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July 22, 2009

To Retire in Paradise…

Tom McLaughlin

Phuket Island, Thailand – Tourism and retirees are the major sources of income for those living in the Phuket area. A very impoverished region, thousands are underemployed along the coast serving the needs of westerners.


The towns are similar to the boardwalk in Ocean City, minus the rides. Tailor shops, souvenir stores, massage parlors and restaurants line both sides of two very long, major streets. Lazy cross streets form a non-math grid.


The large western retirement community holds mostly Swedes, an understandable fact given the cold dark climate of Scandinavia. I met widowers and divorced men, but no elderly couples. I was introduced to two Americans, both deep into day trading and not very friendly.


The Thai government requires a yearly income of 26,000 American in order to retire. The Swedish pension seems to be around that figure because several said their currency had dropped against the Thai baht, and hence, brought them under that amount.


Houses can be purchased or rented but buying one comes at great risk. Guarantees are often not honored and shoddy workmanship is the norm. Renting seems to be the most popular option because the landlord must fix the property. A three bedroom three bath house near the beach will lease for about $457 a month. Smaller condo units are available for around $228.


Most men have a live in Thai girlfriend. These women come from rural poverty or are products of divorce. They are responsible for cooking, cleaning, companionship and sexual needs. I am not sure of the exact financial arrangement but several of the English speaking Thai women state it is fluid. They usually request money from time to time for personal expenses not related to the household. High school tuition for their children from a previous relationship seems to be the normal major request.


Like all parents everywhere, they work for the betterment of their children.


The ladies ideal arrangement, or so several have informed me, provides care of a single retiree through end life. The women usually receive a very nice place to live by their standards, a minor salary and money for miscellaneous expenses. This long term arrangement provides job security. Given the horrendous terminal care and cost afforded by the United States (I just went through it with mom and dad), it is certainly an arrangement worth investigating.


Hey, beautiful weather, cheap food, palm trees and a pretty Thai woman to take care of me? I certainly could die that way.


Men coming for a two-or-three year contract will often acquire women only to leave them when their contact is completed and they return home. I don’t know what promises or assumptions were made when the relationship began, but some of the women seemed to think they would return with the men to their home countries. The contract workers probably took advantage and lied through their teeth.


Deep winter is the height of the tourist season, as Scandinavians leave the frigid and half-an-hour sunshine climate. The time also coincides with the Australian summer season when schools are closed. Beaches are shoulder to shoulder, traffic gridlocked and there are waits for massages.


Tourists continue the destruction of the coral reefs. Boats taking the vacationers out throw their anchors on top of the reef dragging it across the reefs, destroying the sea life. Most harmful of all is the habit of breaking off coral for souvenirs for a table top in Stockholm. Many think a small piece won’t matter; but multiply that by hundreds of thousands of people and there is not much left.


Many people who see a destroyed reef think that is what it should look like. There are a few schools of colorful fish; sea urchins have taken the place of gaps in the coral, while white sand reflects from the bottom. If they could see a reef in all its glory, then the destruction would stop. But, they probably will never see that because one must search for the experience.


Because Thailand relies so much on tourism, it is very reluctant to enforce laws against the visitors. There is a “look the other way” attitude. If I saw a person breaking off a piece of coral, I would demand he be immediately shot and the remains fed to the sharks.


The people on the other coast of Thailand are embroiled in a civil war. Some publications call the area “restive,” but that is a very mild description. Its like saying the Battle of Gettysburg was a restive engagement. Two different ethnic groups, Thais and Malays are killing each other for control of the province. Each blames the other for the atrocities, and it is difficult to sort what is really going on and why. I am certainly not going there to find out.


South Thailand is a land of enchantment, laid back, warm weather, tropical seas, inexpensive food and beautiful people, both mentally and physically. It drips of both sensuality and sexuality. It is about as close to paradise as one can get and the price is inexpensive for the average low to middle income person from a western nation.


I could not retire there. A month or two of paradise would turn me into a happy vegetable. Like Ocean City, it is a fine place to visit but totally lacks any kind of mental stimulation.


To grow old and happy, one must keep the mind active, and here one could easily sink into a mental dead zone. Family and friends are literally half a world away, two days of travel in this jet age.


I like to explore and relate how people live. Not the rich and famous, but people like me. We, too, have a story worth telling and it is far more interesting than the society pages of The Washington Post.


Life is good…


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