My 20s in Phuket

I arrived here in October 2012 having just turned 23 years old.  I’ll be 28 in August and have essentially ‘grown up’ in Phuket.

I’ve had a few tins so stick with me on this… I am eternally grateful to have spent almost 5 years on this rock.  The experiences I’ve had here will stay with me a lifetime.  Having initially signed a 6 month contract and hating every minute of my first 6 weeks here I knew I’d be done by February 2013… It’s now April 2017 and that says it all.

Doing a bit of Facebook reminiscing this evening, just looking back from 2016 to now I pinch myself reminding myself of the life I’ve lived up to this point, the friends I’ve made and the places I’ve been.  I have been very fortunate in my young life thus far and really if the next 28 years are half as exciting as these 28 have been I’ll be a happy woman.

I am fortunate to come from a loving family who have supported each decision I’ve made (wise or not!).  My parents, when I told them I was moving to teach English in Thailand responded with ‘Yes! Just go and see it all!’  By no means has every day been a picnic in Phuket but the majority has been beyond what I ever dreamed of for myself.  What 28 year old can say they’ve had a chance to grow up in tropics and see half of Asia during their time off work?  I’ve been smart, I’ve saved and I’ve planned nearly every aspect of my life to enable me to do these mind blowing things.  Weekend boats to Koh Phi Phi, mad weekends in Patong, spontaneous beach camping in Khao Lak and living by the river on Khao Sok? These were random weekends!  Looking back on my time in Belfast, I barely got out of my jammies watching Jeremy Kyle on a day off…

This feels a bit self-indulgent writing like this but damn, reflecting on my years here fills my heart with absolute joy.  School holidays a month long, twice a year and so many public holidays with long weekends I can’t even count!  Cheap flights meant I’ve seen parts of the world I’d never even heard of.  Month long solo adventures travelling the length and breadth of a few countries with a 7kg backpack – Vietnam, Bali, Sri Lanka, Goa…

The people that have come into and out of my life during this time have made a huge impact on me growing here.  People come and go from Phuket.  It’s a transient place with a huge community of expats who come and go year on year so saying goodbye to people isn’t new to me.  What is a bit strange is that it’s me saying bye this time.  I’m the one who’s leaving.  Phuket and the people around me have made me who am I at this point and no doubt I’ll change a bit again in the next few years, but the foundations laid down now will stay with me.  Reflection time is very cathartic and I’ll never regret my time here in Phuket, anything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met.  While for me it’s not a forever place at 27, maybe at 67 I’ll come back and retire in this place I’ve made my home for the last 5 years.  I know I’ll be back here, for a little holiday, to see friends and the places I love.  It’s not ‘Goodbye Phuket’ it’s a ‘see you later, see you sometime’ and I couldn’t be happier!

A Childless Traveller

I read an article from the Huffington Post last night titled ‘Why Not Having Children Is Okay’ and it really struck a chord with me.  While for most women, bearing children is their own personal choice to make, it does become something of a taboo for those women who don’t.  In many societies, it is a given that a female with grow up and ‘have babies’ because that’s what we should do.

As a primary school teacher, this seems strange to say, but I really don’t like children.  I enjoy teaching them, I have great relationships with every student and professionally I am damn good with them.  My old grade one class who have just finished the semester for summer holidays – there were 26 of them, each one I adored.  They were mine and I was fiercely protective of them, even when other teachers would make a comment about them or a kid from the year above was picking on them, I went nuts because they were my kids.  As a teacher I am literally ‘in loco parentis’ – in place of the parent – and for a lot of my students, they saw more of me than they did of their own parents and carers.  I am happy and privileged to play this important pastoral role in their young lives but on the same note, at 4pm I wave them out the door and they go home.

I was never a maternal person, ever since I can remember, though family and friends told me continuously it was a ‘phase’ and I’d feel differently when I had my own.  I do coo over babies and sometimes my uterus does skip a beat holding one, I can entertain a toddler and be as silly as they come but quite honestly, I don’t want to be a mother.  I am over the moon for people who plan their pregnancies and feel genuine happiness for those around me who make the choice.  A dear friend, Kay is due to pop with her first baby in a few short weeks and I couldn’t be happier for her.  Her and her husband planned every detail and will be gorgeously lovely parents to ‘Little Bean’ as I’ve termed him!  My choice not to have children does not mean I bear ill on anyone else’s decision.

