Billy & Akaisha Kaderli
World travel offers the opportunity to meet other roamers from around the globe. On Wednesdays here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, there is a standing invitation for a small group of us Ex-pats to meet for lunch at a local restaurant. It's an international group so topics of conversation run the gamut. Several years ago we met Steve Kramer, a very successful retiree, who turned his hobby/passion of photography into a business. Well traveled, well read and now a locally famous photography instructor, we figured his approach to living in foreign countries was worth passing on to our readers. So please enjoy this short visit with a very witty, multi-talented friend! All of the photos in this piece are of Steve's work, and we felt they, too, needed to be showcased.
Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to answer these questions for us. How long have you lived outside of the US?
17 years. This time. I've lived in Europe, Japan, Mexico, etc, with the longest time (so far) spent in Japan. Thailand looks as if it may take the lead.
Being an ex-medic in the US Military what is your opinion of the healthcare here in Thailand?
Thai medical care is on par with the best available anywhere in the world. I wouldn't hesitate to have ANY medical procedure done here if needed. Obviously, just as in other countries, the level of quality varies from facility to facility, so it's necessary to do a bit of homework before you choose yours, just as it's necessarily to go to the correct facility for the particular procedure. For instance, they don't do good breast implants in a neurological hospital.
Steve Kramer at work with his camera
How do you deal with healthcare?
Thoughtfully. I prefer an eclectic assortment of practitioners. If my problem can be best dealt with using modern medicine, I use a western style doctor and western medicines. But many health care needs can be better served with more traditional Chinese acupuncture or herbal medicines, perhaps Indian Auyurvedic medical treatments will be more effective for other problems. Those folks have been at it for a lot longer than our western medicine, and it's a shame to pass up the opportunity to make use of it when needed. If your only tool is a hammer, you try to treat every problem with a nail.
Obviously that doesn't work as well as a fully stocked toolbox.
Do you ever visit the US?
Sure. I've been back at least four times in the past 17 years. And as they quickly erode more and more of our Constitutional rights, I might go back once more. Maybe.
What brought you to Asia the first time?
It was a combination of things. Of course, a desire for adventure! Then a desire to understand other cultures. Plus it was a desire to learn new and different life styles. But most importantly, it was a ridiculously high paying job as a university professor in Japan.
A Six Story Tall Buddha in Hong Kong
Whatís the biggest hardship of living in Asia?
Understanding the Asian thought process, and realizing that the western way is not necessarily best. It is so foreign to me as an American, that even today I have difficulty trying to figure out why certain things are done the way they are. My first instinct is to say 'Hey! That's not how to do it!' Then I realize that they have been doing it that way for the past 5,000 years and it works for them!
If someone wanted to retire here in Thailand what would be your advice?
First, the real key is flexibility. You must be able to cope with absolutely anything at any time, no matter how stressful or disappointing it may be. You can't always get a Big Mac and have it your way. Next, be sure of your finances. Then decide if it's big city living, small town communities, beach resorts or mountain forests that make you more comfortable, and pick a place. Plan to 'live' there for one year. That's all. One year. Not as a tourist. Rent a home and deal with the day-to-day challenges that we all face. Getting a telephone, water delivery, Immigration, medical care, foods, friends, etc. See what life is like for someone living here. It's very, very different from the tourist view. Remember this; you aren't stapled into place. You can always change your mind if you don't care for it. But if you do enjoy your year, just stay where you are and enjoy!
What brought you from Japan to Thailand?
During my years in Japan I was fortunate enough to be able to travel the world for several months a year. We found many lovely places during this period, but always found ourselves spending at least a month or two in Thailand. When it was time to retire from university, we had several choices in mind. We happened to try Thailand first. (For that 'one year' experiment.) We never left!
At the Temple to Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, Japan
Do you ever yearn to move back to the US?
I do miss certain things about the US. I miss .... I miss.... err.... I miss.... No... I guess I don't.
Wait... I miss "Jimmy Dean Pork Breakfast Sausage!" (Jones Brown 'n Serve just aren't as good!) Krispy Kream Donuts? Virtually everything else is already here, even Ben & Jerry's ice cream. We could use an "Outback" or "Lone Star" steak house, but we settle for Sizzler.
How do you stay busy here in Thailand?
My God!! The real question is; how do I find the time to do all the things available here that interest me! Every sport, every hobby, every diversion from needle point to championship golf courses. Rock climbing, river rafting, elephant riding, sight seeing, studying anything from Thai cooking, massage, martial arts, language arts. Everything you enjoy doing in the US you can find here in Thailand. However, be advised that the ski season is very, very short. Last year it was on a Thursday. If TV is your pleasure, we get about 50 English language channels, same as you'd get in NYC. Of course there are also plenty of stations broadcasting in Spanish, Chinese, French, German, and of course, Thai.
Temple Monks Gather at Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Is it easy for Ex-pats to find work in Thailand?
Yes, and no. We are not permitted to work without having the proper visa and work permit. You can easily start your own business, as I did, which will give you the proper documents, or work for a school teaching languages. Please do understand though that working in Thailand doesn't pay the way working in the US does, so don't plan on getting rich here. Unless your work is something you truly love, and you don't wish to spend your retirement in a rocking chair, you're best off starting your own business that deals with the outside world for the financial rewards. My photography business is divided into three parts; one part dealing with the tourists coming to Thailand and teaching them how to use their cameras, one part shooting commercial photography for hotels and tour agency brochures, and the other part as freelance photojournalist shooting and writing for magazines. This is how I keep out of the rocking chair. I won't get rich, but I sure do have fun!
Do you rent or own your residence? Why?
There are certain laws dealing with foreigners owning property here in the Land of Smiles. Unfortunately these laws change with the winds. Right now, it is illegal for a foreigner to own 'land' here, but if we obtain a 30 year lease we can build and own our own homes on the land. We are permitted to own condominiums provided the condo building is 51% Thai owned. Personally, we chose to rent our condo. We like the freedom that this gives us. Rent is cheap, and value is good. Should we wish to live in a bigger or smaller place, all we have to do is move.
What got you interested in photography?
Don't tell anyone, but it was a very kinky girlfriend that I had when I was 23..... Unfortunately, 'kink' could only hold my interest just so long, and I began to realize that this was a new way to see the world around me. As Proust says; "The voyage of discovery is not traveling to new lands; it's seeing with new eyes." But.... add those new eyes to new lands and every time I turn around I experience another 'Kodak Moment." You can too... In Thailand
If you travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand, be sure to take advantage of Steve's photography courses. You can see more of his work on his website, PhotoEnvisions. He features Professional Freelance Photography, freelance photography covering travel, photojournalism, nature, people, culture, gardens, flowers, etc., from SE Asia, Asia, Europe, Thailand, Travel, Micronesia, Japan, and the European Alps. Photographs for magazines, calendar, greeting cards, and gifts. People From All Over the Globe.
To read more interviews with Expats, Early Retirees and Interesting Characters, click here
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
For more information about financial independence and travel, visit our book store
Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.