools (mostly children from Western nations.) If I land a job there, then we’ll be pulling in a Western wage, $40,000 a year, which means we’ll be able to pay down loans, live the high life, and Matt can volunteer for some interesting legal work – maybe something with the United Nations is what I’m hoping for!

    If there’s no Thailand job, we’re not sure what we’ll do – as you can see from our Valentine’s Day post, we’re a little homesick for the modern conveniences as much as we love our new found financial comfort and freedom

  6. Are you sure that the term “middle class”, be it upper or otherwise applies to these students? Does it really apply to anyone in a country like China? I bring this up, because I’ve found that a lot of people have taken to using the term “upper middle class” or even “middle class” as a synonym for wealthy. The question is, what kind of lifestyle does their family’s money and connections buy them in China? I once had a student of mine from South Africa describe people there with Swimming pools, private tennis courts, AND domestic servants as “middle class.” That represent some sort of median income level in South Africa, but it certainly is not the lifestyle of middle class people. The middle class is a specific group of people, I would argue far more distinct from the rich than even the very poor. In developing countries, I feel that people often simply designate whoever is around the median income for that country level as “middle class” (as my student from South Africa did) without seriously considering whether that person lives a middle class lifestyle or has middle class values.

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