Making friends in foreign places


Most people might think that traveling globally is all about seeing “things.” The temples, famous landmarks, cities, rivers, seashores. Mostly, though, it’s about experiencing people of different cultures and backgrounds, about understanding that your way is not the only way, and that just because someone else does something differently than you does not mean it is wrong. Just different.

Traveling to live in other countries, as I have done for more than six years, can be a lonely experience. Suddenly, you’re in a strange city, inhabited by people who all speak a “foreign” language. You don’t know where anything is and you don’t know who to ask.

Quickly, life can be very isolated. And lonely.

When you travel globally, you can meet people from many places, not just the ones who are native there. For example, there are people living in Hua Hin from most of the European countries, Russia and its satellite countries, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, USA, and more. Meeting them is the tricky part.

This is one reason I like to play pool. It’s a social environment for me, a place to meet and talk to people in a non-threatening atmosphere. So I try to get out at least twice a week to meet someone new, to have a little face time and conversation with another human being.

I found myself in a rut, recently, shrinking into my comfortable isolated life. I needed something different, to get out of my box. Touring some local sights might be worthwhile but I’ve been saving those up for when I do them with someone else. It has an impact on the budget, as well.

One way to network is to find recurring venues like the Hua Hin Business Network, which meets monthly for wine and snacks. Sounded like a real preppy activity but I tried it once. The people in attendance seemed more interested in talking to their friends and not networking, but I intruded on one guy who turned out to be American. He also turned out to be an arrogant, rich guy who couldn’t quit talking about how successful he was. I figured the conversation was over when he started denigrating anyone who would move to a country without first spending thousands of dollars to “check it out” first. I didn’t see any reason to stay and have not been back.

As it happens, yesterday I was doing some updating on my Hua Hin website and came across an item about a bar nearby, Soi 94, that holds a 9-ball tournament every Sunday night. I didn’t hold much hope for a good turnout and knew my game would be shaky in my new surroundings, with new people watching, but it was time.

So off I went, first on a motorcycle ride down one of the most dangerous, traffic-heavy streets in town, over lots of speed bumps, until we found Coopers Bar. I was early and there was no one there yet, so, as planned, I walked down the street looking for dinner.

Soi 94 is a long stretch of no-sidewalk road stetching from Petchkasem to well into the interior. Bar/restaurants, most foreign owned, dot the street on either side, although most were more upscale than I visit regularly. I have been told that of all the bars on Soi 94, only one has “girls.” Too bad.

I finally found one large open-air restaurant on the street selling Thai food, but their prices were 50-100% higher than what I had been paying. But some food was in order so I selected fried calamari. At 90 baht, it cost the same as two full meals elsewhere. As an example, later I stopped by my favorite pork knuckle and noodles food stall at the Grand Market. I ordered two meals; she gave me the “small” size for some reason. The cost for the two was 50 baht. I dropped the extra meal off for a friend on the way back home.

The Soi 94 streets were bustling at 7 pm. There were so many farang walking around, driving around and eating it was almost like I was in another country, perhaps in Europe. Too many foreigners. Not my style. There were a lot of apartments available in this area back when I was looking. I made the right choice.

coopersWhen I returned to Coopers, a small crowd had gathered and I was immediately welcomed by the owner, Steve. He introduced me to several others. One was a Brit born in Singapore, another French, a Canadian, and other Europeans. They all seemed to know each other well.

The tournament, with eight players, took forever because they play best of three for each match. My first match was last. I lost. But not done yet. On to the losers’ bracket, where I lost again. Five games in two hours.

Winning or losing, especially in a situation like that where you are a stranger and nervous about the different place and different people, is not important, however. I did meet 8-10 new people and I may be invited to join the bar’s pool team. I said I lost, not that I played poorly. Actually played pretty well but the competition was good.

Bottom line: If you feel you are becoming too isolated, too bored, do something, anything. It’s amazing what can happen.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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