The Time Has Come
I've lived in Bangkok for more than ten years, came here in my early fifties. I had lived in London then for about seven years running my own business but the activity began to decline and I had more time to look at the rest of my life and what I saw wasn’t particularly exciting. Essentially I had had no social life for all those years aside from drinking with a few characters who worked in my business center. My contact with women actually was in the form of old girlfriends who flew over to see me. I never once got close to an English woman. And strangely (this will cause a lot of eyes to roll) I was unaware of the sex industry in Thailand. I came here on a holiday on the recommendation of two women actually and in my 15 day guided tour we never came near the nightlife. But I loved the relaxed pace of the place and the politeness of the Thais. I thought London would kill me spiritually eventually and that was when I decided to make a career change and a cultural change. I qualified myself to teach English at the University of the West of England, sold my flat and hopped on a plane with a single suitcase.
It took me about two months to lose the London attitude where one gets used to not talking to anyone. At warp speed I was propelled into an exciting and exotic world along with all sorts of expats who had come to Bangkok to do the same thing. There was the food, the culture, and yea oh yea, the women. After I discovered Nana, then found my job was across the street from Patpong, learned that Cowboy was walking distance from my room and that there was another, even larger emporium called Pattaya only two hours away, I felt suddenly more complete as a man than ever before. We used to chat in the teacher’s room about how long we might stay and I ventured that even when my body was no longer up to the nightlife, I’d just move to a place by the river. I was never going to leave. They all agreed but over time ‘home’ claimed most of them. But not me. Not until recently.
A few months ago, a guy I know from the States who has been coming here for more years than I can remember said to me in the Golden one night that he was thinking of giving up this place in favour of Europe. He was a man who had been to every fleshpot the world has. All he said was it’s just getting to be too much work and there is too much of the same old same old. Another guy I know in Soi 4, a black American I have seen for years but only recently began to chat with, said to me last week that he was going to return to the States after being here ten years or so – seen it all, done it all, he said. And he wondered what South America might be like. And another contemporary of mine, out of the blue, said he didn't think he would be here another year. He was just getting fed up with it all and he said ‘you know, it is almost impossible to have a decent conversation with anyone anymore.’ All of these comments came my way without me mentioning my own feelings on the topic that had begun to insist themselves upon that resolution I made ten years ago.
I've got a retirement visa now and have enough money to live here, but I think I'll be in Europe by the end of the year or early next. It's not the politics, it's not the rising costs, but it is to some extent due to the different kind of foreigner who comes here now and to changing attitudes towards farangs. What it really is, though, is a feeling that the best has been squeezed out of Thailand for me. My mind keeps whispering to me that something is over. I felt the same way when I left London for here – London was great when I moved there in '93 but by '00 it was over for me.
The thing for people my age is that we have to take into account where we are in our lives. For me, the next seven years are the best I will have in terms of fitness, mobility, and general willingness to take something on that is new. I haven't missed anything in the last ten years here. I have done everything one can do with the nightlife. I’ve had girlfriends who were not on the game and stayed in a Thai farmhouse a couple of times with their parents. I have travelled the country and I have learned to speak a modicum of Thai. And I can honestly say I have learned a lot, especially about myself and the nature of men and women. As for women in particular I can now say I understand them, know what drives them, and this understanding has brought me even deeper respect for them even though their behaviour can still drive me crazy. I cannot see that I can possibly get any more out of this country than I have – the days will continue to be interesting but they won't make me think as I used to. My God, I can remember sitting in the Golden Bar in my first nights here looking at a veritable kaleidoscope of motion, lights, and foreigners mixed with Orientals unable to make any sense of the whole or the detail. That, in fact, went on for years and I cannot say how many times I have written in my journal ‘all is not what it seems here.’ But that was then.
And the economic situation in the world and here says to me that it will never be like it was when I moved here, not at least in my energetic lifetime. Newcomers will always find their hit – I met one last night who lived up north and bought a condo even though he has only been here for 7 months and can’t tell a ladyboy from the real thing. He will have his time but Bangkok will not see those halcyon days that I and many of my fellow expats experienced from the late nineties until recently. So, it's time to go. Fortunately I hold both European and Canadian passports and have many possibilities for myself. And that is what I have always wanted in my life – possibilities.
Your columns lately have actually been saying something to the same effect in both subject matter and tone. Life is nothing if it is not about change and everything comes to an end. In this case the party peaked some time ago and most of us who lived through it know it is time to catch our breath and get ready for the next one. Not everyone will leave, of course, and it is not to say there will be no more adventure. But it won't be like it was, at least not for me.
I would close on this topic by saying I am not depressed or disappointed about the changes that have occurred both in the country and in me. I shall always be grateful for what these last ten years have brought to me. And I am not saying I never want to come here again. I do love this place, but in the future it will have to be a 12 hour plane ride away. I know what some will say when they read this, that I will never have the same social or emotional life abroad as I can still find here. Be that as it may, I long for some aspects of Western culture, and I love to walk the dales and hills and cycle down country lanes. I want to eat tapas in a real Spanish Bar, and drink Italian wines in Italy. As for that other thing, you’re right, I will not find it abroad. I will live on my memories until my nature insists itself upon me and you will find me again in the Golden Bar.
Powerful stuff. What is scary is that I feel almost exactly the same as you do, and sometimes I feel like I am putting off the inevitable…