Experienced Expat In Thailand

As experienced expatriates Elina and her family consisting in her husband and two sons, 13 and 14 years old, have chosen Bangkok as the permanent home outside Finland.
“Luckily you don’t pay extra for the view in Bangkok,” she says while looking out from her balcony at the lake and park nearby Queen Sirikit Convention Centre, one of the few open green places in downtown Bangkok.
At the same time Thailand’s distinct contrasts is right at her doorstep: some sheds for the workers at the tobacco industry nearby is placed right below and a rooster repeatedly announces its presence.
“In Thailand you don’t have any illusion where you are. When you go out from your house, you know you are in Thailand. It hits you like a hammer with its street vendors, motorcycle taxis; this chaos which makes it interesting and lively. In Singapore you can have these momentary laps when you think ‘Where am I?’ because you live such a westernized life, it’s so European,” thinks Elina, her husband being on a mission in Iran and the sons attending school (NIST).
Like many other families they had move to Singapore when Nokia established its main office for the region there, actually resulting in a smaller Finnish community in Thailand.
However, after a few years, moving on to another country was not really an option for her family.
“We have done our fair share of moving, 11 countries in 20 years since we left Finland is enough, especially for the children when they are reaching this age when friends are more important, so to drag them around was not an option anymore.”
So her husband Mikko Koski started his own company, Westcom International, partly in order for the family to have more freedom in choosing where to settle down.
They were not too thrilled about staying in Singapore even though it has all the things that make your life comfortable. “It’s green, clean and safe so family-wise it’s perfect. Kids can take a taxi by themselves and there is always a plainclothes policeman around the corner. The internet works, everything is perfect but it’s an artificial perfection which has not developed naturally. It has been forced into some form.”
If you have lived elsewhere in Asia before Singapore this makes it difficult, thinks Elina who lacks the individual freedom, even though Finland is also a controlled country, “Singapore is even more; you really have the feeling of Big Brother watching over you.”
Thailand, to which they first came in 1990 and where they have so far spent altogether nine years, is therefore the preferred country for the Koskis even though most of the pluses are instead the opposite.
“Bangkok is not really a safe city, especially not for teenagers in terms of drugs, alcohol and abuse by the police. I feel terrible that I have to teach my kids that the last person you trust is the policeman. Go to the parking lot guard rather than the police.”
Elina thinks there is an overall feeling of increased greediness and impoliteness in Bangkok. “Even though they have the overall gentle manners and reputation, the city takes its toll. It’s not so gentle and easy-going anymore.”
This is a negative result of the westernization. “I’m not against that, mind you, it makes my life much easier, because I’m always going to be seen as a tourist even if I stay here for 50 years.”
On the other hand she appreciates the people and its culture too. “Personally, I think Thailand is so much richer in culture, in atmosphere, and the climate is much better. And of course the cost of living is a fraction compared to Singapore.
“People here are polite and genuinely friendly. They are tolerant, quite open-minded and have, surprisingly broad views – but in a Thai way. They still have this old-fashioned lifestyle with the communities.”
Communities are something essential also for the Scandinavians here, thinks Elina.
“Within Scandinavian Society Siam you can blend, newcomers and the old ones. It is the melting-pot. You meet the new ones who can benefit from those who have been here longer. OK, we don’t need it anymore for sharing magazines or news from home, the internet has taken care of that, which is a huge change. But sharing information, connecting children of the same age and people with similar hobbies is still one of Scandinavian Society’s core things.”
“The other thing we have is the difficulty with the national societies. All have their own where you can fulfil the urge to speak your mother tongue. Looking at the bigger Scandinavian picture, we don’t have a mutual language because of Finnish. But still I strongly feel I want to be part of the Scand society, as the Finns and Norwegians are so small in numbers so we need to have a bigger circle. We can’t do in the national clubs what we can do as Scandinavians.”
“I adore traditions. Life is traditions, without them you don’t have any continuity in life. We should be proud that the Scand Society has been here for almost 100 years and we have the traditions like the Crayfish party. It’s THE party in Southeast Asia,” says Elina who hopes SSS can establish satellite branches around Thailand and perhaps have simultaneous Crayfish parties in Chiang Mai and Phuket and also events outside Bangkok.
Elina is a member of its board as well as the Chairman of Finns in Bangkok, Finnish School in Bangkok and active in the parents’ organisation, doing charity work etc. She also produces her own Finnish email newspaper, consisting in relevant and weird news from Finland aside cultural things from Thailand.
As the local representative for an umbrella organisation for all Finnish associations outside the home country, Elina is also a person Finns moving here can contact with their questions.
And June means that she heads for summer holidays in Finland with her family, like they do every summer.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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