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.