Initially the Pattaya Daily News team heard about Somchai’s case through our websites popular open forum. A regular poster, Somchai had seemingly been using the discussion board as somewhat of a getaway from what was becoming an increasingly desperate situation, a hobby if you like. Somchai’s personality on the forum was that of a helpful, opinionated and very forthright poster. He had taken to giving positive replies to other member’s posts also often joining in on the playful banter that is until, on the 17th of March 2010, a rather unexpected and exposing topic appeared in which Somchai wrote:
Given the circumstances and unexpected nature of the topic many of the regular forum posters and it has to be said, PDN, did not really know what to make of the post and the subsequent correspondence that ensued over the following 3-4 weeks. Although several members voiced their concerns for his situation, the nature of Thailand and prevalence of scam artists, conmen and general degenerate human beings kept many people from immediately offering assistance, one of the reasons PDN has set about creating this very feature.
It is now our understanding that a few concerned members, less sceptical than others our even ourselves, had in fact offered some assistance in one form or another, but due to the circumstances that both sides of the ‘table’ found themselves in, along with various miscommunications and misunderstandings any help that he received was minor and/or not forthcoming. At this stage, with Somchai and his young family becoming increasingly more desperate and forum members becoming increasingly more sceptical in regards to the legitimacy of his claims, PDN decided to get in contact with the man himself to investigate his situation further and attempt to aid him if at all possible.
Pattaya Daily News has been in direct contact with Somchai over the last week, both via email and in person. The following is an in-depth dialogue of our interviews and meetings with Somchai which have been collated by our Pattaya Daily News team. At first our initial intention with this feature, once we had determined that his families plight was genuine, was to present you with a story of Somchai and his families story to-date, but on second thought, we decided that perhaps it is better to just let him present it for himself;
PDN: What was/is your occupation [in detail] and why did you decide to immigrate to Thailand?
Somchai: I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and have been working, on a contract basis, as a Senior Financial Interim Manager since 1990. I worked exclusively with/for some of the largest businesses in the financial market, primarily conducting external financial audits at the behest of the company requesting the service through my employers. My work is/was on a contract basis with each case taking differing amounts of time to complete and no guarantee given as to when and where the next job will be, (sometimes you may get three offers in three days or none in 3 months). Due to the majority of jobs being on the Eurasian continent I decided to relocate to Thailand in 1997 following a divorce from my Belgian wife, with whom I have 3 adult daughters.
As a result of my relocation, I was frequently travelling back and forth between Belgium and Thailand including visits to numerous countries throughout Eurasia, depending upon where my current job was. Along with providing me with a reasonable salary my employers also reimbursed me for any subsequent travel and accommodation expenses I incur as a result of me being stationed in a foreign country (I include this fact because it is the only thing preventing me from accepting another job offer at present). This salary allowed me and my family [Thai wife and two young daughters] to live comfortably in Phuket and by my own admittance; I rather spoilt them prior to our current situation.
Somchai’s face has been blurred in the photo’s to protect his identity as a result of his profession.
PDN: Why did you return to Belgium regularly and had you considered relocating your family there?
Somchai: On a regular basis I travelled back to Belgium for work purposes, but I had also been returning increasingly more frequently since 2008 to visit my parents, who passed away at the beginning of 2009.
My Thai wife and our two young daughters (Sophie and Elizabeth) joined me in Belgium for a period of 9-months in 2007/2008 whilst I was on an assignment based in Belgium and so that I could be closer to my aging parents. Our oldest daughter Sophie (now 5) temporarily attended school in Belgium whilst both girls are Belgian citizens and hold Belgian passports.
Due to my job taking me back to the Asian subcontinent we as a family decided it best to move back to Thailand mid-2008. I actually, during the children’s younger years, believe Thailand is a better environment for them to grow-up in looking back on my own childhood in Antwerp, although I did/do intend to take them back for schooling in Belgium.
PDN: When/How did you meet your Thai wife and did you plan to start a family together? [Please explain, if you would, how you coped with the added burden]
Somchai: I met my wife whilst in Pattaya on a short vacation between assignments during 2003. She was working in small shop selling clothes and various other fashion accessories.
