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.

 

 

 

 

LONELY MEN


WHY ARE SO MANY MEN MY AGE CRAZY IN THE SAME WAY?

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It’s not uncommon to run into ten lonely men a day around here, eating alone in restaurants, watching traffic whiz by as they nurse a beer and talk to no one. Younger people are all absorbed in their cell phones, but the older guys are simply on their own. They might have Thai wives or girlfriends, but if they do they probably can’t talk to them, as neither really speaks the others language, and besides, the men probably don’t have much to say.

Living in Thailand is pretty easy if you have a pension from a first-world country.  The old guys from Northern Europe can buy big estates and large vehicles, as well as take their wives and girlfriends on expensive vacations. In my experience, they’re a little bit happier than the guys who are just scraping by, but not much.  They still lack a real connection to a community, and they still face each day without much to do.

I’ve noticed that a lot of older guys have hearing loss, but they don’t care to do anything about it, as there isn’t much purpose in being able to hear if you aren’t able to communicate in the first place.  One of my ideas for making money involves filling a suitcase with cheap hearing aids on my next trip back to the states.  Everything imported is a little bit more expensive here than on Amazon, and there aren’t many hearing aid outlets here.

Why are there so many lonely older guys here?  The foreign women I see are in groups, laughing, talking up a storm and still engaged, at least with each other.  I don’t see nearly as many older ex-pat women here as men, for obvious reasons.  The Thai women I observe are at least out and about, but the Thai men appearing in public are outnumbered by their sisters, daughters and wives ten to one.  Maybe they’re home taking care of the kids, but I doubt it.

Is this lonely guy thing the product of bottle feeding or is it merely an expat thing?

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.

Retire Cheaply and Affect Meaningful Change in Your Life


Advertisers try to reach us by promising devices that will save time, as well as increase convenience. Most of us are wrongly convinced that we are short on time. yet We fritter away our time consuming entertainments that pretend to be customized for us, while we are actually behaving as a mob of consumers, unconsciously reacting in predictable and programmed ways. We don’t really need convenience as much as we’ve led to believe, but we are starved for meaning.

If you want something to change in your life, you’ll have to first risk changing your behavior. You can’t be addicted to Facebook or check your email a hundred times a day and still have an interior thought life. Any changes you feel under those conditions will merely be externally programmed desires designed to make you buy something you didn’t know you needed.

Scrolling through items on Amazon or eBay is not the same as opening up space in your thought life for something new to enter. Buying something new won’t have the same effect as not doing anything long enough to allow for substantive change. You’re not hungry for more things, you’re simply sick and tired of your life as it has been. There’s a big difference between those two states!

Being retired from work and relocating to a new country is the perfect time to begin this substantive change. This is the chapter of your life you’ve been waiting for!

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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.

WHAT IF…?


What happens if you just hate your new home abroad? Say you give it a few years, you learn enough of their language to conduct routine business and make acquaintances, and you still don’t like it. What then?

The good news is, that’s not going to happen.  You’re never going to completely feel one way or the other about any place. If you invest time and energy into a place, you’re going to form attachments. Some days you´ll love it, some days you´ll wish you were someplace else.

You may get homesick, but after a few trips home, you’ll find that you’re itching to leave again within a few weeks of your homecoming. You may fall prey to the grass is greener syndrome that all ex-pats are prone to, and allow yourself to become convinced that the place you chose and were so excited about turned out not to be the perfect place after all, but the next place, the one you just heard about, is. Give it time. Stay in touch with the person who was so lately singing its praises and see how that person feels in a year or so.

Anything worth doing takes longer than you expected and is a bit harder to pull off. If it weren’t that way, we’d all be constantly slipping and sliding around the globe. Greased by money, some of the super rich already are. They’re no happier than the rest of us. In fact, they’re often slightly ashamed of themselves, and spend an inordinate amount of time in remorse.

Retiring Cheaply – just how important is cheap?


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There’s always a trade-off when you focus only on price. Maybe what you want more than cheap is the feeling of not having to worry about money and the opportunity of finding new things to stimulate you.

If you’ve considering making a move to a totally different country and culture, then you’re probably bored or fed up with some aspect of our culture. You’re looking for change, and hoping to be surprised. Surprised you will be, and not always delightfully. But it will be a learning experience of the first order, and those aren’t always guaranteed to be pleasant.

Patience and acceptance will get you far.

There are different components to feeling well-off enough to not worry about money. For example, it’s far easier to control your spending than it is to earn more money. You can bankrupt yourself with foolish spending or bad investments even in Southeast Asia or the Andes, two regions where most prices are a fifth of what they are in the States.

My advice: give up on the idea of real-estate investments, land speculation, or starting a profitable business. Start a business if you must in order to have something to do, but simply assume that if you do most things right, you’ll break even. Think of yourself as retired. Your level of income will not rise again. This is it. Learn to live within your means and you’ll never worry about money again.

This will, of course, be much easier in a place with a cost of living that is a fraction of what it is where you came from.

A place that is five times cheaper might not be more fun to relocate to than a place three times cheaper. That’s up to you. More important that the actual cost of living will be the health and happiness of the community in which you choose to live.

The poorer the country, the more likely they are to put heavy import duties on technology. So don’t expect to pay what you would in the states for a new laptop. You’ll have to pick one up on your next trip back to the States, if there ever is one.

That brings us to the next item:

There may not be another trip “home.” This may be it. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.

An awful lot of people make an abortive attempt to retire somewhere, buy a new house on the coast for a fraction of what they would have paid in Florida or California, and then get tired of it six months later. I mean, how much enjoyment can you really get from a stunning view? How many of your friends are really going to come visit? So there are many lightly-used vacation properties in gated communities in third-world countries that are on the market again. A building and a view do not constitute a life.

No matter where you end up, you’ll need to find something to do or you’ll drink yourself to death, or start an affair with the neighbor’s spouse. Neither approach will end well.

Even if you do figure out what you want to do with yourself most of the time, you’ll still have to transition from one task to the next, and during that down time, you’re bound to notice that most folks all around you are simply struggling to make do. It will make you feel separate from them. This gulf will exacerbate any feelings of loneliness you’re already experiencing. Seeing all your neighbors bent over in a rice paddy or hacking away at plants with a machete doesn’t enhance your fragile sense of belonging.

In the time you have left on this planet, you can’t possibly change their economic condition. You can’t fix it, or make it all better. You’ll just have to figure out where and how you can fit in to the prevailing structure. Surely your presence here is a help to at least some of your neighbors. You’re a customer for many of their services. Your very presence is bringing income to their community.

People are highly capable of change, and the neighbors can adapt to you the same way you’re attempting to adapt to your new community. They’ll accept and value you for who you are, if you do the same for them.