The Road Home: What I Didn’t Expect
More long-term expats in Bangkok are talking about moving back to their homeland. What will they return to? Has home changed in the time they’ve been away? I thought I was well prepared for the move back home, but the ability of my homeland to surprise me was very real. Life back in New Zealand is good, but there were things I did not expect and more than a few things I was just plain wrong about.
The first thing I noticed – and it didn’t matter how many times I had been back home to visit – was the outrageous cost of living. No matter how much you prepare yourself, the prices back home can be a real shock to the system after Thailand.
Whether you rent or buy, anything to do with property is just silly money. All essential utilities are expensive and don’t get me started on tradesmen or property maintenance. The cost of a small job could run a couple of month’s spending money in Bangkok. OK, so brand name clothes are cheaper in New Zealand than in Thailand, as are cars – so it’s not like everything is expensive. What I’d say about the cost of living in New Zealand is that the essentials are expensive, outrageously expensive in some cases.
Count me amongst those not impressed with the press in Thailand, especially the English language newspapers. It was something I was looking forward to but the media landscape in New Zealand has changed and pretty much anything mainstream is junk. Quality journalism is dying in New Zealand and investigative journalism is all but dead. My best guess is that journalism, like teaching and a few other professions, has become devalued, vocations that just don’t pay enough to attract decent recruits, hence the quality has suffered horribly. I used to enjoy reading Kiwi newspapers and the local TV news used to be watchable. Now I can’t stomach either, especially the TV which broadcasts what I can only describe as a distorted view. Let’s leave it at that.
Political correctness has gone absolutely bonkers and amongst those you don’t know you have to be careful what you say. It has become rather like Thailand where if you say something that is indisputably + factually correct, if someone can somehow – even at a stretch – relate it to themselves and make out that their feelings have been hurt then you may be considered to be in the wrong and should not have said it in the first place. Freedom of speech is under real threat in New Zealand where many, particularly young folk, prefer a rosy view of the world. Before we know it we’ll have a situation like Thailand where you cannot state the bleeding obvious which perpetuates mediocrity and nothing ever improves. Kiwis used to call a spade a spade. Not so much these days, it seems.
People are coddled. Many children don’t walk to or from school because – so some people believe – it might be dangerous. What dangers exist between home and school in New Zealand, I have no idea. Let me say something positive for a moment: New Zealand absolutely is not dangerous. It’s hard to think of anywhere safer, save perhaps Singapore or Tokyo.
Everything has to be safe, ultra safe to the point of ridiculousness. A recent TV story showed a city council forcing a family to take down a magnificent tree hut that granddad had built for his grandkids. As I recall, granddad was handy with a hammer – he may have even been a retired builder – and the structure looked solid and more like an actual house in a tree than a ramshackle collection of leftover planks of wood. Apparently this wonderful treehouse breached some local bylaw. While I cannot remember the exact details, I seem to recall that because it was so many inches off the ground and was a fixed structure, it was deemed illegal because planning submission had not been sought – and it had to be taken down forthwith. It was a children’s tree hut, for God’s sake! What could be better than for kids to be encouraged to play outside, well away from computers, video games and mobile phones. But no, the zealots in the city council put paid to that.
And that brings me to my pet hate, city councils. They impose the most ridiculous rules that homeowners must comply with – and the cost of compliance is just outrageous. One of the (many) reasons why New Zealand houses are so expensive is compliance costs which can run around $70,000 on a standard new house. And there are ridiculous costs imposed by councils on relatively minor renovations that can far exceed the actual cost of the materials and labour. I’m all for order and safety, but things have gone way too far. In Thailand it seems that you just build what you want. Sure, there are regulations but the costs aren’t prohibitive so you can just get on with things without other people essentially telling you how to live your life.
You might say that none of this is anything new, but I don’t remember things being this bad when I originally left New Zealand for Thailand. My feeling is that bureaucracy has got in to high gear.
When you’re planning to move from Thailand back to your homeland there are probably a mix of push and pull factors, issues pushing you away from Thailand and others pulling you back to your homeland. If I may give one piece of advice in this regard, if you’re on the fence about whether to move back, discard the push factors (those which are pushing you away from Thailand and make you want to leave) and think more about the pull factors (those which pull you back to your homeland and make you want to move back). The more pull factors, the higher the likelihood you will be happy wherever it is you’re moving to, in my opinion.
I think I was guilty of romanticizing the move back home and perhaps inconveniently forgetting some of the issues we deal with in the West. In Thailand it’s easy for expats to scoff at some things and say that they’re much better back in our homeland. That might be the case, but perhaps some things are not that different to Thailand, after all.
