Four years ago I left the US to live in Thailand.
Why? Multiple factors. The endemic corruption of American capitalism makes most of the country too expensive to live in decently, even with a middle-class income. The culture wars (severely exacerbated after the 2016 presidential election) were eroding any sense of social harmony. My beautiful California was going up in smoke from climate change. And on a personal level, I was not getting my social needs met. Thailand was a good alternative: if it was corrupt at the top, at least that had little effect on social cohesion and livability. The culture was well-integrated, peaceful, accepting. And instead of being too fat, old, and poor to be a great romantic prospect, I was perfectly attractive to a young, attractive Thai partner. (We still had seasonal smoke to deal with, but it’s not as bad when you can afford to travel).
Last year, with the world locked down from the pandemic, Chiang Mai was a fine refuge—for whatever reason, life was almost normal here for those of us who didn’t need tourists to survive.
Now things look quite different. America still has its problems, but it’s not as dark as it has been. And yes, I can still enjoy a much better financial cushion here than there, and a wonderful relationship with a loving quasi-spouse.
But the pandemic response has turned around 180°. Far from returning to normal, the infection rate has been increasing, along with measures to prevent it—i.e. curfews and bans on social life. Government corruption has become much more intrusive, in that the promises of vaccine delivery all turn out to be lies. People are getting increasingly anxious—a bad prognosis for social harmony.
The Thai military junta, which seemed like a temporary aberration from democracy a few years ago, is more rigid, opaque, and unaccountable than ever. They quietly support their Burmese counterpart; if people press too hard for reform here, will they react with a comparable threat of violent repression?
I’m sitting on the balcony of my lovely condo, with the scent of fresh plumeria blossoms wafting over me from the treetop right next to me, the rain shower has just stopped. That’s enough reason to be here, for now. For tomorrow? I’m not so sure.