June 30, 2014

Reflecting life in Bangkok

Category: Family life

Sometime this time in June way back in 2005, I celebrated my very first month of working and living in Bangkok, Thailand. I remember my first month being in a little bit of a frenzy – there was the paperwork for visa and work permit, there was the mandatory medical check-up I had to go to, there was a need to find myself a more permanent place to stay at a price I can afford and there were other petty little things to sort out as well as trying to get myself settled in our Thai office and getting acquainted with colleagues and the work that needed to be done.

Top that up with an experience of a culture shock infused into my personal experience as I moved away from the familiarity and comfort of my clinically clean home, Singapore, my first month went by pretty quickly!

Nevertheless, that first month marked a personal achievement as I surrendered myself to a world of the unknown. Sure I have had my gripes and my rant, but overall, it was a decision I have never regretted.

At my 4th year mark, I wrote a perspective of my personal reflection living as a foreigner in Bangkok. 9 years later, I am still here – with a husband, two kids and 3 cats in tow.

It is perplexing how the 9 years had just gone by, and, with each year gone by, we always get the brunt of families who became fast friends to us and our kids leaving on us.  After almost a decade living in an adopted country, Bangkok somehow still doesn’t feel like home-home. We have, in the last few years, fleetingly discussed about finding ourselves a more permanent home; a place where life for the kids will be more stable for them to establish real friendship with childhood friends and have themselves a home “base” so to speak, where they would feel more rooted and live a normal life as other kids would.

As we watch our kids growing older by the day, the urgency of being able to set up a permanent home base outside Thailand becomes more real. It is not that life is terribly horrible here. In fact, life has been good – too good that sometimes we forget the realities of life we have to face as any other ordinary, vulnerable mortals.

Having lead a relatively comfortable life, we sometimes take things for granted. We accept culture diversity and don’t question the double standards that exist.  We tend to be more forgiving to inconsistencies and we morphed ourselves to being complacent as we adopt values that we don’t normally could have ever associate ourselves with had we live in a different place.

We live life with more mai pen rai and sabai-sabai attitude. We learn the art of smiling even though that is the last thing we want to do just because everyone does it.   We become tolerant with white lies because that’s just “normal”. We “compromise” to keep the peace and ended up getting into trouble which we cannot get out of. We shun away from confrontation because it isn’t done and we embrace that sense of being the “privileged ones” just by the virtue of us being a foreigner as we are seen to be living better than the locals. The way I see it, such way of life will corrode our values to the very core of our souls in the long run if we are not careful. And those are not something I want to instill in our kids, nor something I want the kids to get accustomed to.

It’s been 9 years too long and as the kids get older with age, schooling gets quite a lot expensive too. Education in Thailand seems almost like an institution as international schools can be really costly. The reputable ones do charge exorbitant fees; add the mandatory “registration fee” that can go up to more than 100 thousands of baht, the cost of sending your offspring to school can indeed be prohibitively expensive. Unfortunately not every expat here gets the full “expat package” that includes the expenses of kids’ schooling being paid for.  To give you an idea on how expensive schooling can get, a full-time nursery curriculum can cost, at minimum, 40,000 Baht (est. SGD 1,600) per term. Calculate that into a year, it can jolly well set you back by 120,000 Bath (est. SGD. 4,800) MINIMUM PER KID. And that is only for Nursery!

Why not consider the Thai public school, you ask. Well…let’s just say that some long-time expat parents have been heard quipping, “Only send your kids to a Thai school if you really, really hate them.” Simply put, there is much to be done to raise the quality and standard of education here in Thailand and it will take several generations to get there. Even for the Thais, they would rather send their kids to an International school or give them an overseas education if they can afford it. For us, sending our kids to a Thai public school is certainly not an option. Besides, regardless how we feel about them being such handful little imps, we really, really love them.

Where we go from here I still don’t know. I’m sure that if we do ever leave,  I will miss some of the conveniences and lifestyle we have here ,yet there would be other things I will be happy to get away from.Regardless , we do know for a fact that getting out of Bangkok is something we seriously need to start thinking about.

Curating a new lease of life for all of us has become one of those life essentials. The time is nigh.


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