Living In Thailand Blog
Sunday 19th August 2018
From The Thaiger:
On average, how many people do actually die on Thailand's roads each day? This article from The Thaiger says it is 39 a day and highlights one day recently when 58 people were killed in traffic accidents.
An article in the Asian Correspondent says the figure is 80 a day.
It could be a case of lies, damned lies and statistics. The Thaiger article points out that the statistics only include people who die at the scene. If injured people are taken to hospital and die later they aren't included.
Whatever the number, it is high. Very high. It doesn't help that I come from a country that has the third safest roads in the world.
I recently came across an article from the UK's Daily Mirror which reveals the riskiest holiday destinations for British travellers. Any guesses as to which country came top? One country was responsible for 23% of all travel insurance claims made in 2017. Yes, you guessed.
It's very important to have adequate medical insurance if you travel to Thailand, but lots of people travel without it.
While in Koh Samui recently there was a bit of a scene at the hotel one morning. A farang staying at the hotel (he was from Italy) suddenly appeared in reception with a red towel wrapped around his lower arm. The towel was actually white, but had turned red because of the enormous amount of blood pouring from his arm. The girl with him, his girlfriend or wife, was quite hysterical.
He had somehow managed to smash the glass at the side of the bathtub that was there to stop the floor getting wet when people shower. In the process it looked as if he had severed an artery in his arm. He wouldn't tell anyone how it happened, but when I spoke to some of the staff they believed he had been fighting with his girlfriend. I don't know what actually happened and don't know whether the staff had any evidence or were just speculating.
Fortunately, the hotel was a only a few minutes drive from the Bangkok Hospital Samui, where one of the staff took him. Thais will automatically take foreigners to private hospitals in Thailand, and most foreigners will choose to go private hospitals. The Bangkok Hospitals (there are branches throught provincial Thailand) are very plush and very good, but they aren't cheap.
Treatment at Thai public hospitals is very good and a lot cheaper, but public hospitals aren't as plush as the private hospitals and it can be a problem communicating if you don't speak or read Thai. The private hospitals want foreign patients and therefore the doctors and nurses have very good English proficiency, which isn't necessarily the case in public hospitals.
Strangely enough, I met the Italian guy in Chaweng on the evening of the same day. His arm was all wrapped up and supported in a sling. The injury had put a stop to any more activities he may have had planned for his Thailand vacation.
The wound required 30 stitches and his bill was Bt20,000 without an overnight stay. I have insurance for my family and whenever one of us is admitted for a couple of nights the bill is always between Bt20,000 and Bt25,000. I don't use the local Bangkok Hospital because it is the most expensive private hospital and my insurance policy never covers the entire bill, causing me to have to partially pay the bill out of my own pocket. There are another couple of private hospitals in town that aren't quite as plush, but the treatment is the same and they are cheaper.
Some years ago I had what must have been an asthma attack and had difficulty breathing. I went to a local private hospital where they insisted on putting me in an ICU room for one night. I didn't think it was necessary, but I suspect that the private hospitals incent the doctors to keep the rooms full. The private hospitals provide medical care, but first and foremost, they are businesses.
Just one night in ICU was Bt20,000 (paid for by my insurance company). It would have been a lot more in the Bangkok Hospital.
The husband of one of my wife's friends works for an international oil company in Songkhla. Being an international company, the employees get good benefits and medical insurance is sufficient for the Bangkok Hospital.
He was quite ill a few months ago and stayed in ICU in the Bangkok Hospital for a few nights. I can't recall the exact amount, but the bill was astronomical. I think it was between Bt80,000 and Bt100,000.
As the Daily Mirror article points out, Thailand is a very risky country for tourists. Even if you manage to avoid road accidents, you can get very sick just by eating the wrong thing and hazards are lying in wait everywhere. As you walk around the streets you have to watch out for holes in the road, uneven sidewalks, unguarded electricity cables, metal poles sticking out an eye level, open charcoal burners with red glowing charcoal, huge vats of boiling oil for making food, etc etc etc. There is virtually no sense of responsibility for other people's safety.
There is a high risk of you needing medical treatment and although the private hospitals in Thailand are very good, it is very easy to rack up enormous hospital bills. If you are on a limited budget and don't have any insurance what are you going to do? This applies even more to expats who are in Thailand year round, rather than just for a few weeks.
