Stickman Readers' Submissions November 28th, 2001

Don’t Move To Thailand

By John Zachary Smith

I have some advice to any westerners out there contemplating moving to Thailand.

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If you are rich and are sensible with money, then go ahead. If an international company or similar offers you a high salary job in Thailand then fine. If your are retired or have steady funds from aboard and want to live modestly on those funds, go ahead, but watch yourself. And if you're a young dude travelling around the world, and you want to spend some time in Thailand teaching or whatever for experience, then that's OK too.

If you don't fall into these categories then "don't" consider it for a moment. Many middle aged westerners in particular (including professionals) like the idea of living there, having a business or making some money and "enjoying life" in Thailand. But very few make it. (Forget about western restaurant or bar owners and alike you might meet in Thailand boasting about their good life there. It is common for faltering foreigners to keep up appearances). Mostly they end up broke or crazed, sometimes both, then they leave. Thai business, visa and residency laws get you in the end. The "Thai way" will get you in the end. Have a minor run-in with a wealthy or important Thai and your status and possibly your life will be at risk. Their whole culture is geared around making sure that foreigners pursuing individual efforts are not successful. It's ingrained in them from an early age to believe that they are the never-colonized master race of Asia (yes they really think that) and their mythology runs so deep you'll never budge it. Remember, in Thailand you'll never have any real business, legal or ownership rights. But Thais can go to your country (very possibly) and buy and own anything they can get their hands on (because of the more tolerant business laws). To Thais, this is just further evidence of how clever they are, and how foolish are the foreigners to go to Thailand.

Remember too, that Thailand is dominated by a comparatively small military-industrial elite. They have all the power and most of the wealth in the country. The idea of western foreigners living in the country and achieving wealth and status through individual entrepreneurial efforts is seen as a threat to the hegemony that they have over the Thai underclass – the bulk of the population. For this reason, it is never allowed to happen.

Think of Thailand, for westerners, as being a bit like a casino. A casino is a place with a touch of excitement, the lure of good fortune / the good life, and a place for fun, even with a bit of a risk. Go to a casino every now and then for fun and that's OK. Go there everyday all-day and you will ultimately lose, because the House Advantage will always get you. So it is in Thailand. The Thai "House Advantage" will get you. They make sure of it.

Of course, if going to Thailand with all your money and slowly losing it and ending up teaching English for a pittance (because that's about all you can do), either illegally or working legally but being treated like a serf by Thai institutions, appeals to you then go ahead. And running around the country several times a year getting visas, or always being at the mercy of authorities on visa matters might be your bag. If so, then go ahead, at least you'll be able to spend your nights at cheap restaurants sharing your impoverishment and frustration with other exploited western teachers. If not, think seriously.

In case you are thinking, let me say that I am not a former go-go bar owner gone bust, I have not lost my all doing business with Thais, no I haven't been cheated of everything by a bar-girl, no I haven't been reduced to the indignity of teaching English for a pittance. I have my own money, have spent a lot of time in Thailand, and have done some business there, have observed the experiences of a lot of foreigners, can see what goes on, and have enough concern to want to tell others about it.

If my words can prevent even one westerner of modest means from selling up and going to "enjoy life" in Thailand (and getting shafted in the end) then that will be something. Don't make the mistake of thinking that as a foreigner (even with professional skills) you can "make a contribution" to Thailand, no matter how good your intentions or needed your skills may be. Your contribution will *never* be welcomed, only your money. There is a saying in Thai that captures it well: "farang roo mark my dee" – foreigners who know too much [about Thailand] are no good. Gullible tourists, however, are great.

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So, go to Thailand as a tourist if you like, enjoy what you enjoy there, but don't be taken in by the culture or people, as many westerners have, and don't under any circumstances give up anything back home to go and stay there unless you are financially secure for life, or know exactly what you are doing.

There is a tradition of resident foreigners in Thailand not telling you the truth about the country because they don't like to admit to themselves and to others about the mistake they have made in moving there. But especially now, with the financial mess Thailand has got itself into through a mixture of greed, incompetence, arrogance and corruption, and the prospect of difficult times ahead (to say the least) it is time for plain speaking.

A final comment to anyone who strongly disagrees with these comments. Unless you have lived, worked and conducted business in Thailand for many years, I'm not interested. The views of "oh how can you say that, Thailand is really great" 2 week tourists carry no weight with those of us who know Thailand and Thais well.

Stickman says:

Controversial, and will no doubt get certain folks fuming. While I don't agree with it in its entirety, there are a lot of points that I do concur with. The points you make are food for thought and should NOT be dismissed immediately!

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