Today’s British expat interview features Daniel Ogilvie who is currently based in Thailand where he and his wife Ploy run a successful electronics business.
This is our first interview with a British expatriate in Thailand which also makes it even more interesting for me since its good to read what a fellow countryman thinks about my adopted home. Here’s what Dan had to say about his life as a British expatriate:
Where do you originate from?
I was born in Portsmouth, a town on the south coast of the UK. I spent most of my teenage years there before moving to Essex, (because of work), and then moving back to the south coast, first in the New Forest and then in Southampton.
Where did you move to and are living now?
I now live in Saraburi, a town about 1.5 hours drive north of Bangkok in Thailand. I just passed the first anniversary of my stay here but previously I lived in Kitchener, Canada for 3 years, (it was meant to be San Jose, California, but the work permit was taking too long), and prior to that I lived for 3 years in Singapore. All of the previous moves were driven, (or perhaps more accurately, enabled), by job offers. The move to Thailand was our choice as we had freedom in that we had started our own electronics business in Canada. So in total I have been away from the UK for about 8 years.
What made you choose to move to another country.
Before I left the UK I would have answered that by saying I was disillusioned with the UK. There were (many) individual instances I could cite but at the time I was travelling a lot to the Far East on business and I began to not think of the UK as home and standing on that decrepit train station at Woking waiting for my train home and looking around me I just longed to get straight back on a flight out of there. My parents were dead and I am an only child so I had nothing to tie me to the UK. When I married by wife (Ploy) who is Thai she stayed in the UK for 2 years but quickly formed the same opinion as me of the UK. So we plotted our escape.
With more time to reflect on the decision and having lived in other countries I have actually decided I am disillusioned with the world. Thailand is a very good place to hide from it.
How difficult was the process of moving, do you have any advice for someone seeking to do the same?
The logistics are reasonably simple. The first move from the UK was handled by the Singapore company I was moving to and they did absolutely everything. Latter moves we did ourselves. The hardest move was the one to Canada as it was meant to be temporary until the work permit for the USA was obtained so we only took a few things and moved everything from Singapore to the house we were buying in Thailand for storage. We ended up staying in Canada so that meant I had to survive 3 years without my books and CDs and that was difficult at times. Now we are still reacquainting ourselves with some things as we have 3 houses worth of furniture and belongings, (UK/Singapore, Thailand and Canada)!
I don’t think I can really offer advice, everyone’s circumstances are different. Neither Ploy nor I had friends or close family and we have always had a little bit of an ‘us against the world’ attitude and I think that helps. You are always going to be an outsider, especially in Thailand where I don’t exactly blend in with the locals. You need to be a little bit resilient to cope with that. They say it took 2 generations to be accepted as a local in the New Forest and they had a name for outsiders (grockles) similar to what the Thais have for Westerners (farangs). The same but different.
What are medical facilities like in your adopted country?
Fortunately I haven’t had to use them except local pharmacies and two hospital visits for medical certificates. However the ones I have visited seem clean and well equipped. I keep promising myself I should get medical insurance but I haven’t done so yet. As I pay myself the minimum amount, (more than 50,000 baht/month), have a work permit here and pay into the social fund I get free medical treatment. Actually compared to Canada and the UK I seem to get sick far less often here. Whether that is the climate, the less stressful lifestyle, the food, or whatever, I do not know. I went back to the UK for one week just a month ago and returned with my first cold since I was in Canada.
My wife did have to have an operation in Singapore. A combination of my company’s medical cover and our medical fund payments, (we were permanent residents there), covered all the costs. The diagnosis and treatment were exemplary and if either of us gets seriously ill we might consider going for treatment there, although we would have to pay this time of course.
What is the climate like and would it suit someone from the UK?
I would probably have to say no, based on the experiences of friends and colleagues from the UK who visited me in Singapore. Thailand is more extreme than Singapore and it is one thing to holiday here and another to work here, assuming you are not just going to stay in some air-conditioned bubble. Of course it is hot and humid all the year round, at least where we are in the central districts; the temperature was above 40degC for a few weeks this past year. That said I seem to cope with it as well as most and the average temperatures of 34degC or so are actually lovely, you can feel you body relax; it is like a warm bath. I will never complain about the heat after having endured the Canadian winters with temperatures below -30degC.
What have you done to learn to speak the local language?
I have all the books and the links to the language websites but I have never been a natural at languages; I wish we spoke in numbers instead. But I have to (want to) learn it and I have found a way that seems to suit me which is reading the language first even if I don’t understand what I read. Maybe it’s the ‘picture’ approach to memorising things but I seem to be able to remember the Thai characters and I start to read menus and road signs which I then ask my wife to translate and that seems to stick better than the speaking only approach, for me anyway. Mastering the tones and pronouncing some sounds which are different to what we have in the West is very difficult for me but bypassed by reading. This approach does mean I have a rather eclectic vocabulary!
I don’t berate myself too much at the moment. Thai is rated a 4 out 5 in the language difficultly scales, (Mandarin and Korean are a 5), so it will take time. I hope to be fluent enough to apply for permanent residency here in 3 years time as language fluency is a condition of applying so that is the target.
Where I live in Thailand no-one speaks English, (except for Ploy), so I need to be able to speak Thai well. That said handling all the banking and bureaucratic stuff to do with starting our business here would have been beyond most I think.
Do you have any regrets about moving
None at all. I could say I should have done it earlier but I think it needed the accumulation of the experiences of living in other countries to give me (us) the resolve to live here, because things are not always easy; (when things are difficult we usually tell each other, ‘well at least this isn’t Canada!’). I say us because Ploy didn’t want to move here even though she is Thai. She felt the same way about living in Thailand as I did about living in the UK. However, particularly living in Canada, we realised how difficult it can be if neither partner is a native of the country you are living in. We both disliked the UK more than we both disliked Thailand so Thailand it was!
What do you really miss from home?
More and more things that I would have missed are no longer there. Radio programs like Terry Wogan (retired) and I’m Sorry I haven’t a clue, (Humphrey Littleton has died); cricket (but that is being debased now in my opinion and all my favourite players are retired); proper bread, (now replaced by Ciabattas and other nonsense); English dark beer, (although the lager style beers here are not bad, especially Archa beer, and now I even put ice in my beer); music concerts, (I did see Tom Jones here but Thailand is not exactly the cultural centre of the world – Singapore is improving in that respect); art galleries; walking along the cliffs at St. Agnes in Cornwall or amongst the historic buildings of Old Portsmouth, (now being spoiled by new apartments), and bread, did I mention bread.
What are your plans for the future?
Establish our business and not move countries anymore. Buy that place by the sea. Make my own bread. Write that book, (3 books are 50% finished and will probably remain that way). Step back a little and enjoy the country we have chosen to be our home.
Dan and Ploy also run a personal web site called appropriately Dan and Ploy’s Website, which I would certainly recommend that you visit. The site has a very comprehensive and at times funny diary page which Dan updates on a regular basis besides lots of photographs of Thailand and Singapore. There are also several other sections to the site covering such things as art and music.
If you are in the electronics business you might also want to check out the company web site, SingMai Electronics, too.
If you are a British expat living anywhere in the world and would like to feature in an interview on British Expats Directory please use the contact form to express your interest.