This is what happens to you when you decide to live in Bangkok

A while ago I saw someone had tweeted, ‘Back to the real world, San Francisco,’ after four months of traveling around Southeast Asia and I was like, ‘Am I living a fantasy?’

The term ‘real world’ has such negative connotations in so many contexts. It suggests hard life and nothing like that crappy nonsense reality show on MTV. I would love to take over his place and live in San Francisco in a heartbeat if he doesn’t want to go back. But instead Bangkok is where I am now. The real world for me.
Or, maybe, I am living the dream. And I didn’t know it. I’m a lonely Thai boy living in the gayest area in Bangkok. Silom. I hope you know it wasn’t my intention to live in the area so cluttered with gay men and sugar daddies, but because I worked as a writer for an English magazine in the area and I thought it would be easier if I could walk to the office.
Sure rent is expensive in such a place (it is also a CBD) but when I looked around I found that Bangkok is the shimmering pool of excitement. I love the way people here always smile no matter how hard their lives may seemed and I love watching well-dressed businessmen from the affluent western countries riding the blood-pumping motorbike taxis through heavy traffic. Warm drops of rain splash on the hot pavements forcing people to run and hide under the shade of street-food vendors’ stalls. All the good old Bangkok I love can still be found. That’s what I love about Bangkok—so far. It’s not just me who has joined the club; it’s impossible to walk outside without passing at least one foreigner every ten seconds.
On Sunday I would visit Kinokuniya at Siam Paragon and browse the ‘Thailand Interests’ section. The books about Thailand in English language are mostly written by agitated old men who live here and very often with  an aggressive tone. That’s what paradise has done to a man. I set out to interview expats who had lived in Bangkok for more than five years to find out how your life would unfold if you were to move to Bangkok.

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Year One
You’re now away from the flock of condescending assholes in your country. Everything here is sugarcoated reality. The food is terrific. The hum of the traffic is quite a lullaby. The skytrain is super-convenient and can take you anywhere. It’s old meets new. Lose yourself in the night market or weekend market. Don’t’ mind the sweltering heat. You pray everytime you are on one of those motorbike taxis. The seedy Soi Nana is something you can easily ignore. It’s so affordable you feel like if you play the cards right you’ll never have to work hard again.
Year Two
Getting a massage becomes your routine. You wish youd learned more Thai so you could have a conversation more comfortably. You now welcome 7-11. Very quickly you hate traffic. You hate that you have to wait in a long line of people for the skytrain during rush hours. The smog, humidity and constant blare is irritating you. You occasionally visit Khao San Road whenever you miss being surrounded by your people. You finally learn that not everybody is trying to rip you off. But the ladies wearing Hmong costumes trying to sell you handicrafts aren’t very honest either.
Year Three
Domestic politics is part of your concern and you get agitated about that. You wish people on the train would use something that was invented a while back called deodorant. You want to go on a real date and have a real relationship while trying to avoid being seen as sex-pat. You see the increasing number of shopping malls and you start to question, ‘What is wrong with this city?’
Year Four
Although you get it that the coups are traditional, your friends and family do not. You compare Thailand with where you came from. You miss the liberal attitude, free press and elected governments in your home country. You want to put an end to this so-called ‘sex-tourism’ because you see it damages people so badly. You wish you had learned Thai so that you could complain and make a statement every Thai would listen to. You know they would when a farang starts speaking in Thai.
Year Five (If you ever make it)
You start to write a book.
In college, teachers often used the term ‘real world’ to describe life after high school or college. But I think the real world is depend on an individual’s perspective. Either you’re a blind-optimism living in a sugarcoated reality orchestrated by your rich parents or the unapologetic bloke who’s unaware that he is living in the city that millions of people would kill to live there. There’ll always be the real world for all of us.
One way to beat it is, perhaps, you should drop the western attitude a little and try to feel content with your situation. Living in the moment—like the Thai folks. I used to try to control it all. Always look ahead and forget what’s really important. As the result I have become less and less satisfy with myself and develop my inconvenient thoughts about the political climate. Myanmar is on the right path to democracy after half a decade under military regime and Thailand is steering on the opposite site.
This is the real world for me and while I was feeling discomfort about my own situation there’s the guy who tweeted about how San Francisco is the real world to him. That just makes Bangkok begins to feel like home to me.
___________________________________________________
Sam Nathapong is an independent writer and journalist living in Bangkok. Twitter @samnathapong
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19 thoughts on “This is what happens to you when you decide to live in Bangkok

  1. Hi Sam, I first visited Thailand in 1972 (yes, that year and so long ago) and I haven’t missed a year since, while still managing to make trips to other parts of the world. My job helped. Your article hits the nail right on the head. One of my ex-pat friends, happily married to a Thai wife for about 15 years now, always says that if you survive the first 10 years in Thailand you’re OK to stay for another 10. After 5 he reckoned the restlessness and dislike of Thai ways, kicks in, but by ten the ex-pat goes along with the Mai Pen Rai attitude and is happy again.

