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

Yearly Visa Renewal in Mae Sai ...

We don’t often have the occasion to drive the 111 km to Mae Sai on the Burmese boarder, but at this time of year, it is a necessity. The yearly visa renewal thing, you know. Well, an extension of stay based on being married to a Thai, would be more correct. Events normally proceed quite smoothly with a little patience and a smile. With very few people there on the day, no waiting in line this time.

Chiang Rai being the small yet spread out place that it is, we were not overly surprised to bump into a couple we know. Being able to visit a bit while the wheels of bureaucracy turned heavily but surely, made things that much more pleasant.

Finished before noon, we headed back to Chiang Rai, with an eye out for someplace to eat. Have to keep the wife well fed or she gets moody. Some things change little on the drive. The mountains, sometimes more visible than others. The tobacco growing in the fields beside the road. Vendors selling strawberries, pineapple and other fruit from their roadside stalls. A price check, confirming that the prices are better at Makro and the roadside scales are a little light.

The proliferation of new trendy coffee shops along the way is apparent after not having passed this way for a while. Some are modern, of glass and steel, while others are more arty and boutique like. We stopped at a place we like more for the decor than anything else in particular. Across the highway we noticed a shop and decided to visit there after lunch and coffee.

As fate would have it, there was a sign of interest to us, between the u-turn and the shop. It said Golden Retrievers, so we turned up the soi and found some of the most adorable GRs we have seen. It was all we could do, to leave there without adding to our collection of dogs and a cat. The two puppies were so cute at two months old. The owners were quite interesting too and we had a lively and entertaining visit, before escaping the tug on our heartstrings.

With a little time to kill, we decided to take a new way home. It ended up being more of an adventure than a viable shortcut. Much of the way was very narrow and required pulling over, to pass an oncoming vehicle. At one point we came upon a bridge so narrow that one could not possible open the doors and get out while crossing. We nearly turned back at that point but a farmer assured us we were on the right track, so we continued. Afterwards we very much regretted not having the forethought to document our crossing of that bridge with a photo.

Home at last, we will have to make the trip again in twenty-nine days, to pickup the completed visa extension. We are already considering which side roads we might explore at that time.

The Chiang Rai Hash, Again? ...

I am nothing, if not a man of contradictions.  Where is the fun in being predictable, steadfast and never changing ones mind?  It is the simple mind that sticks rigidly to an idea or belief, fearful of a change of direction or even asking questions.  Fearful that fingers will be pointed and contradictions pointed out.  Where is this leading, one might ask?  It is leading to the fact that we went to another Hash House Harriers, yesterday.

Considering the trouble I got into the last time I went and wrote about the Hash, one would be justified in asking me, “Why?”.  Well, I will get to that but the obnoxious answer would be “Why not?”.  To be honest, I was even asked when I could be expected to pen something about this outing, to which I laughed and replied that I might abstain this time around.  So here I am contradicting that response as well, in the manner of my own choosing.  Not constrained by Hashly etiquette or protocol I am able to do, or not do, as I wish.

Perhaps I should start off by explaining how this all came about.  From the very beginning I had ulterior motives for attending the Hash, even the first time.  One might say I go to the Hash, in spite of the Hash, not because of it.  There just aren’t that many places where farangs of the Rai, gather in the light of day.  Of course one sees them in BigC and Makro, but it is not the done thing, to acknowledge those to whom you have not been properly introduced.  Something we have picked up from the Thais, no doubt.  So the Hash presents an opportunity to meet others, that you might not otherwise cross paths with.  Sometimes that is a good thing, the not crossing paths part.  Sometimes you get lucky and meet a like minded soul or someone you can at least enjoy a conversation with.

We happen to know and like the hosts of the Christmas Hash and have been to their house before.  Though we frequent the city seldom, on two recent occasions our paths crossed.  Most recently at Makro, where they extended an invitation to the Hash they were hosting.  Okay, so they were just being polite, but my wife wanted to go.  Not that my wife would ever be so straightforward in acknowledging her desire.  With a healthy dose of that uniquely Thai notion of “Krengjai” she queried as to whether I would be too putout if we tried another Hash.

