In response to my recent entry about my fourth anniversary of moving to Thailand, Jason asked a pointed question: “Ever thought about moving back?”
From such a question is born a good blog entry, so here is my answer.
Why am I here?
Before I can think about moving back, I should explain why I’m here in Krungthep in the first place. Tawn received his Master’s degree at University of San Francisco in 2003. As part of the educational visas the US government provides, students are usually allowed to work for one year following the completion of their degree in order to get some practical experience. After that year, though, the student needs to apply for a non-resident visa, usually an H-1B.
Without going into a lot of detail, H-1B visas are difficult to come by, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 when the quantity of these visas was reduced to 65,000 a year, down from around 150,000 previously. Because of their scarcity, only people with highly specialized skills are generally able to get employee sponsorship for the visa. In this case, Tawn’s skills didn’t meet that threshold.
Because of that, Tawn faced the choice of either overstaying his visa or returning to Thailand. He chose to follow the legal path and, not wanting to end the relationship, I chose to follow him here.
The Big Mango: Love It or Leave It?
They say that expats in Krungthep usually either love or hate living here. I find myself somewhere in between, but closer to the loving it side. There are many benefits to living here beyond the fact that Tawn is here. From a cost of living standpoint, for example, we live significantly better off than we would if were living in the US, especially if we were still back in the San Francisco Bay Area.
There are things about life in the US, though, that I miss. Most of all, I miss being near my family. My grandparents both turn 90 next year and my nieces turn four and seven. Everyone is getting older and seeing them once every nine months or so isn’t often enough. Time is short and the opportunities to spend time with loved ones are fleeting.
At the same time, we have ties here, too. Tawn is an only child and his parents are more demanding of his time and attention than mine are. While it is hard for me to be far away from my family, I think it would be harder for Tawn to be away from his.
Would I? Could I?
Even if we wanted to move back to the US, could we? Tawn and I were married this summer in Iowa, one of only five states that currently allow same-sex marriage. Here’s the bad news – news that most Americans (even gay ones!) don’t realize:
We can’t move back as a couple.
Thanks to the poorly named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the US federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages. Immigration is a federal matter, so as long as DOMA is the law of the land Tawn and I cannot move back as a married couple. Tawn could only move to the US as either a student or by applying for one of those hard-to-get H-1B visas. Even if he did get in, we would be facing a ticking clock with little prospect of him being able to remain in the US over the long term.
[Update: In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the section of DOMA that is referenced above. Read about the impact of that decision on us here.]
Where Do You See Yourself in the Future?
I am asked this question each year during my annual performance appraisal, not so much because my boss expects the answer to change but because it is part of the Human Resources-designed appraisal process. If I had to pull out my crystal ball, where do I see myself in the future?
In the near future – say the next three to five years – I see myself still here in Krungthep. Even if Congress repealed DOMA, Tawn remains an only child and so I don’t see us moving back to the US anytime soon.
Looking beyond the five-year horizon, I think a lot of the future will depend upon events that happen, particularly regarding the health of both sets of our parents. Changing circumstances may dictate where one or the other of us spends more of our time, be it here or back in the US.
As we get to about ten years, I think we will likely look for options outside of Krungthep. Maybe that means having a country house where we can spend most of our time. Maybe that means living outside of Thailand (not necessarily in the US) for a portion of the year. If we could split our time between Paris and Krungthep, that would be great! Of course, this all depends upon developing jobs where we can move about readily. I already have that job. Tawn doesn’t, yet.
Yes, but would you move back to the US?
In a way, I’m dancing around that question. As much as I miss people (and a few restaurants) in the US, I don’t particularly miss life in the US for several reasons:
There is a lot of arrogance bred of insularity and ignorance. Too many Americans not only have never traveled abroad, they don’t care to inform themselves of the perspectives and values of other countries and cultures. Witness the horror with which Americans react to the suggestion that Canadians, French or Japanese might have something to teach us about how to run a health care system.
Discourse is increasingly shrill and intolerant. Thanks to the splintering of the media, people increasingly seek out and find channels that serve only to reinforce their already-held beliefs and perspectives. I don’t see how that serves democracy well and it certainly hasn’t improved the level of discourse within the US, either on political or social issues. I want to be able to communicate with others, not be shouted at by them.
Finally, the influence of corporations on public life and politics in the US continues to expand to dangerous levels. Many other countries have done a better job putting limits on the legal rights of corporations, deferring instead to the rights of individuals. Many other countries have also done a better job of limiting corporations’ involvement in politics.
To answer your question, Jason, I have thought about it. But even if the legal barriers to moving back were to fall away and even if there were no family ties holding us here in Thailand, I don’t think we would move back to the US, at least not full-time.
