Living In Thailand Blog
Thursday 23rd November 2017
I was planning to start work in the garden again today, but the rain has returned. It's not heavy rain, but the kind of constant drizzle that afflicts the UK a lot of the time. It's a bit grey and miserable, but at least it isn't hot. The temperature is a balmy 29°C.
The comments I made yesterday about needing to connect with nature fairly often were not an exaggeration. Generally, urban Thailand is not a good environment in which to live and spending too much time in Thai cities drives me crazy. I enjoy my trips to Bangkok for a few days at a time, but would hate to live there permanently.
Thailand is quite a large country, but most Thais live crammed together in towns and cities. The urban areas are concrete jungles with few green spaces, there are far too many cars, trucks and motorbikes, and consequently the air becomes quite polluted. Bangkok is the worst example, with about 13% of the entire population of Thailand living in the capital. In contrast, the rural areas are beautiful and almost deserted.
Where I live is great. I can turn right and be in a large provincial town in 15 minutes where there is access to shopping, schools, hospitals and entertainment, etc.
If I turn left and drive for 15 minutes I am in deep countryside that seems metaphorically a million miles away from urban Thailand. This is the best way I know to recharge my batteries and soothe my mind. I had a little ride out into the countryside yesterday afternoon.
There is probably no colour that is more soothing to the mind than the green hue of rice fields. Originally, I wanted to buy a house in Chiang Rai surrounded by rice fields and mountains, but my wife wanted to stay near her family. This disappointed me, but what I didn't realise at the time was that there are rice fields very close to our house.
Rice field near to Hat Yai airport
Although this area is fairly close to the Malaysian border with quite a large Muslim population and a number of mosques, there are also some very attractive Buddhist temples in the countryside. This one is called Wat Liap.
Whenever I go for little excursions into the Thai countryside I invariably see snakes because there are so many snakes in Thailand. Unfortunately, snakes aren't very good at crossing roads and most snakes I see are dead or dying, having been hit by cars.
This one was lying in the road after being run over by a car. I stopped to take a photo and as I waited for cars to pass the poor thing was hit twice more. Despite this it was still alive, but probably not for much longer.
I'm not a snake expert and don't know what kind of snake it is. Any herpetologists out there?
The vast majority of vehicles in Thailand have windows that are so heavily tinted that you can't see the occupants of the vehicle from the outside. The truck I have at the moment has no tinted windows and driving it is proving to be quite an interesting experiment.
Most countries have laws regulating the amount of tint that is allowed, specified by a percentage figure. Many Malaysians and Singaporeans drive up to southern Thailand and although their vehicle windows are tinted you can still see inside. The tinting is a lot lighter than that commonly used in Thailand.
I have been told by Thai neighbours who drive down into Malaysia regularly that there can be problems at the border if your windows are too heavily tinted.
Thailand also has laws regarding the percentage of light that film tints allow through, but they are either very lenient or - like other laws - they are simply ignored.
Thais like the heavy tinting for various reasons. Firstly, it's hot and the tinting blocks sunlight thus making cars cooler. But I also think they like to be anonymous to allow then to drive the way they do.
Driving with heavy tinted windows in the daytime under bright Thai sun is one thing, but the same tinting at night can severely reduce visibility and make driving quite dangerous. Many motorcycles in Thailand drive around at night with no lights.
My wife tells me never to get mad with maniac Thai drivers because you never know who they are and they might have a gun, which is a real risk in Thailand. Heavy tinting makes drivers anonymous and other drivers leave them alone, no matter how obnoxiously they drive.
I am convinced that heavily tinted windows are a major contributor to the nasty and aggressive style of driving in Thailand. There is no eye contact and no human connection between drivers.
Vehicles are just blacked out, anonymous tin boxes and it is impossible to see who is driving. I have been doing the morning school run this week and a few nice things have happened as a result of other road users being able to see me.
The traffic is very heavy in the morning and most Thais refuse to give way or let other people out. I have let a few people out and received thanks and genuine smiles.
A Thai driver also let me out this morning, which is quite unusual. I raised my hand and nodded to acknowledge my thanks, and he smiled back. There was human contact and it made driving a lot more pleasant.
That's the positive side of having no tinted windows, but I have also been quite shocked at some of the looks I have received from Thais on motorbikes. Normally I don't see this because my own car has quite heavily tinted windows.
I can't quite make out if these looks are the disbelief of a farang driving a truck or resentment. Many Thais can only afford to run motorbikes and although I take no pleasure at all in driving a pickup truck, for many Thais the ultimate goal in life is to own a pickup truck and maybe they resent foreigners having things they covet.
Driving around with no tinted windows has also given me a reminder of one of the stranger aspects of Thai cultural behaviour.
In other countries if someone is engaging in obnoxious and/or antisocial behaviour, you can say something to them. In Thailand you can't. This is something that I found out very early on. Thais expect to be able to do whatever they want to do and they get very upset if anyone tells them otherwise.
When I lived in an apartment building I was living in the next room to a coyote dancer for a while. She would arrive home at around 3am and bang and crash around, play loud music, and sometimes there would be another female with her and they would start fighting.
Night after night she broke my sleep and I had to work the next day. I couldn't say anything so complained to the apartment management. They refused to say anything to her and tried to placate me by saying she would be moving out soon.
When we started to rent a house a guy down the road also played really loud music and raced his pickup truck up and down the Soi at great speed. One day I decided to have a word with him, but my wife pleaded with me not to.
There are two reasons for this.
Thai cultural behaviour overall is made up of several different separate strands of individual behaviour. They all make sense, but the thing they all have in common is that they go way too far.
The attitude of mai bpen rai (don't worry) can be used in the same way that Westerners say don't cry over spilled milk. Some things that happen can't be undone, therefore they aren't worth worrying about. However, Thais will often not worry about things they should worry about.
There is another strand of Thai cultural behaviour known as greng jai, which is an extreme reluctance to impose on others. But greng jai never stopped one of my ex-students imposing on me when she was preparing for a job interview and wanted to improve her English, and it stops Thais from 'interfering' when someone is guilty of antisocial behaviour.