Years ago I was in Phuket and went into the type of bar in Patong that is favoured by the kind of expats who choose to live in Patong. On the bar was a donation box and a notice. The notice explained that one of the regular beer-drinking expats had recently been involved in a serious motorbike accident and was in hospital. He had no money, no insurance, and was relying on money that people donated in the bar. Not a great situation to be in.
Friday 17th August 2018
That's 'Retha Franklin
She don't remember the Queen of Soul
It's hard times befallen
The sole survivors
She thinks I'm crazy
But I'm just growing old
Yet another musical legend passes on, only to be replaced with foul-mouthed rap singers and pretty boy bands demonstrating their coordinated dance moves. The technology advances, but the world continues to go backwards.
Madonna turned 60 yesterday. I remember only too well her arrival on the music scene. Her single 'Live To Tell', along with Janet Jackson's 'What Have You Done For Me Lately' are songs that will forever remind me of Chicago in 1986. Rush Street, The Loop, The Hancock Building, Sears Tower, Demi Moore, About Last Night, The Cubs, Ryne Sandberg, Wrigley Field, Harry Caray.
Glorious, happy days. A world full of optimism and opportunity with none of the problems that blight our lives today. Where did it all go so wrong? The 80's was the best decade of my life.
Don't worry. In the words of Becker and Fagen, I'm not crazy, I'm just growing old. It happens.
Wednesday 15th August 2018
A reader asks:
"Why do Thai girls have to pay penance to their mothers for their whole life? Many who I have met, and it's a few, all mention their mother is the sole reason that they work, some resorting to selling themselves in order to send gifts and money to their mothers ,and their mothers expect it, is it drummed into them from birth, do you have that problem?"
"Also why are Thais so greedy, on a recent trip to a restaurant, with a group of Thais they knew I was up for it, so they asked if they could order a big fish, I said OK, it came out on a big platter and they all got stuck into it, jabbering away, enjoying it, little did I know at the end of the meal they had ordered one to take home for the next morning, for breakfast all wrapped up, I was a bit shocked but of course I had to pay."
With any question about Thailand, I can only give my view based on my own personal experience. I'm not qualified to give definitive answers.
First of all, yes, this obeisance to their mothers is drummed into them from birth (and continues through their schooling), and yes, I do have the problem. My wife's mother regards my wife as her personal servant and taxi driver. If she wants to go anywhere she simply calls my wife, who then drops whatever she is doing so that she can ferry her mother around.
This once happened when we were all in the car driving to a restaurant for dinner. Her mother called to invite my wife to eat at her house. My wife then wanted me to cancel dinner at the restaurant so that she could go. Her mother has ultimate power over her and is the most important person in her life.
There has always been a massive Chinese influence in Thailand and a lot of Thai thinking is based around Confucianism.
Only a few days ago I watched another SerpentZA video on YouTube about this subject. He says that in China people ask, "If your wife and mother were drowning and you could only save one person, who would you save?"
Answering the question by saying that it would be your wife would get you in a lot of trouble. The 'correct' answer in China (and also Thailand) is your mother.
Many years ago I picked up a little free booklet about Filial Piety while I was in Singapore. The original is Chinese, but it has been translated into English. Here are a few extracts.
The Buddha told Ananda, "Listen carefully! A pregnant woman has to endure ten months of suffering."
"During the first month of pregnancy, the life of a foetus is as precarious as a dew drop on the grass, which has condensed at dawn and might disappear by midday."
"During the second month, the embryo congeals like a piece of curd."
"During the third month, it is like a piece of coagulated blood. During the fourth month, the foetus gradually assumes a slightly human form."
"During the fifth month, the vital organs such as the head, two hands and two logs are formed."
"During the sixth month, the essence of the six senses are developed. They are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind."
"During the seventh month, the three hundred and sixty bones and joints are formed."
"Besides, the eighty-four thousand hair pores are formed. During the eighth month, the brain is almost fully formed and is endowed with mind-consciousness and knowing faculty.
"After that, the nine apertures on the body are opened. They are the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, a mouth, the anus and the urethra."
"When the foetus is nine months old, it often kicks and struggles in the womb, just like the vibration of Mount Sumeru. The mother can seldom get a good sleep, neither can she eat properly."
"From the first moment when the foetus comes into being until the moment it is born into the world, it gets its nutrients by feeding on its mother's blood."
"On reaching the tenth month, all the vital organs are fully developed. The foetus is ready to be born."
