Me and My Owl

With my blog hiatus over, you may recall I mentioned three major issues in the lives of The Experimental Expats that ended my writer’s block. Mentioning we’d be leaving Thailand next year for our third destination since the experimental overseas early retirement began, I spoke about a significant announcement from the Thai Immigration Bureau. Initially only affecting citizens of several countries who use “income affidavits” to extend their visas on the basis of retirement (Thai speak for what normal nations call retirement visas), I promised I’d write more about the changes in upcoming posts and had every intention of doing so today. But then I realized that Thailand has the world’s most retarded, tedious and ass-backward system of immigration known to mankind and writing about the rules usually ends up turning into a 2,000 word diatribe that the average reader couldn’t stay focused on if the Royal Family themselves was writing it.

Red License plates are the rage in Chinag Mai

Mind you, diminishing the importance of the changes isn’t my intent either because while I try to maintain a lighthearted but brutally honest storytelling style and leave the technical stuff to the experts, I’d be remiss by not at least letting you know what’s going on. So let’s approach this from a different angle where I’ll explain the immigration crap later. First, let’s talk about moving from Southeast Asia. Leaving Thailand, and, in fact, Asia itself, is a very bittersweet topic for both of us. Despite being 26 flight hours away and requiring three separate airplanes to get back to North America, Thailand provides a unique combination of security, entertainment, and financial advantages you simply can’t get in other countries.

Shit for brains driving is hard to get used to

Theoretically a democracy, Thailand is more like a nation of convenience. Using a “shit for brains” mentality, they routinely drive motorbikes the wrong way on 100 KpH main roads because they’re too lazy to drive to the next U-turn (Thailand’s road system is a maze of dangerous U-turns and illegal median crossings although it’s improving in Bangkok). You learn to look in the wrong direction before turning and begin to drive like an asshole because it’s unsafe not to. Yet, both citizens and expats coexist relatively peacefully and without the animosity that locals in many nations often feel towards people they consider far wealthier than they are. While most of us from developed countries hate the “one percent”, the Thai people revere their wealthiest citizens who are often rich thanks to a high degree of corruption at all levels.

Experiencing a recent unjustified boom in new vehicles (easily identifiable by the red license plates), Chiang Mai locals wonder why all of us retired rich expats drive such shit cars (we drive a 2011 Nissan) while they’re seeing everyone drive new $90K BMW’s and Mercedes despite the latest statistics showing the average salary at 776,512 Bhat ($23,888 USD). Realistically, most retired expats in Thailand can’t afford old age in their homeland (us included if we intend to not work for 40+ years). So far, we’ve only had one minor accident and it was probably my fault because I should’ve known that a Thai person four car lengths behind me wouldn’t be able to stop if I slowed down a bit. He didn’t. Thankfully, Thailand has no time for bullshit. Unsure what to do after the driver plowed into my rear (no injuries), we pulled to side where the standard procedure is to call the insurance company and wait (he called our agent and spoke Thai). Twenty minutes later, a smiley guy on a motorbike pulled up, took out a clipboard, inspected the damage and had a conversation in Thai to the other guy.

We saw this on our travels down south
Typical Thai “safe” transport for kids
Yeah, this one is very intelligent

Unsure what to do, we called the sales guy we know at Expat Auto, an English speaking business catering to car sales for farangs who explained to us that most non-serious car accidents are resolved instantly by an insurance guy who decides on the spot whose fault it is. Should one party be unsatisfied, you both go to the police station where the adjuster gives his report and story to a police officer and he decides. Apparently, the guy that hit us was determined to get a favorable decision despite Thai law that all says all rear-end collisions are always the fault of the driver behind for failing to stop. Making the insurance guy watch his dash-cam eight times, the video only showed him smashing into me and nothing more. Unsatisfied, the other guy insisted we all go to the police station and of course, this being Thailand, the smiley insurance guy had a bungee cord he gave us to secure our damaged trunk during the ride. Arriving at the precinct, we all waited while the insurance guy joked with the friendly officer ten minutes and then sent us to a really mean sergeant who motioned for me to sign and stamped something on the form.

