Hello! Today I'm posting Chapter 2. After this one, I'll be writing posts about things that have happened or are happening here in Thailand. Don't worry though, if you're interested in finishing the book, I intend to make it available for free for the first five days it's on Amazon. Once I have a cover and have it posted, I'll provide a link here for a free download. Thank you to those who subscribed, commented, or just checked out Sailor in Thailand!
Chapter 2 – Letting Go
During one’s lifetime, a person tends to accumulate a great many things. Growing up with my WWII-era grandparents with hoarding tendencies, I inherited some of their traits and had more “stuff” than most. In addition to all my household goods and furniture, I also had a garage stuffed to the gills with boxes of sentimental and nostalgic items with which I could not part, as well as old paperwork, letters and bits and bobs that would surely be of use … someday.
The first thing I did was go through it to see how much I could simply throw away. I would open one box and ponder the importance of each item. Each old letter, each small treasure I saved as a memento of a school outing, family vacation or occasion with friends. I kept the gems and tossed the chaff. After days of this tedious process, I realized I still had nearly as much as I did when I had started. During a conversation with my 19-year-old son, I mentioned my dilemma. He said, “Why are you saving all that junk?” I said, “I don’t know. I guess I want to be able to pass down some things to you to remember me by.” He said, “Don’t worry dad, I’ll remember you, but I don’t want all that old crap.” A little harsh, but I smiled to myself because his statement made me realize I really had no reason to keep most of what I had been saving and moving, literally around the world, my entire adult life. I started the process again and this time only saved a few nostalgic items, and things I knew a friend or family member may want or need.
Once I got rid of the trash, I had a garage sale, but I realized the amount of money I was making was hardly worth the time and effort I was expending; I began to give everything away. I gave away tools, furniture, appliances, antiques and electronics. With every item I gave away, I felt more weight being lifted from my shoulders. I was being relieved of a burden I didn’t even know I had. I took a selfish joy in bestowing all my worldly possessions on my friends, knowing what a swell guy I was. The last item I gave away was my 2009 Toyota Matrix as I was dropped off at the airport to leave for Bangkok.
The things I truly could not part with amounted to a few plastic bins, which are graciously being stored in a good friend’s cool, dry garage in Tucson, Arizona. I emphasize the importance of a dry climate because when I joined the Navy, I stored some things in Texas, which can be quite humid. When I went back to pick up my belongings, anything made of paper or cloth was ruined and my collection of vinyl albums was nearly as warped as my mind.
In addition to downsizing my life, there was a large amount of paperwork to accomplish before leaving the U.S. permanently. I had to renew my passport, and decided to apply for the non-immigrant OA, multiple-entry visa, aka retirement visa. To be eligible, one must be at least 50-years-old and have the equivalent of 800,000 Thai baht in the bank, or an income of 65,000 Thai baht per month. The exchange rate at the time was about 36 baht to the dollar. A police background check was required, which I accomplished through a company called Live Scan. I went to the local police station and paid $22 for them to provide me a background report based on my fingerprints. Luckily, I’ve never been caught doing anything questionable, so the report defined me as a law-abiding citizen. A medical exam was also required. The Thai embassy website provides a PDF document that may be downloaded and taken to your medical provider. It basically consisted of answering a few questions and a blood test to determine if the applicant has any specific conditions, such as HIV or tuberculosis. With these documents, along with the visa application, statements proving my income, required photos and signed copies of every page in my passport, I made an appointment with the Thai consulate in Los Angeles. This was the closest Thai consulate to San Diego, but there are others located throughout the United States. I met all the requirements and was thrilled when I finally received my shiny, new visa stamp in my brand new passport. It felt like a major step toward my goal.
I also applied for an international driver’s license, and arranged with family for a permanent stateside address for official mail. Getting the international driver’s license will simplify your life if you plan on driving in Thailand. In general terms, it is a translation of your state driver’s license. If you intend on riding a motorcycle in Thailand, you need a license specifically for a motorcycle. The international license is good in Thailand for 90 days. After that, you are legally required to obtain a Thai driver’s license. With the international license, you will only be required to take the written exam (translated into English). Without it, you will be required to also complete a practical driving exam.
