This week is a busy and interesting week for me. I’ve left the beautiful island of Koh Phangan, where I stayed – sort of accidentally – for 6 months, and I’ve come to Bangkok to meet my Mum who starts a month long visit, and the two of us are heading up to Chiang Mai so I can introduce her to that bijou city. Around that, I’ve managed to be booked for work, completing three executive assessments and reports – one in Bangkok before Mum arrives, which I completed yesterday – and then one in Singapore after she arrives. So this afternoon, I head over to Bangkok airport, pick Mum up and take her to the hostel twin room I’ve booked for us…and then, I get back in the taxi, head back to the airport and vanish off to Singapore, leaving Mum on her own for 48 hours on her first time in Asia. In a hostel. Of course, she’ll be fine – but it’s a week that’s made me think about the differences in my two ‘lives’ here in Asia, work and travel.
You meet lots of different types of people travelling in Asia. There are the ‘digital nomads’, often entrepreneurs, who usually work online and are ‘location independent’ that is, they have no fixed base, and can be earning a good Western wage, and making that wage go even further by staying in a country with very cheap living expenses, like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand etc. There are tourists, here for a few weeks, and usually staying in one or two cities; and travellers, here for many months and visiting many cities or even countries. Some travellers have no particular end in sight to their travels – they pick up casual work to fund themselves as they travel as needed.
When I work, and visit business hubs like Bangkok and Singapore, I meet people who live and work here. In Singapore this feels like a very international group, with many ex-pats, in Bangkok there are more locals, but both these places are very different from other cities in Thailand or even visiting the very biggest cities in a country like Cambodia. They have thriving business districts, and have much more of a flavour of places I have been used to working in Europe. And when I visit these and work with people there, I get to interact with people as an equal rather than as a tourist, and I get a very different view of life there.
A foot in two camps
I’m sort of all of these. I get to work remotely online for some projects, and for others I visit Bangkok and Singapore and work at a client’s location. Sometimes I’m a tourist, taking a day in Singapore or Bangkok as I swing through, and other times I’m a long-term traveller, staying in one location for a while. It feels strange to switch between these different roles, and different lives, and sometimes I wonder if in each one, I’m a different ‘me’.
Travel has helped me to explore a lot about myself – not only how I react in different situations, but to explore what the ‘core’ of me is – what is important to me, the kind of person I want to be. The underlying personality and values which drive my behaviours. I haven’t quite discovered the answer to the philosopher’s question ‘who am I?’ but I’m working on it.
The role we play in different scenarios certainly impacts how we react and even what we feel in that situation. I’m typing this post from my hotel room in Bangkok, where I’ve spent the morning writing a report on the outcome of the executive assessment I completed yesterday (for those of you who don’t know, this is where I put someone through tests, role plays, presentations and interviews, all in the name of finding out their behavioural strengths and development areas). The hotel room is conducive to work – I have a proper desk, space, light and a fast internet connection. I have AC, no mosquitos and no ants. I feel focused and I’m thinking in work-speak. I have responsibilities and agreements with my clients I need to meet. My clothes – even at leisure in the hotel room – are more formal. The city around me is busy and crowded with people and structures – I can see the high-rise buildings around me and looking down at the pavement from my room on the 10th floor I can see people purposefully walking to unknown destinations.
When I was staying on Koh Phangan, my ‘role’ was about physical, spiritual and personal development. I attended the yoga school, and met people on a similar internal journey, talking to them about ‘big’ questions of life, the universe and everything. I stayed in a bungalow in the jungle, had green all around me, and was within walking distance of the beach. I relaxed in my hammock, ate breakfast outside, and answered to no-one. And as part of my spiritual development, I received a new name, Uma, from my teacher at the school – but more on that ‘me’ another time.
And now a third ‘me’ will emerge on my travels, as my Mum is the first person from the UK to visit my world out here. Her perspective on me is from my ‘roles’ in the UK – mainly ‘daughter’! – and it’s both scary and exciting to show her my life out here. Scary, because I want to both have changed and still be me. And because my world here is delicate and still emerging, precious and fragile. Exciting because the world I’m currently inhabiting is wonderful, and I’m thrilled to share it.
Merging the ‘me’s
This visit will help me continue my current activity of merging the different versions of me. In the modern world, authenticity is something we strive for, but I sometimes struggle to understand what authenticity is when we constantly change, and often don’t even know our own deepest thoughts, feelings, fears and emotions.
So, ever pragmatic, I’m starting by merging the practicalities. I’ve been working from my hammock over the last few months, bringing my work persona into my travel persona, and in my Bangkok hotel room last night, I got out my yoga mat and did some practice. And with Mum here, there’ll be times when I’ll revert back to my teenaged self (argh!), and times for me to show someone who is from one world, who I am in another.
I’m merging the ‘me’s.
What are the different ‘you’s? Which one do you like best? If you could only be one, which would it be? Or are you a perfectly integrated whole?(!) Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this one.