Showing posts with label Expat Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Expat Life. Show all posts

A Little Soul Searching

Browsing what is written about Thailand, I often find myself wondering if I live in the same country.  I struggle to find much in common with people I meet these days, unlike when I first arrived here.  Our paths through life bear few similarities, making anything beyond social niceties a struggle.  I know nothing of their work lives, marriages, divorces and grown children.  I receive no government benefits or corporate pension and have no health issues.  I do not struggle with the language or why Thais don’t do things the way they are done in some foreign land never visited.  I eat what is available and do not smoke or drink alcohol.  I do not ogle the women or cheat on my wife.

I arrived young and stupid with time on my side, time to make mistakes and learn through experience.  I learned the language and how to act, across the strata of Thai social classes.  Now I live outside of Chiang Rai and I am doing many of the things I missed out on while living in Bangkok for thirty years.

Today Thailand is sold as a cheap retirement destination for those who find life a struggle back home.  They are frequently narrow minded, critical and burdened with toxic baggage from their difficult lives.  The internet has not made them smarter, quite the contrary.  Information overload seems to send people looking for and finding, supporting anecdotal evidence, that they are correct in their often deluded beliefs.  

To be fair, my path was not common, even in the seventies when I moved here.  Most of the guys I met were retired military from the Vietnam era, which was drawing to a close.  Then there were the expats who came here on the company dime.  Young and inexperienced, I was envious of their salaries, expense accounts, houses, cars, drivers and servants.  I, on the other hand, came here entirely on my own and was not sent by military, government, god or corporation.  I had no job and not a lot of money, just a feeling that this was where I belonged, where I could be me.

In this polarized world we live in today, where the haves and the have-nots are pitted against each other, conflict spills over into the expat community as well.  Those lured here with promises of cheap sex, cheap booze and cheaper living, often find they do not end up living the kingly life they were promised, on five hundred dollars a month.  They end up living the lives of village peasants and resenting both Thais and other foreigners who live more comfortable lives than they do.

Articles are being written about homeless foreigners, living on the streets of Thailand.  Whether due to sexual perversions, drugs, alcohol, greed or stupidity, the blame is never theirs.  Perhaps they would have ended up the same in their own countries, but Thailand can act as a catalyst, revealing what lays just below the surface of modern man.  Without the constraints of western society, to hold the daemons at bay, or keep people from making stupid choices, things can go from bad to worse very rapidly indeed.

I love my life in Chiang Rai on many levels.  I have a wonderful wife who I love dearly, a beautiful and comfortable home with lovely views, loving pets, and more toys than I need.  I love my location which I find just far enough into the hinterlands, to turn a very average but rapidly expanding town, into a lovely place to visit once or twice each week.  

These days it seems the Russians and the Chinese bear the brunt of negative comment in the tourist areas but I have not spent time in those haunts for a very long time, so have no first hand experience and therefore no complaints.  Some bemoan the growth in and around Chiang Rai but again I live far enough away to enjoy the benefits without suffering much in the way of negative fallout.

I suppose one could say my reluctance to be confined by schedules and appointments has lead to more social isolation than I felt in Bangkok.  Thankfully modern technology takes much of the bite out of living far from others.  Surprisingly, I did have a couple of spontaneous encounters recently, which I found quite enjoyable.  Met one guy while walking the dogs, who married a girl in the village and is making plans to move here over the next couple of years.  Again not much in common but a pleasure to talk with.

The other encounter was an online acquaintance who ended up dropping by for a visit when he found out his wife’s village was not far from ours.  They too are in the process, as it were, and expect to take a couple of years to get moved.  It will be interesting to see if either of these guys end up here or not.  I am watching with interest, as a few people I know struggle with retirement and adjusting to this new phase in their lives.

Sometimes plans and reality don’t end up in the same place.  I liken the planing stage of moving here and building a home, to that of the young girl who fantasizes about her wedding day.  So focussed on that day, with no idea how to get there or what comes after, it is a fantasy that almost promises disappointment.  If only more people could close their eyes and imagine what comes after.

I know many people in Chiang Rai, after living here for six years, and enjoy bumping into most of them from time to time when we are in town.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of getting to know some residents of the Rai too well.  Under a veneer of civility lurked darkness and very messy lives.  I see too many people living desperate lives, moving from one calamity to the next as if living beneath a cloud of misfortune.  Close proximity to people with problems can spill over into our own lives so I prefer now to keep my distance.

In the local expat community I have discovered an intolerance in the hearts of some, who otherwise see themselves as good people.  I find it all quite disturbing and it has made me more wary and reluctant to reach out.  I apparently hold unpopular beliefs with regard to friendship and misplaced loyalty.  In my opinion, life is too short to spend with people who do not inspire you, seeking instead to drag you down.

You may have also noticed that I am struggling with this blog and where to go with it.  From time to time I need new inspiration and direction to help maintain my interest in writing.  For some time now I have found myself writing things I never publish.  For now I continue to enjoy my life and corresponding with those of you who write to keep me up to date on your lives.  I continue to post photos on Google+ but only time will tell what the future holds for this blog.

Sin Sot, To Pay or Not To Pay …

No, I have not lost my mind, or decided to take this blog down a different path.  This is not a history lesson on the origins of Sin Sot, or a laundry list of how much to pay for what.  That kind of thing has been done to death elsewhere.  VF doesn’t tell people what to do or how to do it.  I would much prefer being seen as motivational rather than instructional.  One additional disclaimer for those who don’t know me well, I did not pay any sin sot when my wife and I were married nearly fourteen years ago.  I guess you could say we eloped, as we got married first and told our families about it after the fact.

When it comes to things like Sin Sot, in my opinion it doesn’t matter what is written in some book or on some blog.  That won’t change how your partner feels about it or how their parents view the custom.  There can be vast differences based on region and class, with your arguments about the "true" meaning of Sin Sot, having no bearing on the beliefs and opinions of others.  I am not going to tell you how much you should pay or how to negotiate paying less.  I am not going to suggest you should be confrontational and refuse to pay.  I am not going to suggest that everyone, could or should, follow my example of no Sin Sot and no wedding party. 

Cross cultural issues like these are only complicated by language and ignorance on both sides.  It is so easy to project onto the other person what we want to see in them, with very little understanding of who they really are.  Just because a person can’t express their deepest hopes and fears in your language doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that you can disregard them.  Communication in relationships, is a two way affair and any time it seems to be too one-sided, one should be asking why and looking for remedies.

Perhaps surprisingly, I do come from a traditional family in some respects.  There is no history of divorce, with my parents and both sets of grandparents staying together throughout their lives.  The man always provided financial support and the woman took care of the family and the home, though my mother did work before marriage and actually met my father because of her job.  These days it seems more common to divide things into, yours and mine.  People have separate bank accounts and what often looks to me like separate lives, with more time spent apart than together, but that is a separate discussion.

I always expected that I would take care of my partner and if I were not able to do so, then I would simply have to wait until I could.  That was one of many reasons I waited until I was 45 before getting married.  Too often people just don’t seem to consider the consequences of their choices, like who they marry and when.  Finding a partner is often just the beginning of your problems, not the end of them as so many fantasize.  It may be fun and romantic, but hitting the accelerator, closing your eyes and hoping things will workout for the best, has never been my style.

