Saturday, 28 August 2010

An awful lot of Pad Thai

To those who say Thai people are all skinny and Thai food is healthy:

It is easy to become desensitised to just how big people can be given the number of TVs shows and documentaries that cover fat people.

She is big, but let's face it, in America they cut people out of their homes...which is far more dramatic. Relative to Thailand, however, this is fairly remarkable and has made a fair amount of news.

My favourite part:
The governor was on hand to wish Umnuayporn well and paid tribute to the patient's state of mind.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Moving to Thailand: Steve, Thailand Musings

It has been a while since I ran a couple of interviews on aspiring expats and their plans to move out to Thailand.

I featured Talen and Martin, two very prominent bloggers and after a long delay, mainly, nay, entirely down to me, next up to the plate is Steve from Thailand Musings.

So without further's Steve...

You are living in the USA at present but with aspirations of moving to Thailand. What is it that makes you want to move to Thailand?
I’ve been fascinated with Thailand since my first visit there back in 1997. I love the food, the culture, the pretty girls, the weather, the pace of life, the diversity of locales (from the islands and beaches in the south like Koh Phangan to metropolitan Bangkok to the mountains in the north) and the fact that everything is fairly close.
The fact that I now have a Thai wife is of course a huge deciding factor, since she wants to be back with her friends and family. Even so, I’m certain I would be planning the move if I was still single, in fact I probably would have made it already.
Other things that have factored into my decision is the lower cost of living in Thailand, the availability of western foods and medical care (compared to other SE Asian countries), the freedom of life in Thailand compared with the West and the adventure factor of the whole move.
When did you first release your desire to live in Thailand full time?
I believe it was first released when I started Thailand Musings (the blog) back in September of 2006.
How often do you visit Thailand as an expat?
As I said earlier I have been coming to Thailand since 1997. Some years it is once and some years more. I haven’t kept count, but I’m sure I’ve made a couple dozen trips over the years and have probably spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-24 months in Thailand total.
Recently we haven’t been back in almost 18 months due to Golf’s pregnancy and our attempts to save enough to make the move full time. At this point it doesn’t look as if we will return until we are ready to make the move and that currently looks to be sometime in 2011.
It's clear you are carefully planning your move as proven when you went public with your estimation of start-up costs for moving to Bangkok late last year with this post. Has your thinking, and/or the figures involved, changed since initially writing the post?
My thinking hasn’t changed much since writing that post as I am still carefully planning the move, our expenses for the move and our monthly income/budget once we make the move. If anything I have become more detailed with this planning since the birth of our daughter.
One thing that has changed is the figures for the move. At the time I proposed US$90,000 as the amount we would like to have in the bank prior to moving. I would still love to have that amount before moving as it would simplify some aspects of the move, but Golf and I have come to an understanding that somewhere between $30-40,000 will be sufficient. Obviously we will have to give up some things and compromise on others, but ultimately we both feel that we will be happier making the move earlier with less money than waiting until we have more.

You mentioned that you would consider working as a teacher whilst freelancing. Many expats living in Thailand feel 'stuck' in teaching or are seeking extra money - for their reference can you explain exactly what you mean by freelancing and the kind of money you believe you can make doing it?
When I say ‘freelancing’ I’m referring to all of the possible online avenues to income (and there are many). Much of my current savings and expendable income comes from the websites I own and those same sites should provide enough for us to live on in Thailand. The whole question of whether or not to teach for me comes down to how much money does one need to be happy? I mean I’m currently making about $2000 a month from the website so obviously that would be enough to live on and save a small bit, but the extra $1000 a month from teaching would go a long way in Thailand.
So, I have the websites which earn money primarily from advertising and affiliate commissions. That’s one way to go if you are looking to create a passive income stream. I also do some freelance writing on occasion for several sites. Although I’m not crazy about this, it does provide a nice additional income and if I were to pursue it 8 hours a day it would pay as well as teaching English in Bangkok. You can get started with freelance writing at a lot of different sites, but the ones I’ve used successfully are oDesk and a small content provider site called The Content Authority. oDesk is an auction type format so it takes a bit of effort to build a portfolio and client base there and initially you’ll get paid peanuts. The Content Authority pays based on your writing skill and it’s not too difficult for a native English speaker with decent writing ability to get to the point where you’re making $0.015/word which is not great, but enough to make it worthwhile if you can write fairly fast.
Depending on your skill set and interests there are also plenty of opportunities to make money through programming, graphic design, web design, search engine optimization and many other skills that are not necessarily location dependant. While I don’t freelance in any of these areas myself, it does appear that the pay is better than that of a freelance writer, so if you have skills in these areas you may want to look into it. In most of these cases it does take some time to get traction, but once you have a handle on where to get your customers it can work well as a side income and even as your entire income, depending on your needs.
At this point I do not expect to need to teach, the combination of my online pursuits and Golf’s employment should cover our expenses quite well.
You recent had a baby girl (congratulations again!) which is one of your main motivations for moving to Thailand. Why do you feel your daughter will benefit from living in Thailand as opposed to the USA? Which, ironically, is a country where, ironically, many Thais would like to reside in.
Yes it is quite ironic isn’t it? None of Golf’s Thai friends here in the U.S. have any plans or desires to return to Thailand except to visit. Apparently the U.S. is still seen as the land of milk and honey for many. I wonder if they would feel the same if they felt they could move back to Thailand and keep a U.S. type salary?
First off, let me say that as an American I am very proud of my country and the people who live here. I know we get painted as villains and bullies throughout some parts (much?) of the world, however these things that cause so much hatred towards the country are the result of the decisions of a small majority (government) of the country.
That being said, I personally am not happy with the direction the country has been taking over the past decade or so. Costs for everything are rising, jobs are disappearing, health care is turning into a shambles, taxes are on the upswing (and no end in sight there) and ironically the “land of freedom” is losing more and more freedoms every time you turn around.
Add to this the death of the family in the U.S. and the lack of compassion and respect that I see, especially among much of the youth and I feel that an upbringing in a country such as Thailand will be superior in terms of family connection and possibly even financial reward.
Let’s face it, Asia as a whole is definitely on an upswing in terms of growth and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Thailand has China as one of its major trade partners and this should be very beneficial for the country for a long time to come. The world that my daughter will live in is not the same world that I grew up in and I hope to give her the opportunity to be able to choose between West and East, which is really only possible if she grows up In Thailand. If it turns out that I am wrong it will be easier for her to come back to America for University and a career than it will be for her to move to Thailand if she was raised in the States.