Obviously having no idea what happened, our adjuster used Google Translator as best he could but that didn’t work out well so we asked “what happened?” in our best possible Thai and he smiled and said, “You win”. Which means you take the stamped piece of paper to one of only a few “authorized shops”, show them the paper and come back whenever they tell you it’s ready. Unfortunately, it was December, the shop is always full because Thai drivers are the worst in the world (check the statistics here), and they take time off at Christmas despite most Thai people being Buddhist. Embarrassment reigns when a farang drives around in a smashed car because it’s assumed he’s really dirt poor but that’s what we did for six weeks and then had to rent a car during the two weeks it took to fix. But it came back shiny and new and we paid nothing all except for the small annual cost of our car insurance policy (about $200 USD).

Given the idiocy on the roads here, I guess Mexico can’t be any worse and shit like the below true videos from our local Facebook expat group are things we won’t miss. Make sure you wait 25 seconds in the second video or you’ll miss the essecnce of Thai driving.

Often forgetting you’re in a developing country, Thailand is a strange combination of modern amenities like new fiber internet systems and online banking technology that blows away their American counterparts. Mixed in with the modernity is third world stuff you’d never see in a G8 nation like vehicles piled ten stories high with junk, ice and propane still being delivered daily in motorbikes with sidecars and shanty aluminum tin roofs and concrete floors where mom and pop eateries do business right next to the trendiest “high-so” restaurants. High-so’s are the snobby Thai people with money who feel a sense of entitlement and look down on their fellow citizens. Since Chiang Mai Mai isn’t as wealthy as Bangkok, many local high-so’s are Thai women married to “farangs” (foreigners). Often grossly disturbing until you get used to it, age differences between Thai women and their white husbands can range from 10 to 50 years and ugly, fat senior citizens often stroll around with millennials.

Often the subject of much debate around the Chiang Mai social media set, the general consensus is there’s an unspoken contract between Thai women and their farang husbands. Often called ATM’s, most farang men have virtually nothing in common with their Thai wives and go their separate ways. When seen together, the younger ones look bored, can’t understand anything normal couples communicate about like politics, social issues or careers and Thai women don’t get their husband’s western jokes. But neither of them cares. Apparently serving both Thai and farang just fine, the Thai women get clothes, houses, gym memberships, cars and never have to work in exchange for marriage certificates.

Many Thai wives come from villages in Isan like this

Seemingly ridiculous to Diane and me, it takes some getting used to before refraining from judging either side but that’s one thing we love about Thailand. There’s no political correctness and Thai people routinely say things like “you’re fat” in a matter of fact way with no insult intended. And in fact, one of our best friends from our gym is a 70 year old Australian married to an attractive (and not too young) Thai wife who just lost 40 pounds. And yet he still refers to her only as “my wife” and spends most of his workout time flirting with other Asian women. While I can’t wrap my brain around it, sometimes the farang/Thai combination works well and like everything, the company you keep makes a big difference. Since living in Chiang Mai, we’ve made friends with several farang/Thai wife couples and despite the age differences, we really like the wives. Spunky, engaged and even quite touchy/feely for Thai women, they speak English well, always participate in conversations and when we hang out, they seem no different than any western couple from with different ethnicities.

As for where the cash comes from, some of our friends run cool businesses in Thailand like this New York style smoked meat shop while others already made their money before they arrived. Most are divorced and some are on their third or fourth marriage. Many of the wives come from the Isan region in Northeast Thailand where they still use squat toilets and live on sustenance farming so Thai wives with white husbands are living the high life. And Thai laws are structured mostly so the Thai families get all the assets should they break up because farangs can’t own property directly. So while I wouldn’t do it if I found myself suddenly single, we’ve made some great lasting friendships and this unique cultural aspect of Thailand is something we’ll miss when we leave.

And then there’s the entertainment. There’s always something to laugh at in Thailand like the hilarious politically incorrect signage or the Thinglish you see so often.

