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Tired of routine, China's rich seek slower pace in Thailand | Business and Economy

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Pattaya, Thailand – Xiaohongshu, China’s answer to Instagram, is excited about the benefits of emigrating to Thailand.

In videos on the popular social media and e-commerce platform, influencers paint a picture of paradise that promises something for everyone.

For stressed parents, cheap international schools and the possibility of working remotely in an exotic location await. For retirees, there is affordable medical care just steps away from the beach.

“We don’t need our children to ‘win’ before they reach the finish line,” says one woman in Chinese, over images of an idyllic-looking Finnish school in Phuket, where English is widely spoken and students come from all over the world .

“Our kids don’t have to have the highest grades or be the most disciplined. We just want them to enjoy life and be happy.”

The buzz about Xiaohongshu, which translates to “Little Red Book,” comes as China prepares to reopen its borders after three years of the world’s strictest pandemic controls.

Chinese authorities will resume passport renewals from Sunday and lift the quarantine on arrival, which has prevented nearly a small fraction of Chinese nationals from traveling outside the country since the start of 2020.

Tens of millions of Chinese are expected to book flights for overseas holidays in the coming weeks and months.

But others say they are preparing to leave China for good, according to posts on social media platforms such as Xiaohongshu, frustrated with a country they say is increasingly expensive, authoritarian, competitive and difficult to raise a family or retire from. .

While it’s unclear how many Chinese have actually emigrated or are seriously considering it, posts on social media discussing a growing “running philosophy” or “run xue” have been viewed millions of times.

For wealthy Chinese, Thailand is an attractive choice, accessible via a relatively short flight and full of property available at a fraction of the price of what is offered in Chinese megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

The Chinese already rank as the largest group of foreign homebuyers in Thailand, according to the Thailand Real Estate Information Center, with more than 3,500 units sold in 2022 at an average of $150,000 each.

More are expected to come looking for a good deal as China’s borders reopen.

In Phuket and Pattaya, realtors say Chinese buyers are buying 25% to 30% of new condominiums in prime waterfront areas.

china travelers
China to reopen its borders after three years of tough pandemic restrictions [Andy Wong/AP]

Xiaohongshu has also become a place for investors to make connections.

In a post, Mei Ren, an entrepreneur who moved to Bangkok, shared the advice she received from other users as she struggled to get her restaurant in the Thai capital off the ground.

“All that hard work is about to pay off with a little help from my overseas friends,” she wrote.

Thai tourism authorities expect around 300,000 visitors from China in the first three months of 2023 and five million over the year as flights are gradually restored to smaller cities and airports reopen.

Thailand welcomed 10 million Chinese visitors in 2019, representing one in four arrivals, before COVID-19 inflicted unprecedented damage on the global travel industry.

The kingdom, which depends on tourism for up to a fifth of its gross domestic product, has been particularly hard hit by the collapse of international travel. Thailand’s economy contracted 6.1% in 2020, one of the steepest declines in the region, followed by a 1.5% expansion in 2021.

Since Thailand fully reopened its borders in mid-2022, the economy has recovered strongly.

For tourism and other sectors that rely on foreign investment such as real estate, China’s sudden reversal of its tough “zero-COVID” policy has been met with relief.

“There are two reasons Chinese people come here,” Ting Ye, a Shenzhen-based property manager who sells property in Chonburi on Thailand’s east coast, told Al Jazeera.

“The first is investment: they buy condos and houses to rent and resell. The second is to live. Many people want to live in Thailand due to low costs and international schools, while some elderly people are also coming here for retirement.”

For some Chinese, Thailand may offer an antidote to the frustrations encapsulated by popular phrases on social media such as “lying down” and “involution,” which describe the pains of relentless hard work for little reward in China’s big cities.

In Xiaohongshu, Chinese emigrants in Thailand describe a lifestyle that seems carefree, even luxurious.

In one video, a woman passing Cindy is given a tour of a nursing home in the northern city of Chiang Mai, which she says has 24-hour nursing and charges just $1,600 a month.

Man in white shorts, rolled up to his elbows, and black shorts, sitting on an ottoman, holding a drink with a straw in his hands.
Chinese influencers like Alex are promoting the benefits of the digital nomad lifestyle in Thailand [Xiaohongshu]

In another, Alex from Beijing describes the joys of a quiet working life, spent hopping between cafes like a digital nomad in the same city known for its laid-back, slow pace of life.

Many posts involve mothers exchanging stories about the benefits of their children growing up in the less frenetic atmosphere of Southeast Asia.

For Sudarat Phakdee, a teacher at One Day Esthetic art school in Pattaya, there is little doubt that the intimacy of her small classes rubs off on the personalities of her young students in China.

“They love it here, they seem to be having so much fun because we have so much space for them to run around,” Phakdee told Al Jazeera.

“They seem very relaxed and playful.”