Readers' Submissions

Dilemna: To Go or Not to Go to Thailand, Putting the Fish Back in Water




Most people who know and love Thailand would tell me I’m crazy. I am being offered a 4-year assignment with my government, working in Bangkok. On top of my normal salary, about US $80k/year, I would also receive an additional US $5k/month (tax free) for a home and whatever other expenses I might have while living in Bangkok. Plus all the perks that come along with a job working in a government-sponsored job.

Believe it or not, I am considering turning down the assignment. Like I said in the beginning, the word “crazy” comes to mind. I even question my own sanity in the decision.

I love Thailand. My wife is Thai, our kids have dual US-Thai citizenship. We spend a lot of time there already on vacations and 1 – 4 month-long work assignments that I get there. I am an admitted Thailand-phial.

So why am I considering saying no to the job? The answer: because my wife is Thai. Well, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.

I met my wife Daeng several years ago in Bangkok. She was not directly involved with the nightlife industry, but she “supported” it. Daeng’s “family” owns and part-owns some prominent Bangkok bars which most Stickman readers have no doubt frequented. My wife did the paperwork for several of the bars, keeping records on this and that, filing forms with the city, etc. While her aunt would never let Daeng actually work in any of the bars, my wife obviously knew the goings-on of the nightlife industry. She did her share of partying, but nothing more than I did myself growing up. Like most women from Isaan, she had that outrageous Isaan temper that those girls are known for. And she liked her drinking – she liked to party. Nothing outrageous, no whoring herself out, no drugs, etc. Just going to discos with her friends, etc. Despite all of what I have said, she is what I would call a generally grounded person. At least no less grounded than me at the time we started going out.

Despite all the arguably negative things I have just mentioned, I made a conscious decision after dating Daeng for several years during a previous assignment in Bangkok that we should get married. She agreed. I had my concerns because I was about to be moved back to the US with my job. I didn’t know how she would handle the double whammy of both married life and moving to a foreign country. It turned out that we had a rough start with all of the adjustments (for both of us really), but in the end things settled down and we have had a rather normal, enjoyable marriage for over 5 years now. My wife actually loves being in the US. She is a great mother to our kids. She takes care of me well. She is a frugal spender of money and in all the years since we started dating has never asked me for one penny, although I obviously share my income with her and our kids. She likes to work. She has always gotten along great with my family. She earned her high school diploma in the US. She has forced herself to read, write, and speak English, which she does exceptionally well now. Because of the general lifestyle we live in the US, and because she is the primary caretaker of our kids while I am at work, she has all but abandoned her partying ways. She has a glass of wine now and then, but that’s about it.

So now back to the original topic – why on earth would I turn down an assignment to Bangkok, especially with all the benefits that will come along with it? It’s because of sheer fear of the unknown for me. Not the unknown of what life in Thailand would be like for us. I know Thailand well enough after 10 years to know what to expect. I wrote a piece a few months ago on Stick’s website called “Taking the fish out of water.” It was about the uncertainty of taking a Thai girl out of Thailand and going to live in the US. So what is the unknown for me now? The unknown for me is what happens when I put the fish back in the water?

My wife and I are ten years older than when we first met and we were both partying quite hard and having a good time. We are more mature and responsible. But it’s the small indicators over the years that make me fear for what she may revert back to if we move back to Thailand. When we go visit her hometown for vacations, where we built our own home several years ago, she starts to show some of the old signs. She drinks more. Not excessive, but more than the one or two glasses of wine per week that she drinks in the US. She smokes some cigarettes. She hardly does that at all in the US. And because there are countless family members to watch over the kids (which we don’t have the luxury of in the US – babysitters who are actual family members living nearby who one can trust), she does not hesitate to leave the kids with the family every now and then when she goes to have some drinks with her cousins and family. This generally is the situation when she takes the kids to Thailand for short vacations and I am not able to go with them. If I go along, I have no problem playing and taking care of the kids myself while she goes out a couple times a week. I am not saying that Daeng becomes an irresponsible parent. She loves our kids to no end, she takes complete and wonderful care of them, and that does not change one bit when she is in Thailand.

It is almost as though she is just letting go of some of the pressure that understandably builds up living in the west, where life is much more constrained and regulated than it is in Thailand. It is for this very reason of blowing off some steam, which I completely understand, that I sometimes think that I am over-thinking the problem. Because she and the kids only go to Thailand for a couple months a year, it appears to just be her chance to relax and enjoy being with her family that she doesn’t see much any more. And she is comfortable. After all, it is her home. She feels safe leaving the kids for a night or two with one of the aunts or cousins. And our kids love it as well because there are always twice as many kids running around in Isaan as there are back in the US.

My worry is that what if the little things I witness happening to my wife during a couple months a year on vacation, like her affinity to have a few more drinks, grows into something more problematic when a work assignment has us living in Thailand for several years?!! I know that I could easily stay in the US and avoid these worries. But living in Thailand, with the pay and benefits offered, is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both me and the family. And aside from the money situation, there are, more importantly, great experiences for the kids that they would otherwise never get to have if their entire childhood is spent in the US. Because of the extra money I would receive, I could easily have the kids go to a good international school while truly experiencing life in Thailand. And Daeng would be happy as well.

This is my dilemma. Am I over-reacting? Or do I have a legitimate concern for what might happen to my kids and my marriage? I would like to think that I’m just over-reacting. After all, my wife and I have both matured a lot over the years, and we both love and take care of our kids with the greatest of love and care. I just don’t know if the temptation is too great for her or not.

I still have not made a decision, but I must do it soon because the job opens in less than 2 months. I am the first choice for the job. So the pressure is on. What to do?

Readers’ suggestions are welcome.

Stickman's thoughts:

The first issue I would question is the quality of the education your kids will get in Thailand. You infer that education costs for your kids are NOT covered in your package. Let me point out that the better international schools charge in the vicinity of 500,000 baht + per year. The next tier down is perhaps 400,000 baht up. I personally do not know of any really good international programs charging less than 300,000 baht per year – and you can still incur additional expenses on top of that! So you would need to budget 600,000 baht + (that would appear to be a quarter of your annual gross earnings) just for your kids' education. I am sure some readers will tell you that their kids are in a local school which costs much less. Well, I am happy that they are happy but there is no way in the world I would have my kids study in such a program.

As far as the issue with your wife goes and your fears about her drinking and what may follow, only you know best. It sounds to me as if you are a little nervous to broach this topic with her directly, given her temper. Out of curiosity, does your wife know about this opportunity, and if she does, what does she think of it?