Initially we had not planned to start a family, but my wife fell pregnant in 2004 with Sophie (born 08.02.2005) and subsequently again in 2005 with Elizabeth (born 09.04.2006). I strongly believe that I have always been a responsible man both in my personal and professional life and as such had always welcomed having the children despite my age (now 62).
Up until our current financial problems began, as a family, we have always managed with relative ease and comfort although we were by no means rich. As I previously mentioned I am guilty of having spoilt my family to a certain extent but was only trying to provide them with the most comfortable life that I could afford. Due to me travelling a lot for work, I truly believed in ‘quality time’ because of the lack of ‘quantity time’ that I could afford to give them.
PDN: How did your Belgian family react to you new Thai wife and family?
Somchai: My ex-wife (Belgian) and I have not been in contact since our divorce so I have no idea what her reaction is and/or have not attempted to get in contact with her. My wife and I divorced our failing marriage long after our three daughters had completed their education and in fact had got married themselves.
Sadly, my three Belgian daughters have been very unsupportive of my decision to proceed in having a family with my Thai wife. They even told me that I could now not possibly love them or my grandchildren as I have young children of my own. This absolutely not the case and it saddens me that I may never have contact with them again before I die. I do miss them and love them dearly.
I had contacted them, through the Belgian Embassy in Bangkok, to ask for assistance, for which I did not receive a personal reply merely a directive from the embassy stating that they had received a reply from them stating that they were unwilling or unable to help.
My parents were in fact supportive of me before their death and my only sibling, a brother, also retained contact with me, but he has since passed away in 2009.
PDN: How did your current financial situation come about?
Somchai: As I have explained previously, financially I have always coped well in my life including after the birth of my two young daughters. I was never a millionaire, just a middleclass businessman fortunate enough to have a reasonably well paying job that let me enjoy life in Thailand, whilst being able to travel extensively to other countries.
Problems initially began to surface when I was severely injured in a car accident in Thailand during the month of September 2006. Along with various minor ‘surface’ injuries I broke the L1 bone in my back, which subsequently required over 6 months of rehabilitation. Both my wife and two children were also in the vehicle at the time of the crash but fortunately all escaped relatively unharmed.
The initial hospital bill was covered by my medical insurance, who also offered to cover the cost for my flight back to Belgium (alone, not including the family) for an extensive program of rehabilitation. Due to my young family and the fact that I was at that time now estranged from my three Belgian daughters I chose to remain in Thailand for my treatment. This decision came about after I was informed that even following my release from hospital I would need significant assistance from someone in completing even the most simplest of day-to-day tasks (which proved to be correct).
In accordance with the policy of my insurance, upon my initial exit from intensive care I had to cover the rest of the hospital expenses myself if I was unwilling to return to Belgium. I had explained my situation to them, regarding my family and lack of support in Belgium, but this was apparently insufficient for them to class my case as an extenuating circumstance.
I subsequently spent the next 2 months, until mid-November 2006, in hospital before being released into the care of my wife. Following three more months of rehabilitation at an exorbitant cost, which ended up consuming almost our entire family savings, I was eventually repatriated by the Belgian Embassy, in February 2007. I had applied and accepted repatriation due to our financial insecurity and the continuing problem with my back which was still not completely healed despite nearly 6 months of treatment. Upon my return to Belgium I immediately sort the help of a specialist orthopaedic doctor/surgeon.
Whilst in Belgian I further recovered from my spinal injury alone, until accepting a job offer through one of the financial management companies I work for, fortunately the job was based in Belgium. As I mentioned before, I worked up the funds before bringing my wife and kids over to stay in the month of June 2007 for a period of 9 months. At the completion of the job, February 2008, I was fortunate enough to acquire another assignment very soon after. This required me to go, once again, back to Thailand. Both my wife and I believed Thailand was a better environment to raise our young family, compared to Antwerp, so we moved back to Phuket upon my acceptance of the aforementioned job.
