This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
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I like to think that I’m an experienced expat. Sometimes it rings true. Sometimes not. Looking for a new home is a case in point.
Before relocating, I tend to do a lot of research to source new accommodation. There is no real replacement for actual experience, so for the final decision, I lean on personal preference.
Preference: House with garden over the condo/apt option. And as I’m more country than town or city, I go for the outskirts rather than deep in the middle of things. In the UK, the US, France and Borneo, living in houses on the fringes worked. Bangkok, not so much.
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House-hunting in France it was part luck but mostly potluck. After struggling with French newspapers and world of mouth for weeks, I managed to locate a house on a hill overlooking the Pyrenees (complete with grumbling French gardener and guards dogs). The good part? I was out of an expensive Hotel and ensconced in my new abode before the cold set in. The bad part? My shipment got lost somewhere north of Paris and didn’t make it to Pau for over three months.
But since the advent of the Internet, my life has been made relatively easier as a new home is just a google away. Research an area, decide on a budget and amenities, type in the key words, and there you have it. Home.
Arriving in Scotland from Borneo, I already had a short-list of houses. Luckily, my favourite online turned out to be close to perfect. I made a bid, dealt with the paperwork, passed over the check, the shipment arrived, and I was in. Home.
Moving to Bangkok was the same. Choosing the house I preferred via an online house-hunter, I dealt with the paperwork, the shipment arrived shortly after, and I was in. Home.
But not for long. Although I did the research, I did not take the online advice given to newly arriving expats.
While getting the lay of the land and the locals, rent a condo, not a house.
Why? Two reasons. One, expat homes are known to be targeted by burglars (note: not a personal experience). Two, Thai culture is complicated. If you make a wrong move in Thailand there’s a real chance you’ll muff up and get in an uncomfortable position.
Yes, being culturally aware really is up to us. And it does takes time to suss it out.
In my case it was due to my not understanding the message I was sending, coupled with an overly amorous neighbour. A neighbour with a ladder.
Since then (with the help of a local expat forum) I’ve twiddled a shortlist:
- When alone, do not invite a Thai male into your home (gives the wrong impression)
- Do not go out drinking with that lovely Thai male you’ve just met (gives the wrong signals)
- When in a taxi or with a driver, always sit in the back (don’t put your boobs within arms reach)
- If taking a late flight, order a taxi beforehand (avoid flagging one down in the dark)
- Never ever take a tuk tuk alone late at night (even under the protection of chattering on your mobile)
- Do not respond sarcastically to a tuk tuk driver’s outrageous prices (especially if he knows where you live)
- With emergency numbers at the ready, keep your mobile phone recharged and full (speed dial 1155 for the Bangkok tourist police)
- Avoid the loss of your temper and that includes excessive frowning
- When in doubt, smile, smile, smile
- Cover up, cover up, cover up
Coming from nine years in a Muslim country, covering up while around strangers or in situations not appropriate (Mosques, Muslims and Mullahs) was already a habit. I merely added this point to underline that women coming to Thailand should take the advice seriously.
Yes, in a complex, double-decker of a society such as Thailand, the small attention to details can and do matter.
The trick is to avoid giving the wrong impression, the wrong signals. And remember, although Thailand is the land of smiles, there be dragons.
When dealing with overly interested males in the west it’s (usually) just a matter of saying ‘thanks but no thanks!’. In Thailand there’s the fear of their losing face. And sadly, it’s safer to move than escalating a sticky situation. And move I did.
But with all the sadness, there was an upside. Formerly, I lived in North Bangkok where, when trying to get back home late at night from inner Bangkok, taxi drivers would shake their heads and drive off.
Now I live further in where there’s a wide range of transportation easily available: Taxis, tuk tuks and the Skytrain. There’s even the odd elephant wandering around. And although I don’t partake (well, except for that one mad ride down Sukhumvit Soi 1), motorcycle taxis are everywhere.