Interview with a Thai Twenty-Something Who Has Lived in Chicago, Yokohama, and Bangkok

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I met Chris Kridakorn in 2007 when we both were part of our college’s China and Japan study abroad program for 15 weeks. Since then he’s been all around the globe, not just visiting, but claiming residence and studying.

Today, Chris is living in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand with his parents and we recently caught up over e-mail. In this exchange Chris talks about his journey, the cost of living in Bangkok, working at a Thai restaurant in Yokohama, the political problems in his country, and why he and his Dad don’t speak Thai to one another.

I really hope you enjoy this look at Chris’ life.

Austin: You’ve traveled and lived all over the world, but how did you end up in Thailand?

Chris: I was born in Naperville, Illinois (Austin note: where Chris and I met at college) and after I turned 5 my family moved back to Thailand. My family was originally living in Atlanta. We moved to Naperville because my dad got a job offer there. I attended school here in Thailand up until my sophomore year afterwards I moved back to the U.S. to attend high school and college. I had originally planned to work in the United States, but my parents wanted me to move back Thailand so I did.

I am a dual citizen of both Thailand and the U.S. I am a U.S. citizen by birth and a Thai citizen since both my parents are of Thai ethnicity and also hold Thai passports.

A: How did all of the moving affect learning to speak different languages?

C: English is actually my first language and Thai is my second. When I first moved to Thailand I began to forget English almost immediately. So in order to help me not forget English my Dad would always speak English to me, even today we still speak English. If he hadn’t done so I probably would’ve forgotten English completely within a year. I was 5, maybe 6 years old at the time.

I attended a lot of English classes and had several English tutors throughout elementary school. Once I got to junior high my parents decided to place me in an international school where everything is taught in English. When I moved back to the U.S. only my brother and I moved back. We lived with our legal guardian who took care of us.

A: After college you ended up living in Japan for a year. What brought you to Japan?

C: I was in Japan from September 2008 to December 2009. It was roughly one year and 3 months. After our China/Japan trip (Austin note: our 3 month study abroad program in 2007) the year before I had always wanted to come back and learn some more Japanese. So I searched for a Japanese Language school and enrolled for 5 terms of 3 months each.

During my stay in Japan I worked part-time at a Thai restaurant in Yokohama near where I lived. Life in Japan can be a little tough for a foreign student who speaks limited Japanese. I had a lot of trouble understanding people and understanding the language. Everything felt really expensive and overpriced, but it was fun nonetheless. I would love to go back to Japan one day and get a job, however at the moment I don’t have any plans to move anywhere domestically or internationally.

A: What was it like working at a Thai restaurant in Japan?

C: I really enjoyed working at a Thai restaurant. There were several Japanese people working there but the majority including the kitchen crew were all Thai. It wasn’t easy finding employment. I had looked around before getting the job at the Thai restaurant. I applied at TGI Fridays and Star Bucks but at the time my Japanese wasn’t strong enough. I ended up working at the Thai restaurant because I had a friend who was working there already. I had a pre-college visa which allowed me to work no more than 24 hours per week.

It was definitely an interesting and fun experience. It was my first time working with both Thai and Japanese people. The Thais people who spoke Japanese had to translate Thai for the Japanese people, and the Japanese people helped the Thais to communicate better with the customers. It would definitely be a very hard job if you didn’t speak either language.

A: Back to Thailand, what are the prices like for some average expenses like food, travel, and internet?

C: The currency in Thailand is called Baht. The current exchange rate is around 32-33 baht per dollar. I don’t think anything in Thailand is particularly expensive, food though however is relatively cheap. Your average meal at a street vendor or at a shop is no more than 100 baht ($3). A small bottle of water is about 10 baht (30 cents) a liter of milk is about 50 baht and a dozen eggs is about 60 baht.

Nicer restaurants cost more but usually no more than 300 – 500 baht per meal. Really nice restaurants are priced the same as restaurants in the US, around 10$ for a plate of something.

My internet which is 3 MB is 600 baht ($18) per month. For the maximum speed available which is 16 MB it’s a little over 2000 baht ($60) per month.

The cost of phones here is generally the same as the U.S., but can be more expensive in certain cases. I believe an iPhone right now costs a little bit more here than it does in the U.S.

Traveling in Thailand can be pretty cheap depending on your preferences. There is plenty of cheap lodging around Bangkok area hotels can be as cheap as a few hundred baht per night. The nicer hotels such as Sheraton, Hyatt, or Mariott are at least 3,000 baht per night. Although I’ve been told that the service here is just as good if not better than the hotels in the U.S. Transportation varies, if just in Bangkok taxi meters start at 35 baht ($1) the Sky Train and Subway tickets range from 15 – 60 baht and bus fares start at 8 baht the cost of bus fares depends on the type of bus and how far you travel.

