I remember the exact moment when the 1997 Asian financial crash hit me. I was in Israel, still trying to get a job a year after graduation and still relying on the largess of my parents to survive. The cheque always arrived regularly in the mail and I wasn’t particularly desperate to earn a living, never having done so before. Then one day in early 1998 I received a phone call from my father to inform me that there would be no more cheques, that we were cash broke and that he had enough to buy me a plane ticket home and that was it. Having never concerned myself with such trivialities as money before, it was with alarm bordering on panic that I boarded the flight home with 500 dollars in cash that I (and my now husband) had managed to scrape together to start our new lives.
It was nigh on impossible, as a fairly arrogant but completely unskilled graduate of English Literature, to get a job in Chiang Mai, short of teaching. And the few times I had tried to teach private lessons in the past I found that I was not only completely inept, but lacked the patience to to do so.
We could barely afford petrol in our old car. We would buy a bottle of beer and drive up on our Honda Dream to Huay Kaew falls or Pa Ngerb in lieu of splurging in a pub for sundowners. We discovered how to live on the cheap by buying our meals from the markets, sitting my mother in front of a sewing machine to keep us in clothes, wangling invites to dine at houses of generous friends, snacking on one baht IMF chickens at stalls which amusingly, and most topically, popped up everywhere, and it would be four years before I could afford to leave the country again. While they were tough times, they were also not only wonderfully carefree, but also poignantly educational times. I learnt the meanings of such crucial terms as thrift, savings, money management, and the most important lesson of them all, that I could be blissfully happy without the trappings of wealth.
By all predictions, many of us will be facing similar, if not worse, hardships in the coming months. Belts need to be tightened, credits controlled, luxuries sacrificed and greater efforts applied to earn a living and keep afloat.
It won’t be easy, but I am actually looking forward to the challenge. It will be a time to be creative, to think outside the box and to make sacrifices. Perhaps, after the relative ease of the past decade, it is time for a jolt, for a reminder of the virtues of sufficiency. Perhaps this pending crisis will teach us all valuable lessons which will help to strengthen us and make us understand that the earth’s resources are finite and that extravagances of the past should be left there…in the past.
Most importantly we have to band together. Chiang Mai’s businesses need to support each other, we need to work in closer partnership, build relationships and weather the storm together. If we do so, we will all be the better for this daunting, but challenging, experience.
Here is to the silver lining shimmering through the stormy clouds.
On that perky note, I wish you all a tremendously happy, healthy, and successful New Year.
[i]Citylife this month:[/i]
James Austin Farrell has interviewed four very different residents who represent certain character ‘types’. I visit the newly (re)opened aquarium at the Chiang Mai Zoo and ask a few residents of Chiang Mai to give me their thoughts about 2008 and dreams for 2009. Olga Leskiw-Suzuki reveals an enviously beautiful travel feature on her visit to the Pacific island country of Nuie.
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