She knows full well that I have never refused her anything, but still she doesn’t wish to impose or appear to come off as pushy.  With her typically Thai distaste for confrontation, she asked if I would feel uncomfortable in going again and perhaps bumping into someone of disagreeable  manner.  I assured her that no one was going to ruffle my feathers and I was quite capable of fending for myself.  My only consideration was what she wanted and nothing else mattered.

On the day we arrived a bit early to secure a safe and convenient parking space along the side of the soi.  There were quite a few new faces, new to me at least, so I basked in my anonymity.  There were a few who were surprised to see me, and the look on their faces, was worth the 65 km trip.

As others mounted the farm lories to be driven to the starting point, a few of us and one lovely chocolate lab, proceeded on foot.  We did come for a walk after all.  I was determined to approach things differently this time.  To that end, we decided to linger near the back. 

In a rush of testosterone, all the male bluster and bravado vanished into the forested hills.  Most of the way I was accompanied by four women and two children.  I have always appreciated the company of women.  We were familiar with two of the women, being the hosts of this and the previous Hash we attended.  We probably did more talking than walking.  Discussing life, health, events and travel, made for a very enjoyable, social stroll through beautiful surroundings. 

One of the children with us, looked as though he would be much happier in front of the computer or a playstation, and seemed to be suffering a bit.  He was a trooper, however, and suffered in silence.  With no other men anywhere to be seen, I slowed my stride as we all adjusted our pace to that of our lumbering young friend.

After a lovely walk, we were the last to arrive at the pickup point.  This time, no one turned down the ride.  There was food and drink for all and a little entertainment for the kids.  All of whom, went home with a lovely Christmas Poinsettia.  As the more Hashy stuff began, we quietly said our goodbyes to our hosts, and slipped off into the darkness.  Apparently not the thing to do but seemed best for us.

It was after dark, with a long drive ahead of us but we opted to make a brief stop at the walking street to purchase some food to take home, from the many vendors that line the side soi we frequent.  All in all, it was a good day and we found a way to make it work for us, without detracting from the enjoyment of others with differing sensibilities. 

So will we do it again?  Truthfully, I couldn’t say.  If my wife expresses an interest, then I guess you know what my answer would be.

Adjusting to Village Life ...

Recently there was a thread on a Thailand forum about the difficulties of adjusting to village life in Thailand.  For some it was not easy but doable.  For others it seems, it was something verging on the impossible.  It struck me that some of those who suffered the most had no chance from the very beginning.  If you start off by scraping the bottom of the social barrel to find a partner and then proceed to try living among the poorest of the poor in a remote rural location...well I think you can start to see where that might lead.  That scenario would hardly be possible for the vast majority of big city Thais, let alone a foreigner.

It would surely take a different sort of “farang animal” to go all “National Geographic” and live a primitive existence devoid of all western amenities, comforts and conveniences.  Throw-in an inability to understand or talk to anyone and things can turn ugly and the bottom of a bottle can seem like the only way out.

Some suffer under the delusion that village life will be super cheap.  While fixed overhead is lower than in the city, startup costs to feather you nest and make life bearable can be a little pricy.  I had lived in Thailand long enough to know in advance what I would need to make the move to a village.  Perhaps not the same for everyone but something that needs to be dealt with honestly and well in advance.

For example, I knew I would need a dwelling much different from the typical village shack and at a reasonable distance from the standard noises, smells and hubbub of village life.  Other necessities included a good truck, motorcycle, mountain-bike, hiking shoes, camera and dogs.  In the house I needed air-conditioning and a bug-free environment.  Telephone, internet, the best computer I could afford, True Vision for western TV/News and some hobbies to exercise the body and the mind.

Keeping in mind that I speak Thai, communication is still less than satisfying with most of the villagers.  They for the most part do not speak Thai, only speaking their local country dialect and many are functionally illiterate.  Privacy, security, alcohol and debt are major problems and you have to have a plan for dealing with them.

