Culture…. Here in Chiang Mai, it can mean a myriad of things. The variety is one of the things I love most about this city. You have the Thai culture of course, but then you also have the local Burmese population that brought our dear friend Adun to Global Groove, the hill tribes that produce so many of Global Groove's projects, the expats - like founders Greg and Gina themselves, and the backpackers like me. All of these people are living in and around Chiang Mai, but living completely different lifestyles.
During my whirlwind adventure traveling Southeast Asia, I've found it particularly interesting to watch myself mold into one of the cultures I've discovered. While I was in Indonesia for example, I spent most of my time with the locals and started to take on some of their practices like singing randomly in front of people, and enjoying a spicy meal in the morning. When I was in Myanmar, I didn't get the chance to settle down anywhere, so I identified with the backpackers, and finally took to heart the meaning of the phrase "always packing." Now that I've been in Chiang Mai for two weeks, I'm still a backpacker, but I'm starting to feel like I'm living the expat lifestyle.
So what does the expat lifestyle mean exactly?
With the Global Groove team at least, it means being open to new experiences. This also means being constantly on the go, because not only is there so much to do and see in Chiang Mai, but there are so many people to meet!
When I think about the adventure and excitement that comprise our daily lives here, I can't imagine running a business any other way. It's the unpredictability of living in Thailand that keeps us on our toes, the inspiring stories and kindness of the locals we work with that keep us passionate about the products we're selling, and the excitement of discovering something new nearly every day that keeps our wanderlust satisfied.
Of course, Gina's been living in Chiang Mai for ten years now, so maybe my new discoveries come more often than hers, but it's incredible how often I still see that twinkle in her eyes. There's always something magical about living in a foreign country - no matter how long you've been there.
Everything is an adventure
To give you an idea of just how dynamic the expat life in Thailand can be, a simple errand to buy material for our Zafu Meditation Cushions is always an exciting trip to the market, which is hot and crowded, but full of colorful fabrics, jewelry, and most importantly…delicious street food. I didn’t see it as work, so much as a cultural experience. Gina's been to the market a thousand times, but by now, not only does she know where to find the best iced mocha in the market (and the best in Chiang Mai, she claims), but she's gotten to know the fabric shop keepers. She knows that the lady at the zipper shop will try to overcharge you, but it's all in good fun, because Gina has the system down.
Gina buying fabric at the market
Best iced mocha in Chiang Mai
What makes expat culture so special in Chiang Mai, is that there are plenty of other expats around who understand this crazy lifestyle. There is a huge community of foreigners - all of whom thrive off of the culture shock that living in Thailand brings. These people are not brought together by their nationalities, but by the mere fact that they are not locals. That's why you'll often find nationals from around the world all hanging out in the same house.
One thing I absolutely love about expat culture, is how easy it is to meet one another. Gina and I attended a barbeque the other night (yes… a barbeque in November) where she only knew two people. But that was completely normal. Most other people there had been invited by one person who knew another person who knew the owner of the house. We were all strangers at the beginning but we walked away with new contacts. I had even been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by someone I'd met only five minutes earlier. People are just friendly.
Not only do members of this community "get" why their fellow expats have all decided to uproot their lives to move to a foreign country, but they have a similar global mindset. If there's anything I've noticed about the other expats living in Chiang Mai, it's that they care. They're well informed about international news, they are mindful of their social and environmental impact, and they support fellow expats' socially conscious work, whether that mean's supporting a non-profit, or running a fair trade business like Global Groove Life.
CityLife Festival - a fundraiser for a local nonprofit
The expat culture is just one of a number here in Chiang Mai, but it's thriving. It's the kind of community that fosters inspiration, motivation, social responsibility, and creativity - all of which I think are key in making Global Groove Life the well-rounded business that it is. I feel lucky to be joining in on the fun this month!