A: What personal finance accounts do you have?

C: I currently have a savings account that earns less than 1% interest semi annually. I do not have any money invested at the moment but I have been thinking of investing money as soon as I have money to invest. I also don’t have any credit cards at least not yet. Also to give you a perspective on money your average college graduate here in Thailand earns about 15000 baht ($470) a month.

A: We’ve all seen a lot of news about the political issues, protests, and troubles Thailand is having right now. What’s life like around you?

C: (Sun. May 16th) As of today the government had declared martial law and now we have curfews. The demonstrations started about 2 months ago and the intensity of the protests increased with every passing week. It started to become dangerous to go out at night and people started going home earlier earlier. Sometimes I can’t go to work and sometimes it’s hard to come back after work.

This past Friday all the trains stopped at 5 P.M. instead of the usual 12 A.M. and many people were stuck at work. There are parts of Bangkok that are more dangerous than others including the protest sites. With every minute that passes by Thailand moves closer and closer to a civil war, it has never been this bad before. It definitely is scary with the violence going on around you.

When I watch the news it’s usual countries in Africa somewhere fighting and bombing, but now when I look at the news I see shooting and bombings in places that I’ve been to. I do feel like it’s somewhat dangerous to be traveling Bangkok right now. So I would suggest tourists looking to move or work here to stay away for a bit. However, other provinces in Thailand apart from Bangkok are still safe to go to.

(Tues. May 18th) The situation here is pretty bad and I’ve been unable to go to work for the past 2 days. Also I just found out that they decided at the last moment not declare martial law. I’ve noticed that people are stacking up on food and water, and gas stations are running out of gas. Gas trucks are unable to enter the city due to fear of being hijacked along with closed streets making it harder to move about. There are also people who are stuck within the war zone without food and are just afraid to leave their houses. I am just about to ask my boss for permission to stay at home another day and wait it out.

A: What are the differences between living in Thailand, America, and Japan?

C: I’ve been asked numerous times about life in Thailand vs. Japan vs. America, and its very hard to say for me since I have come to love all three countries. I love how Japan is rich with culture and history along with its delicious delicacies that I never get tired of. Japan is also a very clean country but at the same time it is very congested and the cost of living is very high. My dorm room was literally the size of a closet.

When I was living in the U.S., I had all the space I needed. I lived in a house with my own room. I had my own car and while many things can be considered expensive it was still cheaper than Japan. My life in the U.S. wasn’t really that different from your average college student. I went to school and I had several part-time jobs throughout my college career.

Thailand however, is very different from the U.S. and Japan. While Thailand might not be as clean as Japan, nor as big as the United States, I’ve always found my life here to be the most complete, partly because I have relatives here. The cost of living in Thailand is very cheap and the food here is just as good as anywhere else. However, much like many other developing countries Thailand has constant political uprisings. Furthermore, the cheap cost of living also means that wages here are also very low in comparison to Japan and the United States.

A: Thailand is a popular destination for vagabonders, vacationers, and foreigners looking for temporary employment. Is there a need for foreign ESL teachers in Thailand?

C: There is definitely a need for English teachers however, the demand here isn’t nearly as high compared to Japan. Unlike many Asian countries such as Japan, China, and even Korea; Thailand has many English speaking people. Generally the foreigners who come to teach English in Thailand are older with more teaching experience who teach at internationally schools.

There are also many tourists who are staying in Thailand and tutor English for extra pocket money. However, I’ve seen very few foreigners our age (23-25) that come to Thailand to work. Most foreigners our age come to travel. I had assumed that the idea of teaching English in Thailand isn’t as attractive as teaching in Japan for people our age.

If you have decided that Thailand is the place for you then there are several ways you might be able to work here. Especially right now Thailand has many international schools that demand not only English teachers but math, history, science, and etc. However, they generally tend to hire older and more experienced teachers to ensure the quality of their education is maintained. Thailand’s market at the moment is somewhat unstable due to political protests that have dragged on; and whether that has effected the English teaching market or not I am not sure.

There is a website that I’ve seen called www.ajarn.com that routinely posts teaching jobs for foreigners.

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A huge thanks to Chris for the interview. We all hope him and his family will be safe as Bangkok figures out their problems.

If you have any questions for Chris about life in Bangkok, duel-citizenship, Japan, or anything else feel free to ask in the comments below and he’ll get back to you.

Photos: Chris Kridakorn, laurinkofler, and Christian Haugen

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