A couple of days ago a friend, who having lived in Thailand for almost three years but has now returned to the UK, asked if I was still happy in Thailand. Just the day before, while meeting some friends from Singapore, we had talked about exactly the same subject.
So are we happy living here, as we approach the sixth anniversary of our move here?
I have now lived in Thailand nearly twice as long as I have lived in any country, save for the UK of course. My relationship with Thailand has changed over those years, but most of those changes are related to our own personal circumstances. Throughout all of that time our only income has been our own companies - no savings, no pensions, no house to rent out. Everything we have and had was here. The ups and downs of my relationship with Thailand track the ups and downs of our personal circumstances; obviously things always look rosier when you have orders on the books and money in the bank.
So the first, and by far the most important plus side of living here, is we are still here. We were able to buy our house outright when we moved here, with the small profit from the sale of house in Canada. Nowhere else could we have done that. Thailand, away from the big cities anyway, does not view property as an investment, but as roof over your head. I can rent a house for 2-3000 baht/month if I needed to, and we were able to buy our house here for much less than 1 million baht. And that is that - no council/land tax (that may change soon): nothing. The house is ours. (Yes ours - stop all that bleating about being able to own land here as a foreigner- that applies to many countries including Singapore).
If we had the misfortunes and made the mistakes we have made with our company in any other country, we would be in real trouble. The comfort of always knowing you have a roof over your head and you could survive, if necessary, on next to nothing, allows sleep, even when you are looking down the back of the sofa for the last satang.
And another big plus; owning your company and being an engineer to boot, elicits real respect from people here. After years of 'oh, can you fix my toaster' or 'why don't get you get a proper job such as a lawyer' for all my working life in the UK, here I get a little respect. And I don't care how that sounds, it matters to me and I appreciate it.
We have had to manage our time here. We rearranged my work schedule to free up more 'me' time, more time to actually enjoy what this country has to offer. I found time to write two books, which I am really chuffed about. More books will follow. I take time out to learn Thai which I am starting to really enjoy. I find time to slowly redecorate the house or spend time in the garden or just sit on our balcony and enjoy the warm weather with a nice cold beer. We have shed some of the bureaucracy of running a company here which has helped a lot. I still have to do a visa run every 90 days (my choice as opposed to getting an extension here): my last visa run was a nice holiday in Taiwan. A chore has been turned into a plus. Yes permanent residency would be nice - that word permanent matters - but I don't fret over it any more.
Ploy has got herself a business that is starting to do quite nicely. It does mean we don't see much of each other at the moment, but that will change. But the independent income is nice and I am sure Ploy enjoys it. I am born to be a house husband, thanks to my mother and my father's long absences, and Ploy - well let's just say it works better this way. If only we could find someone to do the ironing for us.
Of course there are some frustrations, but I can honestly say that none of them directly affect me and I long ago gave up wanting to change the world. The extent of my altruism is to help some soi dogs. We do have a military dictatorship but aside from when they first took over and the imprisonment of some friends (some of whom we have never seen again) and the fact the 'government' have barely a firing neuron between them, well they have that in common with almost every other government in the world. At least we don't have any pretence of having a democracy so it avoids any frustrations about believing you can change anything. As a foreigner I am excluded from the delights of choosing which imbecile should rule me and I add that to the plusses of living here.
Litter, Thai drivers, cost of wine and the stupid licensing laws, Thai TV, noise, inconsiderate neighbours, erratic weather (e.g. the current drought), no culture to speak of... but just a couple of years ago the list would have been longer, such erratic electricity/water/Internet.
A lot of the remaining issues - I won't call them frustrations - have become less irritating as I have started to get a little more insight into their motivation. Learning the language certainly helps, and also talking to my language teacher, and then with Ploy, is giving me an understanding as to why some of things that could irritate me so, are done at all. I would willingly live on an island a thousand miles from another human. Unfortunately I can't do that so I have to interact with people occasionally, although I avoid it as much as possible. Thailand, to state the obvious, could not be more different from my country of upbringing. It has taken six years of living here for me to start to understand the people. I may not agree with all they do but when it doesn't seem as though they do it just to wind me up, it makes a little bit of sense of what can seem like chaos, and chaos deliberately designed to wind up the Westerner. But it isn't, it just another way of doing things - a crazy way sometimes - but nonetheless not deliberately antagonistic.
Once I began to understand that, and without the constant drip, drip moaning of other expats in my ear due to my self-imposed isolation; yes - I am happy here. Certainly much happier than I would be in Singapore, or Canada, or the US or the UK. Until I get that island anyway.
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