Back to America? You Have to Be Kidding!
There has been a lively discussion on this web site recently about how bad things are in Thailand for ex-pats. We have been presented with solid evidence that Thailand has real problems these days, with some ex-pats considering coming home to America to wait out the bad times. Much like those who moved to Thailand without doing thorough research on their new home, I would caution those who believe they can return to an America from 5, 10, or even 20 years ago. Like all living things, change is ever occurring and the America of those past years just doesn’t exist anymore. Once you look at America and Thailand with equal amount of light and analysis, you might change your mind.
One of the biggest complaints about Thailand is the amount of corruption that pervades all of society. There is no question of this but how much exists in America? For corruption to thrive, it must have the veneer of respectability and honesty. On the outside, corrupt officials and politicians must present a public display of good service and respect for the law. So what is Thailand’s biggest corruption? Prostitution is so pervasive in this country that you can find it everywhere, from the bright lights of Bangkok to the smallest communities where every restaurant has a resident “baby”. Yet prostitution is officially illegal so how does it stay in business? The reason is obvious; there are so many powerful and politically connected people in Thailand who make money off this enterprise that they are able to keep the lid on any public reaction that might finally end this practice. In America, we have the same massive corruption but it is called illegal immigration. There are now upwards of 13 million people in America who came here outside of the normal immigration process. How? Basically, America let them in. For many years, anyone with an empty trunk or van could smuggle people in, where they could start to work in jobs where legal status verification was not required, and usually low-paying jobs. This was allowed to happen because companies that employed these people were able to win more business and to maximize profits; profits they used to donate to politicians to ensure the system stayed as it was. Yes, American politicians can now be bought and sold just like any politician in Thailand. At least in Thailand, a politician or a policeman can be bought for a few thousand baht; in America it will take a much bigger wallet.
Everyone in Thailand is wary of the pending showdown between the yellow and red shirts; the two main political forces in the country who can’t seem to agree on anything, even things that would benefit both groups! At some point there will be a showdown and maybe more than the airport will be closed. Thankfully, this winner-take-all attitude is not in stable America, or is it? Yes, America has been a two party system for some time where the moderates on both sides have been able to keep things from boiling over. Recently, though (and is it any coincidence that this was right about the time that Rupert Murdoch’s influence started to rise), there is a similar belligerence growing in America. The moderates have been radicalized or driven out and now it is the power of rhetoric vs. reason that rules the day. In today’s debate over health care, something you would think both sides could benefit from, there is very little discussion on substance. Indeed, one side has decided that President Obama was not even born in America, a mere prerequisite for the job. Even though a valid birth certificate has been produced in public, 58 percent of the opposing party is not sure or doubt Obama was born in the US. Sadly, the cartoon below is wrong only in the drawn faces.
By Stuart Carlson of the Milwaukee Sentinel
No matter what side of these debates you are on, the climate for discussion of any topic in everyday life is strained. Opening your mouth on any subject could get you into trouble – “My son’s school seems real nice.” – “so, you support those socialist public schools?” One night recently, I was at a party at my neighbor’s house. Knowing he was a bright-red conservative, I kept my mouth shut. But in a group that was discussing the economy and how bad it was, I innocently said “Whether you voted for Obama or not, let’s hope he can right this ship.” I instantly felt the daggers coming from the eyes of my neighbor before he stormed off. Apparently he wants Obama to fail even if it hurts him and his family economically. I slinked around for a few minutes and then hurriedly left with my unknowing Thai wife. Later, she asked why we left early and I tried to explain what the politics in America were like now. She understood the yellow-red rift in Thailand, but was completely baffled by the utter acrimony that engulfs America now. In her world, it’s OK to have these feelings in a poor country, but in America, WTF? I shook my head and said mia phen rai. I know in Thailand there is this concept of “face”; in essence, not humiliating someone in public. But consider what is happening in America today, the mere mention of any opinion could produce not just shame but a blood enemy if someone took offense at what you said.
I recently read a submission on Thai political apathy. I have to wonder what planet this writer was living on when the yellow shirt and the red shirt demonstrations were taking place? The former produced a change in government and the latter almost did. Where are the same phenomena in western societies? In America, we have had a revolution of sorts with our first black American elected as president. Yet all it has produced is a backlash that is as absurd as it is frightening. The new president believes that he can work with the other side but there are many pictures in the news of people showing up at speaking events with guns strapped to their side. At what rally in the past year did you see Thais with automatic weapons showing up at rallies? Try writing in a public forum that you think this is not a good idea and then wait for the hundreds of death threats you will receive in the morning. Is this the reasoned debate the writer was speaking of? If so, it doesn’t exist in my country anymore; it has been replaced by who has the most money to produce the loudest screams and the most YouTube videos. Yes, I know that Thaksin paid all these people to vote for him and to be at his rallies, but what is happening in America? Here, corporations pay congressman and senators to vote their way even though polls show the people want something different. Which system is worse? You may think you are moving back to a well governed country but the reality is there is a cultural war going on with no clear winner in sight.