The other reason Thais won't say anything is more pragmatic. Many Thais tend to be extremely vindictive and if you question their antisocial behaviour there could be some nasty reprisals.
This behaviour applies as much on Thai roads as it does elsewhere. You can drive as crazily as you wish, but the one thing you can't do is say anything to crazy or selfish Thai drivers.
When I first started driving in Thailand I did and it nearly got me into a lot of trouble. It isn't uncommon for Thais to carry weapons in their vehicles, including guns, and they will use them.
My car has tinted windows so I got used to letting off steam in the car and not venting my anger at Thai drivers. I started to regret this when my daughter began using the same vocabulary as I used, and you really don't want to hear the words I was using coming from the mouth of a six year-old girl.
Thais drive so badly that you can't prevent yourself cursing at them, but in my present vehicle with no tinted windows they can see me cursing. And they get upset. As I said above, they have the attitude that they can do whatever they wish without anyone else saying anything.
Wednesday 22nd November 2017
This day in 1963 was one of my earliest memories. I had just turned three and remember watching the small black-and-white TV at my grandmother's house. JFK had just been assassinated.
I've been watching quite a lot of stuff on YouTube recently about the Vietnam war. YouTube can be the world's biggest waste of time, but there is also some really interesting stuff there too. The second Indochina war was never a subject that interested me much until I visited Vietnam last month. Da Nang, where I flew into, was a key location during the war.
I had a good friend in the States who I met in Chicago on a training course in 1986. He was 10 years older than me. We stayed in touch for years, but suddenly communication ceased a few years ago. He was a Vietnam vet and complained about the effects that Agent Orange had had on him. I never found out why he stopped writing, but I fear the worst.
It was a horrendous conflict on both sides and so much has been written already that I can't add anything. Suffice to say, I wonder if it would have turned out any differently had not the events in Dallas occurred?
The same people who advised LBJ would have advised JFK, but I think that Kennedy would have handled things a little differently.
On a trip to the States in 1995 I flew into Dallas on my way to Colorado, just so that I could see the place where the assassination took place. The following photos are from the batch of old negatives that I scanned in a few months ago.
Triple underpass, Dallas
Texas school book depository, Dallas
I also went to have tea with JR
I feel physically exhausted at the moment. This has also resulted in a lack of mental energy and it's the reason why I haven't written much lately.
I've been transforming this ...
Just a small fraction of the construction debris buried in my garden
... into this. I had to dig down to about half a meter and after removing all the construction garbage and breaking up all the hard clay, I added a lot of good quality soil. Hard work.
Preparing my garden for grass
It should have been possible to have got this work done by other people quite cheaply, but despite paying four people to help me it didn't work out.
Everyone I have employed to help has just been interested in getting paid and leaving as soon as possible without doing a thorough job. Finally, I decided the only way to get the job done properly was to do it myself. Unfortunately, this is often the case in Thailand.
I'm not that used to hard physical work and doing it in the heat and humidity of southern Thailand makes it even tougher. I'm having a break today, but most of the work has now been done and when the preparation is complete I will have grass laid (again).
Maybe it's a British thing? Lots of Brits maintain beautiful lawns, but it's something I never see in Thai gardens. The Thai way seems to be to make everything as maintenance free as possible. Even my wife wanted this piece of land tiled over. Obviously, Thais have never listened to Joni Mitchell and ever since I first put foot in Thailand 30 years ago this month I have seen lots of evidence of Thais paving paradise.
And it's not just grannies that love green
I find that having contact with nature - even just a little strip of grass - has a very calming effect on me, and I don't want tiles, blocks and concrete everywhere outside the house. I want some grass, earth and vegetation.
It has also become something of a personal challenge because so many people have said that growing grass won't be successful. The reason it wasn't successful in the past is because the ground wasn't prepared properly and that it what I am trying to prove.
When I first went into high school in East London in the 1970's every girl my age was obsessed with either Donny Osmond or David Cassidy. I remember that time so well and it doesn't seem all that long ago.
Rodney Bewes was also a big part of TV entertainment for people growing up in the UK in the 60's and 70's.
Getting old isn't such a bad thing. My body isn't what it used to be (especially after doing lots of garden work), but my mind is in a lot better shape compared to my youth.
With age and experience there comes a certain contentment with life that many young people find elusive. Once you stop chasing things in life and the grasping desists, life becomes a lot happier. This is what Buddhism tells us and it is absolutely true.
However, there also comes a lot of death. My Mum died in July and one of my first cousins died last month. He was only a few years older than me and he was someone who I was very fond of.
Friends, relatives and colleagues die, and many people who you never even meet, but who touch your life in various ways, pass on. Despite never having met them they seem like friends and it hurts when they go. Just recently, Walter Becker and Tom Petty, but many others.
And then there are the deaths of other people that simply remind you of your own mortality. It's a reminder to enjoy life now because you never know when your own time is up.
My current vehicle, I am almost embarrassed to admit, is a pickup truck. Every time I drive it I feel like Jed Clampett. The diesel engine clacks incessantly and the rest of the vehicle shakes and rattles in the same manner.
I've always found my local Ford dealer to be quite good at diagnosing and fixing problems, however, they are having great difficulties finding a noise on my car and this is the eighth week they have had it.
I don't enjoy driving in Thailand because the driving standards are so appalling and Thais are such aggressive drivers. We have my wife's car so I wasn't concerned about not having a car. Nonetheless, it is useful having two cars so a couple of weeks I requested a loan car.
I felt slightly insulted when they called back asking whether I could drive a car with manual transmission. It was this month 40 years ago that I started learning to drive and the cars I learned in all had manual transmissions.
Every car I owned in the UK, including two Porsches, had stick shifts and I didn't take kindly to being asked if I could drive a vehicle that didn't have an automatic transmission. When I confirmed it wasn't a problem they gave me a pickup truck.
Having a truck while working on my garden was quite useful because I have just bought 120 bags of good quality topsoil and pickup trucks are ideal for that purpose.
But apart from that it makes no sense driving around in a huge truck that has an open cargo area in the back that hardly gets used. The turning circle is massive and combined with the size of the truck it is an absolute dog to park and generally unsuited to driving around town.
