My Childhood in Canada vs. My Son’s Childhood in Thailand

After living over 35% of my life in Thailand, I’m always reminded on my all-too-infrequent trips back to Canada how much I took for granted growing up. When I was a kid, I hated the town I lived in – “Ugh, I can’t wait to get out of this place!” we all used to say, like we were singing the chorus of a Springsteen song. But looking back with grace and age, it’s clear to me how idyllic my childhood really was – miles of green grass, flat sidewalks, bike lanes, and baseball diamonds. The bank tellers knew me by name. You could drive clear across town in 10 minutes. There may even have been a few pies cooling on a windowsill. But now that I have a son, the idyllic nature of my youth has become even clearer. I look at my boy sometimes and think to myself “What type of childhood are you going to have in this huge, chaotic, crowded city? How will it shape you?”

While casually skimming through the cesspool of insults and complaints that is ThaiVisa recently (I was looking for something specific, honestly), I noticed a post that said Bangkok was a great place to live as an adult, but a horrible place to be a kid. I took umbrage at this at first – mostly because, if true, it meant that my decision to raise him in Bangkok was a failure on my part. A bad decision that would surely have negative consequences.

But then I thought waitaminute – my wife grew up here. Plenty of my friends did too, and they all turned out fine. In fact, while writing this, I asked my wife what she thought of her childhood in Bangkok.

Yes, it was fine. I didn’t have anything to compare it to, of course, but I had fun, and had friends, and lots of food, and family, so we had everything we needed.

Still, when I got on Google Street View and started buzzing around my old hometown, I was struck with a powerful nostalgia. It was a bit jarring when I compared scenes from my childhood with similar scenes that my son will experience.

One of the roads in my town, one block away from Main Street. In summer, I swam in that river. In winter, we walked across on our way to school.
The river my son will have to deal with. For his sake, I hope he doesn’t ever try to swim in it.

When I was a kid in Canada – say, between the ages of 10 and 15 – summer holidays were a blast. I’d grab some cereal when I woke up, get on my bike to meet my friends, and not come back until the sun went down (which, in Canada, is around 9:30pm). From what I know of childhood in Bangkok, that just ain’t gonna happen with my son. I’ll drive him to the mall, or maybe drive him to his sports practice, or drive him to a friend’s house…a lot of driving. I imagine when he’s in his mid-teens he’ll be able to take off on his own, but until then, Bangkok’s not really a city you can let a kid be a kid – at least when viewed through the lens of a North American childhood.

One more example.

This is the main street of the town I grew up in. Whether it was in the morning on the way to school or 3am on the way back from my graveyard shift at the gas station, it was a pretty safe place to be.
This is the street I live on now. Not really a place you’d want to let your kid run around on. Although it does have better food options.

Of course, I’m looking at this having lived in two vastly different places. If my son had to raise a kid in my little hometown I imagine he’d have a few reservations of his own – most likely revolving around boredom. My wife did indeed visit with me a few years back, and I can confirm that this is a thought very much at the forefront of the mind of a Bangkokian.

But kids are adaptable and flexible, and learn new tricks easily. I hope that my son’s childhood will be fun and adventurous and safe, full of learning and shenanigans…it just won’t be in the same way that I experienced all those things.

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2016-11-20T14:41:28+00:00 Bangkok, Culture, Kids, Thailand, Travel|12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Scott July 23, 2016 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    Solid comparison Greg. While I would want my kid to grow up in the expanse that is Canada, they will turn out just fine as long as they have love and things to do. Great post!

    • Greg July 24, 2016 at 11:29 am - Reply

      Thanks man! Thailand has a lot going for it if you’re growing up, but something about backyard barbecues, bike lanes, and actual seasons can’t be replicated here.