Completing my Thai assignment and regaining some form of financial security I decided, with the help of my wife, to start a business/company on the behalf of a fellow Belgian who I had met through my work and assumed I could trust. The business was to be an import/export enterprise specialising in rare and modern art. His main reason for wishing to create the company turned out to be a ploy to obtain his Thai wife a visa for Belgium, which had already been reject by the Belgian government once. By starting the company for him we expected to then turn it over into his name as he was in Belgium. After declaring Bt2 million as the company capital we subsequently transferred an amount of roughly Bt200,000 through the business to his wife which was then declared as her wage. This wage then successfully gave the Belgian government grounds to approve her visa application, which they did. The pair were then not contactable afterwards and have remained that way despite a litigation running against them in Belgium. I am presently unable to pay my lawyer to handle this litigation which is subject to a 3 year statute of limitations. The aforementioned Thai company still exists and is in our name, if we wish to deregister the business we ourselves will be responsible for paying the Bt2 million in declared capital.
Along with the loss of a significant amount of money in the failed business venture, the onset of the global financial crisis at the beginning of 2009 meant that job offers were becoming few and far between in my profession. Initially I had been patient and held hope that a job would present itself. I had already lost a considerable amount of money as a result of the scam business partnership and was still in the process of attempting to recuperate the money through the Belgian courts (my lawyer had been acting in my absence). By October 2009 we were forced into moving to Bangkok as the financial crisis continued to worsen and job offers were not forthcoming. With my Non-Immigrant B visa due to expire at the end of November 2009 and money quickly running out I approached the Belgian Embassy for assistance but, as my continued presence in the country suggests, it has as yet to be offered.
Eventually my visa expired and I was unable, as stated, to leave the country and provide for my young family because I did not have enough money to either fly out or cover the cost of my now expired visa. The little money we had was beginning to run out so I have now sold almost everything that I own of any true value just to provide the essentials for my children.
PDN: Has your wife been able to help at all in your current situation and have you attempted to find any employment?
Somchai: I have temporarily split from my wife as we had begun to argue repeatedly over our current financial situation, we both decided that it was not good for the children to witness our constant fights.
At present she is in fact working in a small Thai restaurant earning approximately Bt150 per day which she does use to help feed the children who are currently staying with me whilst she lives with some friends. My wife’s father is a Tuk-Tuk driver in Bangkok and is not very compassionate towards our situation whilst her mother stays at the family home in Surin to look after my wife’s two children from a previous marriage. One child suffers from downs syndrome and as such leaving our two children with her is realistically not an option.
Prior to my wife leaving I looked extensively around Bangkok attempting to gain employment, applying at several language schools and private language businesses, however my lack of a valid visa or work permit has meant that they all refused to employ me. I also investigated several private job advertisements, not requiring proof of a valid visa/work permit, but they all turned out to be scams of one type or another. I am now unable to look for any more work as I take care of the children fulltime.
Now that the global financial crisis has somewhat begun to turn I have started to receive numerous job offers from several of my employers, which I have had to refuse due to my inability to cover the initial cost required to travel between Belgium and the country which the assignment is based. As stated before, the company fully reimburse their contractors for travel and accommodation rather than pay for it upfront or with the use of a business account. Informing them of my financial situation is not an option as it would mean the loss of my CPA license, job and subsequently my career. This also includes filing for bankruptcy.
Somchai’s face has been blurred in the photo’s to protect his identity as a result of his profession. He is currently still a financial consultant with his previous employers, who currently think he is on a break between jobs. He informed PDN that his continued denial of work will eventually mean that he will not be offered any more assignments.
What interaction have you had with the Belgium Embassy and what has been their response?
Somchai: I initially approached the Belgium Embassy on December 24th 2009 in which I explained mine and my family’s situation. I was sent home empty handed that day and the subsequent application for repatriation was turned down without an explanation.
In total I have, since that day, visited, phoned or emailed the embassy over 20 times asking for assistance at all times being greeted with extremely negative answers or suggestions. Various consular officials have informed me that my family’s case was not exceptional and that there are many others in more need also stating that due to my repatriation once (for my broken back) in 2007 I could not receive the ‘favour’ again. My reason is, if they are not able to accept that this is an unrelated and even more desperate matter, then what about my children (both Belgian citizens) do they not matter? The embassy has refused to respond to almost all my pleas regarding the rights of my two daughters.
