As much as I love Thailand, I often find myself complaining about living here. I notice that many of my friends do the same thing. Most of the time it is just harmless chit chat, but sometimes I find myself talking to people who really do not seem to like anything about Thailand.
There certainly are hardships to living here, but I think that many of us lose perspective. In fact, for many of us, life is quite easy in "The Land of Smiles". I think that is why we have chosen to stay for a while.
Whether you think of an event as good or bad depends on how you choose to look at it. Perspective is something that I often lose while living here, and so it is something that I have decided to explore.
I think that everything in life comes down to perspective. No matter how great or horrible your circumstances are, within limits, it is what you choose to attend to that determines how happy you are.
Recently, I went to the infamous Chaengwattana Immigration Office in order to have my non-B visa renewed. Despite having worked in Thailand for two years, I have so far been able to avoid going to Chaengwattana.
Fearing the worst
Based on what others had told me, I was not excited about the experience. I was told that it would involve three or four hours of asinine paperwork and that it would take over an hour to get to the office from Mo Chit due to traffic. However, the experience was pleasantly surprising.
I arrived at the Mo Chit BTS station, and I decided to look for a van to immigration. I had been told to take an uber or taxi, but, as cheap as I am, I instead decided to try my luck.
I asked a Thai woman how to get to immigration, she pointed to a van, and I got in. The van cost 25 baht, and I was at immigration within 20 minutes.
When I arrived at the immigration building itself, I was surprised to find how clean it was. I had been to labor before, and I was expecting something similar. However, Chaengwattana immigration was clean and well-managed.
Our school's lawyer had arrived early and we already had our queue number: #8. After a few minutes of waiting, we went to get my visa renewed. Of course I had to sign a few extra pieces of paper, but the process didn't take long.
The only thing that took a long time was waiting for my re-entry permit, and that is because we got to the queue late. I was in and out of immigration within two hours, which, considering the enormous amount of people, was not long at all.
Later, I told my friends about my experience. They first said that it was only easy since I had the lawyer there. I suppose that was helpful, but I had gone to get a non-B in Laos through an agency, and, even with the agency there, the process was quite obnoxious.
I remember waiting for three hours before anyone at the embassy would even speak to me, and we had arrived early (around 6 am). And I noticed plenty of people at Chaengwattana without agencies, lawyers, or Thai teachers to help them. They seemed to be getting through everything smoothly.
My friends also wondered how I could be resourceful enough to find a van. I did not understand what they were saying. Is it that difficult to learn enough Thai to ask for directions?
Speak the language
I understand that it is easy to get by in Bangkok without speaking a word of Thai, but I think that choosing not to learn the local language limits one's opportunities: not one's career opportunities, but one's ability to form relationships with other people and understand Thai culture.
My Thai is quite poor considering how long I have been here, but I continue to struggle to learn because it seems to me that I would miss out on experiences here if I did not attempt to converse with the locals.
If you view learning Thai as a pragmatic measure to increase your job opportunities, then it may not be useful if you are choosing to live in Thailand for no more than a couple of years. But thinking only in practical terms seems like a very limited way to live and view life.
After speaking with my American friends, I decided to see what other people thought about Thai immigration. I asked my Filipino friends, and they talked about how much easier it is to deal with customs in Thailand than it is in the Philippines.
One of my British friends explained how dealing with Thai customs compared to obtaining an American work visa, and the results were far in Thailand's favor. My American friends had never worked internationally outside of Bangkok, nor had they ever left the country for their visas, so, to them, Chaengwattana was the epitome of Thai bureaucracy.
However, if you compare it to other possibilities, Chaengwattana is a pretty easy place to deal with and get to.
Many of us foreigners, especially westerners, complain about things in Thailand, often for good reason, but I think that we can all use a little more perspective.
Thailand certainly has its problems, but it also has great benefits. The people are friendly and community oriented, and the food is delicious. Many foreigners can afford to live in nice apartments (often with gyms and pools), eat out all the time (not always western food, but I am a big fan of Thai food anyway), take taxis everywhere, have occasional maid and laundry service, and fly throughout the region (thanks to local budget airlines).
How many of us could say the same living in the West? Sure, you can go to the mall and look at all of the things you cannot afford, but what kind of mindset is that? There is always so much complaining going on, and I am certainly no stranger to it. It is easy to lose perspective, so I guess we have to do our best to fight against it.
It all comes down to how you look at things. If you view yourself as an exile, then you will constantly live longing for home and hating the ways that things work differently, but if you view yourself as someone who chose to be here, someone with agency, then you will realize that opportunities here are yours for the taking.
I am reminded of something that Isabel Allende wrote when she compared her experiences living in Venezuela and the United States (she is originally from Chile): "When I compare my experience as an exile with my current situation as an immigrant, I can see how different my state of mind is. In the former instance, you are forced to leave, whether you're escaping or expelled, and you feel like a victim who has lost half her life; in the latter it's your decision, you are moving toward an adventure, master of your fate. The exile looks toward the past, licking his wounds, the immigrant toward the future, ready to take advantage of the opportunities within his reach."