My Secret To Resiliency

Women white t-shirt natural light

One of my favourite quotes has to be from the writer Donald Miller.

He said: “Sometimes I wish I could go back in time, sit down with myself and explain that things were going to be okay, that everybody loses ground sometimes and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the way life works. This is hard to understand in the moment. You get to thinking about the girl who rejected you, the job you got fired from, the test you failed, and you lose sight of the big picture — the fact that life has a beautiful way of remaking itself every few weeks.”

To me, the key to resiliency — the ability to recover quickly from hardships — is understanding the incredible fluidity of life and teaching yourself to adapt to it rather than fight against it.

While resiliency can be learned, I have found that some people are better at it because of what they had to endure in their childhood. I came from an unsafe and unpredictable upbringing which forced me to become as adaptable as possible at a young age. Having an abusive dad, brother and uncles presented itself with numerous challenges I had to deal with internally, and from early on I learned that life was never going to be very stable or kind at times. It made me strong, capable and resilient.

My best friend Anja, who is involved in facilitating and teaching mental health to university students, once said to me that resiliency means you can look back on your past with compassion and toward your future with hope. While my past has been difficult, it is the substance which has built me into a person I am proud to be most days, and therefore the substance for which I am grateful for. People often see me as a strong woman, and although I have found that it does get easier to be resilient, it unfortunately does not get any less painful. That pain, however, is where resilience starts.

What Miller said was true: we do get heavy-hearted about the ways in which life knocks us down, and feeling that pain is okay. But how do you bounce back from it quickly? By understanding and accepting that life is always in a constant state of flux. You could be upset about the job you lost and find an even better one in a month. You could be have your heart broken by someone but connect deeply with a new person the next week. And on a day where everything goes wrong, the very next day you will probably wake up and forget what had happened the day before.

When something doesn’t pan out the way you so badly wanted it to, it’s important to keep in mind two things: the remarkable and wonderful ways in which life surprises you, and the inner strength with which you carry inside of you to look at challenges in the face, dig your feet in and embrace what it has to teach you. Basically, it’s the ability to say to yourself: “I am strong. And this is temporary.” That, to me, is resilience.

Photo via Her Aesthetic

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

There’s More To Life Than Finding ‘The One’

Young, wild and free.

In the last few weeks, it has dawned on me that I have been believing a lie for most of my life.

We all grew up reading and watching fairytales, believing that only when Prince Charming arrives, the princess will finally be happy and get her life started. My girlfriends and I had always in one way or another talked for hours and dreamed about finding our soulmate; what he was going to be like, what he was going to look like, what our future together would entail. Often, the most excited we would get is when we had a new love interest. And if nights were spent talking about boys in detail over dinner when we were giddy, can you imagine what it was like when they broke our hearts?

I don’t know what brought it on, but the idea of a woman waiting around for a man for her life to begin or for her happiness to increase has become highly frustrating for me. I wonder, why should the quest for a ‘soulmate’ and getting married be the incline and peak of a woman’s life? Is it really a conquest worth dedicating a lifetime to? To me, there is much more to a woman’s life than the pursuit of a husband. There are many wonderful things to be known for that doesn’t have to just be the wife of so-and-so. There is much to do, see and achieve in the rich soil of the single life, and so many seeds to be planted than just the one that so many woman grasp for.

When it comes to love, I feel much more relaxed and realistic. I no longer feel the need to wait around for a man to reply to my messages immediately or demand ‘Prince Charming’ behaviour or crave that obsessive, can’t-stop-talking-to-each-other kind of love. This works for me because it is not important to me anymore, not as much as it used to be. There are a lot of relationships like the former, and any man can act chivalrously if he wants to. What I seek is deeper, more authentic and robust. I seek qualities within the other person that make them a true rarity. I seek a meaningful connection, completely exclusive of co-dependency, where there is mutual respect, admiration and honesty. I seek a relationship in which our love for each other exceeds our need for each other. I seek a future where two people are working together as one, not where two people become one.

I say seek, but this is not my greatest pursuit or biggest dream. It is certainly a blessing in life and one I will be grateful to have should I find it, however, I believe the horizon of life is far too wide and exciting to run down one straight path. I’m crisscrossing all over the damn place like a giddy child, seeking new adventures, pursuing new dreams and making glorious mistakes along the way. My point is, life is just far too exhilarating and bountiful to make it all about finding and marrying one person.

What do you think?