Let’s take the police. The Thai police don’t always fill outsiders with confidence and many expats do everything to avoid any contact with the constabulary. I used to have great faith in and respect for the NZ police, but not so much nowadays. The kiwi cops show little interest in many crimes and might even suggest a crime is not worth reporting (so as to keep crime stats down, apparently). A victim of burglary or car theft? Odds are it won’t be investigated. There are countless stories of the cops saying they will visit a home that was burgled – and they never show up. No follow-up, nothing! And when you see local cops on TV, one wonders if they have narrowed their requirements with a clear preference shown for females and immigrants. Whatever happened to the big burly kiwi cops of old? We’re a nation of rugby players – and rugby players make fine policemen. Some of these big mamas and wimpy immigrants with dodgy English and zero sense of authority are a joke. You see it in the TV shows all the time with Kiwi teenagers taking the piss out of them, goading them, mocking them and running away from them. If I ever have reason to call the cops I want someone who looks like an All Black – not a Karaoke singer – to knock on my door.
This new breed of cops make great traffic cops, not that that is anything to gloat about. Drive 5 km/h over the speed limit over a holiday weekend when they’re out in serious numbers and odds are you’ll get ticketed. Why is the enforcement of traffic rules such a great priority? The cynic in me thinks it might be about revenue collection when 99% of the population thinks resources should be allocated to target realcrime. OK, so it means the roads here are infinitely safer than Thailand but surely there are more important things for the coppers to work on?!
And another thing to rant about the cops and those in uniform is that they love to lecture you. I tend not to watch much TV, but I have this bad habit of watching local TV shows which follow the likes of the police, customs and other government department officers around as they perform their duties. These officials constantly overstep their boundaries and lecture people, which I take to be some sort of twisted power trip. Here’s a personal example: Returning to New Zealand from Thailand on the trip before last, I had brought back a number of food items which I declared. Amongst them were about 40 packs of Mama noodles (for someone else). This big mama customs officer started lecturing me on how unhealthy so many noodles was. It was not a passing comment, or a light comment to break the mood. It can only be described as a lecture. I really had to bite my tongue. Here I was, someone who takes his health seriously and I was being lectured to by Porky Pig. People in power – from the Prime Minister to pretty much anyone in uniform with authority – love to lecture you on things that have nothing to do with them. They consistently overstep boundaries – and they hate it when you call them on this.
The sense of entitlement runs deep here and I am amazed at what some people expect are their God-given rights. I’m not against providing temporary assistance to those down on their luck, but providing cradle to grave welfare is ridiculous. And that’s exactly what happens here. There are generations whose snout has been in the government trough their entire life. There’s something to be said for the Thai system where the onus is on you to look after yourself and your family. And if you suggest that people should actually work for their money and not get free handouts, you’re vilified. Political correctness has gone mad with Champagne socialists in power with all of their social justice naivety. Whatever happened to the idea of giving the populace the best education possible and then putting the responsibility on them to work the rest out for themselves?
Despite consistently rating as the least corrupt country in the world, there IS corruption here and in some areas it’s endemic. I bought a water filter system and wasn’t confident I could enough to install it myself without messing it up so I called a few plumbers. The hourly rate quoted was $170+GST with no guarantee of how many hours it would take to install. Each plumber I called quoted exactly the same rate. I didn’t twig at that point. No way did I want to pay that much for something that would probably be a half hour job and in Thailand wouldn’t be more than a few hundred baht. I managed to track down an immigrant who did the job for $50. He confirmed to me what I had suspected – that local tradesman collude on price. He had broken ranks and would not join in with them in colluding on price. He had become an outcast and was despised by other plumbers in the area. There’s much evidence of price collusion and it goes way beyond tradesmen. Corruption in New Zealand is much more subtle than in Thailand – but it absolutely does exist!
New Zealand is a great place and don’t get me wrong – I am happy here. At the same time moving back was not quite what I thought it would be. That is partly due to unrealistic expectations as much as a new perspective after living so long in Asia, and being at a different point in my life. What I have found is that many things expats complain about in Thailand aren’t that different at home. It’s easy for expats to romanticize their homeland as they plan to escape Thailand after so many years, especially if the whole Thai experience had gone sour as is not uncommon. I had been visiting New Zealand at least once a year for several years before moving back and still I found myself surprised at so many things. If you’re thinking of moving back home, it’s worth remembering that some of the things we complain about as expats in Thailand may not be that much different at home.
Last week’s photo was taken of the walkway that may some day connect the retail podium of the Hyatt Regency (adjacent to Hyde 13) to the Nana BTS station. So where is this week’s photo? Clue: It was taken in a bustling tourist area. Remember, the first person in Asia to get the location of the photo right wins a free copy of Hardship Posting Volume 5.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails received in the past week.
You mentioned WeChat in your column. As encryption is the big thing these days, be aware that WeChat is a product of the Chinese government. Needless to say avoiding WeChat is common sense. Also, after you uninstall it from your devices it is advised to do a real good scan for any back doors it may leave behind.
