Living the Thai way

Just recently, Richard wrote a blog on the average monthly wage of Thais in a variety of occupations. As you could expect, the numbers are way below Western standards, even for professionals. Actually, did you know that 10% of Thailand’s population lives below poverty line, according to a 2004 CIA estimate? The general Farang reaction to that blog was fascination mixed with respect.

I don’t see anything extraordinary or respectable effort about how one could live on such rock-bottom salaries. It’s everyday reality for the majority of Thai people, as it is for me.

This undue fascination and respect could perhaps stem from the fact that most Farang don’t have first-hand experience about what it’s like to live on Thai wages.

smiling Thai worker

Happiness without UBC and Swiss cheese

1. Down to the basics
There are a few basic principles that make such lifestyle possible. First is doing away with most things that are not immediate necessities. I think this is where most Farang would find difficulty, thus respecting those who can do it. I could write pages about the American-inspired stuff that had to go to the wayside in order for me to live the way I do now.

How about a game? Share your idea of “basic necessities” that you think would be essential for you to live here for a year. Then let’s see how many of those can we, average local folks, do without. Chances are, you’d be off. 🙂

2. Burst that Farang bubble!
Another essential feature of low-budget life in LoS is to become an integral part of the Thai social network. Undoubtedly, that’d be challenging for Average Joe who just got off Phuket Air.

For the record, I spent three months in Chiang Mai without speaking with any Farang; none live in the apartment that I do, perhaps not even in the entire area. Furthermore, I work solely with Thai people; the only Farang I’ve seen at work was a researcher from the UK who worked in our lab during his brief visit.

All for one, One for all
You probably saw or heard that Thais help each other out to a greater extent and more frequently than folks in the West. The low wages could very well be an important reason. Folks who have to live on low budget achieve more when they do it together.
There are no general rules of how to share; you just help out whenever you can, and accept the help in return, during “low tide”.

Another nice thing is that, outside Farang-influenced Bangkok, poverty is not stygmatized. It’s treated simply as a temporary inconvenience rather than a grave sin. The West has much to learn in this aspect. 😉

By now, many readers could probably ask the question: if I were given, say, a million bucks, would I still maintain this kind of lifestyle? The answer is ‘yes and no’. I wouldn’t damn myself to eternal poverty just to “go native”, as some would mistakenly think; however, I would still live and work amongst the average Thai people, in a way that’s consistent with local customs and culture.

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