So Why The Hell Am I Here Anyway?
Not too long Korski and I were exchanging some e-mails when he asked me that question. Not in exactly that way of course! But given my age, my recent cardiac “adventures” and my financial situation, why didn’t I just live in the U.S.
and come over here to visit. That is a fair enough question, nor only for me but for many of us living in Thailand. Let me share with you what I wrote in reply.
As to why I'm living here…that is a good question. Like life, the answer is complex. First of all I should say that despite my occasional complaints about Thai society, on the whole I am pretty damned happy here. Now that my heart is fully functioning, I look forward to getting up in the morning and just living. I can honestly say that I am never bored here. I have made a concerted effort to be a good neighbor. I have quite a number of good Thai friends. My Thai skills are not as good as Stick's, so my conversations are somewhat basic. No long philosophical discussions I'm afraid.
My wife was of course one of the main reason for moving here, but not the only one. My tee-rak really is a sweet person. I don't know anyone who has ever said an unkind word about her. Coming off of "the divorce from hell" I was extremely lucky to find her. We have been happily married for almost nine years now. Oh, we have the occasional tiff, but on the whole we get along quite well.
After we were married we spent five years living in Massachusetts. Needless to say that was a real opener for her. She really blossomed there. She learned a whole lot that the Thai "educational system" never taught her. She also became a much more self confident individual. But despite everything she loved about America, she missed her family. Our yearly visits to Thailand were just never enough.
I myself was feeling the need for a change of scenery and a different way of life. A move half way around the world sounded just fine to me. Hey, if my I could ask my 24 year old wife to make "the big move" to America, why should I be less willing to at least give Thailand a try? Yes I knew I was taking a major step down financially, but frankly I was ready to simplify my life. At this point in my life it doesn't take all that much as far as "creature comforts" to make me happy. I don't need a big screen home theatre or an espresso machine. A little A/C in the bedroom, a western toilet, hot water for a shower and screens in the window and I'm happy as a clam.
We built a lovely home. <I can verify that. It is incredible – Stick> We brought a container load of "stuff" from the U.S. including thousands (and I do mean thousands) of books. What more do I need? Well good health of course.
I honestly thought that I was in fairly good shape when we decided to come here. I had had heart problems back in 1996, but my cardiologist said I was doing fine. Back in the U.S. I hadn't had health insurance in some years. (way too expensive!) If I had had my recent cardiac problems in America, it would have cost even more than it cost here! So even though our financial reserves took a big hit recently, it would have actually been worse if we had remained in the States.
It also turned out that we sold our home in Massachusetts right before the real estate bubble burst. We actually made a $50,000 profit! Today not only would we have not been able to sell our home, but our mortgage payments would have gone through the roof.
Yes my job doesn't pay all that well, but I make enough to live comfortably. We don't owe money to anyone. Our home and pickup are paid for. Our monthly expenses are not all that much. Food, utilities and fuel…and now that I'm riding my bike around town, what we spend of gas has gone down dramatically.
I know that most English teachers here only teach because that is one of the few options open to them, but I actually enjoy teaching…especially now that I am finally working at a decent school. I have some great colleagues. Quite a few of my classes are actually filled with bright boys and girls who genuinely smile (not your Thai "fuck you" smile) when they see me coming. It's hard to put a price on being appreciated. I have a piece that Stick should be running soon on doing volunteer work in Lampang. Again it may be hard for many people to understand, but I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from helping people.
I've tried to write about some of the simple pleasures I experience here. My life here definitely isn't a thrill a minute, but it suits me just fine. A friend just sent me a load of flower seeds from Burpee. I look forward to seeing them bloom…and if nothing else, things do bloom here in Thailand! I think in many ways I have "bloomed" as well. I have put a lot of things in perspective.
Life in America meant more money and certainly more material possessions, but not necessarily more happiness. Despite the many flaws in Thai society and as we both know they are legion, for me the pluses out way the minuses. So I am content to live out my life here.
The one factor that might just send me back to Farangland is my little boy Sam, who will turn two on September 22. (By the way, do you know the literary significance of that date? I don't know if you are a Tolkien fan, but September 22 was Bilbo and Frodo's birthdays.) Sam, short for Samuel which was my father's name, is one handsome little leuk kreung boy. The girls will definitely be falling for him someday! He is also quite bright. The first thing he does after waking up is get out his books. His vocabulary grows every day…in English, Thai and Isaan, which he picks up from his grandmother.
His future is the only thing that worries me. What can he look forward to growing up here? The answer is a whole lot less than in the U.S. I'm not talking about materials things. I'm talking about knowledge and culture. The libraries here are a joke. The bookstores, except a few in Bangkok carry little of interest. I've made a few trips back to the U.S. since moving here. My suitcases always were filled coming back with children's books! There are no museums. There is nothing even to be learned from television. Thank God for UBC! At least we get Discovery Channel, National Geographic, CNN, etc. Most of all I fear that despite our best efforts Sam will turn into just another Thai ignoramus.
We have a few years before making a decision whether to stay here or return to America. I assure you that we will both be thinking long and hard about what's best for out little boy. In the meantime we just try our best to be good parents. For me, just having the necessary energy level is demanding. Having another child at my age was not part of any "master plan"!
Well I suppose I'd better wrap it up for now before I put you to sleep. Please know that if you ever make it up my way, that you would be welcome to stay at our little place. It's comfy. Just ask Stick. Keep up your work. Lots of us look forward to it!
Well folks, there you have it. That’s why I’m here. How about you?
Nice, and knowing you, those reasons are exactly why you're here. We all have a different set of reasons for staying here and for some people, the reasons can be quite novel. Would make for an interesting series of submissions by multiple authors, saying why they stay in Thailand.