Ages 35-40, First Years Overseas, in Bangkok (1994-2000)
As covered briefly in the previous section, I was very eager to explore Asian cultures, and travel, especially while I was young with no children. I also wanted to explore the possibility of doing I.T. consulting for the purely private sector far from the government sector.
When I first arrived in Bangkok, the travel and cultural wonders were very exciting, but I was shocked to find that the internet did not exist in Thailand for all practical purposes, and in fact it was illegal to set up a private, commercial communications system, so I couldn't set one up myself and provide the service, unlike my early home ISP serving people in the Washington, D.C., area! There were things I couldn't do which I had done in the USA.
This was my first experience at being prohibited by a government in doing any internet business. It was all reserved for monopoly providers given a "concession" contract by the government, and word had it that it required a lot of under the table money and connections. As such organizations operate, things were run poorly and progressing slowly.
My only internet connection was an international direct dial to a hub I had left behind in the USA with a friend to operate (Ben Hacker, separate from XYZ as discussed in the previous page), at considerable expense.
(There was a monopoly government run packet switching gateway to the outside world, but it was minimal and terrible. A few other people also had the idea of doing something with internet, but they were turfy. The only positive interest I got from the Thai side was from a few universities with very kind people, though of limited utility and potential, and cognizant of the government powers.)
After arriving in Bangkok, the US government related consulting went very slow, to say the least. However, I could see that the purely private sector in Bangkok was booming and that there were a lot of expat executives here, who I would see in the expat entertainment zones at places such as pubs after work.
Therefore, I set out to meet expat executives in the purely private sector, working for multinational companies. Some of them were keenly interested in using my skills. After less than half a year in Bangkok, I switched to consulting to these purely private sector multinationals, and switched my income pursuits completely. Working for the private sector was so much quicker and easier to organize.
As a result of completely switching my work realm, plus relationship problems with my hard working partner who I had arrived with (and who I had known for only a short time before going to Thailand, and with some compatibility issues having arisen before the trip), I moved out of my "free" luxurious apartment in the heart of the city center and went my own way into a new life.
The years 1994-1995 were also years in which I did a lot of tourist-like exploring as well. I spent a lot of time socializing and networking with work colleagues, and many of them were in the same situation as me -- new to Thailand.
I like Thai people. They are usually polite, relaxed, slower paced, and generally down to Earth. They reminded me a lot of country people and farmers in my native state of Arkansas. I spent a lot of time watching people in public, especially in the outer suburbs were there were practically no expats at the time, and the pace was even more "native" than in the multinational city center.
For example, at one large company where I was a consultant in the 1990s, at the end of the workday there were around 10 Thai staff hanging around an area sharing food and chatting, and I was just sitting there relaxed in my chair soaking it all in. At one point they started talking about the expats working for the company, just light talk, joking, mimicking, and commenting. One of the employees was fairly new and she pointed out that Mark is right there, like why aren't they concerned that I'm hearing all that? The others looked over at me in a friendly way and one said something which translates like "Mark is Thai already" and others chuckled and nodded in agreement, and then they continued talking about the expats again like before. It made me feel even more included.
The expat Operations Manager of the same company later commented that I walk like a Thai, and behave a lot like one, just out of the blue.
I learned my Thai language in companies, and in an outer suburb where I had moved to beside Ramkhamhaeng and Assumption Universities. I didn't learn my Thai from lowly educated bargirls using slang, for the most part, unlike many other expats. I knew a lot of both kinds of Thai (and Isan) and the differences. I chose to speak my Thai like I usually speak my English -- softly, not too fast, clear pronounciation (not skipping sounds), and politely. They also understood my English better because I spoke slowly and clearly, and was careful to avoid slang. Since Thai was my 4th language (after Spanish and Russian), I had some previous experience processing foreign languages.
My work at first was to a fairly diverse range of multinational companies run by directors and upper level managers from Australia, the UK, US, and Europe (in roughly that order, with Australians and British by far the biggest), but staffed mostly with Thais. Some were Thailand branches of big multinationals, whereas others were small and medium sized enterprises. It was a great learning experience to see how these purely private sector corporations operated in Asia.
My job was usually bringing American computer and networking expertise into the company in order to organize their information and project management systems. I was surprised to find Australians and Europeans as well as Americans overseas to be very significantly behind the USA in computer usage and systems setup. I was fairly well ahead in the USA, but in Thailand I was much further ahead. However, sometimes I was also used in additional roles (electricity troubleshooting, management advice about things in Thailand, and asked for analyses and opinions on things).