If you get everything right it can be quite nice.  I have a Bangkok friend who argues how easy life is for him in the city.  He can catch a taxi to the Sky-train and go to this place for one thing and then to another place for something else.  I laugh and say, “That is not easy.”  Easy is sitting on the sofa, watching a movie you downloaded from the internet, on the big-screen TV, and your lovely wife brings you those very same things without lifting a finger.  Use technology and a couple of villagers to do the grunt work and go on a well planned shopping run once a week and easy-peasy you have time for fun and adventure.

Depending on your needs and where you live, finding companionship other than your wife, can be a struggle at first but over time usually works out.  I find the transient nature of expat relations in Thailand has hardened me to the fact that people come and go in ones life.  Each life-change is merely one more in a long list of changes over the years, that have mostly worked out for the best.  It is not for everyone but village life can be good.

So if you are dreaming of retiring to a village, do your homework.  Spend time there at different times of year.  Learn to speak the language and pray that your partner has your best interests in mind at all times.  If you can’t count on your partner, then all is lost before you begin.  Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, so plan carefully.  Dreaming the dream is one thing but living the dream is a very different animal.

Expat Life, Not for Everyone ...

My attitude toward events and life in Thailand can run opposed to those who predict doom and gloom or wear rose colored glasses.  Perhaps I have been desensitized and become excessively blasé over the years.  That said, one does need to take a good long look at things, before choosing to become an Expat.  Of course I can only speak to my personal experience in Thailand.  For some the risks are mitigated by the fact that an organization, corporation, government or God is paying the bills.  Being hired from overseas, on a good expat package leaves you with little financial risk.  If you are trying to make it entirely on your own, you are in for a very steep learning curve, however.  You had best be very, very good at something, that there is a market for, and have massive people skills.  You will need contacts and help from the right people.  Pretty much everything I have done in Thailand was handed to me by people who liked me or needed me.  I certainly didn’t go around knocking on doors and asking for things.  One skilled friend of mine did put out feelers early on, but it took a year or two, before people locally, started to take him seriously and offer him assignments.  His skill and patience won out in the end but that is hardly the norm.

Young, single, unencumbered, polite and highly skilled or perhaps old and retired with adequate money, are workable scenarios.  If you marry into the wrong Thai social class you had best be retired with money as it will make things more difficult with the people you will need to socialize and associate with in the working world.   Children, or perhaps a western wife, will add a whole new set of challenges, that I thankfully have not had any experience with.  Education, healthcare and a myriad of western expectations will likely not be filled in exactly the way one might wish for.  As a youthful adventurer, teaching can help to pay some bills and open doors to learning about real people in your country of choice.  Even as a retiree, a little teaching can provide great social rewards and recognition among the locals.  Of course you won’t be held in as high esteem, by many of your expat compatriots. 

Like me, some become lifelong expats and manage to somehow survive and sometimes even thrive.  For others it is just an interlude that enriches their lives with vivid memories and vital life experiences.  Now we get to the poor souls who should never leave their native lands.  The bigoted and intolerant are better off being unhappy at home and not inflicting themselves on another nation of people.  Those who are week willed, lacking in self-discipline, or possess an addictive personality could easily find themselves on a very slippery slope toward a nightmare scenario.  Without a social safety net and no one looking out for ones best interests, many a life has been waisted in the notorious bars and nightlife of Bangkok and Pattaya.  Families have been shattered and fortunes lost as people have fled the safe predictability of life at home and sought out adventure or love in a far off land.

There are of course risks in life regardless of where one resides.  Those risks are not the same for everyone, however.  While some fear for their safety, security or comfort, others have no greater fear, than living a normal and predictable life within the confines of what is expected.  There is no right or wrong about it.  With no sure things, sometimes you just have to go for it.  If it doesn’t workout, have faith in your own ability to persevere.  Much easier done without debts or responsibilities, of course.