I find it disturbing to hear talk in some expat circles, about how cheap their wives are, and how little they cost to maintain.  Wives end up sounding like commodities or livestock possessed by the husband.  Sure, sex and money have always been major choke points in relationships.  Too much or too little of something, combined with different wants and needs, can lead to conflict and even separation.  Still, I find the monetization and predatory search practices of relationships these days distasteful.

In the past people met their partners while pursuing a normal life, where it now seems common for people to shop for a partner online.  I have my suspicions, that it makes it somehow easier to objectify the opposite sex.  In Thailand, expats discuss endlessly how much women cost, in terms of gold and Sin Sot before marriage, and maintenance after marriage.  It is like they are checking on the Kelly Blue Book price for a car they are interested in buying.  This is perhaps more common in the older, divorced and retired crowd, due to the baggage they carry with them, but it is not entirely limited to them.

I am not bound by tradition or dogma, and it matters little to me what others do or have done before me.  What matters is what my wife and I want as a couple.  I was not about to force someone to do things my way, so I waited until I found someone who was on the same wavelength and wanted the same things.  If you want a partner who will be interested in your athletic pursuits, for example, why choose someone who doesn’t have an athletic bone in their body?  If you don’t smoke and find it distasteful, why choose a smoker?  I am not traditional in my views on most things, so I knew I didn’t want someone with ridged and traditional beliefs.  That is exactly what some people are looking for it seems, though for the life of me I don’t know why.

When I hear expats making declarations about Thai Women, it tells me more about the man and where he is looking, than it does about Thai women in general.  There is endless dialog on what the hunter wants.  The guy often wants cheap, young and hot, while the woman often wants kind, generous and wealthy.  Neither side asks the most important question, “Why would a person like that, be interested in me?”  The trick as I see it, is not to focus so much on your checklist but to have a look in the mirror and turn your attention to making yourself desirable to someone you might like, and to possess the attributes you look for and admire in others.

People seem to be looking for an instruction manual for life, and there seem to be an abundance of blogs out there claiming to fill that need, but I am afraid it isn’t that easy.  I for one, wouldn’t want it to be as simple as following some list.  It doesn’t mean that life is all that difficult or that you should be afraid to try things.  Just look at each thing you do as preparing you for what comes next, not as an end in itself.

Anyway, that is the Village Farang take on Sin Sot and relationships in Thailand.

May-December Pairings and Other Relationship Thoughts…

So not too long ago we were at Chiang Rai Central Plaza, or what I call the Mall for short.  I won’t bore you with what we were doing, as that is not relevant to the topic, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed a familiar face.  Ends up it had been two years so I had to run the face through my built-in facial recognition pathways.  Even with a few extra pounds I placed her before my wife did.

Big smiles and greetings all around and then I put my foot in it, by asking about her farang husband.  When we first moved to Chiang Rai, and before my wife learned how to bake bread, we had a favorite bakery where we bought bread and visited almost weekly.  The new couple were expecting when we met and soon had a little baby girl resting on the counter in their shop, when we would visit.

They had a hard time trying to make it here in Chiang Rai, and after moving a couple of times in the area, they eventually moved to Bangkok and later to Phuket, I believe.  Anyway they are no longer a couple and I felt bad as our friend held back tears and told us her sad story.

Through this encounter I found myself pondering the many relationships we have watched disintegrate over the years.  Sometimes people you know as a couple simply drift away from you, when they drift apart.  Other times the acrimony forces you to choose one side or the other.  Of course there are other relationships which manage to stay together but have you wondering how, or even why, they would want to.  Then there are those who put on a good front while hiding the disfunction that exists at home.  Understand that I am not talking about the bar scene or short time pay for play but couples, married or otherwise, who really try to make a go of it regardless of where they came from. 

Common knowledge says you need to be the same to make things work, same age, same race, same interests, same religion, same education and same socioeconomic background.  Yet some statistics seem to show that May-December relationships are no more likely to fail than your average pairing, despite having very little in common at first glance.  Of course there could be many explanations for this.

Thailand is an excellent place to view May-December couples, with most western men not finding Thailand until later in life.  My guess would be that a certain level of dependency may lead to greater longevity in some pairings.  The man may have invested too much and feel it is too late to move on.  The younger woman may feel gratitude and a sense of obligation toward her, White Knight, who may have rescued her from a less than glamorous life.  Then again it could be the devil you know is preferable to uncertainty and loneliness.  Perhaps I have just forgotten the desperate lengths some people will go to in order to fend off loneliness.

Sure there is a lot which can go wrong due to age, language, culture and the like.  For example, if the woman is very young and childless I guess I can understand there might be pressure on the older man to have children, and quickly.  You still hear women say they believe a baby is the best way to lock a man into a relationship, even though their own experience disproves this old belief. 

More often than not, the women who are looking outside their own culture for a husband already have children from past failed relationships.  It is often that desperation which leads then down that path of finding a foreign benefactor to begin with.  The thing I don’t get, is why would these couples, who already have multiple children between them, choose to produce yet another baby with little chance of the father being around until maturity? 

Regardless of what I might think, making babies seems to be a priority for some, even in old age. If I were an older guy coming to Thailand after divorce and redundancy, the last thing would be looking for is to repeat past mistakes and go down the exact same path as before.  Then again I am perhaps not the best judge, since I didn’t get married until I was 45 and already had an understanding of myself and women, sufficient to know what was necessary for a relationship of mine to work.  It also helps that I never bought into the norms of society to begin with.

On a more personal note, I have found our twenty year age gap an advantage in many ways.  To begin with we have more time to spend together since neither of us work, and we relish the time we spend together.  In this modern age, with two working parents and the over-scheduling of their children’s lives, is it any wonder people snap under the pressure or find they no longer have anything in common after the children grow up.

One also hears gossip about friend's partners which makes them sound more like enemies rather than soul-mates.  While I consider my wife my best friend and confidant, I seldom hear that view from others.  If we were both working and spending the majority of our waking hours apart, I wonder if our last 15 years would have been so wonderful.

I can find no rhyme or reason in observing all the failed or struggling relationships I observe around me.  Perhaps it is something external in the pressure exerted by modern society, or maybe it is something in our genetic makeup.  After all, we seldom lived past our forties in the past, and what worked on an evolutionary level for a relatively short-lived creature, maybe just doesn’t work for a species which has more than doubled the lifespan, for which it was designed.

With my parents reaching their 90s having been together for something around 64 years, perhaps my expectations are not in touch with this modern era where most relationship do not last.  I seem to come from a minority background and hold a minority view on relationships.  For me marriage is a onetime deal and there will be no repeat performances in my future. 

I see more young people, especially the better educated and more affluent, looking for alternatives but still the pressure exerted by family and society is substantial and cannot be overlooked.  I suppose couples like us with our 20 year age gap and our decision to live a life not burdened with children, will never be the norm.  Our biology is just too hard to resist for most.  Maybe these May-December relationships will in the end disappear if economic discrepancies are eliminated.  The way things are going with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, with the world shrinking yet becoming more polarized, I think it more likely May-December relationships are going to be around for some time to come.

A Different Kind of Ride ...

