Just Why Are We Here?
Three articles this week on Stickman have prompted the question of ‘why are we here in Thailand?’ or certainly they all seemed to allude towards asking that question. The first one was from Oscillating Willy and his Wildly Wondering Widget
where he posed the question ‘as an outsider looking in’ as to just what it was that enticed us to come here in the first place and indeed what it is that keeps us here. Then there was Dana’s latest Thai Torts and Antidotes,
where he asked the question of ‘if having your wee willy wonger snipped would make a difference to your life in Thailand and if that in itself would stop you from continuing to stay here’, to finally sticks’ very own weekly
column where he asked about ‘When the point of no return was’ and where he posed the question (again…) of why he stays here, when he should return home to New Zealand and the pros and cons of it all… of course none of this thinking
is new to us long term avid readers of stickman where we have seen him go back and forth, up and down and round and round the mulberry bush more times than we care to remember on this issue and there isn’t nothing wrong in that because
in the 18 months or so I have lived here, there isn’t a day that goes by when I am not thinking about or planning my future (or lack of it) here as well.
So in order to consider this issue and to ask the question of ‘Just why we are here in Thailand’, I have had to search deep… well… ok perhaps not so deep… but certainly as shallow as my thoughts on the beauty of women or to the depth of how far my arms can reach into my pockets (many say I have long pockets and short arms…) and at first glance, I have to admit that I simply do not know what it is that keeps me here, and I am not so sure I can give you a lucid answer either… or can I?
Perhaps it can all be summed up as the relaxed lifestyle, the relative freedom one has, the warm weather, the cheap cost of living compared to back home, the low taxes we pay (or not pay), the vast amounts of lovely scenery one sees everyday on the way to work (read: women), the no pressure job environment, the contrast between old and new cultures, beliefs and lifestyles, the traditional views of relationships between the sexes, the excellent food and so forth… but it’s not all good, and there are of course just as many things here that have negative connotations too and which cause us just as many frustrations as they do delights, for example, the dual pricing we are subjected to, the being ‘just a visitor’ status along with the annual visa/work permit hassles, and all the other much reported issues we encounter in our existence here. Now add into this the lack of professional career prospects available to us or the lack of intellectual stimulation in the people we interact with along with the school play ground and teenage mentality of Thai society then it is just as easy to be as pessimistic as it is optimistic here, but all in all, I do personally think the pros do outweigh the cons (and I don’t mean prostitutes outweighing the Convicts with this last bit either for you funny literately astute buggers out there…)
So how does one go about answering this question and to helping people like Stick, and indeed others and me for that matter to coming to a conclusion on when the baling out point should be? In fact should we be considering the thought of abandoning this land of loveliness at all and is the Thailand ship really a sinking wreck… and if so, who should be the first to go, Captain Stick and his merry crew or the stinking Rats?
Indeed when someone asks or hears a question similar to “what is the meaning of it all” and “why am I here”, you will often find that they are at the emptier end of a barrel of scrumpy down at the local barn and that they are simply entering a philosophical state of mind that sometimes arrives after swallowing the worm in the upturned bottle of tequila… This is then usually followed by an ejection of this evening’s alcohol induced burger dinner down their shirt, a lot of burble and mumbling and then some raucous snoring. But what does one do when one awakes and finds themselves with a pounding headache, a mouth full of cheese and a mind that is still pondering these sort of questions, well then, that’s when it’s time for some serious thought time.
So we find ourselves in Thailand and we need to go off and have a ponderous thought. Well there are three things you can do. You can take a wander on down to Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, Patpong, Bangna Road, Walking Street (delete as required) and seek out some religious enlightenment of your own by talking to the girls. If you are unlucky, you may also be able to latch your self onto some Hallelujah Jesus loves you missionary and have a good old debate about the theory of Darwin and intelligent design versus evolution and discuss why some schools in Yeeehaa America have decided to avoid teaching one or the other of these subjects… nah!, sod that… NEXT!
