Quality of Life
Travel is amazing for helping you realize even more about your own country, culture, and home life. And despite cultural differences, language barriers, and economical disparities, we all seem to be fighting the same demons and striving for the same goals.
I’d like to share a story about a man named Joe (a western nickname derived from his longer Thai name) who I met in Thailand. It doesn’t matter that Joe grew up in a place barely imaginable to westerners, and lives a very different life on the outside as us; when he shared his life story with me, I realized that the battle for quality of life exists absolutely everywhere.
Joe grew up in remote northern Thailand. In the sleepy town where he was raised, the small number of inhabitants live off the land. They work two months of the year; one month planting, and the second month harvesting. The entire rest of the year is spent living a “quality life”. Everything is hand-crafted, and beautifully at that. A simple soup ladle has an intricate and ornate wooden handle. Why? Because they have time, and having beautiful things improves their quality of life.
Although Joe says they only work two months of the year, there is still work to be done. They tend their personal gardens for an hour each day. Since everything is handcrafted, time is spent making and repairing their wares. And of course there must always be home repair and maintenance projects on an ongoing basis. But then again, we in the western world also are laden down with many of these tasks, in addition to a 40, 60, 80, or even 100 hour workweek.
But as Joe grew up, like so many adolescents and young adults, he wanted what was on the other side of the fence. He longed to partake in the business of city life, smell the aroma of success, and interact with movers and shakers. And off to Bangkok we went.
Once in Bangkok, Joe led a successful career as a marketing manager. But as successful as he was, and as successful as others saw him to be, he worked long hard hours, and barely made enough money to pay for rent, much less live the life he thought a “successful” person should live.
Joe would wake up at 5am, and would return home from work at 10pm. Only to wake up and repeat the same process, six days a week.
A pair of jeans would cost one quarter of his monthly income. Rent: more than half. Food: another quarter. And after many years of this life, Joe realized that not only was no money left at the end of the month, but also no energy. No life. No love. And no happiness. In short – no quality of life.
Joe’s mind began to wander back to the life of his family, still in his home town. How on earth could he have thought that this life of “success” in the big city was better? Now the years of wisdom in the lines on his parents’ and grandparents’ faces made sense, as did their expressions of astonishment when Joe originally said he wanted to move away. They knew. But they also knew that Joe had to learn this lesson on his own.
Ten years later, Joe returned to his home town. His family and old friends accepted him with the unconditional love and acceptance that comes with the territory.
Now, Joe teaches westerners looking for their own quality of life the value of what may be right in front of them. He is a pioneer in sustainable living techniques, and adobe hut construction. He is now adopting a seed-saving program and other inspirational initiatives so that more and more people can preserve the beautiful world we live in as well as our quality of life (in the food we eat, places we live, and company we keep).
But first and foremost – he doesn’t work 17 hours a day any more. He enjoys the little things that most of us don’t even understand, much less know how to enjoy. And he has defined for himself what “quality of life” really means.
Does his struggle in Bangkok sound familiar to our own daily struggles? Never having enough time or money? Never being able to just “be”?
I wonder if there is a way for us to achieve that life – or at least that state of mind – in our part of the world. If everybody, despite background, culture, language, or family, wants the same thing, then maybe it’s easier to achieve than we may think.