Why Thailand?

When people find out that I was planning to move and now have moved to Thailand, the first question I am invariably asked is, "Why Thailand?" What I find more interesting is the question they don't ask, "Why do you want to leave the US?" But it is the second question, the one that nobody asks, that I want to address first.

Do I hate living in the US? Heck, no. I really liked where I lived in Oregon. Oregon is beautiful. I lived near majestic mountains, the beautiful, rugged coast, and the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley. Everyone I encountered could speak my native tongue. The food everywhere was recognizable, the social expectations familiar to the point of being invisible. But all these positives also made it unexciting. I have travelled most of my life both in and outside the US. I relish the excitement of new things and new people. At home in Oregon, it was comfortable but often boring. I don't want boring in my life.

As I approach retirement age, I look at the resources I have accumulated and will have to live on in retirement. I'll have Social Security, or what’s left of it, and I have saved quite a bit. But it's not as much as I would like and it may not be enough to let me live the way I want. Other places in the world have a much lower cost of living than in the US. While I am now focused on Thailand as a much less expensive place to live, I have looked into other locations as well. Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Spain, Portugal, Cambodia, and The Philippines are all countries I have considered. Retirement in any of these places would allow me to have a significantly higher standard of living than I could afford in the US.

Another motivation for leaving is our current political climate and my disgust with the current government in Washington. There was a lot of talk during the 2016 Presidential election of people who said they would move to Canada if the election went against them. Well, it did go against them and me as well. But I am not leaving because of the party running the government but it makes it a whole lot easier to justify.

Family is one reason many people give for not leaving wherever it is they are living. I don't have that as a motivation to stay. I am not married. I have no children. Most of my immediate family has passed away. But even when they were alive, and even though I loved them, it is telling that almost as soon as I could, at the age of 30, I moved a thousand miles away from them. No, family is not, for me, a reason to stay in the US.

So, why Thailand? I don't have a single answer; I have a list. I usually just rattle off a few of highlights. Mostly, when people ask me about it, it's in casual conversation and they don't want a long story. A short list of things is simpler and I don't feel like I'm monopolizing the conversation. But here's the long version.

About 20 years ago, my good friend, Barry, was spending a lot of time in Thailand. He had gotten a gig as a professor of international business. He taught in a couple of universities in Bangkok and one in Chiang Mai. When he would come back to Oregon, he had great stories about the country and how differently people treated him there as opposed to here in the US. It made me think about the travelling I had done in college. I'd been to Japan twice and also to Hong Kong and Taiwan. I'd travelled around Europe a few times. Life-changing experiences all, especially the ones in Asia. Travel, especially for young people, is so broadening. I've also done a lot of travel in the US and can't imagine giving it up and staying in one place for ever.

It's funny, though. I found my friend's stories fascinating but it never occurred to me that I might go to Thailand myself. At the time, I was married and had a family and a business to run. But the marriage was toxic and it wasn't until I was out of it that I realized how bad it had been.

Not long after my divorce, Barry suggested I come visit him in Thailand. I didn't do it right away. I was still running my business and I wasn't sure I could afford a trip half way around the world. It was actually a few years before things came together. Business was doing well and thanks to Skype I could travel and still stay in contact with my employees. Plus, I had employees I trusted. I was finally able to take a month-long vacation to Thailand in 2002.

I will never forget my arrival in Bangkok. Barry met me at the airport and he got us a taxi into town. The first thing he told me when we got in the taxi was, "Don't watch" and I quickly understood why. We were going a gazillion miles an hour on the freeway and when we weren't zig-zagging between cars and trucks, were only a few feet behind whatever car was in front of us. It was terrifying but I couldn't look away.

I know this is the long version, but, don't worry, I won't go into a lot of detail about of my trip. Suffice to say, I had a really good time. Two years later I went back. And after that, I went back every year until 2007 when I actually went twice. I was hooked.

Back in Corvallis, another friend was about to rent a house to a group of three Thai students who would be studying for a term at Oregon State. My friend asked if I would help them out so I did and became friends with this delightful group. The next year, another group, five this time, was going to stay in the same house. I felt more comfortable spending time with this second group probably because I had more experience. I ended up seeing them a lot more often and doing more with them. Naturally, I got to know them better than the first group.

As often as I was visiting Thailand, I decided to learn the language. I found a Thai grad student who agreed to teach me. We met weekly and I learned the basics. When she graduated, another grad student continued my lessons and when she left, yet a third took over. All of them are still friends. During my previous stay in Thailand, I went to the wedding of my third teacher. All four of us got together several months ago. Road trip!

It's really hard to say why I kept making the long (as much as 24 hours) trip to Thailand. Sure, it was fun and I always had a great time but it's more than that. When I am in Thailand, I feel free and relaxed in a way I don't at home in the US. In Thailand, I love that everything is new and different. I love the food, meeting new people, making new friends. I also love that I could re-invent myself; I am not tied to all my history and expectations of people I had known for years.

Another thing—and this is part of feeling more relaxed there—Thailand is a mostly Buddhist country and while I am most definitely not religious, I am a lot more comfortable surrounded by Buddhism than I am with the Christianity that pervades life in the US.

I have good friends in the US but I am single and have not found anyone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. This is not for lack of trying but I think it far more likely to happen in Thailand than in the US. There are several reasons for this. In general, I find Asian women and Thai women in particular more attractive than western women, especially American women. I even did a semi-scientific study (about 200 women in Bangkok vs San Francisco) and actually came up with numbers to back it up. Of course, the numbers are based only on what I find attractive. I'm not trying to establish a universal scale of attractiveness, only my own personal one.

