Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

The Reasons I Stay

For all the negatives that I’ve pointed out – from the long hours at work to the murder mansion – there is still something keeping me here. And it’s more than just a lack of money to buy a plane ticket home.

I actually enjoy what I do here. Just as with my time at Luna Park, I’m seeing people who are on vacation and who want to be happy. I’m not working at a law firm. I’m not in a dentist’s office. People who come in to see me are interested in what I might have on offer for them, and they want to talk about it. If they like what we have, they’re happy. And if they don’t, they deflect confrontation by saying they “need to think about it” and they leave. We don’t generally get online reservations, so everyone that we actually work with and get money from has met me and we have had a conversation first. It is a great way to weed out those who won’t mesh well.

I feel useful here. When I got here two months ago, the company had no web page, we didn’t have access to the email address listed in all of our promotional material, we didn’t really have access to our TripAdvisor or Facebook passwords, and I didn’t know the tours we had to offer. In that time, that and so much more has changed. It isn’t to say that my previous peers weren’t working, more that I picked up where they left. The website was underway when I arrived – I finished it up and refined the design. The email, TripAdvisor, and Facebook issues all needed the website live first. But I have learned the tours and refined my explanation. I am more confident with it and the percentage of people I speak with that book a tour is much higher than when I started. I’ve refined forms, fixed up the work computer, cleaned and organized the hard drive, and worked with a couple volunteers to put together a training manual, business improvement ideas, and marketing plans. The place is running smoothly, and I can see many of the ways in which my fingerprints are on that machine.

I’m learning. I hadn’t worked on a webpage in a very long time until I had to finish and fix the one here. Nor had I dealt with being an admin on a business email account. Nor high-value sales (especially not to people who are on a very limited budget). I have refined my skills of training, of managing, of communication, of process improvement. And I’m seeing what it is like to be in a small business after working for some rather large ones. I’m also learning how to cook Lao recipes, and that is a skill that I was never going to learn with just the internet.

The office is, on the whole, a better place than most. My desk is in a bamboo nook looking through the no-walled restaurant toward trees, vines, and open space (and the alley to the street). I have natural light filling up about 120 degrees of my vision and no walls to block the fresh air. If the rain is pouring, I’m dry. If there is a light breeze, I’m comfortable. And if there isn’t, I have a fan. The temperature ranges between cool and a little hot, but all within the realm of comfort (with the fan). Yes, there are sometimes kids running around here screaming or a party with loud music and heavy drinking at the Ministry of Health compound next door but the fresh air is worth it.

The experience of living in Southeast Asia by myself is also a growth experience. It is, to some extent, putting me out of my comfort zone. Not a huge amount out because I can still talk to my boss and communicate with the people coming through the door. But making a life for myself in a place where I don’t speak the language, where walking into a shop and figuring out if they even have what I’m looking for, not to speak of trying to understand what the directions of use are, is a struggle. A place where the systems are so fundamentally different than I’m used to and the pace of life is about as far from DC as I can imagine. A place where noise ordinance and personal freedoms are interpreted in ways unlike in the US. I walk to work every day. I can go trekking and kayaking on my days off. With accommodation and food covered, I have very few expenses.

And the people are friendly. They almost always want to include me. I have joined a housewarming party in a rural village. I have been invited out to a bar, to the Lao disco, to the Chinese disco, over for drinks, and in for drinks. Most of these times weren’t planned out. The person simply saw me walking by and shouted out to me to join. I’ve met the owners of our competitors. I’ve met the owners of a few restaurants. I’ve met families and friends, people that speak English well and those that speak none. I have been welcomed with big smiles and cold beers. And I have tried, as best as I can, to be a gracious guest and fellow reveler.

And with each conversation I learn a little bit more about the culture and the world here. My picture of the language syntax and grammar, of family structures, of government work, of the current efforts to improve the government, of farming life, of growing up poor in a rural village, of standards of hygiene and cleanliness, of the dating culture, married life, and of the drinking culture – they are all evolving and I am understanding more how a place can become and be like this. And how after centuries of oppression and colonization a culture can still be so friendly to each other and to foreigners.

There is my off time, in which I am writing more, meditating, journaling, exercising more consistently, learning to cook, keeping up on emails and maintaining friendships, keeping up on the news, and learning more about topics that interest me. I am taking my freedom here to work on me, and the resulting person is someone more like who I want to be.

And so at the end of the day, when I go to the house, I feel like there may be a reason that I’m not inclined to leave.

2 comments on “The Reasons I Stay

  1. Ken Kanashiro
    August 28, 2016

    I loved reading this piece, it made me homesick for Bolivia. I’m glad you’re happy there and that you found a really nice place where you can make a real difference. Good luck, keep writing!

    • Itinerantics
      August 28, 2016

      Thanks. With the way you’ve talked about Bolivia over the years, I would love to see it someday.

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This entry was posted on August 25, 2016 by in Laos, Luang Namtha.

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