This morning I spoke with a friend of mine who lives in Thailand. He’s been there for over 10 years. He told me he is starting to miss enough things about the United States that he’s thinking about heading back there in a year (or less).
He was a big outdoors guy and grew up with a love of hunting and fishing (he and I are both avid fly-fishermen, though hunting was never my kind of thing). He’s been like a brother to me (we’ve been friends for 17 years) and we spent a lot of time together doing outdoors things in Colorado. So I do understand where he is coming from.
Anyway, the thing that struck a cord with me was that he was thinking about moving back “home,” NOT because he didn’t like Thailand (he lives in a beautiful coastal city and has a job in real estate that he likes a lot), but rather because he misses things he did in the U.S.
Now, the really interesting thing is that I’ve visited him twice and have to say that pretty much everything you can get in the U.S. you can get where he lives. There are giant shopping malls, English-language movies, theater and concerts and even most of the same chain restaurants you would find in, for example, Denver, Seattle or Boston.
But what he misses are the things he can do in the US that he can’t do in Thailand. He long ago came to accept the cultural differences, the bureaucracy (which, believe it or not, is worse than here) and even what now could be called a military dictatorship. But the simple act of fly-fishing (and the like) may be what pulls him back there.
[It should be noted that the current Thai government is increasingly making efforts to prevent foreigners from becoming permanent or “long-term” temporary residents of Thailand.]
After our conversation ended I wondered, is that a big factor for the expatriates who leave here to return “home?” Is it what we miss that makes us leave or is it the things we don’t have here that make us leave? Or is it cultural or political? I don’t have any answers to those questions; I’m really asking all of you what you think.
But those aren’t really the biggest question, are they? Shouldn’t the biggest question be, “How many of us expatriates are really here in Cuenca?”
There are different reports from a variety of groups that claim to know the answer to this question. We’ve heard numbers claiming that anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 expatriates reside in Cuenca. But there is really little foundation in any of those numbers (we even posed this question the U.S. embassy, who admitted it did not have a “solid” figure it could give us).
Most of us have accepted the widely used figure of 5,000, but I’ve talked to several owners of businesses most frequented by expatriates (e.g., restaurants and grocery stores) and the consensus among that group is the number may be closer to 3,500 or 4,000. But again, it’s anecdotal at best.
We (The Cuenca Dispatch and CuencaHighLife.com) have even talked about trying to get a census of expatriates put together. But every time we sit down to talk about how we would accomplish that, we get bogged down in bigger questions. Like, what constitutes the label of expatriate? Is it someone who moves here permanently and never returns home? Or should someone who spends six months a year here when we do our count be considered an expatriate? Does someone need to have been here for a certain amount of time to be considered an expatriate?
All that side, if we were to do an expatriate “census,” how would it work? How would we count everyone? Would we create an online system where someone logs in with their cedula? What about those people who don’t have cedulas? Would people be willing to log in and give their Passport number? Maybe even add copies of their recent entries and exits? And what about people who are without a doubt expatriates under any definition, but who don’t want to be counted on anyone’s census?
As you can see, we run into more problems than solutions when we try to figure this out. Maybe we are thinking too much. Maybe there is an easier and/or more effective way to guarantee we have a good count of us all. We’re open to your suggestions on that.
It could be argued that it doesn’t matter; there is no need for an accurate count of the number of expatriates in the city. But I believe there is. We do have an impact on this city (and country) and without getting into to the good/bad debates on that, any issue that impacts us should at least have a solid and defensible number to say how big our impact is.
And it would be helpful if on top of that we could get to the next level of questions about what makes someone stay or go. Maybe that would be useful to all of the expatriate groups and maybe even to the city. Maybe it would cause businesses to sprout up that would fill in the things we are missing. Maybe it could help future expatriates get better prepared for what they are getting themselves into.
Lots of maybes. And I didn’t even touch on the side of “what makes expatriates come here?” That’s a whole other issue. Maybe for another column some day.