Thailand – The Next Generation’s Perspective
Stickman gone, Howard Miller leaving and Richard Barrow slowly falling out of love with the country he has called home for so long. What is happening? Has the land of smiles turned to the land of frowns? Has Thailand lost its magic and its charm? My submission today will cover two themes continually at the forefront of expat discussions – disillusionment with Thailand and the bar industry, perhaps the two are in fact one but I sense that there may be more to it than just that.
I’m a younger guy. I can tell you after being here for 3 years that it has lost none of its charm and I still wake up almost daily thinking how lucky I am to live in a beautiful country where I can walk down the streets in relative safety. Yes of course there are days where I am left scratching my head at the Thai mentality and knowing my rights as a foreigner are next to nothing but at the same time I am forced to gain perspective and know that I am merely a long term guest in their country and it is up to me to adapt into their way of thinking and NOT the other way round.
So here are my thoughts on the current status of expat Thailand and the nightlife industry:
1. A Changing of the Guard
As mentioned above we are all merely long term guests and after a while I am sure I too will reach the stage where I am sick of being seen this way and will also choose to move on. The complaints I see are from the older generation whereas the majority of people my age truly love being here. I think what is happening is that there is an inevitable changing of the guard, where the older generation begins to become disillusioned and moves on. There are two possible factors for this either they do not recognize the change in themselves or they have failed to change and adapt to the times, either way the hankering for the glory days of old are not limited to expats in Thailand you see it all over the world with phrases such as “You should have been there when…”. The fact is that while you were loving Thailand 20 years ago there were probably older expats who too were hankering for days past and moved on from Thailand. It is a cycle that will not stop with you, the day will come too for my own generation when we talk about the glory days of old and how Thailand has changed and we have chosen to move on.
2. 20 years is a lifetime!
I have to have a chuckle when I read older expats and tourists complaining about how the girls now are less friendly and receptive than they were in the glory days 20 years ago. Guys, I do not mean to be an asshole but I think it’s vital we gain some perspective. 20 years ago I am sure most of you were fairly good looking guys who women would warm to when entering a room but I have seen some of you. If you were a young female would you honestly get super excited about a fat old balding man sweating profusely coming into the bar? I am not saying every single one of you can be described as such but whatever the situation few can argue that you looked a hell of a lot better 20 years ago than you look now? My group of friends are all in our late 20’s to early 30’s and trust me when we go into a bar there is literally no problem getting smiles, joking around and having a good time. I often see negative old expats looking at us with daggers in their eyes and often I would like to just go over and say “You’ve had your turn, just let us enjoy ours”. Again I must stress that I don’t wish to generalize but I am sure the vast majority of readers deep down can relate.
3. Online Forums
Not that I was there during the “glory days” but I am fairly certain that there were expats even then complaining about the changes in Thailand they did not like. The solemn group of expats having their afternoon drinks at their favourite watering hole complaining about the current state of Thailand is as common as hearing “MASSAGE” or “TUK-TUK” while walking down a busy tourist street. These groups I am sure would only have their own small group of friends to vent their frustrations to but it probably didn’t lead anywhere. Technology has been a major disruptor in expat circles, a theme that will continue to pop up during this submission. The advent of ThaiVisa forums has taken the discussions away from the bar stool and has entered the living room of any expat following these discussions. Whereas in the past one had a small group of friends to vent to now there are literally thousands with a similar mentality from all across the country that can spread their brand of negativity founded or unfounded and this permeates through most expat circles. Thus negative stories and feelings travel far faster than they would of many years ago and for those thinking of leaving the Kingdom have their feeling reinforced.
4. Girls using technology to their advantage
Has the quality of girls working in the bar really decreased? Stick in many previous columns alluded to the fact there are more opportunities for girls so many would choose not to work in the bar industry. Recently I had a talk with a friend who owns a well-known expat bar, he told me how much money he used to make just 5 years ago but it’s all changed. He explained to me that he is having a huge problem getting attractive, reliable staff in and that his business has taken a significant hit because of this. To me it seemed Stick’s assertions were right and that the naughty industry was indeed in for some rough times. It was not until I spoke to a good friend who is the same age as me about the topic that it all started making more and more sense, the reason is so simple and it is right in front of our eyes! And here is a free tip to the older generation of expats, get on your smartphone and start downloading Tinder, WeChat and BeeTalk – this gentleman is the new playground for the working girls of Thailand. Think about it logically; why would a girl want to go into a bar every night, hustle drinks, get drunk and follow strict rules and wake up and do it all over again when she can lie on her bed, open her phone and set her own appointments? Is it not the dream of us all to set our own hours and work independently? Why would a working girl be any different? Another advantage for the girls is that they can physically look at their customer before deciding on who to go with and with no shortage of messages received I can assure you they have their pick of young and old and can price accordingly. Young stud? Maybe 1500, old fat bastard lets see if he’s willing to take 5000. This is gaining massive momentum with girls informing other girls of this, so expect in no time for this to be the new realm for naught boys. The quality of girls in the industry at large has not decreased, they simply operate through new platforms.