Why then, are there so many pickup trucks in provincial Thailand? Thailand is the second biggest pickup truck market in the world after the US, and because the population is smaller it probably has the largest per-capita ownership of pickup trucks. I don't know what the car to pickup truck ratio is, but in many places it must be 50:50.
There are various reasons, some valid, some not.
A lot fewer Thais are employed in the agricultural sector these days compared to the past, but quite a few still have rubber plantations or fruit orchards and they need trucks to transport their produce.
Also, lots of Thais are small business owners rather than company employees and they need trucks to carry the equipment required to run their businesses.
Muslim girls on a pickup truck
Some Thais, especially Thai Muslims, seem to like pickup trucks for their people carrying capabilities. You can get 20 people in the back, which you can't in a car. This is illegal, but that makes no difference in Thailand. An attempt was made to reinforce this law fairly recently, but it proved impossible so nothing has changed.
So, some Thais have valid reasons for driving trucks, but you see an awful lot of trucks with nothing in the back, and the reasons for ownership have nothing to do with running a business or delivering sheets of para rubber to the rubber market.
Although females do drive pickup trucks, it is mainly a male thing and one of the main reasons seems to be that 'tough' Thai males want 'tough' pickup trucks to reflect their own personalities.
Macho Thai males want to believe they are masters of their environment and can deal with anything the environment throws at them. This is another reason why they want 'tough' vehicles that can handle any terrain and anything that nature can throw at them.
Vehicle manufacturers and advertising agencies exploit this psychology with the way that pickup trucks are advertised in Thailand. In adverts you see trucks driving off road and, in a country where floods are common, manufacturers advertise the fact that their trucks can negotiate a meter or so of flood water.
Real men have snorkels on their pickup trucks
Pickup truck owners who want to believe that their tough trucks can negotiate even deeper flood waters fit snorkels to their vehicles.
The other reason why so many Thais own pickup trucks is because of the nasty way in which Thais drive. The driving in Vietnam is unquestionably bad, but I didn't detect the nastiness that exists in Thailand. In Thailand, the style of driving is both bad and nasty.
Road laws exist, but they are neither followed nor enforced. There is always an attitude of, "Me first," and absolutely no concept of giving way to other people. It actually goes further than this. Thai drivers will inch up to the vehicle in front to make absolute sure that other cars can't get in.
The only law that applies on Thai roads is the law of the jungle and larger, more aggressive vehicles are used to bully other road users. It so happens that the biggest vehicle than can be bought for the least amount of money in Thailand is a pickup truck.
Classy Thai woman on a pickup truck
I started off by saying that it was almost embarrassing to admit that I was currently driving a pickup truck. This is because in Thailand I associate pickup trucks with a certain type of aggressive Thai man who drives in a certain way, and I don't wish to be associated with this type of person. Hopefully, I will get my car back soon.
This is news at the moment, but it is something that all Thais have always known about. I could add a lot more, but it probably isn't advisable to do so. All Thais are fully aware of what goes on and it's positive that some action is now being taken.
Another little peek into the dark side of the Land of Smiles:
Thursday 16th November 2017
The way I pay bills in Thailand is very different to how I paid bills in the UK. In the UK I set up direct payments between my bank and utility companies. The utility companies estimated my annual usage, divided the figure by 12, and took this amount from my bank account each month.
I was sent bills each month to keep an eye on what was happening, but I didn't have to do anything because payments were automatic.
I don't have anything like this set up in Thailand and I'm not sure whether other people do. Thais, generally, don't tend to trust other people when it comes to dealing with their money and they pay bills themselves so that they can stay in control.
Each month, someone comes to read our electricity and water meters, both of which are located outside. My electricity meter was inside my house in the UK and if I wasn't at home it couldn't be read.
Once I have the bill, the easiest way to pay is to take it to a 7-Eleven store. These are ubiquitous in Thailand and you are never far away from a 7-Eleven. The 7-Eleven cashier will scan the bar code on the bill, take your money, and it's done.
One of the thousands of 7-Eleven stores in Thailand
I've only ever experienced one problem. The bar code reader wouldn't work and the cashier keyed in the number manually, but she made a mistake. We then received a letter from the electricity company threatening to cut off our electricity unless we paid the bill, which we had already paid.
We use gas to cook, but there is no mains supply. Gas is bought in tanks, which the shop deliver to my home. The last one I bought cost Bt380 and each tank lasts for between four and six months.
I just have a 'Pay as you go' plan for my mobile phone, and that seems to be the case for most people. It can be topped up at 7-Eleven, but I usually use one of the orange payment machines that are found outside 7-Elevens and other shops. You can use these machines to transfer money, pay utility bills, top up phones or on-line games.
Payments machine in Thailand
I booked a flight to Bangkok on-line yesterday. I could use my UK credit card, but bad exchange rates and the charges that my bank apply for non-sterling transaction fees make it quite expensive.
If you buy anything on-line in Thailand there is usually a 'Counter Service' payment option. If you choose this option your purchase is put on hold and you are given a time period in which to pay.
You can print out a payment slip or use the payment information that is sent by SMS. Payment can be made at 7-Eleven or Tesco Lotus or any other retailer that offers payment services. As soon as you pay your purchase is completed and you receive a confirmation message.
If I buy something on-line from a retailer such as Lazada I will use the 'Counter Service' payment option or cash on delivery (COD). The only problem with COD is that I need to be at home when they deliver. If I have already paid and I'm not at home the item can be left with the security guards. If the delivery driver has to collect a COD payment I can't expect the security guards to pay.
Whenever I book flights I usually book hotels as well, and I always do this on-line through Agoda. On several occasions this year I haven't had to pay until arriving at the hotel, in which case I pay cash.
If I have to pay while making the booking I use my UK credit card, but select UK pounds on the Agoda website so that my credit card is billed in pounds and I don't incur a non-sterling transaction fee.
I can pay my Internet provider monthly or annually. I always pay annually. The primary reason for this is because it is a lot less hassle paying once a year compared to once a month. In addition, there is sometimes a discount or a free gift if you pay annually.
