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.