  2. Paul Jorgensen July 25, 2016 at 8:55 am - Reply

    I thought a lot about this raising my son in Washington DC – I grew up in the blinding whiteness but natural beauty of Salt Lake City. The key was not to give my son my SLC upbringing, but to engage him in the wonders and diversity of his birth town with all of the genuine “aha” excitement a father can bring. Having lived here for only a bit over a month, I can hardly wait to show my now 22 year old son the unique sides of Bangkok when he visits. Just remember, everywhere you show your son with joy and humor will ensure that he will always look back to with fondness for Bangkok and, of course, an appreciation for a wild, excitable dad.

    • Greg July 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm - Reply

      Thanks Paul, that’s nice. I agree with you, a parent’s enthusiasm is what really turns a kid on. Looking back on the post I forgot to mention how much I like Bangkok and what a unique and culturally dense city it is, with many, many more options for immersive, ‘worldly’ experiences than I had. But the safety, the social systems, and the fairly care-free lifestyle is something that he probably won’t have if he decides to stay here.

  3. Jesse August 1, 2016 at 12:30 am - Reply

    What about your son’s education?
    Are you planning on placing him at an international school in Bangkok?
    As I’d imagine he’d get a better education back in Canada and cheaper too!

    • Greg August 4, 2016 at 8:58 am - Reply

      Thanks Jesse, good question, and it’s definitely a big issue. We can’t afford an international school – even the very average ones can cost US $8,000+ per year, and top-tier ones can easily hit US $30,000 per year or more – for primary school! Thankfully there are lots of good options here – alternative schools, bilingual schools, private schools – that come in many shades of quality and price range.

      True, if we moved back to Canada education is (almost) free and world-class, but that raises a ton of other questions, like what would I do for a job? My wife has a good job here, but she wouldn’t be able to match it in Canada as a non-citizen. And sure, education is free, but other costs (rent, food, etc) would be 4x what I pay now, unless I moved to the middle of Manitoba, which isn’t really that appealing. And while I’m proud to be Canadian, my home is in Thailand, and I’m not ready to leave yet.

      It’s complicated issue and I guess all you can do is put together the best plan you can with the resources you have.

      • Jesse August 16, 2016 at 12:54 am - Reply

        Yeah, it’s a complicated scenario having children in Thailand.

        P.S. Any chance of the Bangkok podcast coming back? I enjoyed listening to that show.
        Do you still keep in contact with your old co-host? I see he made some Japan podcasts, but they seem to have ended too…I guess life gets busy.

        • Greg August 16, 2016 at 7:31 am - Reply

          Hey Jesse,

          There’s always a possibility, although it would be with a different co-host. Tony is fully immersed in Japan these days. But it does come up every once in a while. If we go ahead, I’ll be sure to make an announcement. 🙂

  4. Mike March 30, 2017 at 6:40 am - Reply

    When my kids were young, we visited my mother back in Smalltown, South Texas. I grew up there and have great memories. However, my kids were bored stiff and couldn’t wait to leave. Different strokes I suppose.

    • Greg April 10, 2017 at 7:30 am - Reply

      Thanks Mike, that’s interesting. I can’t imagine moving back to my hometown after so long in Bangkok, I’d be bored to death too.

  5. Uncle Tony May 31, 2017 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Good -Greg. Very personal and thoughtful. Recently, I’ve been thinking about returning to Canada from Chiang Rai with three-year-old Sara and baby John, five months. But I think we can offer them a better life here. One reason is my pension goes a whole lot further here than it would on Vancouver Island. But another reason is that here they will be raised bi-culturally and may end up speaking Chinese, which could be an important language in their lifetimes. Chiang Rai is a medium-sized city with all the facilities we need but without the crowding, noise and pollution of Bangkok.

    • Greg May 31, 2017 at 2:13 pm - Reply

      Thanks Uncle Tony, yes, your dollar certainly would go further here – Canada is so crazy expensive. I think they would be able to get nice rounded bi-cultural experiences in Canada too, but maybe not to the same extent as in CR.

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