A Rational Choice
By Mr. Annan
It was November 22, 2000, and I was truly depressed. I was sitting in my living room in my hometown, which is in the extreme north of the inhabited world. I had always been dissatisfied in a vague sort of way about my location, but now I had proof. I had returned one week previously from my first tour of Asia, having spent four months in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. I had landed in Beijing in July and returned from Denpasar in mid-November. For the first time I had identified the true source of my dissatisfaction. I had discovered that I liked hot weather, spicy food, street vendors, Asian women, chaotic streetscapes and hordes of noisy people. What I did not like, I realized, was snow, French fries, tranquillity, women who look like me, and planned, sterile neighbourhoods which seemed as if covered with some sort of collective disinfectant.
In the past, I had always interpreted my feelings as political dissatisfaction. Sure, my country had once topped the UN’s “Human Development Index,” but that only made me scorn the UN. What is so developed about boredom? What’s good about being able to read and having a life expectancy of 75, 80 or 85 years when you’re not enjoying yourself? What’s the purpose of earning way above the world average if your government is determined to tax everything that’s enjoyable out of your reach? And what’s good about democracy if your choice is between liberal socialists, who take half of your money and want to regulate almost all of your behavior, and conservative socialists, who take almost half of your money and want to regulate all of your behavior. Where does that leave freedom of enjoyment? <You've GOT TO BE Canadian! – Stick>
I have to admit that I hadn’t exactly been impressed by Asian governments either. The Chinese government seemed cruel and corrupt while the Philippine government seemed clueless and corrupt. And Thailand’s Taksin seemed like a textbook specimen of what I like to call a “conservative socialist.” But what I liked in Asia was the attitude of the people. Unlike my northern compatriots, Asians seemed to know that their politicians were up to no good. And they tried to ignore and evade whatever regulation that came their way. A case in point is their attitude to smoking regulations, which for a pack-a-day smoker like me is one of the most killjoy regulations that governments have forced upon me. In my hometown, a restaurant and bar(!) smoking ban had recently been enacted, with the effect that everyone immediately stopped smoking in restaurants and bars. They didn’t even need to put up no-smoking signs. In Thailand, I later discovered that their government imposed a similar ban. But when I went to a restaurant with a prominent no-smoking sign and asked if I could smoke the waitress replied: “No problem…of course smoke ok…just police force us to put sign…but police no problem…they know.” I wish people had that much common sense in my hometown! And while Asian politicians squandered their tax-payers money on BMWs, expensive vacations, and golf club memberships, at least Asians know they are being taken advantage of, and at least the politicians are enjoying themselves. In my hometown, politicians waste tax-payers’ money on empty buses, empty libraries, and ugly biodegradable packaging that are of enjoyment to no one.
Back to November 22, 2000, which I now know was the most important day of my life. As I said, I was sitting in the dark gloom of my living room when I was struck by what now almost seems like a divine revelation. I went from depression to euphoria in a matter of seconds. I suddenly had a goal and a purpose in life: I was moving to Asia. I did not yet know my specific destination, but I was certain about one thing, I was relocating to Asia, and I was not going to let anything or anyone stop me from realizing my only, and totally non-negotiable, objective. From being a bored research assistant at a local consulting firm, where I spent my days coding endless amounts of data, I became a man with a mission. And my mission was to relocate to Asia permanently.
The Asian revelation was instantaneous, but the planning that followed was quite complex. Since I was not rich, I needed to move to a place where I could earn enough money to survive. And with only a worthless BA degree in history, there was no obvious career that I was educated for. So the first consideration was to think about job prospects to narrow down the list of locations. And the second consideration was the climate. I wanted a lot of warm weather and under no conditions would I accept to see snow again. I had overdosed on cold weather and snow. The 12-month average temperature of my hometown is 1.3 degrees Centigrade (that makes even London or New York seem tropical). Snow is an environmental constant six months per year, and even July is only 15 degrees on average. So I needed an Asian location with job prospects for me, a warm climate, and absolutely frost-free. Then I had to think about what I like to spend money on, how much it would cost, and how much I could expect to earn in the various locations that met my minimal criteria of a warm climate (the warmer the better), job opportunities (the more expected money the better) and cost of living (the cheaper the better).
