Moving to Cambodia has gotten the blood flowing in both directions (is that good?) and it has gotten me thinking about other expat bloggers and the community we live in both on and off line. As a result, I’ve decided to do a carry-on size series on expats bloggers as a way to connect and because, honestly, who doesn’t love to be interviewed?
First up, is Andy Thain from TasteHitch. He’s a father, husband and a Brit who currently lives in Bangkok with his budding family and two cats (so you know he’s cool). He’s been there for 3 years and prior to that he was in Guangzhou China.
What I like about Andy is his humor. And he also really loves his family and seems like an all-around nice guy and don’t nice guys deserve to be recognized? I think so. Here’s Andy:
// What do you like (and/or don’t like) about living abroad?
I like the range of experiences that greet each day and the perspectives that affords. Thailand can seem like a sprawling illogical mess (which, to be honest, it often is). But there is a sense to why things happen in certain ways and once you get to grips a little with the culture it all makes slightly more sense. You appreciate why arguments go from being low-level anger to guns being pulled in a matter of moments, or why the higher class are the way they are, or why Thai people view their neighbouring nations in certain ways. That level of understanding – and I am speaking of my very limited level understanding – really is the difference between visiting and living somewhere and I like that.
Things I don’t like include the heat, when people assume I’m knee deep in lady boys every day (which is only partially true) and other expats. I suspect they feel the same about me…
// What do you find most different about living abroad?
The biggest difference between home and Thailand is the concept of face. Back home, if I was managing someone who had screwed up I could say “you’ve screwed up” and whilst they might call me a wanker behind my back, we’d be able to sort out the mistake and move on.
If you say that someone has screwed up in Thailand they shut down any form of expression and lock you out – almost like shutters coming down, you can see it take place in front of your eyes. It happens with students as well, especially when dealing with behaviour. Trying to rebuild the relationship with that person is very difficult afterwards and so it is best to avoid these situations in the first place. Basically, it means you have to be mindful of this and approach criticism in a different way, making sure that they are given some way of saving face before the damage is done.
Face governs many social interactions and when threatened can lead to a rapid escalation in disputes often with the loser of that dispute left in hospital or dead, it’s why there is very little road-rage and beeping of horns when driving, you never know how the other person will react and whether they have a gun under their seat.
// What do you miss about home (besides family and friends)?
I used to live in a village called Owselbury which is seven miles South-East of Winchester. It is right on the very edge of the South Downs national park. There are large, rolling, chalk hills that sprawl across the south of England from Winchester to Eastbourne. When the mood took me, as it often did, I could boot up and meander my way along the lanes chatting to my wife, pausing to look out over the hills and eating cobb nuts and blackberries picked straight from the hedgerow.
I miss this not just for the English idyll that it is but also because it is a sense of place and belonging that is profoundly comforting; profoundly me.
Regardless of all of the joys of living overseas (and there are many) this will never be home in the deepest sense of the word. My home is a rainy hilltop, a fire-warmed pub and pebble beach with frigid sea.
That’s what I miss.
// Is there something you feel you have gained since becoming an expat?
I’d like to be facetious and say I can now swear in more languages (which is true) but I think the biggest thing being an expat gives you a unique view of your own country. You get to see it from the perspective of someone looking in and it allows you to see the place afresh, kind of like when someone comments on an old post you don’t really remember and you end up rereading it as if you’d not seen it before, you end up appreciating it from the perspective of a reader rather than an author. For Britain I get to see it as the place it is – good points and bad – from the perspective of someone outside of it.
The other thing I will take away from my time overseas is that I know I want to write for a living. It’s a cliche, I know, that behind every blog is a frustrated author or wannabe copywriter. I suppose I am both of those things. I am a cliche. Bugger.
// What’s a day-in-the-life of you, look like?
My day to day life is very boring really. I get up, sort the boy out with his breakfast, sullenly eat my cornflakes and then drive myself and the wife to work. I generally work 10 hours at school, then I drive home, put the boy to bed, exercise, eat food, sleep.
I think people expect expats in Bangkok to be out in the fleshpots every night, drinking until the sun comes up and living a vacation. But you’ve got bills to pay and work to go to and doctor’s appointment to attend and the supermarket run to do. Being an expat doesn’t take away the boring everyday stuff. Makes it different sure, but it is still there.
// Are there any expat or travel bloggers you particularly enjoy? Who? Why?
I really like Tom’s blog Old England to New England because he’s a fellow West Country lad like myself. He covers living in America and it makes me smile as it’s classic ‘fish out of water’ stuff. Also, one day he will admit to having a Devonshire accent (where’s tha’ to, moi love?) which will be brilliant.
It sounds sycophantic but the one blog I regularly read from people in Thailand is this one. And you’re leaving. A lot of expat blogs in South East Asia are written by bored housewives who complain about the help. I can’t really stomach it to be fair – some over-privileged white woman complaining that their impoverished maid was late, or didn’t fold their knickers correctly generally makes me pissed off.
[Lani: Hahahahahaha. Thanks! I own lots of impoverished knickers…wait.]
// What’s a question you wish interviewers would ask, but never have? (Then answer the question :))
Would you like to write a regular feature in your own stupid/sarcastic/fumblingly philosophical way for our (insert name of publication here) in return for mountains of cash?
Thanks, Andy! Check out his blog for more expat and parenting adventures. Hope you all enjoyed the first interview.