This is the fourth and final section of Road Rash. It focuses on my return to Asia for employment as an English teacher, after few job opportunities were revealed in the United States. My aim in this section is to show the transition from the life of a traveler to that of an expatriate. I also want to explore the politics of being a US citizen in Southeast Asia.
There is popular American slang for when young adults rebound to their parent’s home after an excursion into the world of independence. “Boomerang babies” is a taunt to any young adult who fails to support his or her self, and who must return to the dependency on their parents for shelter and money. My own safety net seems to be Asia. It has become a type of dance. Whenever I return to the United States I hunt for work until my savings run out. If I can’t find stable employment within two months, then I find it necessary to start shopping for airplane tickets overseas before I am broke once again. I hop from one continent to another just for basic economic survival.
This is a dance of identity. On one hand, I am an American. I always feel a pull to be with my friends and family back home. I feel the need to return to the United States and to plant my roots. On the other hand, I feel the desire to enjoy a new life in Asia. I find that I have made new friends and learned to survive better in a foreign country. More importantly, I have developed a taste for living overseas. I have learned to enjoy the culture shock, the use of foreign currencies, the search for new cuisine, and even the struggle to communicate in a foreign language. In short, I am learning the dance of the expatriate.
After more than three years overseas, I have acquired a new identity. I am less an American, and more a citizen of the global village now. At some point I have also shed my roots as a tourist and emerged as an expatriate. I have even developed a love/hate relationship with tourists. I enjoy exchanging information with them about home. I enjoy speaking with them in my native tongue and reading the books that they leave behind. However, I sometimes feel an invasion as the short-term tourists clutter my restaurants and take my seats on public transportation. I find myself condemning tourists for speaking too loud in public places, littering the streets with discarded trash, and flaunting local customs at temples (like wearing shorts or not removing their shoes). It is an unusual standpoint to be in. I will always be considered an outsider by locals, but I catch myself sometimes thinking of Asia as being part of my territory. Perhaps this attitude could turn dangerous for the local community if expatriates don’t adapt well to their hosts’ customs and way of doing things. Still, there is this tightrope that I must walk between that who I once was and that who I am becoming overseas. One day I yearn for the United States and imagine plans to return, but the next day I am eager to detach myself and start a new life overseas.
On one level I view this dance as an eternal battle between freedom and restriction. I desire the freedom of travel, to explore foreign lands, to write my own rules, and to flow in the direction that my passion leads me. In contrast, I have the need to discipline myself; to work and save money, to get promotions and a salary increase at work, to buy a house and a car, to get married and to have children — in other words, to live the American dream. I fantasize about these restrictions and I crave them at times. It is my personal battle that has progressed for years without a victor. This is a struggle known to many tourists and expatriates. How can I escape my material possessions and working obligations, so that I can be free to travel? How can settle from this future overseas, so that I can build a house and raise a family back home. This conflict might be balanced somehow, but, for now, it continues to bewilder me.
After my travels in India and Northern Asia I have become more hardened. I have begun to seriously study the role of tourism in globalization. The following chapters are of this struggle to find balance. It is a battle between my old roots and new cultures, between my former traditions and modern ways, between my quest for freedom and need of discipline, between my social obligations as a westerner in Asia and my accountability to the actions of my government overseas. Now, based in South East Asia, I continued my journey to learn more.