Greg Jorgensen is a Canadian expat ranting, raving, and just generally observing the madness that is Bangkok, Thailand. A city boy at heart, he moved to Thailand involuntary – he came for adventure and stayed when his money ran out. Now he works as a freelance journalist and maintains a blog about Bangkok's endless quirks and ubiquitous nuances: "Greg to Differ".
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Alberta, Canada
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Yaowarat (Chinatown), Bangkok, Thailand
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Almost 9 years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I came here on a vacation, ran out of money, got a job, and forgot to leave. Best thing I ever did. I work now as a project manager at a magazine and as a freelance journalist.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: Quality of life is epic if you know how to enjoy yourself and like losing yourself in a different culture. Thing I like most about it here is the people, who are never boring, and the slightly ‘wild west’ attitude, where you can do (almost) anything you like to do. The controlled chaos is attractive to me.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Friends and family obviously, although with Skype, email, etc it’s easy to talk to them regularly. Beyond that I miss autumn the most; crunching leaves, wool jackets, crisp air. I also miss the generally high standards you find in the West – everything from construction quality to education to labour benefits, which are often glossed over a bit here.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Absolutely, if you’re not a n00b. Recent troubles, of course, were the rare exception, but how many major riots in any city would you go and take pictures of? Bangkok is like any big city: use your head, avoid any trouble areas and dark alleys, remember your street smarts, and you should be okay.
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Most expats are clustered around the Thong Lo/Sukhumvit/Silom areas, which is quite a large swath of land. I prefer the more local neighborhoods, like Chinatown where I live now, which give you a much more ‘real’ perspective on living here.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Bangkok isn’t as cheap as many people think, but one of the great things about it is that it can be cheap if you know your way around. Living an expat lifestyle (good food, Starbucks, big apt, cable television, nice restaurants, private schools for your kids, etc) will jack up the price by a lot. However, unbeatable street food and good, cheap fun is easy to find.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Yes, mainly with other expats. Of all my friends, I’d say about 25% are Thai. Of them, I’d say about 90% are female. I hate to say it, but in nearly 9 years here I’ve yet to meet more than a handful of Thai men who don’t remind me of an annoying pipsqueak in grade 9.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Very easy, but you have to be proactive about it. Join clubs, go to networking events, use Twitter and Facebook.
About working in Thailand
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Yes, it’s a constant battle for many here. The rules are so convoluted and can change depending on which office you go and what mood they’re in. Neighbouring countries, by comparison, do things right: pay a yearly fee, pay your taxes, you’re good. In Thailand, they make it so hard to do things legally that many people opt to live and work illegally (I have two work permits, in case you’re wondering) :D
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: There’s an average amount of work, but the economy is quickly getting back up to speed even on a worldly level; construction projects on condos and office buildings are sprouting up all over the place.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: There’s a definite seniority/hierarchy thing going on that’s common in Asian cultures where respect/admiration is given automatically (our bought) instead of earned, which has always bugged me. But generally it’s respectful, enjoyable and rewarding if you follow the rules.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Very good, I’d dare say as good or better than back home. Of course, you do pay for it, but the quality is top notch.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Learn the basics of Thai; use technology to learn the city and network (Facebook, Twitter, etc); use your street smarts (know when a scam is a scam); learn the transportation networks (bike, bus, taxi, boat, tuk-tuk, train, etc); eat food on the street.
~ Interviewed July 2010