As always, practical applications was my interest, not so much the technology itself, but I am very good at learning technologies in detail, moreso when on the spot as needed. I have always been a quick learner and good troubleshooter in I.T.
I quickly decided to focus on the engineering and construction community, as it both had the most interesting projects (I love big engineering projects) and also had the best referral potential within that community. I am accustomed to getting work by referrals rather than advertising. It is good to be a known person in a community, with references who people already know, rather than all the time required to get acquainted as a complete stranger and build up trust. Also, I just love engineering projects that design and build things, and was fascinated by all the projects of these companies, from skyscraper buildings to factories.
Design work was usually split between an office in a Bangkok highrise, a construction shack on the site of the work, and offices overseas where experts reviewed designs. I most enjoyed visiting the sites. They were just getting hooked up with modems to network all these sites.
In Thailand, I stand out as a foreigner, and my point of contact at each site was usually the top guy there who was usually a foreigner, or one of his small handful of top foreign managers/mentors. I was highly respected by all the Thai workers. I didn't need to say anything. Dressed in business attire, all I had to do was put on a hard hat and I could freely walk around many sites. I also had access to all the data, and enjoyed going over design plans and tracking progress in construction, including memos of problems and solutions which cropped up. I learned a lot about engineering and construction projects in a short time, vicariously.
I got along with the Thai staff very well. Many foreigners didn't, frustrated by the language and cultural barriers, and different work styles. Many other expats complained that it can be very frustrating to work with Thais. I seemed to be much better at working with Thais and getting good results over time. I like gentle people, and I can teach people slowly and with a lot of patience and perseverance.
The top levels of Thai management are usually smart. There are staff problems in all countries. Thai people value harmony and avoid conflict which is unnecessary. Sometimes, this leads to avoiding problems until they get too big. It's important to control one's temper and let people feel safe telling you when they fear shortcomings or mistakes. On the plus side, Thai people try to work out problems in a peaceful way. I like the Thai way. However, I learned to be wary of underlying problems, and methods of finding out. Thai people knew that I don't have much of a temper, stay composed, am very forgiving of mistakes, and patient. I did find out about a lot of issues by being this way which other foreigners did not. Like one Managing Director told me, he was amazed about how much I found out that was going on which other expats were oblivious to, but I had to be careful who I reported important things, how it was reported, and how we decided to handle situations the best ways, all considered.
I also learned a lot about the property business, since that's what a lot of projects were about -- developing properties -- and in various social gatherings, I got to know who's who, and to meet some of the analysts and investors.
Foreigners are a small minority in companies in Thailand, and we tend to socialize a lot more in business situations, usually separately from most Thais except a small number of veteran executives in multinationals. It's nice to talk with other native English speakers who are expats doing business way over here in Thailand for one reason or another. Expats tend to be high achievers relative to folks back home, and also to have diverse backgrounds. Compared to people back in our native countries, there tends to be a lot more socializing that goes along with business with expats overseas.
One thing that struck me was that practically everything was imported western technology. The companies saw as their mission the training of Thai staff in western methods and standards. The greatest challenges were trying to get the Thai staff to be able to analyze, solve problems, and create solutions on their own. I'd had these problems with many American programmers, but in Thailand the situation was much worse.
I came to really appreciate my own origins.
I was also appreciated by others for my solutions, relatively speaking.
Many times, I was sent to fix problems at companies which already had many I.T. staff with university degrees in computer science. Many were slow and seemingly unable to solve problems which they weren't trained on, like they didn't have good problem solving skills, and it was mainly just a job, not a curiosity.
All this work was spotty, as I was a consultant and not a fulltime employee. I would work a day here and a day there, or a few hours here and there, as needed. Sometimes I would spend one to a few days on one job, and other times I would line up 2 or 3 short consulting jobs in a day and night. Many high level expats were learning about personal computers and internet at home in the mid-1990s. They realized that they must learn it.
I had moved out into suburban Bangkok and was living very, very cheaply like a Thai, so I was able to make ends meet while pursuing this adventure, so that I didn't need to work full time. Embedding myself in mainstream Thai culture also helped me develop my Thai language skills.
