The eight-year anniversary of my leaving the U.S. to see the world is fast appraching (June 1). As it does, I’ve found myself wondering just what it is I have accomplished, and whether I have found a place to live out the remainder of my life.
I’ve been around the world a couple of times during those years, living in six countries on three continents. And the quest has always been with the same motivation – where can I live comfortably and cheaply (i.e., within my retirement check limits).
Costa Rica was OK, but the cost of living wasn’t as low as the hype made you believe, and was going up fast. I tested Europe (Croatia and Sicily), but the cost of living is too high, and the long-term visa situation expensive.
Indonesia turned out to be a surprise, not so much the cost of living (which is very low) but more because I wasn’t sure about living in a Muslim world. That proved to be a non-issue – I found the indonesians wonderful, friendly people, although the relative poverty of the country was a cause of much petty theft.
Immigration problems, however, caused me to leave. Retirement visas were expensive and heavy with paperwork, and ferrying over to Singapore every month to renew my tourist visa did not seem like a long-term option.
So here I am in Thailand. But so what?
I know I have friends back home who think it’s “cool.” Well, maybe for a short time. But I’ve been here for more than two years, the uniqueness of my situation fading every day.
There are only so many temples to see before you tire of them, the fresh markets and street food stalls have become commonplace, part of daily life. There are still challenges, for sure, mostly around language and immigration.
Yesterday, I did my 90-day report that all long-term visa holders are required to do. They’ve simplified the process and moved it to a new office in Hua Hin’s new upscale mall, Bluport (another sign of a rapidly changing environment that will surely include a rising cost of living).
And in two months, I will re-apply for another one-year visa, this year guaranteeing my income by having 800,000 baht in a Thai bank, rather than getting a notorized affidavit from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok certifying my Social Security income. The change saves me the roughly $500 expense of going to Bangkok; I just need a certificate from my local bank.
While some people might find such requirements bothersome, immigration rules in Thailand are the best I’ve encountered so far. When combined with the low cost of living (slightly more than Indonesia) and the quality of life my small imcome can provide.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not touting Thailand as a destination. Heck, I don’t want any more foreigners coming to Thailand; the more that come, the higher the cost of living goes. And stuff like a Bluport mall, with its 8-cinema complex are a sure sign of that happening.
Foreigners don’t seem to be satisfied with the country as they see it; they want to change it into their country, with all the products and services they were used to before moving. So, at some point, Thailand will be too expensive and homogenized for me to stay.
For the time being, however, this is home. And it’s really simply that – a home. It’s not really an adventure anymore for the most part. There are exceptions, such as recently attending ceremonies in Suhothai for new monks, but life generally is pretty boring.
It was the same in Indonesia after the blush wore off.
You get into a daily routine. Certain days you go to the fresh market, others to a western grocery. You carry your laundry to the woman around the corner, or in my current situation, you wash your own in a third-world washing machine and hang it out on your front gate to dry.
When your electric bill arrives, you walk to the nearest 7-11 to pay. The water bill is delivered by motorcycle, but if you are not home you have to walk a mile to the water department to pay the $1.70. You pay your monthly internet bill in the local mall, a mile or so away.
It’s all pretty routine. There is no adventure. You are just trying to live as comfortably as possible on your limited budget. You try to navigate a world where most of the people you meet will not understand you, nor you them.
That is not to say that other foreigners (immigrants) see Thailand the same way. Many are snowbirds from Europe and Australia, spending 3 to 6 months a year in their second homes. These are the most likely expats to insist on western foods, furniture, movies, healthcare, et al.
They seek out odd items/foods native to their home country, and complain they can’t find whatever it is. They insist on pools and air conditioning and fancy western-style homes (preferably near the beach). They are not constrained by their income, at least not much, as evidenced by the attraction to expensive western restaurants, usually catering the foods from home.
Then there are the permanent residents, like me. Some are making do with modest incomes. Others have started businesses, usually bars and restaurants, although they have to have a Thai partner who owns 51% of the business.
A segment seems endlessly to be complaining about Thailand – about the roads, the corruption, the drinking water, the waste everywhere. You almost have to wonder why they are even here.
For me, however, I try to understand that the country is still growing, developing. I didn’t come here because it was like home. Quite the opposite. I knew what Thailand’s warts were, including military rule, but they were no different than in Indonesia or Costa Rica (or for the islands of St. Kitts & Nevis, where I had a brief stay working on a weekly).
It’s what it is in developing countries. You adjust and deal with it.
I’ve adjusted, I think.
But, honestly, Thailand is just a place to live now. Small adventures may arrive but the day to day is pretty normal.