Thailand is famed for gap year travellers and retirees, yet in recent years has become the home of a more people like me, the late twenties/early thirties guys (and gals) who've decided there is more to life than a desk job, saving for a pension and Saturday football.
Either that or things simply weren't working out the way the dream promised they would.
Thing is, unlike the retiree who is in the home stretch, able to sit pretty for the next 20 years with a decent pension and pot of money made on a property during the housing boom, many of us in this category are hanging in the balance. Most retirees have kids, and grandkids for that matter. Most have had a long career, been married and round the block a fair few times. Thailand is the final destination.
For us in the middle stages, the second, but pretty darn important part of life is just beginning.
For the first year or two we have no intention of going home. The prospect of leaving behind the sun, fresh fruit and flip flops for rainy days and conversations about terrorism and immigrants is depressing.
The fact is, the longer you stay the more of a life you carve out for yourself: You have new friends, a girlfriend perhaps, relatively easy work, a routine, a more exciting, freer life with less financial responsibility and generally more for your money.
So, inevitably, the longer you live in Thailand the harder it becomes to go back home and settle in again.
But after a couple of years, no matter how much you try to live in the present and enjoy the nomadic dream, there are questions that invade your mental space. You know, those questions that start to ask themselves without your permission; things like:
- Am I neglecting my family back home?
- Would Thailand be a good place to raise a family?
- If I marry a Thai, how would he/she fair if we moved back to my home country?
- Since my mum/dad aren't here to help out, would I feel comfortable employing a nanny for my kids?
- Should I not be taking care of my aging parents?
- What part of Thailand would I live in if I had to choose a permanent location?
- Can I be bothered to deal with visa issues for the next 30 years?
- Is my job secure, and what would I do if I was suddenly without work?
- Am I limiting my earning potential by living here?
- Is Thai culture something I can handle indefinitely?
There is always that nagging feeling of being in limbo. But then, is that not just life? Do we all not feel that same feeling and deal with similar questions wherever we are living?
So it's always an awkward moment when someone asks, “Are you going to stay out there for good?”
The way most people back home see it is you either are or you're not, and if you aren't, then when are you going to stop being silly and come back home!
But for most twenty/thirty somethings, the question isn't as black and white as that…
Can we not just live year-to-year, see how it goes, see what comes up and how we feel?
On one hand, yes, and why not? But on the other, no. because the way life is, no matter where you go, the aforementioned questions will follow you- unless of course you opt to become a complete nomad, fall in love with another nomad, and then move to Pai and go on visa overstay forever 🙂
For me, and others around my age, it's a massive decision to think about staying here permanently, especially when the entire point of moving here was to live day-to-day, to enjoy life without letting negative past experiences or fear of future circumstances dictate how you think and feel.
This simple life becomes somewhat complicated (as it was back home) when absent family, work, relationships, visas , buying a property, savings, etc, enter the thought trail.
However wonderful your life in Thailand, it's natural to consider how your family feel back home; their expectations worries and fears.
For parents who thought this was just a year or two out for self-discovery, this Thailand adventure becomes a worry, particularly for mums or dads who live alone and have no other children to keep them occupied. No doubt they worry that their son/daughter is wasting their life, and may end up amounting to the archetypal barstool expat – broke and depressed.
Of course, it should be noted that not everyone has a family worth caring for or trying to make a mends with, which is no doubt why many people emigrate and make a new life abroad.
For those with a Thai partner, parents have to prepare for the circumstance of having grandkids that they will only see once a year, which must be pretty disappointing when you have waited your entire life to spend retirement with your grandkids.
Lastly, there are the annoying whispers and comments from neighbours and friends, who ignorantly believe Thailand is full of Western paedophiles and Thai prostitutes; “Why did his son go to live out there, it's full of weirdos!”
So are we being selfish and neglecting family, or is this our time to shine and do as we please – to take an alternative path that bucks the status quo?
Are we being shortsighted with regards to opportunities back home?
Are we taking the easy road? Is it all one big shun of “reality” – whatever that is?
After living here for so long, would we find going back home too difficult, would it feel like failure?
I have lost count of the number of Thai people who have said to me, “Why would you want to live here when you could live near your parents?”
It begs the questions: should we be thinking more in terms of family, like a Thai would?
Or should we not put unnecessary emotional stress on ourselves, and instead enjoy the ride – sit back and wait for the right door to open at the right time, and walk through it when it does.
After all, that's what brought us here in the first place.
Food for thought, huh?