Korean bars a winner.
Not sure what the issues are of Koreans taking over bars. The bars in Angeles City you mention that are owned by and aim at the Korean / Japanese clientele are the best. They have the most attractive women, the best shows – well-choreographed, and are clean. Of course, you will spend more money in these establishments but you get what you pay for. The best bars on Walking Street, Angeles City, are those which are owned by or targeting Koreans and Japanese.
Where have all the freelancers gone?
I have a question for you that maybe you or your readers can shed light on. You frequently mention that the gogo bar scene is on the way down in terms of visitors. How about the freelancer scene? Once popular places such as Climax and Bangkok Beat do not exist anymore. Gulliver’s is quite empty these days. That leaves only Hillary 2 in this category of places. Discos like Level / Insanity / Mixx attract a lot of freelancers, but I don’t see that many of the same girls there that frequented Climax / Bangkok Beat. So where have all these freelancers from Climax / Bangkok Beat gone?
Online vs. the bars.
Interesting opening about Smooci. They’ve been advertising that Pattaya was coming soon, but they’ve been saying that forever. Many people I know in Pattaya use ThaiFriendly, but from what I hear at least two-thirds of the girls on there look worse than advertised. At least when going out to the bars you have some idea what you’re getting yourself in to.
Administrative error or obese dwarf?
Looking through the ladies’ profiles one day on Smooci I noticed a lady who was 57 cm tall and weighed 165 kg. Yet her photo looked nothing like that. Check the photo yourself. I guess fact checking isn’t a strength of the automated platform.
Opening a Thai bank account.
Regarding opening bank accounts, several years ago Bangkok Bank had a published set of ways that a foreigner could open a new bank account. One way was for the person to be recommended by an existing customer. I read these rules in Chiang Mai, and I don’t know if they are in force currently. Another suggestion might be to go to a bank branch that has recently opened. They will be looking for accounts to show higher activity numbers to the main office. When a new branch office opened near me in Chiang Mai, I started going there for the convenience. They frequently ask me to transfer my accounts to their branch.
My wife (who is Thai) leaves her ATM card with her mother. Here in the US we inform our bank that we travel frequently to Thailand and will be using our ATM card at various times throughout the year. So when one of the family members needs money, they talk to my wife then go to one of the many ATMs. This is convenient and relatively inexpensive. The one drawback is that each withdrawal is limited to 10,000 baht, and the daily limit is 10,000 baht.
Sad news from Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy this week where one of the PR girls (the girls who stand out front of the bar) was killed in a motorbike crash on Wednesday night. The 33-year old Khon Kaen native was said to be riding blind drunk and ended up paying the ultimate price.
Dundee in Soi Cowboy is not a bar you tend to hear much about and if the decorations inside are anything to go by it’s not hard to see why. Let’s just say that it looks like someone has been shopping at The Dollar Store. That and the absence of anything resembling an A-team – or even a B-team – is another reason why Dundee mightn’t be your first choice of bar to drop by in Cowboy. Still, 90 baht beer early in the evening is not something you find in many bars these days – and that alone is a reason to give Dundee a chance.
The lovely Thai woman who has run Safari in Patpong soi 1 all these years has been in talks with various parties who are interested in taking over that prime spot. But these things can move slowly and there has been little progress – good for those who have an affinity for the bar that feels like it has been around almost as long as Patpong itself. Part of the reason for it taking so long is that the owner of the property will only rent the entire building which goes all the way back to soi 2.
A trusted friend reports that the security in Nana Plaza seems more relaxed than it was, at least at the main entrance. Whether this is just his perception, was a one-off or there really has been some sort of directive to bring smiles back to the plaza, I do not know.
It’s not that long since the last round of rent increases in Soi Nana so don’t be surprised to see further price increases as bars try to cover costs. The manager of one Nana bar told me their monthly rent increased by more than 100,000 baht. To put that in perspective, that’s the best part of another thousand drinks the bar has to sell each month just to pay the rent – or around 30+ extra drinks they need to sell each and every day. Putting it like that mightn’t sound like a lot but try telling that to bar bosses when it’s raining outside, traffic on the soi is light, the girls have no customers and are looking decidedly unhappy!
Stu Lloyd, author of the Hardship Posting series, will host a launch event for the latest edition of the book at one of my favourite venues, CheckInn99, on Sukhumvit soi 33, this coming Tuesday between 6 and 9 PM. It should be a fun event so do drop by.
