Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Survival tips in a foreign land part 3: The 2 capital Ps... Patience and Perseverance!

This is my 100th post! Coincidentally, though google stats show that I have broken the 10,000-hit barrier quite a while ago, my blog-counter finally shows more than 10,000 hits! It took Stranger in Bangkok more than 2 years to reach this milestone, but an average of between 10-20 site visits a day is really quite encouraging for a low-profile blog like this one, and this is one of the main reasons why I keep this blog going amidst my busy schedules. I would hereby like to thank everyone who have been supporting this blog all along and long may it continue. What I promise will be many more interesting insights into my life in exotic Thailand.

Now that all the thanking is done, I shall continue with part 3 of my series of survival tips, and this is an important one. I call it the 2 capital Ps, namely Patience and Perseverance.

The Stranger in Bangkok's survival tips in a foreign land part 3: Patience and Perserverance

1. Patience 

Visiting a foreign country without a tour guide is already a headache. You need to plan your own route, book your own hotels, arrange your own transport etc. It is enough work to discourage many from travelling. What about trying to live long-term in a foreign country? The challenges cannot be underestimated.

First and foremost, in order to successfully settle down on foreign soil, patience is a key virtue. Coming from Singapore, at least when I was living there, it was a country known for its obvious efficiency. The subway comes on time with minimal breakdowns (this might no longer be the case), there are few traffic jams and people are generally programmed to be highly efficient, be it in government organisations or private sectors. You could renew your passport online, register a company in a matter of minutes and get internet wired in your home within a week of moving in. These are things we take for granted until the day we leave.

Not many countries are half as efficient as Singapore, and I do not only mean comparatively lesser developed countries. I had an ex-colleague from the Netherlands telling me it takes weeks to get his internet hooked up back home and another friend complaining about needing to queue for a week to see the doctor in Ireland to get a cure for her flu. Not fun isn't it?

In Thailand, I have learnt to expect delays for everything. Things do not get done the first time. Be it making curtains at home, getting your visa extended at the government office or getting forms submitted at the port to clear your company's goods etc., it would be some sort of a miracle if it's completed at first try. Because of the severity of traffic congestion here, it is also unreasonable to expect people to be punctual for their appointments. If you are not patient enough and cannot tolerate inefficiency, your life will be miserable day-in day-out, and I can assure you that you will not be here for long.

2. Perseverance

This virtue is closely related to the previous one, because perseverance in abundance helps you to be more patient. You might say, " Isn't patience and perseverance important virtues even if I am back home?" Certainly! But you will need much bigger serving of each in order to thrive in a foreign environment.

Remember, you are not home anymore. If you have not read my previous tips and have not set up a proper local social network nor brought your family here, you have virtually no help. Do you think you could get your brother to pack dinner for you, your mum to post a letter for you, or your grandmother to help babysit your child for you while you watch a movie? Throw all that out of the window please. Every single thing needs to be done by you, you and yourself. There is no longer any help from close ones, in fact, you need to be even more motivated to settle all problems quietly as you do not want the folks at home to worry about you. Even if you are badly ill, you will have to crawl your own way to the clinic to get yourself a remedy. You will feel lonelier than ever.

At the office, do you think you could get away with passing a job to a colleague while things go wrong? The very person who put you there most likely did it so that you could clear all the shit in the company. Don't even try to do it, you HAVE to do it, that's what you are there for.

All these challenges means that you must persevere. If you fail, try again, and again, and again, by yourself, until you find a solution. Focus on the result, on what you want to achieve and work towards it, not letting anything sway you or get you down. This gutsy single-mindedness will get you very far.

In 2009, I came to Bangkok with 2 bare hands and managed to create something out of nothing. Many more obstacles lie ahead of me, but with a lot of patience, stubborn perseverance and God's infinite grace, I am confident I can eventually overcome them. You can do it too.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Survival tips in a foreign land part 2: Family!!!

Aside of setting up a local social circle, your life in your new adopted land will never be perfect without your family. No man/woman is an island, there is only so long you can enjoy life as a lone-ranger, away from direct communication with your closest kins.

