To Move or Not And How to Make it Stick if You Do
I have a take on our young Australian’s dilemma from my own experience. I had a nice corporate career in the US – daring even to dream of becoming Technical Director – which I chucked a few years ago in my early forties
to move here to Thailand to a lesser and less secure job. I did have a few doubts niggling in me the first year or so, but am convinced now that it was the best damn decision I ever took.
The reasons to move were the usual and mundane – stress, emptiness, ennui – they have been described often enough in these pages that I needn’t bother you with another litany. Certainly, I wasn’t going to be as
wealthy as our doctor friend some submission ago, but a summer cottage in the Upper Peninsula, a winter condo on the Florida seaside and plenty of travel and fine dining in between were surely for me to look forward to in retirement.
But the problem was that retirement was in the distant future. I still had years and years of the present to reckon with, which kept looking less and less appetizing. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when I turned to full rebellion
but it did happen and I started, at first whimsically and then obsessively, to look to for an out.
The best jobs in my field in a non-Western environment were to be found in South America. But I thought to myself that I was leaving because of my job, not for one, so to hell with that – I just wanted to take me where I could be happy
and, well yes, work for a living too. In exactly that order of importance. Yep, work was going to slip down the pecking order of my life. It would become subservient to my personal happiness; in fact, it would exist solely to subsidize my well-being
and I wasn’t planning on thinking much of work outside of work (unlike my situation in the US where it followed me around like a puppy). If you are thinking that this would approximate the mindset of a Biergarten freelancer you are probably
Memories of Bangkok from transits years ago on business trips were of a warm climate, friendly people and a crazy happening city. When the ad for a position in Bangkok popped up on my terminal the first time, in fact, the remembrance of the
city which came to mind was sitting for a meal at a sidewalk stall, only to be tapped moments later on the shoulder by what turned out to be the trunk of a large elephant whose grinning mahout wanted me to buy a bunch of bananas to feed the animal.
And it wasn’t just elephants that had delighted me in the day or two that I got to spend there each trip. I’d been diligently naughty too, and remember thinking, oddly enough, not how much fun it was (which it was) but how safe
it was. In the States dating meant lugging around a load of baggage in your head and, especially, if you were waking up next to her there was a lot of additional fine print to keep in mind. Or, if one preferred the escort services route, then
that’s a business which operates in the contrails of serious drugs and crime in the US; unless you were paying Spitzer-like prices you were not only not going to get a girlfriend experience, you were not going to find someone you would
want to be seen in broad daylight with. Get in, get off, get out, pronto and incognito – purpose barely served and not a memory to muse over the next day.
So, keeping in mind the order (a) life (b) happiness (c) work, the decision wasn’t exactly one that I agonized over. No, I wasn’t naïve and dreamy about it either. I quit my job in the States, of course, but I didn’t
sell my condo right away. Nor, did I tell my professional colleagues what I was up to. I waited to be sure the other side was more than a mirage before burning my bridges. If things went pear-shaped in the LOS I would fly back, tell people that
I had temporarily fallen into a black hole and try to pick up where I had left off.
And, amidst all those drool-inducing fantasies of foraging in Patpong and Nana, I did make hard-headed calculations too. My salary in Bangkok, though far less than what I made in the US, would still be four times the median household income
for that city. I figured if I couldn’t be content materially making four times what folks around me were making, then I deserved to live out my days in whining, Valium-popping misery wherever.
Now it’s four years later and a funny thing happened on the way to setting the life-happiness-work priority list in stone – the items got mixed up into a pretty strange and heady concoction. Well, the first thing that happened
was that yakking with and subsequently banging bargirls, consuming copious amounts of beer in the process, night in and night out, every night, succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. In fact, that pacifier flamed out in just a couple of
weeks within moving here. Truth to tell it was not unexpected; I knew all along at the back of my mind it would happen. Papering over the fakery – from “hansum man” to the exaggerations in bed – with one’s own
fantasies is fine for a temporary escapee from the West who has a flight to catch back in a week, but not for someone here with a work permit looking to establish a daily routine for the long term.
Not that I intended to retreat to spending my nights drinking hot chocolate and playing chess on the internet. No, I just became more relaxed and selective. Instead of being out on the town every night I would venture forth maybe two or three
times a week, and almost never to Nana and Co. Bangkok, as I discovered pleasantly enough, has a lot more to offer – great food, music, dance, and classy clubs populated with babes with whom you can actually do much more than communicate
via pantomime over a Connect 4 grid. Yep, good times were on tap – to be had at any time and in any form or amount desired! Once I was sure of this, the urgency drained from the whole scene and I began to play at my own pace.