Clearly dirt is my preferred surface and I enjoy beginning and ending my ride in the comfortable surrounds of my home.  Yet I thought it time for a different kind of ride, a oneway trip you might call it.  So, I pumped up the Trek tires a bit more than I would in the mountains, to 55 psi, locked out the front suspension, loaded the bike into the Fortuner and hitched a ride to town with my wife as she was going that way, anyway.

Just before reaching town there is a conveniently located ESSO service station where I unloaded the bike and prepared for the 52 kilometer ride home, while my wife continued on the Chiang Rai University, CRU.  Perhaps next time she can drop me off near the annual Chiang Rai Flower Festival, which I believe opens next weekend and is always worth seeing.

I estimated it might be possible to maintain an average pace in the mid-twenties and sure enough the final tally was 24.7 kph.  The ride home took much longer than I expected, however.  A little over halfway home there is a conveniently located roadside shop attended to by the family of a Swedish guy I know.  Not long after filling my water bottle at the shop, a Thai rider showed up coming from the opposite direction.  I was sure I had seen him in town before and remarked upon his distinctive blue wheel hubs and inquired about his riding partners I had noticed on that previous sighting.

“Oh, they will be along shortly,” he said as he put one foot on the road and leaned out looking in the direction he expected them to come from.  He must be quite a bit faster than his friends for they did not make their appearance for another ten minutes or so. 

With well maintained, high-end gear, and weathered appearance it was clear they were regular riders.  I was a little surprised to find the three of them were in their mid to late sixties and ride pretty much everyday, sometimes taking multi-day trips, and having gone as far as 200 km in one day.  On this day they had started near CRU, had ridden to Thoeng and were on their way back home.  That is much further than I am capable of doing, yet, but maybe one day.

The first to arrive remarked he was retired, so what better use of his time than to ride his bike with friends and stay healthy at the same time.  I have to say, I liked his upbeat attitude.  The Swedish gentleman and his wife joined in the conversation and the six of us enjoyed swapping stories, laughing and smiling for much longer than we perhaps should have. 

After the three Thai bikers left we had one other bit of excitement as I pointed out a rather large snake slithering across the road and into a neighbors yard.  The shop owner proceeded to tell tales of snakes they have encountered in their shop as well as various sized scorpions in their bed.  Thankfully scorpions are one creature we don’t seem to have around our house and our snakes remain outdoors, perhaps kept at bay by the dogs.

It was not easy pulling myself away but I needed to get home before my wife, to feed and walk the dogs.  Having stopped for so long I did not feel I had time to indulge in my fried banana fix, and headed directly home with no more stops.  My legs are a little sore today but riding on the road was considerably easier and more predictable than climbing rocky dirt trails so I am sure I can cover even greater distances in the future.  Besides those three older guys were a real inspiration.

Five Years Later ...

It has been five years since we moved into this house, which in the goodness of time became our beloved home.  I have heard some argue that a house is little more than a shelter but for me it is so much more.  While comfort and convenience do come into play, they are but practical things that do not touch the deeper reaches of ones soul.  It is not so much the modern conveniences that are incorporated in the house, or even the size or the shape that are of importance to me.  It is more about how I relate to the space, both indoors and out, and how it all makes me feel.  Of course I can’t speak for others, but I believe our physical surroundings play a major role in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Surely living in concrete or wooden boxes, commuting in metal boxes and working in cubicles exacts a heavy price on the human spirit.

After rereading what I have written in the past about adjusting to life in Chiang Rai, and the phases one goes through, I found most of it still holds true five years on.  It is still a work in progress, ever evolving and changing as I believe life is meant to be.  Some activities have been tried and discarded, not likely to be revisited.  Some friendships have foundered as our paths have diverged.  As I continue to meet more people, and the circle of people I interact with in casual social settings grows, inversely I seem to be retreating from involvement with the more taxing sorts of relationships.

So many people live such messy lives and I don’t wish to be put in a position of cleaning up their messes.  Much of my tolerance of other’s lifestyles and choices is predicated on them not messing up mine.  While I am not inclined to force others to do things my way, I do equally resist modifying how I live to suit others.  I have often been too accommodating in the early stages of new relationships, leading to difficulties down the road when I start to draw lines, differentiating things I will and will not do to maintain a relationship.

With physical proximity not playing a part, due to my chosen place of abode, it does not feel compelling nor practical to limit my friendships to those who live in Chiang Rai.  The demographics of the local expat community, spur me on even further to cast a wider net in pursuit of likeminded individuals or people I find innately more interesting.  This blog has played a major role in connecting me to the kind of people I enjoy corresponding with, and when circumstances allow, meeting when they visit the area.

Sometimes I serve a passing role in the lives of those who dream of living in Thailand and enjoy reading about others who have already done it.  I play my part and then, at the appropriate time, fade into the sunset.  There are still others who from time to time drop me a line to let me know how they are doing.  Not much need to ask about my life, as much of it finds its way into the prose and imagery of this blog.  I choose to share part of my life in this more public format but I understand there is much that is better confined to emails or phone calls and I also relish those opportunities to interact on a more personal level.

For me it is perhaps a bonus that we don’t live next door to each other and do not feel the need to interact or correspond daily.  I have never been good with routines or a regimented lifestyle.  Give me freedom and spontaneity any day, over monotony and repetition, fixed to the relentless ticking of a clock.

As expected this has turned out to be my wife’s year, as opposed to mine.  Most things have revolved around her university schedule, weekend classes and midweek homework.  Her levels of independence and self confidence have grown over the year, as she has learned to drive on own and do her homework with no assistance from me.  Her first term’s, 4 A’s and a B+, were entirely hers and reflect her own accomplishments.  She has taken her role as class leader seriously and developed socially as well as personally, to a noticeable degree.

For many years the core of our relationship was companionship and our enjoyment of spending time together.  Being older and more experienced I, more often than not, took the lead in sharing my world with her as we spent time traveling, working out in health clubs and partaking of Western food, music, television and movies.  Having lived in Thailand nearly as long as she has, we do not fall into the typical pattern of Thai-Farang relationships where the husband doesn’t speak Thai and is so often dependent on the wife as translator and guide.

I guess I hadn’t realized how much control I exerted over our relationship, until my wife started taking more control over her own life.  This whole process has been eyeopening and educational, for me as well as her.  I am not always comfortable with this evolutionary process but I understand it needs to happen.  I am considerably older than her and the chances are she will find it necessary to make do without me at some point.

Though her schooling has contributed to us spending more time doing things separately, the dogs and the house are probably more responsible in their own way.  With less of it, I relish even more the time we are able to spend together.  Hopefully we will find time to travel together, one of my favorite things, during her next school break.

This morning, in addition to the heavy fog, there was a distinct chill in the air.  This is our first, and somewhat late to arrive, wintery morning of the year.  I am sitting in the car, under a tree, waiting for my wife with the windows down, something I don’t often do.  From time to time a tiny leaf drifts in through the window, as I write to the sound of the birds in the trees and the occasional footsteps and murmuring of students walking to and from class.  There is something about a university campus that is both calming and stimulating at the same time.  Wrap it all up in a cool winter morning in Northern Thailand and I am quite enjoying waiting for my wife today.