THAT was my secret to surviving in Thailand -- living very cheaply, like a Thai, in purely Thai areas. Once you cut your costs to the bone -- rent just a small room in an apartment block at Thai rates, eat Thai food on the streets, take the bus, and generally live cheaply like a Thai -- you can go consult to a big multinational company for one day and live on that for a week.
As my business sometimes got me into areas in which I lacked experience, I occasionally hired programmers from a few universities and recent graduates who had supposedly learned the latest technologies. With most of them, I was shocked at their lack of problem solving skills, how they addressed issues, the solutions they proposed, and just the lack of attention to detail and quality. They were copycats, and I had a very difficult time getting them to think out of the box. I would just come out doing the work myself, figuring it out as I go, and showing them how. It took a lot of attrition and time before I got a short list of good techies who I felt comfortable referring to a customer.
In talking with many Managing Directors, they said there are a lot of good engineers, architects, and other skilled people, but it took a whole lot of interviews and probationary hiring periods to find the best ones. Some were quick to point out that it's the same everywhere in the world, but it's worse in some places than others, and more difficult in another culture.
As regards trying to create my own internet software applications, I had a big problem with Thai programmers:
"If it's such a good idea, then why hasn't someone done it?" Of course, once someone does it, then it's too late to get on the front of the wave. They really were little more than copycats. It was very difficult to get the Thai programmers I knew to do anything new and innovative. I was really exasperated.
I started to realize one of the big pitfalls of offshore programming. In the USA, I sometimes had to be careful about discussing my ideas because others would be eager to know them and try to beat me to creating them as a competitor. It was the opposite in Thailand. I could talk at greater length about ideas, but wasn't successful in generating enthusiasm. Thai programmers seemed much more into just copying established ways and working as full time employees.
Unfortunately, I lost track almost entirely of progress in the internet business. Thailand was nearly cut off from the internet, as the monopoly Communications Authority of Thailand disallowed private sector internet without a license, required everyone to use its international link to the outside world which was overloaded and unstable, and gave out only a couple of licenses to a couple of ISPs who offered horrendous service. When my companies needed to transmit files overseas, we did so by direct dialing in the early years.
I was also awed by the amounts of money going thru the property development sector -- building highrises, and factories -- which dwarfed what I saw on internet ventures.
The internet news was about how many of the companies like Yahoo had yet to turn a profit, but had deep pocket investors who could wait until the time came (which they were correct about). So many things changed. Leading search engines like AltaVista.com and indexes like Lycos.com went from the forefront to becoming footnotes in history as new ventures came forward, many of them fuelled by IPOs (Initial Public Offerings). Some people I knew in the USA were making a lot of money on website design and IT services, but I didn't know anyone of Yahoo calibre or anything near it. A lot of people got rich by having a garage operation which was severely stressed financially but bought up by some giant company that wanted a quick entry without the slow startup phase.
I had an on-off relationship with Thai programmers and the small internet community in Thailand, and all too easily drifted back into consulting to the multinationals.
A key to being able to compete is the productivity of the people. Even if they're less expensive, what matters is results which provide good solutions and are delivered in a timely way. Sometimes the micromanagement was too much.
I didn't forget PERMANENT. I started to port my materials to HTML web format in 1996. I also started to write a book. However, I was so cut off from the USA in the pre-internet years in Thailand that I lost a lot of contacts and stimulation. I was also very busy with business, cultural things, and some travel.
First Thai Wife
Back to 1995, just a year after arriving, during my computer consulting, I met my first Thai wife, "Ying", at the architecture company she was working for. I was actually not working for her company. Her company was on the same floor of a high rise building as an engineering company where I was working -- a different company. I had seen her occasionally in the hallway near the elevator, and one time I helped somebody in her company with a computer problem, just quickly for free. We had some mutual friends inside the company where I worked.
We established a romantic relationship. It was safe for my work because she didn't work for any company which I was working for. Her company definitely wasn't going to hire me because they were 100% Thai. I was working for foreign run companies.
She was a Chinese Thai who was born and grew up in a place called Nakhon Chai Sri, right next to the Tha Cheen ("port Chinese") River, where her Chinese grandfather had done business.
When she got pregnant, I let her quit working for her company. We had a daughter, Angela. We moved to a house in a suburb which I could afford.
I say "first" Thai wife because the marriage did not last and we were together only up until the year 2000, and I eventually married again in 2009 to my second Thai wife, and have lived very well ever since. However, I have been friends with Ying all this time up to this day, and we both took good care of Angela. Ying is very friendly with my new wife, Na. I really, really appreciate Ying for her peacefulness, understanding, and being a good mother.