OMG, I found myself NODDING at the part where you talk about political discourse in America being “shrill and intolerant.” I would also categorize it as being very UNINFORMED.I also fully agree that the U.S. govt has done a very poor job in regulating the influence of corporate power on public life and politics, to the detriment of American democracy.
As usual, Chris, you very neatly expressed what I also feel is wrong with the US. We have traveled abroad and have experienced other cultures. Many Americans are badly undereducated about the world. I just wish I could get them to venture out of their comfort zone once. I’m sure they would be pleasantly surprised.Not sure I would pull up stakes and relocate but we have thought about it. Ireland was calling to both of us. Family here and now a new grandson has pretty much anchored us for now. You are missed. Once a year just doesn’t do it for sure.
You belong to the world. You are a citizen of the world.
Very well expressed!!!
Just a comment on the H1-B visa program, for a change this year and probably next there’s more supply than demand. This is the headline of a WSJ article just published on Oct. 30th: “Slump Sinks Visa Program” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125677268735914549.html). Of course, now the issue is getting a job vs. having the challenge of being approved for a visa!Now, I wholeheartedly (and sadly) agree with your comment on the pathetic state of public discourse. The way politicians have gerrymandered their districts (try getting unseating Democrats or Republicans in most districts and it’s nearly impossible due to demographics), the heavy presence of the extreme elements of both parties in primaries (centrist candidates don’t get nominated) and heavily biased and shallow news coverage (too much Jerry Springer-style entertainment with shouting matches galore and where all sides tell lies) has created a toxic atmosphere for any real progress. I guess you’d only need Thailand to be closer to the U.S. so that you could visit more often.
That would be wonderful if you could split your time between Paris and Thailand? I’ve never been to either but they both seem like great places to live.
I hope something like the Paris-Krungthep thing works out!You’ve certainly nailed the failings of the mental-political climate of average America; sometimes being surrounded by it can make it difficult not to despair. For about nine months, I was a political canvasser/community organizer in the here in the Midwest, and though a fortunate number of people are progressive, thoughtful, and willing to help, an unfortunate number are caught in what you described.
@epiginoskete – That is “here in the Midwest,” not “in the here in the…”
Paris Thailand would be awesome!!!Didn’t think about the immigration part before I read this.
1) One of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog so much is because you’re able to verbalize a lot of things that are on my mind as well (when I can’t seem to be able to). Your discourse on the US touches on a large part of why I’m so annoyed here as well. Granted, I’m still glad I’m American; I just wish things were different.2) I did not know this about same-sex couples/ marriages vs. immigration law. It makes sense now that I think about immigration being Federal; I just think it’s very unfortunate that this happens when one element of the couple is a non-citizen; even if there was a state-legal marriage.3) Do you know if H1-B applies to ALL countries outside of the US, or if say, UK and Canada are exempt?
You have given this more than a casual think. It is too bad that the federal govt. doesn’t recognize your marriage. I’m certain you are not alone in that respect. I thinnk I could live anywhere if I had my husband with me – even if I had to give up my one vice – Dr. Pepper.
Paris and Krungthep would be a great combination! Especially since from Paris you can easily travel through Europe. And I agree with you when it comes to American ignorance. It would be great to live in a place where Fox News doesn’t have such a big influence on the people lol
We’ve discussed this many times. I’m glad you put in the part about aging parents. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do it alone. As much as I love Dad, I look in my crystal ball and see myself butting heads with him. Hopefully, Mom will still be around and be a buffer zone. Now that I think of it, maybe my experience as a mother to Ava is preparing me for Dad. Interesting thought….
Very very interesting. Given my affinity for Asia, I am hoping Felix and I will move there one day. As much as I love Canada, there’s just some magic over there that I cannot put my finger on. I’ve never been to France so cannot comment on Paris but I’d love to split my time with London. :)There are so many non insular Americans. It’s too bad that the really ignorant ones are the loudest. I’ve met some really great ones (you included) over the years!
Thailand and Paris sound very good choice when the timing is right!
Best wishes! 🙂
Well Chris, I somewhat have the same way of thought like yours, regarding the States and living as an expat. Since I had made countless trips to the Big Mango to maintain a relationship years ago and had in that process, almost become a “half-Thai”. *blush* I had seriously considered moving here due to some of the advantages you mentioned above. As I have said before, if I were in your shoes and given the chance of living somewhere in Asia, I would gladly do so in a New York minute! BTW, Happy Loy Krathong!
@oldpartner – Interesting that you choose to write that here. I wonder if Mom or Dad will respond…
Thanks for taking your time to answer my question. Sometimes I do wonder if ex-pats ever thought about the inconvenience dealt to them by the foreign countries, such as law and culture, and think that they wouldn’t need to deal with it if they were at the home country.Your entry does let me know that US is a very unattractive option right now.How ironic that my parents wanted me to have a “better life” here…
I take it oldpartner is your sister?