It has been a very long time since we enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Meridien but with her class ending early today, we will be able to enjoy one of our favorite dining experiences later this morning.  Apparently class is over and she is on her way so I had best sign off and focus my attention on her.

Visiting Rai Boon Rawd in Chiang Rai ...

Having made plans for the day, I took it as a none-too-favorable omen, to find first thing in the morning a flat tire on the truck.  I had little option but to get out the bicycle pump and get to work, hoping the tire would hold air long enough to get to a shop.  The first hundred or so strokes seemed to produce no results but as the number exceeded five hundred I knew I was getting close to being able to drive the twelve kilometers into Phaya Mengrai to a repair shop.  Later in the day I found myself wondering why my neck and shoulders were so sore.

Back on target for a family day out, we picked up her younger sister and found her niece had decided to join us as well.  At the tire shop they found a tiny piece of metal that could only be removed from the inside as it was not even visible from the outside.  Patch in place, we were good to go and heading to town.

Rai Boon Rawd was to be our first stop for lunch and a little sightseeing.  Boon Rawd Brewery, the maker of all things Singha, is known for purchasing large parcels of land around the country with some of its excess cash.  Since it is not on our route to town, we had not made the side trip necessary to get there, previously.  For us it makes more sense to take the main highway out of town to the White Temple, taking that road across to the old Chiang Mai Road where the entrance is easy to find. 

Though open to the public for less than a year, this property of over 8000 rai, has been around since the early 80s.  Aside from the restaurant, the surrounding tea plantation and reservoirs are the most picturesque, but there is also rubber, rice, strawberries, flowers, barley and tomatoes, depending on the season of course.

The four of us had a lovely lunch with a mix of Western and Thai food, which everyone seemed enjoy.  Before heading to our next stop, we decided to take a drive out through the hills and to inspect the tea plantation up close.  The dirt trails were better suited for a mountain bike but we all survived our bumpy ride in the truck and got some great pictures.  A screaming kid does seem to add to the trill ride effect of an off road track.
The view out front in the parking lot.

Front view.


Inside view of the restaurant.

Back view.

Back view.


The far mountain is Doi Chaang of the coffee fame and visible from the restaurant.


Finding our way to our next stop was not as easy as we had hoped.  It took several phone calls and roadside stops before we found our way to a small resort my wife’s friend is developing, on what turns out to be the fringes of Rai Boon Rawd.  We even found there was a dirt trail that led directly back out to where we had been just minutes before.


After showing us around her place, our friend took us back out into the tea plantation to a hilltop view and a reservoir we had missed.  All the while she explained that the area is also being developed for both argo-tourism and mountain biking, with plans to host and international mountain bike race in the not too distant future.  With a little tweaking of the trails I can see it being a very good venue for such an event.



An inside view of the dining area at our friend's place.

Looking back at her place from their pond.


As a special treat our friend took us to where she works, for a tour of the grounds at Pa Sak Tong, a resort which bills itself as a luxury six star villa with breathtaking views and an all inclusive package that ranges north of 40,000 baht per night for two people.  They have yet to open for the winter season so the buildings were not open but the grounds were impressive enough to keep me busy shooting pictures for some time.  For better images and more complete information on what they provide, please visit their website at http://www.pasaktong.com.








In spite of the inauspicious beginning to the day, we ended up having a lovely time and got to explore even more of this beautiful place we live in.

The Expat Divide ...

It can take the form of an observation, a question or an accusation.  For some it is a nonissue and for others an obsession.  On Thailand forums the topic comes up often, so it must be an issue for many.  I am more of an observer but thought I would weigh in.  Whatever ones experience with the expat divide, I see no excuse for withholding a smile and a nod of recognition.

The things that divide us as expats are not all that different from the normal divides one finds back home.  Some of the obvious culprits are language, nationality, age, sex, money, social and marital status, education, as well as a multitude of experiential and attitudinal differences.  There is one thing that should bring us together and that is our shared experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land.  That too, however, is often overshadowed by the divide between newcomers and more established residents.

The enthusiastic naiveté of the newcomer is often lambasted by the cynical old-timer.  One side asks why expats ignore or snub fellow expats while the other side asks why they have to be nice to someone simply because of their skin color.  It is not always as simple as someone being rude, or shy, though sometimes it is.  Unless one truly enjoys the role of mentoring others, who may or may not heed ones advice, it can be tiring answering the same old questions time after time.  Unless one is very self sufficient, on the other hand, it is tempting to rely on others to hold your hand and show you the way.

Back home, I dare say the majority of people ensconce themselves in an enclave of like minded individuals who share their lifestyle, aspirations and background.  In Thailand one is confronted by the fact, that just because you may look alike, doesn’t mean you have anything in common.  Even native English speakers may find they need subtitles when confronted by the heavily accented and nonstandard variances of the English language one encounters in Thailand.  Things get even more confused as you try to communicate with those who do not share your mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The age and financial disparity among expats can be enormous, leading to discomfort and misunderstanding at times.  In the emotional baggage expats inevitably bring with them, there can also be hiding numerous sensitivities and triggers for hurt feeling or indignation.  Depending on the severity of ones negative experiences with fellow expats some individuals opt for withdrawal from the expat community or limiting themselves to those of the same nationality and their new Thai family.

This is not to say there are not those who find expat life and interaction quite enjoyable.  Those who come from pub cultures will no doubt find a drinking hole somewhere, that is filled with other likeminded drinkers.  Those to whom religiosity is important, a church or temple may become a focus.  Those with children may find companionship among the other parents at their children’s school.  If one is employed things are not all that different from anywhere else, with your friends and acquaintances most likely being work related.  I sometimes feel it is the older retired expat who has the toughest row to hoe, with few of the time honored options for relating to others available to them in this strange new world.

I have found being young and single in Bangkok, or any big city, cannot prepare you for being old, married and retired in someplace like Chiang Rai.  Age, health and finances seem to take their toll on the retired expat community who find Thailand late in life and take up rural living in a village.  Many older expats live in isolated towns and villages for a variety of reasons.  Often it is where the wife or girlfriend is from.  Many express an inability to cope with city life or they simply can’t afford it.  Unlike many, I enjoyed 30 years in Bangkok and find the negative motivations of some to be depressing.  I saw our move to Chiang Rai as a positive new phase of life, not the cheapest place to live out my final days, nor brought on by an inability to live elsewhere.

The distance one must travel to spend time with other expats can be a limiting factor in Chiang Rai or other rural areas, and unless there is some parity in the effort expended, it is easy to question the benefits.  After expending a fair amount of time and effort, I too find myself drifting away from the expat community these days.  Some tiresome and bitter individuals are simply best avoided, though it can be entertaining to be nice to people you know don’t like you.  Sometimes it is the scheduling that is just too difficult even when you genuinely like the other people.

It seems that whatever ones situation is today there is never any certainty about tomorrow and I actually seem to like that.  In my five years in Chiang Rai, each year has been different.  A few expats I have met along the way have moved away or died, one very recently.  Relationships have ebbed and flowed as needs and interests have diverged.  You meet new people all the time and just the other day I bumped into someone at the mall who I had not seen for maybe twenty years.  Having recently met a couple of young women, one British and one Austrian, who have married local Thai men I am newly fascinated by their less than familiar expat dynamics.

