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.
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.
"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.
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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Seriously, I know where the airport is. - My response to the expression that always grinds my gears