"After carrying the foetus for ten months, the mother has undergone immense suffering. In order to ease the birth of the baby, the mother's blood flows out like a river!"
"In a smooth delivery, the baby will flow along with the blood and emerge with the four limbs curling inwards and its head facing downwards, without causing any injury to its mother."
"But in a difficult delivery, the baby will kick and struggle its way out, and hence causing great pain to its mother."
"It is as if the mother's body is cut by a thousand knives and the heart is pierced by ten thousand arrows. The mother's agony is really appalling."
"As children, we should never forget the suffering our mother went through when she gave birth to us. Otherwise, we will be worse than animals.
"Worse than animals." The book then describes, with the use of some quite graphic cartoons, what will happen to people who don't respect their mothers. In essence, if you don't want to end up being tortured in hell for eternity, then take care of your mother in this life for the rest of her days.
Another little booklet I have on Filial Piety describes the difficulty of repaying this debt to one's parents. There are lots of examples (all very similar) and here is just one.
"If there were a person who, for the sake of his father and mother, used a sharp knife to cut out his heart and liver so that the blood flowed and covered the ground and if he continued in this way to do this for hundreds of thousands of kalpas, never once complaining about the pain, that person still would not have repayed the deep kindness of his parents."
Are you getting the point? Serious stuff, eh?
Thais have a word, buun kuun, to describe the very special type of kindness that their mothers have bestowed upon them. Basically, they believe the act of their mother bringing them into the world and nurturing them during the early years is a debt that can never be repaid.
They devote themselves to their mothers for the rest of their mothers' lives. Just like my correspondent, I too have heard this many, many times in Thailand.
This way of thinking is drummed into kids constantly at an early age. I have two children in the Thai education system and teaching the kids how they should behave and what they should believe takes precedence over academic studies. It's powerful and what you realise after a while is that all Thais think and believe in exactly the same way. There is no room for free thought or critical thinking in the education system and they are all told what they should believe in exactly the same way.
I don't think anyone would disagree with the pain and hardship involved in pregnancy and childbirth, but there are distinct differences between Western and Eastern thinking.
My parents made huge sacrifices for their children, but they did not expect to receive anything back. When I moved to Thailand they encouraged my decision while knowing that I would not be able to take care of them in their old age. To them, my personal happiness in life was the most important thing and there was no selfishness on their part.
Now, I am making huge sacrifices for my children (and will continue doing so for many years), but, in the same way, I don't want or expect to receive anything back from my children. I just want them to be happy in life. This is how I think, and how many Westerners think, but not how Asians think.
When my kids have their own children they will then make sacrifices themselves. We simply pass the kindness we received from our parents on to the next generation. I actually think it's a bit selfish expecting a lifelong reward from your children when it was you who decided to have children in the first place, but this is where East and West thinking differs.
Regular readers will know that I have a cynical outlook on life and could there be more to this than simply enforcing people to take care of elderly parents because it is what children should do?
Every country has seen a huge change in demographics in the last 40 years. People are living longer and they are also having fewer children. My wife has seven siblings and thirty or forty years ago in Thailand big families were completely normal.
Many Thais now stop at one child, or maybe two, but three is now quite rare - at least it is where I live in Thailand. Societies are getting older and taking care of the elderly is a growing problem that, in Western countries, falls on the state through increased welfare payments.
The old age pension in Thailand is around Bt500 per month. This wouldn't last me a day and it isn't even enough for Thais who live on a pittance, which is why I see 80 year-old woman traipsing the streets trying to sell lottery tickets.
I'm sure Western governments would like to ease the welfare burden by having children look after elderly parents, but Western culture doesn't enforce this behaviour. On the other hand, Eastern culture does.
On to the subject of greed, and yes, this is another big problem in Thailand. I have experienced the same sort of thing as my reader experienced.
On one occasion I invited a girl to lunch and she told me that because of her culture she would have to bring a friend. That was fine, but instead of bringing one friend she brought six. As a farang was picking up the bill, they weren't interested in Bt30 rice dishes, but wanted to eat at quite an expensive pizza restaurant. There was no greng jai towards me, and they all ordered what they wanted. When the bill arrived they all fell silent and looked at me.
On another occasion I met a girl in Bangkok and we went for lunch. The restaurant was near the road and very noisy. I had trouble hearing what she was saying to the waiter because of the traffic noise, but it didn't sound expensive. However, when her food arrived there was a plate of enormous tiger prawns that I hadn't heard her order. They were very expensive.
