The Null Device

Down and out in Thailand / on Bitcoin

Apparently Thailand these days is full of homeless European/American blokes; mostly middle-aged, and often alcoholic, they spend their time drinking and sleeping rough on beaches, which is considerably less idyllic than the big-rock-candy-mountain image the description evokes:
Steve, who declined to give his surname over fears that his long-expired visa could land him in jail, said he has spent two years sleeping rough on Jomtien Beach, a 90-minute drive from Bangkok. “I’ve gone 14 days without food before. I lived off just tea and coffee,” he told The Independent. After his marriage of 33 years ended seven years ago, Steve began regular visits to Thailand before setting up permanently in Pattaya, a seaside resort with a sleazy reputation close to Jomtien. “I’m a bit of a sexaholic,” he says, also admitting a fondness for alcohol.
Paul Garrigan, a long-time Thai resident, isn’t surprised by the growing problem of homeless and stranded Westerners. The 44-year-old spent five years “drinking himself to death” in Thailand before giving up alcohol in 2006 and writing a book called Dead Drunk about his ordeal and the expats who have fallen on hard times in the country. He told The Independent: “I’d been living in Saudi Arabia where I worked a nurse but I’ve been an alcoholic since my teens and, after a holiday to Thailand in 2001, I decided I may as well drink myself to death on a beautiful island in Thailand. Like many people I taught English at a school but spent much of my time on islands such as Ko Samui where I could start drinking early in the morning at not be judged.
Meanwhile in the US, some homeless people are apparently surviving on Bitcoin; spending their days in public libraries earning the coins by doing vaguely sketchy online work (watching videos to bump up YouTube counters is mentioned; perhaps armies of the destitute to solve CAPTCHAs, artisanally hand-spam blog comments or otherwise laboriously defeat anti-bot countermeasures could make economic sense in today's climate too) and then cashing out through gift card services. Meanwhile, homelessness charities are embracing Bitcoin:
Meanwhile, Sean’s Outpost has opened something it calls BitHOC, the Bitcoin Homeless Outreach Center, a 1200-square-foot facility that doubles as a storage space and homeless shelter. The lease – and some of the food it houses — is paid in bitcoins through a service called Coinbase. For gas and other supplies, Sean’s Outpost taps Gyft, the giftcard app Jesse Angle and his friends use to purchase pizza.
(I suspect that the photo of the homeless man “mining Bitcoins” on the park bench on his laptop is mislabelled; wouldn't all the easily minable Bitcoins have been tapped out, with the computational power required to mine any further Bitcoins essentially amount to already having thousands of dollars of high-end graphics cards lying around and using them to heat your house, rather than something one could do with an old battery-operated laptop on a park bench?)

There are 5 comments on "Down and out in Thailand / on Bitcoin":

Posted by: Greg Wed Sep 25 15:12:23 2013

The first story is about Westerners *stranded* in south-east Asia, but I wonder whether already-destitute Westerners might be drawn to *move* to Thailand. The general trend in the West is to sharper class divisions and the dismantling of welfare, so that if you're poor you're likely only to get poorer and end up homeless. For someone starting down that slippery slope, why not grab what cash they have left and take it somewhere it buys more? I have heard musicians, the canaries-in-the-coalmine of new poverty, talk in these terms.

Posted by: acb Wed Sep 25 15:56:20 2013

You heard musicians talking about moving to Thailand to sleep rough on the beach and busk for food money, or to rent/buy a cheap place and have a more regular livelihood?

Posted by: acb Wed Sep 25 15:58:20 2013

I imagine that, while sleeping rough on a Thai beach would probably be better than sleeping rough under an overpass in Middlesbrough or somewhere, the sort of people for whom that is the choice wouldn't have the means to make the airfare and/or might be denied a visa/turned away. Unless one is a particularly well-disciplined hobo.

Posted by: Greg Fri Sep 27 13:31:58 2013

I mean people giving up ever trying to have much more than working-poor money, taking their puny savings (e.g. next month's rent) which is not worth much in Australia, and taking it to South East Asia where they can buy a reasonable standard of living with it, for a while at least.

Posted by: acb Tue Oct 1 10:12:04 2013

The question is how do you keep an Australian-sized income in an economy with developing-world costs of living? Perhaps some sort of online piecework which costs the same everywhere in the world (and hasn't yet been competed down to provide bare-subsistence living in the grimmest shantytown in the world that has semi-reliable electricity and 3G)?