There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or being sad over someone who doesn’t. There’s a lot of wonderful time to be spent discovering yourself without hoping someone will fall in love with you along the way, and it doesn’t need to be painful or empty. You need to fill yourself up with love. Not anyone else. Become a whole being on your own. Go on adventures, fall asleep in the woods with friends, wander around the city at night, sit in a coffee shop on your own, write on bathroom stalls, leave notes in library books, dress up for yourself, give to others, smile a lot. Do all things with love, but don’t romanticize life like you can’t survive without it. Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful, I promise.
Emery Allen

Image via DesignLoveFest

Bangkok Diary #3: Heartbreak, A New Teaching Job And Going To Myanmar

Bangkok skyline The Lilac Road
Another view of Bangkok from my apartment, taken right before the storm

My last month in Bangkok has been the hardest to navigate so far in my expat life.

It certainly hasn’t been terrible, but challenging and emotional in ways I haven’t experienced before.

After a mind-and-body-crushing month working at a government school, I found a new job teaching English to young kids on Saturdays with a company that I have found to be very supportive and gives me time and freedom to enjoy & explore Bangkok. I realized that I was still a traveller and I didn’t want to spend my days working Monday to Friday for eleven hours at a time. While I am relieved to have found a more flexible job, I miss my kids from the government school. On my last day, one of the classes wrote me a sweet card and gave me a huge group hug. One girl started crying, and before I knew it, ten girls started crying too! I had to wipe their tears and tell them it was okay, but it was emotional for me as well, and I can truly say my time spent there was rewarding despite how tiresome it was.
While I do have more time now, it also means I am more financially stressed, but I am looking to break into private English tutoring now, securing clients and freelance travel writing on the side. I am lucky that Bangkok is not a difficult place to live in on a budget – fruit and street food come very cheaply, but some days I have to be extra frugal.

Keep calm and go vegan Veganerie Bangkok The Lilac Road
Brunch at Veganerie

Mostly though, it’s been emotionally straining. Living as a solo expat in a foreign country and attracting some really strange people has made me realize how rare it is to find people you connect with, respect and admire. I am so blessed to have friends and family back home who make me feel loved and supported even from a long distance, but I find myself craving that physical presence of friendship and intimacy which has been lacking so far. I have met some great people here though, and I know that quality friendships take time to build. My greatest hope while I’m here is to find meaningful connections and to leave having built friendships that I can cherish for a lifetime.
I think this is the reason why I have been struggling to let go of someone I met here a couple of months back. He doesn’t live in Thailand, but comes here for physical training. I had no idea what was about to hit me when I first met him, but I have come to appreciate and respect his intelligence, depth and playfulness, which to me is a rare and special thing to find. Someone once wrote that while saying goodbye meant that you were going to see that person soon, letting go was different because it held the possibility of never being able to see them again. I don’t like letting go, especially when I find something I consider to be of rare beauty. I am like this child who has been given this wonderful toy, and the father says to this child, “It’s not meant for you, it’s meant for someone else.” And the child weeps in distress at the thought of having to give it up. And the father tells this child that he has a newer, shinier toy to replace it. But even if there is, she knows that no toy, however expensive or beautiful, will compare to the one she loves in her hands right now.

Jenny Chang on the back of a motorbike taxi Bangkok The Lilac Road
Riding on the back of a motorbike taxi

I have a couple of things I’m really looking forward to, though. One of my good friends Luke has brought a ticket to Bangkok to come see me, all the way from New Zealand! I am overjoyed to have him here soon and to hopefully help him fall in love with the city as much as I have. I have already planned our itinerary and all the places we will see, eat and go, including an overnight stay at a beach town. I can’t wait!
I am also going to Myanmar in 3 days time! I need to do a visa run, and thought I might as well take a holiday in a country I have long desired to go to. I have heard nothing but amazing things about Myanmar and its people, and as you can imagine, I am so, so excited to be solo travelling once again.

Sunset Bangkok skyline The Lilac Road
Sunset from my room

Despite all of the challenges, which is why I feel especially homesick this month, life is still good. I still know how incredibly lucky I am to be able to wake up in such a cool city and do what I love, to have friends in New Zealand and all over the world who never fail to make me feel loved and supported, to be young and free to travel as I wish. I am living what I believe to be a full, meaningful life and I know that bad days & months does not equate to a bad life at all.

Rainy days in bed Bangkok The Lilac Road
Rainy days in bed
All images my own

Bangkok Diary #2: Sexpats, Facebook Miracles And Becoming An Official English Teacher

Bangkok sunset from my apartment The Lilac Road
Bangkok sunset from my apartment

The last two weeks have been a complete whirlwind of exciting, challenging and unexpected events.

I feel emotionally and physically wiped out; I’m still deciding whether it’s in a good or bad way (or both).

First things first, God answered my prayers for a full-time, stable-income job! Funnily enough, I was scrolling through my Facebook (which I don’t often do), and I responded to an advertisement for an English teacher on a forum. I went in for an interview the next afternoon and got it the same night. I am officially an English teacher for a Thai school in the city! Today, I signed the contract and got to meet some of the other teachers who were so friendly and laid-back. I also brought some work attire, too; because the Thai king sadly passed away last year, clothes can only be in black, white or grey, so it looks like I could be working in a corporate office haha. I’m nervous, of course, but I’m also very thankful that I get the opportunity to live & work in a city I that love. I have been working weekends teaching English at a private institute, but I’ve been having problems with my boss, so I am so relieved to have found a new job. Isn’t it pretty interesting that for four months I have been looking and applying for jobs on TEFL boards (two out of three jobs which I did get), but my full-time gig was found through social media on a random, late-night scroll? The way in which the whole thing happened was so quick and natural, in much the same way that I found my apartment, that I know it was nothing short of God’s blessing.

A brewing storm in Bangkok The Lilac Road
A brewing storm

It has been very rewarding finding and strengthening the friendships I have made here already. I don’t know whether it is by luck or what, but I have attracted the best kinds of people in Bangkok, people who understand, appreciate and celebrate me and my achievements (Natasha, Celine and James, I’m looking at you.) I also had the pleasure of showing a Danish guy around Bangkok for a night, and it gave me a lot of joy to see him experience and fall in like with the city as much as I have. A fantastic girl I met through mutual friends in Auckland is also stopping by Bangkok in August and has asked me to show her around, which of course I happily agreed to. Full-time English teacher, part-time tour guide and passionate Bangkok ambassador? I think so.

At a vintage market Bangkok The Lilac Road
At a vintage market

It might sound I paint my life in such an idealistic way, and in some ways right now it is an absolute dream, but there have been days where it gets particularly challenging and lonely. I might have mentioned before that for the first time, I am ready for a relationship, but I have found increasingly that Bangkok is not an easy place to date. The men here are either expats who have girls on rotation simply because they are foreign and/or Caucasian, or are travelers passing through for a few days. I was recently talking to an expat for three weeks, asking him when we can finally meet, until I realized he was just leading me on to a dead end (I shouldn’t have let it go on for that long though). And when two travelers connect, what do you do? I knew when I decided to be an expat that I couldn’t have the stability of a relationship and be a frequent traveler at the same time. Sometimes all you can do when you like a guy is to hold the memories fondly and then let him go.

Beef and Shake Bangkok The Lilac Road
Beef and Shake (mine was a portobello mushroom burger)

I feel like I am adjusting so well to the Bangkokian lifestyle. I now know where to get shit printed. But seriously, I feel like I’ve settled into a routine I’m really happy with now, from morning rituals to the best cheap eats to knowing which markets to go to if I want vintage clothes. Can you believe it’s only been a month and a bit since I moved here? It feels like it’s been years.

I guess I’ve decided… I’m tired in the best way possible.

Jenny Chang The Lilac Road Bangkok
Exploring Silom
All images my own

Living As An Expat In Bangkok: A New Apartment, Freelance Writing And The Search For Avocados

Saphan Khwai Bangkok The Lilac Road
Traffic in Bangkok

As I am writing this, it has been almost four weeks since I moved to Bangkok.

When I first arrived, a lot of things were still up in the air: my job, my apartment, my visa situation and my freelance travel writing. In four weeks, a lot has happened – wonderful, disappointing, elating and challenging things – but what I feel most of all is gratitude.

After sending out close to a hundred emails to perspective schools and private companies for an English teaching position (which I studied and got a certificate for in New Zealand), I managed to only get two job interviews in Bangkok. One turned me down, but the other agreed to let me teach casually with potential to move to full-time in a month. What my current boss told me, and what I didn’t know until he did, was that when employers say ‘native English speaker,’ what they are ideally looking for is someone who looks Caucasian! Nevertheless, I am currently teaching some adorable kids at a private institute, and I am so thankful to have finally got a foot in the door after much effort. I am praying and constantly looking for a full-time and steady job, but I don’t feel worried about it at all – I know deep down that God has taken care of it already and I trust that he will provide an opportunity at the right time and place.

Songkran Festival Bangkok The Lilac Road
Songkran Festival, the Thai New Year where everybody water guns each other on the street

Something that happened to me while I was here was having my travel article on Bangkok published in Lucire, an established Wellington-based fashion magazine, and officially being made a writer for them! I was absolutely ecstatic and it was surreal to have all my friends and family back home celebrate that with me. Even though I was in a foreign country when I got the news, I still felt very loved from afar. Aside from Lucire, I am currently freelance writing for a couple of travel blogs in Europe and enjoying it. I find travel writing completely gratifying, and the bonus is that I get paid to do what I love.

Laptop and bed in Bangkok The Lilac Road
Nights spent writing in bed

After staying in Airbnbs for two weeks, and after consolidating with friends, I decided to take a risk and do things backward: find and rent an apartment without a full-time job. In Bangkok, you can rent a decent apartment from as little as NZD400 per month. It was a blessing from God, because when I decided to take that risk, everything fell into place. I contacted some landlords, looked at two apartments, chose the one I liked and signed the lease. It took only three days in total to find and fully move into my new apartment. How crazy and awesome is that? What’s more, God answered my prayer for an apartment that was modern, comfortable and affordable. I am also living in downtown Bangkok, an area which I really like. I am stoked with my new place and excitedly went to Ikea for the first time the other day to make my new space more cozy. Renting and decorating has really helped make me feel more settled; it truly feels like I am living here now, not just passing through like I am with so many other cities.

JJ Green Night Market Bangkok The Lilac Road
JJ Green Night Market, my favourite in Bangkok

The past four weeks have been full of beautiful, authentic and fun connections too. I’ve met lovely people through a church I am going to, had the immense fun of showing a couple of friends from Auckland around, met fellow Kiwis who shared the same love of coffee and food as I do and have also been introduced to locals who are well-connected and simply inspiring. Dating has been fun but also different; for the first time in my life, I am ready for a serious relationship, and instead of looking for short-term enjoyment, I am looking for something deeper and long-lasting. The many years of singleness, self-love and building this full and enriched life of my own has paid off; I feel so ready to invest myself and my love into a healthy relationship.
I am also in a space with God where all I feel is an immense and tender love from Him. His fatherly qualities have been coming through intensely for the past month: his protectiveness, his providence (“I’ll take care of it”) and his pride. What I did or didn’t do to deserve this, I’ll never know. It is a sacred intimacy I will never take for granted.

Brekkie brunch Bangkok The Lilac Road
Brunch at Brekkie
Market food at Rot Fai Night Market Ratchada Bangkok The Lilac Road
Market food at Rot Fai Night Market Ratchada

The challenges? Well, there are quite a few. I felt very lonely the first week I came here, not knowing anybody, not having a job and living out of a suitcase. You also have to risk looking foolish a lot of the time as you navigate and learn the ropes of living in a foreign city and culture; my embarrassment threshold is at a new high these days! Visa issues and work permits have also been nightmarish and something I haven’t quite figured out yet. Even the simple things that you take for granted back home can become bewildering, for example: setting up Wi-Fi in a new apartment (something that has been surprisingly frustrating) and where to pay bills, learning which exits lead you where at the metro station, how to shop at stores that don’t exist in New Zealand like Ikea and Tesco and trying to figure out where to go to buy a kettle, a rug or get something printed. Even trying to buy an avocado in Bangkok involves a Google search. But you know what? As cheesy as this sounds, they all feel minuscule in comparison to how much I love this city and how lucky I feel to be living in one of my favourite places in the world.

The ferris wheel at Asiatique Bangkok The Lilac Road
The ferris wheel at Asiatique

My friend was right; my time in Bangkok is filled with noise and colours and lights and madness. It’s been busy, but in all the ways that give me joy. Everyday I wake up full of gratitude and amazement that I get to call this incredible city my home, that I am using my strengths to do what I love and at the same time pursuing even bigger goals and that I am meeting like-minded people who inspire and nourish my soul. I am living my dreams. After six years of working, wandering and travelling, it feels so good to at last put my roots down somewhere. In Auckland, I always felt restless and out of place, but here in Bangkok, where the city thrives with energy and is filled with creatives, entrepreneurs and forward-thinkers, I finally feel like I’ve found my tribe.

Jenny Chang at Asiatique Bangkok The Lilac Road
At Asiatique
All images my own