Well you can go and grab your rucksack, take on the look of a Monty Phyton beggar from the Life of Brian. Pack in your long flowing white gown, a pair of thronged sandals and scraggy underpants, a few beers and tuna sarnies, and go tromping off up the nearest mountain (via Koh Sarn Road), in search of that rock of solitude. Once there, get yourself comfortable and take on a glazed look of Thainess and search your mind as per the teachings of Master Po and ask yourself silly questions on why he insisted on calling his young apprentice “Grasshopper” whilst adopting the lotus attack position and waiting for the nearest cowboy to come and ask you for enlightenment or at the very least where the Hongnam (toilet) is…
You can simply pop along to the nearest beer outlet, order a plate of Phad Thai, grab a Chan, a Singha or a Heineken, then go forth and upset the nearest Thai with some disparaging remark along the lines of “how are you, may I be allowed to buy a house here please to that I can live here long time…”, then watch with amusement as they flip out a knife and chop off your wee willy wodger, and with a skip of delight, you can go and join Dana’s club and say how excited you are that it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of staying in Thailand. Then call all your friends around to join you in celebrating with a beer or two and ask which one of them in their manly state would like to bugger you now that you are in a state of sexless flux… only to end up back at point number one again at the end of the evening looking down the empty barrel of Scrumpy and still with no answers! – Hic!
So let’s first try and put things into perspective then. When I was a disgruntled twenty something and was miserably complaining about my lot (at that time), I was gently dragged aside by two people who have forever since stayed good friends and mentors in my continued pace through life and both of them said the same thing to me… “If you have an itch, and you leave it to continue to itch, one day it will just become too damn irritating that you simply have no choice but to go ahead and scratch I vigorously”… and how right they where. The only problem I have now, as one of them later pointed out to me, is that I haven’t learnt how to stop scratching ever since and keep moving every two years and it will be interesting to see what I do at my two year point in Thailand…
But… should we really be spending our lives scratching those itches? Certainly there is an argument to be made that it’s the nature of mankind to keep moving and pushing personal boundaries and that one should not be allowed to remain or become stagnant, but now go and sell that concept to all the people who have never left their neighbourhood, or who cling on to old values and traditions and have never made the effort to learn about new things or the world at large…
Perhaps, instead we really should be thanking our lucky stars that we have had the fortune and opportunity to expand our horizons, and should look at what we have today as a positive rather than a negative. But perhaps I am getting all philosophical, and I haven’t even had a beer yet, but let me put it another way then. When you take a look back towards your homeland (or other western destinations for that matter) as a suitable and professionally more viable alternative to what you have here, what do you see? A land of opportunities and ways to make money, or perhaps you just see it as a better lifestyle? Errrr alrighty then, if that’s the case, let me ask you something else instead. If that land of opportunity, money and better lifestyle was and is so good, why did you leave it in the first place? Oh I know, you wanted to experience a broadening of the mind, to experience a new culture, to perhaps search for a more relaxed pace of life, to seek out opportunities that perhaps you couldn’t get back home…or maybe you are now simply coming full circle, hankering now back towards the green, green lands of home. It’s funny how as humans we always seem to think that the grass is always greener on the other side.
But let’s ask then, why is ‘Oscillating Wildly’ for example in his submission moving from the UK to NZ? Isn’t that like moving from one similar country to another similar country with the only difference being the scenery and amount of available sheep? I suspect lifestyle has something to do with it and given the choice I too would choose NZ over the U.K. because let’s face it, anyone who knows how the U.K is these days knows that it’s just a country that has a population saving madly so they can all get out on the next bus. As for NZ, well I have no idea what NZ is like in similar terms to the U.K. but I do know it has been climbing on the high cost of living ladder and the cost of re-entry must becoming a barrier too for those considering going back that way, but I don’t really know anything, I am just merely speculating…
But I guess for myself and ‘udders’ to answer this question, we would have to go back to the beginning and ask ourselves just what it was that brought us here in the first place and then see how that fits into our lifestyle in Thailand. I know when you ask most people here what brought them to Thailand, or indeed what it is that keeps them here then you usually get an answer that doesn’t really ring true and for sure you don’t always seem to get a straight answer. Well for me, this one is easy and a no-brainer because I believe in being honest and so have no problems expressing why I am here… it’s all about the beautiful women and easy sex you can get! Aha! Nooo! It’s not really, because if it was about that I wouldn’t have got married, but that’s probably the number one answer many men here would give you if they where being brutally honest with you…
Anyway, for me, it all happened one day whilst on holiday in Phuket around July 2003. I was coming to the end of a 2-week holiday that had taken me around Sarawak (A beautiful part of Malaysia and a Jungle area north of Borneo), to Singapore and finally onto Thailand, and I was sat on a rock somewhere down the north end of Patong beach listening to William Orbits Adagio of Strings, Teardrop by Massive Attack, Love Theme from Spartacus by Terry Callier and other such chill out classics, when my mind cast itself out towards the dipping sun, the splashing sea and the wonderful feeling of being in amongst Asia and its beautiful surroundings, followed by thoughts of what I had to go back home to – the answer: Not much really!