Even if it feels as though there is an expat divide at times, and things don’t always go smoothly while adjusting to expat life, there is something about the freshness and novelty of ones experiences that seems to grab and hold those of us who stay.  Things back home might be neater, cleaner and more predictable but that is exactly why some of us seek out this sometimes messy and chaotic life of an expat.  We tire easily of the familiar and relish the stimulation of new sights, sounds and smells. 

Expats often find that what brought them to a place is not necessarily what keeps them there longterm.  Some of us are comfortable with where we are while others are still struggling with the place, the people and their relationship to both.  Sure there are things that divide us but they should’t keep us apart or keep us from being civil or even friendly when we encounter other expats.  Offering a smile or a nod costs one nothing and may make someone else’s day.  There is no need to shutdown due to a few bad encounters.  With a little effort you can bridge the expat divide.

Unexpected Events and Is It Really July?

Everything on the June calendar got taken care of and July is off to a much more subdued pace, creeping by almost unnoticed.  There were a few unexpected events and purchases that added joy to the month of June.  I am admittedly very bad with special calendar days, like anniversaries, but this year I got lucky.  The Apple store called while I was a few shops down having coffee at Starbucks.  The salesman was calling to see if I was still interested in the new 13 inch MacBook Air, as they had just received one in the latest shipment of new products.

We had been looking for a computer for my wife to use at school and home.  While I was impressed with the new MacBook Pro, it was clearly more than my wife needed so we settled on the feather light Air as the best option.  When I picked her up from school later that day I was not empty handed, as I have so often found myself.  “Happy 13th anniversary my dear, here is your new toy.”  I had fun setting it up for her but not sure I will be getting my hands on it very often in the future, except for software upgrades and the like.

On another weekend OMM, a frequent reader and contributor to this blog, visited Chiang Rai with his girlfriend.  It was pretty early in the day, so while his girlfriend did whatever girls do, we got together for coffee and a familiarization tour of the town of Chiang Rai.  It was nice putting a face to a name and having someone new to talk with for a day.  We basically spent our time visiting and taking in the city sites until it was time for me to go pickup my wife after school.

No two people are ever at quite the same place in life and factoring in age and different experiences it can sometimes be challenging not to step on other’s dreams or interfere with their chance to experience their own adventure on their own terms.  I must say, on this day I had a great time as it provided an uncommon break from my routines and hopefully I contributed something of value to OMM’s journey.  I found it interesting to see how some aspects of being newly bitten by the Thailand bug have changed with the advent of new technology but at the core much of the experience is not all that different from what I went through more than thirty years ago.

There have been a few recent mountain bike rides that didn’t make it to the blog.  There were some new trails mixed in with the old and some odd encounters but I have done the bike trails thing recently and prefer to mix things up on the blog.  Then again, perhaps I am just easily bored and distracted when things get too busy.  After some trail abuse, I found the back tire had a slow leak that caused the tire to deflate after a day or so.  I took that as an excuse to get the Trek into Northern Bike for a checkup and ended up with some upgrades.

Not being a racer or overly serious about my riding, I see little need for the lightest and greatest but thought some minor upgrades might be in order.  So in addition to the back tire, I got an entry level Shimano Deore crankset installed with new grippier peddles and a Cateye Velo 9 to give me an idea of how far I ride.  Nothing a true enthusiast would be impressed with but new and exciting for me.  Everything performed well on yesterday’s ride.  With heavy rain the night before and things not completely dried out, it was an interesting ride and not easy going in places where the clay clung heavily to my tires.  On the way home I took the opportunity to stop by a visit with a young German friend in a neighboring village.

Another friend recently arrived for his yearly visit, has found himself spending a few days at one of our excellent local hospitals.  It just so happened that on one of those days I was in town to take care of the bike.  In these parts it is the done thing to go visit people in the hospital, with family often spending the night to help take care of the patient.  I’m not big on hospitals myself but took the opportunity of being in town to stop by for a visit.  It gave us a chance to catchup on what had transpired in our lives since last we talked.

There was one more chance encounter I remember, though I’m sure there are others that don’t come to mind at the moment.  There was a new female member posting on a local forum early last month.  She posted nothing revealing about her identity on the forum but on two different occasions I saw a young woman at the Central Plaza and there was something about her that caught my attention. 

Call it intuition, or being nosy if you like, but on the off chance I might be wrong, I sent her a private message to confirm my suspicion.  A man I may have approached more directly but I didn’t feel that was the correct approach in this case.  A bit astonished that I was able to guess her identity, she acknowledged that it was indeed her on both occasions.  Later I spotted her with her Thai husband talking with a local real-estate agent as I entered Starbucks.  We ended up having an interesting conversation first in English while her husband was finishing up his business and later in Thai when he joined us.  Eventually my own wife showed up and we all got a chance to visit.  Hopefully, we will all get together again soon.

Though I don’t find spontaneity as easy as it was in Bangkok it is still an important aspect of life for me.  It is the new, different, unexpected and unplanned that adds spice and color to my life.  Sometimes I find it by seeking out new trails on the mountain bike and other times the unexpected happens on our trips to town.  I never know where, when or how but I always know something new will cross my path, even after more than 35 years in Thailand.

Anonymity and Blogging ...

Replying to a comment about anonymous blogging, I soon realized the subject deserved something more than a throwaway answer in the comments section.  I have been busy and distracted by other things but the idea for this post continued to linger on the periphery of my thoughts until now.

I began this blog five years ago, with a good dose of trepidation.  Who would I be, what would I write about, would I enjoy it, would I be any good at it and how would people respond to what I wrote?  Perhaps there would be lynch mobs sent to track me down or hackers trying to steal my identity.  I struggled with finding a nom de plume that I felt comfortable with, something representative of who I was becoming not who I was.

I began writing under the name Village Farang and eventually registered the .com.  Gradually Village Farang spread across the breadth of social media and I now prefer using VF to my real name. In time I developed a voice and became confident in my own ability to deal with a range of commenters, both supporters and detractors.  Righty or wrongly I surmised that I would be okay as long as I did not include personal and identifying information about myself or others. 

Like others, I had read articles about identity theft and wanted to err on the side of caution.  Then one day it struck me that I have a cousin with the same first and last name, who is a public figure in the form of a regional anchor on a rightwing news station.  It could be argued I suppose, that being on the more pugnacious, authoritarian and mainstream side of our societal divide is safer for him.  Yet his name and face are on the airwaves and the internet without any ill effects for him or his family that I know of.  Perhaps I was just being paranoid.

Slowly people living in Chiang Rai or the surrounding area began to contact me.  Reluctantly at first I began to meet people and let them merge the name with a face.  One colorful character, who was among the first, later enjoyed displaying his breadth of knowledge by outing me at public gatherings where we were both in attendance.  I ended up having mixed emotions about those outbursts.

Over time it became a losing battle, trying to remain anonymous.  People knew my face and formed an opinion of me either through what they read or the person they met.  Which one came first appeared to have some bearing on that opinion, I observed with interest.  In time pictures found their way to the blog.

Now I am quite comfortable with who I am and don’t mind people knowing that I am VF.  It is not like I am ashamed of anything I post.  I fear anonymity often serves no greater purpose than to embolden those who wish to inflict suffering upon others.  I have come to view Village Farang as a nickname or descriptive handle that relates more of who I am than my given name.