I have explained my family’s situation up until our present condition to the head consular official several times, even offering that she come and visit our current residence to observe the completely inhumane area we sleep. Before being completely rejected recently, the consular office had continued to give me hope that they may come and visit our residence. I have shown them the same photographs which are displayed in this article and explained that the Belgian government would never let children live in these surroundings in our homeland. The only answer that is ever given to these pleas is ‘this is not Belgium sir.’
Currently I have an application for repatriation still left unanswered with the embassy, so I still hold some hope that there might be some help coming, no matter how slim the chances are. I fully appreciate that I have been repatriated once before but surely the extenuating circumstances of that incident warranted it and as this is a completely different matter and even more warranting of assistance surely it should not matter what has happened prior. That is not even accounting for the fact that my two Belgian daughters are now also involved and have every right to be treated equally to anyone else requesting repatriation, which I was also not aware was merely a ‘favour’ not a ‘right,’ as they repeatedly inform me.
Apart from a list of English language schools which I was given to help me in finding a job the embassy has advised me rather threateningly that I am an illegal alien in Thailand and as such should hand myself in to police and serve the 30-day prison sentence. When asked what would happen to my children in the meantime I was met with no reply. The embassy has however recently provided me with a list of orphanages which would willingly accept my children. As I am sure any parent would agree this is just simply not an option, both in Belgium and especially in Thailand.
I really am struggling to maintain any faith in the Belgian government after my continued visits and pleas for compassion, but still cannot imagine that they are willing to let both my children and myself die in Thailand without at least some form of assistance. I feel like they continue to reject my pleas out of a sheer will not to go back on their original denial.
PDN: Have you no friends in Thailand or Belgium that may be willing to assist or temporarily loan you the money?
Somchai: Due to the nature of my work, for the last 13 years I have lost touch with any friends that I once had in Belgium, with only the one former-classmate helping me out with approximately Bt10,000 over 3 months.
I did receive several thousand baht (5,000) to aid in feeding my kids from a Belgian friend I had contacted in Pattaya, however; he has stopped answering my phone calls since I have begun to use the PDN forum out of desperation. He had also offered me some assistance in dealing with the Belgian government which he claimed to have some sort of influence with. This did not come to fruition.
Once I had decided to reveal my situation on the PDN forum I did receive approximately Bt2,000, and some further assistance in returning to Bangkok, from several kind-hearted members in Pattaya. I had been visiting the city initially to attempt to recontact with the Belgian friend mentioned above which I was unsuccessful at doing.
Other than these minor, but greatly appreciated donations I have been unable to contact any other friends that may be able to assist. At present any money we receive is simply being spent to ensure our survival, primarily food and water.
I do have several other friends, however; they are all involved in my profession and as such I cannot risk approaching them due to the consequences it could have for my career as explained earlier.
PDN: Why did you decide to publish a plea for help on the PDN forum and what was the response?
Somchai: I had previously been a member on the forum, both in its new format and in the old, for shear entertainment purposes. I decided to publish my family’s situation on there, frankly out of desperation and as a last resort. I also thought that the presence of so many regular visitors to Thailand and expats might mean I could at least interact with some understanding and sympathetic voices, which I did initially find. Contrary to many members beliefs it was not an easy decision to explain my situation in such detail to complete strangers. Using the children was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my life.
I did receive an offer of temporary residence and the possibility of a job however my lack of visa and a misunderstanding of his personal message to me, along with the time it took to reply, seemed to deter the member. This offer has subsequently been retracted. I accept that my reticence and overly cautious nature affected this offer but maintain I was only looking out for the best interests of my children.
Another member offered me help with employment in Bangkok but I was unaware of the offer until well after he had posted the original message. The subsequent speculation that has occurred regarding my families situation meant that any further correspondence with forum members has been limited and unproductive.