While I'm not unattractive, I've never been considered particularly good looking either. Fortunately for me, modestly affluent western men such as me are considered quite desirable in Thailand. So I am more attractive to the very women I find most attractive both physically and in their approach to life. One reason I and other western men are more desirable relative to their Thai counterpart is because, as a group, we tend to treat women with more respect and affection. Another reason, perhaps even the main reason, may be because of my relative wealth. I can live with that.

More important to me than physical attractiveness are the differences in the attitudes of Thai women compared to western women. Consider strong, confident women of both cultures. The western women tend more to be competitive and likely to play dominance games with their partners whereas Thai women don't feel the need to compete with or dominate their partner. Thai women don't treat their partners as a raw material they have to mold and change to their liking, a characteristic that seems to be a basic tenet of relationships with modern western women, at least in America.

There is a stereotype that Thai women are subservient, an inaccurate notion though it can sometimes appear that way. From personal observation and extensive reading about Thai culture, the truth is that Thai women take greater care of their men and the men, at least the good ones, take care of their women. Both sides accept that each partner fulfills an accepted role and those roles are not the same.

There is another aspect of life that is important regardless of where one lives and that is access to affordable health care. In the US, access to healthcare is widespread. Affordable? Not so much. Health insurance is expensive and never covers everything, not even everything that is absolutely essential. The care is good to excellent but expensive. In Thailand, one can get top quality health care at about what one's copayment is here in the US. The same is true of medicines. A bonus is that, in Thailand, you don't need a prescription unless it is for narcotics. Plus, for minor issues such as food poisoning, you can just ask the pharmacist what antibiotic to take and they will sell it to you. So far, that has worked for me 100% of the time.

And speaking of food poisoning, although infrequent, I have had more trouble from western restaurant food in Thailand than I have had from eating Thai street food. I expect the frequency to decrease as my body becomes adjusted to the local bugs. Thai people have been known to get food poisoning from eating food here in America because the bacteria we are all accustomed to is new and foreign to their immune systems just as my immune system needs to adapt to a new bacterial ecosystem.

Allow me to digress a moment to relate a couple of health-related anecdotes. On my first visit to Thailand, I picked up some kind of food poisoning and was miserable. A Thai friend took me in a taxi to a local hospital. I was pleased and surprised to read the banner outside the hospital that read "Accredited by the United States International Hospital Association". Inside, after a short wait, I saw an English speaking doctor who sent me down the hall for some lab tests. Shortly thereafter, I saw the doctor again who ensured me that it was not a parasite and prescribed an antibiotic. The drug was dispensed and my total bill was about $20 for everything. And this was at the top hospital in Thailand.

A second instance concerned a friend from America who also picked up something, probably from something she ate, and suffered from intestinal distress. She wouldn't go to the doctor until she became dehydrated and it became urgent. Her husband and I took her to a local hospital in Chiang Rai where she soon saw a doctor. She was checked in and put on an IV to replenish her fluids and administer an antibiotic. She was kept there for a few hours until they were sure she was stable and on the mend. We checked her out that afternoon and the total bill was about $100.

Once I had mostly settled on Thailand as my retirement destination, I wanted to try it out before making a commitment. Though I had been to Thailand many times, it was always as a tourist, never as a resident. A test was in order. I figured that a stay of at least six months should let me experience living in Thailand as a local and would let me know whether I could live there comfortably and be happy.

Sooner than I planned, an amazing opportunity came my way. An ad appeared on Craigslist. A family in Chiang Rai, Thailand was looking for someone in Corvallis to exchange homes for a year. I replied to the ad and after a lot of back and forth and checking each other out, it happened. I left in June of 2015 and moved into a delightful county house on July 1. Their family moved into my home about a week later.

It took me about eight months of living in Thailand before I had definitely made up my mind that I did want to live in Thailand. Due to family issues, I wasn't able to complete my year in Thailand but ten and a half months was enough to be comfortable in my decision.

Only logistics were then keeping me in the US. Issues got resolved but more slowly than I liked. There was an overwhelming list of things I had to do. I have to admit that some of the slow pace was due to procrastination. I avoided doing some things that were either physically or emotionally difficult. The major projects were easy to list:  shut down the business, sell my office building and my house, and dispose of most of my worldly possessions. But doing it was not at all easy. One example was what to do with all my memorabilia, my personal scrap books, old family scrap books, photos, and yearbooks. I have no children or other family that might eventually want these things and it is not practical to haul it to with me on this move. I've been doing that for years from one place to another but I wasn’t about to take everything to the other side of the globe. Physically, it was easy to put those things in the trash but not at all easy emotionally. I had to handle and look at every item, shed more than a few tears, laugh at some memories, and, in the end, let it all go. I am not without some regrets.

Eventually, my office building was sold and closed. My house sold and closed with surprising quickness. I cleared my home of furniture and sold most of the larger things. I was very sad when I sold my piano. That piano had been with me a long time. It was also hard to realize that nobody wanted most of my prized possessions. For those things that I wasn’t taking to Thailand with me, I sold what I could, donated a lot to thrift stores or other charities, gave things to friends, and trashed the rest. My goal became getting rid of things as quickly as possible.

Things were moving fast. I was reminded of a couple of movie lines and a favorite poem. From the character of Jeremy Hillary Boob in the Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine. "Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time. So much to know!" and the White Rabbit from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, saying, "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date!" And finally, from Robert Frost's poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, "…and miles to go before I sleep."

Previous Blog Return to the list.