If I Left Thailand, What Would I Be Missing?
Is Thailand a paradise? If you read the tourist brochures, it sure looks like it. However as a long time resident of Thailand my interest is different from typical tourist attractions like riding elephants, visiting lots of temples, looking at floating markets, doing jungle trekking, or getting a tan on the beaches.
What matters to me is this: How is the day-to-day quality of life and my regular interaction with the people here compared to what I would find in other countries. I can speak about other countries since I have lived in eight of them and have visited over 50 of them.
I am picking the USA for a comparison just because that’s where I am from, but the examples will apply equally well to most western countries.
After spending over a decade in Thailand, what is it that keeps me here, and if I were to leave Thailand, what would I be really missing here? I came up with the following list. However I have to warn you. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you should stop reading right here. If you are the super serious type, you will just get upset reading this.
1. I would be missing my fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices which I enjoy drinking every day. There is orange juice, pineapple juice, mango juice, carrot juice and a whole range of other juices and combinations of them. A small bottle costs US $ 0.65. I want to make it clear that this is not available everywhere in Thailand. But where I live, in Chiang Mai, it is. It is 100% juice without any water or sugar mixed in. The best place is Kun Kae’s juice bar on Soi 7, Moon Muang. You might just spot me there.
While other people might be drug addicts or alcoholics, I am a juice addict and I admit it. If it gets too bad, I will start a 12 step program for health nuts here in Chiang Mai.
2. I would be missing the smiles of the Thais. So many times I went out just walking around my neighborhood. Without fail I meet all kinds of people who will flash me a smile, especially if I make eye contact with them. I always feel better after my walk.
Here in Thailand I can smile at an attractive young woman whom I have never seen before, and she will smile back without thinking anything. If I do the same thing in the USA, for example, I can get all kinds of strange reactions. The woman might be thinking “Why is this guy smiling at me, what does he want from me? I don’t know him”.
Or she might be nervously fingering the pepper spray in her purse, trying to decide if I am just hitting on her, or if I might be something worse like a serial sex offender, or a convicted rapist who just escaped from jail. Or if it happens at a place where we both work, she might sue me for sexual harassment. Six months jail for inappropriate smiling plus a $100,000 fine for psychological issues due to potentially damaging consequences of wrongful smiling.
Ok, ok, I am exaggerating, I know. I will probably get some irate comments about this, but I figure it is better to be controversial than boring. Still the truth is that here in Thailand no woman will ever think anything like that if I smile at her. This is just heart warming and a wonderful characteristic of the Thais. It is medicine for the heart.
In most western countries there is a cop lurking around every other corner trying to clock you for going 1/10th of a mile past the speed limit. And if there is no cop around, there are those radar robot cameras which get you.
If you do get stopped by the cop, there is no way that you can have a conversation with him or her. Their vocabulary is limited to about three sentences: “Drivers license and registration”, “Step out of the car”, “Put your hands on the wheel where I can see them”. Any attempt to initiate a conversation is met by a repetition of those three sentences, by silence, or by a stern expression that foreshadows dire consequences for you.
Here in Thailand generally nobody knows what the speed limit is, and I have never seen a radar gun in over a decade. I know they do exist in some places, but apparently not in Chiang Mai, where I live. I have also hardly ever seen a speed limit posted. Consequently I don’t know what the speed limits are either.
If you do get stopped by a cop for some infraction, you can actually talk to them. If the cop is male, and you are an attractive woman, you can tell them you were in a rush to visit your dying mother in the hospital, and chances are he will just let you go.
Or you can tell the cop you are in a real hurry and ask if you can pay the fine right on the spot. Often the cop will greatly discount the fine based on your cock and bull story how poor you are, and then he will slip the money into his pocket where it will safely stay to support his meager salary. Some people call this corruption. Others call it a convenient arrangement which benefits both parties.
But be advised: This does not always work. Some cops actually insist on doing it the legal way – don’t ask me why. But even then you still have a chance to negotiate the amount of the fine once you are in the police station (which is where you have to go to pay it). It is all a little more flexible in Thailand.