Birth control is a massive issue for me and I have used long term contraceptive methods since I was 19 because one of my biggest fears is becoming pregnant.  Some women dream of the day but in my heart of hearts that would be the worst thing that could happen to me.  BBC Three made a short documentary about men and women in their 20s and 30s who were choosing permanent sterilisation as their method of contraception because they knew they didn’t want children (check out Young and Sterile).  Folks on the show were no older than me, and were faced with huge questions from health professionals about why they wanted to be sterilised.  For a lot of people, it is a big step but for those of us who want to ensure that the unexpected never happens, why not?  Permanent sterilisation is not something these young people were going into lightly and that was very obvious in their well thought out and rational response on camera.

This leads into another consideration of my own and is a massive reason I don’t want to bring life into this world: the environment.  I’m not going to get preachy about it but at this point in time, 2017, I do question what type of world I’d actually want to bring a child into.  By 2050 we will have fishless oceans, some wild animals will be extinct, dairy and beef production will literally consume most of the world’s fresh water and food for the cattle.  There are wars we see and don’t see on almost every continent and nuclear arms in too many countries.  This all seems a bit morbid and depressing but it plays on my mind a lot.  What world, what future is that for my children or their children?  There are 7 billion people living on earth and projections show 10 billion by 2070.  That will affect us, here and now, never mind those born tomorrow.

I am pushing 28 and even where I am now, at this point in my life, medium term 2-3 years down the line, I just cannot see kids on my horizon.  My life has been beyond my dreams up until now and long may it continue: excitement, travel, flings, holidays, yoga, food, wine, experiences, education, teaching, completing a PGCE, completing a Master’s, my friends, my family, my health, a backpack and breath in my body.  This isn’t a bad life and I am thankful every single day.  I am currently single but why would meeting the love of my life make me want to reproduce.  Maybe I just haven’t felt that yet…  Does loving someone have to equate to reproduction of small people containing half of each of you?  I may someday change my mind but the older I get, the less and less it becomes a desire.  If I change my mind at 50 or 60 then I can’t hold anyone else responsible for my choices.  These terms we have – ‘the old maid’ ‘spinster’ ‘barren’ ‘cat lady’ – often used to describe other women.  Who is going to care for me when I’m old and infirm – really? That’s why you had a kid…?!  Choice should be celebrated whichever one we decide upon.

Here in Phuket, Thailand, I have been lucky enough to surround myself with a number of fantastic women within the expat community.  These are women who have chosen travel, adventures, business women who have set up PR companies, restaurants and diving shops.  Not babies.  I think some women are terrified of an empty womb.  If you don’t have a baby at some point what will you love, what will occupy your time?  Many of the women I am lucky enough to call friends have very rich lives without children.  A baby is a potential element or addition to many people’s lives but there are so many other great things that don’t include a child.  My two ‘big brothers’ here are the happiest couple I know, they’ve seen the world side by side for the best part of 20 years, literally travelled the globe, enriched their lives through adventures, studying and just being together.  They are a happy family unit and they don’t want children.

A friend in Belfast told me ‘child shaming’ certain women was getting worse and I hate to say it but in my opinion, it is a very provincial mindset.  Where I come from, child rearing is pretty much expected and you are an absolute anomaly if you don’t have a least a couple of them by 30.  I look at some of my high school friends on Facebook and some are on baby number 1, baby number 2 and some on their third: they are my age.  This isn’t a judgement but an observation.  I knew girls in school and all they wanted to do was ‘be a mummy.’  Again, a very normal occupation in Belfast.  I look back on my first relationship at 19 and all he wanted for himself and at that time, for us, was to get married, have babies and live within a 30 miles radius of his hometown.  I could have been married by 22 and had a least three kids by  now but that wasn’t a plan or path I wanted for myself.