I usually pay school fees and insurance policies (house, car, medical) in cash. I could use a UK credit card, but it's cheaper to get money transferred to Thailand at favourable exchange rates and then to pay cash.
In summary, it's very easy and convenient to pay bills in Thailand and if you live in Thailand you realise that 7-Eleven is far more than a convenience store. I don't have any statistics, but in terms of payment transactions 7-Eleven in Thailand probably does more business than many banks.
Wednesday 15th November 2017
At the beginning of this month I wrote a little about my hassles with Thai immigration this year and the current emphasis on foreigners registering their place of residence within 24 hours after arriving in the country.
This requirement has been in existence for years, but immigration never used to take it very seriously. That situation has now changed and now it is taken very seriously. I wasn't sure why. When immigration decide to have a clampdown on something there is usually a reason.
This article in the Bangkok Post sheds some light on the reason why.
Thailand is a very attractive place for foreign criminals. Immigration has always been lax and for many years it was possible to enter the country, stay for a long time under the radar, and not have any problems with immigration.
The cost of living is low, there is abundant sunshine, abundant females, abundant beer, and generally the living is easy. Criminals involved with boiler room scams, call center scams or illegal on-line businesses can work from anywhere in the world with just a phone or computer and the IT infrastructure in Thailand is good.
Obviously, Thais are fully aware of what goes on in their own country and it seems they have decided that enough is enough. This kind of thing is not good for Thailand's economy or reputation, and in a country where image is everything Thais don't like anyone tarnishing the image of the country.
In the past it was difficult catching foreign criminals because their locations were unknown and this seems to be why the immigration authorities are now getting serious about the location of foreigners being registered.
Naturally, foreign criminals would have no desire to register their own presence and therefore it is the responsibility of landlords or hotels to register any foreign guests with immigration. Failure to do so can result in quite big fines. This is why you always have to hand over your passport when checking into a hotel in Thailand.
At my local immigration office there are several shelves filled with ring-binder folders. There is one folder for each hotel in town and every day a member of staff from each hotel goes to immigration to register every foreign guest staying at the hotel.
There was also an interesting comment in the Bangkok Post article about arrests having been made as a result of tip-offs from the public.
Money is everything in Thailand and, no doubt, some private landlords accommodating foreigners could be bribed to not register their tenants. Foreigners in Thailand may think that they are invisible and that no one notices them, but that isn't the case.
I found out a few years ago that one of my neighbours is an official undercover police informant. I had no idea. She teaches part-time at various universities and runs her own businesses. However, she also keeps her ears and eyes open for any illegal activity and notifies the police accordingly. I suspect there are lots of Thais who do this.
When I first arrived in Thailand I walked around thinking I was being ignored and that I was anonymous. Later, I discovered that almost everyone I met had known of my presence for a long time. Thais may seem to ignore you, but they notice everything. Foreigners are very conspicuous in Thailand and you are never anonymous.
There was another article in The Bangkok Post about how foreigners staying illegally in Phuket are paying police millions of Baht in bribes every month to avoid being arrested.
Prime Minister Prayut has been doing a lot to clamp down on corruption and when I speak to Thais about corruption it really angers them. Salaries are very low in Thailand and most Thais put in a lot of hours each month for a low salary. Why should other Thais live the good life simply because their work offers opportunities to gain money illegally through corruption?
Most expats in Thailand are law-abiding, decent people and it has always irritated me that a minority of foreigners engaging in criminal activities make life difficult for all foreigners in Thailand.
It can only be a good thing that the Thai authorities are now making a concerted effort to weed them out.
Tuesday 7th November 2017
A single drip of water on one's skin won't bother anyone, but being subjected to repeated drips of water on the same part of the skin can drive people insane and this has actually been used as a very effective torture technique.
There are certain things about living in Thailand that have a 'dripping water' effect on me. At face value, in one-off situations, they are inconsequential little matters but when the same things happen repeatedly over the course of many years they start to get quite irritating.
This is why, at times, I may complain about something that sounds extremely trivial, but what you, the reader, probably don't understand is the 'dripping water' effect.
Yesterday, I went food shopping with my wife. Our daughter has had a problem with her feet since birth and needs to wear good quality shoes to give her feet the support they need.
At the Central Festival shopping mall there was a sale of Hush Puppy shoes. I could only see adult sizes and asked one of the assistants if they had any shoes for children. Of course, I had to get her attention first as she was busy playing Facebook on her phone. This tends to happen a lot in Thailand. The people who are supposed to be attending to customers are usually far more interested in playing with their mobile phones.
I asked in Thai and she understood perfectly without needing to ask me to repeat the question again. She then turned directly to my wife and replied to my wife without even acknowledging me, the person who had asked the question. I may as well have been invisible.
This happens every single time I am with my wife and ask a Thai something. In most cases I let it go, but yesterday I got angry. I stopped her from speaking to me wife and told her it was me who had asked the question and it was me to whom she had to reply. She apologised and told me they had no children's shoes. Fine. We then went to TOPS. Easy, wasn't it?
Another thing I find irritating, which also happens is a lot, is when I hand over money to pay for something and the waitress or sales assistant has to go off to get change. When she comes back she hands the change to my wife.
Yes, I realise there is a common understanding that money from male farangs in Thailand will always end up being given to Thai females, but do they have to make it quite so obvious?
Little things, I know. Overall, I enjoy my life in Thailand, but there are a number of irritating little Thai habits that never go away.
I went for a coffee at Starbucks last week, which was quite unusual for me. Starbucks tends to epitomise many of the things that are wrong with large, global corporations and generally I avoid it for several reasons.
We now have the 'Paradise Papers', which have revealed lots of evidence about how big corporations and rich individuals avoid paying tax, but Starbucks was one of the first big corporations to be outed regarding tax avoidance.
Starbucks is expensive. Their coffee is fine, but the coffee at McCafe is just as good and it's cheaper. If you want a sandwich or cake with your coffee, these things are really expensive at Starbucks.
There was a very unsavoury incident a few years ago in which Starbucks assigned its highly paid corporate lawyers to hound a poor Thai man trying to earn a crust by selling coffee from a cart on the streets of Bangkok.
