In today’s post, I would like to offer some philosophical advice to those who are considering a moving to Sakon Nakhon, either for retirement or for employment. There is a familiar trajectory among many expats in Thailand (aka The Land of Smiles). It starts with wide-eyed wonder; moves on to self-confidence and pride; and ends with bitter disillusionment. Unable to take responsibility for their failures, foreigners often blame the Thai people and excoriate Thailand to everyone they can find on online forums and social media.
To those other expats who are happy and content with their lives in Thailand, these cynics will issue the following admonition: “It doesn’t matter how well you learn Thai; it doesn’t matter how well you try to fit into Thai culture; you will never be accepted as Thai!”
The best response to this kind of warning is: “So what?” Becoming Thai is not the goal of learning Thai and living in Thailand. Many people learn the Thai language simply because it makes their lives in Thailand more interesting and fun. Not only that, they like living in Thailand because it gives them a greater understanding of themselves and the country from which they came.
The writer Donald Richie, who was a long time expat in Japan, sums up this idea pretty well with the following quote:
“…Here is the great lesson of expatriation…. In Japan I sit on the lonely heights of my own peculiarities and gaze back at the flat plains of Ohio, whose quaint customs no longer have any power over me, and gaze at the islands of Japan, whose quaint customs are equally powerless in that the natives insist that I am no part of them. This I regard as the best seat in the house, because from here I can compare, and comparison is the first step toward understanding.”