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Expat Survey: When Did You Realize Thailand was Home?

On July 25, 2014, I celebrated my 13th anniversary in Thailand. Not too bad considering I originally came here for a 4 month vacation. By the time I passed the ten year threshold, I was solidly comfortable with my life in Thailand, and I wrote a post about what it felt like. But as I reflected on 13 years, I started wondering when, exactly, Thailand went from being “the place I’m living right now” to “the place that I call home.”

In fact, I remember the exact moment it dawned on me. On my second trip home, after about 4 years here, I was going through the stuff that I’d left in my buddy’s basement that, when I left, was too important to sell, give away, or throw out. Things like valued books, winter clothes, my CD collection, a nice dining set, wall hangings, etc. As I looked across the pile deciding what I should do with it all, it struck me that I would probably never need most of it ever again. I threw much of it away, donated the rest, and kept about 3 boxes of truly valuable things (photo albums, high school yearbooks, personal mementos, etc). That was when I realized that, at least for the foreseeable future, I was never coming back to Canada to live.

It’s okay, buddy, I’ll still visit when I can.

I got to wondering at what point some of my friends knew that they were here for good, so I sent out an email to some of Asia’s best and brightest resident expats to see what they had to say. Have a read, and let me know if any of these mirror your own experience.

Jan Jones, CEO, maid, developer at Oozou:

My second trip home after about 18 months here, actually felt really homesick leaving Thailand. When I saw my daughter emerge recently that was definitely the point of no return. :-)

Derek van Pelt, entrepreneur, Harley tamer:

For me there were a few key moments. One was when I made the decision to stay longer term. I was here “a year at a time” for the first four years or so, until I made the decision to invest in things like a car, washing machine, and a bigger apartment.

Another key moment was when I recognized the relief of “coming home” on arrival at Don Muang. It didn’t matter where I had been, the release of stress on arriving back to BKK made me realize I had come home.

Andrew Clark, master cyclist, idea man:

Thailand became home quite early on. From my very first visit, I felt an affinity for Thailand. But it really became home after about 5 years when I felt more culture shock on a 10 day visit to Canada than on my relieved return to Thailand.

Joe Cummings, Lonely Planet author, travel writer, guitar god:

It was 1978 and I was coming to the end of three months travel in India and Nepal, after having spent my first year in Bangkok. I’d been sick and was virtually broke. I wanted to go home to the States and planned to stop over in Bangkok just long enough to say bye to friends, close my bank account and head for San Francisco.

I landed at Don Muang and hailed a taxi to go into the city for my last visit. Taxis weren’t air-conditioned back then, so the windows were rolled down. Familiar smells filled the car, I relaxed for the first time in weeks, and my brain registered “home”. I think I wept a little bit realizing something had shifted, that I could never go back to my original home.

I put off my return to the states. A week became a month, then three. Finally I flew back to SFO but under the certainty that it would only be a stopover while I hatched a plan to return to Thailand for good.

So that was the moment, in a windblown taxi ride into Bkk.

Dan Fraser, adventure traveler, celebrity, champion eater:

First was when I got credit cards, property payments, insurance, investments, etc. and realized I was “in the system”. Also, when going home, I realized I was out of touch with home life – and had no winter clothes to my name. You live in the tropics baby…

Dave Oliver, Mac daddy, smartest guy in Bangkok:

Nine years and it’s still a “temporary home” to me. I still have it in my mind to keep things light and be able to bail out at any time. :)

Trevor Ranges, writer, traveler, living the life you wish you had:

I think I adopt places as ‘home’ somewhat easily as I moved so often as a child as well as as an adult. After 3 years in Thailand I gave up my storage space in Hawaii, which I think was the official declaration of Thailand as ‘home’. After 13 years, with Bangkok now my ‘home-base,’ I call whatever hotel, friend’s house, or short term rental in any country my ‘home’ but I typically tell people I’m ‘from’ Bangkok but I’m American. That said, as there is very little opportunity for me to ever become Thai in the same way a Thai person could move to my country and become American, I think it can’t really ever be truly home. Perhaps if I married a Thai woman and had a child, land here, etc. Otherwise, I don’t know that Thailand in its current climate, is suitable to continue into a permanent home.

Kurt, scientist, professional booze appraiser:

For me it was sometime around my second trip back to the US, maybe 2009/2010. The first trip was a home-for-the-holidays gig so it was novel and fun. By the second trip home, the US economy was thoroughly trashed. My hometown Las Vegas was one of the worst affected in the country. Big Brother mentality, the TSA, etc. were peaking at all time highs. The whole atmosphere was so oppressive and depressing. Within moments of clearing immigration in Los Angeles, I was ready to get back on the plane and come “home” to BKK.

