Just what am I doing?

I’ve spent a lot of time recently contemplating my existence, what I am doing, why, and what’s next. Why the sudden soul-searching? I guess it’s the realization that I have come full circle in my adventure, finding myself once again living on a shoestring, trying to survive in foreign lands with a minimum of income – just as I started out when I moved to Costa Rica in June 2010.

Quite honestly, my time in Indonesia spoiled me. For 2 ½ years, I had a job providing me with supplemental income, a nice apartment and free meals, while giving me an introduction and access to the local expat and Indonesian populations. I was also able to save quite a bit of money that would become useful in the next year and a half, when I was able to leverage that community access to start a business, make a little extra money (not much), and party like I hadn’t in many, many years.

I remember my years in Batam fondly, for the good times and the many friends I made, both expat and, in particular, Indonesian. Many of the latter are still asking when I will return. I have thought about it.

But such a return would probably be anti-climatic and not really be the salve I seek. So I’m adjusting to my new/old reality. But that doesn’t mean I’m done exploring.

I had intended to travel south an hour to stay in Khiri Khan for a couple of days this week, but Thailand’s Songkran “New Year’s” holiday intervened. Not really a good idea to try and travel this week. Maybe next week, as I explore to see if Khiri Khan might be a more interesting home than Hua Hin.

Then again, there are areas of Hua Hin that I’ve only passed through that seem interesting. One of my problems here is the isolation of my apartment from the main activities in town, which occur a mile or two or three south of me. Taking taxis to other parts of town just to walk around doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially with the heat, but there are sections of town that are mostly Thai, without many foreigners.

I encountered one recently by accident on a taxi ride. It was vibrant on the streets and probably even more so at might, with markets, shops and restaurants everywhere, kind of like Batam. Whether it holds western-style apartments is another question. Only one way to find out.

At any rate, my lease runs through July 10 and I get a one-month rental rebate in June, so I’m not going anywhere just yet. Which means time available to explore.

I’m also reviewing other options, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines. All three are less expensive than Thailand.

I had written Vietnam off my potential list long ago due to restrictive visa options (only 30 days in-country before having to make a visa run, and then limited renewals). But a foreigner can now get a 3-month visa on entry, and can renew for three more months every 90 days. I did see where there is a 9-month limit, but I’ve also seen where many expats are retired there using the 90-day renewals. You don’t retire someplace for 9 months, so maybe there is a way around the rules. And maybe 9 months would be enough before I moved on.

Philippines is also under consideration should I find Thailand not to my liking, but I suspect I might find the same problem there as here – too civilized because of all the expats. Malaysia I’m still reviewing but there I would once again be in a country led by a religion, and I really don’t like state religions (my biggest complaint about Indonesia).

For the foreseeable future, however, I will be in Thailand, trying to remember this is a journey, not a party. I need to be more aggressive in meeting people, getting out into the community, and finding out if this is a place for me long-term. Of course, it would help if I had some friends here. Working on it.

Meanwhile, the business I’m trying to start (HuaHinExpatNews.com) has made some progress. Starting from scratch, and culling email addresses from local expat publications, I’ve been able to build the audience to 100-200 page views a day, which is close to what I had with BatamExpat.com, where I had a built-in startup advantage. My email promotions have netted nine advertisers, albeit with free ads through a promotional period as I build the audience.

I’ve used three Hua Hin expat forums to get the word out, although two of them have now shut me down from posting on their pages. I call it stealth marketing; they may think of it as abusing the privilege. Whatever. It worked!

When June arrives, and I start asking for paid advertisers, we’ll see if what I am trying to establish has wings. There is a lot of expat media here, although they seem to depend mostly on Facebook, not websites, I guess because it’s free.

The immigrant disconnect

Finally, I have to make some observations about what I have experienced with expats (farang to the Thais) here. I do this knowing I have met and talked with relatively few.

Perhaps this can best be explained by a conversation I had with my next-door neighbor, who is French. He has been living here full-time for several years, and on and off since 2006. He has a much-younger Thai girlfriend, whose teenage children are often visiting.

We bumped into each other on the beach one day, and despite living within yards of each other, this was the first real conversation we have had. Somewhere along the line, the talk turned to Muslims in Europe (his choice, not mine), and how they refuse to assimilate into European culture. I did have a hard time getting my points across because of the language difference.

Basically, he questioned the willingness of Muslim immigrants to acclimate themselves to their new European homes. They gathered together, lived together, continued to speak their own languages. He mentioned how farang in Thailand knew to take their shoes off when entering a house as how foreigners are readily willing to adapt to a foreign culture. Really? Taking shoes off?

Meanwhile, I suspect he cannot write or read Thai, and he lives in an area inhabited mostly by Europeans. Did I mention he has been living here for many years?

I mentioned that I had just spent the last 4 years in Indonesia and that the Muslims there couldn’t have been nicer and friendlier. He countered that was because it was their country, but in Europe they gathered in ghettos and did not want to be “European.”

I tried to explain that we have a built-in advantage in the U.S. to Europe, in that we have been assimilating foreigners for more than 200 years. I told him the Irish and Italians years ago were considered inferior when they came to the States. I explained that all cultures, when they come to the U.S., tend to live together, that those immigrants usually learn only a little English, but that subsequent generations are the ones who assimilate best, the children of the original immigrants.

In Europe, apparently, the situation is different, as immigrants do end up in areas of like nationalities, but in Europe there seems to be little opportunity to get out of their ghettos. They are not as accepted as has been the case in the U.S. until recently. So, just as in the ghettos that do exist in the U.S., the European ghettos breed radicalism due to the lack of opportunity and the very real bias that exists.

He didn’t buy it.

But I see that mindset here in Thailand among at least some of the expats who have relocated here. It seems they didn’t so much come to live in and experience another country and its cultures as they want to have their own countries within Thailand. They want their own food, clothing, amenities; they just want it cheaper (while not recognizing that their very attitudes are raising the cost of living that brought them here in the first place). I saw this same mindset in Costa Rica.

I even saw a Facebook post the other day from a woman who wanted to know where she could find South African food in Hua Hin.

They complain about the trash on the streets. Now, I’m not sure how Europe was 60 years ago, but trash was everywhere in the U.S. 60 years ago. People would drive on the new highways, stop for fast food, and dump the trash out their windows. We had to become educated and laws had to be written to stop the behavior. And I’ve been to many rural areas of the U.S. where people just dump truckloads of trash along the roads still today.

It will take this country a few years, just as in Indonesia, for clean streets and environmental concerns to take hold. Right now, these people are just trying to afford food and a place to live.

And just today in a local Facebook forum, there was a lively debate about adhering to Thai customs, specifically not going shirtless or wearing bathing suits while in public. You wouldn’t believe the vitriol and defensiveness in the discussion, with someone even saying that foreigners were spending money so they could do pretty much what they wanted. Someone even sent me a middle finger image in response to a comment I made.

It is that kind of imperialist mindset that I cannot tolerate. It’s an ugly side of my journey that I have seen in more than one place, but it seems to be more common here.

Not that I want to be totally immersed in a Third World existence. I like my creature comforts, too. I will go to great lengths to find bacon, and cheese. But if it’s not available, I adjust.

There are some things I cannot do without, granted, such as Internet and at least fans in a clean apartment, with a western toilet. But I can live in the middle of a Thai community, as I did in Batam, buy food at local markets, search for clothes that fit, do my own laundry, adjust my menus to what is local and available, learn a little (at least) of the local language, understanding that I’m living in someone else’s country, not mine, and as such I have to adjust, not the other way around. If I can find a source for western goods, as I did in Batam and Costa Rica, great. If not, adjust.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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