Living on the streets of Bangkok

Living on the streets of Bangkok

THAILAND - Imagine living on your own in a foreign country. Now imagine having to live on the streets in a foreign country where people speak a completely different language.

As Thais, we often view foreigners as better off, which is why it comes as a huge shock when we see them living rough.

Chris, 52, could not imagine himself as homeless. Talking to him, one realises that this Brit is no ordinary backpacker. He can talk about global finances and the banking system like it comes naturally.

Yet when you ask him about his situation, he bluntly replies: "No money." But he is calm and his clothes are clean.

Chris first came to Thailand on a freelance contract as a financial consultant. He was promised two big payments, but the final one never arrived. When his money ran out, he realised he was in trouble.

Since the 2011 floods, he has been living on a bench and relying on the generosity of commuters to keep alive.

"It's funny. When I had a room, I was getting some money to pay for a room but wasn't eating for four or five days," he said. "Now that I've been living on the streets, I always have food in my hand."

Charity groups estimate that there are some 200 to 300 foreigners living on the streets in Thailand, most of them in large cities such as Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

"Of every 10 homeless foreigners, five will say they have been cheated by their Thai wives or families, three would put it down to business partners, while the rest would offer other reasons," said Natee Saraval, secretary-general of the Issarachon Foundation.

The government, so far, has no policies to handle the growing number of homeless foreigners, let alone offer any concrete solutions. Natee said government-related agencies ought to coordinate with ministries and embassies at least to acknowledge the issue and work out some immediate steps.

However, things are different for Chris, who blames himself for what has happened.

"If I had done what the employers wanted, I would still be on commission. But I might not be sleeping at night, because I've got a conscience," he said.

Though in the end, Chris said, living on the streets has taught him to value life. Plus, he said, he still has something to look forward to.

"In three years' time, if I'm not blacklisted, I'll be back. But I'll have money. My pension fund is worth 200,000 pounds - that's a million baht!"

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