There is no welfare system or alternative safety net for Thais. Thailand gets more expensive all the time and life for most Thais is a struggle. It's tough to make a living.
The Thai man (who had six children to support) had called his coffee cart 'Starbung' and the logo he created resembled the Starbucks logo. His business selling coffee on the street for probably Bt30 a cup wouldn't have affected Starbucks' business in any way at all. His customers and the type of people who go for their coffee at Starbucks are very different.
Nonetheless, Starbucks issued a lawsuit against him and continued to hound him. It was just a nasty example of a big corporation bullying a little person who couldn't fight back.
I wonder if this coffee shop in Songkhla has heard anything from Starbucks' legal department?
Despite these issues, the thing that really annoyed me about Starbucks and highlighted corporate greed more than anything was the way they charged customers Bt150 for Wi-Fi access while they drank their expensive coffee. This was outrageous. In Thailand it only costs Bt600 for a whole month of Internet access.
Wi-Fi access in Thailand these days is as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven stores, stray dogs and tuk-tuks, and it is free everywhere. Except in Starbucks.
Anyway, on Friday I found out that Starbucks are now offering free Wi-Fi access. Not before time. One of the staff told me it has been free for about a year, but I told you already that I don't go there very often so I have only just discovered this information.
Travelling with two young children, I should feel very grateful that I didn't plan our recent trip to Hoi An a few weeks later, or that Typhoon Damrey didn't arrive a few weeks earlier.
Hoi An, Vietnam - mid-October 2017, a few weeks before being hit by Typhoon Damrey
When we arrived in Bangkok on 14th October for our onward flight to Da Nang there had been overnight flooding in Bangkok, but Hoi An - apart from a little light rain at the end of our visit - was fine.
From The Sun, that great bastion of British journalism.
Monday 6th November 2017
Apparently, the current flooding in Penang is the worst ever with flood levels reaching 4m in some places and at least seven people dead.
Malaysia's economy has been in the doldrums for a while with the Ringgit being the worst performing currency in the region. This flooding won't help. It will also have a negative impact on Hat Yai's tourism industry, which relies heavily on tourists from Malaysia - quite a few of whom come from Penang.
Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia, but there is a lot of industry including high tech manufacturing.
I have visited many times, sometimes for pleasure and at other times to do visa stuff at the Royal Thai Consulate. The Consulate in Penang is the nearest Thai Consulate for foreigners living in southern Thailand.
George Town, the state capital of Penang, has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site since 2008. It's not that clean in some areas, but it's quite fascinating to walk around.
Unrestored buildings in George Town, Penang
When Lee Kuan Yew started the transformation of Singapore in the 1960's he sent bulldozers into many 'slum' areas, but this resulted in the loss of a lot of original colonial architecture. Most buildings in Singapore are new, or just retain the original facade.
This isn't the case in Penang, where a lot of the old colonial buildings are still there. Some might not be in great condition, but at least they haven't been demolished.
Rickshaws outside the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Georgetown, Penang
The restored Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is a must-see attraction in George Town and now you can actually stay there if you wish. It's a beautiful building and it was all designed on Feng Shui principles.
On my first trip to Singapore in 1990 I wanted to visit Raffles Hotel, but it was closed for refurbishment. I had some romantic notions about drinking a Singapore Gin Sling in a classic Southeast Asian colonial hotel.
When I did finally visit Raffles some years later the experience was a huge disappointment. The vastly overpriced Gin Slings were pre-mixed and served from a large vat. It was just a big, overpriced tourist trap.
Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Georgetown, Penang
However, when I visited the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in George Town it was exactly what I had hoped Raffles would have been.
Hopefully, the Penang flood waters will subside soon. I've been through a major flood myself and it's quite a traumatic experience.
In any society there will be good people, bad people and evil people. Thailand is no exception. When I lived in an apartment building a thief broke into the room next door, which was occupied by a single girl. She was a qualified dentist studying for a Master's degree.
He stole money and also the laptop computer that contained her thesis. As if this wasn't enough he attempted to rape her, beating her and breaking her jaw in the process. He was caught. The police were very thorough in their investigation and checked CCTV footage in the area. Cameras installed in a local shop had recorded his getaway. He was a sawng-thaew (converted pickup truck made into a passenger vehicle) driver and the police traced him.
The lowlife piece of scum who robbed and attempted to rape my neighbour
After criminals are caught in Thailand they are made to return to the crime scene and reenact their crime. I was present when this happened and the perpetrator looked really evil. He was heavily built and strong. It must have been terrifying for the poor girl.
After that incident the apartment building owners installed burglar bars in every room and put up quite a lot of CCTV cameras.
I just read a news story about another Hat Yai house burglar, but when this one broke into the room of a single female he decided to pleasure himself, rather than raping the girl.
Perhaps in the throes of pleasure he started calling out his own name because he woke the girl. She shouted for help and he was caught. Once again, CCTV footage came in handy and showed that he had burgled many properties.
There are a lot of CCTV cameras here and that is the case in many countries. When I was in the UK many people objected on the grounds that it was an infringement of their civil liberties.
I'm not keen on being filmed everywhere I go, but I have nothing to hide and if the technology helps to apprehend evil people - or deters potential criminals from committing crime - I don't have an issue with it.
Unbelievable to think I was in this very place just a few weeks ago and the weather was fine. I guess we're lucky that we went when we did.
It's always a risk travelling around Southeast Asia at this time of the year. If it's not raining, the weather is about as perfect as it gets. During the hot season it can be like living in a combined sauna/microwave and the cooler temperatures during the rainy season are very welcome.
However, if a big storm comes in from the South China Sea it can be very wet with a strong possibility of flooding.
Sunday 5th November 2017
It's been another very wet day in southern Thailand but, as far as I am aware, there has been no flooding in Hat Yai. We drove into central Hat Yai for lunch today and although there was a fair amount of standing water on some roads, there was nothing to be concerned about.
Unfortunately, any Malaysians or Singaporeans who decided to visit Hat Yai this weekend will have been confined to their hotels or other indoor venues because the weather hasn't been at all conducive to doing any outdoor activities.
