SO YOU’VE MOVED TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD. NOW WHAT?


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It used to take more get up and go to move across the planet, but ever since jet travel it’s been pretty painless.  Now there’s no major discincentive to discourage the indolent from finding their way to places where they can simply hang out the way teenagers hang out at the mall. Old guys don’t stare at their phones as often as teenagers do, but like their younger counterparts, the expression on their faces is usually a mask of boredom.

If you didn’t have any ambition where you came from, you’re not going to suddenly catch on fire in a new place. The challenge of learning a new language, of developing a hobby or mastering a musical instrument doesn’t appeal to everyone.  In fact, most people are content to watch paint dry as long as they’re not actively in distress.  If you classify girl-watching as a profession, then you’ll find a myriad of tropical countries where that could become a full-time job. The fact is, most of us get what we’re looking for.  If all you want is the absence of something you don’t want, then you’ll end up the proud owner of nothing much.

I know guys here who fill their days by watching sports from the United States on satellite TV. They have to set an alarm to see their favorite games, because they often air at four in the morning. I could see doing that every once in a while, but as a major time-filler it lacks depth.

I write, but as anyone who has followed the ups and downs of the publishing industry lately, that doesn’t mean anyone wants to publish or pay for my writing. Content is free, nowadays. If someone at a cocktail party asks me what I do, I can always say I’m a writer, but that lacks the cachet it once had. If my unfortunate cocktail party companion further inquired have I had anything published, I could nod gravely, without adding that it was thirty years ago. Yes, I once showed promise. So what am I working on now? Hmm, a memoir. The Life and Times of Yours Truly. Soon to be a major motion picture, starring Montgomery Clift as James Dean, and me as Hedda Hopper.

If anyone asks me what I’m doing in Southeast Asia, I can pretend to be a spy, or a professional do-gooder of some kind. I work for an NGO. You’ve never heard of it. We help rescue retirees with dementia from an uncertain fate. But no one asks. There are no cocktail parties. Just fat old men leering at Asian women.

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And then there’s me, typing away on my laptop, thinking I’m special.

 

 

 

 

Remote Paradise by the Sea


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In my attempt to escape the smoke that engulfs Northern Thailand at the time of year, I retreated to the far south, to a small town on the ocean.  It’s called “Baan Kroot” and nobody’s ever heard of it which why I’m here.  It’s two or three hours south of Hua Hin, which everybody’s heard of. A few funky resorts line the sandy beach.  There is no real downtown, but a market appears and disappears at a vacant lot with regularity.  The people seem happy and nobody seems sick of tourists.

I found this idyllic village by the sea quite by accident while trolling the Internet.  Basically, all the descriptions repeated the same theme: there’s nothing happening here, the restaurants and cheap and good, the sand is white, the ocean gentle, and most of the visitors are middle aged.

If someone had told me thirty years ago that I would one day prefer the company of my current peers, I would have laughed.  How boring! Where are the hipsters, the discos, the cute girls? Somewhere far away, I hope. I went out on my rented bicycle last night in search of aspirin and Kleenex tissues.  In the dark, I passed by a group of twenty or so young men all lounging on their motor scooters.  They politely directed me to the Seven Eleven.  As in most Thai villages, the Seven Eleven (referred to simply as Seven) is ground zero for commerce.

This narrow peninsula running  south from the main part of Thailand stretches for many hundreds of miles.  A the eastern half belongs to Thailand, and the western half to Myanmar. These countries are markedly different.  Their languages are dissimilar, they use different alphabets, the people don’t look the same, and Burmese women coat their cheeks with a powder which Thai women eschew.

The Burmese side of this peninsula is totally undeveloped.  No roads, no electricity, no water, no sewers.  Someday, of course that will all change.  At night the squid boats glow green a few miles off shore.  Fishing is the main source of income down here.