Speaking earlier of my wife, yes I do have my Thai sweetheart with me in America. But what about the process I had to go through to make her a permanent resident in America? We met while she was visiting friends here and we married before her visa expired. You would think this was a no-brainer for the US Immigration agency but all I can say is that it is only recently I have quit having nightmares of my darling being deported. At any point during this process, I would have loved to have had a bribable official to deal with vs. the bureaucratic efficiency that is the US government these days. I won’t repeat the submission I wrote on this subject, but I will remind readers that when we got to the end of the process, the government was ready to deny permanent status to my wife because they did not consider our marriage license valid. It took a month of time, $800 of lawyer’s fees, as well as pressure from our Congressman, to convince them otherwise. Now we are trying to bring her kids over and the madness continues. All I can say is you’d better have deep pockets and an ocean of patience if you want to bring your sweetie and her family back to America. Myself, I would much prefer the corrupt Thai officials where we could have reached a mutual agreement in a couple of hours and all issues would have been resolved. Which is better, the financially corrupt Thai officials or the bureaucratically corrupt American officials?
Now, let’s assume you have gotten past immigration and you are ready to start a family or like me, you are importing a family. What about schools? Which ones are the best? Private schools are nice but very expensive. Public schools, especially for foreign speaking children, can be a nightmare. America used to have the world’s premiere public school system <Are you sure about that?! – Stick> but in today’s culture of “only my own” mentality, you could end up placing your children in schools worse than Thailand. Fortunately for me, I was able to find a job in America where the public schools are good and they have a great record for integrating kids from other countries. Believe me, there are few school systems capable of this in America now; email me and I will tell you where I live. In other areas, you are taking a big chance as American kids are not known for their tolerance of outsiders. Add to that the problem of Asian gangs, drugs, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, and a Thai education may not look so bad.
But let’s return to the reason most people want to come to America: good paying jobs. Yes, they are still here even during this recession. I have one but I gave up the job I really loved to get it. You see, my old job was a little tenuous and as I had seen more than few of my teammates recently fired with little compensation or consideration, I took a more secure job. This is the reality all Americans live with these days. It doesn’t matter how long you have been a good employee, when times get tough, it becomes a game of musical chairs. Unlike Europe and other countries which “pad” people when bad times hit, in America there is little or no unemployment insurance from the government. In fact, the stories of people losing their jobs and ending up in homeless shelters a few months later are so commonplace they are not reported in the news anymore. If you are willing to work in this kind of environment then OK, but be forewarned, it could all end tomorrow, even for skilled positions. Add to this the uncertainty of arcane rules governing most healthcare plans, and you could end up with an enormous medical bill even though you are insured! Unemployment and medical bills are two of the most reasons Americans declare bankruptcy yet these problems are easily solved through legislation. The Thais have solved these problems partially; enough so that most Thais do not live in constant fear of losing their jobs or having a major illness, unlike most Americans.
For those of you who think I am some kind of bleeding-heart liberal you could not be more wrong. I consider myself a conservative but not the nut-case kind that is so common in these partisan times. Since returning to America some seven years ago after living in Asia for almost two years and through 9/11, I have felt like a fish out of water. The common decency of the people and the melting pot society that I was once so proud of has been replaced by a banana republic mentality that seems foreign to me. Indeed, it is in my wife’s Thai community here in America that I take refuge in and find hope for the future. They are hard working, education focused, and future oriented, as only my father’s generation was. Also, except for Indian people (why?) they are remarkably without racial prejudice, unlike my own people that are now afraid of any foreign names on an airline passenger list. Consider your options carefully and with eyes wide open.
Maybe, like the many cycles of change that has highlighted America’s history, this cycle will start to move upward. Maybe Obama or other world events will precipitate a change that will have me writing a different submission some years from now. One can only hope. I guess all I am really saying is that deciding to live in America to have a “better” life is not the slam-dunk answer it was in years past. Many things need to be considered just like any other place in this world. But in the end, isn’t it nice to have choices of where to live; maybe both America and Thailand will benefit by this fact one day.
Sorry to hear that your country is so messed up. Fortunately some of us come from countries we would be quite happy to return to.