Having been traveling over 6 years around SE Asia, one of the questions I get asked quite often is, “what is the hardest part about living abroad?”
Quite a few things pop into mind, such as the lack of customer service, language barrier, narrow roads (=traffic), unreliable internet connection, substandard medical care….ok, so maybe more than a few things 😛
I am sure that living in any foreign country comes with its own set of hardships, but I think living in a developing world can be particularly challenging.
But above all else, the hardest part about being an expat in SE Asia for me is the poor, often inhumane treatment of dogs.
Coming from the US where dogs are treated as a part of a family, it’s been difficult to accept that dogs with “owners” barely receive any medical treatment, preventative care, or even a decent bath.
I can appreciate the cultural differences, but it never gets easier seeing dogs infested with ticks, suffering from mange, or limping from getting hit by motorcycles/car. And nothing is done to treat these conditions. The dogs are often left to fend for themselves.
And those are actually decent scenarios – I have seen dogs in even more horrific conditions if you can imagine that.
I don’t particularly think the way dogs are treated in salons and “doggy daycares” in the western world is healthy – but I think dogs deserve minimum medical attention.
Once in the Philippines, I fell so in love with a sweet, friendly puppy that I named Tiger, and quickly became attached to him.
Within a couple of weeks of finding him stranded on a beach, I found Tiger ill, and within mere days he became drastically thin.
Tiger didn’t have an owner, and since we were on a tiny, remote island of the Philippines, I arranged a private boat for the crossing and tried to take him a nearby animal clinic on a mainland which was at least an hour away.
But Tiger didn’t make it. He died in my arms before we could reach the clinic.
I wailed like a baby that day and swore that I would never allow myself to get attached to another dog again.
That is until I moved to Bali and fell in love with Sunny.
Sunny was a stray, and I found her in a vacant parking lot on my way to the gym.
It took several visits and coaxing with food, but she slowly started to trust us and follow us home.
In the beginning, she was very wary and ended up going back to her familiar territory of the parking lot – but with a ton of affection and food in her belly, she started to stay a bit longer each time and eventually made our residence her permanent home.
She was the sweetest and smartest Bali dog I had ever known. She LOVED getting her belly rubbed, and going for walks – we never had to leash her, as she always stayed close by. We had become a pack, a family.
Then one week, we had to go out of town. We left Sunny in care of a local Balinese family who lived in our compound.
But a few days into our trip, there was apparently a heavy storm with rain in Bali, and Sunny ran away.
We looked for her for days, but we never saw her again.
I was devastated yet once again.
Knowing the conditions that street dogs survive in out here, my heart breaks every time I think of her, wondering where she is, if she is ok, if she is healthy, or if she is being loved.
As much as I adore dogs and wish that I can rescue all the dogs in Bali, I do my best to keep my distance now so that I save myself the heartache.