We all have our basic survival needs that need to be met no matter what the location, and I am no exception. Like most other people, I need a bedroom, a bathroom, and food. So I included the cost of cheap accommodation and cheap meals in unavoidable cost-of-living
expenses. But in addition, I also need cigarettes and beer to feel satisfied. So I needed to calculate how much I would need for that in the various locations. I figured a pack of American imports a day and 30 small beers a week would be sufficient
for my psychological survival, even though it might put my long-time physiological survival at risk. I also psychologically need to hang out at a bar at least once a week, so I would have to calculate my 30 beers as 20*(supermarket price) + 10*(price
in relatively inexpensive bar with acceptable music). So these were my criteria for deciding on where in Asia to live.
After doing some Internet-based research I came to the conclusion that my only realistic option was to become an English teacher. That automatically disqualified certain Asian countries from consideration, since they already speak some variant of English in those places. So Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines were not meant for me. And then there is my aversion to even minimal amounts of snow, which meant that Japan, Korea, and ninety percent of China were impossible choices as well. Choosing in this way by means of elimination finally left me with two viable options: Taiwan and Thailand. I also had to choose two specific cities to compare, and – me being me – I would of course choose the warmest city in each country: Bangkok (average: 28.1 degrees) and Kaohsiung (average: 25.0 degrees). Bangkok’s 3.1-degree advantage implied that in the case of a tie regarding expected income relative to survival cost, I would choose Bangkok.
So first I needed some information about what I could expect to earn. Back to the Internet again for some more research. My best estimate (which might have been wrong) was that I could expect to earn 300 baht per hour in Bangkok, while in Kaohsiung, I could expect 625 baht per hour (I convert NT dollars into baht since this is for Stickman’s site). I would be prepared to teach 4 hours per day and have a six-day week, which means that my expected income would be (21.7*4*300=) 26,040 baht in Bangkok and 54,250 baht in Kaohsiung. Then I had to calculate my personal survival cost in each city. For Bangkok I estimated a minimum rent of 3,000 baht, a minimum food cost of 20 baht per meal (noodle soup from street vendors), 25 baht for a can of supermarket beer, 90 baht per bar beer, and 55 baht for a pack of American cigarettes. So that means that my minimum monthly survival cost is (3,000 + 20*3*30 + 25*4*20 + 90*4*10 + 55*30=) 12,050 baht. However, I decided to round that up to 13,000 to account for unavoidable spending on toilet paper, shampoo, and toothpaste.
In Kaohsiung, I estimated that my corresponding survival expenditures would be 5,625 baht for rent, 37.5 baht per bowl of noodles, 31.25 baht for can of supermarket beer, 125 baht per bar beer, and 62.5 baht per pack of cigarettes. Therefore, my monthly estimate of my survival cost in Kaohsiung came to (5,625 + 37.5*3*30 + 31.25*4*20 + 125*4*10 + 62.5*30=) 18,375 baht. I rounded that up to 19,500 baht to account for toiletries. After that it was just a simple matter of subtraction to arrive at the expected room for spending on luxuries. In Bangkok I could expect to splash out (26,040-13,000=) about 13,000 baht per month on un-necessities. In Kaohsiung, the corresponding figure would be (54,250-18,375=) almost 36,000 baht per month. But then of course Kaohsiung is more expensive, which means that 13,000 baht are worth more in Bangkok than in Kaohsiung. So I still had to correct for the price level difference. If 18,375 baht gives me the same amount of goods as 12,050 baht in Bangkok, it means that I have to multiply my remaining 13,000 baht in Bangkok by (18,375/12,050=) 1.52 to make the Bangkok remainder equal to the Kaohsiung remainder. So I should compare 36,000 baht in Kaohsiung with (1.52*13,000=) about 20,000 “Kaohsiung-price baht” in Bangkok. Result: 36,000 is still greater than 20,000.
I landed at Kaohsiung International Airport on July 1, 2001. I’m still here.
Wow, it is not often you hear someone choose Taiwan over Thailand, but hey, you sound like you're happy, and that is all that counts!