Bangkok Phil

Putting Jonny right

England is still a great country to live in


I came across an article on the internet written by a young English guy called Jonny.   Titled ‘Why Going to Bangkok Made Me Hate My Life in England' it tells the story of how Jonny - who I'm sure is a fine fellow by the way - became addicted to Bangkok on his first trip to Thailand a couple of years ago and it's this addiction that has rather forced him to evaluate his life in England and come to the conclusion that there's very little of it he likes.

What piqued my interest was that many years ago, I too was Jonny. Now here I am at the opposite end of the spectrum you might say, finding less to get excited about in Thailand and ‘getting homesick' for things like the awful public transportation system, the sky-high cost of living, the wardrobe dilemmas, and all the other aspects of daily life in England that according to Jonny, make living there such a drag (I shall get to those later)

Simply put, Jonny is going through the Thailand honeymoon period. How long that honeymoon period lasts depends on the individual in question - but I've been through it too. "Oh my God, what an amazing country! Why had no one told me about this place before? Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?"

However, what irked me a little about Jonny's article was the way it trashed the UK for no real good reason - certainly not based on the wonderful three weeks I've just spent there. The criticisms seemed unjust and the comparisons misguided. Let me see if I can take some of Jonny's points in turn and give a young man some guidance. I was once a young man too but I'm now older and hopefully a little wiser.

First off, I think too many UK expats - those that have the blinkers on for their new country - seem to have a constant image of the UK that looks something like this.

But the UK can also be this. It's a wonderful place if you hit it right and you can afford to live there in relative comfort.

Expensive?

Going back to the article, the first of Jonny's claims is that England is ‘ridiculously expensive'. To that I would have to disagree. It isn't. Not when you are going back to the UK for a short holiday and you are paying less than 45 baht for a pound at Bangkok Airport.

I admit that living in the UK full-time might be a pricier business, what with all those horrible council taxes to pay and suchlike, but Jonny is basing his viewpoints and comparisons on a short holiday in the reverse direction. Most long-term expats will tell you that living in Bangkok can be ‘mighty expensive' if you choose not to ‘live like a Thai' and seek out a more Western lifestyle. As eventually most of us do.

I recently spent three weeks at my parents' new bungalow just outside Stratford-Upon-Avon, on the edge of The Cotswolds. It's a beautiful part of England, but not what you would expect to be the cheapest area of the country. However, shopping and eating out are both still terrific value for money - even in leafy Middle England. You can fill a shopping basket in supermarket chains like Lidl and Aldi for considerably less than in Thailand and a person can still eat well at your average English pub for little more than a fiver. Even in the most touristy Cotswold destinations like Broadway and Stow-on-the-Wold, I found the price of a coffee and a cake to be no more expensive than their Thai equivalents.

Jonny makes the point that in Bangkok, you can enjoy a delicious bowl of noodle soup on the street for just 50 baht. That is certainly true enough - but in all honesty, 50 baht is really all it's worth.

Unfriendly people?

"People aren't friendly or respectful in the UK" says Jonny, "nobody dare smile at you on the street"

Jonny, I'll have to take you to Leamington Spa with me. I was there a couple of weeks ago on a particularly wet and dreary Monday - certainly a day you wouldn't expect strangers to be engaging in casual conversation.

I was looking for the statue of Randolph Turpin, one of Leamington's most famous sons and the boxer who became middleweight champion of the world in 1951. Having drawn a blank at the information desk in the town hall, I spotted a man hurrying for his lunch break and wearing a Leamington Council issue windcheater. Surely he would know. I politely stopped him to enquire as to the whereabouts of the statue and my word, if this wonderful gentleman didn't then spend the next ten minutes filling me in on virtually every aspect of Randolph Turpin's life before confessing that the statue was actually in nearby Warwick. I was in the wrong town. It happens to me all the time.