    I worry about where Thailand is going now. I see a big change, smiles are less frequent – especially in BKK – the wai is seldom seen outside of 5* hotels and in temples, and the lese majeste rule is being interpreted too loosely it seems to me. But I still love it, it’s my second home.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Maris,

      Thanks for sharing. I would love to hear more about your Thailand story from 1972 (what the most vivid things or events you remember when you look back at the time). Feel free to send your story my way (750 – 1000 words) .

      Email: sam@saminbangkok.com

      Look forward to reading your Thailand stories 🙂

      Best,
      Sam

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey there again, Sam!

    I really only stayed in Bangkok for a couple of days, 3/4 days, I wish I could have stayed longer. If you would remember, I live in the Philippines, but I absolutely love how cheap everything is in your country, how full of life, how amazing the culture is, and please, don’t even get me started on the good street food. The capital of my country is Manila. Your first few days here, I guarantee that you will hate it because of the traffic. How we’re so westernized you have to get on a bus and travel 9 hours before you get to see real culture and our street food is basically shit food. I am used to living in a 3rd world country, but comparisons are still easy to make. Anyway, I met a lot of really great service people (yes, massage people) while in Bangkok who did not try to swindle me like in Vietnam or even my own country. Or maybe a lot of them mistake me for being Thai as well. Haha! But I recognized their sincerity.

    All your observations, I think this is all too familiar for me. Not because I’ve been a foreigner who really stayed for long, but because it’s the same in my country. I have a lot of foreigner friends here (I prefer foreigner boyfriends), and I hear a lot of these stories, and even see them in action. White people are hoe-bait (Nope, I’m not gonna sugarcoat). These foreigners enjoy the attention the first few months. But then they start to get lonely. They start to look for someone real. They never stopped giving people a chance, but 70% of the time, it’s always some person trying to get some money from you or get some sort of validation being with foreigners. In a couple of months, they’d be outta here. There are some who have stayed beyond 2 years and I’m grateful that they’re giving my country a chance.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing Ayra! Interesting point of view and real eye opening! I would love to read about your Thailand-Philippines comparison story. I also notice that you have a way with word. Feel free to get in touch and share you story here: sam@saminbangkok.com

      I do friendly and funny stuffs (750 – 1000 words in English) Once received I will review it and if it’s good I will publish your story on my site with your name and the links back to any of your profile.

      Cheers,
      Sam

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There are not much people who ever managed to disgust me more than the sexpats I´ve overheard talking about girls in Thailand some years ago…quite horrible, really. Otherwise, I really like your blog 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed my writing. I have to say about the sexpats situation -it has been this way for long time since Vietnam war when Americans soldiers came to Thailand and paved the way for this kind of industry…

      Thanks for sharing your opinions with me.

      Cheers,
      Sam

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s all about perspective and obviously people are never happy where they are. Bangkok to us is real life…every day, same shit different day and I yearn to travel to NY or SF or Tokyo or wherever that is not Bangkok. Having said that, I love living here for many reasons also…but I love leaving it for a week or two.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey,

    Great post. I got up to about 7 months but think I was more like a 2 or 3 year expat. I taught English in bangkapi, bit of a mental set up at the school; run by strict Catholic nuns, so never a dull moment. I loved the experience though: the grateful students, the interesting teachers, and the other expats I met. Plus the party weekends. Would have stayed but felt I could never really settle there. Are you an expat for good then?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Barry

      Great to hear from you! Your articles are awesome too! Although I would love to know more about your Catholic school teaching experience in Bangkok. That sounds nut -in a weird good way :p

      I’m not expat for good. I’m Thai and moved to Bangkok to find job. Stay here longer than expected tho. Looking for a reason and a chance to move out but so far I don’t have any :)))

      Cheers
      Sam

      Like

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