By John A. Reviere, ORC
This glimpse of what expatriates to Bangkok, Thailand, and Seoul, South Korea, may experience upon arrival is based on personal observations by ORCs pricing agent network coordinator.
Bangkok: Slow Traffic, Quick Hustle
Entering Bangkok, you are assaulted by muggy weather, congested traffic, dirty and cracked sidewalks, and unwholesome air. Pollution is extremely serious in the city, of both water (from organic and factory waste) and air (from vehicle emissions). Many residents wear surgical masks to protect their lungs.
A new rail system is being built to reduce the overwhelming number of vehicles. Because traffic simply does not move, much commerce is conducted in the back of automobiles. Everyone, including those considered poor, uses cell phones to get things done. Business transactions take forever, with no one expected to be punctual.
Despite the overwhelming congestion, it is best to avoid public transportation, which is crowded and conducive to petty theft. Crime is generally in the form of pickpocketing and bag snatching, with burglary a growing problem in residential areas. Although taxis are the easiest way to get around, be wary of enthusiastic drivers trying to bring you to shops and clubs where you dont want to go and sell you products you dont want to buy. To avoid unending traffic and entrepreneurs seeking a fast profit, you would do better to hire a private driver to transport family members to school, work, and social engagements.
In Bangkok, ones home is a private domain, a sanctuary where others are not invited. Expatriates are generally not expected to entertain business colleagues in their personal residences, nor should they expect invitations.
Expatriate housing is available either furnished or unfurnished, and apartment buildings usually have guards or doormen for security. International assignees tend to live in the following areas:
- Klong Toey, located southeast of downtown Bangkok
- Nonthaburi, in the northern suburbs, which is popular with families who have children
- Nichada Thani, a planned international residential community on the outskirts of the city, near Nonthaburi, that offers easy access to the downtown area; it is also popular with families
- Sukhumvit, a residential area close to many shopping malls in eastern Bangkok
Shopping malls in the city are comparable to those in Western countries. Although quality goods are available, they are normally mixed with cheap products. Everything imaginable is for sale, although much of it (e.g., designer watches and clothing) is fake. Outdoor marketsboth on land and watersell produce from outlying farms, best purchased in the morning when vegetables are fresher.
Bangkok is a noisy, lively city that can be a challenge for foreigners unaccustomed to severe pollution, overwhelming congestion, and profitable scams.
Seoul: Impressions of a Bustling City
Modern high-rise buildings stand side by side in Seoul with older residences, some of which are still heated by hot water pipes that run beneath the floors, while others still have dirt floors. Charcoal remains a source of fuel in these older homes; because of the often poor ventilation, a layer of dirt coats the city. The problem is compounded by car exhaust, creating serious pollution in the South Korean capital. Traffic cops, who wear masks for protection, use video cameras to film license plates of offenders. Cars are small, lanes are wide, and too many vehicles squeeze into each lane along, with motorcycles and bicycles. Produce-laden bicyclists, not restricted to city streets, are a regular sight on Seouls highways.
With an estimated 34,000 taxis in the city, expatriates do not need a driver. Public transportation is relatively cheap, with an underground system that is fast and efficient, though crowded at rush hour. Despite the crowds, residents generally feel safe in Seoul, although, as in other large cities, there is petty crime. Police officers are everywhere. During the citys ever-present demonstrations, riot police readily use shields and gas.
Security is not an issue here as it is in some locations where expatriates have to live in guarded compounds. Expatriates in Seoul have various housing options:
- Many live in apartment complexes (e.g., Nam San Apartments, Hyundai Apartments, Chung Hwa Apartments, Shin Dong Ah Apartments).
- Others live in large single-family homes with gardens in the UN Village, Itaewon, Bangbae-dong, SonkBuk-dong (where foreign embassies are clustered), and Yunhi-dong.
- Some unaccompanied expatriates live in small houses on a section of a U.S. military base that has been transformed into expatriate accommodations.
While most expatriate neighborhoods are convenient to the numerous shopping malls in Seoul, SonkBuk-dong, for example, is not. Throughout the city, vendors are back on the street, once again haggling with customers about prices, now that the Olympics and the accompanying government restrictions on bargaining are over.
Restaurants run the gamut from fine dining to fast-food, and often appear in the oddest places. Down a seemingly impassable alley with no sign to point the way, one might find a small, cozy eatery known solely by word of mouth.
Raw food in restaurants is better avoided, as is cooked food from street vendors, whose setups often lack adequate sanitation. These vendors cook exotic foodssilkworms, octopus, squidover charcoal heaters, along with kimchi, a local staple (cabbage cooked in a pot buried in the ground with spices). For those who prefer to cook, fresh fruit and vegetables are sometimes difficult to find. Expatriates tend to buy meat in local department stores, where prices are often higher, rather than from food vendors.
A city of contrasts, exotic sights and smells, and bustling energy, Seoul is relatively safe for foreign visitors. Being prepared for the noise, congestion, and severe pollution can help make the transition to living in the city a little smoother.
John A. Reviere, the pricing agent network coordinator for Organization Resources Counselors, lived in Seoul with his family for nine months during the mid-1980s on a military tour of duty and visited both Seoul and Bangkok on a recent assignment for ORC. For more information about ORC, [email protected].
This article first appeared in ORCs Expatriate Observer.
Organization Resources Counselors, Inc. is a leading international human resources consulting firm headquartered in New York. Serving the business community for 45 years, ORC consultants offer their expertise and research capability to help clients respond effectively to a wide range of human resources management issues and challenges, as well as achieve a competitive edge in the present global economy.
Using the worlds largest database on expatriate compensation and practices, ORC provides more than 1,800 multinational organizations with information on home-country and assignment-location costs. Through a network of worldwide offices, ORC develops and reviews expatriate policies, offers a wide range of data options to meet client needs, and shares information through seminars and participation in numerous roundtables held in North America, Europe, and Asia. ORC also compiles information on employee relations, salary, and policies for expatriates and local-national employees.
For more information, contact ORC at www.orcinc.com or [email protected].