One benefit of being recognized as VF is exemplified by a chance encounter the other day.  The wife and I drove into town to run some errands.  Nothing urgent, more like excuses for us to make the drive.  After three stops we ended up at what I call the Mall.  We had a wonderful lunch at Fuji, making a point of trying new things on the menu.  Afterwards we went to Starbucks, me for coffee and my wife for some dessert.  Standing in line a gentleman approached with a warm and generous smile on his face.  He introduced himself with his online name and volunteered positive remarks about my blog.  Of course I knew instantly who he was and remembered past correspondence we had shared on a forum we are both members of.

After exchanging brief pleasantries, I carried my tray out into Starbuck’s mall seating area to find my wife.  As luck would have it the gentleman’s wife was seated at the next table, so when he returned with their drinks we pushed our tables together to facilitate conversation.  A good Thai friend of ours also happened by so we made room for him as well.  It was one of those lovely spontaneous encounters that I enjoy so much and something that would not have happened without VF’s help.

While it is regrettable that some individuals have developed an unfavorable image of VF, I feel it often has more to do with their own demons or a difference of opinion than anything of real substance.  Beside there are very few of them.  So now I find it hard to disguise my joy and satisfaction when I am recognized as VF, facilitating contact with a wider breadth of humanity.  I am glad to be out of the blogger closet of anonymity.

Blogging About Thailand ...

One would assume most first time readers of this blog stumbled upon it while doing a search related to Thailand.  As pictures have grown to be a more significant part of the blog, image searches also bring viewer here.  Whether they read after viewing the image they were looking for, is anyone’s guess.

Now that I have a presence on Google+ my images are more accessible to the 1500+ individuals who have me in their circles.  There, people are not typically searching for anything to do with Thailand but are looking for interesting photographs.

I would guess that many if not most of those first time Thai searches would be focussed on relationship topics, to put it politely, and touristy things like where to go, what to do and see, where to stay or how to get there, and of course how much things cost.  Politicos and news buffs are often intrigued by what plays out in the world and local new of Thailand and search for additional sources.  Buddhism perhaps attracts some though one suspects it is the more worldly and carnal things of Thailand that attract more searches.

Having been bitten by the Thailand bug, the search for many might then trend toward how to live here with your new “true love” or how to get her back to your own country.  Many find Thailand late in life after some life-altering event such as being put out to pasture from their career, divorce or even more tragically the passing of their lifelong partner.  For them, retirement and cost of living, may be forefront in their minds and searches.

Clearly this blog does not deal directly with any of these interest absorbing topics and has me questioning how relevant my blog is in a Thai oriented search.  As much as I might like to appeal to a broader range of readers and not be limited to this small niche market of Thailand, and all the negative imagery that accompanies it, the truth is that I am who I am because of living in Thailand for so many years.  There is no denying the influence Thailand has had on me nor that my daily life is painted on the exotic canvas that is Northern Thailand.

I would find it difficult to blog about most high interest topics about Thailand because I am no longer interested in or current on those subjects.  Dredging up what things were like 20 or 30 years ago and trying to relate them to the up-to-the-minute detail of the modern digital world, holds no practical value for me or the reader I would assume.

I seem to remember a post early on, where a female reader asked me what it was about Thai culture that kept me in Thailand, or something to that effect.  I believe I told her it had little or nothing to do with Thai culture and was all about my lifestyle.  To be fair my early years here in Thailand were spent pealing away the onionskin of Thai culture and insinuating myself into every strata of Thai social class I could.  At some point you simply internalize what you have learned and no longer focus on it so much.  As a child it takes great effort and focus on your feet and the ground below them to keep upright.  Later in life running is effortless and one is able to traverse difficult terrain with little thought.  One does need to go through the learning process but I suppose some move on to other tasks while others get stuck.
I guess this blog ends up being a personal journal written by someone who just happens to reside in Thailand.  The telling of my tale can sometimes draw distant people closer to Thailand and to me as a writer.  I truly relish the many relationships that have developed here over the years.  An interesting flip-side is that my blog can, on occasion, drive a wedge between me and other residents of Chiang Rai or Thailand.  They may see themselves in my words and personalize what is meant to be a generalized discussion of a relevant topic.

An undesired side-effect to be sure, but nothing to bring about a major change in the way I view life in general, the way I live my own life or what I write about.  Its a big world out there and I cannot possibly take into account every possible interpretation of what I write.  I cannot guess at what sensitivities and triggers lurk in the delicate egos of those who struggle with their sometimes difficult relationship with Thailand.  At first reading sometimes my words leave the reader feeling uncomfortable only to realize, much later, they were well intended and could have been beneficial if heeded.

I am no fan of aggression or vulgarity but grudgingly accept there can and will be casualties as a result of brutal honesty.  I can accept that some are put off and no longer seek out my company but I can be but honest and truthful with myself and others.

Moving Targets ...

In a recent email I was reminded of a conversation that took place sometime last year.  A reader sent me an email laced with some very kind comments about my blog and shared with me revelations about his own relationship with Thailand.  In my pursuit of the middle ground I acknowledged the feelings of excitement and anticipation as one enters into a new phase or adventure in ones life. 

As a balance I remembered those who had tried and failed for whatever reason in their Thai adventure.  I noted that Thailand is not for everyone and only time and trying would tell.  As a final thought I suggested that one is always shooting at a moving target.  What you think you want now, what you will want or need at the beginning and what you may want a few years down the road...may end up being very different things.

I was moved he took the time to bring me up to date and acknowledge that I had perhaps been on target with my “moving target” remarks and that after retiring and having time to ponder...the moving target topic often came up.  I find these kinds of exchanges rewarding and sometimes thought provoking.  This time it has led to a post about moving targets.

So there one stands cloaked in the trappings and accomplishments of ones life and for whatever reason Thailand presents itself as a potential target.  There can be a time lag between that first sighting, aiming and finally pulling the trigger.  Often we miss with the first shot but the hunt is on and we are hooked.  Not only is the target moving through space and time but we are moving as well.  In the case where moving to Thailand is the target, it is easy to become overwhelmed by ones focus on the minutiae and logistics of making that move.

Just as the young bride-to-be obsesses over the big day there is often little thought for what comes after.  I have lost count of how many people I have known who thought Thailand was the answer to their prayers, the ultimate target, just to discover their target looked very different in the light of day.  After a brief honeymoon phase, Thailand sometimes loses the charm it once possessed in the eyes of the dreamer.

It is no ones fault that life is fraught with uncertainty and change as it persistently marches toward its undeniable conclusion.  Some will proclaim their circumstances to be different.  Others will do endless research in their pursuit of perfection.  Some will leap blindly into the abyss with insufficient thought or preparation.  Some will be led astray and taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals.  Some will be lucky for lack of a better word.

Though I am guarded when it comes to giving advice, I will say this.  Take baby steps.  Don’t sell everything and move on a whim.  Don’t commit everything while leaving yourself no exit strategy.  Do expect fluctuations in currencies, health and relationships.  Do embrace uncertainty and be comfortable with the fact that you do not know how things will work out.  Know what your options are if things don’t go as planned.  Endeavor to enjoy the ride while viewing your target as more of a directional beacon to guide you down your path, rather than as a final destination.