In retrospect, the years 1995 to 1997 were a golden time in my life, when I learned a lot and expanded my horizons, but things changed dramatically in 1997.
The 1997 Asia Economic Collapse
I mark 1997 as an end point to a "golden time" in my life because a turning point happened when the Thailand economy as well as the region suddenly collapsed into an economic recession, nearly all my work suddenly ended, and indeed I didn't get paid for some recent work. Most expats departed.
(For example, in the 1996 Lighthouse Club annual ball, more than 500 people attended. After the recession, we had only around 11 reservations and just cancelled it. The Lighthouse Club was the leading social networking organization for expats in the engineering community, and I helped with their data system.)
I survived mainly because I spend money very carefully and do not need luxuries, unlike most expats I know here. I am very economical. I had a family to support, but had considerable savings at the time of the crash.
My wife and I had visited the US in 1996 while she was pregnant, and at that time I decided not to relocate back to the USA, because I didn't have enough money to relocate and start up a new business, nor health insurance for Ying for the USA, with a baby coming ..., plus business was so good in Bangkok. Now I wish that we had relocated to the USA, but that's the past which we can now do nothing about.
Actually, in 1997, I found myself at the heart of the CAUSE of the entire Asia economic collapse, and that turned out to be quite a learning experience -- I had seen the warning signs, but had gone along with the groupthink in denial.
When I arrived in Bangkok in 1994, I was amazed by all the very tall skyscrapers, as well as the very large number of construction cranes building new highrise buildings. Later, I was even more amazed to find out that there were no highrise buildings in Bangkok in 1985, and most of the construction on existing highrises had occurred from 1987 to date. The construction rate had been slow at first and then grew very quickly.
Thailand had been one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and Bangkok was the epicenter. There's no other city in Thailand that's anything like Bangkok.
A combination of cheaper labor, good infrastructure (especially interprovincial roads, partly because America's main bases during the Vietnam War were spread around Thailand), sociopolitical stability, and generally pro-business government policies (and rather flexible enforcement of rules and regulations) had made Thailand a favorite place for investment for factories geared to export. A big port was in Bangkok. Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore had already industrialized and become expensive, and Thailand (and communist China) were among the most interesting frontiers. Thailand had a long history of cultural stability as well as close ties to the West.
Demand for office and apartment & condominium prices had skyrocketed during the initial boom, resulting in a lot of property investors becoming extremely rich in a short period of time. Suddenly, legions of property investors flocked in.
The problem is that there was too much new building in response to the boom. Suddenly, a seller's market became a buyer's market. The glut was tremendous. Property companies suddenly could not get anywhere near the prices they expected, and there were vast amounts of unsold and unrented space. The property developers couldn't pay back loans.
Trouble started to show in early 1997, when many big companies stopped paying their bills. These included some of my customers not paying me, and consulting work started to slow down. Then banks and savings & loans started to collapse. The domino effect spread from Thailand all over Asia, including the second largest bank in Japan.
(This is all explained in detail on another website of mine at www.ThailandGuru.com/culture-1997-bust.html)
(Notably, I was interviewed by the BBC News and featured on their worldwide news program in 2007 on the 10 year anniversary of the 1997 Asia Economic Crash.)
From 1994 to 1997, the Thai government had a lot of control over the money exchange rate between Thai baht, US dollars, and other currencies. However, in July 1997, the government was forced to float the Thai baht, and it instantly plummeted. At the same time, emergency laws had been passed forbidding cash transfers out of Thailand which did not meet strict standards. The whole banking system and economy seemed on the brink of a catastrophic collapse.
In a short time, everyone's savings in Thailand banks dropped to less than half their value in US dollars simply by the devaluation of the Thai baht. They still had their full value in Thailand, but the Thai baht wasn't worth much if it was moved outside Thailand and converted into US dollars. (Of course, Thailand became a great place for tourists coming here who would get far more for their dollar!)
The collapse in value of the baht meant that my savings in Thailand were not worth much outside of Thailand. It was best to spend the money inside Thailand. It would have been even more difficult to relocate to the USA.
Combine this with loss of work, and my situation had changed dramatically.
