Battling Bangkok’s Bitter Boys

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with an American who was a student at Webster Univerity Hua Hin. Actually, he was interviewing me as part of his studies in photo/journalism. Because he didn’t do any research before he came, he didn’t know about my career. (Lesson #1)

Why the interview? I’m American and a veteran of Vietnam. He wanted to find out how that group of us was coping in Thailand. It was an interesting conversation, and I found myself talking to much, but one piece stands out and was reinforced today by the article below. I was asked: “What advice would I give someone planning to move to Thailand?” The first thing out of my mouth, after a rather long pause of contemplation, was you need to leave your attitude at the border. You are not superior. You are not smarter. You are not in charge. In fact, what you say has no weight. You are an immigrant.  Now, the “Bitter boys” …

By John Wolcott

When anyone asks me what they should do to move to Thailand, the first thing I tell them is what they shouldn’t do, which is visit Thailand’s expat forums.

The online expat forums are a throng of Thailand’s bitterest expats. Complaints fill threads. Attitudes are negative. Advice is horrible.

When I was researching my move from America to Thailand, I made the mistake of browsing these forums. And I was always left with two questions: why did these people still live in Thailand if they hated it so much? And do I really want to move there?

But each year I came to Thailand for vacation, I experienced the opposite of what the forum frowners wrote about. When I left Thailand I wanted more of the country, the people, and the food — not less.

At first, these bitter expats only seemed to exist online. Most of the people I met in Thailand enjoyed living here. But in 2014 I made Thailand my home and everywhere I turned there was an expat waiting to complain about his life in Thailand.

A fellow teacher of mine is one of these expats. He complains nonstop about Thailand. He complains about the people. He complains about the food. He complains about the weather. He complains about his students and everyone at the school. But the worst part? He complains about these things in front of Thais.

He does it at hi-so coffee shops where Thais know English perfectly well. He does it on the BTS and in taxis. And he does it with me right by his side. I’ve become so used to it that I have a preloaded list of topics I use to change the course of his conversation.

Imagine you stood in line at a coffee shop in New York City and two non-Americans were behind you, complaining about America and American people. People in the coffee shop would be pissed off. And Americans would have no problem letting them know it. Thais think the same way we do, they just don’t say it. But just because they don’t say something doesn’t make it right.

If you let them, bitter expats shift how you frame life in Thailand. They’re usually the ones who don’t try to fit in to Thai society. They don’t learn the language. They read and share and talk about only the negative news. They focus on the one thing that went wrong in their day instead of the dozens of things that went right. They see no good in the country or the people.

One day I asked my fellow teacher, “Why are you still in Thailand if you don’t like it?”

“My son,” he said. And he went on to tell me how he married a girl and had a kid with her. The more he talked, the more his hatred for life in Thailand made sense. He was giving his wife most of his paycheck to help pay for the debt she ran up. He was paying for his son’s schooling. He was paying for his wife’s apartment, her travel costs. And he wasn’t even living with them.

It made me realize it’s not Thailand he hates, or Thai people. He hates his life. Somewhere along the way he made a string of bad decisions. He married a bar girl and now has ties to her for life. Others come here and try to do business with people they don’t know. When things go sour they blame Thais. But marrying a bar girl or doing business with people you don’t know won’t go over well anywhere in the world.

Has a Thai ever screwed me over in Thailand? Sure. When I first started coming here in 2007 I knew nothing about the temple scams or the corn-in-the-hand scam at Sanam Luang. Other times, I didn’t have the language skills to know when someone overcharged me because I wasn’t Thai. As a newbie, I got, got. But it never stopped me from coming back. And it won’t make me forget the good times when people went out of their way to help me.

Last year, a stranger helped push my stalled car off Srinakarin Road in rush hour. Then he drove to get his tools so he could check my battery. When that wasn’t enough, he took me to get a new battery and installed for me. He did this and wouldn’t accept one baht from me.

Contrast this with an experience I had in America when I was 18. I had to get the engine replaced in my car. The mechanic kept my car for months, always coming up with excuses on why it wasn’t ready. When I finally got the car back it barely drove. I found out he put a used engine in my car and I had to go through court to get some of my money back.

I never thought the mechanic screwed me over because he was American or I was American. He did it because he was a shady mechanic. So I don’t look at nationality as the reason negative things happen in Thailand either. Shitty people do shitty things to other people whether they’re the same nationality or not.

A person’s location doesn’t always affect their happiness, their frame of mind does. Moving to Thailand has taught me this. These bitter expats will bicker about life no matter where they live. Complaining brings them comfort. It makes them feel good about their own misery.

But be careful, because lending an ear to these sullen expats will bring bitterness to your life, as well. – whatsonsukhumvit.com

Posted in expatriates, Thailand, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Street food – just a sample

Every 7 to 10 days, I grab my backpack and head to the fresh market (Chat Chia) about 3/4 of a mile away. Since it’s on the way, this morning I also stopped at the Water Department to pay my monthly bill – 45 baht (about $1.25).