Some might ask me, since family is so important, why is the only the 3rd most important tip in your series? Well, put it this way, living in a foreign land is not as direct as one thinks it is. A lot of non-family-related issues have to fall in place before you can really decide whether you are willing to call this place your new home, a place where you will live your everyday life with your family. Stay tuned for the final 2 instalments and you will understand what I mean.

The Stranger in Bangkok's survival tips in a foreign land part 2: Family

In this day and age, technology can help us tremendously to keep in touch with almost anyone we want to. The world has literally shrunk. It takes only hours to fly from between countries and a few taps on your mobile phone to reach the ones you miss the most. It is no longer difficult to keep in close contact with your loved ones, even if you are geographically thousands of miles apart. Of course, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind rule stands. Since you are no longer back at home, the folks do not see you anymore and gradually they need to get on with their lives without you, so like in my previous tip, I have to emphasize again that for this to work, the initiative lies well and truly with YOU. I can't say that I am an expert at this, but I feel that I have thus far done a decent job linking with my family and friends back home over the past years, so here's to share a few of my own ways:

1. Online/Mobile chat devices

Unless you are going somewhere so undeveloped that having frequent access to internet is not possible, you cannot be forgiven if you do not capitalise on modern technology to keep in touch with family and friends. When smart phones were not available, Skype, MSN, QQ, Yahoo! Messenger, Facebook (did I miss anything) join the world together. Because of the nature of my job, I am fortunate enough to be online most of the day, and thus find it absolutely no problem communicating with anyone I want to. In fact, I don't  feel isolated at all though I am away.

For those who do not have my luxury, you can't run away now that you hold a smartphone in your hand. Ridiculously powerful apps like Line, Whatsapp, Facetime, Tango etc. allow you to interact with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Poke your head into all the group chats with your friends/cousins, and if there isn't one yet, set one up and invite everyone in! Buy a smartphone for your Dad and Facetime him whenever you want. Life away from home will never be the same again.

2. Blogging

You might or might not embrace this way of communication, but it has worked brilliantly for me (using this blog you are reading now) and some other friends of mine. The reason why I highly recommend blogging is because some stories are worth sharing, but you can't possibly repeat it a thousand times for every different person. By putting them on your blog and updating frequently, even if your family members cannot locate you, they will always have a place to go to to read up on your latest exotic adventures.

3. Make it a point to visit your family frequently

Yes, I know you are busy. I know you are an important figure in your company. I know all the documents require your signature. I even know the people in your adopted country could not care less about Chinese New Year or Christmas, those periods are in fact the busiest time in your company and you really do not want to take leave.

Think again.

Your parents are getting old, your grandparents, even older. Your wife/husband visits your Facebook page a few times a day anticipating status updates. Your kids are growing at an alarming pace irreversibly, getting used to living life without you. Are you sure you don't want to pay them a visit?

4. Get your family here!

Once you have made up your mind that this is the place where you will live in for the immediate future, your next biggest task will be to get your family here. By that, I mean at the very least your spouse and your dependent children (Single folks, if you would like to fulfill this condition by marrying a local spouse, I have no objections either). This is not easy. There is too much to give up back home: your spouses' job (and fantastic income), your kids' stable education, your beautiful house etc...... but if you have decided to get married and live the rest of your lives together till death does you part, isn't it illogical if your career takes over death's duties and keep you apart?

Warning: If you are starting to feel that being apart from your family is actually good, please submit your resignation letter immediately, go home and do something about it.

Trust me, I have been through it before and my family is still adjusting to life in Thailand. A lot has been given up, but we are simply doing our best to make our marriage work. Making the decision to give birth to our son in Thailand with no relatives here to support us is a big step, but one we have bravely taken to make sure that our little family stays together all the time.

Li Li celebrating her first birthday with little Noah!

If I can do it, so can you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok's survival tips in a foreign land part 1: Building up a social circle

Ok guys, I believe it is time to stop making fun of my own son on my own blog and prove that life is almost all, but not all about Noah.

