I first came to Southeast Asia, albeit very briefly, in 1987. I was passing through on my way to New Zealand and had a couple of days in Bangkok. I was, back then, very inexperienced in world travel and tentatively ventured out of my hotel to visit the local area. The thing that struck me the most was that this was not like anywhere I had seen. Visit any European big city and there is a sense of the familiar. Do the same in Southeast Asia and there most certainly is not. I was smitten.
Fast forward 18 years and I was watching TV with my sons on Boxing Day 2004 when the terrible news broke of the massive 9.3 earthquake and the subsequent tsunamis that claimed over a quarter of a million lives in 14 countries. I vowed there and then that I would come to Thailand to at least spend some holiday cash.
By pure coincidence my football team announced their pre season tour a few months later, it was going to be in Bangkok. I bought my tickets, jumped on a flight and made a one week trip that was to change my life forever.
Within two days of arriving in Thailand’s capital I had decided that I was going to emigrate. It took me three years to put everything in place, but during those three years I made 14 trips to Southeast Asia. Emigration was simply going to be cheaper!
One of the best things for me about living there in was the stoicism of the locals. That shone through more than ever in the aftermath of those dark, dark days after the tsunami.
It seems that absolutely nothing daunts them. In the West we get floored by the most trivial things at times but out here it is so much different.
On a day to day level, there is one way that this manifests itself at this time of year, every year. The epic monsoon rains that arrive in biblical proportions would bring a Western country to its knees. In Southeast Asia it is merely an inconvenience.
I was in Buddha Bar in Thao Dien recently when an unbelievable downpour deluged the pub. With minutes there was water everywhere. The staff immediately jumped into action and using various techniques simply swept and cajoled the water into the restrooms and down a drain.
With an hour or so, fans had dried everywhere out and all was back to normal. It didn’t even interfere with the afternoon’s pool games among the local expats. This kind of flooding in the UK would undoubtedly lead to bars closing, headlines on the news, insurance claims and people talking about it for weeks.
I suppose after the turbulent history of the region, it is natural that whatever life throws at you, is going to be less worrying than previous experiences. It is though a thoroughly good place to live.
They call Thailand “the land of smiles”, but that can be applied to the whole region. Everywhere I go I’m greeted with smiling faces. People pull up alongside me me when I’m on my motorbike and shout greetings. It’s a daily occurrence. Children greet strangers here with an openness that has been driven out of children in the West by fear. The overriding feeling I get here is optimism and it is so refreshing after life in the UK. I’m here to stay.