I am having a “Scandinavian Brunch” in a small, cozy cafe in cloudy Shoreditch, one of my favourite areas of London (yes, same old me). Having liver paté on rye bread and salmon on toast reminded me of the good six months I spent living in Denmark. The last weeks were packed with events, holidays, emotions and much more. Volunteering at the festivals in Denmark and travelling back to Thailand with my family for two weeks were some of the highlights of my summer. And now, I have finally moved back to London, ready for yet another flat hunting season and excited to be starting my final year at City University. I will probably not be that thrilled to be working on my dissertation, but after one year travelling abroad, living in two different countries and making unforgettable life experiences, I am ready to put my feet back on solid, British ground.
If you ask me, I could never stop talking about Thailand and the inspiring country it is. For me and my family, it truly is a second home. We adopted a Thai boy over eleven years ago and have visited the country twice ever since. Travelling back to Thailand is always very special and it creates a unique connection with my brother which is hard to describe. We joined, for the second time, a programme called “Nativeland”, which invites adoptive families from around the world for a one-week long visit back to the children’s origins. Many might disagree with the idea of travelling back to the adoptees’ homeland, considering it risky for their self-esteem and worried that they might cling too much to their past.
Instead, by joining this programme I saw how the outcome was pretty much the opposite. The kids felt proud of their past, they were happy to see how beautiful and caring their home country is and mostly they fully embraced their Thai-ness. I saw a change in my brother since we left Thailand in late July, he became even more proud of his past and felt that the trip to Thailand was fully about him – not a mere summer holiday.
As part of this programme, we visited the homes where the kids (and my brother) grew up and were once taken cafe of. It was a touching experience and I saw, for the first time ever, my brother’s “other life” before he joined our family. For me Tony is family, not an adopted, asian looking boy. But visiting the orphanage made me look at his past very closely for the first time – from the bed he used to sleep in, to the bathroom where he showered every morning and the playground where him and his friends would spend their free time.
Walking thorough the halls of the orphanage, Tony was reminded of his past, “I remember that the beds were higher and a wall used to divide these two rooms, it feels like yesterday” he said, and the caretakers who were showing us around agreed that the room disposition had slightly changed since he left. This did not make me feel lucky for being born in a rich first-world country, instead it made me understand how lucky my brother has always been, from the care he received from lovely and smiling Thai people in beautiful and welcoming homes, to moving to Rome with a family who deeply loves him.
Visiting Bangkok was also a very interesting experience, and I travelled back there as an adult for the first time. It is a city with great contrasts – after walking through poverty, with electric cables hanging everywhere and street sellers hoping you will buy their mango and sticky rice for ridiculously cheap prices, you walk back into the air conditioned hotel lobby with waterfalls, orchids and valets bowing and welcoming you back. This was probably one of the aspects of the capital that struck me the most.
Added to this is the kindness of the Thai, who smile to you even when you pay them the smallest amount for a fake Adidas T-shirt, knowing that you could have totally afforded the pre-bargain price.
“Thailand” actually means “the land of smiles”, which came as no surprise.
It is also a country with very interesting traditions. For example, they have a colour for every day of the week as well as four different school uniforms – almost one per day. Thais worship the Royal Family, with yellow flags waving everywhere across the country. The colour of the flag depends on the day of the week the royal was born on – so as the King was born on a Monday, and Monday is yellow day, his flag will carry that same colour. Also, one last curiosity, you might not know that “Bangkok” is a non-Thai way of calling the city. Its real name is the longest name ever given to a city and Thai kids learn it in school as a song in order to memorise it.
Overall, Thailand was way more than a holiday – it was a important step in the life of our family. And I would highly suggest a trip there, discovering the country’s unique culture, delicious food and smiley people. In the West, we are often accustomed to generalising “Asian” cultures, but travelling there makes you realise that as Europe is not a country, Asia isn’t either.