My Love for Thailand is Superficial
The year was 1998 and I took my first trip to Thailand. Actually, I had quit my job and decided to trek around South-East Asia so Thailand was just one of many stops for me. Like most readers I was immediately hooked on Thailand which had that special draw that somehow magically pulls you in. Whether it was the people, the food, the temples, the countryside, the booze, or the sex I have no idea, but likely a combination of all settled in a tropical location far away from the political correctness of my own corner of Farangland.
As the years went by, I continued to visit at least annually for no more than a month at a time as work beckoned. Currently I am about a week away from flying there once again for the month of July. However, this is where similarity with the majority of your readers probably ends. The more I traveled and peaked under the covers of Thai society (and expat life), the more jaded I became. While education has gotten worse in my home country, it is absolutely atrocious in Thailand. As our government has become increasingly bold about infringing on our personal rights, I look at Thailand with the amount of corruption that occurs at all levels and am floored how the country can be productive at all. I’m not saying our government is free from corruption as that would be completely ignorant on my part. All governments are corrupt, but in a region of the world where corruption is the norm, Thailand stands out as one of the worst offenders while other countries are at least making an effort to try and root out some of it.
But the absolute worst part of Thailand for me is the type of expat that migrates there. It seems to be the cesspool of society and I find it increasingly difficult to have an educated conversation with most expats in Thailand. I do want to point out that this is a generalization as I have met some genuinely intelligent individuals as well. However, when I compare it to Tokyo, Hong Kong or Singapore, there is no comparison. My conversations or interactions when I visit those cities are on a different level. We are always looking to get ahead, work hard, be a part of the exciting growth in the tiger economies of Asia, while conversations in Thailand always lead to disgruntled conversations about the women and / or politics in our home countries, beer, and sex. It strikes me as extremely immature and I feel like in some sense I’m reliving my high school or college days.
Given this, would I ever live in Thailand? 10 years ago, I would have said yes. Now, I certainly doubt it, at least while I have a child that I want the best education and stepping stone to life for. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei hold much more of an allure for me. However, there are other things I have to consider. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to a Thai girl from the North-East and have been for 13 years. Her entire family still lives in Thailand so there is a draw to Thailand that is hard to shake. Luckily for me, even though her parents grew up farming rice like so many others, they believed in education. Her parents worked extremely hard to send my wife, her two sisters, and all three brothers to college. All have graduated and all are working in good jobs outside of the farming industry so they make solid salaries. I don’t have the pressure to consistently send money like so many others.
We also have a 6-year old son so trips to Thailand that used to occur between US Thanksgiving in late November through the end of December are now occurring for the 1st time in July and that will continue as long as he is in school. I can’t envision sending him to school in Thailand. Even if we were enrolled in a good international school, it would be a stretch to move there. Our current school district in the States is considered “exemplary” which is the highest rating a school can attain.
The attention and availability of sports in my section of Farangland is also strong in just about any sport imaginable. My son is active in American football, soccer, basketball, hockey, and baseball often taking on 2 sports per season. At this age I want him to be competitive and I want him to experience as many different sports as possible as long as he wants to try them out. In my mind, the competition will force him to work harder to make teams which will in turn instill in him a work ethic that will continue beyond his playing days. Would I be able to get the same level of training and participation in sports in Thailand? I think not. Maybe a few sports, but certainly not the offering available here.
Politics is the other area of concern. Certainly I would be a fool to say I am enamored with our political system. I do feel political correctness has gotten out of control and the government's continued actions encroaching on my civil liberties is also something to be wary of. But when I look at which government I trust more – the US government or the Thai government, it’s a no-brainer. As much as I dislike the US government and the ensuing bureaucracy and waste of tax-payer dollars (and Obama-care is just getting started – the impending shit storm that will cause should be fun to watch), can I honestly look in the mirror and say I trust the Thai government as much or more than the US? For me personally, the answer is NO. With the amount of corruption that takes place, with the amount of special favors, with the lack of efficiencies and general planning, I can’t trust them at all. Again, I will say, I don’t really trust any government so I do take that with a grain of salt.
Given my current situation with my son, I could never see living in Thailand for at least the next 12 years. At least a dozen countries would come on the list before Thailand would be entertained.
Long-term, I do see good things for Thailand. The tiger economies can’t be stopped. They will continue to grow and Thailand will benefit from this growth. Thailand is geographically well situated. If politics are overcome and high speed rail connects Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China, this will be a huge boon for the country as a whole and the North-East in particular. Hopefully the resulting economics and inflation will start to squeeze out the undesirables and they can find another country to pollute. I also see the Thai government putting in more regulations across the board on businesses and individuals as they become more advanced. Certainly, some will say these regulations will be unfair and people are losing their rights, but these regulations will help create better and more efficient infrastructure, cut down on pollution, and potentially reduce corruption.
So I guess to summarize, while I do love Thailand, it is really a superficial love. It’s a great place to visit, but in my current state, I don’t want to put my son’s future in jeopardy nor turn my brain into mush without the opportunity for continued intellectual conversation. There is so much more to do and accomplish and the minute I move to Thailand, I would consider that the end of the road and I’m just calling it quits. Many at my age have already made that decision to quit and retire in Thailand. For me, I just can’t see it. I think I would be bored out of my mind and I can’t see just stopping all together, even when I do retire. I imagine staying busy and consistently keeping my mind active. Maybe some day I could be like one of my favorite investors who has called Thailand home and lives in the Chiang Mai area. Certainly I will never have the financial means of a Marc Faber but he has found a way to live in that area of Asia and still be very much connected to what is happening globally. With that said, I know as I continue to reach retirement age, I do know Thailand will move further up the chain of desirable places to live and Singapore, Tokyo, and Hong Kong will move down the list simply because of the rat race associated with those cities, thus continual change is inevitable.
I maintain that if you have kids that the West offers so much more than Thailand!