Thailand is a very different place. Even though all of Indo-China may seem the same from a distance, the Indo-Chinese don’t think so.  Only Thais speak Thai. After you’ve been here a while, you can tell people from one country to another pretty quickly.

Even though it’s cool here by the sea, the heat is coming back with a vengeance, and as soon as I can safely return to Chiang Mai I’ll have to deal with the horrors blazing heat and Song Kran, another youth-inspired holiday where total strangers throw ice water on each other.  Sometimes they hurl buckets of ice water with cubes on a passing motorcyclist.  People die.  Ha ha!  Good clean fun!

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No Guarantees


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When I was in my twenties, I would set off on long trips with not much more than a hundred dollars in my pocket.  I had no credit card, and since debit cards and ATM’s hadn’t been invented yet, the cash in my billfold was all there was. Nothing really concerned me, as I floated along like Mr. Magoo, blindly avoiding mishaps without having the good sense to know how lucky I was. In all my years of hitchhiking and driving long distances across borders, nothing really bad ever happened.  Sure, I stayed in some miserable hotels, but I picked them out because they were dirt cheap and I full of what I thought was “atmosphere.”

In 1972, I spent a month in Mexico on one-hundred and seventy-five dollars.  I survived for five weeks in Europe in 1971 on three hundred dollars, and that included a few days in Paris.  Back then, Europe was cheaper than the States. I stayed in hostels and bed and breakfasts, sometimes paying as little as three dollars a day for bed and board.  One day I ate only candy bars and oranges, but usually hunger wasn’t even an issue.  One night in Paris I slept in a parking garage.

As I look back somewhat astonished by my recklessness, I realize that the big difference between then and today lies in the fact that then my parents were still alive.  Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that if things got too bad, I could always call them (though International calls were very expensive) and they would find a way bail me out. Or try to.  It never came to that, but I guess that’s how I justified my lack of fiduciary caution.

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Who will come to my rescue now?  Here, in Southeast Asia, six foreigners were recently executed for drug smuggling.  These were young people who had thought to make a quick buck by bringing drugs to Bali.  I’m sure if I had been in their position and so tempted, I might have been just as stupid.  Again, luck was with me in my twenties. Surely, I had no more common sense than they, and was every bit the smug hipster as these lads who recently faced an Indonesian firing squad.

I remember once being pulled off a Mexican bus by soldiers and carefully searched for drugs.  I didn’t have them, they didn’t plant any, and they let me go. Just lucky, I guess, because I didn’t have any reluctance to use drugs if they were freely offered.  I was just too cheap to buy my own.

As we age, all the things we had taken for granted are removed, one by one, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but they all leave.  Looks, health, mental quickness, natural talents…they’ve only been on loan even though we thought they were our birthright. Fortunately, some of us we weren’t totally reckless in our salad years and still have something left over to help us coast to the finish line.

I keep thinking “This hanging around third world countries is fine as long as I’ve got no real problems and some money in the bank, but what happens if I become infirm or broke?”  Then places like Switzerland and Norway don’t seem so boring.  I wonder what it takes to immigrate there?

Decrepit hippies are probably not high on their lists of potential permanent residents, but there are ways to sneak through the filters they’ve imposed.  Note to self: remember to stash enough cash to hire a Norwegian immigration attorney when the shit finally hits the fan.

Nobody really knows what the future holds for them or anyone else, but we sure like to pretend we do, for what feels like sanity and hope is often just desperation and wishful thinking creating a dream world.  In 2007, I remember reading business journalism praising the selling of collateralized mortgage debt and subprime mortgages. The rise in home values was a good thing until the moment it wasn’t.  Those financial wizards were geniuses until the moment they were fools.

Nobody knows what’s going on and nobody’s in charge.  It’s all a crap shoot, so we might as well enjoy the game because there are no guarantees regarding who’s going to win or even whether the other players will play by the rules. Those retired American orthodontists who buy beachfront properties in a banana republic may be rudely awakened one day by soldiers pounding on the front door of their McMansions.  The officials and agents who smiled accepting money to purchase a retirement Xanadu may suddenly look away as the newly suntanned retirees are being deported at gunpoint.

