Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Raising children in Thailand

It's amazing how many emails I get asking for advice about moving to Thailand.

I don't do individual case studies and, even if I did, moving to a foreign country is not a decision to be made lightly, it can ony be made by the individual themself.

Assuming you want to be sociable and non-reclusive, the one thing a foreign arrival to Thailand needs is thick skin. If you plan of living away from towns with an established foreign population, such as of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket or even Udon Thani, then make that skin extra thick because you are gonna need it!

In towns with low numbers of foreigner you will be a novelty value. You'll quickly come to learn, and regularly hear, 'farang' - the Thai word for foreigner - and you can expect to be photoed, gossiped about and starred at every day.

Now factor in a child and multiply the levels of patience until they are almost off the scale.

I've blogged about being talk of the town before, it doesn't overly bother me plus my life, Missus and Little One, is here in Thailand so I have to accept some things I don't like, so long as they are harmless.

However, lately I've seen a few things that have tested my patience and self-declared thick skin. They've also made me realise that, although I enjoy my life here in Thailand, it won't be a permanent stay as we have plans to head back to London 'at some point'.

I won't overly bore you with the details but one scene was played out during a visit to the hospital for the latest of Little One's scheduled vaccinations.

As a shy man at heart, I begrudgingly accept the stares when the three of us go to the local hospital - after all, there aren't many foreigners here in Saraburi, and fewer still with Anglo-Thai kids, particularly as cute as mine.

However, what is beyond my tolerance is a standing in the doorway to the private vaccination room to shamelessly gawp at my child receiving his injection. A combination of floods of baby tears (ask any parent about how it feels to watch your child cry), the lack of privacy and sheer outrage at this woman's actions saw my 'jai yen' (cool heart) combust and a volley of Thinglish expletives and hand gestures rain on this woman. I was so pumped that I was, literally, shaking with anger.

Even for Thai standards the behaviour was absolutely disgraceful and I spent a few days wondering whether this country is for me, 'how quickly can we fly home?'. I've since calmed down, just about.

The Missus and I have never been 100% sure on our future. We've always been interested in returning to London, it's all about the Little One and we're playing it by near now as we look at what we could do.

I've always felt a town where the attention, gossip and starring from locals is too much for many adult foreigners, is not an ideal place to raise a half English child to be normal. When even just a trip to the market produces such attention, it's hardly the environment to keep a young child balanced.

Then there are the schools. I could write a thesis on the subject but you'll have to make do with a new post at a later date - particularly given that, as I current work as a teacher, my comments will need to be carefully positioned.

So while I do love life here in Thailand - the food, language, weather and lifestyle - we aren't putting roots down here just yet. It's all about the Little Man.

I'd love to hear the views on some of these issues from other expats raising children in Thailand.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jon, sounds like you are not having the best of times, but chin up - there's always rough with smooth.

Besides, these Thai peeps are probably just jealous of your boyish good looks.

(helpfully) John Oz

Keith said...

Really interesting post Jon. As somebody that has plans to raise a family in Thailand, I'm happy to read your perspective on this issue.
I feel it'll be a little different as I'll live in Bangkok where farangs don't stand out as much. I do feel that you have to send any child to an international school to give them the best of education in Thailand.
I don't ever remember reading your thoughts on Bangkok. Is it a possibilty to move there or is it out of the question?

Mike said...

Jon not a pleasant experience. I too have my days where I just wish my Thai language was better so I could say a few choice home truths to people.

I live well away from other foreigners(I was tempted to write farang but I dislike the word)so I get plenty of stares and the F word.

I deal with this OK and like anon says put it down to my youthful good looks. However I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I am tolerated here rather than welcomed and that's as far as it goes.

Despite my "wealth" in Thai terms I feel very much like a second class citizen on occasions.

Whether this will ultimately lead to me living somewhere else like Malaysia for example, remains to be seen.

Jon said...

Hey John O,

Hope all's well mate. Things here are good but a few things just grate away. Thailand isn't like England (obviously statement of the year award) so it is strange when others don't share your core beliefs. Of course, I have no right to complain as this isn't my country...but, as you know, I'm a moaner by trade.

PS, alleged "boyish looks" have suffered from lack of sleep since around 18 October '08 ;)

Hi Keith,

You're spot on, these types of incidents are far less likely in Westernised cities like Bangkok. I would fancy a stint living in BKK if we didn't have a child but, as my missus' parents are in Saraburi, were we to leave the town for a city it would be London and not Bangkok.

So, in that respect, my situation is a little different to what most will experience.

Hey Mike,

I have to say I agree re fitting in, sadly it just isn't possible. Being illiterate and unable to communicate well does make me feel like a 2 year old sometimes, particularly when you know people are talking about you right in your face.

Is there any chance you would head home?

I must admit I'm a little surprised by your comments as I've always seen you as a 'long timer' here, given you have a house, etc. Issues affect all foreigners though, so I can quite understand your frustrations.

Mike said...

Jon, I do see myself as a long time expat although I do miss aspects of UK life.

I am quite happy here but I am struggling with the language and I hate not being able to hold a decent conversation either in English or Thai.

Since I don't work I guess part of my frustrations are also due to my difficulty in adapting to retirement which would apply anywhere.

I even thought about spending my time 6/6 months in UK and Thailand but its not financially viable unfortunately.

Ben Shingleton said...

Hi Jon, very interesting post. Reading the part about the lady bogging through the doorway at your private moment actually had me gritting my teeth whilst I was reading it. I don't have any children yet, but I think I can gather how you felt - somethings are just plain bloody rude full stop... Thailand is just the same as the UK I think, in that you have thoroughly decent people, spoiled by the odd arsehole.. (sorry, feel free to edit ;)

I have no immediate plans to return to the UK, but like you, will always have that option, which is nice! Well done for keeping your temper, and your boy is a very good looking little blighter! Take it easy, Ben

Talen said...

I understand the feeling towards the word falang.

When in Nakhon Phanome I hear it 50 times a day but it when the family uses it that it irks me...I remind them that I have a name but they keep forgetting.

Jon said...

Hi Mike, I totally understand where you are coming from on this. I'd love a 6/6 split but it just infeasible work-wise.

Hi Ben,

No editing required as you're exactly right, just takes one idiot to spoil something and leave a bad impression - usually that happens in the UK but Thailand is just as guilty at times.

Hey Talen,

Infuriating when the F-word is a substitute for your name. My girlfriend's immediate are not like that but I know a lot of Thais who are and it drives me insane. Jai-yen, jai-yen...!

Neil Vass said...

Hi jon,

I can strike accord with what you say. I also have a 3 Month old Son. We currently live in Pattaya but will be moving to Roi Et next year. Pattaya really is a horrible place for children but I have always felt good about Roi Et. It has what I think is a reasonable private school and almost everything I could want including Ex Pats and some very passable Western food. My biggest concern is more about the Abyss Thailand seems to be heading towards especially when "you know who" pops his cloggs! That will really will be time to leave and quickly.