Later that afternoon - I found myself standing next to a young black woman in a bus queue (there were just the two of us actually) We both jumped out of our skins as a succession of police cars sped past us with lights flashing and sirens wailing. "Probably on their way to Lillington" the young woman remarked. She went on to explain that Lillington was a suburb of Leamington that had a reputation for being a hive of villainy. If the cops were going anywhere, it would be to Lillington for another drug bust. "Have you finished work for the day?" I asked, glancing at my watch and noting it was only mid-afternoon. The young woman explained that she did voluntary work several mornings a week at a local Citizen's Advice Bureau but returned home in the afternoon to look after her elderly mother.

Finally, her bus emerged from out of the Cotswold drizzle and we had to say a hurried goodbye. I felt genuinely sorry because I had been enjoying our conversation so much. I'm not what you would call a social person but I it dawned on me just how much I had enjoyed my conversations with strangers on that day in Leamington and how much I secretly craved them.

I don't think I've made conversation with a stranger at a bus stop in Bangkok in the 26 years I've been here. It's just not done is it?

I always find that whole ‘English people never talk to each other' to be something of a myth. Over the course of three weeks I struck up some lovely conversations with old men in pubs, elderly ladies in supermarket aisles and passengers on trains.

Poor transportation?

So what else does Jonny hate about the UK? "Public transport is just too much effort" he says.

Oh Jonny, England must have some of the most wonderful public transport systems in the world. Who hasn't felt a frission of excitement as a single decker pulls up at a village bus stop in the middle of nowhere at seven minutes past the hour (just like the timetable said it would) and ferries you - the only passenger on board - to another village in the middle of nowhere and the journey ending with a cheerful goodbye from the driver as you alight.

And don't get me started on the UK train system, which so many folk seem to derive pleasure in complaining about. I think it's magnificent. I won't have a word said against it. To sit back in your comfy seat in a sparsely populated carriage and watch the English countryside roll by as you munch on a king-size Mars Bar from the buffet trolley is still one of life's great pleasures. I could spend months just travelling around on the UK train network. I can peruse the destination boards at major train stations and immediately I'm lost in my own little world, with an overwhelming desire to hop aboard a train that will take me to such exotic destinations as Poole, Carlisle and Chesterfield. The twelve minutes I've got to change platforms at Leeds Central just adds to the excitement.

Clothes for all seasons

Finally, Jonny seems to be having wardrobe issues. "I wake up in the morning in summer, get my cup of coffee, get showered and put on shorts and a t-shirt, to open the door to pissing down rain and freezing wind. Raincoat it is. At least in Thailand the weather is predictable"

It is predictable. Yesterday I went through the mental anguish of choosing which t-shirt to wear - the white one, the grey one or the navy blue. I decided on the white. I'm wearing the navy blue one today. Tomorrow I'll go grey.
Oh the joy of slipping on a well-worn leather jacket. Just imagine it. To button up a polo shirt under a fine-knit cardigan, to wear a chunky sweater with jeans that don't hang off your arse five minutes after you've left the apartment - or to accessorize a pastel-colored tee shirt with a nice man scarf.

Johnny, you don't know how lucky you are! There are many great reasons for living in Thailand but I'm convinced the UK has just as many.


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Comments

I'm from the US, not England, and I think Phil usually has great points with which I agree. So many things here...first, I have had many great and positive interactions with Thai strangers on the street. One even paid the remainder of my skytrain fee when I needed, maybe 20 baht and only had 1000...no problems talking to strangers...the biggest thing is cost of living...are you kidding me? there is no comparison! I'm from Boston which is a miniature London or other English town and an apartment would cost me USD 2000 a month. In Bangkok, I've had apartments for USD 220 USD 350 and I can stay at an OK hotel for USD 25 a night. Fast food is USD 7-8 whereas in Bangkok it is 40 baht. Of course, I'm a single guy so I'm flexible but still...Jonny has some good points.

