We keep hearing stories of long-term expats/teachers who are leaving Thailand. In a number of cases, it's the TM 30 requirement that has been the final straw. But I was still shocked when Ajarn blogger, ex-colleague and great friend, Mark Newman, messaged me a few weeks ago to say he was heading back to England. Surely not. Surely not Marko! I had to get the full story.
Hiya mate. I'm still not sure I've got over the shock of your impending departure. I recently came over to your home in Ratchaburi to see you, we chatted at length, we went to see a football match together and had a great night. Everything in the garden seemed rosy. Next minute, you're off back to the UK. There must have been some sudden and incredible moment of clarity that forced you to make such a life-changing decision?
Yes, you can look at my current life and say that I'm a fool for turning my back on it. People I know at home are already a bit bewildered by this 'crazy' decision. The one thing that has topped the list of reasons to do just that is, although the next ten years could easily have been as easy as the last ten, when I hit 70 years old, it won't be much of 'a ten years' to look back on.
Some people take comfort from the virtuous nature of their work to keep them from moving anywhere or trying new things. Others can easily sink into the comfort and luxury of their lives to avoid making any changes to their spiritual and mental growth. Both of these reasons are laudable reasons for 'carrying on'. But for me, ten years of doing the same thing is long enough. It's time to make the move. Ten MORE years of doing the exact same thing every year won't be much of a thing to look back on. At least, it wouldn't be for me.
How many years have you actually been here?
Almost twenty years. I moved here from a very comfortable lifestyle in Mexico... but once again, the adventure is only adventurous when things change and evolve. I moved quickly up the ladder and created a very comfortable world for myself in Oaxaca, Mexico, and - of course - got bored of it! Moving to Thailand seemed like the next adventurous thing to do at the time.
You never ever struck me as someone who got homesick for the UK? You didn't even go back that often did you?
I believe that a life well spent is a circle that begins where you come from and eventually leads right back to that point. It was always my intention to go home to the UK eventually, so I didn't see the point of going back for 'a holiday'.
Now I know for a fact that you've worked at the same school in Ratchaburi for a number of years. The Thai staff love you. You're part of the furniture. They must have been devastated when you broke the news?
My bosses have been very supportive, even paying me for October when I won't be there! The family that runs the school is the only reason that I have stayed as long as I have. I am very close to them and we already have plans to meet up in England probably next year. For all the complaining that people do about jobs in Thailand, there are great schools and bosses out there.
Yes, replacing me will be impossible and it's big a blow for them, or... someone like me will come along next week and they will forget about me overnight! Haha!
You're probably the kind of guy who would want to leave without any fanfare but are the school planning anything special for your final days? Surely someone's getting their hand in their pocket for a nice big sponge cake?
As close as I am to the family that owns the school, I'm not at all close to my colleagues. It's always been my policy to keep my distance from people I work with and it's a policy that has served me very well and kept me out of trouble, too. I'm friendly and courteous, but I'm distant. I don't chat with any of the staff, even the foreign hires. I don't meet anyone after work or for social occasions ever. So, the answer to that question is 'no', there won't be cake on my last day!
You're slipping quietly out of the back door then. But I bet you've been given the arduous task of finding a replacement? - someone as hard-working and loyal as you.
Yes, I have promised to do what I can to find a replacement. It's not going to be easy as everyone seems to want to live in Bangkok or in other heavily populated areas of Thailand. It's harder than you might think to find someone who is reliable and committed to sticking around for any length of time, even when the job is as cushy as this one is.
You're from the Isle of Wight in the south of England - and you're also touching 60. What's the plan regarding work when you eventually get home? I ask this because you'll be arriving in Winter and The Isle of Wight is somewhere that relies heavily on seasonal tourism.
The economy in the UK is buoyant and even on the Isle of Wight, there is work for the willing. I have my savings and some lodgings lined up so I'm in no hurry to start work right away. I will probably get settled in, sort out some administrative things, buy a decent car and have a nice long break. I'll probably spend a few days hiking around Switzerland, go for a road trip to see some friends and places in the UK and then eventually get the car ferry back home to the island and start to think seriously about what happens next in my life.
What scares you most, if anything, about this next phase in your life?
Well, I'm nearly sixty. That's quite old to start a life in a country I haven't lived in since 1987! But I've always somehow found a way to make things work out well for myself. I'm a loyal and reliable worker. That attitude should carry enough weight to pay the rent for the next few years.
You lived in a number of countries before Thailand, including the USA and Mexico. If things don't work out back in England, is there perhaps another country that might be on your radar?
