Before I accepted my teaching job here in South Korea, I had applied for and was offered a teaching job in Bangkok, Thailand. I was excited about the job offer and the notion of living in Thailand for a year; however, a good friend of mine advised me to try and get a job teaching in South Korea first before accepting the job in Thailand. I decided to follow my friend’s advice, and a month later, I was offered a teaching job in South Korea. This was the point where I had to choose where I would go: Thailand, or South Korea? Living in Thailand sounded like it would be a lot more fun. I mean, who actually chooses to visit, much less live in South Korea? After making a pros and cons list, I decided to move to South Korea, because not only did I already have friends there, I would get paid three times more teaching there than I would in Thailand.
Now that I’ve actually lived in Korea and been to Thailand, I’ve been thinking a lot about the decision I had to make early last year. When I first arrived in Bangkok, I thought, “Wow. I almost moved here!” But as the days went on, I thought to myself, “I’m so glad I chose South Korea instead.” Here’s why:
1) The biggest culture shock I felt while in Thailand, especially Phuket, was seeing so many foreigners at one time. In Korea, it’s rare for me to see other foreigners walking down the street, because in Suwon, where I live, there aren’t that many to begin with. During my occasional visits to Seoul, I’ll see more foreigners out and about, but in Suwon, it’s 100% Korea. And I actually prefer it that way because it has helped me to become more culturally immersed while living abroad.
2) In Korea, I feel safe: I never feel like I have to clutch my purse close to me because someone might try to steal my wallet; I never feel like I’m being scammed by the taxi drivers. In Thailand, I felt the exact opposite: I became paranoid as soon as I began walking down busy streets and would instantly cling to my purse in fear of someone trying to pickpocket me; in Phuket, Chris and I encountered a situation where a taxi driver tried to take advantage of us because he thought we were “dumb tourists.” Not fun.
3) It broke my heart to see Thai people sitting on the side of the street and begging for money, especially the ones who were missing their arms, legs, or sometimes, both.
4) It broke my heart even more to learn about what promiscuous lifestyles many Thai women live in order to make a living so that they can survive. Performing in “ping pong” shows. Escorting drunk and lonely old men. Pole dancing for an open crowd on the street while many foreigners record the “show” with their cameras and smart phones. It’s horrible.
5) In Thailand, I learned that I don’t like feeling like a queen. Thai people rely on tourists to help their economy; therefore, they will do whatever they can for their money. They beg tourists to come into their restaurants and massage parlors. They let tourists haggle souvenir prices down lower than what they originally asked for because they’re so desperate for money, they’ll take anything. In Thailand, I felt like even though I was the foreigner, the outsider, I was still the superior being compared to the Thai people I encountered, solely because I had more money. And feeling that way just felt wrong.
I know in my last two posts, I spoke very lovingly of Thailand, but the aforementioned list is everything I strongly disliked about the country. It was difficult enough being exposed to these circumstances for a week: the scammers, the poverty, and the sex tourism made me feel afraid, sad, and disgusted, so to be around those things for a year would become unbearably depressing. I’m not saying that living in Thailand isn’t feasible; I know of people who have done it before and loved it. However, I think that for me, while it may be eye-opening, living in a third-world country is not something I could do.