After living over 35% of my life in Thailand, I’m always reminded on my all-too-infrequent trips back to Canada how much I took for granted growing up. When I was a kid, I hated the town I lived in – “Ugh, I can’t wait to get out of this place!” we all used to say, like we were singing the chorus of a Springsteen song. But looking back with
grace and age, it’s clear to me how idyllic my childhood really was – miles of green grass, flat sidewalks, bike lanes, and baseball diamonds. The bank tellers knew me by name. You could drive clear across town in 10 minutes. There may even have been a few pies cooling on a windowsill. But now that I have a son, the idyllic nature of my youth has become even clearer. I look at my boy sometimes and think to myself “What type of childhood are you going to have in this huge, chaotic, crowded city? How will it shape you?”
While casually skimming through the cesspool of insults and complaints that is ThaiVisa recently (I was looking for something specific, honestly), I noticed a post that said Bangkok was a great place to live as an adult, but a horrible place to be a kid. I took umbrage at this at first – mostly because, if true, it meant that my decision to raise him in Bangkok was a failure on my part. A bad decision that would surely have negative consequences.
But then I thought waitaminute – my wife grew up here. Plenty of my friends did too, and they all turned out fine. In fact, while writing this, I asked my wife what she thought of her childhood in Bangkok.
Yes, it was fine. I didn’t have anything to compare it to, of course, but I had fun, and had friends, and lots of food, and family, so we had everything we needed.
Still, when I got on Google Street View and started buzzing around my old hometown, I was struck with a powerful nostalgia. It was a bit jarring when I compared scenes from my childhood with similar scenes that my son will experience.
One of the roads in my town, one block away from Main Street. In summer, I swam in that river. In winter, we walked across on our way to school.
The river my son will have to deal with. For his sake, I hope he doesn’t ever try to swim in it.
When I was a kid in Canada – say, between the ages of 10 and 15 – summer holidays were a blast. I’d grab some cereal when I woke up, get on my bike to meet my friends, and not come back until the sun went down (which, in Canada, is around 9:30pm). From what I know of childhood in Bangkok, that just ain’t gonna happen with my son. I’ll drive him to the mall, or maybe drive him to his sports practice, or drive him to a friend’s house…a lot of driving. I imagine when he’s in his mid-teens he’ll be able to take off on his own, but until then, Bangkok’s not really a city you can let a kid be a kid – at least when viewed through the lens of a North American childhood.
One more example.
This is the main street of the town I grew up in. Whether it was in the morning on the way to school or 3am on the way back from my graveyard shift at the gas station, it was a pretty safe place to be.
This is the street I live on now. Not really a place you’d want to let your kid run around on. Although it does have better food options.
Of course, I’m looking at this having lived in two vastly different places. If my son had to raise a kid in my little hometown I imagine he’d have a few reservations of his own – most likely revolving around boredom. My wife did indeed visit with me a few years back, and I can confirm that this is a thought very much at the forefront of the mind of a Bangkokian.
But kids are adaptable and flexible, and learn new tricks easily. I hope that my son’s childhood will be fun and adventurous and safe, full of learning and shenanigans…it just won’t be in the same way that I experienced all those things.