I believe that travelling outside of one’s own native land is by far the greatest teacher that you can have. Experiencing food, language and ways that are different from our own certainly give us fresh perspectives or at least give us a different perspective.It’s enjoyable to read or hear about other people’s experiences in foreign lands, but there’s no substitute for experiencing it all for your self. The term of ‘’comfort zone’’ is often used these days to describe either one of two situations. Being in your comfort zone applies to situations that are familiar to you and being out of your comfort zone applies to situations that are unfamiliar to you. The focus here is on the latter as we all need to feel a little uncomfortable now and again in order to grow.
” Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
A Story From Bangkok
In 1986 I was in Bangkok for a lengthy period of time and staying at a guesthouse on Soi 8 off the main Sukhumvit Road. I was new to Bangkok and my Thai language skills at that time were virtually non-existent.
One day completely bored with guesthouse food and surroundings I decided to venture out for lunch and explore. My guesthouse was down a Soi (side road) not far from the Main road. Upon reaching the main Sukhumvit road I crossed over the bridge to a small restaurant which had a few lunch time customers in it. I paused at a comfortable enough distance away to look at the days dishes that were on display. The place was not exceptionally busy and I was about to leave when the owner ushered me in to take a closer look.
At that stage a dreadful feeling came over me, (you know the one you get when you are about to be moved out of your comfort zone), due to the fact that I could hardly utter a word of Thai let alone ask for lunch. It was too noticeable to make an escape now and pretend that I wasn’t really hungry and I was only just browsing, so I inched forward apprehensively to take a better look. Most of the dishes I couldn’t identify at all, but suddenly I was in luck as what looked like Pork was thankfully among the selections. It’s not as if I even like pork that much, but I knew the Thai word for pig. Further still I knew the Thai word for rice so I requested”moo which is pork” and khao which is rice whilst giving him further confirmation (in case my limited Thai was incoherent),by pointing at the said dishes at the same time.
The owner nodded approvingly and began preparing the dish by hacking at the pork with a massive meat cleaver and serving it to a plate. Next he added the rice along with some sort of soup juice to remove the dryness whilst repeatedly saying ” moo, khao” and chuckling to himself . I was then ushered to my own table at the back of the restaurant whilst feeling some what uncomfortable from the attention and looks I was receiving from the all Thai dining audience. The meal was complete by me removing a pepsi from the gentleman’s refrigerator that was close to my table (the comfortable option).
This procedure continued for about 6 weeks and like anything in life became easier and more comfortable the more I did it. Each day he would be out the front of his restaurant at about 12.30 pm waiting for my arrival and would then straight away and dutifully prepare pork and rice, throw some soup on top and collect a bottle of pepsi from the fridge. Not only did he prepare and serve this dish to my table which was always the one reserved at the back of the restaurant, but he would talk Thai to me throughout like I was a native speaker, although I had no idea what he was talking about.
I was actually fed up with pork and rice after about 4 days, but the delight on his face as he served the food to my table on each occasion (the dish he thought I loved), completely halted me from changing the order, even if my limited language ability would allow me to.
It reminded me of my childhood days when an annoying aunty would constantly make her special home-made cherry pie and bring it around for me. I made the mistake on the first occasion of saying how good the pie was, out of sheer politeness of course. The truth was I hated Cherries and never wanted to see another slice again, but that was wishful thinking. From then on and of course each week a portion of that bloody pie would arrive for me. Not only that but she used to stay to make sure that I ate it. Further more she always used to go in to this silly phrase whereby she would tell anyone within earshot that ‘’he loves his Cherry pie you know ‘’ and then looks at me for confirmation. I always found it hard to respond with a mouthful of unwanted pie, but to tell her the truth would have broken poor auntie’s heart.
When all was said and done the man welcomed me to his restaurant, a restaurant where I was the only ever farang (foreigner), greeted me when I arrived, prepared and delivered the dish to me with great delight, told me a life story in between and carried a consistent smile on his face. In return all I had to do was eat rice and pork and I did for a total of my 6 week stay in Bangkok.
Basically, even with a language barrier we got on fine and I grew to like our daily meetings. I even began to enjoy his daily stories that I never understood a word of. Looking at it from a business side of things it just goes to show that not all the ingredients have to be in the mix to make us return as customers. I could not say the food was the best I had ever had, but treat people right and they will grow to like and respect you. When they like and respect you, they will return. I think half the battle to succeeding in any business situation is being liked. I had developed some kind of strange friendship and loyalty to the gentleman and made it my duty to have lunch at his place daily.
I would be surprised if the gentleman was still alive today as he was in his senior years back then. I know certainly that the restaurant is no longer there as I have returned to Sukhumvit road on many occasions since, but I have never forgotten his kindness and fantastic attitude towards the only farang in his restaurant.
A Recommended Book
Oddly enough, it was not long after this event that I was introduced to a novel that was based in Bangkok. I was talking to an American gentleman from San Francisco who advised me to read ‘’ Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet’’ by Nick Noye. I took the gentleman’s advice and never looked back as that book opened the door to an incredible appetite to devour as much Thai / Asian fiction as I could.
The book was strangely familiar and I felt like I had read parts of it before and yet I knew that was incorrect. It’s based on an alcoholic retired major from the British army who spends the last part of his life living or drinking off of his pension in Bangkok. The major develops a friendship with the Chinese owner (and also alcoholic) of the restaurant he visits. Daily they drink together at the back of the restaurant, tell each other stories of their lives and laugh, but neither man speaks or understands a word of the other man’s language, however the friendship still thrives.
The plot also includes a frustrated Chinese owner’s wife as she struggles with her husband drinking and impotency. She even goes to the extreme of exotic recipes to revive him. Finally she confides in her niece who is a manicurist / masseuse in the local barbershop. Unbeknownst to the restaurateur’s wife the niece is also well skilled as an artiste in other areas as well. Unexpected solutions are found in this classic novel and it’s certainly one of my favourites.
A Call To Action For Life Design
” If you don’t design your own life plan chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they may have planned for you? Not much.” Jim Rohn
One of the most productive exercises I have found for pushing the boundaries and operating outside one’s comfort zone is to start at the end of life and chunk back. Imagine you are 75 years old and looking back over your life to the age you are now. How does it look? Did you do all you wanted to do, be what you wanted to be. Simply write your life as the 75 year old you, in the way you would have wanted it to look. As of writing this post now I am just about to turn 49 years old and would be writing up the last 26 years of my life. This give’s one a sense of urgency almost panic to make use of all available time designing lives that make us happy.
I have read about this exercise on many occasions, but the most recent was in an essay by Christopher G. Moore the author of the award-winning Vincent Calvino crime fiction series, International crime author and Bangkok resident for more than 25 years. Christopher has written almost as many novels as years lived in Bangkok and gives valuable and unique insights in to Thai culture through his essays. The essay below called ” The Million Dollar Man In Bangkok” explains the concept I refer to perfectly and looks at the mindset of life outside the rat race. There are plenty more quality essay’s on his blog.
From the blog you can find further essays in the superb book called ”Faking It In Bangkok” in which Christopher G. Moore combines crime and culture which always seem to go hand in hand.