Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

From Tipp to Brunei

John Ryan had his heart set on moving to Thailand when he graduated as a teacher in 2004. Eight years later, he is married with two sons in Brunei, where he works short hours, has a good salary and long holidays.

Mon, Feb 13, 2012, 01:00


John Ryan had his heart set on moving to Thailand when he graduated as a teacher in 2004. Eight years later, he is married with two sons in Brunei, where he works short hours, has a good salary and long holidays.

John with his wife and sons in Ko Lanta, Thailand in 2011

John with his wife and sons in Ko Lanta, Thailand in 2011

A large monkey jumped onto the railing outside our window yesterday. He brandished his canines and hit us with a longing look. In search of some free food again. He fled as my son spotted him and let out a high-pitched scream in his direction.

I now live in Brunei Darussalam. The literal translation is “the Abode of Peace”. It certainly is peaceful and lends itself to a slow paced lifestyle. It’s surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak and has a population of about 400,000.  Brunei is  a dry country so, lamentably, no Irish pubs here to drink the homesick blues away.

In 2004, after completing my teacher training, I left Ireland. I did send off a few wishful applications for jobs but received no replies. Regardless, I had my heart set on moving back to Asia where I had spent 6 months travelling previously.

The spectre of economic collapse was an infant speck on the distant horizon at that stage. The age of excess was in full fertile flow. I grew up on a farm in Tipperary and wasn’t really used (as I suppose many of us weren’t) to the vast amounts of cash being thrown about willy-nilly by all and sundry. Teaching wasn’t exactly going to provide me with the resources to join in the Celtic feast either. So, on the plane with me.

Bangkok was to be my home for the next 5 years. The usual perception of the city is a chaotic, smelly mess peppered with ping-pong shows and annoyingly persistent vendors. That is true to some extent. However, as with most places, once you actually live there long enough it does warm to you and reveal it’s secrets.

My first job was as a freelance corporate instructor. Basically, I would hop in a taxi and go out to companies to teach employees basic English. It was an interesting way to get to know the people and their language.  Thai is a disarmingly easy language to learn and my students reveled in the opportunity to hone my fledgling pronunciation.

I met my wife to be at the end of my first year.  On my yearly visit home I recall showing her picture to my family. A bit of exotic Thailand on a damp Tipp afternoon.

My next job was in the Japanese International School in eastern Bangkok.  We moved into a large condo nearby. Nights were spent gazing out on the migrant workers in their tin shacks below and the garish neon lights of the massage parlour stip beyond. The gulf between the haves and have-nots becomes much more apparent after a while. The affluent Thais would roll out of their massive gated houses in their locally produced (but export taxed) Mercs and Beemers on the way to one of the many luxury malls. Meanwhile the up-country Thais would be struggling home after working another 14 hour day on a construction site. All for another 4 euro in the bank.  This disparity was/is the root of most of the discontent bubbling beneath the surface of the famed Thai smile. The recent red shirt battles in downtown Bangkok and the occupation of Suvarnabhumi are part of that.  The latest flooding debacle will only serve to agitate the situation more I fear.

The holidays were superb and we managed to visit the Thai islands on numerous occasions along with several road trips up north to Chiang Mai and the Burmese/Laos borders. Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia all within a few hours. Certainly beats the yearly holiday we used to take to Kerry.

The Thai GAA were hosting the Asian Gaelic Games in 2009. The Irish community in Bangkok didn’t really have a focus before but the GAA served to bring a good crowd of us together. I was more suited to the hurling but gave the football a go. Managed to get our photo taken with Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh in the team hotel. That made my Dad smile.

With the birth of my first son, Seán, we started to think about moving elsewhere with a more stable society and better teaching salaries. I looked at Hong Kong but the cost of living seemed too high. Eventually I found out about Brunei and decided to send off a furtive application.  It was a bit of a struggle to find any information on the internet on the living conditions there but, from the little I gathered, it seemed to fit the bill nicely. High salary, short working day (7.30 – 12.30), good holidays, safe environment and international school for the kids.

While not as liberal as Thailand, the Bruneian people are very friendly and I have no regrets about moving here. It is a strictly Muslim country but other religions are tolerated and you can drive over the border to Malaysia to have a few scoops whenever you please. I’ve signed on for another 2-year contract and assume we’ll be here for a few more years after that.

Ireland is a distant plan at the moment. I do feel regret that my sons aren’t with their grandparents or able to play on the farm as they grow up.  However, I also know that we would be taking a major step down in quality of life if we moved back now.

As I said to my Dad “We’ll see in another 5 years”.