Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wither Thou Goest

I told my boss that I was leaving today to move to Thailand.  He welcomed me with a big smile and we talked about the adventure I am about to impart upon.  I told him that I had quit few jobs that I actually liked, and I liked this one very much.  Unfortunately, it doesn't pay enough to live on and so I have chosen to follow my wife to Thailand.  He said that if I had told him that I was going to try to stay here on my own, he would have pushed me to leave anyway.  I learned much from him today, as I did this fall in the training.  I made some good friends and hope to hear from them in the future. 

Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, when the latter's husband had died. Ruth said that Naomi's people will become my people.  Thus, I am taking the path set long ago and I am happy to do it.  My mother loved the story of Ruth. 

I found out about how to get my visa yesterday.  I had done some research on my on at Thai websites, using my wife to translate.  It got quite confusing, though, and the forms were in Thai.  I wrote the school and followed up with a phone call.  Quite cool that he has a toll-free number.  I caught driving in Bangkok traffic.  He said that I only need to fill out a form, pay a fee, show them my passport and I get the visa.  He says I will be getting a work visa though I won't have a work permit.  Once I have my credential, than I will be able to work.  I am up to the challenge and looking forward to teaching. 

Nee's brother is helping us get her house ready for us to live in.  Since she has been gone for 6 years, some things have been moved to other family member's homes, such as the fridge and the air conditioner.  We are getting a new fridge but apparently the temperatures have been mild lately, so I am going to take my chance and not purchase a new A/C just yet.  We will only be in Bangkok for two weeks until we take a train north to Chiang Mai.  There we will need to find a new place to live, whether temporary or permanent. 

So much to do.  We have a garage sale this weekend.  I advertised in Craigslist and have gotten a number of interested parties, though nothing has been sold yet.  I was doing my best to hang on to my furniture until I decided to take this temporary vow of poverty.  Doing that helped me sleep better.  The only two things we really need are our health and friends.  Wither thou goest, so shall I go and your people will be my people.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Watt a SECAM

I am learning all about electricity.  Thailand, like much of the world, lives with 220 wiring throughout their homes.  We only use 220 for electric stoves, dryers and hot tubs.  Everything else runs on 110.  If I were to plug my radio or toaster into one of Nee's outlets in her Thai home, I would see sparks and be the proud owner of a melted electronic device.  I was at AAA yesterday to get some more passport photos and saw they had a section with all kinds of different plugs and converters.  What do I need?  A transformer or solid state?  Grounded or polarized?  The list goes on.

Things like this laptop and my monitor have autoswitching converters.  It is the big fat thing on the wire between the computer and the outlet.  On the side I see that it can take voltage up to 240 so I will be safe even if I run over to Africa.  Other things like my toaster and waffle iron and that really nice $1200 washer/dryer set we had to buy to live here are worthless.  The refrigerator has to stay, too.  Shipping would have been too expensive anyway which is why I get a bit panicky whenever I start thinking about this move.  Better to not think, just do.

I found out that TVs are different, too, of course.  Life would be too simple with interchangable parts.  North American TVs run on the NTSC broadcast system whereas the rest of the world uses PAL and SECAM, whatever that is.  SECAM sounds more like SCAM.  Thailand will love me when I start shopping to replace everything. 

The cell phones will be useless as they are on a different signal from everyone else, too.  I wonder if Gene Roddenberry's world took care of this sort of thing?  Probably not.

Driving will be another issue.  Thais drive like the British, on the left side of the road.  I found it a bit disconcerting the first time I was flying through Bangkok in one of their taxis, so I chose to close my eyes whenever we had to make a right turn.  I imagined myself starting on the right path and then heading to the wrong side of the road.  We also may have to buy a stick shift because we want a pickup truck and they all come with standard transmission.  The pedals are the same as here, but I have to shift with my left hand instead of my right.  All this should keep my heart rate up, though, and that can help with cholesterol.  Maybe it isn't such a bad idea.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Go East, Old Man

We have talked about moving to Thailand for the last five years.  Nee came here six years ago, giving up a career she had loved for 20 years.  I had made the assumption that she would be able to jump back into her work here and we would move forward from there.  A word of caution to any of you who have fallen madly in love with a foreigner.  Be aware that whatever he or she had at home probably won't be available here.  Nee ran into people who were rude to her just because she had an accent.  I had never been aware of such stupidity until I married her.  Despite the fact that most Americans are speaking with worse grammar each new generation, people here, as a group, think foreigners should speak like English professors.  Too bad. 

In Thailand it is the opposite.  Any attempt by me to speak the language with locals is welcomed and encouraged.  Thai is a difficult language with its five tones, but mostly phonetic once you learn to read it.  I do get funny looks when I mispronounce things but generally people are far more forgiving.

Teachers in America are also a downtrodden class.  Even the IRS has rules directed at them to prevent them from being able to buy much-needed supplies for their classes.  If that same teacher worked for a corporation as a trainer, he could buy whatever he could dream of, so long as management is ok with it.  Teachers get very little respect from students or parents.  Despite that, teachers here are dedicated to their work and can't imagine doing anything else. 

I have been studying a website,, for several years now.  It is a site dedicated to teaching in Thailand.  An Ajarn is a teacher or professor.  I have gotten the straight talk from many teachers there.  Some have many complaints about working for schools while others speak very highly.  From what I can tell, the good and bad are determined by the quality of the school and the quality of the teacher.  As a rule, students respect teachers, provided the teachers act their age and understand the role they are in.  Similar to our politicians.

