Shane Irvine


When I was a child, we were taught the proper techniques of duck and cover. We were raised to believe that there was an enemy that wanted to annihilate us and end our free way of life. We were Americans and Russia and China were our sworn enemies (even though they were both our allies in WWII). Plain and simple, we were told that we couldn’t trust them. We believed that they wanted us dead. To maintain this belief, we were kept in a constant state of fear of nuclear proliferation. As I got older I came to realise that there are two sides to every argument. For the most part, it’s a matter of perspective. I followed in my father’s footsteps and decided to go to law school. Also having studied philosophy, I came to learn that, not only are there different perspectives of issues – with every perspective is another element of balance. Learning to think in the abstract helped me to see life more as a relativist and less as an absolutist. Some things I know are absolute, such as death, taxes, and math. Other things are relative, such as attitudes and beliefs.

I was about to cross a street in San Francisco one day and I all of a sudden felt someone grab the back of my sweater and violently jerked me back. All of a sudden a city bus pulled up where I was about to step. I looked around and I couldn’t tell who had just saved my life. Everybody was clambering to board the bus. After that experience, I stopped worrying about my life coming to end as the result of nuclear war. I realised that just crossing the street presented a higher risk of becoming instantly obliterated. As I studied California law I became more acquainted with the American judicial system, which derived from English law, which derived from Roman law. I know now that we have a system of international law that tends to keep the world in balance. Since the development of the United Nations Convention on the International Sales of Goods (CISG), the threat of global war is now taking a back seat to that of self- imposed socioeconomic threats. I previously believed that Big Business, Big Government, Big Pharma, and Big Education were collectively becoming the breaking point for society as we know it. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realise that there is a natural balance that is independent of mankind.

SkyBig Business is now international and they can point out that they at least have some justification as their number one objective, although not their sole objective, is to maximise profits for their shareholders. Those shareholders are individuals, corporations, and governments who depend on their investments to make profits. Those profits are also what keeps our economy moving. Big Government bureaucrats can truthfully argue that the more the population increases, the more need for more governance, which means more laws, more regulation, more oversight, more enforcement, more need for internal and external security. With all of this being the reality of the way the world works, it becomes even more difficult to challenge their collective motives warranting higher salaries, retirement programs, and Cadillac healthcare plans. Bureaucrats often challenge objections to their perks by pointing out that they could make more money and get better benefits in the private sector.

Big Pharma argues that they are not motivated by greed but rather by research and development that eventually (or at least potentially) benefits everyone. The costs of developing and testing new pharmaceutical products are expensive and meeting government regulations and standards increases the cost and lowers the profitability. Almost all of their workforce have to be highly trained and well compensated. The costs of developing and testing new pharmaceutical products are always a gamble and meeting government regulations and standards increases the cost. Those costs are ultimately passed on to the consumer. Big Education’s role has always shared several worthy objectives. In recent years, however, those competing narratives of universities and colleges has changed significantly as they have become more and more expensive. Gone are the days of working your way through college. Although higher education is still dedicated to the personal development of their students, that dedication has become more focused on integrating and advancing entire communities than just on the beneficence of educating individuals. Big education’s argument is of course that they are dedicated to the development and application of new knowledge and that they play a significant role in civic and community development. They produce the thinkers, the movers and the shakers that fuel economic advancement of the community. They influence the minds of students to create more cohesive and tolerant communities. Academicians defend their higher profits through the worthy goals of higher learning institutions.

PencilIn recent years, a number of conservative political pundits have begun to accuse colleges and universities of becoming breeding grounds for liberalism. While the accusation that higher education has become an incubator for liberal politics, it’s distracting people who defend higher education from speaking out against higher tuition and predatory student loans that come with unconscionable terms and revolving credit. Understandably, nobody seems to want to argue from both sides of the fence. In this new millennium, a division of the classes has become an effective political tool used to cast shame on those with opposing viewpoints and middle ground is being lost faster than the polar ice caps. Industrialisation is what built great societies as people left their lives of farm-work behind and began centralising into metropolitan workplaces (cities). The writings of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Paul Sweezy and other famous economist have had major repercussions on how we view the role of workers in society. Yet, ask the typical person on the street if they recognise any of these names and only a few might know who they were. Many will reply; “Well, let me see… wasn’t that Karl Marx feller a commie?”

I read recently that a survey was taken in the United States whereby people were asked; “Do you approve of Arabic numbers being taught in American schools?” The majority objected to the notion that Arabic numbers be taught to their children. Obviously, these answers are the result of ignorance and cognitive bias. In previous decades, people spent much of their time reading newspapers, then listening to the radio. And then even later, began watching television. Most of the information derived from early media was innocuous. Much of it was educational and informative. Then, something changed. While we initially had only ABC, CBS, and NBC as our choices for programming, we eventually stopped using antennas and started hooking up to cable networks. News media started to become mainstream. Political pundits became increasingly popular and people started tuning into programming that aligned with their personal political views. Some people seem to enjoy maintaining a rage against “all those idiots out there.” Whether the information is true or not, people began to only watch programs that represented their political and sociological viewpoints.