Penang, a few hours' drive south across the border in Malaysia, hasn't been so fortunate and the island has been hit by severe flooding. As I write, the death toll stands at four and 3,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
Central Vietnam, where we were a couple of weeks ago, has also seen adverse weather with the arrival of Typhoon Damrey. I've just looked at some on-line photos of Hoi An. The same streets we were walking around in mid-October are now completely flooded and navigable only by boat.
Da Nang, a little further north of Hoi An, has also been affected and this is where the APEC summit is taking place. When we were there we saw lots of APEC signs. The summit started today and will run until 11th November. Both Trump and Putin are scheduled to attend.
As I said yesterday, the rainy season has finally arrived in Southeast Asia.
Saturday 4th November 2017
Finally, real rainy season weather has arrived. It rained all night on Thursday, all day yesterday, all last night - sometimes heavily - and this morning it was drizzly. Just when you think the drizzle will peter out, there suddenly comes another wave of torrential rain.
It was this way during the entire month of October 2010 before the big flood hit at the beginning of November. It reassures me at this time of the year to see that flood prevention measures are taken throughout the year, as I mentioned in an earlier post.
The current temperature is 26°C, which is almost as cold as it gets here. I don't think I have ever known the temperature to go below 25°C. When you are used to living in temperatures in excess of 30°C all the time it can actually seem quite chilly. I hate being a slave to air-conditioning and I slept well last night with just the ceiling fan on.
There are a few downsides. The rain is inconvenient when you have to go out and whereas laundry normally dries very quickly, it takes a long time at the moment to get clothes dry. I had a tumble dryer in the UK, which was a necessity, but here we don't have one.
I had also just started trying to get my garden into shape, but this work is now on hold. Having had such a busy year, the garden has been neglected for a long time.
When the house was built the builders simply used the outside area as a burial ground for their debris. Just before the developer handed over the house, they covered everything outside with grass. It looked great initially but, of course, the grass died soon afterwards because the ground underneath was in such bad condition and the grass couldn't take root.
Just a small fraction of the construction debris buried in my garden
I got one of our security guards to help me prepare the ground a few years ago, but he did it in a hurry and failed to do a proper job. I've been doing it again and the rubbish I have pulled out has been unbelievable. There were bottles, cans, bricks, large lumps of concrete, tiles, pieces of metal and several large plastic bags. Once the ground has been prepared and some top soil added I will attempt to lay grass again.
The termite extermination men were back again yesterday and comparing this company to the previous company is chalk and cheese. I had no experience of dealing with termites until I bought a house in Thailand. Termites aren't a problem in the UK and when I stayed in rented accommodation in Thailand it wasn't my problem.
Having no experience, I had to rely on Thais who work in that field. I had to put my trust in them. Unfortunately, the first company was a disgrace. They just pumped some chemicals (or maybe water?) into the pipes below the house, tapped on a few pieces of wood inside the house, and told me everything was OK.
Obviously, when I discovered a huge termite infestation earlier this year I realised that everything wasn't OK. This resulted in me having to replace all the wooden flooring upstairs with tiles, as well as also replacing the wooden stairs and stair rail. The work involved a huge amount of inconvenience and cost.
The company I got in yesterday was very different. The way they inspect for termites is a lot more thorough, as is the way they apply the treatment.
The house has five hollow columns outside and one inside. These contain PVC pipes that run vertically from upstairs to downstairs. Termites use these hollow columns to gain access to the house and they can get upstairs quite easily.
Spraying into the hollow columns
This seems to be a well known fact in the termite extermination industry, but the previous company didn't mention it. The new company drilled small holes in each column into which they sprayed chemicals.
The other place where termites like to live is in the cavity above false ceilings. They then eat the false ceilings, which are made of plasterboard, and if you don't take action the ceilings will eventually collapse. This is something else that the previous compamy didn't mention.
Yesterday, they removed some downlights and used a mobile phone to take photos inside the cavity above the false ceilings. They discovered a small termite nest and also some damage where the termites had started eating the plasterboard. This area was then treated.
Spraying into the false ceilings
When you move to live an another country you will probably need to deal with things that you have no experience of. Thais moving to temperate countries will have to deal with boilers and central heating systems, which they have no experience of, and it must be very difficult for them to get used to stopping at pedestrian crossings and red traffic lights, only driving one way along one-way streets, etc.
What can you do? Talking to the locals is sometimes a good idea, but not always. Many Thais have strange ideas and I have often been given bad advice. The disastrous termite extermination company I used initially was recommended by a neighbour, and that was obviously bad advice.
It's often just a case of gaining experience and sometimes the learning curve is quite steep. Unfortunately, as is often the case, there is an element of pain during the learning process, but sometimes bad experiences can work out best in the long run.
Had I not discovered a termite infestation earlier this year I wouldn't have replaced the flooring. However, it had been installed so badly that it needed replacing and if it hadn't been done this year it would have needed doing later. The fact that the termite infestation forced me to get this job done sooner rather than later was actually a good thing.
The other thing you can do if you need some work doing is to talk to as many companies and tradesmen as possible. Initially I didn't do this and just used the first company that I spoke to.
If I had done this and been told that it is necessary to treat hollow columns and false ceilings I would have questioned why the first company didn't do these things.
I now have another guarantee against termite problems for a year, but I had one of those previously and it turned out to be worthless. I will call in the same company next year to do an inspection and apply further treatments if necessary.
I have talked to quite a few termite control companies recently and it's big business in Thailand. In addition to treating individual houses, it seems that all termite companies have contracts with large schools, hospitals and other local businesses. The chemicals are expensive and these contracts cost a lot of money. My bill yesterday was Bt14,000 for about three hours' work.
I have also heard through my wife and on the grapevine that every house in our neighbourhood has a termite problem to some extent or the other. Our neighbour has an infestation and our cleaning lady, who also cleans another house in the development, found a termite problem there.
For the first few years we were here I heard nothing about termites, but as the development is getting more mature the termites are becoming more established. There are many insects in Thailand, but these are probably the worst because of the physical damage they inflict on property.
Wednesday 1st November 2017
I've been asked many times in Thailand what religion I am. The question also comes up on quite a lot of forms that I have to fill in for myself and for my children's school. It quite annoys me because my 'official' religion, i.e. the one I was stamped with when I was born without having any say in the matter, isn't the one that I adhere to.
