Being an Expat Woman
This article was originally published in the December/January edition of Expat Ladies in Bangkok, here.
Bangkok is a fantastic city to live in with its culture, history, language and deep-rooted love of food all readily waiting to be explored. But, it is also synonymous with culture shock and a vastly different way of life with the ‘Mans’ World’ phenomenon completely off the Richter scale. Being an Expat woman in Bangkok isn’t easy and comes with many different issues aside of finding somewhere to live and discovering the best places for dinner.
Expat women are extremely resilient, with an abundance of inner strength that isn’t always realised and is often taken for granted by husbands, partners, family and friends. Making a new life is one of the many skills of an Expat woman as we successfully re-build our career and support network whilst supporting indefinite numbers of Expat men who would not be as successful in their careers without the help, support and understanding of their wives and partners.
Yet, as we focus on our day-to-day lives in whatever we do, we seem to forget our own strengths, resilience and abilities as we continue to put the needs of others before ourselves and concentrate on the greater task in hand of coping with the daily challenges and demands of living in Bangkok. There are many concerns for Expat women and it seems that the longer we live in Bangkok our sense of what is ‘normal’ gets lost along with who we are in the process.
Whilst watching a programme with Gok Wan recently and listening to the way many different women feel about themselves, I became aware that as women we all tend to focus on the negative parts of ourselves, rather than the positives. Gok transforms women with his positivity and ability to envisage themselves differently with the help of a great pair of support pants, layers and a killer pair of boots.
It’s great if you still live in a country that struggles to get above 16 degrees Celsius on a summers day, but what about in Bangkok where it seems that every piece of flesh you dislike is on display in an effort to stay cool? But, underneath the support pants, what Gok is really saying is accept yourself for who you are, rather than what you aren’t. We could all use Gok in our lives, especially here in Bangkok!
Here, retail therapy is obscured by the greetings of shop assistants who tell us that the large sizes we are looking at are definitely not going to be big enough, whilst stretching the garment to prove the point! Having lived in Bangkok for nearly 2 years this has become normal and running out of Promod with a size ‘L’ in the bag is quite victorious and pleasing! So, it’s no surprise that our confusion over what’s ‘normal’ anymore is compounded by repeated experiences like these.
As western women we are comparably much bigger to Thai women. In the UK my size 12 – 14 frame is actually quite small in comparison and, whilst layering and wearing those support pants (without breaking into a sweat just thinking about them) I feel ‘normal’. Maybe that’s why our ‘home’ countries always feel so much more comforting and reassuring and retail therapy does exactly what it is intended to do; make you feel better!
I recently discovered a report stating that obesity is the main cause of death amongst Thai women, but yet to see an obese woman in Bangkok I wonder if they have they been hidden away so as not to destroy the façade and to keep us western women continually feeling self-conscious and unhappy with ourselves. I know that I am not alone in my comparisons and I also know that, rationally, they are unrealistic as many other Expat women are the first to tell us, as we discuss our ‘bingo wings’.
Yet, when discussions naturally progress towards claims of husbands and partners liking us ‘just the way we are’ and not being tempted away by the object of our comparisons, we’re immediately told that, now, we ARE being unrealistic and that most marriages and relationships will fail within 2 years – so it’s best to get out whilst you can!!
Whilst sex does seem to feel like it’s on every street corner of Bangkok, in reality it’s only there if you choose to go looking for it. Sex can be found anywhere in the world and just because Bangkok doesn’t hide the fact, indeed it positively promotes it, doesn’t mean that all married, western men that come to live in Bangkok will succumb to its ‘charms’. Yet that is what a lot of women here are led to believe the moment they arrive.
Although Bangkok is the perfect example of how external influences can present many different challenges, there are many reasons that contribute to the success, or failure, of a relationship. No-one can ever appreciate the demands of living in another country and it can also be difficult to look at ones self within a relationship and the affect you have on it; relationships should be balanced and the responsibility of both people involved.
Many Expat women support husbands and families to fulfil their ‘purpose’ whilst often losing focus of their own along with a sense of who they are, and whilst this is not exclusive to Expat life as women worldwide strive to achieve a balance with family and a career, making the decision to support a husbands’ career abroad leaves many women without their own careers and independence for many years.
Undoubtedly there are indefinite numbers of Expat men who would not be as successful in their careers without the help, support and understanding of their wives and partners, but this loss of self and sense of purpose is often further emphasised within the Expat society that questions you first on what job your husband does and critiques you on what you do or don’t have.
There appears to be very little interest in you anymore or the life that you have successfully forged for yourself here. For many women, the personal cost of being an Expat wife is not acknowledged which can result in feelings of low self-esteem, self-confidence and questionning “What About Me?”
For the many Expat women who come to Bangkok to follow their own a career path or to find work here, there are other, very different challenges to contend with. Many women in this situation come alone, find somewhere to live, make new friends, create a social life for themselves and do it singlehandedly whilst also negotiating the language and cultural barriers.
For women moving here with a purpose the package comes complete with work colleagues and peers that can easily become social acquaintances who provide an instant support network of people to drink and have dinner with. Unfortunately this can come with its own separate issues if those people become less than desirable with habits that you do not wish to partake; especially if you are female.
The work place can start to feel intimidating, repressive and take on the feel of a ‘locker room’ environment where tales of exploits are shared freely and without concern of who they may offend. This often leaves many women questionning their own professionalism and standards, of what is or isn’t acceptable, whilst also trying to cope with the demands of a new job and being satisfied with their decision to work and live away from ‘home’.
Whilst being an Expat woman in Bangkok isn’t always easy, it is an opportunity to experience a different way of life with the chance to focus on a purpose and work towards something that you’ve always wanted to achieve. Too often the focus can be consumed on returning back to a ‘home’ country where life can begin again. But time wasted living is never given back.