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.
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.
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.
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?’
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 @