Forty Years in Thailand…

According to my count, next month will mark 40 years since I first set foot in Thailand.  My memories of what it was like are vague at best.  I remember some people I met back then but it was all so long ago and I was so very young and inexperienced.  My life today, though based on that foundation, bears no resemblance to those early days.  I don’t spend time pining away for my youth but I am amazed at how things seem to have turned out.

My first visit to Thailand was during my summer break from university in 1975.  Over the next twelve months I made three more visits all on my own, intrigued by the fact that I just couldn’t get Thailand out of my system.  The more time I spent here the deeper I fell under the spell of this place.  That was not something I had expected.

In 1977 when I finally graduated, I moved to Bangkok with no clear idea of what I would do or how I would stay.  All I knew was this is where I was meant to be.  I felt more myself in Thailand than I did back home.  I have ended up spending my entire adult life here in Thailand, with 30 years in Bangkok and now 8 years in Chiang Rai.

I mention this as a way of explaining why my observations about Thailand might be different from yours.  You see, I have no experience with western careers, marriage, children, debt, divorce, retirement or government benefits.  Thailand has always been easy for me and I sometimes find it hard to understand how it can be so difficult for others.

Apparently, unlike many, I do not have a built in bias against what might be referred to as upper class Thais and the term HiSo is not derogatory in my opinion.  In fact I owe a great deal to the old money families who took me under their wings and nurtured me during those early formative years in Bangkok.  I can’t say with any certainty why they were so accommodating but I suspect my age, appearance and manner may have had something to do with it.

Many find Thailand nearer the end of their lives than the beginning.  It can end up being a dream come true or a nightmare, with unexpected consequences.  The success stories I suspect go about their lives quietly, with those who crash and burn in dramatic fashion getting most of the attention.

Today I learned of the untimely end of someone I expected to see around the village more often.  Having reached retirement age, he started building a veritable mansion just across the highway from us.  We can see the house through the back window about 250 meters away and it looks very near completion.

Each year he would come for a month with his Thai family and we have watched as his children grew into young adults.  This beautiful house was meant to be a new beginning and the focus of the next phase of his life, after work.  Now it seems more like a memorial or mausoleum.  He was able to watch the progress online from his home in Perth but now will never have a chance to live in it.  With his children having grown up in Australia one wonders if anyone will ever end up living in this huge house.

He was a soft spoken and gentle man who was kind and generous.  We were all saddened to hear of his sudden death, apparently due to heart attack.  I find this a poignant reminder that life must be lived to the fullest as none of us know when our time will come.  It is all well and good to make plans and have goals but we must remember not to focus too much on the future and forget to live each day with a sense of joy and wonder.