So, what did this to do my work? Weirdly enough, it turned it upside down in a way that I had never imagined it could. My office felt like a prison in the US; here there was air, light, a window to the outdoors and an unlocked door. Motivation
and desire returned. Not only did I put my heart into my assigned responsibilities, I volunteered for more, which tickled my boss no end. Successes that came were satisfying while failures didn’t bring with them the end-of-the-world gloom
that there goes my promotion up in smoke. The company was and still is too small for there to be any high position or great achievement to aspire to. Yet, it’s a fun place to put in eight hours day – kind of like being a commando
in a small guerilla unit, rather than a foot soldier in a vast army.
Moreover, as I wasn’t bringing much home by way of work, either in my backpack or my head, I had time in the evenings, which I decided to devote to an e-magazine project that I had always wanted to do but never gotten around to in
the US. I am glad to report that it’s taken off fairly well and keeps me banging happily away on my notebook most evenings while sucking on a cappuccino at a mall down the street.
So, that’s my current state in a capsule. Of course, there are ups and downs. As an expat have I been in situations which made me curse the land, put a pox on its people and want to fly home in a rage? Sure, several times. In fact,
having a temper which often gets the better of me, I have stumbled into situations on more than one occasion which I have been lucky to get out of physically unscathed. After a timeout though matters tend to fall into a broader perspective –
I mean, sure, even one incident can shine a light on an individual’s character and reveal an erstwhile pleasant companion to be a jerk, but isolated incidents should not be allowed to vitiate a whole way of life. Sitting calmly now at my
computer I can look back over the last four years and say it was the right decision to move here, that I would do exactly the same if they dragged me back in time, and that now I am generally content. Will I feel the same way in a year? In five
years? I don’t know. Ask me again in 2012 and 2016.
So, what’s my advice to my Stickmanite brothers if I may be so bold as to proffer some? Well, to begin with I agree more with our limo driver friend than the good doctor, despite Stick’s remonstrations to the contrary! I don’t
know about you but I don’t want to wait till my sixties to have a great life.
Listen to your heart as well as your head. Don’t let either boss the other. There was an article on CNN about mistakes people make in restaurants. One went something like this: “Don’t listen only to the waiter’s
recommendation no matter how knowledgeable he seems. Go with your craving. That’s why you are there in the first place.” Good advice for life too I thought! Now, of course, if you crave a $300 filet mignon to be washed down with
a $200 bottle of Cabernet, then you might want to check with your purse – I mean your head – first!
Our buddy the limo driver is 100% right that wealth and fame alone a happy man do not make. And the good doctor is on the money implying that a hand-to-mouth existence is far from uplifting. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot, which
is not the same for us all. I have expat friends who cannot imagine living here without owning a house and a car. I have neither, yet I am sure they look askance at some things I do spend time and money on. Only you can decide how you would like
to live here and if you can afford it. My only practical suggestion would be, if possible, to take Thailand out for a test drive before you buy in – in other words, get a sabbatical and a return ticket the first time.
Another word to the wise if I may when you do move here: find a second life, particularly, a second job or hobby or passion. The reason is that jobs in Thailand which are challenging and fulfilling in the Western sense are hard to come by
and, unless you are pea-brained, there’s just so much time you can spend in bars and clubs and even on the ensuing happy ending. You need to fill the space in between or it could start to weigh heavily.
Okay, now that I have gotten good and going I am going to rant about how to live here until Stick wrestles me off my soapbox.
Lose your sense of entitlement. No Thai owes you a thing. Do you recall the Thai consul appearing at your front door in Farangland on bended knee with an air ticket in hand? I didn’t think so either. You are here of your own volition
and if you are dumping millions of your hard-earned baht into the Thai economy, that’s of your own free will too. Sure, they take your money with a smile and great appreciation, but that does not make them beholden to you by any means.
And, you need to be pro-active about this: not having a sense of entitlement doesn’t mean just being humble and polite. It also entails the effort to learn about the country you have chosen to park yourself in, particularly the language.
I watch in bemusement couples where the Western guy is yakking away nineteen to the dozen in English to his evidently ex-bar girlfriend who is looking up at him with a Mona Lisa smile. He thinks it’s adoration he sees; more likely she’s
wondering when her suffering is going to end and she can take off with her tip. It really is selfish to not meet her halfway, yet expect commitment, and then get mad when it turns out one dark day that there never was any.