The vast majority of Thais have very little money and salaries, even for jobs with Bachelor's degrees, are a joke. Every problem a Thai has in life is related to money. They can never afford the things that they need or the things that they want. Thus, many develop an obsession with money.
There is also a widely held belief that all foreigners are vastly rich and that they have infinite reserves of cash. In situations such as the one described above with a farang picking up the bill, Thais see it as an opportunity that probably won't arise again so they make the most of it.
I must have really disappointed a few Thais I met when I first arrived in Thailand who invited me to their wedding. Naively, I just thought they were giving a foreigner the opportunity to experience a Thai wedding.
It wasn't until some years later that I realised how much Thais rely on the money that is given by guests at weddings. They expect the money they receive to cover the cost of the reception so that they don't have to pay anything themselves.
As an infinitely wealthy farang I was obviously invited because I would give a very large gift of money, but I gave nothing because I didn't understand at the time the reason why I had actually been invited.
If I invite anyone to something I am celebrating, the last thing I expect is money, but this is not how Thais think. Everything in Thailand is about money.
At my own wedding in Thailand I was actually quite embarrassed with what was going on behind the scenes. The gift money was being continuously counted by my wife's sisters and there were constant updates on how much had been collected.
At the end there was a shortfall, so the family then came to me asking for extra money. They have money, but did not want to pay anything themselves. I refused. Regardless of how much money Thais have, there is always an obsession with money.
Thaksin was (still is) an immensely wealthy man and could have been a great Prime Minister because he had some very good ideas, but despite his immense wealth his lust for more money never stopped.
I recently added another page to my Thailand website - Do's And Don'ts With Thai Girls. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it covers some serious issues and a lot of it has to do with the different way of thinking between people in the East and people in the West. It is relevant to today's topic.
Every morning on Thai TV news there are video clips of horrendous examples of Thai driving, but normally I can't find the video sources so therefore can't provide links here.
There was another example this morning and it is shows exactly what I have been describing about Thai overtaking techniques in recent posts. I've seen this kind of thing hundreds of times on Thai roads. On this occasion I did find the clip on YouTube.
Almost every time I look in my rear view mirror I see a vehicle behind approaching at high speed, but I can't go any faster because there are vehicles in front of me. However, this doesn't deter the driver behind who will simply weave in and out of the traffic, or overtake on the wrong side of the road or in the emergency lane. There is no fear for their own safety and no sense of responsibility for other people's safety.
In this clip there is a line of around six cars on a narrow road with double yellow lines in the middle of the road to tell drivers not to overtake. But that doesn't stop the tour bus from crossing the yellow lines and dangerously overtaking on the wrong side of the road.
It isn't unusual in Thailand to be driving on a single lane road and to see a vehicle coming towards you at high speed on the same side of the road. It's utter insanity, and costs many lives every year, but normally the drivers go unpunished.
The person who recorded this video gave it to the police and the driver was fined Bt5,000. This is still way too lenient, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
As I have said many times, the worst culprits on Thai roads are normally the so-called 'professional' drivers - bus drivers, couriers, minivan drivers, taxi drivers, etc. There is no concept of giving way according to traffic laws. The general attitude is that larger vehicles have right of way over smaller vehicles, which is why drivers of large buses do this kind of thing. They have absolutely no sense of responsibility for other road users or for the passengers they are transporting. It is shameful and it never stops.
There have been times, especially when travelling in minivans, that I have been terrified for my own safety.
On one occasion I was on a bus travelling east to west from Surat Thani to Takua Pa, en route to Khaolak. Route 401 is very scenic, but very twisty and I remember becoming almost hysterical at the speed the bus was travelling. I was convinced it was going to crash. The Thais on the bus were quite bemused at the antics of the farang because to them it was perfectly normal. To Thais it is normal because they have never experienced anything else.
Now that one driver has been fined using video evidence taken by another driver, perhaps this is the way to tackle the problem? Many Thai drivers use dashcams and all Thai have smartphones that can capture video.
If people keep sending examples of reckless driving to the police and drivers are punished, then perhaps that might be a deterrent? The problem now is that there are no deterrents and Thai drivers do whatever they want, regardless of how dangerous their driving is.
Monday 13th August 2018
Thai attitudes to the death of a close person are very different to Western attitudes. The relaxed reaction of someone who has just lost a close relative can actually be quite shocking.
