When strangers ask “where do you live?”, and I reply “Thailand”, their reactions are often quite predictable. Most are too polite to tell me what they’re actually thinking, but their knowing smiles are the perfect windows to their thoughts - A rustic home on the beach, evenings on a bar stool, cold beer in hand and bikini clad maidens tending to his every desire ... The lucky bastard!
The paradise beaches of Koh Phi Phi
I can understand why they think that, just as I can understand why many Thais, and probably quite a few Americans, firmly believe that every Englishman lives in Downton Abbey, but the truth, for me at least, is far removed from their perception. 2014 was probably an average year for me, and I spent just five evenings attached to various bar stools across Thailand. Three of those evenings were at a travellers meeting in Chiang Mai where I was speaking, and the other two were in Bangkok with a good friend; writer and adventurer, Dr Greg Frazier. In each of those bars I was seen, and probably photographed, with a cold beer in my hand, but to the best of my knowledge there were no bikini clad maidens tending to my every desire or anything else for that matter. Sure, I do have a Thai girlfriend, but if I ever asked her to tend to even the mildest of my actual desires, well, I’d become a eunuch and she’d be out of my life in a flash. As for living close to a beach, well, I’m at least 200 miles from any beach that any sane person would ever want to visit. I live in Bangkok, a little area called Lak Si. Ever heard of it? No, nor had I until I moved here four years ago. It’s certainly not a slum, but neither is it gentrified, but at £70 per month the rent on my studio apartment is slightly more attractive than the view from the balcony.
The early morning haze of Lak Si
So, if I’m not here for the beaches, the booze or the bikini clad beauties, then what the hell am I doing in Thailand? Well, it basically comes down to a combination of economics and laziness, something that I’ll try to explain.
After riding around the world, settling back into my normal life was impossible. That's not just because my house had burned down while I'd been crossing Siberia, but because a year without working had become an impossible habit to break. What I really wanted was a gentle middle-class lifestyle, the UK definition of middle-class not the lower income American version, and I figured that the annual income of a teacher would be a really good starting point. In England, that would mean earning around £40,000 per year, which sounded like an awful lot of Monday morning feelings and a decent amount of hard work, but in places such as Thailand, a local teacher earns around £5,000 per year. I guessed that with my messy writing, and with a few additional irons in the financial fire, I could earn £5,000 a year without having to sacrifice too many hours of idleness. So, if I could do that while living in Thailand, and Thailand would allow me to stay there, then I’d be laughing.
The economics of teachers
Of course, I could have easily chosen Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos or even somewhere in Africa, but I didn’t. I already spoke a little Thai and, well, in the interest of full disclosure, I already had a few female friends here in the Land of Smiles. [Don’t shoot me, I’m only human and I thought you might appreciate the honesty]