By Jim Hart, United States (13th October 2016)

I sort of agree with Mark, but also see where Phil is coming from. A visit to the UK can be a wonderful thing. The UK does still have a lot going for it and I know plenty of people who have a good life there. You never quite feel that Thailand is for ever. There is just one small problem - trying to making a living there having been an EFL teacher abroad for a long time. As well as this anyone with a Thai partner is probably aware of the onerous visa rules that the UK now imposes, which make it very tough to bring a Thai partner back to the UK. Factor into this that the government is not very foreigner friendly at the moment. I always tell my wife that we can criticise the government all day in the UK, but they just ignore us for the most part. Furthermore the cost of living is about to get higher due to the weakening pound. The pound will get weaker and weaker because nobody feels certain about what will happen after brexit. I would say stay out until you feel rich enough to go back comfortably. Will be alright if you've got a bit of cash behind you.

P.S. As English teachers we have to fly the flag in order to promote ourselves, it would be strange to teach English and then say the UK is rubbish. However, I think that the English are doing a bit too much of the nationalism thing at the moment. It's getting quite ugly.

By John, Bangkok (10th October 2016)

Hi Phil

Thanks for your reply.

I am happy to hear your parents are enjoying being back home! Health care is certainly an important thing to consider for those of us who are not that young anymore. Without sufficient funds, Thailand is not the place to be. And it seems that private hospitals there have become much more expensive the last few years.

If only you could combine the best of Thailand and Westen Europe...

By Michael , Denmark (10th October 2016)

"Do you mind me asking how your parents feel about the UK now that they have been back for a while as real residents and not just a "tourist" like you? ;-) Would they have preferred staying in Spain if it were financially viable?"

Hi Michael. Good to hear from you.
My Mum and Dad lived in Spain for 16 years. For 12 of those years they lived the expat dream. Beautiful house (one of the best I've seen in Spain) lazy afternoons sipping wine by the swimming pool, great Spanish neighbors constantly looking out for them, and evenings with a large group of close friends at restaurants and bars in the nearby towns. It was a perfect lifestyle. They never missed the UK one bit. They almost hated going home for family visits.

That lifestyle all came crashing down about four years ago when my Dad was diagnosed with a serious illness and spent at least four lengthy spells in hospital. As great as the Spanish health service is, the hospitals can be miserable for an expat when you have noisy Spanish families visiting the patient in the next bed and you have doctors who refuse to speak English and you have to rely on paying for interpreters.

Then Mum started having panic attacks and my brother and I became desperate for them to return home to England. They both agreed it was time also.

They sold the beautiful house in Spain (for about 80% of what they paid for it) and they bought a nice bungalow near Stratford Upon Avon.

To answer your question Michael, they are loving life back home. I've never seen them so happy. To be honest, we all think that they should have done this four or five years ago when Dad first got ill, but you can't turn back the clock I guess.

They can't believe how caring and fantastic the health service is. The selection of food has blown their minds and made them realise how much they missed it. And it helps that they live in a beautiful part of England. Their life consists of restaurant meals, walks along the river, concerts and shows, coffee in The Cotswolds, etc.

Certainly not a decision they regret.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (10th October 2016)

Hi Phil

Interesting piece. I moved back to Denmark almost two years ago after a decade in Thailand, and I have to say the jury is still out in my case.

Sure, there is very little corruption here, and you can trust authorities. But it is outrageously expensive and the weather still sucks. The amount of immigration has also changed the country. Unfortunately, mostly to the worse in my opinion.

Do you mind me asking how your parents feel about the UK now that they have been back for a while as real residents and not just a "tourist" like you? ;-) Would they have preferred staying in Spain if it were financially viable?

By Michael, Denmark (10th October 2016)

Hi Jonny,
Good to meet you.
Thanks for taking the article in the nature it was intended - simply an alternative viewpoint and the chance for me to fly the flag for England.
Phil

By Philip, Samut Prakarn (10th October 2016)

Having previously lived in Thailand for six years, as an ESL teacher, I can sympathise with both points of view here. I returned to the UK a while ago, and I don't regret it one bit. However, ofcourse there are good things about Bangkok (and Thailand generally) that I miss.

I live in a relatively UN-prosperous central town which took a savage kicking during the Financial Crisis, and I think a lot of people are basing their decisions based on that crisis. Times have been very hard for millions of people, but from the number of emails my wife and I are getting , asking us if we can work for such and such company, things are improving.

