What's it like living in Thailand as a westerner?
I've heard it takes 20 years for a Westerner to stop looking at people in the East from a Western perspective. I've recently met a fellow that's been here over 20 years, and based on all the insights he gave me in a 2 day visit, I can certainly say our 6 years here is just scratching the surface.
Do you get up in the morning and have coffee or what?
Actually, we don't drink coffee when we get up, but start with a cup of herbal tea. Jiaogulan, to be more specific. When we arrived in Chiang Mai 6 years ago there was only one place to get filtered coffee within walking distance of our condo. Now, not only do we have one location with 9 coffee shops at a single 4 way intersection, we have 3 Starbucks in a town of 400,000 people.
Our life is different in terms of getting up and getting on the go, because here we spend 75% of the time in leisure. Just about the opposite of the good ol' US of A. Most of our leisure time is spent on our spiritual practice and keeping our body, mind and souls in balance. Keep in mind, 2 hour massages are about $5 to $8.
What do you eat? What do the natives eat?
When we first discovered Chiang Mai there was a map put together by a foreigner that listed over 50 vegetarian restaurants. This, kind of food awareness, in a relatively small community, really peaked our interest. We try to eat California healthy, but that level of health food really hasn't hit Asia outside of huge metropolis cities like Bangkok or Hong Kong.
Just recently, organic produce is popping up all over. Thai's love white rice so it's very hard to get brown rice when going to a local Thai restaurant. Brown rice is considered food for prisoners and pigs (i.e. considered low class). But, not too long ago, the King of Thailand came out and said he likes to eat brown rice and that's got some things changing. Thai's eat a long-grain, white, jasmine rice that is so aromatic and tasty (to Asians) that it is considered the best of its kind and favored all over the world.
And, of course, Thai's eat spicy. Even though it was the British that brought the chili to Thailand not so long ago, almost every dish can be complimented with it. Eating is a communal affair in Thailand and one of the most common greetings is, "Have you eaten yet?" Which translates to, "Lets grab a bowl of rice noodles on the street or sit down somewhere for a bite and a beer."
Who are the natives? What is the prevalent religion and form of worship? I assume the native people worship somebody.
Interestingly enough, Thai's and Thailand was sort of an accident. People came in from the northeast and northwest and settled in the valleys of Siam (eventually Thailand) at that time. Of many ethnic groups, Thai's where one's to come out on top. Siam was made of of sort of feuding cities and battled the people of Burma a lot. There are also many smaller ethnic groups established as hill tribes. These groups have a hard time without any real citizenship or land. Thailand seems to do what they can, but if they drop their guard, they'd have a huge rush from Burma, Laos and all over.
Thailand is basically Buddhist, with a some Muslims, Hindu's and die-hard Christians left over from missionary days. We even see the occasional Morman's on bicycles. My mother caught one of my comments about Buddha in a conversation one day and said, "What Buddha was a real person, I thought Buddha was just a statue!" So, yes Buddhism came across from Sri Lanka and perhaps some flavor came overland.
Generally, Thai's are very gracious, warm, friendly and tolerant. You will never experience any place on Earth where people greet you with more smiles than here. It's so bad, that when we travel outside the country, for the first few days, people look at us like aliens because we are used to smiling ALL the time!
What is the climate like where you live?
Thailand is tropical and hot. We have a dry, wet and cool season. In the hills it can get cool in the winter months and during monsoon. Chiang Mai was built on military, numerology, and astrological strategy. The city is surrounded by water-filled moat that's been her over 700 years. And, the whole city is built between a major river and a mountain. With all that water and the foothills around the mountain you can occasionally find a place to cool off. When we lived in a condo, we only had to run our A/C at night during the hot season for a few months a year. Now, we are in a house and get the sun. You could live with fans if insulation was better, but you'd need to dress in light cottons.
The monsoon is not like a torrential India monsoon. For 3 to 4 months we can have rain once a day or once every other day.
Where do you live? Do you rent it?
We started out in a condo, but have now rented a house. Rent is low enough that it doesn't make much sense to buy a home which is not allowed (legally) here. You can purchase a condo as a foreigner, but again, the cost of rent to purchase almost doesn't make any sense unless you retired here for good.
Fixed expenses for 2 people (without food) is about $275 for rent for 1000 sq ft house, water, electric, garbage, internet, gas (we own a motorcycle). We can spend about $1,000 a month for other expenses including food (eating western or healthy 50% of the time.)
Do you speak the native language?
Argh! I never wanted to be that person that lived more than 2 or 3 years in a country and didn't speak the language. But, now it's over 6 years and Thai's tonal language I just cannot pick up casually. The only people I know that speak Thai have a Thai mate, came through peace corp and had 3 months immersion with a Thai family, work in a job that uses repeated vocabulary, or sat in mediation for months with monks in a forest monastery.
What sort of justice and legal system is in place?
Well, Thailand is going through democratic growing pains, wanting to go from monarchy to a constitutional democracy with a Prime Minister. Right now we are in wait-and-see mode.
The government offices LOVE paperwork, which is such a shock, having never been colonized by the British. Road laws are flexible and most rules seems to be flexible depending on who you know or how much money you have. So, really it's exactly like the West, only corruption is more obvious because the powers-that-be are not as slick and polished as in Western countries at hiding the old-boy networks.