March 05 2007
-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband.
-How long have you been living in Thailand?
Just over 2 years now.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Thailand?
I met my husband in Beijing. He is British and was out there on a 3-month assignment. I’m Australian and had been living in Beijing for one and half years when we met. With David scheduled to be in Beijing for only 3 months our relationship started out as a casual thing with a deadline.
David’s assignment was extended twice while we were dating and when, after nine months together, his assignment ended and he was being sent home, he quit his job and started looking for something else in Beijing. It was a big call. People living in the same city don’t need to have that “where is this relationship heading – is it worth sticking around for” discussion so early on. Quitting a good, well paid engineering job with one of the world’s biggest companies was a huge call. A call that made me feel more secure in the relationship and confident to start hoping it was going somewhere.
After four months of looking we faced the reality that there was little available in Beijing for him. I decided that he was worth the risk so I quit my job and we both moved to the UK where he had a good job lined up and, with a British grandfather, I was confident I’d be able to get a work visa and find a job for myself.
We arrived in England in November. I had been so excited about moving to England, after all, thousands of Aussie backpackers head that way to start their travels every year. I thought it would be fantastic. It rained every single day for my first 3 weeks in the country. I’d never seen rain like that before, a constant annoying drizzle with dark grey skies and people rugged against it in dark grey jackets and grey moods. I had no idea it was possible for a country to get rain 23 hours a day for weeks on end and not have a flood. The thing that astounded me the most was the fact no one mentioned the rain…and no one shared my bewilderment that there was, after all this rain, no flood. It probably should have dawned on me earlier, only it seems so impossibly unlikely, but slowly I realized that rain like this is NORMAL.
After three weeks of freezing misery I asked David “Can you apply for a transfer? I can’t live here.” He was actually relieved. As an expat brat (person who grew up traveling the world as an expat kid) he was worried I’d want to settle down in the UK and stay there. I was supposed to be in England for 8 weeks before flying home to Australia for Christmas, but I couldn’t stand the grey and flew home 3 weeks early.
While I was in Oz David started applying for positions overseas and got good bites from both Malaysia and Thailand. “I’d probably prefer Thailand but either of those would be fine,” I told him during our daily phone calls.
He got offered the Thailand job on a mobile phone while sitting around a campfire with a beer in his hand while out camping in Australia’s outback. Three days later the tsunami struck and David lost contact with his future boss. We were pretty worried his boss had been killed in the wave and, selfishly, we’re dreadfully concerned the offer was no longer there.
David flew back to England after 2 weeks and I stayed on in Australia, promising to come over at the end of January. Luckily David’s boss was fine, the job offer was still on the table, and we flew out to Thailand from our opposite sides of the globe for a very happy reunion. Three months later we got engaged. Nine months later we were married and now we are expecting our first child.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
David’s work organised his work permit and my dependent’s residency permit, which allows me to stay in Thailand for as long as David’s visa is valid.
I have since set up my own company and got a work visa through this. I subcontract as a swimming and dance teacher to one of the International Schools 2 days a week, plus I teach swimming lessons in some of the condos and do some personal training.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
David’s company takes care of all that for us. We have fantastic cover and have not had to pay a single baht out of our own money for any of the baby-related medical expenses – even vitamins are covered though this company’s insurance.
-How do you make your living there? Do you have any type of income generated?
The main income earner is David, he is an oil and gas engineer and there is a big demand for them, what I make is just icing on the cake. As a personal trainer and swim coach I have highly transportable skills. I’ve been a personal trainer for 15 years now and know how to get people good results – once you get great results with your first client finding more clients is really easy. I know trainers in Bangkok who make 4000 baht an hour but I only charge 1500. I could work more often and earn more money but with the baby on the way I like being able to work part time and have the time to cook nice dinners, run the errands, do the shopping and do some things for myself.
I got the swim coaching job at the school through a girl I meet through sport. The first condo swimming job I got was through someone David worked with and soon the word got out that I was doing lessons so I now have a waiting list of people wanting to join the classes.
I’ve never advertised, people find out who you are and what you do as part of the expat network, if they are interested in what I have to offer they always approach me.
Another highly transportable job is hairdressing. Women are willing to pay anything to get a good haircut – especially in countries where the locals hair (and hence cutting techniques) is so different to our. Personal training, school teachers, engineers, and hairdressers are expatting jobs of the future.