Many of our children are coming into an economy whereby college graduates are coming out in droves. The result is that college graduates are now basically making the same, or just slightly higher, wages as those with only a high school diploma. Yet, those with a college degree are having to pay back huge student loan debts with exorbitant credit rates. The slight advantage in pay that a college graduate receives is usurped by their student loans. I believe the proverbial handwriting is on the wall. Online education, that was initially laughed at, is now becoming a viable alternative to predatory, unforgivable student loans. Many of the millennial generation are starting to look at the prospect of being entrepreneurs instead of employees. In the past, prospective employees were expected to produce a degree from a prestigious university to get their foot in the door. Entrepreneurs don’t need that piece of paper, only the knowledge. Things change. The concept of living in the city has always coexisted with the idea of having a job in the big city and being within a couple of hours of commuting distance. With an industrial movement towards the implementation of artificial intelligence and robotics, those jobs in the cities are quickly disappearing.

LaneThe Big Business, Big Government, Big Pharma, and Big Education bubble always appears to be on the verge of becoming obsolete and at the risk of imploding from its own weight. When workers can no longer afford the cost of a university degree and realise that they won’t be working for the same employer throughout their career, and can no longer depend on their employer providing quality healthcare or even a retirement pension, they will become disincentivized from obtaining a higher degree. That’s the nature of life and reality; everything eventually evolves and changes. Whether we like it or not. Every generation foresees change coming and there is always going to be a percentage of the population that doesn’t want change. They will deflect their own shortcomings by inventing yet another bogeyman. Currently, foreigner retirees have become the bogeyman in Thailand. But, Thailand is not alone. Xenophobia has become part of the world’s new vocabulary and plays a major role in the new world order.

Pope Francis will be visiting Thailand soon. Wherever the Pontiff ventures, he carries with him words of encouragement. He also boldly denounces xenophobia. He says that “today’s xenophobia in Europe, riding on the back of populism,” reminds him of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s. “Xenophobia is a human disease, like measles,” the Pope told journalists on a recent flight back from Africa. Thailand has a new King and a new Prime Minister. Let’s hope that Pope Francis has an influence on Thailand’s recent rejection of retirees who have come here to take in the land of smiles. Many Thai people want to migrate out of Thailand to other countries. They have this belief that their lives will be better and they will make more money. As many expats can tell you, money will not buy happiness. It’s a matter of attitude.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor who has devoted years of study to the phenomenon of happiness. He tells us that, “happiness is determined by 50% genetics, 40% intentional activity (habitual thoughts, words, and actions), and only 10% circumstances, which includes wealth.”

Our problems are not from external forces so much as they are from internal strife. There will always be change. Welcome it with open arms and see what comes of it.

To all my expat brothers and sisters out there that are worried about the recent regime change, let’s hope and pray that Pope Francis has a major influence on how the new regime tolerates foreign retirees. Sawasdee Krab!

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I didn’t come to Thailand to escape the United States and I didn’t come here to get married. I came here on a whim. I ended up getting married and living here nonetheless. My life in Thailand’s ‘land of smiles’ has been a balancing act. I’ve had to examine and consider the benefits of living in Thailand compared to the drawbacks of living here. One has to weigh both the positive and the negative. While living and trekking in Nepal for several months, I had been introduced to a Thai woman online through a good friend that knew her. After messaging back and forth for several months I decided to meet her during a visit to Thailand. I came with the intent of spending a few days in Bangkok and thereafter going to Pia. One thing leads to another and a year and a half later I’m married and living in Bangkok. Still haven’t made it to Pia, yet. Sometimes we build visions in our mind of what a place is going to look like and we have mental fantasies about what’s going to happen. Daydreams can be the joie de vivre that give us hope for happiness and ultimately becoming content with our lives. But, we know in the back of our minds that there is a difference between our fantasies and our realities. Nonetheless, I love living in Thailand and I want to stay here, at least for now.

Thai people tend to live for the moment. That is a trait I’ve learned to appreciate since coming here. As I say, I didn’t intentionally come here to escape the United States, but in reality, I have. I don’t like the direction my country is headed and I don’t like seeing old friends become politically adversarial. Every BBQ or social gathering becomes a breeding ground for contempt and disdain when politics are inevitably brought up. I’ve been back to California a couple of times and whilst there, in some ways I felt like I had never left and in other ways, I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Upon returning to Thailand I’ve felt a sense of rejuvenation, a sense of tranquility, adventure and a feeling that I’m truly living in the moment. Thailand has its flaws and I don’t deny that. No place is perfect, except where you’ve been and where you’re going, of course. But for me, life in Thailand is a balancing act. I’ve grown tired of the opulence and grandiosity of the United States where everybody is expected to be wealthy and successful. Where people are basically judged by the clothes they wear, the car they drive or the neighbourhood they live in. I’m learning to accept the laid back lifestyle Thailand has to offer and I now appreciate being mediocre. I wear shorts, aloha shirts, and sandals.