In the past you've mentioned that you have children from a previous relationship. There are many expatriates in Thailand that are in the same boat, how does being far far from other children weigh on your mind?
Actually the children are now 13 and 15, so in all likelihood they will be nearly adults once we make the move. So, being so far away from them doesn’t weigh on my mind much. In reality I am hoping I can get them over to Thailand for an extended period to expand their horizons and give them a view of the world outside their sheltered U.S. existence and upbringing.
Currently the older boy is totally on board with coming to visit for an extended time, the younger not as much, but that could simply be a function of his age. It could (and I hope it does) change once he is older.
Thailand is somewhat more stable now, though as long-term observers are aware political feuds do not easily disappear in the country as it seems current tensions may flare up again. How the current political situation and recent events in Bangkok - the city you are planning to move to - affect your decision to emigrate to Thailand?
Honestly it didn’t affect us much at all. The recent events were contained to a small area of the city and most of the people we know that live in Bangkok were completely unaffected by the turmoil. Thailand as a country has a history of many coups so it isn’t like much has changed.
Considering the portability of my income we could always head north to Chiang Mai if Bangkok became destabilized for a long period of time, which is not likely in my opinion.
Have you begun tackling the Thai language given that you’re planning to move out here? If so what techniques have you used and with what success? If not yet, how are you planning to approach the issue?
I have not begun tackling the language issue yet. I have a very rudimentary understanding of Thai at this point, but I do pick up languages pretty quickly when immersed. Golf and I have the agreement that as long as we are in the U.S. she will focus on learning English (which she has done incredibly well) and once we move to Thailand I will focus on learning Thai. It made sense because here she has plenty of people to practice with and there I will have plenty of people to practice with.
I plan on enrolling in a language school to begin my study of Thai and may supplement that with private lessons initially to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Once I get to the intermediate stage I believe it will simply be a matter of practice, practice, practice.
Do you have any additional advice for those considering a full-time move to Thailand?
Be sure that you have the resources, financial, emotional and psychological, necessary to deal with living in a country that is vastly different from your own. Make a plan for your move, but keep in mind that it is quite likely you will need to adapt that plan once the move is made, sometimes dramatically and sometimes frequently. Keep an open mind and be adaptable.
My thanks Steve who turned around these answers very quickly.

There is certainly a lot of interesting content here. One thing that certainly strikes me about him is he is a meticulous planner who certainly knows what he wants - perhaps the polar opposite to myself, it takes all sorts after all.

Good luck with the plans Steve, look forward to reading with great interest how the savings/budgeting is going over on your blog.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Thai police as you've never seen them before

Great video and idea behind this, no sure if it was deliberate but I rate this promotion of Thailand well above any of the events that have been hastily arranged to forget recent atrocities in Bangkok and beyond - even in Saraburi held a concert at the army base where a leading profession had been held, without charge, promoting massive negative media focus.

The video has proved so popular the Associated Press has even written about it - see here - after it hit 250,000 views on YouTube.

May I present the Thai you've never seen them before (I hope)...covering K-Pop band Super Junior...