I know at this juncture it would have been easy to just explain it all away as a feeling that most of us get when we have just had a great holiday and that I was simply having a holiday romance with myself but it went deeper than that.
I always remember year after year being asked by the family what they could “buy” a man who had everything as a Christmas present… my answer was always the same mumbled downcast ‘nothing!’ but in reality and hindsight I could just as easily have said, ‘enlightenment’, ‘a life’, ‘a future’, ‘intellectual stimulation’, ‘a reason’, ‘anything’ but the mundane boring life I had at that time, but of course, people and especially family and money could not buy me these things and only I myself could influence and change the position that I found myself in, don’t get me wrong, I could have simply got another job and carried on, but for what? More money, a bigger house and more expensive holidays… Na! I don’t think so… there is more to life than that isn’t there?
Now of course all of these could be argued as simply excuses that I have made up to justify why I wanted to move to Asia… so let’s look at things professionally. I had at the time also recognised that I needed to get an Asian perspective on my CV and that with the rise of the new economic power that is China, along with the main Asian hubs being that of Hong Kong and Singapore then it made perfect sense with my background that I had to venture this way. In the U.K I was at the top of my game and I needed a new challenge and what better than to enter into an emerging market to bring my mature skills to. It was my original intention that I would go to Singapore and just use Thailand as a holiday destination for weekends or the odd one or two weeks away each year but as always with the best laid plans of mice and men and all that, I simply got diverted at the last minute. I came over and did a tour of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand trying to decide where I wanted to live and work, and on my last week in Thailand, it dawned on me that there is just something about Thailand that appeals more than any of the other places.
It also dawned on me that going to that ‘rules based and very boring city’ called Singapore was simply not what I needed at that time because I just needed to get away from it all so to speak. At the time, I also had two girls going, one in Thailand and one in Singapore. It would have been easy for me to establish a base in Singapore on the back of this professional and well to do Singapore Chinese lady, but somehow, and for some odd reason, I chose Thailand instead because the lady was simply more alluring for me (stupid me huh!) and as a consequence I lost the Chinese girl in the process… but never mind there were many more fish in the sea just off Singapore if I needed to go fishing again.
But talking briefly about alternatives to Thailand, it’s amazing how many guys I meet here who all claim that going to Japan or Taiwan or Korea are much better for making money and for advancing career opportunities for those who want to be ESL teachers. They then all go on to tell you how great their time was in Japan, Taiwan or Korea and how they highly recommend it… but then I look at them, and I always ask the same question… “Ok then, so why are you here in Thailand if XXX was so great?”… “Ah well” they all reply, “I couldn’t be doing with all that cold weather, and the XXX people are just so xenophobic, and impolite, and they really do hate foreigners, and the cost of living is oh so high…” Erhum! – Does any of this sound familiar?
Actually what they are subconsciously trying to do is get you out of Thailand so you aren’t competing for the same jobs that they are anxious to get or keep hold of. So there must be something about Thailand that is alluring enough to get these guys to leave their high paid, career orientated jobs in Japan, Korea and Taiwan… either that or they are simply telling you porkies.
One guy summed up my own feelings about venturing off to Japan in search of a career and greater wealth when he wrote to me after one of my submissions, he said; “After 6 weeks in Tokyo, I could spot McDonalds from half a mile away no matter what the clutter of Japanese signs was. Tokyo felt like a prison and I was so relieved to get on the plane back to New York. I thought that Yorkshire was a kind of green desert, but I think that with even 6 months in Japan, I would go crazy. Bangkok however is a whole different story.”
But let’s ask Stick the question he poses in another way, and ask why so many Germans, Italians, New Zealanders, Ozzies, Americans, Canadians, Swedes, Danes, British (namely English and Scottish with the odd Irish man thrown in… but where are all the welsh going?), and now it seems the Russians too are all coming this way. Why is that so? Are they all in search of greener lands? Conversely, those of us who actually live over here in Thailand are now seriously considering moving back west again, yee gods! What’s up with us all, and why can’t we ever be satisfied with out lot? Aren’t we simply looking back towards the brown lands we left several years ago with the same expectant beer goggles that those other people are now leaving in their droves to come to Thailand for? Do we, in our dulled senses of being away from the reality of living back in the west, have in our false expectations, a vain hope that we instead can now make their now rotten brown lands into our new greener ones using our Asian experience as a new seed for planting new hope, just as all these guys coming this way believe they too can make a difference on their Asian journey. Personally, I think humans are barmy and if at the end of the day all it boils down to is a chasing of some money dream, a life of success and acceptance then I would suggest that actually we have probably learnt nothing from our Asian experience.