There are success stories and train wrecks aplenty.  Just remember, whatever happens you are in for one hell of a ride and you need to write your own story and take responsibility for whatever happens.  Take aim and fire.

Happy New Year ...

Last night the locals noisily ushered in the new year, waking us briefly from our slumber, having retired at our usual time.  This morning the world, cloaked in a thick fog, was eerily silent.  Sometime during the night our neighbors had set fire to the huge pile of straw left over from the rice harvest, leaving a pall of smoke lingering in the air and a smoldering mound of ash in the field.

After leaving it to marinade overnight, my wife got up early to put the turkey in the oven.  Unable to sleep in as usual, I too got up early to welcome the new year and was greeted with the fragrant aroma of baking turkey, as Cookie and I prepared to go for a little walk.  The noise of village celebrations is hard on the dogs but on this quiet morning they seem better off than the humans who drank in the new year and who’s heads are still filled with cobwebs.

I know I just wrote yesterday but I nonetheless wanted to start the new year off with a short greeting and a few pictures.  It looks like the spirit house gets first crack at our turkey but I am assured there will be plenty leftover for us mere mortals.  Cookie wanted to send her new year's greeting as well.

Christmas Day in the Rai ...


Yes, Thailand celebrates Santa in all his commercial glory.  To the point that our favorite lunch venue is sold out and we are forced to staying in on this cold and grey winter day.  So much for our going with the flow and not planning things far enough in advance.  The upside is, my wife is preparing a special meal just for the two of us, though I am sure Cookie will get a bite or two.  So there is time today for thought and reflection.

I am not what you would call driven or goal oriented in my pursuit of happiness and the good life.  I do not traverse life’s highways and byways astride an iron rail with relentless determination that takes me from point A to point B without deviation.  Think of me more as raptor soaring through the sky, searching out updrafts to stay airborne with as little effort as possible.  I am already where I want to be, so there is no need to point myself steadfastly in one particular direction.  Maybe just drift a bit higher to broaden my view and expand my horizon.  My style is to take advantage of opportunities that present, not to cling to the past or fear change but I do keep track of the choices I make and the reasons for making them.

This is the time of year when we think back on what has transpired over the last year and prepare to turn the page and start anew.  I have turned, or had turned for me, many pages during this last year and no doubt will turn many more in the year ahead.  I have turned the page on the hash, the expat club, the potluck, early mornings at the coffee shop, group motorcycle rides and surely a few other things that don’t spring to mind at the moment.  For now we have an ever expanding circle of friends though some have wondered off along the way, perhaps having found more satisfaction elsewhere.  I have focused more on my own fitness, the happiness of my family and doing things I enjoy.

There have been those who found it difficult to understand, that Village Farang for me, was like a character in a play of my own imagining.  He was distinct and different from me in important ways. Over time those differences that existed early on, have all but disappeared as the two melded into one.  Village Farang has taken me on a journey of discovery through writing.  Some may write what they know, paraphrase others, or journal events with facts and figures.  When I write, really write, it becomes a journey of discovery for me.  Occasionally I know exactly what I am going to say before I begin writing and those are often the occasions when I don’t bother.  Really what is the point if it is already clear and I have worked through everything in my head before I start.

I am often surprised by what VF writes and he has taught me a lot about life and about myself.  With wonder I try to imagine where the words come from and how a turn of phrase found its way on to the page.  At times I didn’t know I knew certain things until I read them on the page in front of me, written in a way that is VF’s alone.  At first VF was an alter ego freed by anonymity to express himself with abandon.  As the gap between VF and myself narrowed, I began to guard my own identity less closely.  There was a gradual coming out as it were, to the point that many now know my face, especially here in the Rai.  In the interest of cyber security certain things are never divulged but I am no longer reluctant to be known as Village Farang, online or in person.

My wife and I have had some very productive discussions of late, covering where we have been and some options for where we might be going, both short term and long.  With age this kind of pondering seems to hold more urgency and gravity.  We feel it is important to communicate and not let things drift, especially when you sense a transition is in the offing.  Someone talked my wife into volunteering as an English teacher at a local school and now they are encouraging her to get a teaching degree to backup her already impressive grasp of the English language.  She seems happy and this looks like a path worth exploring.

I am contemplating doing more strenuous things that she might not be interested in and are therefore better done alone.  After the New Year I am considering a multi day motorcycle adventure back in the direction of Pai, for example.  I will try to get my visa taken care of early to allow more time for the many things we still want to do during the remainder of this wonderful season of action and adventure.

It is all I can do to restrain myself when I overhear others ponder how to fill their time when they retire or fantasize about moving to Thailand.  Often for us there just aren’t enough hours in a day, or days in a week.  I guess we all live our lives differently.  For me the main shift has been from focussing on a world distant and vague, to one that is present, immediate and real.  In a way I have turned to the micro setting on the camera.  I read volumes in the faces around me.  The world overflows with sights, sounds, smells, the exhilarating dance of life and what sometimes feels like a headlong rush toward death.  The mind is never idle no matter how relaxed the body may appear.

With that let me recall those famous words, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Our Thanksgiving in Chiang Rai ...


I will let the pictures do the talking this time.  It was a lovely meal with friends, in a beautiful location on the River.







A Reader’s Questions ...



Question:
If your open to suggestions for future blogs & if it is not personal I would be curious to hear about your visa & updating it etc. As well as things like health insurance. Just for future reference.

I do read about these things on other web sites but seem to get conflicting reports.


Answer:
The short answer is that we do the visa extension based on marriage to a Thai National, and have done so for the last twelve years.  Now that we live in Chiang Rai, once each year we drive to Mae Sai, roughly a 115km drive oneway, to fill out the forms and return again on the date stamped, approximately 29 days, to pick up the final visa which is good for a year from the date of application.  A more laborious response is reported below.

Honestly I like questions.  The problem doesn’t lie in the questioning process, the problem is with my answers.  Typically people want a how to guide and my response, more often than not, is to go to the source and not get bogged down with hearsay from other Farangs.  For example if you want to know about visas, go to the local office where they deal with such things and ask them what they want.  Usually they have all relevant forms there for the taking, so that you can peruse them at your leisure and fill them out at home.

Instead of farang oriented forums, go to the government websites.  For example, http://bangkok.immigration.go.th/en/base.php?page=faq.  On this page you will find official answers to many questions like the following.
Perhaps you don’t know where to go and want contact information.  They have that too.  In my area up north you get the following graphic.
Sadly I cannot be so forthcoming with information about health insurance.  I have never had any, so have no guidance or recommendations to offer.  I am in that demographic needed to pay for the care of others and to keep the insurance companies solvent.  In order to afford the high priced care of those who take out more than they pay in, they need people paying in who don’t take anything out.  I have, perhaps selfishly, chosen not to opt into that plan.

Judging from my gene pool both immediate and distant, I am apt to live too long if anything, needing longterm care for dementia which most health insurance won’t pay for anyway.  I have the opinion that I do not wish to be a financial burden to my wife by exhausting all my resources to remain alive, but not really living, for any length of time be it brief or extended.  I will make every effort to remain healthy and active but I am resolved to greet the Grim Reaper with open arms, in whatever form he presents himself.  I have no desire to live the way my mother is living now. 