I don't think so and I hope not. Like I said before, it was always my intention to end up back in the UK. At almost sixty years old, I have just about got that window of opportunity to make use of the rest of my working life in the cold and rain of England! But...
...if I was forced to choose a country other than the UK, I'd find a small coastal town in Italy and teach English there for a few years. A glass of red wine and a pizza overlooking the Mediterranean sounds quite nice.
Let's look back on your time in Thailand, You lived in Samut Prakan for a number of years but then moved to enjoy a quieter life in Ratchaburi. That turned out to be a good decision, didn't it?
Definitely. Bangkok is a fascinating and vibrant city for the young and energetic. But for old farts like me, it's just noisy, dirty and annoying. Ratchaburi (for me) was a great decision. Although it was financially a tough call. I gave up a lot of money, but money has never been a driving force for me.
Which part of your Thailand teaching career will you look back on and say 'yeah, I enjoyed that the most'? Was it those corporate teaching gigs on far-flung industrial estates that you and I used to do together? LOL
I've enjoyed everything about being in Thailand but for different reasons. I enjoyed the unpredictable and awkward learning curve when I first came here at 40 years old. I enjoyed the well paid corporate gigs in Bangkok that you and I were overpaid for. I enjoyed the sedate lifestyle of working in a small private school away from the traffic.
I enjoyed catching the bus to work for a job that paid 250 baht an hour as much as I enjoyed having a driver collect me from my house to take me to a corporate job for 1,000 baht an hour. It's been a blast in every phase and on every level but for different reasons. I can't really think of any low points.
How do you think Thailand has changed for the long-term expat since you arrived here? Do you think it's changed for the better? Is it still The Land of Smiles?
Thailand hasn't changed that much in twenty years. People say it's more expensive, but it's not really. Housing, food, services... all still very cheap. Western food/groceries still expensive... although there are a lot more options now!
It's a country that has the political will and determination to confront the next fifty years both economically and technologically while still being respectful to the culture and traditions that have made Thailand a fascinating and safe place to live for the last fifty years.
One of the worrying things about returning to the West is that young people seem very ready and willing to completely reject and abandon the past to make room in there smaller minds for an uncertain future. The future of global economic prosperity is in Asia and Thailand is a big player in how that progresses.
As for being 'the land of smiles'... I'm pretty sure that's something the tourist authorities made up!
One of the questions I always ask teachers who have left Thailand is 'would you recommend Thailand as a TEFL destination'? What would your answer be?
A big resounding YES! It doesn't matter who you are, there's a space in Thailand that you can fit into. No degree? No problem! There's an agency with your name on it. Want to start a business and work for yourself? No problem. Thailand makes it easy for you to do this. Real teachers can earn great money, fakers (like me) can earn enough to create a superb, rich quality of life.
If you're smart, if you look presentable, have your wits about you and you look for the better opportunities, then Thailand is the best Asian country to make a life in. If you just want to swan in and out of classes in between trips to the beach, there's room for you too! Whatever your motivation to travel and teach, Thailand should still be a serious option. Be vigilant of people trying to take advantage of you, especially other farangs!
When we met a few weeks ago, you were paying the mortgage on a nice three-bedroom house in a moobarn and running a car (which presumably you are going to sell) How are you getting on with tying up all the loose ends?
Everything is going very well and most of what I want to do can be done online... registering for a doctor, making an appointment with a bank to open an account, getting on the electoral roll, etc. All done online. I have already sold my car and the contents of my house and I am in talks to sell my house, too. I can't think of any 'loose ends' that have been a headache.
Finally, when are you outta here? Are you looking back with any regrets?
I'll be 'outta here' in early November.
Regrets? No, no regrets. I'll have twenty years of wonderful and amazing experiences to look back on. But it's time to go. I'd regret it more if I hung around.
Will there be things that I will miss? Oh, God yes! There will be lots of those. Too many to mention... especially in polite company! But it feels right to let go and move on to the 'back nine' of my life feeling positive about a wonderful country that has done so much for me. So, no regrets!
Finally, thanks to you, Phil for your on-going support throughout my stay here. I remember that I ruffled a few feathers when I barged into Thailand with my 'markoinbangkok' website many full moon parties ago. But since then, our shared experiences and ongoing friendship have been things that I am very proud of.
Thank you mate. We wish you well for the next exciting stage of your life. I have no doubts that with your positive attitude (and you're probably one of the most positive people I've ever met) you will do well. Hopefully, I'll catch you on the Isle of Wight some day.