However, as I have said many times before, Thais have a completely different set of beliefs and values, and they consider it to be an important question. It is important to them to be Thai, and to Buddhist Thais being Buddhist is an integral part of being Thai. Buddhist Thais don't regard Thai Muslims as being Thai, but of course they are. Whereas, foreigners can differentiate between nationality and religion, Thais see it differently.
Occasionally, I meet Thais who have converted to Christianity and - like all converts - they tend to be a little overzealous with their beliefs. When they meet farangs they always seem to think that all Caucasian foreigners are devout Christians who go to church every Sunday. I also get asked occasionally about which church I attend on Sundays.
Organised religion has caused more discord among humans than anything else and I also have big problems accepting the Christian version of events, but I know some wonderful people who are Christians and respect their beliefs. In my view of the world there are good people who help others, and bad people who harm others. Their faith, or whether they have no faith, is inconsequential to me.
A lot of my views on life follow Buddhist teachings, or at least my interpretation of those teachings. I am not a devout Buddhist and I don't have a deep understanding of the subject, but I have always had a logical and analytical mind and lots of Buddhist teachings just make sense without having to make any blind leaps of faith. Buddhism is the best understanding of the human condition I have read and the fact that we are all human beings is the one thing that all people have in common.
It follows that if you are always grasping for things, whether those things are material goods, states of mind, emotions, anything, that your life will follow a pattern of being satisfied temporarily when you achieve what you want, but then there will be long periods of dissatisfaction until you get the next thing that you want.
I try to limit my desires, and generally I am satisfied with what I have. I believe the 'bucket list' age we live in is responsible for making many people unhappy because no matter how much they have already, these lists present more things for people to lust over and thus create more dissatisfaction in their lives.
Buddhist teaching states that nothing is permanent and, as we get older, the more we realise this to be true. It therefore also makes sense not to get too attached to anything that won't be around forever because when it goes, as it will eventually, we will have a problem.
Change has always occurred in life, but the problem I think many of us face now is that the rate of change is incredibly fast and thus it can be very difficult to cope with. Had we lived in the Middle Ages, not only would our average lifespans have been a lot shorter, we probably wouldn't have experienced much change during our entire lives because technology remained static.
This month 57 years ago I entered this world, this month 30 years ago I first visited Thailand, and this month 14 years ago I started my new life in Thailand. I actually left the UK in September 2003, but spent some time travelling around the region before settling in Thailand in November 2003.
I have witnessed massive change in the world during my lifetime, massive changes in Thailand since I first visited the country, and further changes since I started living in Thailand. Some changes have been good, some have been difficult to deal with, but - good or bad - it is irrelevant because change will never stop.
Some changes seem disastrous when they happen, but in the long term they work in your favour. I have also realised that sometimes situations have to get really bad to force you to make the changes that you need to make. In my life, unless things had become really bad I wouldn't have made any changes and I wouldn't have the life that I have now.
I've talked about the Thai tendency to always take the path of least resistance, but to some extent I think this applies to all of us. We all want easy lives and in most cases the easiest thing to do is not to change anything, even if our lives are unfulfilled or desperate.
Nowadays, changes in technology are the most visible signs of change. Changes in technology completely changed the course of my career (and life) and whereas I started doing work that I enjoyed, I ended up doing something that I hated. My original job disappeared due to changes in technology.
On the other side of the coin, living a long way from my place of birth but still having financial interests there has become possible through technology. Technology has broken down geographical borders and it allows people to live and work where they want to.
Technology has also changed the way that people interact with others, but I'm not sure that it is always a good thing. Quarter of 14-year-old girls 'have signs of depression' - I can't believe that this statistic isn't linked to the fact that so many teenagers spend so much time on their own using social media instead of doing the things teenagers should be doing.
I had to go back to Thai immigration again yesterday. I finally got my visa extension, but it has taken about 10 visits with one thing and another. This aspect of living in Thailand has undergone immense change in recent years.
When I first arrived to live in Thailand in 2003, many foreigners living in Thailand never had anything to do with immigration formally. Every 30 days they went to the nearest border - about an hour away - crossed the border into Malaysia, came straight back again, and got another 30 day visa exemption stamp in their passports. Many did this for several years.
The 30 day visa exemption stamp was introduced to allow genuine tourists to visit Thailand with the minimum of hassle. However, Thai immigration never concerned themselves with how many times a foreigner received one of these stamps and many foreigners wishing to live in Thailand permanently used this loophole to remain in Thailand.
Technically, it was legal, but even when I first came to Thailand foreigners who did this knew that it wasn't right and that sooner or later the loophole would be closed.
Living as permanent tourists 'under the radar', these foreigners were invisible to Thailand and many were also working illegally without work permits. Again, back in the old days, this was something else that many foreigners did and no one seemed to care.
Big changes started to take place with Thai immigration in 2006 as a result of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case. In 2006, John Mark Karr falsely confessed to the murder and he was found teaching English in Bangkok. As I seem to remember, he had no visa or work permit. I don't think the USA was too impressed and some words were probably exchanged at diplomatic level.
I would also imagine that the parents of those children being taught by a farang who had confessed to murdering a child weren't too impressed, either. Immigration procedures changed immediately.
Only so many back-to-back border runs were allowed and people entering Thailand by road were only given a 15 day stamp, rather than 30 days. I've also heard about a requirement whereby foreigners leaving the country can't come straight back in, but have to spend a night in the neighbouring country.
After I first arrived in Thailand I did a few 'border runs' while I was finding my feet, but the writing was on the wall and I knew this loophole would be closed soon. I found a teaching job very easily, but the school I was working at did nothing to assist me with getting a visa and work permit. Instead, I did this all myself. There was a lot of work involved, and also some expense, but I knew it would prevent problems in the future.
The next immigration changes seemed to coincide with the Bangkok bombings in 2012. Thai immigration started to get very serious about confirming the address details of foreigners living in Thailand. The address registration process used to be very lax, but I suspect that changes were made because foreigners living in Thailand and committing criminal acts had simply given false addresses and then couldn't be found by the authorities.
