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

Let’s Be Honest: My Dating Successes And Failures In The Age Of Tinder

Leather skirt and dark red nails

When a close friend of mine recommended I try Tinder one night, I was incredulous.

I had just been telling her about how lonely I was feeling, and I always had this perception that Tinder was just a place where desperate souls can hook up with people they find hot. “But not to hook up, just to talk to guys to ease the loneliness a little,” she said, reading my mind. Because this friend was someone I trusted and admired, I decided to give it a go.

At that time, I had been single my whole life. I had been madly in love with a man I met in Wellington, but things ended between us in bitterness and tears before a relationship could even flower. It traumatized and depressed me. I remained cut off from the dating scene for four years. I spent it grieving, crying, tearing myself down and building a completely new person from the ashes. I learned to love and respect myself and slowly fortified a newfound strength and confidence. When I first created a Tinder account, it was the first time I was opening myself up in years. It was scary, exhilarating and… fun.

The concept of swiping men on the basis of how attractive they are is somewhat dehumanizing. It’s like choosing a jar of olives from your local supermarket shelf. Humans are reduced to products – commodities to be bought or sold off to other friends if he’s not really your taste. I get how extremely shallow it is and I’m not going to defend it. I did realize early on, however, that Tinder was a game, and like any game, it’s not to be taken so seriously. I can say that in all my Tinder dates, something good has always come of it. I like to think that this is because I treat Tinder with the lightest grain of salt.

My first Tinder date became my first boyfriend, and while it lasted only a few months, it was tender and fun and it taught me so much about myself. I left that relationship to travel the world, but I also left with greater insight about my approach to love and men – I was ready to date, and I was ready to finally enjoy myself doing so. I country hopped with Tinder in hand and I met some pretty amazing people in every country I went to. I met men who took time off every night to take me to the coolest spots in their city, men who took me to romantic dinners and late-night drives into the night and men who invited me to play beer pong with his friends. I made friendships, connections and even romances in countries like Thailand, Italy, Cambodia and Greece. And even though a lot of my matches ended up in texting and never meeting in real life, my friend was right: even just messaging them eased my loneliness, boosted my confidence and added a little flirtation into my life.

There are, of course, strange and rude men on Tinder. There are men who instantly message you, “Where are you? Can you come over?” sometimes even without a ‘hello’. I once added a guy on Whatsapp through Tinder and he sent me a picture of him half naked with his privates hanging out. Another time, a guy in Austria invited me to his jacuzzi and unmatched me when I turned him down. The thing is, when things like that happen, it makes for some hilarious chats with your girlfriends.

Now I am back in New Zealand, the romantically spontaneous concept of Tinder is not so thrilling. I had a meltdown the other night. I panicked hard because I realized I am 24 and have never been in a long term relationship before. Perhaps what brought this on was the fact that three of my four best friends are either engaged or soon-to-be engaged. Here I was, swiping away in my pajamas on a Friday night, when deep within me was a new and surprising need to be in a meaningful, loving relationship with someone. As much fun as riding on the back of a Vespa with a cute Italian in Florence is, it doesn’t match coming home to someone you really love and want to eat takeout with.

I love Aziz Ansari’s insightful and witty book ‘Modern Romance.’ He said something in it I think about from time to time: 50 years ago, people would marry each other from down the road. But the thing is, they weren’t looking so much for love as they were for financial security and the ‘American dream.’ Now, people want to take their time. They’re not looking for what people did years back – they’re looking for their soul mates. I wondered if Tinder was the right way to go about that. Ansari explained in his book at how overwhelming it can be – the endless possibilities to choose from can leave you feeling paralyzed. What if you swipe right on a guy who could change your life? Sometimes, it feels better to do nothing about it than to know you might have made the wrong decision.

Tinder was becoming tiring and navigating an ever-changing dating landscape exhausting, but I didn’t know how else I was supposed to meet men. I told my engaged friend about my dating conflicts, and even though she was a skeptic on Tinder, when she realized it was the only way I could actually meet single men, she finally got it. I’m a homebody who rarely goes out, my friends have exhausted their connections, I don’t do workplace romances from bad experiences and flirting with someone on the street seemed a little creepy to me. I didn’t expect a guy to fall from the sky while I was doing a face mask and watching Netflix in my underwear. I knew I needed to be proactive. And so I prayed.

For some reason, I thought that God had forgotten about me. “Sorry Jenny, you missed the boat. The next one isn’t coming for another four years.” In my head, I was quietly wiping a tear while bidding my best friends adieu to the land of marriage and love. I’ll stop being dramatic now. But what I remembered after I talked to God about the troubling thoughts within me was how generous He is. Living a life with God in it is not barren or desolate or dry; it’s rich and full and always interesting. I don’t believe that the kind of God I love and serve would ever take away from me a desire he has personally sown in my heart. I had to remind myself, essentially, that God was always working for me, not against me, and that everything and everyone he brings into my life has its perfect time and place.

You might catch me on Tinder still, but don’t worry about me – I’m well-looked after from another kind of guy above.

Image via WhoWhatWear

Mindfulness: How I Stopped Living In The Past And Became Happier

Woman wearing slip dress, leather jacket and studded ankleboots

The moment my first love rejected me for another woman, I was plunged into the darkest and deepest depression of my life.

It was traumatizing and I barely held it together. Nights were spent numbing myself with drinking and partying and days were spent crying. It took four years for me to grieve that loss, and in that four years I lived solely in the past, unable to accept what had happened.

It was only until I was introduced to the concept of presence and mindfulness three years ago that my grieving process changed. The whole idea was transformative: focusing your awareness on the present moment, not the past or the future, and accepting every feeling and thought that comes your way. Being mindful means being 100% where you are right now. If you’re sweeping, you’re focusing on the sounds, the sensations, the act of every movement. You’re present.

This therapeutic practice was immensely healing for a person who was constantly reliving a nightmare in the past everyday. It was as if I was willingly watching the painful scenes on a TV over and over again. In his highly influential and life-changing book, ‘The Power of Now,’ Eckhart Tolle said something that stood out to me above everything else: If you don’t like a situation, either change it or accept it. All else is madness. I realized that, as painful as it was, I needed to accept the fact that this man was never going to come back to me. I needed to accept that he and his girl were together and nothing was going to change that. I needed to accept that his part in my story was over.

Through mindfulness, meditation, therapy and a tonne of self-care, I was able to forgive him and her, and I was able to forgive myself. Even after the long years of grieving, I would say only 80% of myself has moved on – the rest of me is still lingering in the past, inconsolable and unable to move forward without some kind of closure. I am still, however, determined. I must honor my journey and my healing process. 1000 times I will think about him, and 1000 times I will tell myself, ‘Come back to the present.’ It is in the here and now that I find my greatest source of contentment. It is in the here and now that happiness lives.

I want to encourage those who are still living in the pain of the past. No one but you will truly know the depth and layers of the disappointment and hurt you feel. You lost something dear to you in the past, and like a ghost looking for its closure, you linger there in mourning of it. To grieve is important, but when you are ready to move forward, the key is to acknowledge and accept. Realize that you cannot change what was and what is, pour your acceptance on the situation and close the door. Decide that you will no longer live with half of you in the past but to live fully, entirely and 100% in the present. Believe that you have everything you need right at this moment to be happy. And trust – trust that what lies ahead is better than anything you will leave behind.

Image via WhoWhatWear