But is it really shocking or is it the perfect embodiment of Buddhism? I've mentioned many times how a lot of behaviour in Thailand is very un-Buddhist, but there are times when Thais follow Buddhist principles in a way that I never could.
This morning I met the foreman who lost his 22 year-old daughter in a horrific motorbike accident last Monday. I was at a nearby swimming pool with my kids and heard the collision. I've known him for at least seven years and he is one of my favourite Thai people. His hard work, kindness, generosity, and complete lack of greed are an example to us all. Last week he disappeared for a few days to sort out the funeral arrangements in Phattalung, but he is now back on the job.
During our conversation I was far more upset emotionally than he was. He told me that she had just graduated and that he was eating dinner nearby when it happened. He was very matter of fact and even gave me a famous Thai smile.
When I first arrived in Thailand to live I stayed in a hotel for a week or so and then moved into an apartment building. Three young girls worked on the front desk, each doing an 8 hour shift so that there was 24 hour cover.
One of the girls went missing for a few days and when she returned I asked her where she had been. Again, very matter of factly, she told me she had been to her mother's funeral. There were no outward signs of any emotion and I would never have known had she not told me. I was a newbie expat and couldn't quite believe what I was hearing.
One of my wife's nieces is now 16 or 17 and her mother takes her everywhere. Recently we had a conversation about getting her some transport of her own. The subject of motorbikes came up and of course this was followed by the subject of how dangerous motorbikes are in Thailand. For motorcyclists it is the most dangerous country in the world.
Her mother, my wife's older sister, then stunned me by telling me she would be, "Mai bpen rai," if her daughter got killed in a motorbike crash. Mai bpen rai is one of the most well-known phrases in Thailand and basically means 'never mind'.
Her mother's biggest fear was her daughter being permanently crippled in an accident, which would mean her daughter having a very low quality life forever more and she having to take care of her daughter forever more. Death was far more preferential.
It seems very strange, if not shocking, but it's not really shocking according to Buddhist thinking. Firstly, death isn't as final in Thailand as it is in Western countries. It is simply one stage in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Secondly, it is the ultimate example of demonstrating non-attachment, which is an important Buddhist principle. Nothing in life, and this applies very much to people because human life is extreme fragile, is permanent. If we get attached to something (or somebody) which isn't permanent, when that thing (or person) is no longer there it will give us a massive problem.
Many people in Western countries are completely destroyed by the death of a close person and they are never the same for the rest of their lives.
Buddhism is based on pure logic and can be tested scientifically, unlike most other religions. I can fully understand this way of thinking from a logical perspective, but I wouldn't be able to put it into practice personally. The emotional part of my brain would easily overcome the logical part.
The relaxed attitudes to the death of close people in Thailand may seem shocking to foreigners, but actually there may be a lot of logic involved. Perhaps this is another reason why Thais are so lackadaisical about improving the unacceptably high road fatality rate in Thailand?
Saturday 11th August 2018
An article on the Thaiger website caught my eye a few days ago. It reinforces some of the things I have been saying in recent posts and I was very pleased to see the editorial comment at the end of the article. It was something that needed to be said. Well done Thaiger.
Basically, money is the most important thing in the Thai value system, tourism brings a huge amount of money into the country, and anything that negatively affects tourism is seen as a serious problem.
In July a ferry carrying mainly Chinese tourists sank in Phuket with the death toll eventually climbing to 47. The large loss of life, together with some things that were said about Chinese tourism and especially zero-dollar tourism, caused a lot of bad feeling in China and Chinese tourists stopped going to Thailand. This was a big problem for Thailand.
The first reports I read about the incident described severe weather at the time with huge waves in the Andaman Sea. The Thai Meteorological Office issued a severe weather warning and advised boats and ships not to go to the sea. Allegedly, the boat captain and owner ignored these warnings.
The deputy Prime Minister was so incensed that he threatened to sue the boat captain and owner.
Thaiger's article says that Thailand has now begun a charm offensive trying to lure Chinese tourists back to the country.
There are special immigration lanes at Krabi airport for Chinese tourists so that they don't have to wait for more than 30 minutes and Thailand is trying to restore confidence in the region's safety.
The really interesting comment was this one:
"We have been asking Chinese tourists at the airport and they say that they known (sic) about the boat disaster in Phuket. They understand that it was an accident and natural disaster. They are not afraid because most Chinese tourists love Thailand, the sea and Thai food. Many of them return to Thailand every year."