These changes are all for the better and a lot of the undesirable foreigners who used to be everywhere in Thailand have disappeared. Thai immigration now uses the slogan, 'Good guys in, bad guys out'.
Just recently, immigration have started to get very serious about foreigners registering their address when arriving in the country. This has to be done within 24 hours of arriving in Thailand.
Tourists don't need to worry because the hotel they stay at will register all of the foreign guests with immigration. This is why you have to show your passport when registering at a hotel in Thailand. However, if you live in a house or apartment building this needs to be done by the landlord or house owner. In my case, it is my wife. Failure to do so can result in a fine.
I wasn't sure why this needs to be done every time you leave Thailand and return, but apparently it is because every time you enter Thailand you get a new arrival card, and every card has a different number.
Briefly, I will just cover the immigration requirements as they stand at the moment, and as I understand them.
Overstays are treated very seriously by Thai immigration and that is something else that has changed in recent years. It used to be that you could overstay for 30 years, leave Thailand, pay the maximum fine of Bt20,000, and then return to Thailand straight away with a completely clean sheet. That is no longer the case.
If you overstay you will still be fined, but now you will also be blacklisted. Depending on the length of your overstay you will be blacklisted for different durations. It also depends whether you hand yourself in voluntarily after overstaying or get caught. For example, if you overstay for more than a year and get caught you will be blacklisted from entering Thailand for 10 years.
You need a visa exemption stamp or a valid visa of some kind to remain in Thailand. Tourist visas are quite easy to obtain. Employment visas should be sorted out by your employer if you get a job offer. Retirement visas are fairly straightforward if you are over 50 and meet the financial requirements, but you aren't allowed to work.
Marriage visas are quite tricky these days (this is what has caused me a lot of grief recently), but provided that you get a work permit you can work with a marriage visa. There are other types of visa, but I am not familiar with them.
Any form of work requires a work permit. Occasionally, I see foreigners on Thai TV who have set up som-tum stalls and are selling food on the street. This kind of thing amuses Thais very much, but they are working and I'm sure they haven't got visas. But anyway, any kind of work - even if it is voluntary work for which no salary is received - requires a work permit.
It is necessary for all foreigners in Thailand to have their address details registered with immigration after they enter the country and this must be done every time they enter the country. If you stay in hotels the hotel will do this, however, owners of small apartment buildings may not be aware of this requirement. They can be fined for not registering foreign tenants. The house owner or landlord needs to complete some forms and provide copies of their house registration book.
After being in Thailand for 90 days you must do your 90 day reporting with immigration. I believe it can be done 15 days in advance or 7 days in arrears. Failure to do so will also result in a fine. It's quite a straightforward process - you just fill in a form and provide some copies of passport pages. They will then give you a slip of paper with your next reporting date.
I used to work with a guy who was a serial overstayer. When I was working with him he had already overstayed two years. My employer loaned him the money to pay his overstay fine, which he cleared. My employer then did all the paperwork to get him a new one year visa so that he was all legal.
The last thing I heard, once that visa had expired he didn't bother getting an extension and went back to overstaying. There are probably still some foreigners in Thailand who have this attitude, but now the consequences of being caught are a lot more severe.
It's not always an enjoyable experience dealing with immigration, but the requirements are there for a reason and if you are eligible to be in the country it just takes a bit of work.
With regard to requirements, I wouldn't bother spending too much time on the Internet or talking to other farangs because there isn't a lot of consistency and requirements change all the time.
I have always found the best approach is to talk directly with immigration and be very straight with them. They will tell you the requirements and then it is just a matter of giving them what they want and jumping through a few hoops.
Turning to another subject related to change, there has been a lot in the news lately about sexual assault and sexual harassment. As the father of a daughter it makes me feel good that society is now regarding any form of sexual assault as unacceptable behaviour, but I also find the current trend quite worrying.
As a teacher I would sometimes put a hand on a student's arm or shoulder, certainly not in a sexual way, but to give reassurance or encouragement. A few of the older students had started to get quite anxious about the decisions they were taking that would affect the rest of their lives. One girl came to me one day and wanted to talk about something.
After we had finished talking she gave me a big hug. I was quite taken aback because this is not the Thai way, but because I had eased her mind with what I said she wanted to communicate her relief and gratitude. A physical hug just seemed far more appropriate than a 'thank you'.
There are times when I think we all need a hug, but I think that many people are now afraid that any form of physical contact will result in a charge of sexual assault or harassment.
Some of the allegations about Harvey Weinstein are quite shocking and obviously what he is alleged to have done is very wrong, but is it now going too far?
The BBC reported that half of women in the UK are sexually harassed at work. This figure seemed high to me, but today I read that some women regard a 'friend request' on Facebook to be a form of sexual harassment. That would explain it, then.
I don't have Facebook, but I sometimes get requests on other social media sites from Thai females to be a contact. Strangely enough, I have never regarded these requests as being sexual harassment, but perhaps it's just me.
From what I have been reading, if I was still working in the UK I wouldn't be allowed to compliment a female co-worker on her appearance because that would be sexual harassment. Fortunately, I live in Thailand where female beauty is highly prized. Thai girls spend a lot of time and money on their appearance, they enter beauty contests, and they love to be complimented.
Thai girls love to be complimented on their appearance
How long before a man on a date has to get written authority before he 'makes a move' just in case the girl decides to charge him with sexual assault the next day?
This comes under the umbrella of Political Correctness and, as many people have said, it always goes too far. I grew up in an era when many British TV shows would now be regarded as highly racist. Looking back, they were, but now the pendulum has swung completely the other way. It is the same with sexism and every other article I read on the BBC news site seems to be about sexual discrimination against women.
As I started off by saying, some change is good and some is bad. Change is inevitable and it tends to happen very quickly. You can't resist it, but you just have to accept and learn to live with how the world is changing. I couldn't accept many ways in which the UK was changing and my way of dealing with it was to go to live elsewhere. I'm glad I did. I also know from talking to other expats that they moved to Thailand for the same, or similar, reasons. It's not always an option, but if your personal situation allows, it's not impossible.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand