Today is my nan's 85th birthday. Quite an achievement, considering she still travels several times a year and acts like she hasn't yet hit fifty.
She's celebrating with the whole family - a rare event, at my parents' house, drinking beer with her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, and having a merry ‘ole time.
A world of technology
As usual on such occasions, I did my obligatory calling from abroad to give good wishes and catch up with what's going on; thanks to the modern world, I can call via multiple routes (WhatsApp, Skype, Hangouts, you name it), and cheap data means it's basically free. I can't imagine how you longer-time expats used to have to finagle communications home; calling cards? I wouldn't even know where to start.
Last Christmas, for example, I got to Skype-in for the entire typical set of Christmas morning festivities. With video sat right there in the middle of the living room, I opened presents with them, had the Christmas morning eggnog (which wasn't easy to find in Bangkok, mind you), and even played a board game long distance! It was almost as if I was right there with them. Almost.
It's these kinds of occasions that are most taxing on the expat. You're with the family in spirit, and yes, you're making sure they don't think you've forgotten them (or them you), but technology or not, there's still a distance between you all. Sure, you're "living the dream," living in a tropical country without the stresses of the "homeland." Sure, 99% of the time when you see the news from your home country, you think, "MAN I'm glad I don't have to live there anymore."
But even with all of the positives of living the expat dream (for those of us that want to and of which I am one), there's just not much you can do to mitigate missing the important family occasions in life. Even if you're living on an 'expat package' making loads of money and can afford frequent trips "back" (and note I'm not saying "home," because that it is not), it's just impractical to jet 30-plus hours (in my case) across the globe for, say, a birthday celebration, momentous or not.
Of course, the family always understands and may even be jealous of your "exotic" lifestyle. Bangkokians will grin at that. You've done your bit, calling-in to say hello, and they get it. Life goes on. Yet still, as you hear the reverie on the other end of the line, it's hard not to think, "I should be there for this."
Growing up, family was always the most important thing - not an uncommon upbringing, I daresay. Generally speaking, I've gotten used to not being directly a part of it anymore. I get to see them once every few years, and Skype/video calling is just a click away. Via WhatsApp and the like, I chat with many of them, including my 85-year-old nan-daily, trading tidbits of life there and back. For most of the year, I don't even give it a second thought.
But especially for special occasions - and I'd say an 85th birthday is one of those - I just can't help but think: is it worth it?
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.