Some things are clearly cheaper in the UK. Beer and western food, for starters, I can still get a pint for £3 here - really I can. Some beers that I like in Lidl are £1.25 a bottle. My wife and I can feed ourselves to the point of being overweight for about £30 a week! Clearly we don't eat luxuriously, and we actually eat a lot of Thai food here. but hey. Clothes are slightly more expensive here, but much higher quality.

We both have jobs here, and work less and earn more than in BKK. We get more paid annual leave. Our health care is provided for us in the UK, we will both get a small pension, and being both in our mid forties - this is getting an important consideration.

Council tax is annoying to the point of criminality - really they are ripping us off.

Where I disagree with Phil would be with public transport. The ticketing system for UK trains is horrendous - it is so difficult finding tickets at a reasonable price, or you pay a HEAVY price for just turning up and buying a ticket. You can't be spontaneous with the trains in the UK. Much of the rolling stock is decades old. In comparison, the buses in BKK are great, I think. Cheap, often, and they go everywhere. The skytrain and MRT are great, but need expanding (and this is happening).

On the up for the UK side - if I criticise the Government, I won't be put in jail or re-educated. As we have recently seen, there is at least the pretence of democracy here.

Additionally, 13000 road deaths a year vs less than 3000 in the UK.! There are wars with lower death tolls than that!

There are pros and cons - but the UK seems to be on the up again.

Kind Regards.

By Neil, UK (10th October 2016)

Hi there!
It's journeywithjonny here!
First of all, thanks for linking to my post!
Second of all, i really enjoyed reading this as a completely different point of view to my own. it's always interesting to hear something from the other side and kinda made me think about it!
Anyway thanks for reading!
P.S I'm sure your a fine fellow too.
Jonny

By Jonathan Ralph, Manchester (10th October 2016)

The UK v Thailand. My personal initial rambling thoughts.
Good in the UK
Better driving, less corruption , better beer. Education
Poor in UK.
To many foreign influences. Too PC.
Good in Thailand,
Non Thais not allowed to own property, warm rain, Not OTT on health and safety.
Poor in Thailand.
Driving skills, Common sense. Electrical systems. Trade skills.
Although I miss some aspects of England I feel more comfortable in Thailand which socially feels more like the Britain of my youth.

By Phil,.. Roi Et, Roi Et province. (10th October 2016)

Hi Mark, thanks for the response. Appreciate it and respect your opinion.
I think my main point was that the UK still has much going for it but like any other country in the world, life is easier if you have enough money.
If I ever moved back to the UK - and I never rule it out - it would certainly have to be with enough money for the 'cream tea' lifestyle. Otherwise I will stay here.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (10th October 2016)

Yikes!

Phil, you are defending the UK through the rose tinted filter of middle age and middle class. Frankly, your 'holiday' in the UK is as valuable an assessment of England as a Chinese tourist visiting Henly-on-Thames.

From what I saw through your recent holiday posts, you toured an exclusively manicured and exclusive part of the UK decorated with cream teas and listed buildings.

You have cherry-picked your way through life in the UK (as you see it) with incidental examples of which you insist we should be grateful... but most of us don't want to eat in a pub for a fiver or traipse around Lidl looking for cheap groceries. And most people can't afford to spend every day on five quid iced teas either.

Those "horrible council taxes and suchlike" are dismissed as almost incidental charges that Brits face for the privilege of living there but in fact for millions of people they are crippling expenses that stunt their personal wealth and suffocate their ambition.

The UK you and I graduated from (and subsequently abandoned) decades ago was full of opportunities, optimism and hope.
If you dare to stray from the brief postcard version of Britain that you recently enjoyed and enter the world of bitter cold, indifferent government and almost impossible to afford ongoing hopelessness that millions of Brits endure year in and year out, perhaps those glasses will slip and you'll have more sympathy for 'Johnny'.

Your article is, for the most part, woefully misguided and for millions of British people, borders on being offensive!

Your friend and admirer...

Mark!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (10th October 2016)

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