As you may know my father in law is a senior policeman.

He thought this was great and event started joining in the moves, ably assisted by his young grandson with a penchant for singing, dancing and general showmanship.

Am working on convincing him to commission a retake on this from the boys at this station...would be amazing, though they aren't quite as photogenic as this bunch.

Stay tuned for the Nong Khae Saraburi version...

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Smoky green fingers

Gardening is generally acknowledged as a fine pursuit - good for the soul, creative and a way of creating a pleasant environment around you.

Having grown up with parents and two sets of grandparents with green fingers I've always been in agreement, however moving to Thailand has changed my view somewhat.

Why, you ask?

I'll let the photo below do most of the talking but, essential, the neighbour backing onto our house decided that - in a change from the usual approach of cutting his lawn - he could burn it instead.

Not only is that (stupid - of course - and...) high ineffective but it creates a load of smoke which covers our garden and surrounding area forcing us inside, where it then proceeds to invade us through the aircon.


Being a ฝรั่งใจร้อน ("farang jai rorn") aka hot headed foreigner, I raced over there to get photographic evidence and ask why he was too lazy to do the job properly.

Neighbour's 'work' seen from his garden, our house is in the background to the left

Thankfully, on the other side, our neighbours have restored my faith in Thai gardening by keeping their land in immaculate conditions, thanks mainly due to employing a gardener but they both regularly muck in when their busy (lawyer) schedules permit.

An amazing garden which was, in fact, the setting for our the evening dinner and entertainment on the day of our wedding.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Still here close to two years later

I arrived in Thailand in October 2008 having done little preparation on the country or life here. Over the course of time since then, both my missus (as a Thai) and I have learnt so much about living out here whilst raising a family.

My knowledge and comfort in being out here has grown as I’ve picked up an understanding of Thai culture, the language and nuisances of everyday life in this country.

We deliberately chose to come back to Thailand for the first years of my son’s life. We didn’t know how long we’d stay but neither of us was particularly enamoured with the prospect of raising the fella in London, where just renting a house alone takes up a huge chunk of our hard earned wages.

Neither of us wanted our son to grow up through perpetual childcare with two working parents, there had to be an alternative to life in London on my salary – though great for a twenty something guy living the urban life – and that was Thailand.

Nearly two years later, with another kiddie on the way, our thinking is shifting to a different paradigm of thougt.

Location is no longer our primary motivation for remaining in Thailand, or indeed anywhere.

When you’ve lived in rural Thailand and ‘earned baht’ – as an American guy stuck in the country without the means to return home once counselled me – many things become out of your range, suddenly the lure of a salary in London becomes somewhat stronger.

Though life is perhaps more comfortable out here, it comes with restrictions as you slip into Thailand-only mode.

That is to say, Thai prices which seem cheap and an absolute steal for tourists are normal for you...while you can do anything you please in Thailand, you are restricted on leaving the country where your hard-earned cash gets you far less.

For example, our trip back to England last year was only made possible courtesy of an early birthday present (the cost of flights) from my family, while prices back home genuinely scared me compared to cheep-as-chips Thailand.

This doesn't mean I believe we made the wrong decision coming out in Thailand, far from it, it was the right decision which we do again a hundred times over again.

Coming to Thailand we (particularly I) have learnt so much that I wouldn’t not have found in London. Opportunity knocks here I’ve been fortunate to do and be part of some very interesting things, open interesting doors etc...but now, more than ever, our future will not be about geographical location alone, it will be about career opportunity (for both my wife and I), lifestyle and quality of living.

These things have, of course, always been important to us...but from now on, it may be Thailand or it may be somewhere else...

In the meanwhile, I’m looking at a series of informative posts based on a few experiences I’ve had out here.

They may/may not be relevant to anyone but, for my own thought process and digestion of events, I’m going to be exploring them in more detail.

This post isn’t the precursor to us leaving Thailand but instead reflective of a change in our recent thinking - from my new lease of freedom working freelance - which doesn’t discount living in other countries, specifically the UK, just because they are not Thailand.

My situation is quite unique compared to others I know, and don’t know, many of whom are older, without family responsibilities and out here having invested time in a career at ‘home’ – wherever that may be – and are retiring in Thailand or reinventing themselves out here.

Unlike them, I spent less than four years working in London, so my career and our future prospects are still very much in development and - after finally knocking teacher on the head earlier this year - we are looking at my next career opportunity as a family and in more detail than our initial last-minute move out to Thailand.

While also, looking at other expats, with children and a wife my situation is very different to most I know who have already ruled out the potential of returning home. A friend’s recent happy return to repatriation in the USA from Thailand – ‘the right decision’ as he calls it – is proof that there is life after Thailand, and we needn’t restrict ourselves to being in Thailand, and Saraburi in particular, if there are other opportunities out there.