We have a 125cc scooter and I live in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath townhouse in a moderate neighbourhood. This is all we need. If we want to travel we either take a bus or hire a driver. My wife and I were married in our local Catholic church and are members of the church community. Instead of travelling around Thailand on commercial tour excursions, we go on church excursions all over central Thailand. It’s like being a member of a yacht club or a country club, except the people aren’t so snooty. Several times we have been up north to Ban Tok to visit with her relatives. I get to see Thailand from a perspective most tourists never get to see. Living in Thailand means that learning the Thai language is a priority. If you don’t learn the language, you are dependent on others to interpret for you. This, in turn, can foster feelings of isolation. Unlike Thailand’s next door neighbours, such as Malaysia, Thailand has proudly never been dominated by a western government. Malaysia was colonised by the British. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were previously colonised by France. Myanmar and Singapore were both colonised by the United Kingdom. In SE Asia, Thailand has had the least exposure to the European culture and has only in recent decades started teaching English in its schools.

One can go to Malaysia and find that almost 90% of the population speak English. Not so in Thailand. I have learned a vocabulary of several hundred words so far. I have also learned to read Thai on a limited basis. I can at least look at a Thai word and decipher the sounds. But, trying to understand replies in Thai has been my biggest obstacle. In English, we speak differently than we write. When we speak English to others who speak English, we tend to use phrasal verbs and cliches that don’t seem to make sense if you were to look at just the words themselves. When we say, “go for it, dude,” it’s in English but it doesn’t make sense unless you understand American slang. Even an Englishman might ask, “Aye? Go for what? And, my name is Charles, not Dude.”Thai people are the same way. They use phrases that they understand, but those phrases can be confusing when just looking at the words. In English, we have declarative, interrogative, imperative and exclamatory sentence structures. In Thai, a sentence is structured starting with the subject followed by the object and finished with the verb. They do not use tenses the way we do. Therefore, if you try to translate a sentence from Thai to English or vica versa, it just becomes a word salad.

Bangkok Life

One has to balance the qualities of living in Thailand with the drawbacks. Bangkok is known to be the hottest major city in the world by mean temperatures. It doesn’t cool off significantly at night. Drivers are less disciplined than in most western cultures. The language barrier is momentous and can cause many lone foreigners to feel isolated. When juxtaposing these negative factors to Thailand’s tropical easy lifestyle, low prices and beautiful venues, it becomes obvious that there are significant offsetting factors. This tells me that there is no one true answer to the question of balance. The balance will be different for each individual depending on each person’s values and personal preferences. Having lived in Nepal for a few months before coming to Thailand gave me a comparison of living in one of the poorest countries in the world and having been raised in one of the richest nations in the world. I view Thailand as somewhere in between. They have fairly modern highways, people drive recent model cars and they have huge shopping malls that have everything. Bangkok pretty much has everything one would expect in a major metropolitan city.

Like most normal people, I don’t feel like I’m normal. I sometimes feel like a pariah. I’ve felt that way all my life. Because this is the way I’ve always felt, I’m good with being a foreigner in a foreign land. I sometimes think of the song by the Doors, People are Strange. I just replace some of the words with farang (the Thai word for foreigner); People are strange when you’re a farang. Faces look ugly when you’re a farang. Women seem wicked when you’re a farang. Streets are uneven when you’re down…Boom, boom, boom, boom. When you’re farang. Faces come out of the rain…
Different cities around Thailand have different atmospheres. In areas where tourism is minimal, I find people to be more genuine in how they perceive foreigners. In tourist areas, they smile a lot but they have a pretty good idea of how foreigners can be. Being American, English or Australian gives you no special love from the Thai people. I hear horror stories about how some of my countrymen have rudely treated people here and I can see why foreigners are viewed with a certain amount of reserve. Fortunately, Thai people are generally quite friendly and I believe that a big part of this is their Buddhist upbringing. They tend to be philosophical and respectful of others. In areas where tourist are seldom seen, they tend to look you in the eye and greet you with a genuine smile.

I spent time in a northern community during a funeral for my mother-in-law. The Buddhist funerals last for several days and involve a lot of communal gatherings at a temple and a lot of food. By the time the funeral is over, people seem to be more at ease with the passing of their loved one. I could walk through the village and people would come out of their homes to greet me and let me know that they knew my mother-in-law many years ago. Because I was her son-in-law and married to her daughter, they did not look at me as an outsider. If I stumbled on my words, they would laugh and help me out. I didn’t get that same feeling of camaraderie in Bangkok. People are friendly in Bangkok, but not to the same degree. In the balance, I think it helps if you’re a little bit different. I’ve met westerners from all walks of life here. Some have lived here for years and say they’re okay with the lifestyle, others not so much. It’s a mixed bag and each person is going to view life here, differently depending on various external factors. As I say, Thailand’s not for everyone. You have to balance the positive with the negative. In my case, as long as I’m not looking for normal, Thailand’s my kind of place.

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