If you have gripes about Thai ways that you can do nothing to change, then keep them to yourself. E.g., if you don’t like a particular bar for favoring Japanese then don’t give them your business and move on. Incidentally, as
long as the total of US and UK arrivals to Suvarnabhumi exceeds the Japanese by more than 40% there’ll be farang-friendly places – you just have to go find them.
If you don’t like double pricing, don’t pay – nobody’s forcing you. And if you do, don’t complain. There’s nothing more annoying to a Thai (and fellow expats) than a farang who will neither shut up
about how bad things are here nor catch a flight home. From your point of view, as well, it’s pointless to torment yourself over a situation you can do zilch to alleviate.
With Thai women be kind but not generous. There’s a big difference – as much as between affection and disdain. Generous means buying her fancy bling, contributing to the family Sangsom fund, or, heaven forfend, putting her on
a retainer. Generosity invites being taken for granted, being used and discarded.
Kindness is different. It’s being solicitous without being extravagant. As in, after taking her from the club, asking if she’s hungry. As in, when you’re out with her, offering to buy her a pretty pair of shoes or a dress
from a roadside stall you happen to be passing. None of this will cost you more than a couple of hundred baht. And, if she proclaims that she would prefer to go “chopping” at the Emporium, laugh and say you’re a poor farang
and not a rich Yeepoon. If she insists still, dispose of her like yesterday’s newspaper; if she’s still around you will be in the company of a woman who might actually like you, which, incidentally, if this is what you care about,
makes a huge difference in bed.
And, often, being kind means, well, simply being kind. Like, when she’s glued wide-eyed to soap on TV, don’t mock or flip the channel – ask her what it’s about, who the actors are, and try to remember for next
time. Get into her life and dreams – it’ll be much easier to win her from there, rather than throwing money and snapping your fingers from afar.
You don’t have to “go native” but at least try to understand
what Thais like, especially the women. I’ll tell you first what they hate most: guys who take themselves too seriously. Yechh! If you are that sort as, unfortunately, many of us are, lighten up. It’s not just that it’s good
practice here in Thailand, methinks it is really good attitude to life anywhere. Remember one of the things that made us sick of Farangland was the pervasive self-obsession. As limo driver suggests, don’t get too caught up with the conventional
templates of a successful man – of how to be rich and beautiful and desirable – which are drilled into us. That’s the way Ford, Gap, Royal Caribbean and the other advertisers want you to think. But their obligation is to make
money for their shareholders – corporations give a rat’s ass if the consumer ends up a materially overstuffed and an emotionally bereft wreck. Heck, in that case they’ll come knocking cheerily with pills and therapy! They
want to take you coming and going – that’s how they thrive. But you can too: just be your own man and beware of anyone wanting to put a leash on your mind.
Thai women have low tolerance for boredom. They like to be amused constantly – see how they are always eating or yakking or doing both. So learn to amuse. When you’re walking her up your soi, break suddenly into your best ladyboy
sashay, preen your hair and growl at her in a low voice, “I have cock, you like?” Old Chinese saying: make she laugh, she not be starfish.
Lighten up, laugh at yourself, try to be amusing, don’t take yourself seriously and don’t take her too seriously either. This last point may seem a bit odd if you are trying to win her affection, but it’s actually rather
important. Women rank lower than men in Thai society so girls grow up understanding that their own will is subservient to those of their male relatives and that their role is as an enabler rather than a doer. Which, of course, is the provenance
of the Thai woman’s reflexive “up to you” response. Therefore, to saddle one with the expectation of having to articulate her ambitions and opinions in any kind of forceful manner is to ask her to behave in a manner she considers
profoundly unfeminine. Take it easy. Don’t force her there. Let her get to it on her own if ever.
One last piece of advice: if you get tired of the CSE (candy store experience) and find someone, go for the GFE by all means; conversely, keep in mind, that if GFE sours, then CSE awaits. So, play to your heart’s content, my friend,
for the dice is indeed loaded in our favor in the LOS – until you marry that is. Bets are off if you do. I am not saying you can’t be happily married to a Thai woman. It’s just that a wondrous new set of variables enters the
equation! If the only way it seems to keep her is by signing a bunch of papers in a Government office with a sleazy lawyer looking over your back, then in all likelihood she’s not worth it. I am with Stick in advocating marriage only if
kids are what you want; otherwise, persevere doggedly with GFE and CSE. You can’t aim to be happy without some amount of self-discipline.
Seems to be a lot of sensible advice here. Perhaps the only point I would disagree with is the bit about ditching her if she expects to shop at Emporium, as opposed to on the street. Hell, I wouldn't want a woman who preferred to shop on the street, but that is personal preference, and nothing more!