5. New Generation, New Thinking
With a new generation entering the fray the overall thought towards Thailand at large has changed. What was a refuge for naughty boys has now become a refuge for those who are looking to escape the West’s PC culture and who are looking for new opportunities. Amongst my wider network we hold a variety of positions that simply do not exist in the West, earning decent wages which allow a far superior lifestyle to that we could enjoy in our home countries. There are entrepreneurial opportunities that exist are out here as well, one only needs to look at the food trucks, restaurants and other businesses that have popped up catering to Westerners but attracting Thais. I just don’t see the anti-Western sentiment that keeps coming up in conversation, but one has to think carefully about perception. Would you have a high opinion of an old foreigner that spends his time drinking with young prostitutes in your home country? I think not. If we see an attractive younger woman holding hands with a fat old man in the West we look down at both parties, she a gold digger and he an old pervert so why would it be any different in Thailand? We have a work/life balance – we spend the week working and during the weekend you may find us at naughty bars but you are just as likely to find us at a pub watching sport, hanging out with Thai friends whose English is extremely underrated by the way or you may not even see us as we opt in for a quiet weekend with the missus. In essence our lifestyles are comparable to how we would live in the West, just a far higher standard of living and honestly speaking from my perspective a far higher appreciation of the skills we bring to the table. Thai’s are not anti-Western, they are shy and will hardly be interested in making the initial approach but approach them and offer them your skills and I can assure you no doubt will be surprised at how receptive they are. Recently I went around to various shopping malls to seek space for a restaurant, in the West I was given an e-mail and told to wait whereas in Thailand I am shown around the malls, explained future plans and receive the same treatment as a major chain would.
In conclusion I realize I cannot paint all expats with the same brush. We are all different, we are all unique and we are all here for different reasons. Not all older expats are old fat mongerers and not all young expats are go-getters. The above is just my opinion as to why there may be a change in perception amongst a certain generation, I think there is a changing of the guard occurring and you can either accept it or continue to live in denial. Then again when its my turn to hand over Thailand to the next generation perhaps I too will have to deal with my own inner perspective, it is extremely hard to let go of something you love but the Thailand as you knew it will never be the same again. Allow us to build our own legacy, trust me your beloved second country is in safe hands.
Footnote: Perhaps Stick would want to smack me in the mouth for saying this but perhaps he too should consider a changing of the guard? I have grown to love this website and respect highly the work he has done. I think Stickman is its own person separate from him as an individual. Perhaps retaining ownership and passing on the column to someone from the next generation is in order? I still read his weekly column religiously but somehow feel that the enthusiasm has left him a bit since his relocation, I particularly miss the photos he would take. Anyway not here to make waves, only express an opinion.
I'll comment on a few random things here:
– Yes, I can understand you feel safe walking down the street in Thailand. Is that because you come from South Africa, something you didn't mention in the submission? If you came from one of the countries where the majority of readers come from I wonder if you would feel quite the same. I can tell you that walking down the street in New Zealand is certainly safer than in Thailand!
– There could be a zillion reasons why people become disenchanted with a place but you have suggested there are only two. Is it not possible that Thailand has changed and some people liked the old Thailand and don't like the new? Ask any Thai if their country has changed and see what they say… Many Thais are far more discontented than foreigners who complain / have left. Granted, yes, foreigners do change too and that is part of it.
– As for the column changing, yep, it has happened just as I knew it would happen. That's why I was open from the outset, saying I had left, later announcing I had sold the site but staying on as a contributor. The focus has changed with more opening pieces that are op-ed in style, rather than reports from the frontlines so to speak. Also, the reliance on others for news and gossip and for general observations of trends means I am in many ways writing blind. I still have a lot of movers and shakers tipping me off about stuff but it will never be the same when you're not there on the ground. The new site owners would love someone to come along and to write another column for the site and talked about some sort of mid-week column to complement by Sunday article. The reality is that the amount of time and effort it takes to produce a weekly column week after week is huge and I don't think many people would be up for it. Just look at all of the sites that have come along over the years, lasted a few months or maybe even a few years before they eventually gave it away. This site has been running since 1998!
– For me personally, I am just glad that I was able to leave and that I had managed my life so I could return to New Zealand without any issues. MANY expats cannot do that. They waste time, squander money, burn bridges and may even have their face on a wanted poster back home. I am also lucky to have returned to a country which is prospering and which has much more going for it than when I first left.