There were three funerals in the village while I was away and there is another going on right now.  The desensitizing effect of the almost constant funerals here, and the depressing state of existence one sees back home, in even the most expensive and modern of care facilities, has left its mark on me.  Yes, there are individuals I know who are active and vibrant into their 80’s but they are not the norm.  I do not aspire to any particular age or number.  I simply wish to live well and then die well, without a lot of time in between.

Hopefully one can find something of interest in my response but if it only leads to more questions, don't be shy.  I will answer in the way that I do, but I will answer.

Leaving Thailand and Going Home ...

Have you ever spared a thought for those individuals who try to make a go of it in Thailand and for whatever reason end up returning to whence they came?  We hear a lot from the dreamers and new arrivals but not much from those who gave up and surrendered the dream to go home or continued their search for the dream somewhere else.

I suppose enthusiasm and a desire to share are more forthcoming from the throws of first love and an infatuation with all things Thai.  Lose the rose colored glasses and the world turns bleak and grey, with less desire to share one supposes.  Besides who wants to publicize ones failures or moan about the injustice of it all.  Who would care and who would read about such things?

I for one believe there are many who would benefit from the stories of those who have gone before but then again would they listen or learn?  There is a stubbornness that seems to permeate the very core of the new Thai accolades.  They often think they know more and know better, when the opposite is so apparent.

Never having been able to extricate myself from the hold Thailand has had on me all these many years, I can’t say I have much insight into what it must be like to go home.  That is why I, and others, have been so enthralled by the resent events in the life of Mike over at Thailand Blogs.  A seemingly well adjusted retiree and award winning blogger but recently an ex-expat, a returnee to his homeland. 

He has begun writing an epilogue of his love affair with Thailand and though he has just scratched the surface with his first installment, there is great potential in such postmortems I feel.  If you are interested go to Thailand Blogs and read Mike’s most recent entries. 

I can imagine that Thailand will have left a mark on who we are and how we perceive the world but I would like to hear more of this phenomenon if you would care to share.  If you have personal experience or have witnessed others who have returned home after a stint in Thailand please feel free to share your observations about the ease or difficulty of such a move.  Mike has kindled in me an interest in this under reported life event, so I hope to hear from others as well as read what he has to say in his blog.

Unsolicited Advice, Classic VF ...


Lets face it, if your company or religion didn’t send you here or it wasn’t part of a much longer trip of self-discovery, you probably came here for the girls.  Okay, maybe you were dragged here reluctantly by a friend who was tired of you being lonely and crying in your beer.  Face it, the girls were the hook that landed you.

The thing that always gets me though, is how many nesters there are, ready to make the same mistakes and fall back into the same hole they escaped from.  While disparaging the divorcées and blue-hairs back home, they continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel here in Thailand, looking for love in all the wrong places.  Don’t know if it is low testosterone or elevated estrogen levels due to the chemicals we use to raise our food.  Perhaps the guys were more severely emasculated by their previous encounters than they want to admit.  Whatever it is, guys who should know better, jump back on the marriage merry-go-round with the first Thai girl who tells him he is a “handsome man” and lifts her skirt.

If you are getting married for sex, then don’t.  I assure you that per-unit cost, it is much cheaper to rent and the variety will keep your interest up, so to speak.  The whole idea that you need a big house, a truck and a baby before anything else, is a crock.  Do you really want to spend the rest of you days prefacing the introduction of your wife or girlfriend by including some variation of the phrase, “and she was not a hooker.”  A waisted effort by the way, as foreigners will assume you are lying and Thais will know before she opens her mouth.

Do you really want to spend your retirement nest-egg on the establishment of a freedom-sucking, financial sinkhole?  Move around, explore the country, learn the language and learn to read and understand the women and customs.  I assure you there are options to the over-the-hill, tattooed girl, with a couple of kids from deepest darkest Isaan.

As with anything, learn the ropes before taking the plunge.  Stay single and create your own life here in Thailand.  If you are successful, then and only then, invite someone to share your life with you.  Don’t let someone you are unable to communicate with, dictate the path of your life.  Talk about the blind leading the blind.

So you are not ready for retirement and still need to work.  Chances are you won’t be able to find work in Thailand if you aren’t already employed there.  That means moving her to your country and all the hurdles that implies or starting up a long-distance relationship.  The odds of a long-distance relationship working are well documented.

Oddly enough in Thailand, that kind of relationship can be beneficial to both parties over the short term.  The Thai woman is able to remain with family and friends in a familiar environment with financial security and no expectation of catering to the inexplicable demands of the foreigner.  Of course they do end up spending some time together when he is on leave, but for a short time one can put up with almost anything.

The man on the other hand, has someone to write to and dream about while he is stuck making money in some godforsaken hole in Africa, the Middle East or perhaps even back home in is own country of birth.  Often it is that fantasy which allows the man to bear the isolation of his work environment and forgo immediate gratification for some imagined light at the end of the tunnel.  What happens when he retires and goes to live with this woman he has spent so little time with over the years and the children who don’t really know him or listen to him, is anyone’s guess.

Strange rantings coming from someone like me who is so obviously domesticated, you think?  Not really, I assure you.  After all I spent twenty plus years as a single guy in Thailand before settling down in my mid-forties and know of what I speak.  I knew my wife for two years before we got married.  I do mean knew her, as we lived together that whole time with hardly a day apart.  The first eight years of marriage we spent living in a small condo and traveling half the year.  Only after ten years together did we start contemplating our move up here to the Rai.

Though my experience is from a distant era, things between men and women really haven’t changed all that much.  As far back as thirty years ago this game of cat and mouse existed between Thai women and farang men.  I was known to write a letter or two (no email back then) for women who sounded so loving on the page, yet would make a sailor blush with their off color remarks and references to their loved ones.  I often wondered what their men would do if they could eavesdrop on their partner’s conversations and understand how truly crude and calculating they were, under their sweet and ever so thin veneer.  It is that very inability to communicate that lends to the objectification of the other sex, I feel.  If all you know about someone is what you can see or feel in the bedroom, then they are no more than a sexual object.  If a man cannot make himself understood, then can a woman be faulted for seeing him primarily as the preverbal ATM?

Remember what people back home think and say about the foreigners who move there and never learn the language or assimilate.  Then ask yourself if you are any better.  There is a certain kind of expat who complains of the treatment he receives from Thais, when it is merely human nature to objectify and dehumanize those we do not understand.  If you move to Thailand, does the burden not fall upon you to do the adjusting and not the other way around?

I suppose if you really want to make things difficult you could fall for a stateless or illegal alien from the mountains of a neighboring country.  That has always made even less sense to me than a woman with kids who as a last resort decides she has no more shame and is ready to start looking for a farang.  Of course there are plenty of guys out there ready to be a savior of the needy, as long as they find them attractive enough.  It satisfies their needs on multiple levels, I suppose.

So how was that for a taste of classic VF?  Is there anyone I have neglected or failed to include in my little rant?  Don’t you sometimes want to ask, “What in the world were you thinking?” even though you know it will make no difference?  Well I do, so here I have unburdened myself of that need fully aware that no one who needs to listen, will.  Perhaps my next post will return to the lush mountains and valleys of the Rai.