From reading the website, I have gotten a pretty good idea of what I will be up against and I am excited about it.  I have taught classes to both adults and children and learned more than the students as I put the lessons together.  I tutored a couple of people in Colorado at a literacy program there.  I was humbled by how much effort one has to make to speak clearly here.  I learned how to teach someone to make L and R sounds, another how to read and how to make letters into words.  Each time, when I saw their eyes light up, I knew I had reached them.  That is what I am aiming to do in Thailand.

Try to Face the Changes

I have been on unemployment for six months now.  It pays me a quarter of what I was getting as an auditor.  To pay my bills without putting anything aside, I need to make double that.  Nee had a temp job that is ending soon that did double our income.  She never liked the work, though, and wishes to go home.  After much thought, tears, and terror, I have decided that she has the best idea.  I am still working a few hours at a job and it will go full time next month.  The trouble is the pay is about what I am getting in unemployment.  Getting the idea here?

I have been getting to know people at my current job, finding out how they managed to get into this same financial place.  Each has a story.  One fellow, about my age, also lost his job as an internal audit.  It's a small world.  He is going to do tax preparation during the season and cross his fingers for more work after.  Another said her husband lost his job to his company going out of business.  They, too, were making what I made.  She said it was like going from comfortable to poverty overnight.  If I stay here, I will eat up my savings and then start cutting into my retirement money.  That is a very poor investment.  I know there will come a day when I can no longer work and having something I can depend on is far better than depending on the whims of my government.

Leaving the US to me is tearing my heart out.  I have two sons and a brother whom I love dearly.  I love the freedoms, the beauty of the northwest and all that America affords me.  Still, though, I will be pushing a shopping cart to survive if I keep pushing.  Going to classes to apply for jobs, I meet people who are barely eeking out a living when a year ago, they had all they needed.  Oddly, I had it all and I didn't appreciate it. 

I applied to get a teaching credential at a school in Chiang Mai, a city about 12 hours drive north of Bangkok.  The temperatures in the winter are more moderate, like southern California with more humidity.  Nee has dreams of buying land to grow something to sell at the markets.  I dream of a home.  Here is a typical home from there.

We bought our one-way tickets to Bangkok, I put a down payment on a class, and Nee has been contacting all her friends and family about our plans.  The offers for assistance are coming from many, which makes me feel a bit more confident.  Still, leaving my home, my country, is not easy.  I found an expat club there so I will probably join for a time.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The end is here

I was sitting with a client, talking about changes I was going to make in my report to better reflect their business when my phone rang.  It was the tribe's Blackberry which rarely rang.  I got it a few months after I started a year previous because my boss thought we should all have them.  I had not had one before and had no use for it, but took it because I was required to.  That was one of my first warnings that something wasn't right with this place.
The only people who ever called me were my friend, Krishna, and my boss, Lori.  Today it was Lori.
"You need to come to the office right now," she said.
"I'm in Housing right now but can come over soon."
"Just drop everything and come right now," she insisted.  She never demanded my presence like that before.  I excused myself and drove back to the office.
Walking in, I saw the head of human resources and one of his staff sitting in Lori's office.  They never came to our office before as we were a few miles from the main office.  "This doesn't look good," I said.  He laughed.
"Why do you say that?"  I said that they were sitting in Lori's office with checks in hand and that can only mean one thing.
"Oh, these checks?" he asked, blushing.  Why is this man blushing?  He is 60 something, with full beard and a foot taller than me and he is blushing.  I was quite confused.
Lori said we needed to wait for Kim.  She arrived asking the similar questions, looking baffled.  We were told that the tribe has decided to reorganize and that our jobs were no longer necessary.  "You will be on lay off status." 
Normally, in my past, I might have gotten angry, or perhaps even cried.  This time, though, I just sat and listened as I was given my severance pay, asked to pack my things and leave.  The HR guy kept making jokes and telling us how angry and frustrated he was with the tribe.  "I am planning to retire soon," he announced.  Retire?  Damn, I don't even have a job and I am supposed to give a damn about your life? 
I kept my mouth shut for the most part, though I did say that there were a number of questionable practices and they just didn't want us looking.

For a few days after, I mostly sat at home, wandered the yard of the house I had moved into a month earlier and signed a one year lease, wondering what I was going to do next.  I thought about the last 12 months, how we rarely had assignments, how Lori had said that the council was questioning why we were even on the payroll, how we often spent days doing nothing while the boss was either out sick or on another business trip. 
I had been trying for the last year to start a business helping people plan their finances and had not been terribly successful.  A year earlier I was living in Colorado and a year and a half before that I was in my home state of California.  Where did I lose my mind along the way?
I have been unemployed for two months now which has been paid for with my two months severance pay.  Now I am still without work, my business is not moving, I am trying my hand at writing and each day I search and apply for jobs.  The depression catches up to me periodically, but my wife, Nee, has been there to help me. She hasn't worked since we moved here, leaving us with few options. 
We can stay here and do our best to survive.  I could move back to California and try to find work, but with no home.  The last choice would be to sell all our furniture and two cars, get my teaching license and move to Thailand to teach English.  Nee has a home there which would give us a place to live.  She says she couldn't find work, though, because she is considered too old to work and would have to figure out a business.  We have never had a successful business here and I doubt we could have one there, either.  The end result would be we would have to live in her home with no air conditioning, and live on my teacher salary, about $2000 a month.  Not a great choice, either.  What to do?

As I have searched for work, I have found that there are many people, well-educated people, who have been out of work for much longer than a few months.  Some have been out a year while others are 2, 3, or more years.  I need to do something to get out of this.