@morning_teas – Thank you.@CurryPuffy – You have the perspective of an expat from a couple of directions, Gary, having gone from HKG to LA, too.@stevew918 – Paris and anywhere seems like a good combination to me! =D@brooklyn2028 – @epiginoskete – That’s very true. Even when I lived in Kansas City for 14 months before moving here there were plenty of people who made an effort to be open minded and understand. But even when they are willing to be open minded, the lack of exposure to other cultures and perspectives puts them at a disadvantage. How can you know what you don’t know, until you find out that you don’t know it?@Rm2046 – Fox isn’t the only guilty party, though. MSNBC and, more broadly, the increase in the number of pundits, is also to blame. Add to that the Jon Stewart and Bill Mayers of the TV world and we end up with a populace that gets more of its political news from one-liners and soundbytes than from anywhere more substantial.@murisopsis – Hmmm… I have read reports that the US embassy gets shipments of Dr. Pepper. Truly, I’ve heard that.@chow@ireallylikefood – I’m always glad I’m American because in many countries, to voice such discord would be to invite imprisonment or worse. As for the visas, Canada and Mexico have different visas from the H-1B because of NAFTA and a few other countries have negotiated special carve-outs from the larger number of H-1Bs as party of free trade treaties.@yang1815 – Case in point – most people don’t realize about the Defense of Marriage Act and its immigration effects. I think if I could buy TV ads across the country and tell the story of me and Tawn, we could probably get the law changed, at least that part of it.@epiginoskete – No points deducted for grammar. Mine has been slipping ever since I left the US! =D@TheCheshireGrins – Actually, here’s my real plan: Thailand from November to February while the weather is cold; Paris in the springtime until May; San Francisco until August; autumn in New York. And when I need a break, a trip to Australia. How’s that sound?@TheLatinObserver – In researching this entry I ran across the reports about H-1B demand being surpassed by supply. Not surprising given how hard it is to get a job. In fact, even if a company was to hire someone for an H-1B position I think they would find it hard to convince the gov’t that there wasn’t an American who was equally qualified.@Dezinerdreams – Thank you.@choyshinglin – I read a book by Pico Iyer titled Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, & the Search for Home which really spoke to me. @tdaojensen – The US government is so deeply in the pockets of corporations that it has no incentive to better regulate corporate influence in politics. The fox can’t be trusted to guard the hen house.
@Wangium – That’s right.@Wangium – Oh, every time I have to deal with a visa issue or hassle over finding a part for a home repair (why, oh why isn’t there an Orchard Supply Hardware around!?) I have the sense that life would be easier in the US. But ease and convenience is just one measure by which to evaluate quality of life.Regarding your parents wanting you to live in the US in order to have a better life, I can really appreciate that life in the US is better in many ways than life for natives in other countries. Tawn and I agree, for example, that if we had children we wouldn’t want them to grow up exclusively in Thailand, particularly the Thai educational and social system. The US really does offer a lot. But for Americans themselves, staying only in the US can be a disadvantage.
@stebow – Well, nothing to keep you from traveling more, if not living overseas. You and Dick could retire into a life as vagabond adventurers.
@christao408 – I’m sure it’ll be changed in a few years though.
Your blogs are such eye openers. You have such an organized and cultured way of relating things and events. I can see how you must feel. I am in the same boat. More than forty years, and I still would like to go back to India and spend few months ( atleast that ), just so I can feel the sincerity of the people there, and the value of relationships. I love this country, but so often, I see so many aspects of family values brought down by fake appearances. I know I would never be able to live away from this land and make India my country again though.
@ZSA_MD – Thank you for the kind words. If it weren’t for your grandsons, I’m sure it would be easier for you to take your extended visits back to India, especially around mango season.
@christao408 – heh heh heh. True.
I could not agree more. Brad and i are in a very similar, but reversed situation. Of course we are lucky enough that we could both could have visa. It upsets me immensely that you and Tawn are not granted the same right. It is beyond unfair. I also agree on all the political-societal issues. I ask myself the “where am I going to end up?” question every day at least 2 times a day.
@italianbyrd – Thanks for the comments, Silvia. We would like to get back to NY for a visit again, this time while you are in town!
An excellent and candid post. Some thorough considerations on how and why you (both) live here and not there.We’ve struggled with the ‘where to live’ question, with seeing both of our families – who are in the US and UK, while our work is based in Asia – and our work-in-progress solution is to spend a couple months/year in Sicily to see family and work on my studio, and spend the rest of the year in Asia, currently based in Bangkok.It’s never easy, but nothing worthwhile is, eh? Keep up those great food videos!
@Elizabeth – Glad you liked the videos and that you enjoyed the post, too. We hope that at some point in the future, splitting time between multiple locales will be doable. In the meantime, it’s Bangkok, home sweet home.
Pingback: Getting to Know Me | christao408