It seems now that the official version is that it was no ones fault. It was an 'accident and natural disaster' and 'these things happen'. Thaiger responded thus:
(The Thaiger disputes Chief Col Suparueak Pankomon’s assertion that “it was an accident and natural disaster”. The boat disaster was 100% preventable and not a natural disaster.)
This is exactly what I have been saying about road fatalities in Thailand. Road fatalities in Thailand are seven times greater than in the UK because Thai roads are like anarchic racing tracks.
Most Thais drive way too fast, they tailgate at dangerously high speed, they are always trying to overtake in inside lanes, emergency lanes and the wrong side of the road, they drive along roads the wrong way against the traffic, drive along one-way roads the wrong way, ignore red lights, ignore traffic laws, don't give way when they should, etc etc etc.
Driving standards in Thailand are appalling, but the Thai view is simply that accidents happen and nothing can be done. No one is to blame for the appalling driving standards and no one is accountable for the daily carnage that takes place.
I'm not sure why this is. Do Thais really believe this is the case (many I have spoken to don't), or is it an example of taking the path of least resistance? Not doing anything always requires less effort than doing something. Is it a loss of face issue?
Another thing I have noticed is that the reluctance to blame anyone for anything only seems to extend to Thais, and that Thais are only too keen to blame people from other countries for problems in Thailand.
I have read several times that the huge prostitution industry in Thailand was created by the American military when American soldiers were based in the country, but this is complete nonsense.
This quote also accuses America of creating the rampant consumerism that is now present in Thailand, but this is also nonsense. Convenient, but nonsense. This article is actually very interesting and well worth reading if you are interested in the history of prostitution in Thailand.
Thais were very quick to pin the blame for the Koh Tao murders on a couple of Burmese workers, but there has never been any conclusive evidence.
There are regular crackdowns on criminal activity by foreigners, which is fair because a lot of foreign criminals do operate in Thailand, but at times it seems the Thai attitude is that only foreigners commit crime in Thailand.
Even in my own home, if my wife checks our kids' homework in the morning and it is incomplete, it is my fault for not checking the night before. Never hers.
I'll make the point again that I made in a previous post. How can problems ever be fixed when the cause is regarded as 'natural' and no one can be blamed? This way of thinking explains a lot as to why nothing ever gets done about the carnage on Thai roads.
Until Thais start taking responsibility and being accountable for their actions, nothing will ever change. Blaming people isn't always very pleasant, but unfortunately it is often necessary in order to prevent problems in society.
Friday 10th August 2018
I've written often how every visit I make to Bangkok nowadays has become less enjoyable. For many years I loved Bangkok and on trips to the Thai capital I would spend entire days just wandering around exploring.
There was a distinct downturn when the city grew a second storey. The city used to be quite low and on one level, with temples being some of the tallest buildings. But then came elevated expressways, an elevated train system, and hundreds of tall edifices, many of them condominiums. There was also an explosion in the arrival of large shopping malls.
With so much in the sky, it was no longer much fun at street level and actually it has made many parts of Bangkok quite claustrophobic.
Despite this, it was still relatively easy to find traditional markets and the kind of street vendors that are synonomous with Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. This is what tourists want.
On my many trips to the USA in the 80's and 90's I loved the country, but every town and city I visited had the same shopping malls. There was a JC Penney, Barnes & Noble, and all the same stores at every mall. This uniformity made shopping experiences extremely boring.
A similar thing has happened in the UK. Many small, independent shops in High Streets across the UK have closed and huge out-of-town malls have opened. They too have the same stores and a uniformity that makes them very boring.
Westerners visiting Thailand and other Asian cities love the fact that everything is so different, but, sadly, that is now changing.
The shopping malls that are appearing everywhere in Thailand look the same as their Western counterparts and many are literally yawn-inducing. As soon as I enter a large shopping mall I start yawning uncontrollably even though I'm not tired.
The Khaosan Road has never been one of my favourite places in Thailand, but mainly because I do not fit in with the backpacker sub-culture that is so attracted to this area. I have some problems with people who believe they are so unique and independent, but who go to exactly the same places along the Banana Pancake Trail, have exactly the same hairstyles, and wear exactly the same style of clothing as every other backpacker.
