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My new family in Thailand

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Phil.UK.Net

About This Site

This site was originally started to record some travel experiences. It was a way for me to be able to look back at particular journeys without having to dig around in a box of old photos in the attic. It's also a way of sharing photos and memories with family and friends and some information may be useful to strangers.

As the site has grown I've added more information as and when I've felt motivated to do so. The reason may have been to have information available that I could get to from anywhere without having to carry it around with me, or perhaps I wanted to share something. There is a section on Buddhism which is something I have become interested in recently. I have written a brief guide to Thailand and also a Hat Yai Visitors' Guide. Links to other areas of the site should be fairly self-explanatory. The Site Map is the best and fastest way to see what is on the site and there is a link to it from most pages.

All opinions expressed are personal, purely subjective and are not intended to cause offense although I accept that we all have different opinions and sometimes differing opinions about certain sensitive subjects can cause disagreements. If anything I have written does cause offense please let me know. Sometimes I write things that I regret later and in such cases I may decide to change what I have written.

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About The Author

I am English but at the time of writing this I am living in Thailand temporarily for an, as yet, undecided period of time. I guess my life was fairly conventional up until around 40 but even as far back as my early 20's I realised that my outlook on life seemed quite different to many around me. This difference in the life I was living and the life I wanted to lead caused a lot of internal strife and this eventually led to a major lifestyle change in 2002.

There are as many ways to lead your life as there are people on the planet. The secret is to find the one that is right for you. You may feel that the life you have is just great, which is fantastic. As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It may be that you haven't even thought about what you want but have just accepted the life you were born into. I never did. I've been told I think too much, and maybe I do, but I can't just switch off the process.

A lot of things are set out for us as soon as we enter the world. We are born into a certain religion without having the opportunity to explore alternatives and make our own choice, though of course we can later. The culture and society we are born into will mould the kind of person we become, as will the families we belong to. Even at a young age there will be expectations set as to what we do with our lives and what we achieve. Factors such as where we live, what our fathers do for a living, and the social standing of our families may govern the profession we are destined to go into, even before we have had a chance to decide what we want to do.

For many years I didn't think much about this, I just went with the flow. Like many young people I had my own set of priorities before I reached a certain age. Having my own house was important. Having some financial independence from my parents was important. Owning a car was important, and not just any car, a Porsche was important. Owning good Hi-Fi equipment was important, a wide-screen TV, a DVD player, going on foreign holidays ..... the list goes on and on.

All of these items need to be paid for though and they don't come cheap, especially in the UK. Therefore a job that pays well becomes high on the list of priorities and once you are working for a company it then becomes necessary to do whatever is required in order to keep the boss happy and keep those promotions and pay rises coming. It doesn't matter if we hate our jobs and despise some of the people we have to work with, keeping the money coming in to buy all of the above (and maybe by now we have families of our own to keep as well?) is what is important.

And once we have acquired the list of items we wanted initially, does it stop there? Oh no. There are armies of people who very much want us to continue in this 'earning and spending' cycle. Just as we want our income to keep coming in, so they want their income to keep coming in, the manufacturers of products, advertisers of products, reviewers of products, financiers to lend you money to buy products. If we stop buying, their business goes down so they have become very clever ensuring that the cycle continues.

Just open up the magazine supplement that comes with your Sunday papers or look at any so-called 'lifestyle' magazine - the newsagents shelves are full of them. We don't even have to think any more about what we need or want. They tell us. Things that we had never thought of because we never had a need for suddenly turn into items that we cannot live our lives without. And we honestly believe this. We look at the pictures, read the advertising copy, and convince ourselves that life won't be worth living unless we have that new conservatory (with the new high-technology double glazed window frames), a car with 4 valves per cylinder instead of 2, a DVD recorder that enables us to watch the start of the recording while it continues to record the end of the programme, etc. etc.

This becomes like an obsession and we convince ourselves that we need these things and consequently the cycle continues. I know because I've been there. This list doesn't stop with the items above, it goes on and on and on. And then, once we have acquired the latest DVD player, a new model comes out with another feature that we can't live without and here we go again.

