Bahtless in Bangkok
Well, I believe my time as a resident of this fair city is coming to an end, at least temporarily. Let me start by saying that I truly love and enjoy living in Bangkok. I’m now 46 years old and have been coming to Thailand for eleven years and living here now for three and a half years. I love the pace of the city, as well as the lifestyle. It can be a very low pressure, easy going way of life. Being single, I’m responsible only for myself, which makes dealing with the occasional vagaries of life here that much easier to contend with. Things would most assuredly be different if I had a family to care for. As with any place, there are of course both positives and negatives but, as has been said by many before me, the positives tend to outweigh the negatives here in the Land of Smiles. Like most others from the West, I find the contradiction in the term “Thai logic” both the most frustrating and also the most entertaining aspect of life here. I sometimes marvel that the country runs as well as it does. Many hoops to jump through and adjustments to be made by those of us coming from a decidedly different cultural background. After becoming well and truly bored with the predictability and conformity in the West, I found the challenges of life here in Bangkok to be a very exciting and rewarding change of pace. Granted, the ever present heat and humidity, along with the lack of real seasons, took some adjusting to, but with the occasional dip in the swimming pool, the ready availability of “Pa Yen” (cold towels) pretty much everywhere you go, an electric bill comparable to that in the West due to constant use of the air-con, and developing the habit of taking several showers a day it became tolerable. After all, who hasn’t harbored the dream of a life in the tropics and making a home in your favorite holiday destination? Luckily, I’ve never experienced any problems in having to deal with bureaucratic red tape, though I have spent a few days in waiting at the local Immigration office. I’ve also managed to avoid the many scams or any conflicts with local law enforcement mainly through the use of good old common sense. And what submission would be complete without at least a mention of having the good fortune to have enjoyed the company of more than a few of the most beautiful women in my life.
So, what then brings me to the decision to finally leave my chosen home (at least temporarily)? It really comes down to a combination of Opportunity Cost and, as Stick so eloquently expressed a few weeks ago, the lack of really good close friends and a support system. On the topic of Opportunity Cost, I started a business here in Bangkok ten years ago, internet based with customers all over the world, but mainly in the U.S. After building it up to an acceptable level and gaining a good solid reputation in the process, I decided to make my move over to this land of milk and honey to run things here at the source and reap the benefits of a better lifestyle at a considerably lower cost than in the West. Who could have foreseen the coming of our current economic crisis and the many challenges it would bring. I made the all too common mistake of believing that things would continue in the successful vein of the past. While it is very possible to maintain a business and customer base from here, I have learned that it’s not quite as easy to BUILD a mainly overseas concern from this current base of operations. With consumer confidence this past year quickly fading, and people everywhere cutting down on spending, I found my sales dwindling pretty fast.
No sales equals no income and, despite the low cost of living, no way to maintain an acceptable lifestyle. I went back and re-read Stick’s article about living and working in Bangkok and, to my chagrin, found myself identifying with his descriptions of foreigners living here hand to mouth, month to month, with no real safety net and even getting to the point of asking “friends” for small loans to get by until things picked up. Not a very proud moment for me. This prompted much rethinking of my life and plans for my future. I’m still relatively young and in prime earning years. The problem is that there is really so little opportunity for a foreigner to earn money here in our chosen home unless you want to go the English teacher route, which Stick himself says is a fairly dead end and unfulfilling path, or you are lucky enough to be on an expat package with a foreign company. At least in the West, even with unemployment rates steadily growing, it’s possible to get SOME type of job as a secondary income, if not a full time career.
After much soul searching, I have come to the decision that I must return to the U.S., at least temporarily, as a strategic business move so that I may be where the so-called “action” is and reinvigorate my business. I don’t see it as any kind of failure, or a step backward, but merely another evolutionary step in the always changing path of my life. I figure that if people are now spending half as much money as before, if I increase my customer base by 2x, 3x, or 4x it should make up the discrepancy. How do we do it? Volume, volume, volume. Though I have a small network of dealers, I have also learned through the years that nobody sells my products as well as I do. Probably because I have more at stake in it than anyone else. My business will still always require me to return to Thailand to maintain contact with my manufacturers and, after a period of hard work, I can always return to Thailand to live and enjoy the continuing fruits of my labors.
As to the topic of friendships and a good support system, I’m very lucky in that I still have a good strong group of long term friends in the U.S who support my efforts, as well as family that loves me and always has my best interests at heart. They will all go out of their way to make sure I never starve or have to worry about becoming homeless. Now, I do have a couple of “buddies” here, but nowhere near the unconditional love and support that I enjoy back in the West. Also, as I have discussed with Stick, Thailand can lack a certain degree of intellectual stimulation, not to mention inspiration, for moving forward in one’s life endeavors. On my visits back to the States I find myself almost like the thirsty man coming from the desert and just drinking in the conversations and sharing of opinions on every possible topic with people of equivalent education and background as myself.
Again, my goal really is to come back to Thailand, as there is so much that I continue to love about this contradictory land, but at this particular point I’m feeling rather stagnant in my pursuits here and need to shake up the status quo. Same old same old, as they say. Right now, with no real income, my life consists of working the phone and emails to solicit whatever business I can and then spending a lot of time at home, worrying about expenses, watching DVDs and repetitive TV to avoid going out and spending money unnecessarily. Very similar to the old life I left behind in the comparatively expensive city of L.A., just transplanted to a different hemisphere. Not exactly what I had in mind when I initially made the move over here. It all sounds a bit depressing but also should serve as a cautionary tale about the need to have a good sustainable plan and not take any current success for granted. Without much money in hand, Bangkok can become a somewhat harsh place to live, though I must say I have been very impressed and touched by the generosity and compassion of a few of the Thai locals on my soi that I have befriended over the years. As I’ve often said, “bahtless in Bangkok is no place to be”.
It's sad to see you go and hope that you return quickly so we can resume our always interesting conversations.