livinginasia.co publishes interviews with expats who are living in the region. If you (or someone you know) are living and working in Southeast Asia and would like to be interviewed please contact us.
This week we have with an interview with Diana Edelman, an American in Thailand who is leading a remarkable life far removed from her last job in Las Vegas.
Where are you living and where do you work?
I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand and volunteer for Save Elephant Foundation, which includes the popular Elephant Nature Park. The park itself is located about 60 km from the city, but I reside in a cute little house just outside the Old City of Chiang Mai, about a 10-minute walk from SEF’s main office.
[Diana Edelman: Living in Chiang Mai – Thailand.]
To be able to say you “work with elephants in Thailand” is incredible. How did you happen to find yourself here?
It really is incredible to be able to say that! In reality, I don’t really work with elephants, but I work for them, educating people on responsible elephant tourism and how amazing, incredible and like humans they are.
I was really lucky in terms of joining the founder of SEF and ENP, Lek Chailert, and the foundation. I always tell people I was in the right place, at the right time. Basically, three years ago I spent a week at ENP as a volunteer. While I was there, I was horrified to learn about what really happens to elephants in tourism and when a former trekking elephant took a turn for the worse, it broke my heart knowing that her life and her poor condition were a direct result of people not knowing any better, or knowing but simply choosing to ignore the implications of their desires on innocent animals.
[Elephants at Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai.]
When I returned to Las Vegas from my trip to Chiang Mai (which I took expressly to spend time at ENP), I began to get very involved in responsible elephant tourism and writing about Lek and her work to any publication who would take it. I stayed in touch with Lek, and less than a year later, I made the decision to quit my job and become self-employed.
At that time, I knew I would fare far better living in Chiang Mai than in America, so decided I was going to relocate there. But, I couldn’t get that desire to continue my work with elephants and my love for Lek and ENP out of my head, so I emailed Lek and told her I wanted nothing more in the world than to return to her park and help her. I got an email a few weeks later, and the rest is history. I’ve been here for more than two years.
[Lek and Diana at an ivory protest in Bangkok.]
Describe an average day working at Save Elephant Foundation?
Well, most days I spend in the office in town. I work five days a week handling the PR and social media for the foundation. But, if you’re familiar with PR, then you know PR isn’t really a 9 – 5 job, it is more of a respond-when-needed whenever/wherever job. So, I’m constantly monitoring Facebook and Twitter and speaking with media.
In the office, I handle the social media and also monitor news regarding elephant tourism, outreach to media (especially travel bloggers since their audiences are so important and loyal) and hang out with the many rescued cats and dogs who call the office home.
I try to make it up to the park once a week or so to take photos and stay in touch with what is going on there. At the park, I spend time with staff walking around and observing the elephants and learning more about their personalities, helping out with the rescued dogs at the clinic, and doing activities as needed (like making banana balls).
[Just another day at the office (and spot the hiding face).]
What were you doing before you were working at Save Elephant Foundation?
Before moving to Thailand, I was self-employed and working on my blog and freelance travel writing. Before I got into the world of self-employment, I was the director of communications for a restaurant group in Vegas.
Have you lived anywhere else in Asia before, or lived outside the US?
I have never lived anywhere else in Asia, or outside of the US in a long-term basis. However, I did travel through Europe and parts of Africa for about seven months four years ago when I took my life-changing career break.
What do you like about life in Chiang Mai?
It is so relaxed. The town itself isn’t very large and I can easily get around. People here are so chill, and it has such a wonderful laid-back vibe.
What are the challenges of living in Chiang Mai?
Well, main challenges I have are self-created. I don’t speak Thai very well and really don’t have the time to learn between my volunteer work and my writing. And, I don’t have a motorbike (read: I am super scared of them) so I can either get around on my feet, public transit or the back of a friend’s bike.
Other than that, the biggest (and certainly hardest challenge) is the fact that in terms of expats and friends, the city is extremely transient. I have said “see you soon” to more people than I care to think and there is always that time of bewilderment after it — like, I’ve just had this amazing summer with people and then, poof, they all return to their former lives and I am still here, living this one.
It is never easy. I’ve tackled quite a bit about my life as an expat on both my sites, d travels ’round, and The Comfort Zone Project, which I created as a result of getting too comfortable as an expat here and sinking into a not-so-good place. The new site follows my progress as I attempt to get out of my comfort zone and become happy in my skin and my world via adopting a healthy lifestyle, dating (or not dating) in Chiang Mai and more.
Are there any other places in Asia where you could see yourself living in?
I’ve thought about it, but no. Chiang Mai has such a solid grip on my heart.
Do you plan to go back to live in the US in the future?
I ask myself this a lot. I have gotten so used to life as an expat and the way I live here that I think I would have a very difficult time with re-entry and re-acclimating to the values and lives Americans have versus this lifestyle.
I certainly miss creature comforts, and there are times when I just long for a cozy couch, long sleeves, crisp autumn air, a Bloody Mary and some American football on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, but then I look at where I am and am thankful for all I have.