How very unique - a backpacker with dreadlocks - never seen that before
Backpacking is passé now, and has been since the early 90's. There was something about backpacking through Southeast Asia in the 70's and 80's with only a copy of 'Southeast Asia on a Shoestring' (the yellow bible) to help you, but everything has changed in the smartphone/Internet age.
Despite this, I quite enjoy wandering around the area and the part of Bangkok where it is located (Rattanakosin Island) is about the only part of Bangkok I enjoy these days. Height restrictions on buildings mean that there are no tall buildings and I'm not aware of any large shopping malls.
When I think back to my first visit to Bangkok in the 80's this is the only part of Bangkok on the east side of the river that still looks basically the same. But that has started to change.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has decided to remove all street vendors from the Khaosan Road and this hasn't gone down well with foreigners, which I can understand. There has been a lot of resistance and they may reverse the decision, but that hasn't happened yet.
There is so much I don't understand about Thailand. There are things such as education and road safety that desperately need to change, but nothing happens. Meanwhile, other things do change that don't need to change. In fact, changing these things makes the country a lot worse for many people. Tourists don't like the changes and street vendors will now struggle to make a living.
The other piece of news from the same part of Bangkok is that Dusit Zoo will be closing at the end of this month. As I said, this area (in my humble opinion) is the best part of Bangkok and Dusit Zoo is a little green oasis in an already pleasant place. I've been many times and have some very fond personal memories.
My daughter has been seeing a doctor in Bangkok for around six years and after one hospital trip, with both her legs in full length plaster casts, I took her to Dusit Zoo for a couple of hours before our flight back to southern Thailand. The zoo is very close to the hospital she attends. Both of my kids love animals, as do I, and we always enjoy zoo visits.
I believe Dusit Zoo started as a royal menagerie in a private garden before being opened to the public and, no doubt, there are good reasons why the animals need to be moved elsewhere, but news of the closure has saddened me a little. It is just another good aspect of Bangkok that will be lost forever, when so much that changes elsewhere makes the city less appealing than it was before.
Thais seem desperate to prove that Thailand is the equal of any Western country, and they think the way to do this is to emulate Western countries. However, what they probably fail to appreciate, is that by following this course they are taking away the essential ingredients that make Thailand what it is - the very things that foreigners love about Thailand.
There is a problem in Thailand with street vendors completely taking over sidewalks so that no one can pass and forcing pedestrians to walk in dangerous roads. However, this can be managed without removing the vendors completely.
During Lee Kuan Yew's transformation of Singapore in the 60's, Singapore started going down the same path. Bulldozers were brought in to completely demolish old areas. But along with all the filth and squalid conditions, the bulldozers were also destroying Singapore's heritage.
The Singapore authorities realised this before it was too late and certain buildings were protected, or, at least, their facades were protected so that on the outside they looked the same.
Singapore is a very modern city with some great modern architecture, but when you walk around you can still see the old Chinese heritage.
The question now is whether the Thai authorities will wake up in time to realise what is happening in Bangkok and elsewhere.
Thursday 9th August 2018
I've had good times and bad times in Thailand since 2003, but this is one of the worst weeks I can remember.
The recent burglaries didn't affect me directly (this time), but they affected my psychologically. It just adds something else to be concerned about when there is already more than enough in life to be concerned about.
The motorbike fatality a few days ago has really hit me hard. Not only do I know the girl's father, but it is an unwelcome reminder of how easily life can be snuffed out on Thailand's lethal roads. It happens up to 80 times each and every day.
The girl's funeral is today and some more details have emerged since the incident that killed her. She was 22 and had just finished university. Her parents had taken care of her for 22 years and put her through 19 years of education. Just as she was about to start taking care of her own life everything ended.
Exiting our housing development can be quite difficult at times because it's a very busy road and there is a lot of traffic in both directions.
Apparently, traffic from the right was clear so she rode her bike to the centre of the road where there are yellow lines. You can see these in the video below. While she was waiting in the middle of the road for traffic from the left to clear a minivan hit her at very high speed. In general, Thais are very bad drivers, but minivan drivers are particularly bad and they are particularly aggressive.
No matter how fast you drive in Thailand, it is never fast enough for a lot of Thais. They approach from the rear at high speed and their only objective is to get past. They will do this by weaving in and out of traffic lanes, or they will use the emergency lane, or they will go onto the wrong side of the road.
The van driver shouldn't have been overtaking on the yellow lines, but anything goes on Thai roads because there is no enforcement of traffic laws.