I have attempted to further provide evidence in what I can appreciate is a complicated and unbelievable set of circumstances to comprehend, however it has not been possible. Due to my families continued suffering and the worsening situation I willingly accepted to do an interview with PDN to help clear up any scepticism.
PDN: Finally, how are you and your children managing at present?
Somchai: We are current staying in a very low-class primarily Thai area of central Bangkok. Although I say central it is a good 20min bus ride to the more popular tourist attracts in Bangkok and the Belgian Embassy. It even takes me 10mins on the bus just to reach the nearest internet café. More worrying of late is our relative proximity to the Red Shirt fighting which is occurring in nearby Silom.
Upon moving to our current residence/slum, as you can see in the photographs, we had very little money which primarily constituted of the various donations which I have previously mentioned. As the days go by our situation deepens and at present even the Bt15 for the internet café and Bt50 bus fare is becoming an issue. Any money we have received, although so greatly appreciated, has merely extended our stay in this present state.
On my most recent visit to the Belgian embassy, approximately one week ago, I was generously given an amount of Bt1,800 by a fellow Belgian national who had overheard my family’s case. We have been living off of that along with some further funds provided by a kind hearted forum member who I met whilst in Pattaya to visit PDN for this interview. Upon the diminishment of these funds I fear we will be forced into begging on the streets.
As I have said before, my wife is living with some friends in Bangkok as our constant fighting is not something that we wish the children to witness. She has been stopping in to provide some food and water for the children, whilst our Thai and Laotian neighbours in the adjoining rooms often share some food with the children, but not me. The residents in our building have vary little compassion for me as a ‘farang’ but thankfully they still treat my children well, otherwise I don’t know where else we would be able to go. We have stayed in our present room for over two months now and have not payed any rent. I fear that it will not be long until the police are sent to arrest me and then what happens to the children?
Accordingly, the only positive thing that I am able to acquire consistently by visiting the Belgian Embassy is a free lunch for the children, once again however; this does not include me.
At present I am fast running out of options and cannot foresee how we can continue to survive in our present state. I worry not only how I will continue to feed the children but also about disease and infection from the water, food and general inhumane living conditions. If one of them or I was to get sick we do not even have enough money for medicine let alone a visit to the local clinic or hospital. “I feel like we are waiting for the water to rise above our heads before drowning.”
The information contained within the above interview was collected from a series of in person meetings with Somchai at the PDN offices as well as several ongoing email correspondences that we have had. Although the replies have been collected together and re-written by our staff-writer they are in effect the exact opinions that Somchai himself expressed.
Despite the speculation regarding Somchai’s case, both on the forum and by people who had initially met him, our investigation has truly opened our eyes to the genuine nature of the, at times outrageous set of circumstance, which has led both Somchai and his young family into such a drastic life change. Although we are all guilty of being pessimistic about pleas for help, especially in Thailand, any doubts that you have had regarding Somchai’s, have hopefully been dispelled by this heart rendering account of a man at his wits end.
Compassionate plea from Somchai: I realise and understand that people were at first sceptical of my situation and the way in which I chose to announce it, I would have been too had I been in your shoes. I now simply ask people to believe that it was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my life. To beg for help and now to display my family in such a way that anyone is free to analysis our lives, it is not only degrading, but an unfortunate necessity, as all other avenues appear to have been exhausted. I am grateful in a way, that my children are still young, at an age where their innocence somewhat protects them from reality, as you can see by their still smiling faces and playful nature.
By contacting PDN and agreeing to do an interview I am hoping that people will get a better concept on just how our situation came about and the conditions of our lives at present. I do not ask for millions of baht or even a monetary donation, I am willing to work towards our eventual return to Belgium, where we intend to stay, but dearly would like some minor assistance in moving from our current residence, for the sake of my children more so than me. I understand that many people, especially those that live in Thailand, may have issues of their own to deal with, so really all I ask is for some understanding and if you are in a position to aid in anyway I plead with you, from the bottom of my heart, please get in contact with me via PDN.
If any readers are willing to aid Somchai and his family in anyway, be it a monetary contribution or any other form of help, contact details and more information can be provided upon request by contacting Bob at email@example.com.