Can You Really Be Happy Anywhere?


Yes, and you can also be miserable anywhere, under any circumstances. Being happy is choice you make. It is, of course, much harder to choose happiness if you’ve recently suffered a loss, or are sick, or worried about money or a loved one’s welfare. The great opportunity involved in choosing to live somewhere new involves temporarily being released from things you’ve already decided are boring or oppressive. Of course, human nature being what it is, it’s only a matter of time before you form the same opinion about parts of your new surroundings and daily experiences. But here, you’ve given yourself a second chance. Take it, keeping in mind that no matter how beautifully the setting sun shines on the water, there is no smooth sailing off into the sunset, even if you bought a new home in what looks like paradise. The quality of your life will depend far more on the relationships you establish with ex-pat friends and your new neighbors, than on picture-postcard views of your new home that you can post online to share with your friends back home.

My morning and afternoon commute to and from work.


OK, I know I’ve been crowing about the joys of being retired, but I got offered a job that seemed promising,

and so I’m back teaching at a University. This week we move into our new apartment, which is in a vast, mostly vacant apartment complex called University View Apartments. The Universities they view are all housed in a complex called “Academic City, which is directly across from our building. Just cross twenty acres of sand and there you are. Of course, if I were to stumble and fall, I might be  a bundle of bleached bones before anyone discovered me, as I’m the only person who walks to work in this area.

What This All About, Anyway?


WHY I WROTE THIS

I’m not trying to get you to do anything specific, nor am I trying to sell you anything. I found a wonderful, very affordable place to live in retirement, and I’m gung-ho on urging other people in my position to take small risks and do the same.

The hardest part was giving up on what I thought was some shred of security. Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, had this to say about security. “The reason nobody has ever experienced security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” And this came from a woman who started out with some significant disadvantages that most of us, including me, have not had to share. So if she could feel that way, I can, too.

It turns out that there’s a delightful, affordable, safe world out there that has little to do with the way we live in America. There are many places where a growing number of expatriates from English speaking countries mingle with the local populace. Places where those of us on even a small pension can live well.

For many of the people I know, living in America is like harboring a gambling addiction. You know it’s bad for you, but you want to hang on a little bit longer, in case you hit the jackpot. Besides, what if you quit now, just before the big payoff, why you’d never forgive yourself. True, most of the people you know are gradually sinking, but there are some success stories you can point to, people who lucked out on the timing of the real estate crash, or bought stocks just before they rebounded. It happens.

I used to know a lot of people who had moved to LA when they were young, hoping to make it in show business. One by one, they finally admitted to themselves that it just wasn’t going to happen for them. So they stopped waiting for the phone to ring and got real jobs. Some stayed in LA, some moved to easier places to live. After thirty years or so, only a fraction of them still live in LA, and only a fraction of that fraction still are waiting for their big break. As one guy who’d waited for most of his adult life for things to break in his favor to me “this is a town where encouragement can kill you. Every time you make up your mind to leave, a friend assures you that if you wait just a little bit longer, it’s gonna come together. People are talking about you. Don’t give up just before the miracle.”

For me, LA is the ultimate American city. But I spent most of my life not living there, but in Iowa, a state that has the image of a place that still offers a good quality of life for anyone willing to work and live a temperate life. I have news for you, that might have been the case in the past, and it still may be the case for some Iowans, but most of the ones I know are struggling just to get by. And it’s not getting any easier, as time goes by.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone, least of all myself, but I do know that things weren’t getting any better for me in Iowa. And I don’t blame Iowa. Heck, I don’t even blame the US. But there comes a time when you can see the handwriting on the wall.

I’m not interested in proving anybody or anyplace wrong. I just want to have an exciting life and enjoy myself as much as possible. I bet you do, too, or you wouldn’t have read this far.