Menus in Thailand are always fun. Almost always including pictures because that way there’s no confusion about incorrect orders, many restaurant dishes get very lost in translation.

This fish goes to the gym

Apparently, The Finns really know how to do breakfast.

Although this applies even more in Malaysia, one of my favorite things in Thailand is how they always do the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to as long as there’s a sign. Exemplifying “nation of convenience” to the letter, they’ll park anywhere, block anything and ensure they never respect any laws or regulations as long as someone tells them what they shouldn’t do.

Of course, the sign says
“No Motorbike Parking”

And if you’re wondering what the hell the tile and featured image of the post is all about, it refers to another thing we love about living in Asia. Suffering through an unusually long heat wave with daily temperatures of 40 Celsius almost every day, we went to the mall one day and they were having a free exotic pet show. Unlike North American animal shows and exhibits, the animals are almost always mostly free of barriers, gates, and cages. You literally walk right up to a beautiful tame lizard who’s hanging out on a tree branch or help yourself as you pick up some guinea pigs, box turtles, and even skunks. This is possible because in Asia, nobody does stupid shit like putting a lizard in their pocket and walking away, taunting the animals or getting bitten and then suing the organizers for not protecting dumb white kids. Whether it’s a Disneyland show, a large zoo or an exhibit hall with those wackos that always own unusual pets, you simply can’t allow people to be close to the animals in the western world because it’s dangerous for everyone.

Expensive and tame but nobody steals him

And here’s my daily rant about social media. Sure enough, as soon as I posted the pictures of the exotic animals, one of my American Facebook friends we met in Malaysia wrote an eight-paragraph diatribe urging us not to attend such shows. Complete with links about the perils of abused animals, stories of poachers, and other idiot comments, her comments were unappreciated and while I hate Trump, I also hate extreme left-wing do-gooders lecturing me on my own Facebook page. Just to be safe, I inquired with a longtime friend that’s a herpetologist and all-round expert in everything animal related and he assured me we did nothing wrong with this comment:

Probably a rescued owl, imprinted baby rescue, injured at one time, This owl is a very lucky boy to have been found/rescued by wildlife rehabbers who spend their whole lives defending and rescuing wild animals, at very low wages I might add. Then utilizing the animal for education so that the public will develop respect for the species. Looks like a Healthy, Happy well acclimated Owl

Not having been the first time this person did this, I deleted her comment, defriended her and went on with the evening. Even people not as ignorant and misguided as right-wing racist intolerant Trump supporters can be annoying because with the advent of social media, everyone’s an expert. And for what it’s worth, nobody in Thailand poached these spectacular animals below because as I said from the beginning, despite their driving and disregard for civil obedience, the Thai people are friendly, gracious and endearing in many ways and that’s why leaving will be bittersweet.

So once again, I didn’t get to the boring immigration changes primarily responsible for us leaving but assure you I’ll try to work them in eventually to a future post. And rest assured, no owls were harmed by The Experimental Expats in the making of this blog post.

Cheers from blazing hot Northen Thailand
Please comment or throw me a like or a share; I’m feeling very blog needy now that “The Big Bang Theory” is gone forever.

 

6 thoughts on “Me and My Owl

  1. Isobel Higa

    Hi Rob & Diane, welcome back! Sorry to hear that Asia has not worked out as I loved reading about your interesting and informative stories. Asia is still our choice of for retirement and really enjoyed your frank and non sugar coated experiences. Will look forward to reading about your new adventures. Please keep writing as you really give great insight to what it’s really like to live in another country.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Isobel
      Thanks for following. I wouldn’t say Asia didn’t work our. We had no intention of staying long term and we’ve visited six countries and had lots of interesting experiences. But long term, the poisonous air and now extreme heat is not conducive to a long life and my lifestyle of being outdoors every day so it’s time to move on. Cheers

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  2. faruk

    hey ..your blog was sorely missed ..looking forward to you journey to becoming a “gringo”
    cheers and keep up the excellent writing and of course the humor ; all sorely needed in this time and age

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