I have wanted to do this series of blogposts for a long long time, but never got down to doing it. I have been in Thailand across 4 calendar years now, from 2009 to 2012, braving riots, military crackdowns, rowdy elections and catastrophic floods, evolving from a bare-handed single young man into a thirty-something year-old Daddy of the cutest boy on the planet. Although I do not have any significant achievements of note, just being here and surviving till now should have prepared me sufficiently well to give tips and hints on how to survive in a foreign land.

After brainstorming, I have decided to split this into 4 separate posts so as not to overwhelm anyone. All 4 points are VERY IMPORTANT, I will start with what I feel is the least crucial and end with most crucial. All points apply to EVERYONE planning to go to ANY country, but since I came to Thailand after spending almost all my 28 previous years in Singapore, my examples would be more appropriate for people who move from a more developed country to a lesser developed one.

The Stranger in Bangkok's survival tips in a foreign land part 1: Building a social circle

Now that you are in a foreign land, you need support. Regardless of how many expat dollars you are grabbing or how many staff you have in your office, you will need real, sincere care and support from the heart, from people whom you can call your friends, not your subordinates. Your employees can be the best from the land, but there is a limit to what they can do for you, because even if you open your heart to them, they might not open theirs to you. At the end of the day, you are a foreigner who has most probably been put into the company to watch over them. There will come a time where you realise that throwing money at people might not solve your problems anymore. This is the time when you need to be pro-active and build up your own social circle. This might not be easy, but remember one thing, that every bit of positive energy you expend for this cause is not wasted.

Tip 1: Join a Chamber

Join a Chamber? What Chamber? Simple. Expats from each country would likely have set up their respective Chambers of Commerce to link businesses from their homeland together. For me, I chose to become part of the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce here in Bangkok. Through this organization, I got to know lots of people who have spent decades building up their success stories in Thailand as foreigners. There is lots to learn, lots to admire, and more importantly, lots of friends to know. You will also get to know legal advisers, headhunters, bank managers, property agents etc. who would pop out of nowhere in the future and solve your problems at-hand. You network is your net worth. This is a good way to start.

Tip 2: Keep in close contact with friends/friends' friends who happen to be here

Globalisation is amazing. I have friends whom I know who are now residing in Brazil, France, Sweden, USA, Mongolia, Laos, Netherlands, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and even India. No matter where you are posted to, if you look hard enough, I am sure you will find a friend or acquaintance there, be it someone posted there, or some exchange student whom you studied with in the past. Track them down, link up with them and never break the link. Chances are, they will eventually become your best pals and your greatest support.

In your homeland, friends are taken for granted. You only go out with your best pals and leave the rest alone. This is due to the fact that we assume we could meet up with anyone anytime. Sadly, we end up losing touch with most of them, turning into strangers though living in the same city. In a foreign country however, you will tend to keep in closer contact with the few fellow countrymen you know (who else can understand you better than them?). When you feel lonely and helpless on a Christmas Eve, they will be the ones who show up at your doorstep with a roast turkey and warm your heart.

Tip 3: Find a church and stay there

Being a Christian, settling down in a church is like finding a second home. Having a place to worship the Lord every week is such pleasure, so church-hopping is a definite no-no for me. You can go to a few to have a look initially, but pray about it, choose one and stay there. There is nothing better than having fellowship with a group of God-loving brothers and sisters.

To sum things up, I would just like to emphasize that in order to survive in a foreign land, it is absolutely critical that you do your best to widen your social circle LOCALLY. True friends will not flutter around you like butterflies out of nowhere, and if they do, you would do well to stay away from them.

Be pro-active, whether this works for you is totally your own call now.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Presenting Noah, the fiery little boxer!

Disclaimer: No babies were poisoned or suffered any injuries during the making of this blogpost. And as I was one of the subjects in the pictures, I did NOT take these pictures.

No matter where you go, what you do, Daddy will always be behind you ok?

Friday, March 2, 2012

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