Readers' Submissions

Opportunity Cost in the LOS

  • Written by SiamGuru
  • September 25th, 2008
  • 5 min read



Reading through what you went through in the beginning reminds me of my own journey in Thailand…unless you've gone through it, it's difficult for others to understand why we refuse to "stop living" in the LOS when most of us had come here to start living in the first place.

I was very clear right from the beginning when I first arrived some years back that some day I wanted to return to Singapore as a success, not a bum. The Thais may be very friendly but only if there's something about you for them to look up to…and most of the time, it's how much you have, what kind of house you live in, where you stay and if you drive, what vehicle you have (although a set of wheels will usually be good enough unless you're trying to date a hi-so Thai Chinese girl). Otherwise, they will treat you with disdain and an outsider, especially in Bangkok when the sight of a foreigner is not much of a novelty compared to the rural areas.

I don't want to generalise nor be offensive but I have myself employed foreigners to work with us (for the supposed "branding") and so have my Thai partners. But the experiences so far have been far from encouraging, most of them not very interested to really do some serious work and only looking for a pay cheque to sustain their daily life in LOS. It's very sad to say this but unless they're sent here on big expat packages, those who are smitten by the LOS (or her women) have usually lost sight of what life is all about, especially those younger guys whose sole purpose in Thailand is to chase the plentiful supply of young and nubile skirts, even to the extent of living a lifestyle they wouldn't imagine living back home. Back home at least they're a "first class citizen".

And the reality is Thailand is becoming more and more "cosmopolitan" (read: less friendly and simple) like before, so all the more, there's no real reason for foreigners to come to this country while forgoing the opportunities they have in their own countries.

Some months back, I had a long talk with a young American guy who works for my Thai partner's firm. This is a young bright guy, 25 years old with a good degree from a college in New York, where he's from. And he's working for a paltry 20,000 baht / month. With a salary like that, there's no way he qualifies for a proper work visa so his employer hooked him up to enroll with a local university for free to get his student visa so he can at least live in LOS legally. What was interesting during our talk was his reply when I asked him what his future plans were, to which he replied he wanted to be an "expat". I haven't checked the definition of an expat in the dictionary but I suppose it applies to ANYONE working in a foreign land. And so when I prompted him to explain what an "expat" would be doing, I realise what he really wanted was a big pay package so he can live in Bangkok like a "rich guy" and engage in all the wonderful recreational activities that this country offers…the beaches, mountain resorts and of course the women.

I know it's possible to succeed in this country with little resources but the reality is the chances are quite slim for most if your first priority each day is to put food on the table. The stress of having no cash usually puts most folks into survival mode i.e. looking for short-term band-aid instead of having a longer-term vision for their own lives and aspirations.

To those who are in a similar situation as the young American gentleman above, my advice is to first ask yourself why you would want to live in Thailand, and then think very very carefully about HOW you're going to live in this country. My own thoughts are it's always best to work for a company back home and have them pay for your "education" in Thailand. At least you don't have any financial risk when you arrive here and don't need to deal with the stress of survival. And while you're here for your paid education, look around for opportunities or build a network of contacts who can start you out if you eventually decide to do so on your own.

And when I talk about a network, I don't mean hanging out with your fellow expat colleagues. Remember if the LOS is going to be a long-term thing, you're much better off spending your precious time (which is your only asset when you're young without money) building a network of contacts with people who are here for good…usually the Thais or the expats who have settled locally and made Thailand home either because they married a Thai wife or have businesses here. Forget those expats too who moved here with the specific objective of retirement as they're already winding down and won't be able to offer much in terms of getting you off the ground as they're a newbie like yourself, with the key difference being they landed here with a lot more cash.

Beneath the wais and the sawasdees…there is a lot of undercurrents in this country that are not easily understood. Thailand is not always what it seems and hence, presents a lot of risks to those who are not familiar with the territory and the nuances that come with it. So you need to find ways and means to level the odds and learning how to speak Thai is one of them. I find it incredulous for one to make this a long-term home if you don't even want to learn the language. Even if the people you interact with in your work speak perfect English, you will never enjoy the full delights that this country can offer without knowing the language.

Stickman's thoughts:

There's a lot of really sound advice here. Have a plan, learn the language and never forget that if things aren't going well you very well may be better off back home! I think we all need an exit plan and should all have 'threshold limits' at which point we need to make changes…or the decision to leave.