Journalist Andrew Biggs was supposed to stopover in Bangkok for two days on his way from Australia to London for a working holiday. That was ten years ago.
Today Andrew is the most recognisable and famous falang (Western) face in Thailand. He hosts three regular television programmes and a radio talkback programme, is a newsreader for Thailand’s first 24-hour news channel and edits an English- language student magazine. And he’s published four books – in Thai.
“I was quite annoyed about the stopover,” he says. He knew nothing about Thailand, but was aware of its cliched image as a seedy place for cheap sex and drugs. “I was in a mindset where I just wanted to get to England. But from the moment we touched down at the airport, I found Bangkok to be a crazy, crazy city. It was a city of ten million people, and every one of them owned a motorbike.”
So Andrew stayed on. “I figured that if I wanted an experience truly different from Australia, then this was going to be the place to have it.” He spent a year learning Thai and then landed a job with Nationmultimedia where he remains today.
He is hardpressed to find anything difficult about living away from Australia. “I mean, sure, it’s difficult not to be able to have avocado and mayonnaise sandwiches, or Turkish Delight, but there are things here to compensate – like som tam (green papaya salad). How did I ever survive before without som tam?”
While he concedes it can be difficult to be away from family and friends, he points out that the Internet has changed this dramatically. “I’ve recently got back in touch with people I haven’t seen for years,” he says.
Andrew feels like he has found his niche career-wise in a country where his skills are needed. “I’m lucky in that I’m a journalist here in a developing country where learning English is important for many people. I can do my job and make a contribution to society – something I don’t think I’d be able to do in Australia.”
Constantly being in the spotlight means Andrew is apt to find himself in the occasional embarrassing moment. “Using the wrong word can be embarassing – Thai is a language where the words change according to who you are speaking to, much more so than English – and doing it on national television doesn’t help.”
Andrew’s advice to anybody embarking on an expatriate life abroad is simple. “Leave your Western mentality behind and become more open-minded than you have ever been. There are bitter and twisted expats all over the world – if that’s what you turn into, you may as well go home. Have fun! Meet the locals and don’t only mix within the expat community.”