The two years 1995-1996 had been great years, but 1997 was bringing in dramatic changes. It is also notable that in 1994 when I had seen the incredibly large numbers of highrise buildings under construction in Bangkok and questioned whether this was sustainable, I had actually been right at the time, and later wrong to go along with the groupthink of so many high level experts in the business community who were so overconfident that the "Asia tigers" were able to continue this kind of strong growth for the foreseeable future.
Right after the currency crash and massive layoffs, most working expats who I knew left Thailand in 1997 right away. I stayed.
I had been living cheaply so that I had saved money, unlike some other expats who lived a much more luxurious and big spending lifestyle.
I thought I would still have enough consulting work if I worked very hard trying to find small jobs. Companies had tight budgets after the crash. I had a little bit of savings to get by awhile, but only if I spent them in Thailand and spent very, very carefully. If I moved the money overseas, the buying power was much less.
The biggest loss to me was my business referral network. I lived off of referrals. Expats were the main people giving me referrals and helping to facilitate my getting more jobs. Many of my projects were one-offs. When most of the expats who I knew departed, most of my referral base was gone.
Thai companies don't hire an expat I.T. consultant. Thai companies hire a Thai. They speak the language fluently and they are cheaper.
My work was all for expat companies.
With work having dropped dramatically, some companies tried to keep going with a minimum of employees, after terminating the employment of nearly all expensive expats and many Thais. Two companies kept me on for relatively low pay but it was stable income. In general, these companies sent all their expat staff back out of the country except the top directors ... and me as part time staff as needed. After all, they had recognized (with my coaching) that I.T. is the core of their business, and I was a valuable expert whereby a Thai may not have the same value to their business, so I was indispensable. Most companies didn't get this, but some did, and for two of those, I was the only expat they kept on (besides Directors), as a consultant (not fulltime) at a cost they could afford, as they appreciated the value of my expertise as well as my ability to explain things to them in plain English. Other companies just hired a Thai guy fulltime for cheap.
But it was new deals with them. Instead of an hourly billable rate, they wanted a fixed fee monthly rate, which they could budget, and it couldn't be too much more than they could pay a fulltime Thai guy for. However, I wasn't required to come in every day. They just wanted me to keep things going as-is, respond quickly if any major problem arose, maintain data backups (mostly automatic), and a little bit of miscellaneous.
A short time later, one of the two multinational companies had a change of expat Managing Director for the Thailand office (they put in a hatchet man to further reduce costs), and this stranger terminated my employment shortly thereafter, leaving himself as the only expat still in the company, so I was down to only one stable job. The termination of the second job was a big setback.
I worked hard to find many small jobs in addition, to make enough money to support my family.
Some companies I tried to help keep going by "offshore labor outsourcing", i.e., using their Thai engineering design staff to work on designing plans for projects in overseas countries such as Australia and the U.S. The Thai engineers and analysts would design things they would never see in person overseas.
Sometimes, local companies were able to get work from their multinational's other branch offices around the world, and that would also help to support me. I would help support their internet communications.
One of the things I learned is that it was much more difficult to get offshore work than I had anticipated. The major work tended to come in by referral from people who knew us. Marketing to strangers in Western countries got little work, and poor rates, but consumed a whole lot of time and effort. It was a lesson in offshore outsourcing, that referrals count a lot in success in getting contracts, better pay, and time efficiency in marketing.
Publishing the PERMANENT Book
I used my idle time in 1997-98 to complete the book on space settlement, a major life goal. I self-published it in 1998, paying for all the printing costs myself, for 1000 copies. Many of those copies I mailed to leaders around the world at my own expense.
I also kept the contents of the book freely available on the internet, and in fact the internet version would stay more up to date. This meant that people didn't need to buy the book if they were okay with just reading online. I wanted to give people both options. Many people in 1998 preferred to read a paper book than read online. It was more important to get the information out than to make money from it. Many people around the world did buy the book, but the shipping costs reduced the profit a lot.
The book was a lifelong ambition, and I'd really had made no time to complete it until 1998.
My thinking was this:
In retrospect, I had great hope in the internet. Just like many investors, I invested a lot in this internet hope, only for it to come crashing down in 1999 like the rest of the internet stocks, "the dot com boom and bust".
The space settlement website was highly popular, but the donations were quite insufficient, the book sales had little profit margin due to international shipping costs, and there was very little response by big people in the world.
I had countless volunteers, but few actually followed up with any work as agreed, and most of the work which did come back was of poor quality and late. To get decent work, we needed money and fixed-fee contract jobs, not rely entirely on volunteers, but I didn't have money for that.
