The Other Expats
I have been an avid reader of this site for several years now but, due to the large range of subjects covered on the reader’s submissions part of the site, I never felt that I had anything new to add. However, it is obvious to me that one group of regular visitors to Thailand is missing from discussions (and contributors) here: That is the ‘offshore worker’.
Those of you who have read some of the many locally based novels will probably have come across the character of the stereotypical offshore worker, usually included to add a bit of colour, represented as the loud, barrel-chested, obnoxious, violent, overpaid, unrepentant shagger of bargirls who crawls back to his rig in Saudi or wherever after blowing his wad in every bar and bargirl in town during his month off.
Now I’m sure that this guy exists, but I’ve never met him (at least not in Thailand) and neither have any of my friends and if we were to meet him, we’d probably try to put as much space between him and us as possible. Just like everyone else.
So who are we?
A large proportion of us are highly educated. These days the oil industry is a highly technologically dependent business. Quite often you won’t even get your foot in the door without a degree: Mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, electronic engineers, structural engineers, fluid engineers, geologists, geophysicists, surveyors, software designers, to name but a few.
We have to be educated. As more and more countries around the world implement programmes to ensure that foreign companies employ a local workforce, there is no room for the world travelling, drinking and fighting and fucking roustabouts of times gone by. As the local workforces attain higher levels of education even us educated guys are starting to feel the pinch.
Some of us are single, some married, many are divorced (once, twice, three times, etc). It’s not an easy job for marriages to survive. What with the extended trips away from home (often up to several months at a time) and the short-notice nature of the employment, ‘a life’ can be quite tricky to organise and plan for. Quite often the work is awarded on a really short notice. “You’re booked on a flight tomorrow morning” is not an uncommon phrase in this industry. I must admit that I enjoy the ‘randomness’ of that type of lifestyle and each job is nearly always different from the last. But for maintaining a good relationship with a girlfriend or spouse it can really suck. Imagine, it’s your wife’s birthday next week, that afternoon the phone rings “You’re booked on a flight tomorrow morning”. No matter how understanding your wife/girlfriend is, how understanding will she be when it’s for the fifth year in a row?
The first time I ever worked offshore I calculated that nearly 20 percent of my fellow co-workers had been divorced at least once. I swore then that I would never get married whilst working offshore. 14 years later and I’m still working offshore, have lost several girlfriends (in both Farangland and elsewhere) and been divorced once (from a Thai). Ah, the idealism of youth.
A lot of us residing in Thailand do not actually work in the Middle East but in Asia. Our work allows us to live somewhere within the region (to keep the cost of flights down). So where to live?
Well Singapore, whilst becoming more liberal is still pretty stifling for extended visits, not to mention expensive. Indonesia can be pretty unstable. Malaysia isn’t bad price-wise but does seem to have a lot of the “happiness police” problems that Singapore used to have. Brunei forget it. China too difficult for visas. Vietnam getting better but still a communist country with all that entails. A large proportion of our numbers do live in the Philippines, however I have found it to be quite dangerous at times. So that basically leaves Thailand.
Ok, I know that lots of people do choose to live in the above-mentioned countries, and enjoy doing so, however the views stated here are my views and those of my friends and colleagues residing here in Thailand. I am also well aware that there are several other countries in the region where one could live but, seriously, Myanmar? Laos?
So there are a large number of us residing in Thailand. Now, for the most part, visas are not a problem. We go off to work, we come back for a month or so on a tourist visa and then we go back to work. If more time in Thailand is required extensions can be obtained or there’s always the option of the visa run. Most of us are pretty well off so getting on a plane or bus to Vientiane or Malaysia is no problem.
For those of us who are married, a 1-year, multiple entry (each entry good for 3 months), category ‘O’ visa can be obtained from most Thai embassies in the region. (Or they could when I was still married).
So most of us are usually here on non-immigrant or tourist visas and quite often have declared ourselves “non-resident for tax purposes” in our own countries so where do we really live? Legally? Beats me. If any one knows I’d be interested to find out.
Yes, we do tend to party quite hard. This usually lasts only for a few days on arrival back from a large (dry) trip offshore and then sporadic forays out accompanying friends and colleagues who have just returned back from work.
There are those amongst us who frequent the ‘naughty’ nightlife scene, those who wouldn’t be caught dead near a bar full of farmer’s daughters and those of us who used to do all the barring and whoring that we could but just got fed up with it. Sound familiar?
Where do we go to party? Same places everyone else does, you’ll have seen us in Nana Plaza, beer gardens, The Londoner, Soi 33, Hard-rock caf?, Sugar Beet, Spassos, CM2, various restaurants. Didn’t see us? Maybe you just didn’t notice us because we weren’t starting fights or being obnoxious to the serving staff and the other clientele.
Ok, so money. Yes, we get well paid. But we are not at home with the wife and kids every night (bliss huh?) and the work IS considered dangerous (you should see the premiums for life insurance). Money ranges from a fairly low-level of US150/day up to around US600/day. I have heard wild tales of people getting US1000/day but never met any of those people myself, or none who would ‘fess up to it. Don’t forget that we are looking at working for approximately half the year, so the minimum (for a Western expatriate) I estimate to be around US27,000 that’s 675,000 baht, that’s not much more than a reasonably well-paid English teacher in Thailand. Of course that’s the low-end of the scale and don’t forget that, as we don’t live anywhere (legally) we don’t pay tax anywhere. Sickening no?
I agree 100 percent with Stickman’s comments about people residing in Thailand making the effort to learn Thai to a higher than “How much for long time?” level. Unfortunately a lot of offshore workers (possibly the majority) do not. This is possibly one of the reasons for so many failed relationships between offshore guys / Thai girls. It is certainly one of the contributing factors to the end of my marriage.
After 6 years of marriage to a Thai, living out in the sticks and not speaking very good Thai (let alone reading it!), my marriage ended and I relocated to Bangkok, where I finally got off my arse and am now attending a Thai language school (attempting to buck the trend observed by Stickman of long-term residents who didn’t make the effort to learn Thai initially, not doing so later on).
This presents its’ own problems for the offshore worker:
Signing up for a course of classes when you don’t know how long you will be in Thailand before returning to work can be a real pain in the arse with the wrong language school. Attempting to speak other languages to co-workers (in my case Bahasa Melayu) whilst at work and then finding, on return to Thailand that all that stuff you learnt last time you were there is gone. Trying to study whilst at work when you might be working a minimum of 12 hours a day in what is, after all, a very work-intensive environment. I mean you live there 24/7.
The above not withstanding. I still believe that for any long-term resident (or visitor) in any country, the effort must be made to learn the language. Only arrogance dictates otherwise.
So, that’s it. Looking back over this piece it does appear a little bit of a “whingy pity me” sort of article but it’s not intended that way. I love my job. Honest.
Anyway I’m off out now to get drunk and then find some back-packer to beat the shit out of. See you around. I’m the beefy guy with the tattoos and his knuckles dragging on the floor.