I have spoken in-depth to my own mother about this several times and I hope she won’t mind me repeating some of the things she said.  My mum is my world, my best friend as I am hers but she has been brutally honest with me more than once about doing things differently.  When she was growing up in 70s and 80s Belfast, it wasn’t a nice place to be at the height of The Troubles.  One of four sisters who over a period of about 3 years were all married and left home.  Mum went to high school, job, married my dad and a few years later (actually 29 was considered an older mother in 1989).  She’s told me since that she would never regret having her kids, my sister and I, but she would do it very differently, in a different time, place, age.  I know she lives vicariously through me and some of the crazy stuff I get up to on my travels.  She has always wanted so much more for both of us girls and I think that while it breaks her heart I’m not home home anymore, it would perplex and baffle her if I said I was coming back to raise wee babies two doors down the road from her.  I don’t think a lot of mothers would be as honest with their children as my mum is with me.

This is an issue quite close to my heart and no doubt the ‘hurry up Vicki’ comments and questions will flow thicker and faster as I get older.  When people say ‘tick tock’ regarding my reproductive organs that is degrading.  Again my personal choice but how many people would tell a mother ‘you shouldn’t have had that kid’ or ‘why did you have child?’… I suspect very few! It is a woman’s choice to keep the eggs in the ovaries.

(See article – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eimear-singleton/why-not-having-children-is-okay_b_11181908.html)

Funemployment begins

Having worked from the age of 15, leaving my job after almost five years excited and terrified me.  A good friend termed this cloudy, unpredictable point in life – ‘funemployment’.  This is my new chapter.

Last Thursday unexpectedly became my last day at work after my manager walked into the communal office and announced that once my desk was cleared I could leave and take the Friday off too.  In hindsight, an extra day paid was excellent but literally at 9:10am on Thursday, the coffee pot still on the burner, the prospect of leaving the place I had worked since 2012 hit me like a tonne of bricks.  I was not emotionally prepared to walk out the door for the last time.  By no means has work been easy and there are so many things I won’t miss but the finality of Thursday broke my heart a little.  I did have a cry on the short motorbike ride home.

Needless to say my grief lasted a grand total of 20 minutes and then the excitement kicked in.  It was 10am on a weekday.  I was at home but I had too much energy.  I paced the house like a caged lion, drinking tea and chain smoking cigarettes on the porch.  I think I had messaged just about everyone in my contacts to tell them I was actually finished!  A friend replied instantly, she had taken a cheeky ‘sick day’ off and wanted to know if I fancied some gin to celebrate at her pool villa.  I thought to myself, what better a way to commence my joblessness than pre-midday drinking?

After a short meeting with the new owner of my motorbike and a big bundle of cash in my hand, I raced round to R’s house where I was met with a large cocktail.  Sunglasses and bikini on, poolside with a drink in hand, music blasting – bliss!  Completing my contract and leaving Phuket has been in the pipeline for the last year or so and was all pre-planned (like virtually everything else in my life, a creature of habit, alarm clocks and routine).  I have saved enough during my time here to have an extended period of continuous wandering to wherever I choose to go.  At what point am I going to have this opportunity again?  And it’s not luck.  This was an excellent balance of hard work, saving, spending, enjoying the best of Phuket and being cash savvy.  I have had the happiest years, essentially growing up in Phuket and I’ve seen a lot of the world from here during school holidays.  I’ve made friends here that are closer than family and for that I am eternally grateful.

This now is my state of semi-retirement and I am going to enjoy the freedom.  I usually plan everything down to the last detail, every day, agenda, endless lists of things so do.  At this point, I have a visa for India and a flight booked to Goa.  As for everything else, come what may… And I cannot wait!

I’ll not lie, the last week has been a bit odd.  It is just so alien to be at home on a weekday, waking up and lying in bed until 10.30am, morning yoga classes and doing laundry not on laundry day!  I even found myself at a meditation and wellness class yesterday just because.  It’s not something I’d ever tried or had much interest in but it was nice and reminded me why I had to start a new chapter in my young life: to be free, to make myself happy and see the world just for a while.  This last week I feel like a weight has been lifted and I am ready to embrace my next steps.  The ‘plan’ now is lie ins, some online teaching, a bit of yoga, lazy lunches and dinner dates with friends for the next few weeks as I pack up my life in Phuket.