-Do you speak Thai and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I haven’t bothered learning Thai. I can order a few dishes in Thai, say please and thank you but that is about it. After this long in China I was able to communicate at on okay level in Chinese, because in China you need to speak Chinese to get anything done. But so many Thais speak English, if the person you are talking to does not, someone else close by will step in and act as a translator. As I have not used my Chinese at all since leaving Beijing so I am reluctant to put in the time and effort it takes to learn Thai. I simply don’t need it and can’t how it would benefit me.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I first worked overseas in 1994. Since then if I have been working overseas I have returned home at least every 12 months and make a big effort to stay in good contact with the people who are important to me. I attend all weddings, funerals and big events so I still feel fairly involved with my life and family at home. However, since I’m pregnant and it is not ideal to fly, I have not been home for 15 months now. I hate it, it is the first time I have feel an urgent need to get home (even if just for a week) in years. So while I normally don’t get homesick, right now I am busting to visit Oz.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Absolutely, we are always planning what to do, where to go, who to visit, what to see. Our biggest stress is lack of holiday time and generally we end up in holiday debt. I can’t see us returning to the west for another ten years. The expatting money and lifestyle will be very hard to give up.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Currently we are renting a nice house in a lovely village on the east side of Pattaya. This is a nice quiet area away from the bar scene and prostitutes that Pattaya is famous for.
With the company I’ve set up we could buy a house and we are considering going down that route in the future.
-What is the cost of living in Thailand?
Depends on what you buy. If you eat local food and stay in local housing you can live very cheaply here. You could rent a room for a couple of thousand baht a month and spend as little as a couple of hundred baht a day.
Chicken is around 60 baht a kilo, pork is 100 baht a kilo and local beef is around 120 baht a kilo. Though I’m a snob and buy the imported (Australian or New Zealand) beef and lamb, which are pretty much exactly the same prices you would pay if you were buying them in Australia, they don’t cost more than Australia, it is just the local, (tougher, chewier) meat is so much cheaper. Most fruit and vegetables are very cheap here. If you want a favourite fruit or vegetable that is not grown or generally available in Thailand you can buy them at Foodland or the friendship store, you just have to pay a bit more for them.
Imported items like breakfast cereals and pasta sauces are a bit more expensive then back home, but you don’t have to buy them if you are on a budget.
Leo and Chang beer are around 500 baht a box, Heineken is around 700 a box of 24. Wine costs almost exactly double the price you would pay for the same bottle in Australia, thou you could drink the local stuff if you though saving a few baht was worth it (I consider the local stuff undrinkable – YMMV).
Samet Island is very close to Pattaya and you can get bungalows for anywhere from 400–12,000 a night (average is probably about 1000 baht) so you can have a fantastic weekend away on a stunning island for very little money indeed.
-What do you think about the Thai people?
As a youngish female I am generally treated pretty well. And now that I am obviously pregnant I am treated like royalty. I got on the BTS (sky train) in Bangkok last week and 6 people leapt up to offer their seats. People are always letting me to the front of the toilet lines with comments like “oooh you’re pregnant, you go first,” and complete strangers come up and in excited tones gush “oooh you look fantastic, when are you due?” The parking attendants at Foodland have been rushing over with umbrellas to shade me from my car to the shops ever since I first started showing a bump. Everyone should get to be pregnant in Thailand.
Unfortunately there are Russian prostitutes working in at least one of the bars in Pattaya’s Walking Street so occasionally I’ll be mistaken for a prostitute and get some unwanted attention, but to be fair, that generally happens with stupid old foreign men, not Thais. In fact these dirty old men have given me far more grief than any Thai ever has.
Pattaya attracts many lower class tourists who disrespect the locals, especially the stall holders and restaurants around the beach road and walking street, so the locals around these areas are a bit jaded with foreigners and can be a bit rude. But even these people are nice once you show them a bit of respect, talk in soft and friendly tones and smile while bargaining.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Thailand?
Breaking into the expat circles is difficult in Pattaya. There are a lot of undesirable people attracted to this place, so the “normal” expats are very weary of new people. But once you do get to know people everyone looks out for each other and are very supportive.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Thailand?
I find the easiest way to meet people in a new country is to get involved in sports.
Losing face is a huge deal for a Thai, they will give you the answer you want to hear, not the truth, unless you learn to phrase your questions in a way that lets them answer honestly and not lose face.
NEVER ever raise your voice or appear angry when dealing with a Thai. If you do you will achieve the exact opposite to your desired goal.
Smile often, a smile can knock more than 50% off the price of market goods.
If you see something you like, buy it, because chances are you will not see it again.
Get a maid. This way you are providing local employment plus you have someone to pay your bills, order things you find difficult to source and clean your house.
When grocery shopping stock up on at least 2 of everything you need regularly as stocks are irregular and the shops often run out of things for weeks at a time.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Thailand?
I have written the first draft of my book Expat Brat, my adventures as an expat personal trainer living and working in Papua New Guinea, China and Thailand – more on this can be found at Expat Brat.