So, am I saying that materialism and consumerism are bad things? Not at all. I enjoy listening to music, taking photographs, using a computer, driving sports cars. For these pursuits we need material things and over the years I have got a lot of pleasure out of the things I have owned. Life is about balance though and if the balance is tipped too far one way so that owning the latest product, or being seduced into owning products that we don't need, then that should be a warning.

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The Catalysts For Lifestyle Change

I was quite well set up for someone living in a material society. After 19 years with a major IT company my salary was high. I knew from looking at the job advertisements that I was earning more than University professors, CEOs of smaller companies and some doctors. I was driving a Porsche (admittedly a used one getting on in years but a nice car nonetheless) and had a very small mortgage on my detached house. I didn't have to think much if I wanted to buy something as the money was always there but there wasn't a lot I actually wanted.

As I became older my desire for material things started to go away and I was content with things I already had. My 20 year-old Canon A-1 camera and 40 year-old Quad valve hi-fi was always good enough for me and I didn't feel the need to get the latest and greatest gadgets. In my business life I had eaten at so many good restaurants that going out for a meal had become routine rather than being a special pleasure.

Why do people buy things that they don't really need? The act of buying something new can create a temporary feeling of happiness. If someone doesn't really understand what makes them happy, the new item might be the key to unlock the mystery. A new gadget or a new piece of software for their computer might be just the thing to fill the void in their lives. But more often than not it doesn't. They get the new item home, unwrap it, play for a while and it will probably then be forgotten about while they look for more new things to buy. There is a saying that the best way to make someone unhappy is to give them everything they want.

When I decided to break away from my old lifestyle it was through a combination of factors. The biggest factor was that I felt very unhappy. I was driving to work in my Porsche but the 30 minutes of pleasure each day driving the car was not enough to offset the 8, 9 or 10 hours of misery at work. Work itself had become a joke. This was during the period when all companies globally were going through a rough time. IT budgets had been cut and there wasn't much work. Everyone was walking around looking stressed because of the lack of work yet, at the same time, everyone had to look busy to justify being there.

In general I had become disillusioned with the job and with many of the people working around me. My original choice of career had been chosen to suit my aptitude for things mechanical, which I'd had as a kid messing around with bikes and modelling kits. As my career went on though the jobs I did went further and further away from what I enjoyed. Ideals go out the window. The important thing is to keep the money coming in to finance the lifestyle and this means doing whatever is required.

Although I enjoyed working with certain people who I regarded as having a good balance in life I increasingly came into contact with people who went entirely against my way of thinking. People who had completely been swallowed up by the lifestyle described above. They sucked up to managers and customers to further their own cause but as co-workers were a nightmare as they were always trying to make themselves look better. They had few interests outside work but had decided to sell their souls to get on in the company. And it was all for the love of money and material possessions. Their motivations in life were houses and cars, not becoming better people or doing anything to help others. A BMW, for example, is the only thing that matters. I used to cringe when hearing yet another conversation about which company car to choose next. Is the BMW better than the Saab? What are the best features to have?

Many of the people with kids were hardly much better. I believe that bringing up kids the right way in this world is probably the most important thing anyone can do. Educating them properly, giving them a good understanding of what is right and wrong, keeping their views balanced so they can make good decisions in life, making them aware of the people and environment around them is paramount. What I noticed though is that many parents were more concerned with materialism than true values. What is more important, being around your children to educate, support and set an example or doing whatever is asked for by the company (often being away months at a time) in order to earn enough money so that your kids have the latest training shoes, video games and DVDs?

My disillusionment with life just kept on growing and I'd also been fortunate enough to have experienced many things in life that others, who hadn't experienced those things, might think would be enough to attain happiness. I have learnt that I need to experience things in order to learn and understand them. At the age of 21 I would not have listened to someone telling me that owning a Porsche or a BMW would not make me happy. For the same reason I would now not attempt to tell a 21 year old this. We all have to experience life for ourselves.

Only learning through personal experience seems to be a human trait. I read an interesting newspaper article a while ago about bridge building. Apparently there is a fairly regular cycle of major bridge failures and it happens to be about 30 years. This is roughly the time designers of bridges are in the profession. They make mistakes and learn from them but the next generation of designers come along and make basically the same mistakes before learning for themselves.

