My Trigger Point
I enjoyed your most recent column and your “Trigger Point” and thought that I would share mine. I retired early and moved to Thailand in 2003. I’d just turned 50, so the coveted retirement visa was easy to obtain. (Navigated the system myself, no need to pay a “fixer”, it's not that complicated!) For a while I studied Thai, so I could manage at a basic level away from farang / tourist ghettos. I obtained my Thai driver's license, bought a motorbike and traveled around Thailand. I lived simply and didn’t spend much so my retirement portfolio increased, even after the 2008 market collapse.
Then, on August 2011 I got the call – my Mom was very ill and the prognosis didn’t look good. I sold my bike and caught the next plane home.
My Mom passed and I’m still here, not because I have to be but for now, it's where I want to be. Here are a few of my observations and thoughts:
1. Life is good in the west! Prices have increased significantly since my last visit in 2008; however, when I convert the price to Thai baht I’m surprised at how favorably they compare. I’m typing this from Burger King, skarfing some free wi-fi (more about that later.) Coffee is 15 baht and I can have all the refills I want! I love Italian food and there is a fantastic little place where I can stuff myself with spaghetti and meatballs with salad and garlic toast for 180 baht. I can’t eat it all and always get a doggie bag and enjoy another excellent meal at home. There are several very good Mexican restaurants and I can get the luncheon special, burrito, refried beans and rice for 95 baht! Nacho chips with salsa are compliments. I tip the servers, it's part of their compensation in the USA, but they actually want to please the customer. My water glass is refilled, I’m asked if I want more nachos or salsa, or to order desert or another dish. I never have to flag them down and they even smile when I interact with them – no somber demeanor and silly head nods. Computers, cars, beef, apples are all cheaper here and if I choose to economize, the cost of living is reasonable.
2. Peace and quiet. After arriving home, I felt uneasy at night; no it wasn’t a safety concern, it was too… quiet! I found an old wind up alarm to provide some background noise and Eureka, off to s deep slumber. Compared to Thailand it's so quiet here that I had to create some background noise. Ha!
3. Driving and being stopped by police. The roads are deserted here compared to many parts in Thailand. Of course I’m not located in a major metropolis area but the driving skills are SO much better here and I don’t feel the same level of frustration compared with driving in the Kingdom. I have not been stopped by the police – that’s rare – and if I were to be stopped, it would be for a cause, not to extort a bribe.
4. People. No matter how long I lived in Thailand, I still had to jump through all the Immigration hoops. The Thais were just tolerating me, I was always the farang… At time I wished that I never had learned Thai with all of the rude things they say and gossip about in one's presence! Then there were my fellow expats. I made some really good friends but the longer I lived in Thailand, the less outgoing I became. Most folks I just didn’t care to know. Some western guys would tell me how terrible things were back home and that here and how in Thailand they were free… WTF!?! Free to be extorted by the authorities? Free to be stopped and searched for no cause? I’m sorry, but people that were unhappy back home are eventually just as unhappy –maybe more so – in the Land of Smiles.
Despite my bitching, I did enjoy my years in Thailand and yes, I’d go back again. My personal opinion is that the expats who split their time, spending say the winters in Thailand and the summers back home are the happiest and most well adjusted folks.
Oh, the earlier wi-fi reference was my experience in a restaurant in Pattaya. I ordered breakfast, then fired up my laptop. My battery was marginal, so later I plugged in to the restaurants electric outlet. After finishing breakfast, I ordered more food so that I was a paying customer all the time I was surfing. I settled my bill, placed a tip in the waitresses hand so it was her money and started out. I knew the girl and had always gotten along, but she stomped her foot and barked “You pay me electric!”
This provides some nice balance to the ongoing debate of whether one should retire, or even relocate, to Thailand.
I absolutely agree with you that those who split time between Thailand and their homeland seem to be the happiest. I'd love to be able to do that. Also, I truly believe those who have a generally happy work life in the West, a high income and enough time to be able to travel to the region often are also amongst the happiest.