The big news in Thailand expat circles this week was the announcement from the British Embassy that it would soon stop issuing letters to verify their nationals’ income. This caused an uproar amongst British retirees in Thailand, which was followed by panic. What’s the deal with these letters? Let me explain: When you apply for a retirement visa (or to be technical, an extension of stay based on retirement), there are financial requirements that must be meet. You have to show either a local Thai bank account with an account balance of 800,000 baht (which, it seems, rather a lot of retirees simply do not have) oralternatively, provide a letter from your embassy that says you have an income of at least 65,000 baht per month. The thing is, not only are there many retirees unable to show 800,000 baht in a local account, many also don’t have an income of 65,000 baht / month. This means that they do not meet the financial requirements for a retirement visa. But this being Thailand, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There has long been a loophole that many retirees have exploited – getting a letter from one’s embassy that says they have the required income (when in fact they do not). Embassies do NOT verify that what the letter says is factually correct so if you rock up to your embassy and say that you have an income of xx,xxx baht per month, the embassy will produce such a letter for you and stamp it with the official embassy stamp, charge you a fee for doing so and send you on your way. The Thai Immigration department accepted such letters to meet the financial requirements for retirement visa – when in many cases the applicant had lied. Thai Immigration has obviously become aware that many people have been using such letters but actually do not have the income the letter represents that they do – so they asked the British embassy to verify that the representations made in the letter were factually correct. The embassy said they are unable to do that and as such, the embassy has decided not to provide such letters after the end of the year. It could well be that some retirees – probably quite a lot more than just some – may struggle to extend their retirement visa when it comes time to renew. Nervous times for some retirees in Thailand.
On a related note, you just know at some point that the financial requirements for retirement visas will increase. Those already in the system will no doubt be grandfathered through at the old rates, but for those who have yet to apply for a retirement visa, don’t be surprised if the numbers jump. Oh, and when the required rate does change, don’t expect much notice – you’ll probably hear about it a few days before. It will change at some point, it’s just a matter of when.
The Steakhouse Co in Patpong soi 2 is the first restaurant in Bangkok to get word out this year about its Thanksgiving bash. 950++ baht gets you all the turkey and ham you can eat, along with all the trimmings. Details above.
Following on from last week’s column where I asked about the large vacant plot on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 6, a reader informs me that said plot sold for THB 2.6 million per square wah in December, compared to the THB 1.7 million per square wah that Q House paid in 2015 for the plot across the soi. And if “square wah” is not a metric you’re familiar with, one square wah is 4 square metres.
And just a little further along Sukhumvit Road on the corner of soi 8, just a few metres from the escalators that lead up to the Nana skytrain station is Dee Money, one of the growing number of private money exchange outlets that has sprung up in the last few years. Like other private money changers, their rates are much better than those of the banks and are almost as good as the benchmarks, Super Rich and Vasu. But what separates Dee Money is that they don’t just change cash, they also do telegraphic transfers. (Yes, I know other private money changers may offer this service but they never openly promoted it.) For transfers to New Zealand and Australia, it’s a flat fee of just 150 baht – cheaper than local banks and much, much cheaper than Western Union – and when you factor in that Dee Money’s conversion rates are also better, it might be a good way to send money home. No idea about the paperwork required but I imagine it’s easier and more user-friendly than in a bank branch.
A friend tells me there is a nasty bug going around and plenty of expats have been struck down with. One friend, a real night owl who is out and about all the time, was so sick he didn’t leave his apartment for a week. From early October through until late January always seems to be the worst time for coughs and sniffles in Bangkok, being the heaviest part of the rainy season through to the so-called cold season.
The Bangkok Post takes a look at the classic, long-running Patpong soi 1 restaurant, Mizu’s Kitchen.
The Thai authorities are getting tougher on those overstaying their visa.
Thailand really is getting serious going after foreign illegals in Thailand.
Backpacker beggars are facing a backlash from residents in Hong Kong.
I don’t really like the term “reverse culture shock” but I do get what people mean when they use it. Leaving Thailand to return to your homeland is a topic I find interesting, having done it myself and having heard from others who have done it or are contemplating it. I’ll write more in time about why I have resumed writing the column which is loosely related to my thoughts on leaving the country, but that can wait for now. If you have left Thailand after a long stay – say 5 years or more – I wonder what you miss the most? I used to think it was friends in Bangkok I missed the most – and I do miss them – and for a while I thought it was the food I missed, but in retrospect, I think there’s something else I miss even more. I think there is something to be said for existing outside the system, so to speak – and in Thailand expats live largely outside the system. In our respective homelands we have a vested interest in what is going on with regards to governance and politics in general. A change of government, for example, could have an effect on how you live your life. In Thailand, you’re never really accepted as a local nor do you have the rights of a citizen and as such I think a lot of what happens in Thailand at government level doesn’t have a great effect on expats unless it is a very specific issue such as visa policy or law changes. That sort of leaves you outside the system and with that there are benefits. You don’t take much, if any notice of politics and that is liberating, I reckon. There is something to be had for not having a stake and the relative freedom that affords. That is what I miss the most.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org