I once wrote a submission on here where I said that I was tired of being expected to keep up with the Patels at number 44 back in England. This prompted a response from a Mr. G. Heath (H.E.) who said to me: “My point is you have come full circle (in your thought processes) while you have been in Thailand. Some might even call it maturity.”
At first I was not sure how to take what he said or by which context I should consider it, but now having mulled it over for some time and considered it in the light of what Stick is currently thinking, I can now say that I understand and know what he meant by his comment. Perhaps Stick and people like me are indeed coming full circle in our thought processes and as we get older, all we want to do is lay claim to a piece of land to call our own, to have a home, a base, somewhere to establish our backsides and perhaps create a family. There is nothing wrong in that of course and it’s a well documented phenomena and even forms one of the fundamental building blocks in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Ok, agreed it could be argued that some of us had all of this back home before we ventured outside to someone else’s back yard, but what I really want, and I suspect Stick and people like him are hankering for the same in one way or another, is to have a feeling of acceptance here, to have just once the same level of professional recognition or opportunity that we would have back home and to just feeling secure, or at least to feel as secure as the next pay cheque. Let’s face it, the majority of us love Thailand and given the chance to legally own our own property (and I don’t mean a Condo here) without sticking it in a Thai partners name or to having the security of staying here without wondering if next years visa will be rejected, or to having a career opportunity outside the English teaching, come bar, come restaurant, come coffee shop, come property dealership, come scuba diving centre and all other such like professions then yes, I think given the chance to secure a professional career here, we would all simply jump right in and grasp it with both hands and more importantly, invest long term and stay here. But there lies the problem, we aren’t allowed to because no matter what our status, we are always going to remain just visitors here and that applies to us all whether we are here with a good job, a wife and family, have a pension to fall back on or have just invested half our savings in a Condo somewhere. Imagine if Thailand really did open its doors to us western barbarians, Thailand would simply be over run and invaded, and that I believe simply wouldn’t be allowed to happen.
A few weeks back I was invited as a guest speaker to discuss globalisation, international trading and to get them thinking in terms of global supply networks looking at three different industries as good case points to discuss. At the end of the 3 hour slot that I was given, I was wrapping things up when I was asked by one of the professors if it was possible (in my opinion) for Thailand to become the main hub for Asian distribution networks. I nearly burst out laughing, and in all seriousness he may as well have handed me a grenade… but rather than answer him directly, I actually threw it out for general discussion to the audience and I was astonished to hear some of their views. In a nut shell, not one of them had considered Singapore, Hong Kong and perhaps even China (Read: Shanghai) as a major threat to this vision of Thailand becoming the central distribution Hub for Asia. They also did not even consider that as a country they would need to first build some major long term trade agreements and partnerships with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia before they would seriously be even considered for this role as a country but as we all know, Thailand has some serious problems along many of these borders. So to answer the question, nooooo personally, in my humble opinion, I don’t think Thailand are quite ready yet to become the Central distribution Hub of Asia, and indeed given the rise of China in recent years and the ‘fact’ that Singapore have just opened up a third sea port with electronic cranes moving crates at the rate of 100 per person per hour, then unless Thailand makes a gigantic leap in terms of knowledge, technology, and investment then I somehow don’t quite see how they would even be allowed to contend for this position… I can hear the Singaporeans guffawing from here… but it was nice of them to raise the subject and I thanked them for asking! I so much wanted to expand on this subject and to ask them how Thailand’s xenophobia would help them champion this vision for Thailand but bit my lip and thought of pretty little ladies in bikinis whilst humming ‘getting to know you, getting to know all about you…” instead.
When I hear Stick talk about the teaching profession and its perceived status in the expat community, I always find my self nodding in agreement. Teaching here is a sham and most people do it because they simply have no alternative. Some may and indeed do claim to like it but I bet the majority do it because they have to, not because they want to. Some of us do arrive here with notions of becoming an educator and wanting to make a contribution to this developing country but how quickly that notion gets demolished and disillusionment about the profession sets in. I admire people who stick at it for so long and to be honest it’s only a profession where the kids and the students become the only things that keep you there and it takes a certain personality trait to make it work. I survived one year, and although I was popular with the students, and I loved being their Teacher, I was also really glad to get out and away from it all or at least for this next coming year.
