A Birthday Look Back: My 24th Year

Jenny Chang The Lilac Road
Feeling at home away from home

This year has been my most fruitful, rewarding year to date.

Many of the goals I have worked hard toward came into fruition this year and every single day I wake up full of gratitude that I am living my own personal version of happiness and success.

After travelling solo around the world non-stop for four months, I realized soon after that I wanted to make it a lifestyle. I made the decision to move to Bangkok, one of my favourite cities in the world and a city that I feel deeply connected to beyond reason. I decided that I wanted to teach English, build my freelance travel writing portfolio and one day work for an NGO organization dedicated to empowering women (specifically, NightLight). I worked, saved and studied hard for 6 months, doing everything that I could to set up as many safety nets as possible before I embarked on my new chapter. I was, of course, afraid. It was that exhilarating feeling similar to what I felt when I skydived for the first time; standing before an open door in front of a wide, endless expanse of sky, knowing you have to jump but having that slight hesitation right before, like, “What the hell am I doing?”

Railay Beach Krabi long-tail boats
Picture perfect Thailand at Railay Beach, Krabi

But, like the feeling I got from falling through the clouds in the sky, this year in living alone in Bangkok has given me some of the greatest joys and privileges I have had the honor of experiencing. Not only is Bangkok a place welcoming to those who are creative, forward-thinking and entrepreneurial, I have found Thai people to be extremely thoughtful, funny and kind. They have taught me what it means to be respectful and sincere which I have found to be lacking in some Western countries. This chaotic city has stolen my heart and every day I think about how cool it is that I get to live in a city that embraces the weird and different with open arms.

Chaotic streets traffic Bangkok Thailand black and white
Chaotic streets and traffic in Bangkok

Of course, there have been a decent share of challenges I have had to face while adapting to an entirely different culture, country and city. It has ranged from simple things like knowing which train station takes me where, how to shop at foreign stores like Ikea and Tesco and getting stalked by a Thai lesbian (true) to more complex things like finding a GP who speaks English, explaining directions to taxi drivers in terrible Thai and trying to establish connections and relationships with people through a language barrier. This has led me to teach myself Thai in my spare time, something I have enjoyed using thoroughly, especially because I get mistaken for a Thai all the time!

As well as writing about travel for different blogs (I have to pinch myself every time a client wants to pay me to write about travel), I have had the privilege to teach English to all kinds of Thais; business professionals who are surprisingly humorous (I had a class where I had to teach likes and dislikes, and one young man stood up and said, “I like smoking weed everyday,” bowed and sat down to everyone’s laughter), teenagers who I have bonded with over Led Zeppelin and kids who light up my heart and never fail to make me smile, even on days when I go into work sad.

Teaching English kids children Bangkok Thailand Jenny Chang
With some of my magical kids

My well-being has also never been so strong and I have found that all those laborious years of self-love and care has given me the strength I need to meet and overcome challenges with more ease. It is literally like having a superpower to use whenever I need it. People remark that it must be hard for me to move to a new country alone, and while initially it was, it isn’t as terrifying as people think it may be, simply because I have never been so sure of myself and what I want in life.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar Jenny Chang
At the exquisite Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

I think none of this would have been possible with the understanding and support that I have received from my close-knit friends and family. I would not have taken this risk if it weren’t for them, nor would I have survived so long in a unpredictable place like Thailand for so long. In times when I felt lonely, scared or sad, they have been there to spur me on and somehow make me feel overwhelmingly loved even from thousands and thousands of miles away. I can’t stress how important it is to have a tribe by your side who see the best in you, water you with encouragements and motivate you to live your best life everyday.

Jenny Chang The Lilac Road mother Queenstown New Zealand
My dear mother, who has been incredibly supportive of my nomadic lifestyle

It’s hard to believe that five years ago I was living in a deep depression, contemplating taking my own life to rid myself of the unbearable pain I was carrying. This year has led me to believe that grace will get you so far, but at some point you need to help yourself and be responsible for the life you create for yourself. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable and safe, but if you are stagnating and living without purpose, my advice is to keep making daily choices to get you where you want to be. With persistence, even in the midst of setbacks, ridicule and isolation (which I faced plenty of), you will quite suddenly find that you have made it; you have carved out your own success, your own happiness, and nothing and no one can take that joy and pride away from you.

Wat Pho Bangkok Thailand golden Buddha statues
Exploring Wat Pho temple with my friend Luke in Bangkok

I am in that space. How blessed I feel to be able to love what I do and get paid to do it, encourage and promote mental well-being in women through The Lilac Road, live in an endlessly inspiring city, have a loving circle of friends and family who are also my biggest cheerleaders and travel constantly (my most recent adventures involve journeying up a snow mountain in Queenstown, traversing through jungles on a peninsula in Krabi and walking through serene temples amongst monks in Myanmar). My 24th year has been at times challenging but mostly amazing, and it is an understatement to say that I am so excited to see what surprises and adventures my mid-twenties will bring me next.

Queenstown New Zealand Jenny Chang
Admiring the view in Queenstown, New Zealand. I am lucky to call this country my home.

All photos my own