Thanks to a fortuitous consulting job in 1998 at the right time, for a foreign company opening an offshore engineering design office in Thailand (to use Thai designers for projects in developed countries), a major project, I made a good batch of money setting up their office and helping get things going. Then, after the office was set up, my work was over for the most part, and I was idle again. However, that gave me enough money to buy one airplane ticket to the USA and still be okay financially.
I flew by myself to the USA for a major space resources conference in New Mexico, to touch base with people I'd lost touch with over the past few years after I had departed the USA, and also explore the job market there. This was a professional conference of engineers and scientists, and some government people, not an advocacy or enthusiast symposium. Government was the normal source of funding of most of them, directly or indirectly. I had written a paper which had been accepted for presentation, and it was about how we could network the community in-between conferences and share resources by internet.
I arrived on the second day of the conference. Having crossed 11 time zones, the jet lag was about as bad as it could get, and I was pretty exhausted from the flight. I arrived to find out that people were looking for me because I had been appointed a moderator for a session the previous day. Something was lost in the emails. However, I had a presentation to deliver almost right away.
I also experienced difficulty speaking English as regards big words, as I hadn't spoken my native language much over the previous year, and I had learned to use simple English in Asia. Being with sophisticated people, I was often at a loss for sophisticated words and expression, unlike yesteryears. My mind was a bit foggy from the 12 hour shift in my schedule, and I stumbled thru my presentation and the rest of the conference. After awhile, I learned to just stay quiet and watch, and focus on person to person networking in the halls and social events.
I had hoped maybe there was some work I could do in the USA, but I found nothing on the immediate horizon. There were actually many people there looking for work and business in the sector. Space development is a very popular sector, where there are often more people looking for work than there is work which really exists. The US government supported very little work in space resources at the time, and was very slow. There were many people at the conference who had worked for pay from time to time, and had needed to suspend their efforts periodically when nothing had taken off and go back to other work.
There were many people like me who were committed but could not get a relevant job and were doing other things for money, and spending time on space development as a sideline for free at their own expense.
I had a good few days talking with old friends and new acquaintances. As the conference was winding down, it started to go along the lines of some before it -- ad hoc, short technical workshops at the end. I was more concerned with business and sponsorship. However, it didn't look like I'd get any work in any space development field anytime soon.
After the conference, I chose to spend my last few days renting a car and taking a short break driving around beautiful New Mexico and staying in the cheapest hotels I could find ... and sometimes sleeping in the car ... pondering my future before dashing back to Thailand. I also explored some general work opportunities and pay in small jobs and the cost of living in the USA, and even considered working somewhere in New Mexico, but didn't find any good opportunity in my short time there, and nothing which would support relocating my wife and daughter.
In the end, it was clear to me that it was just way too expensive to live in the US and I would need to save vastly more money before I could even consider a move back to the USA.
At least I had tried my best and found out the situation. I had to get back to cheaper Thailand and finding some work which would hire me for enough hours per month to get back onto my feet financially.
I returned to Thailand and started looking for work again.
Back to Reality
I had assumed that the economy would start to improve after a year of adaptation. I started thinking of other areas to get into, such as tourism, exports, and other things. However, that was difficult, too, because (1) consumer spending power all around Asia was way down, and (2) there were too many people looking for jobs and not enough work. I met many expats like me who had stayed in Thailand rather than return home, and were having difficulties.
There was little work. Money was running out.
Some business associates who knew me well were opening new offices in the Philippines due to the much better English there (romanized language), and wanted to hire me to help them set up the office. I decided to take my Thai wife with me so that she could see another Asian country, since it was only the cost of another airplane ticket, and help me make a decision about possibly working and living there.
However, we did not like the country due to experiences of a higher level of aggression on the street, the higher level of security we saw around, and the seeming lack of safety compared to Thailand. After doing my main work for the customer, I and my wife flew back and decided to stay in Thailand. We appreciated Thailand's safer environment.
(Ying, Angie, and I also visited a relative of Ying's in Japan, an uncle who had been working there a very long time. What a difficult country to get work in ...)
We had been renting a house in a Bangkok suburb, and it was just too expensive, plus I wasn't working many days per month, so we cut costs by moving to her parents provincial home just an hour west of Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom, and lived there.
I had created a company before for my consulting, but it was too expensive to maintain (monthly accounting report and lots of little official costs), so it died in this environment.