When I am allowed (meaning when they don’t discount me on age, skin colour or nationality) to apply for jobs within my professional sphere, I am always amazed at the “you are too experienced and educated for Thailand’ response that I get. This begs the question of the standards that they are actually seeking for their employment here. I even had one Thai guy phone me up to ask why I was even considering an Asian Vice Presidents Position in his company with my kind of qualifications and experience because the job in his opinion would simply not be demanding enough for me. I personally don’t see my CV as being anything extraordinary in my field but it was nice of him to phone me and discuss it though.
I have fortunately been lucky for this next year as I have managed to escape the English teaching profession. But, even this was without incident and whilst sitting in the last two interviews, I was always met with a concern by the presidents of the companies that they were worried I would leave them given the first opportunity for a better or higher paid position that I got. This goes to reveal that Thai companies are actually questioning our loyalty when we do get a job outside and probably inside in some case within the teaching profession in Thailand. They even went on to explain how the last guy went home for the weekend and was never seen again. At this I levelly responded with a cheeky “well then, if you would just like to pay me more and make the job more demanding I promise to not run-a-way…” but of course I was just joking as I am a loyal character anyway, but after this glib comment, I then had to back it all up and convince them of my loyalty trait and how I won’t leave them in the lurch and so on, such is the sense of humour of the Thai’s. Being married to a Thai did obviously help and it also showed that I was serious about my commitment to staying in Thailand.
It was actually nice to get offered both of the positions I was interviewed for. I did ponder to consider whether I should do a Dutch auction between them but decided to not get too greedy or ambitious. The worrying thing though is that although I have managed to escape the English teaching profession (for now), it does remain there at the back of the mind as something that I may end up being dragged back into at some point in the future…. I hope not.
For me when I think about my life in Thailand to date and the silly experiences I have had, and the feelings of absolute blissfulness and happiness that I get sometimes I am just so happy to be here. Then when I consider the future, I too find myself in some form of pluck the daisy flower game… “I love it, I love it not, I love it, I love it not…” pluck, pluck, pluck… and depending on the luck of the plucking and the flower I choose I can either be staying here and loving it, to searching the internet for flights to the next country along on the map but what brings me back home to reality is when I think back to my trips to Indonesia, and to the Philippines and to Malaysia and about Singapore and to what I hear from my Chinese friends about life in China, and to how I would feel being back in the UK and almost every time I have a shudder and think how things could actually be worse and so start liking Thailand all over again.
I do believe when I think back, that on that day, on that beach in Phuket, sitting on that rock, that I had a turning point in my life. I gave up the things that Stick is now mulling over; I quit the major blue chip career, I gave up the corporate challenges, and stopped chasing the desire for status and the money and material possessions, because let’s face it, you cannot take them anywhere with you when you are dead and buried so why hanker after them? When I came to Thailand, I came here for a quieter and more eloquent pace of life so why the hell do I sometimes look back towards getting grey hairs, high stress levels and lots of corporate hassle again? Sometimes I really do need a good slap!
For me, my search now isn’t about chasing pots of gold at the end of the rainbow (Yeah ok we all could do with more money) but really coming here is more about intellectual enlightenment and personal development on a broader plain. Sometimes when you are embroiled in the everyday life of Bangkok, it is so easy to forget why you came here in the first place and one simply has to keep doing rain checks on your goals and reasons for being here. If you are really motivated by the dream of chasing money and status then Thailand is not necessarily the place for you although you can save money here because it is so cheap to live. Perhaps if that’s your dream and you want the Asian balance, then you should really be heading off to Singapore or Hong Kong instead.
Sure things in Thailand do annoy me and as time goes on, I too also question my long term plans here especially if I want to go back to my profession again, but that’s only because I am used to working and have yet to rationalise in my head that working flat out was not why I came to Thailand in the first place, but then of course I haven’t been here eight years either.
If I was Stick, the first thing I would be doing is extracting the best stories out of the readers section of Stickman Bangkok, and getting a book called the “Best of Stickman Bangkok” onto all the best seller shelves around the world. This would not only promote his website even further but it would also publish a wonderful, insightful and educational book for all those out there who have a love for Thailand and Asian ways.
After that, I would be off to the nearest university and get myself on the nearest course towards educational enlightenment and stimulation in order to make myself more desirable to a different employment market, to try and learn new skills and to not allow myself to become stale or stagnated in the English Teacher market…
After that… I would head down to the nearest public house and buy Casanundra a huge and very expensive bottle of plonk as a Thank you… but then again, that’s just me.
I'm away from Bangkok at the moment so no comments on this one….