Culture as a Normalising Factor: Evolving Thoughts from the Jungle Life

It’s been five weeks now since I uprooted my life from cushy, comfortable, café-filled Sydney to the small compound of Dokita. As mentioned in an earlier post, Dokita offers little in terms of Western comforts, conveniences, and choice. Yet, with each day spent, comes a stronger sense of belonging and an even deeper realisation that Western material comforts are exactly that – comforts, not necessities for life nor for happiness. Even with this understanding I cannot escape the fact that I am Western-raised with hidden Western ideas of the kinds of thoughts, the kinds of words, and of the kinds of life that one should lead. When I become actively aware of the contradictions to these ideas, I find myself amused and intrigued by them.

The other night, a friend from Australia nonchalantly mentioned that he had bought a chicken from the shop. As he said this, an image of a live, two legged, head bobbing animal (the same ones that roam my classroom pecking at my student’s feet) filled my head. ‘Where was he going to put it’, I thought, and ‘would his landlord allow it?’. Confusion filled the few seconds of silence on the phone, as the realities of our two worlds collided. He of course meant a roasted chicken, prepared and packaged for easy consumption. Not the annoying, squawking variety that wakes me up at 5 in the morning.

I was also bemused to have realised that my last words before going to bed were, ‘I made the mistake of asking my students what they were eating – and got bitten by a number of vicious red ants’. To when I awoke the next morning and found that my first active thoughts relayed that ‘my student is late because he is being interrogated by the Thai military security for leaving the camp’. It is not normal, I chuckled to myself, to have these succession of words come out of one’s mouth.

Lastly I found myself laughing in hysterics the other afternoon as I did my round through the rice fields. I was wearing oversized, tattered clothing – the same pair that I have worn at least 20 times in this five week period – walking thirty minutes through grazing cows to buy a snack. Yet, I was content with this existence and bemused by that contentment.

I could not have guessed, if you had asked me a few years, or even a few months/weeks ago, that this would be my reality – and that it would provide me with inner peace. As an anthropologist and social scientist, I am aware that these seemingly mundane realisations are indicative of something greater – the culture that I was brought in, the implications of that upbringing, and its difference from the culture that I am now living in.

On a lighter note, it is also these seemingly mundane things/realisations that make an experience. And it is life’s never-ending capacity to surprise that motivates one to dive into the unfamiliar.

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