I was pondering the tendency for communities to grow from small groups of like minded folk where the common denominator is nationality. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics but our inner need for personal safety and security, when we move abroad and we are exposed to a different language, culture or bureaucracy.
There is an inbuilt need in most of us for friendship, protection, companionship, physical comfort and even affection. All part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I had been here for nearly a year before it hit me. I have more people here who I could call friends than I did back home in the west and certainly many more acquaintances.
I had devoted much of my 28 years of married life in the west to my partner, my children and my family, all at the expense of a small group of friends who gradually diminished as we grew older. My nomadic career did not help much and we were often uprooted at regular intervals to follow the work.
As part of my introduction to Thailand, a former colleague who settled here introduced me to a range of people, many of whom ran their own business. Bars, restaurants, dive schools, IT guys, the gas and oil gang, builders, teachers and retirees. All in all quite a diverse group. A few were single, some were with western partners but by far the largest group were those with Thai wives, partners and girlfriends. The common denominator here was not exclusively nationality, but we all spoke English.
The group consisted of Brits, Australians, Germans, French, Americans, Swiss and Scousers. They formed groups, sports and social clubs, pool teams and any other excuse for social interaction. A common bond grew and it felt good to belong and share the camaraderie. There have been several occasions in the past few years where this community has closed ranks in support of members. Although I use the word "members", it really is a very informal alliance which relies on keeping in touch and up to date. They have raised funds for specific charities both local and international. Likewise in the event of death, accidents and illness, they have been incredibly generous even up to and including repatriation.
The thing is if you have a problem back home in the west there are structures, organizations and agencies who can help you. It may be that you have a mate down the pub who is prepared to listen, but unable to help because his own life is beset by problems too and, like almost everyone else back home, he is fighting to keep his head above water.
The difference here is that your circle of friends share a common bond and a range of experience that might actually be of some use to you. Having been in a similar position, they are likely to have sound advice and even be in a position to offer practical help. They understand that this circle of expat friendship is the only safety net there is.
In your first year in country you will likely be full of questions. Immigration, hospitals, banking, transport and the like will all be top of your agenda. Maybe you need to know the best place to get a dental crown fixed, how easy it is to get a Thai driver's licence or where to find a long term rental bungalow?
After that first year you may be in a position to offer your opinion and add something to the expat community chest of help and information.
Within all this expat circle of help and hope, there will always be the oddball and the scoundrel. It will not be long before you are offered a short cut to the monkey house by a well wisher, offering you a temporary hit of some brand of nirvana. Maybe you will be offered a rock solid investment opportunity or a not to be missed timeshare in Siberia. Because they operate on a different plane to the rest, they are usually easy to spot, filter out and avoid.
The point about this friendship issue is that here in the kingdom we are more than just a loose group of casual friends. We are dependency. We rely on each other for more than fun and a social life. We are customers, friends, confidants, advisors and we act as an early warning system for scams, bad weather and where the next helmet checkpoint will be set up. It is a system you need to be a part of and because it adds value to everyone’s life in so many ways, you also want to be a part of it. You may wish to pursue an independent expat life style, but the network of expat friends is more fun and it will get you where you want to be that much quicker. One day, even your survival may depend on it. The best Expat friendships here are the equivalent of the welfare system in the west. It’s a pity we can’t export such a beneficial ethos.
It's great to hear that you and some of your friends have contingency plans in place. As you rightly point out, if one gets into hot water here they may very much feel like they are on, especially if they are not comfortable in the local language.
I am of the view that MANY expats in Bangkok have "issues", problems, or both – and most are self-inflicted, caused by bad judgment, bad decisions and so often doing things in Thailand they would never dream of doing at home.
So many Thailand expats – especially long-termers – aren't what they first seem, and it can take years to really get to know them and know what their situation is really like. Some have become expert at concealing questionable aspects of their lifestyle and presenting a positive image which may not always be that accurate. The person with the seemingly perfect family life may, for example, sleep in a different room to his wife, that is if they still even live under the same roof! The guy who talks of the great Bangkok lifestyle he has while out with friends yet returns to a hovel and survives on street food, or the guy who says he has a one-year visa actually means he has overstayed by a year. I've seen it all many times and believe that it is getting worse!
By building up this website and creating something of a brand name, I have managed to get access to and in some cases get close to some "big-name expats". I will tell you now that there are MANY who purport to be living the dream and who put up a front of being very well off, but in so many cases it's a load of nonsense! I could tell you about one high-flying Brit who made out that he was wealthy and had a hi-so wife and a fantastic life. Not so long ago he woke up one morning and she had cleaned out their crummy condo of what "valuables" he had left, a laptop and a mobile phone. She finally figured out that he was broke and she was better off back in the bar! Yep, she was a bargirl. If I mentioned his name, many Bangkok-based guys would be shocked! There are so many in not entirely different situations. They lead people to believe they have influential contacts, money and a great life but the truth is they have nothing. Granted, t his is not the norm, but there are many like this.
With all of this in mind, I prefer to look after numero uno myself. I have put in place a number systems to deal with whatever life throws at me. I don't plan on relying on anyone else if the brown stuff hits the fan. As far as helping others out, I have one friend – just one – for whom I am there to help – and by that I mean I would do what ever it took. I would help this fellow over all others for two reasons: First of all, whatever expenses I incurred in helping him out with he would pay back right away. Second, unlike so many expats out there, this guy has superior judgment and I think it is very, very unlikely I will need to ever help him out. So many expats have bad judgment and honestly, most problems are self-induced. Sure, luck can play a part but it's usually bad judgment. He doesn't even live in Bangkok but if things go pear-shaped, I'll be there to assist him.