Another huge factor for me was travel. As I got older and started to grow up mentally my travelling experiences changed. My earlier holidays in Greece might just have been about sun, sand, sea and getting drunk every night but later in life my focus changed significantly. I used my journeys to satisfy my curiousity about the world and not to satisfy sensual cravings. It became more important to me to see how other people lived, what made them tick and what was important to them rather than getting drunk with other holidaymakers every night. In particular, visiting Thailand several times has had a big impact on my life. Having met many miserable people who have lots materially and then meeting people who have virtually nothing but who are obviously very happy with their lives makes you want to reassess the value system you have become accustomed to.

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Making It Happen

My plan was fairly simple but carrying it out was another matter. I would give up my current lifestyle, sell my car, put my possessions into storage, rent out my house and go to Southeast Asia. Simple. Well, not quite.

Initially came the biggest decision of my life so far, that of giving up my job and regular salary. I knew that once the decision was made it would be final so I couldn't return in six months time if I'd decided it was a mistake? My alternative option at that time was to take a year off work, leaving my job open. I was fairly convinced though that I wouldn't want to return after a year. To escape the drudgery my vacation periods had become longer in the last few years at work. Returning to work after five weeks vacation had become almost unbearable so I dreaded to think what it would be like after a year. My decision was made a little easier due to the fact that this was a bad time for the company and redundancy packages were available. My pay-off would not be insignificant and would certainly help me to achieve my plan.

After much deliberating, soul-searching and talking to friends and family, I opted to leave. That was around April 2002 and I officially left in June 2002 after completing over 19 years service. The first thing I did was to sign up for a TEFL teachers course. I knew that my future plans meant living abroad and I saw this as being a skill that would allow me to find work almost anywhere. The courses are run all around the world but, for some reason I don't fully understand, I chose to do mine in Brno, in the Czech Republic. The course was much harder work than I'd anticipated but it always feels more satisfying to achieve something that is difficult rather than to get something handed to you on a plate.

Returning home after seven weeks in Europe, I didn't feel quite ready to make a permanent move abroad and was still undecided about what I wanted to do. I wasn't convinced about teaching English as a profession and could afford to travel without working. My next move was another temporary one. I decided to go to Southeast Asia for three months and to see in that time if I could clarify my thoughts. I started off in Thailand, went down to Singapore by air, had a short trip to Bali, travelled through Malaysia overland from Singapore where I met some friends in KL before returning to Thailand.

Thailand was a country that I'd wanted to visit ever since I can remember. I first went in 1987, travelling with a friend that had done the backpacking thing and had been there before. At that time there wasn't a huge amount of foreign tourists, like there is now. Just before my trip I attended a promotion event at London's Barbican centre run by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to try to encourage people to go. Many beach resorts at that time were still quite unspoilt and unrecognisable from what they look like today.

That first visit vastly exceeded my expectations and started a love affair with Thailand that was to continue for many years. After my 2002/2003 winter visit I had enjoyed myself just as much as on all of my previous visits. When I got home to England all I really wanted to do was go back to Thailand as soon as possible and for as long as possible. There were some things to do though. Firstly, I'd met an Austrian business consultant in Thailand and we'd discussed a job. The company he was working with were developing a small, paper-folding machine for home and office use. It sounded interesting and fitted in with my engineering background. I wasn't sure in my own mind whether I should be giving up work yet altogether or whether I would just be happier in a smaller organisation instead of a huge multi-national company. Anyway, I agreed to visit him in Austria for two weeks so I could look at them and they could look at me.

I had visited Austria before, briefly, but had not liked it. My trip to Vienna before the TEFL course disappointed me enormously. I was expecting to love it but hated it. That summer was unbearably hot. I didn't know anyone though so it wasn't surprising that I found it lonely. When I returned to check out the job I thought it might be different as I was being hosted and wasn't alone but as soon as I had arrived I realised that Austria wasn't for me. The weather conditions were very different this time. Instead of a very hot summer it was a very cold winter with lots of snow. The weather wasn't an issue though. The conservative, Catholic, traditional culture in Austria and southern Germany just doesn't suit me. I find it incredibly boring. Things that seem important to Austrians hold no interest for me and the emphasis placed on tradition I find completely mystifying. It matters not to me that a certain baker has been baking bread for four generations or that the father of the newspaper vendor used to sell newspapers to my father.