John, consumer of literature, generator of quips:

There was a moment when I was here about two years, back when there were still all those mahouts out with their elephants selling bags of sugar cane to tourists. I was in some kind of rush to get home and traffic on Sukhumvit was exceptionally pokey because the entire left lane was taken up by a massive, ambling pachyderm — complete with red and yellow reflectors tied to its tail and legs — being herded up the road. Instead of marveling at the exoticism in a “holy crap, there’s a huge elephant in the road” kind of way, my first thought “for fuck’s sake, man, get the fucking thing into the slow lane.”

I remember that as the first time my essential New Yorkness expressed itself in perfect harmony with my Bangkok environment.

Scott Coates, adventurer, entrepreneur, podcaster:

• I had been about five years in Thailand and for the first time since being away I didn’t go back to Canada for my yearly trip, instead electing to go somewhere I’d never been before. Forgoing that trip ‘home’ was a signal that Canada was no longer home-base.
• When I moved all my savings from my Canadian bank account to Thailand that was also another moment where I realized Thailand was definitely home.
• I accepted an award from the Alberta Government based on how I had used my education to benefit the global community (Provincial Award Celebrating Excellence) and while making a speech kept referring to Thailand as ‘home’ and struggling a bit when referring to Canada and where home was.

Richard Barrow, Twitter master, one-man-TAT:

That’s a difficult question to answer. I guess the realization that I was more attuned to Thailand than my home country was when I went through culture shock every time I stepped off the plane. The England that I used to know is a far cry to what it is today. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the old country, but I feel more at home in Thailand. I love the climate, the culture and the people. For all of its faults, this will be my final resting place. I cannot see any scenario where I would be returning to England. Certainly not any time soon. The job I had before doesn’t exist any more and without a house I would find it very difficult to live the life I have grown to accustomed to here in Thailand.

Swedish friend who wishes to remain anonymous:

For me, personally, Thailand will never be home. I’m very comfortable etc., but home is where the heart is and I’ve already left pieces of mine in Stockholm and San Fransisco. :-)

American friend who wishes to remain anonymous:

Thailand is still a temp home after 9+ years. I refer to it as the place where I live and work but home is New York and to reverse your “moment” question, I realize that NY is home every time I go back and emerge out of the subway station from the airport (can’t afford the $60 taxis). Sorry Thailand….

An interesting cross-section of people with some great answers. Almost everyone I asked noted that the concept of Asia as their home crept up on them. It’s almost never a sudden BANG! moment of clarity, but more like a slow creep until one day you realize that you’re not where you started, but you’re home nonetheless.

Did I miss anything? Did you have a similar moment when you realized that your “adopted home” had become simply “home”? Leave your story in the comments!

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13 Comments

  1. I’m a college senior now with a husband and a child. I’m really attracted to Thailand but who knows if I can get a job in Thailand that would enable me to pay off any student loans. Anyway I really like this post, I always had an urge to move abroad.

  2. Scott Coates Reply to Scott

    Another great blog topic and post Greg. Well done and thanks for sharing. Very insightful.

  3. I arrived back in New York and all the beautiful women in Manhattan were so big, they looked like ladyboys to me. I guess my eyes had adjusted permanently to size S.
    And all that white skin made the whole city look slightly ill after that lovely Thai ocean of café au lait. So I guess the saying “After black, you can’t go back” is equally true for “After S, you can’t regress.”
    Then I came home.

  4. I noticed I am going to stay for quite a while when I naturally said “oh-hoooo” (typical thai expression for surprise)

  5. One day I noticed myself sitting ‘sidesaddle’ on the back of a motorbike taxi, swerving dangerously through traffic whilst simultaneously txting and reapplying my m/up. I was once (quite rightly) horrified & dumbfounded by such brazen sights of disregard for personal safety. However, realising that it was me doing it – quite effortlessly aswell – I came to the conclusion that I’m now a local..

  6. Coming up to 7.5 years there I realised that Thailand could never be home. I cannot own a car, I cannot own a property, I cannot get a reliable visa (even worse with the recent ‘enforcement’) and always being spoken of as ‘the falang’ even amongst people who knew me for years.

    A close friend said to me “Imagine all that energy you spend just getting basic day to day stuff done, and putting it into your career instead.” That was the turning point for me.

    I miss the place, but everytime I go back I get to hate it very quickly (and yes I speak Thai, which is part of the problem). Still, a great place to holiday.

  7. PS Except for the dildos, sex toys and fake viagra available all along the main tourist areas. The greed of these Thais is their country’s own worst enemy.

  8. Hey Greg,
    I just discovered your blog now and I love it!
    Although I live here just since this year, Thailand has become already a part of me.
    No matter where I go, it will always remain. Home is a place to me which is in your head.
    My definition of this term has changes a lot through my move abroad.
    It is rather a place in your mind and heart than a physical one.
    xxx

    • Thanks Sonja, glad you like it! I want to try and avoid writing about the newest restaurants or bars or trips I took and focus on what it’s like to be an expat here leading a normal life. The traffic is much lower, but it’s still my own little corner of the web. :)

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