For expatriates living in Thailand it might be hard to remember it, but for some of us living outside the Kingdom, and in the right locale, it has returned. Spring, that is.
It's light now until about eight thirty in the evening where I live, and the flowers and leafy trees are budding and blooming. Every day I get to see hummingbirds at the flowers on my balcony. For me, this spring marks one cycle of the seasons since I left Thailand and returned here, to my hometown, of Seattle, Washington, USA.
After four years in Bangkok (and prior to that, five years in Tokyo, Japan), one day last April I stepped off a fourteen hour United Airlines flight and into a perfect Pacific Northwest morning.
The sky was cloudless, it was warm but not hot with a gentle breeze, glorious Mount Rainier was looming tall in the background, and the air was dry and clean, so clean it felt like it'd been filtered. This is going to be good, I thought then. No more smog, no more humidity, and no more waking up by hacking up green gunk from my lungs.
Leaving the airport with my folks, the traffic was free of jams. At my mom's house the neighborhood was quiet. What a joy not to hear the cacophonous riot of scooters, motorbikes, screeches of vehicles slamming on brakes, and the incessant chattering of the street's millions of voices.
The sidewalks were clean. Moreover, they were mercifully free of sleeping dogs, potholes, scooters, not-sleeping dogs, food vendors, sellers of sundry goods, and more vendors of food. I could actually walk freely - or even go jogging! - on the sidewalks. This is definitely going to be good, I thought. And mostly the past year in America has been good.
It's also been much harder than I'd anticipated.
A large part of the trouble has been due to my underestimating the extent of America's economic recession. The economy is indeed functioning like an alcoholic's ailing liver. This has been headline news for several years, but seeing it in the news and experiencing it first hand is quite different.
What I've witnessed here is that due to companies' vast lay-offs and their reluctance to engage in re-hiring, there is terrible competition for jobs, even entry level ones. Those stories you see on the news about graduate educated Americans working at McDonald's are real. I've personally had a terrible time finding a decent job.
I've had two jobs so far, and am starting my third now. The first was as a Case Manager for develop-mentally disabled adults at a nonprofit organization. It was the best job I've had here, but I didn't appreciate it at the time because I'd just gotten back from Thailand, and was still spoiled about my working conditions.
The only reason I got that job was because of luck and timing. Management discovered the previous staff, an African, didn't have a work visa, and fired him immediately, so they needed a replacement. My mom was a nurse there, she recommended me, and I had a cakewalk of an interview.
Unfortunately, Washington State, like most other states, has been hit by a huge budget shortfall, and funding for this nonprofit org. was slashed, which in turn led to a lot of staff getting laid off, including me.
'Job for immigrants'
I spent a bit over a month unemployed, then I got a job at an upscale brand hotel, as a "houseman." This job was for immigrants. "We don't usually hire educated white people for this position," management candidly told me at the interview.
As houseman I drove the shuttle taking the guests to and from the airport, I cleaned the hotel, and I helped the housekeepers to do their job, by supplying their carts with fresh glasses, and changing their garbage. I was at the bottom of the food chain; everybody could tell me what to do. The schedule was bad, too. I worked both day shift and night shifts, so my daily routine was constantly changing.
Moreover, I always worked weekends. On top of this, management made our schedules week by week, so I only knew the very next week's schedule, which made planning trips very hard. All staffs (except management, of course) often worked through their entire shifts without even a meal break.
I possess ten years of classroom EFL teaching experience, plus a solid education, and this was the type of work available to me. There were many moments, such as when I was cleaning a toilet bowl, or when a housekeeper ordered me to do something, that frustration welled up inside me.
One day the management was unnecessarily chewing me out, figuring, I guess, that because I had an immigrant's job they could treat me like one ("I know you need this job, you have a wife and bills to pay," my manager once said to me), so I quit. Back to the limbo land of unemployment I went.
It's the first time in my life that I've been to an unemployment center. In Washington State they're called "WorkSource." Now I've practically set up camp there. I've spent hours participating in workshops on resume building, job hunting skills and interview techniques, and speaking with "employment counselors."
It's such a strange, humbling feeling to be doing those things. As an EFL teacher in Asia I had it made. The demand for good, qualified EFL teachers far exceeded the supply, so for me, with a Masters degree in English Literature and Language (ELL), plus a decade of classroom experience, along with a pleasant and responsible attitude and a well-groomed appearance, interviews were usually only for form's sake.
Never before did I have to seriously worry about finding a job, about not being able to pay rent and bills.
My work situation is still tenuous. I have managed to get a position as a substitute classroom aide within the south Seattle school district, though. Hopefully lots of teachers will get sick (all apologies to them), and I'll get loads of work.
Having unsteady work is troubling. There's this constant nagging. It's like you think you've merely got a hangnail, only to look at your finger and find it's broken.
Reasons to be cheerful
It's a beautiful morning, this morning, though. It's a cloudless day, warm, and the air is so dry and clean. The fir trees and the pine trees and the leafy trees rustle and chatter in the breeze. On days like these I feel so glad I've come home.
I look out my balcony window at the pink and purple flowers, and I think of all the places I've lived: Japan, Thailand, both the East and West coasts of America. I've found that wherever I go, it's always possible to be dissatisfied. There's always something to complain about.
Just a couple months ago at the hotel I had more to complain about than at any other time in my life. Truly. That experience's changed me. I guess I'm starting to realize there're lots of things I can't control and getting negative about them and overwhelmed by them doesn't do any good.
As I sip my cup of java and admire the flowers, a hummingbird flits up, hovers for a moment. Things could be worse, I think, at least I'm not cleaning toilet bowls anymore.