“Nostalgia (Sehnsucht) refers to the moral pain of the expatriate when he is overcome with the obsession of return,” said Johannes Hofer, a Swiss doctor back in the 17th century. He wrote that some of his subjects, having been removed from their families and friends more or less wasted away and died suffering from memories of the past. “The mysterious presence of absence,” that defined nostalgia, was not, according to psychiatrists of the modern era, a warm but wistful feeling brought on by a recollection of memories – as we often define the word today – but an awful suffering triggered by remembrance and reminiscence. Let’s hope none of us expats contract nostalgia.
It doesn’t kill me to look through all the photos and bric-a-brac I have collected over the years, though looking at a picture of a scene from my teen years definitely brings on a short bout of melancholy, though strangely it’s a somber feeling, a longing, mixed with positive emotions. The more you live, the more you love, the more you lose, though our salvation is that new experiences are always in the pipeline as long as we don’t succumb to utter nostalgic atrophy as Johannes Hofer’s patients did. Muscles don’t usually atrophy if we keep using them. I like to think the ancient philosopher Boëthius hit the mark when he said, “…mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope,” when he talked about his Wheel of Life theory. You let one thing go, never mind how hard it might be, and you must accept the change and move on. Nostalgia needn’t be a life threatening disease.
Looking back at six or so years working for Citylife magazine a slideshow of images presents itself. I see a young Burmese boy with a paper airplane; a dog on a beach with shell hat standing in front of our staff, some of whom are still here, some gone, some married, most who sang karaoke at a pitch that would scare a banshee away from the dying. I see a job interview for Citylife at The Drunken Flower and a bunch of notes on a screwed up piece of paper; a doctor in Suan Prung introducing me to a woman who thought she was a princess from Scotland; a timorous hill tribe man who had once been tortured by police; getting lost in the jungle; sumptuous fine dining; Farmville features; Porn stories, an obsession with ‘happiness’, garden parties; rants and reasoning and sometimes feeling out of my depth.
If you have worked here you’d know that we are kind of family, a large family whose members come, they go, though they often return to the nest. There’s a matriarchal figure who sometimes sits at the end of the table when we need a stern talking to, there’s an oldest sister who likes to squabble with the prodigal son who can’t decide whether to grow up or not; there are mouths to feed and faces to keep, we are well known because we are the biggest and loudest family on the street.
In the coming months you will find me working as editor for Chiang Mai CityNews, a daily online news service that I hope will be like no other in this city. We’ll have not just daily news, but blogs, a forum, features, events, news, photos, videos and more. While I will definitely miss writing features for Citylife, some of which I had the luxury of spending weeks writing, it’s time to move on. I will be looking for contributors, so if you feel you have a news feature that will edify the minds of Chiang Mai, or even a letter or a video, then please send on to me at [email protected]
Now I feel hot, I am burning up…I hope I’m not coming down with nostalgia.