Being an expat in Bangkok is a lot different than I thought it would be. First of all, the city is much more normal. It’s really just a city going about it’s business, with people who work and sleep at the appropriate times. There’s no one on the street offering you snake blood, as the movie “The Beach” would have you believe. Nothing too wild like that.
And hand-in-hand with the going about their business bit, people here are mostly ordinary city-people. Everyone’s not as down-to-earth and friendly as many have suggested; there are plenty of cranky, busy people rushing about to do their chores. Though, it’s easier to get a smile out of someone here than in most American cities.
I’ve been living in a neighborhood called Phra Kanong. It’s in the middle of a slum, and my apartment building sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a really nice place with a tropical pool that has been my personal nighttime oasis.
The neighborhood has a huge market with food stalls lining several blocks. Almost every night for dinner, I wander down and pick out whatever looks the best. Everything is already wrapped up in little plastic bags, so you can just grab whatever you want and bring it home with you.
My Thai is steadily improving, and I can get pretty far with gestures and smiles. But the main thing that earns you a lot of points with Thais is respect. For instance, the other day I was on the bus and a little old lady got on. No one got up to give her their seat, so I did. She just started beaming. Then she offered to hold my bag for me for the rest of the journey, and showed me where to get off the bus. Little moments of camaraderie like that make living in an unfamiliar culture much easier.
The thing I’ve found to be a real killer here is the social life. I mean, it’s okay… I’ve met a few great people and a lot of weirdos. Socializing revolves almost completely around eating and sitting around in bars (cheap hookups expected). I wish there was something more substantial… if there are many special interest groups here, I haven’t found them. To be honest, I was a little disappointed.
Another thing is that the other expats I’ve met mostly seem to flock towards more “upscale” joints in the city, offering foreign food and fancy facades. I think this lifestyle, and this city, is great for a certain kind of person. You can come here and be immersed in the city by day, and yet find places to retreat to more familiar comforts in their free time. And, you can afford many luxuries here that are inaccessible back home. But I think it’s too tempting to just stick to those places and develop a leisurely, if unauthentic, lifestyle here in Bangkok. Bearing that in mind, I think I’ll soon move out to a more remote town where I’ll be more forced to embrace a bit of discomfort in pursuit of the new.