Another advantage of driving in Thailand is that if you ride a motorbike (very common here, although they are mostly small scooters), you can weasel your way through all the cars to the red light, and you are the first to go. That will get you a ticket in most places in the US.
My point is, why drive a motorbike if you have to sit behind the cars and wait for the light to cycle from green to red several times before you finally reach the intersection. In the meantime you are sitting on your bike, sweating bullets in the humid tropical climate. There has to be some advantage for riding that bike! Here in Thailand I get around on a bike at least twice as fast as those cars because I can pass them on the right, on the left, or over the top or under them, any way possible.
Another great point about traffic in Thailand is that generally nobody gets mad at you if you do something stupid or illegal like parking in the middle of the street, driving a one way street in the wrong direction, or cutting someone off. They can’t get mad at you because sooner or later they will do the same thing themselves. Try this in the US, and you will get yelled at, shown the finger or worse, besides getting the cops called on you.
4. I would be missing the street food. No, it does not make you sick in the vast majority of cases. Thailand is quite a clean country, as a matter of fact. People take at least two showers a day and nobody smells bad. There is food to be had everywhere, almost on every block. It might be a market, a street vendor, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or a fruit stall.
It is so convenient and cheap. Wherever you go, you are never far from food. Even along the roads outside the cities you often see roadside stands with coconuts, fruits, sweets, corn on the cob and other snacks.
5. I would be missing the prices. Here in Thailand I can go to a local restaurant and eat a Pad Thai (noodle dish) for about one dollar. In the US the same dish would cost me at least ten times as much in a Thai restaurant. Just the gratuity that is customary and expected in the US costs more than the entire dish in Thailand. But before you get too excited, not everything is that cheap in Thailand. Cars or some electronics can cost more than in the west for example. Gasoline is not cheaper either.
6. I would be missing the massage. By far one of my greatest pleasures here in Thailand is going to one of the numerous massage establishments and being treated to a wonderful Thai Massage or foot massage. It rarely sets me back more than US$ 5-10 per hour. Wherever you go, at the mall, in a busy market, during a festival, on the sidewalk, in the temple grounds, in a hotel, in the park – a massage shop is never far away.
It might be a hole-in-the-wall place, a few recliners set up on a sidewalk, a rickety bamboo platform, a fancy spa or anything in between. Massage is not a luxury in Thailand like in western countries where you have to budget for it. Here you can just walk into any massage shop and just treat yourself out of the spur of the moment without having to count your money.
Since most massage in Thailand is done fully dressed, there is not much privacy required, and often you can see the massages happening right in plain view of everyone. It is a real treat to enjoy a foot massage in a comfortable recliner while you watch the world go by in front of your eyes.
7. I would be missing the fact that in Thailand people are rarely in a hurry and everybody has time to talk to you. In all my years in Thailand I have never once heard anyone say something along the lines of “I am busy”, “Time is money”, or “Don’t waste my time”. Somehow people always have time to talk to you.
8. I would be missing the slower pace of life. Many people might have to work a lot here as well to make ends meet, but there is no western style ‘rat race’ here. People don’t brag about working 80 hours a week, they don’t pride themselves of being a type A workaholic, and they don’t compete with their buddies by listing the number of heart attacks they’ve had. The pace of life in Thailand is slower and better for your physical and emotional health. You just don’t feel the type of pressure that is so common in the western world.
Do I have a list of things I would not be missing if I left Thailand? Sure I do, but it is much shorter, and besides, I could come up with such a negative list for every country I have ever been to. No place is perfect. So why should I focus my energy on what I don’t like? For me, the positive far outweighs the negative in Thailand, and tens of thousands of expats agree with me.
For those who are looking for the flawless and perfect paradise that is advertised in the tourist brochures, you forgot to read the fine print: This place is currently located on another planet and is easily accessible in your next incarnation. In the meantime, Thailand is a pretty good choice.
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