One of the consulting jobs I got was for a large overseas property investment company to drive around Bangkok and some seaside properties which they had invested in, survey the ground truth about these properties, and network their sales/rental offices via internet to their overseas office for management and auditing purposes. (Their Bangkok main office had collapsed.) Most of the properties were empty and with offices having very minimal staff (lots of stories here!). The investors were definitely not going to sell at that time, but were sitting on the properties in anticipation of a much better market years later. They quickly terminated my consultation, as they seemed to just lose interest.
However, during my long drives I started thinking about how I could get involved in the property market which I thought would eventually boom again in a few years.
I also thought about some other businesses. The problem is that I didn't have the money or the quality partners to get anything going quickly.
In fact, on a few occasions, I literally ran out of money.
Notably, I had previous friends who I had helped in Thailand when they ran out of money, going back to 1995. I had not just lent but had given them money, and also given them work for pay instead of doing the work myself for my own income. However, they were still unsuccessful here, most of them departing before the 1997 crash. They had typically gone back to their home country, and some in the ensuing years had become successful. So, did they reciprocate and help me back?
One guy had started his own business and was telling me how successful he was, sending photos of his lavish overseas vacations and wedding, talking about how rich he had become, etc., like he was rubbing it in. He had gone completely broke in Thailand and I had GIVEN him money and work. Did he reciprocate? No. He had an awful website, and I offered to fix it up for him for cheap, but he refused that, too. However, he continued to egotistically rub in how successful he was.
I had to borrow a little bit of money a couple of times (totaling a few hundred dollars), and that's when I found out who my true friends were. A few local Thai friends gave or lent money to me, and a few overseas PERMANENT volunteers donated some money.
I learned how to live like a Thai and poor person, not just theoretically but real life experience.
I wasn't suffering or starving or anything like that. People generally don't starve in Thailand. If I had no ambitions in this world except to support myself and my family, then I could have started a beach front restaurant or tourism business like a lot of other expats. I was happy at times. Where else can you drive the short distance to the beach and get a hotel right in front with a nice view for $10 per night? Or the mountains? For long hauls, air conditioned buses go there for $10 and local transport is pocket change. I could understand why so many people live in Thailand teaching English for less than $1000 per month and are happy. However, I was not interested in being a teacher, either.
I was not content to live a self-centered, basic lifestyle. I wanted to promote space settlement in the world, so needed to eventually be able to travel and network with people, promote the concepts with leaders, and help push progress.
The Pause in Humanistic Work
I wanted to save humankind from emerging technological threats. However, I needed to pause and focus on improving my financial situation.
Already, I had cut back on mailing books for free to VIPs around the world (whenever I could find their addresses), which cost more than $10 per book in shipping.
I also learned what it must be like to be an immigrant to a foreign country. My spoken Thai language skills were sufficient for social things, but insufficient for reading (it's a different script) or doing serious business with purely Thai companies. Living in a village in a province with no other foreigners around me and very basic accommodation was a new experience for me. My wife's family was half Chinese immigrant, but a later generation, so they already knew a little of what it's like.
I was really living by an internet connection.
The Ramp Up of Work in Bangkok
I was marketing my I.T. skills very hard. Thai companies didn't want me, of course, and I was focused only on foreign companies with a foreign Managing Director. After 1997, the Managing Director was the only foreigner in many of them.
I was driving the very long commute to and from Bangkok for work, from Nakhon Pathom province, and often I would stay with a client or else in very cheap hotels overnight in Bangkok when I had work the next day. Often, I would socialize after work with clients and their associates, too.
Because my I.T. work was sometimes insufficient, I had a sideline doing private investigations, which actually dated back to 1997 when some expats who had departed Thailand wanted me to keep an eye on their Thai girlfriends, and a few business matters. The private investigations work had been on and off. I started to ramp this up because it was actually good money at the time. There wasn't much competition in the expat realm, and I found that clients paid quickly for quick work, due to the emotions involved. I lived off of personal referrals, and notices like business cards I would leave in mens toilets in carefully chosen locations. This also kept me in the city on many nights, since many of the investigations were into ladies who they had met in the nightlife.
For example, Australians go to sleep earlier, and the girlfriend may say she is going to sleep at 10:00pm, which may be 1:00am in eastern Australia, so I would watch to see whether she exited her apartment building after 10pm. Bangkok nightlife peaked after midnight, and some places stayed open until sunrise. Sometimes the guy knew that the girlfriend was socializing with friends, so he wanted me to follow into the nightlife and see whether or not she was also pursuing any other men. This often kept me out late, but it was good money. I was too cautious to advertise a private investigations business on the web at first, as I thought that the work might be dangerous, but it got me to thinking ...
