|  January 27, 2009

Having gone to school and uni in six countries (seven if you count Scotland) I have spent my life bidding farewell to friends. The fact that since I was a wee tot, my social life in Chiang Mai has involved mixing with expatriates also exacerbates this unfortunate situation. Being fairly happy go lucky, I tend to become attached to people rather easily, but through repeated, and so often heart wrenching, experience, I have also learnt to let go without undue stress. While this means that I have pads to stay in hundreds of cities and dozens of countries around the world, the sad truth is that I do not have many consistant friends. When the ubiquitous emails about friendships circulate, I find it hard to relate to them. For me, a good friend is not someone with a shared history, or someone I can imagine repeating old jokes ad nauseam to when I grow old. My friends are not constant constellations in my life; they are more like supernovas, bright, memorable, and fast to fade.

When it comes to friends, I fear that distance, unlike the old adage, does not make the heart grow fonder, instead, it seems to make mine wander…

Don’t get me wrong, I do not consider my friendships shallow. I love my friends fiercely. I have simply built a defense mechanism to deal with the constant goodbyes. I don’t write, I rarely send Christmas cards, I don’t ever call and I rarely allow myself nostalgia. Though I must admit that social networking websites have been a great tool to stay loosely in touch. And the marvellous thing about friends is how you can simply pick up where you left off. Out of sight, out of mind, but when back together the passage of time is inconsequential.

My parents were also extremely social beings when they first arrived in Chiang Mai. Every weekend we would have a party or they would be out with friends at the Gymkhana Club or at someone’s house. They had great friends and were well loved. Until one by one their friends returned to their home countries…Israel, Belgium, England…and with each departure, they withdrew. It wasn’t long before they stopped befriending new arrivals, clinging on to old timers and as they left, or died, they led ever quieter lives.

I suppose it is inevitable, and one day in the distant future I may find myself nursing a gin and tonic on the Gymkhana Club’s veranda scowling at new members (not that my parents ever do that, please don’t get me wrong, or I will be out of shortbread for a month). I admit that as the years add on, it becomes more of a strain to turn new acquaintances into good friends. Gone are the days when I would acquire a new BFF during a night of dancing at Bubbles. As we become set in our ways, form more stubborn opinions, cling to certain lifestyles, it seems to become harder and harder to accommodate new fits.

However, for now at least, I am determined to continue to make room for new people in my life. After all Chiang Mai is without doubt one of the most fantastic places to make friends. Whereas my friends in England seem to enjoy a social circle of clones: same age groups, on a par socio-economic levels, similar interests, sexual orientations and even often sharing skin tones, Chiang Mai is a place where one can cross all boundaries when it comes to friendships. Young, old, gay, straight and from just about every nationality on earth, Chiang Mai expatriates mingle and mix and make friends. This is a privilege not to be scoffed at.

February is a month of love; I just want to take this opportunity to think of all those friends whom I have loved and all the wonderful ones around the corner who I shall be loving in the future.

Let’s spread the love this Valentine’s day.

Citylife this month:
We have two pieces from contributors this month, Ryan Chappell’s story and photographs of Korea, which offer an interesting insight into one of the most enigmatic cultures in Asia and William Parham’s article, Befuddled@Kwaam Pen Thai, that is a must read for all those Thais and expats who struggle with cross cultural issues. Our in house writers have been busy searching for love this month and we have brought to you two love stories provided by Citylife’s readers – get your Kleenex ready – and Jessica Mauer’s account of her intrepid experience with Chiang Mai’s first speed dating event.

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