For anyone wanting to follow in my footsteps, there is a wealth of information online. I particularly found retirecheapjc on YouTube to be especially helpful in learning about Thai culture and the ins-and-outs of retiring to Thailand. JC (he claims it stands for Just Chillin’) has been an expat in Thailand for several years and in addition to his Youtube videos, he also has a website (retirecheap.asia) which is chock full of information regarding making the move and living in Thailand. JC is a bit of a modern-day philosopher and philanthropist. He uses a portion of any profit he make from his website to benefit the Baan Kingkaew Orphanage in Chiang Mai. He occasionally broadcasts his visits to the orphanage on his YouTube channel. I would highly recommend JC’s videos and website to anyone interested in moving to, or even visiting Thailand. There are many other channels and websites as well, and each have their own niche regarding life in Thailand. I encourage you to explore the Internet to learn as much as possible about your future home.
I’ve discussed what items I rid myself of, but there were many things I really didn’t want to leave behind. My extensive CD collection, family photos and home videos were important to me, so I copied them all to a hard drive. I backed that up to another hard drive, which turned out to be a wise decision because one of the first things I did when I arrived in Thailand is to drop one. The process of digitizing all this was very tedious. I scanned photos for days, then found a company to which I could send a box of photos, have them scanned and sent back to me along with a DVD of all the scans. It wasn’t cheap but if you value your time, it’s worth it. I copied about 400 CDs myself, which was also tedious, but went faster than I thought. I considered copying my DVDs but decided I rarely watch a movie more than once or twice, and there are numerous ways to see movies online nowadays. In addition to the media I saved to the hard drive, I also scanned all my important documents: birth certificate, DD-214, health records, social security card, divorce papers, etc. I kept the hard copies as well, but thought it wise to have electronic versions.
Knowing my current bank charges substantial fees to use its ATM card overseas, I did some research and opened an account with a bank (Charles Schwab) that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. My retirement checks are deposited into one account, then I transfer money into the second account to avoid fees. I use an ATM card to access cash in Thailand. Sometimes transaction limits can be a pain. For instance, when I decided to purchase a motorbike, I had to make several withdrawals over several days to have the cash to buy it. My only U.S. bills are for a movie-streaming account and for a cell phone account. I kept my old cell phone because it turns out it doesn’t cost that much to maintain, and my loved ones can text or call me from the States via my usual telephone number. Also, I have all my official accounts tied to this number and didn’t want to replace it with a Thai phone number. Having the U.S. phone is great, except for some reason people don’t seem to understand there is a significant time difference between Thailand and the U.S., resulting in occasional 3 a.m. phone calls. To be fair, 90 percent of my correspondence with family and friends is conducted through social media features for free. WiFi and high-speed Internet are available throughout most of Thailand, especially in tourist regions and larger cities.
There are some emotional aspects to leaving one’s home to live in a new country. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to the U.S. very often, simply due to the expense and inconvenience. The trip from Los Angeles to Bangkok takes more than 20 hours including layovers, and depending on when you fly can be quite expensive. I knew when I left, I wouldn’t be seeing family and friends again for quite a while, maybe years. My father recently suffered from a heart attack and had open-heart surgery. It was especially important to see him again. So, I embarked on a cross-country trip to visit friends and family. I think if you’re planning to move to another country, it’s important to spend some face-to-face time with those you love, not just to say goodbye, but to let them know why you’re leaving and assure them you can still maintain contact while you’re away. Even though I hadn’t seen some of my family members for years, when you don’t have the option to hop on a plane to be with them in a few hours, it feels like a more serious separation.
To this point, I had unburdened myself of nearly all my worldly possessions, acquired the necessary paperwork, converted media and information to an electronic format, visited as many friends and family members as possible, and I felt prepared. My baggage included one suitcase, one carry-on camera bag, and one soft briefcase with all my important documents. I took $2,000 cash with me, although I didn’t really need that much. I wanted to be sure if I had any problems with the ATM machines I had a back-up plan. I needn’t have worried. Every ATM machine I have used in Thailand has worked fine for me.
I was able to get a cheaper flight from Los Angeles than from San Diego, so I called on Amy, a good friend who lives in L.A., to take me to the airport. Amy is a single, former Marine with two daughters, and she’s had a pretty rough go of it over the years. We were stationed together at the joint-service, Defense Information School to learn military public affairs, journalism and photography. She stayed in for one tour, while I made a life of it. Even after all these years, it’s like nothing has ever changed. Amy was a tremendous help to me when I was cleaning my apartment and finishing up the last details of my departure and she happily agreed to drop me off. I drove my Matrix to Los Angeles and stopped by her house. When we left for the airport, I had her drive my car and on the way I told her the car was hers and I had already signed the title over to her. I knew she had been having problems with her car and didn’t have a lot of extra money to have it fixed. It was a good feeling knowing my last act while in the U.S. was to help a good friend … karma. Since I left the U.S., Amy was promoted within her company and transferred to the Midwest. She’s doing great now and tells me the Matrix is still running like a champ.