The job in Austria actually looked quite good but living there would have driven me insane. Pot holing, Alpine hiking and skiing were the main draws but these pursuits are not things that turn me on. I was made an offer but turned it down. In my own mind though it made some things clearer. I did not feel ready to go back into work and realising this it made me more determined to carry on with my original plan.

As soon as I got back home I was keen to start getting ready for a more permanent move. Although my financial position was fairly good, in order to leave the country for a long period of time meant I would have to let my house out. This was necessary on several counts. The income I would get would allow me to survive without using up my savings. Having tenants in the house would keep my house insurance company happy. Not renting the house out would result in me having to continue paying council tax and utility bills despite the fact I wasn't living there. In purely financial terms it was an obvious thing to do but as my house was also my home there was an emotional attachment too.

This was the next thing that caused me a lot of grief, anxiety and doubt. I wasn't sure if I could handle the thought of having complete strangers in my house, sleeping in my bed, having access to everything inside my house. My house was a very special place to me, a place where I could have my own space and shut myself off from the rest of the world. It was very personal. There would always be the horror stories too about tenants and despite the fact that the majority of people I knew who had rented properties out had experienced no problems it was the horror stories that came to mind.

I began getting the house in order, doing jobs that needed doing and putting my personal possessions into storage, but at the back of my mind I wasn't convinced while doing this that I'd actually be able to let go. At this point I got myself into a seriously bad way. I had given up my old life and burnt bridges so couldn't go back. I was ready to start a different life but now, because of anxiety and doubt, I was wondering whether I could go through with it. After the actual decision to quit work this was the toughest time I'd had to face.

While all this was going on I woke up one day, thinking it was morning, and it was 3pm. When I opened my eyes the room was spinning. If you're wondering, I hadn't touched a drop to drink the night before. I tried to get up but could hardly walk so went back to bed. The dizziness continued for days. I could not walk in a straight line and I had no co-ordination which affected things such as using a keyboard. At first I thought it was food poisoning but after 12 days I eventually went to my doctor. He was at a loss but suspected an infection in the inner ear which controls the body's balance mechanism. He gave me tranquillisers but these just knocked me out and actually made me feel worse so I stopped taking them. The episode affected me for a couple of months and at one point I was having doubts whether I would ever make a complete recovery. I did though but whatever caused it is still a mystery. Whatever it was I think that stress caused a lot of it.

Time was marching on. When I got back from Austria in February I had intended to be back in Thailand by May 2003 but May came and went, as did the rest of the summer. My illness caused a delay of at least a couple of months and general stress and anxiety were responsible for the rest. It got to a point though where I became quite angry inside because I wanted to do things yet a part of my brain was reacting badly against my desires. Being a logical kind of person I couldn't rationalise why this was the case and why (often irrational) emotions were causing such big problems. I was fortunate to have some good friends who I spoke with about this and the act of discussing problems was quite therapeutic. It helped me anyway. The next thing I did was to set a date and book a flight. September 22nd 2003 was the date and having a firm date to work with helped me to plan and organise the tasks I needed to do.

After a very troubled summer it was strange how the doubts and anxieties disappeared almost as soon as I got on the plane. At one stage I didn't think I would every actually reach this point but I did and I was pleased. I am in Thailand as I write this. My journey started in Singapore, where my brother lives, and then continued for brief spells in Australia and Malaysia. Thailand was always where I wanted to be. I feel more at home here than in my true homeland. This is the first time I have spent more than a month in the Kingdom and a long stay has certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things. The learning curve is an exponential one. I think that it is possible to come to Thailand for 20 holidays and still not learn very much, especially if you are staying in tourist resorts. One long stay though, in a part of the country where not many tourists go, will teach you a hell of a lot more about the country and its people.

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