I wanted to advertise other services on the internet. In previous years, I had helped other expats arriving in Thailand to work for companies, whereby I had helped them find a place to rent (sometimes getting a small commission from the landlord), set up a bank account, and general orientation to Bangkok. I had written some web pages on various topics about moving to Thailand to live and work, and so I had the idea to put together a website guide to living and working in Thailand. I thought by turning that into a business, I could meet expat business people and investors coming to Thailand who might hire me to help them get established. In 1999, I collected these things I'd written before, and I started to fill in the gaps. It was just one of several business ideas I was developing, but as this Thailand guide project developed, it got significant inquiries.
Shortly after the millennium turnover, I got the domain ThailandGuru.com and immediately launched my guide. (People had referred to me as "the Thailand guru" before, long story.)
Ying had been unable to help me much in my business, which was a source of frustration, and she often snapped quickly when there was much pressure. She is a really good person, and I am still good friends with her, but at the time we had a lot of frictions, to say the least. However, the financial stresses and pressures were not good for our relationship. I don't want to get into things in public due to privacy, but it is important to note that shortly after the year 2000, I decided to separate and move to Bangkok alone, and send money back to Angela and Ying and Ying's family. I was also doing some work at industrial estates in other provinces, as some export factories were still being created, exporting to western economies not affected by the Asia Economic Crash.
I did some business from Thailand Guru, including some property business helping incoming foreigners find a place to rent whereby I got a commission in many instances, and helping expats in various ways, such as in computer and internet setup, office setup, and miscellaneous things. I made a lot of foreign friends this way, and socialized with them day and night. I had new social circles. I wanted to maximize the referrals which I would get, and it took me out into lots of socializing into the nightlife after work.
However, I knew that I needed to set up a company, hire Thai staff, and scale up, instead of being an individual consultant.
The problem was that I had practically no money to set up an office and hire people, and it was very risky financially. I needed people who would work for free as partners and then split the profits, which means entrepreneurs willing to invest time, effort, and skill for awhile, without expecting quick paybacks. Further, profits should first be plugged into expanding a company, not just pocketed and spent personally. Businesses take time before they pay back.
I had a lot of experiences with people who would talk big about working with me but then would not follow up. Talk is easy.
I started to really think about who was reliable, and two people eventually stood out.
One was the volunteer artist for my space settlement website, Sam, who always did high quality work, far exceeding my expectations and doing it on schedule. He was mostly self-taught, though he had also worked for a website company in New Zealand. I asked Sam if he would come to Thailand, as he had no decent job in New Zealand, and he expressed serious interest. I decided to push for this full force. Sam didn't have much money, and he was taking a big risk by coming, but he had enough to live on for awhile and for a return ticket if needed.
I needed a good Thai business partner, who could handle the Thai government paperwork as well as many Thai people. I decided to ask a Thai friend who I had known since 1998, who I will call "TP" for "Thai Partner" (to preserve their privacy at this time).
This is a good place to stop this section, because it was a major turning point in my life. It will continue in the next section. I had nearly stopped developing and promoting my humanistic project, PERMANENT, due to my need to survive and support Angie and Ying, and I was trying to start and ramp up a new company for financial survival.
Around this time, I did one last touch-up of the PERMANENT space settlement website, as I thought that I would not be working on it for a long time, since I needed to switch my focus to business. I wanted to set it up to be on autopilot for the foreseeable future.
For this version of the PERMANENT space settlement website, I made a major decision which I had pondered for decades. I decided to go ahead and start the home page of the website with mention of the human extinction risks of advancing biotechnology to produce super pathogens, that we are in a race against time to create a self-sufficient space settlement, and that it's the responsibility of our generation. I had kept that issue to myself for the most part for a very long time because I did not want to give anybody on the internet any ideas about super pathogens. However, recent laboratory advances in DNA assembly, and what I could see as coming soon in biotechnology technical capabilities, plus the fact that no entity was making significant progress on space settlement at that time, led me to think that the time had come to be clear that there is a sense of urgency for space settlement for the survival of humanity.
mark-prado.com > History > Ages 35-40, living and working overseas for the first time (1994-2000)
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