The market is in the center of the older area of Hua Hin, and has been operating for decades. I don’t usually bring my camera to the market when I shop, but here are some previous photos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The market is a kaleidoscope of color and smells, narrow walkways punctuated by motorbikes cruising through with loads of vegetables. One area is for seafood, and while Hua Hin is a beach town, much of the seafood is brought in from elsewhere. While cheap by U.S. standards, the fresh seafood here is not inexpensive. In fact, I’ve found it much cheaper to buy frozen fish fillets and shrimp at the Makro market. The quality is still good and the convenience much better. But it’s still interesting to walk around to see what is available.

After selecting my usual mix of potatoes, tomatoes, greens, lettuce, cukes, I packed up and headed back, but my second goal of the morning was still to come.

One of the highlights, for me, of visiting the morning market is the selection of street food vendors you can find all around the 2-block square area. I usually try to find something for lunch and for snacks when I’m there.

My favorite vendor, who sells roast duck and rice (photo above) has not been in his usual spot my last two visits (I hope he’s OK), so I decided to stop at a small stall halfway back home that sells Thai bread and dumplings. At the market, you can also find fried chicken, grilled sausages and pig intestines, a variety of pastries, dried fish, and a number of items I can’t even put names to.

The small loaf of bread I bought was soft, sweet and delicious. I chose a chocolate-flavored one for 10 baht, but they also come in fruit and meat flavors. Excellent with my coffee when I returned.

The dumplings are filled with spicy pork, chocolate, mango, or other ingredients and then steamed in large pots. I chose 3 pork-filled for 25 baht (80 cents). With a little sweet-and-sour chilli sauce, they should make a nice lunch.

DSC_0832

 

Posted in fresh market, Hua Hin, Thailand, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Renewing 1-year visa goes well

I had an interesting message today from a reader of this blog that I’ll try to use as a springboard for my effort today to personally, without legal help, apply for a new one-year non-immigrant (retirement) visa. The message was from someone nearing retirement who has followed this blog with interest and wondered if I was still traveling.

I told him that a job in Indonesia stopped my traveling (except for brief tourist trips) for four years, and that now I was living in Thailand, at least for another year. Here are some of his kind words:

“Look forward to hearing of your continuing adventures. I wish I have enough courage to do something along similar lines as yourself when I retire next year. Always inspired and impressed by your writing and your adventures. Thank you so much for sharing.”

Don’t know about the inspiration part but I sure could have used some knowledge this morning when I made the trip to immigration to renew my one-year visa. The Thai Embassy in Bangkok had the necessary forms online but when I tried to print them, the Thai words jumbled the whole page, making a printout useless.

No problem. They have the forms at the front of the immigration office. I did know that I would need three copies of the application, three copies of passport pages, three copies of my income statement from the US embassy in Bangkok (previous post) and three copies of the “house book” for my rental. And three head shots on white background, 4cmx6cm.

I was not looking forward to today, expecting I would totally screw up and have to start from scratch with a 30-day tourist visa. The anxiety woke me early, which was a good thing. A cup of coffee in a plastic Coke bottle for the road, a short walk to Petchkasem Road to grab a motorcycle taxi, and 10 minutes on the road fearing for my life and I was at the soon-to-be-replaced immigration office. Taxi fare: 200 baht round-trip.

Finding the correct application form, I filled it out and then had three copies of my papers made. The woman there was very helpful in arranging the papers correctly, but, unfortunately, I didn’t know I needed another form for a re-entry visa that allows me one out-of-country trip during the year. Otherwise, if I left Thailand, my one-year visa would be no good when I returned.

I would find out about this form as I was meeting with the Thai immigration official. The office was not busy, as much of its work has moved to the new Bluport mall office, and the officer waited while I went back outside to find the form, fill it out and have copies made.

The process seemed far less cumbersome than it was last year when I had consulting help doing the application. The Thai officer was very patient in arranging my papers properly, stamping them with a seemingly endless selection of rubber/ink stamps. Last year, I must have signed my name a dozen times; this time, I signed the original documents and that was all.

Last year, also, I paid 1,900 baht for the re-entry visa. This year, the charge was only 1,000 baht. The renewal application is 1,900 baht. That’s a little less than $100 total.

As comparison, in Indonesia I had to take a ferry from Batam to Singapore every month to renew my 30-day visa. While the visa is free for Americans (and most other nationalities, as well), the ferry trip was $44 each month. And an Indonesian one-year retirement visa costs somewhere more than $1,000 a year.

Of course, I did have to travel to Bangkok for an overnight stay to go the the US Embassy, which hiked my costs some, but even breaking the bank for a very nice hotel and dinner cruise, it comes out to less than Indonesia, and I don’t have to waste a day doing a ferry round-trip every month.

While my visit to immigration took longer than it should have (if I had known what I was doing), I was done in little over an hour. The service was polite and useful. My taxi driver was waiting outside patiently.

Now, all I have to worry about is the 90-day reporting, which I hope to do online next time.

And if I can circle back to the reader’s comments above, As I told him, my journey is perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made, both challenging and stressful, and full of these relatively huge tasks you need to perform along the way, such as acquiring a long-term visa. Always interesting. Despite the many difficulties I’ve encountered over the past seven years, including the debacle in St. Kitts & Nevis, the past seven years have been a life-changing experience.

 

Posted in bangkok, Batam, Hua Hin, immigration, Singapore, Thailand, Uncategorized, visa/passport