Traffic in the right lane normally travels at around 100km/h, so I estimate that while he was overtaking he was probably travelling at around 120km/h. I heard the collision from the swimming pool nearby and the poor kid didn't stand a chance. No one would have survived that impact.
It was kind of her fault too. Thai roads are so dangerous that you get on and off as quickly as possible. You don't venture halfway on to a lethal road where there are accidents every day and wait. I wouldn't have done what she did, but Thai drivers do a lot of things that I would never do. They don't seem to have the same fear of Thai roads that I do. Perhaps because they have never known anything different? Most Thais have never been outside the country and have therefore never experienced civilised driving.
Often, when I am waiting to leave the development Thai drivers behind me get impatient. Instead of waiting behind for me to go, they drive up beside me (which is really annoying because then I can't see anything) and pull out while there is still lots of traffic.
This is another thing that is very common in Thailand. Thai drivers will never wait for gaps in the traffic and they just pull out of side roads. It happens all the time.
Another issue I am having at the moment concerns schooling. The school my son is at has a mixed Kindergarten, but the levels above are for girls only. When he finishes Kindergarten we must find another school.
There is another school in the same group that most boys at his school automatically go to, but I don't like it. It was where I had my first teaching job in Thailand and it was such a zoo that I walked out after a month. The school has around 4,000 students (or more), class sizes are huge, and teenage Thai boys are uncontrollable. I don't want him going there, but finding an alternative isn't easy.
When you are married to a Thai female there is a hierarchy in the people who she has respect for and who have influence over her. Her parents are at the top of the hierarchy, followed by other relatives, her own children, friends, and eventually the person who she calls a husband. Inferior farangs sit even lower in the hierarchy.
One woman who she befriended at the school a few years ago has a lot of influence over her and recently told her about a 'fantastic' school. I was prepared to listen at first, until I find out where it is. It's miles away.
Doing two school runs a day when the traffic is at its worst will mean having to drive 5-6 hours a day, five days a week, for six years.
I have already made it clear to my blog readers, and to her, how I feel about Thai roads asnd Thai drivers, and how I want to limit driving as much as possible in Thailand. I certainly don't want to dramatically increase the amount of driving I have to do, and therefore I am not interested in this school because of its location.
Despite this, she asked me to pick her up yesterday and go to take a look at the school, along with her influential friend and another friend.
Well, to say that I wasn't enthusiastic was an understatement and I am the kind of person who doesn't hide or fake my feelings. This has put her in a foul mood and I am in the doghouse yet again. It happens frequently.
These moods sometimes last weeks, but I am not backing down over the school otherwise I will end up spending the next six years of my life doing far more driving than I ever want to do on lethal Thai roads.
Not only is driving this amount every day a complete waste of time, it will cost me a fortune in petrol, and driving so much greatly increases the risk of being involved in a serious collision. I might have considered it in another country, but not Thailand.
There's another school about 10 minutes from my house that I went to look at on my own yesterday. It looks fine and I sat down with the owner for half an hour to ask questions and get information.
She has some good ideas about education and what I heard is not typical of other Thai schools where there is endless rote learning and a crazy amount of homework. I told the wife, but she isn't interested.
I'm not as influential as certain other people in her life and so, of course, she favours the school recommended by her influential friend even though it is on the opposite side of the downtown area to where we live.
As I said, I'm not having a great time at the moment, but this is how life goes. It's normal.
Tuesday 7th August 2018
"Tourists travelling overseas this summer could be in for a more expensive holiday thanks to a sharp drop in the value of the pound."
At least tourists will only suffer financially during the two or three weeks they are out of the country. Brits living abroad relying on incomes from the UK in pounds suffer constantly. I know. I'm one of them.
My finances took a huge hit after the June 2016 Brexit referendum and after more than two years there is still no sign of any improvement. If anything, it is now getting worse after the resignations of Davis and Johnson.
After the Brexit referendum it soon became clear that the objective of the referendum was only to appease those who thought the UK should leave the EU and that there should be a vote. No one thought that the Leave voters would actually win, most notably UK politicians.
No one had given any thought as to how the UK would proceed with leaving the EU and many of the people now tasked with negotiating a leaving deal are people who didn't want to leave in the first place.
What a complete and utter mess.
I witnessed yet another horrendous road accident last night very close to my home. I've been witnessing horrendous road accidents on a regular basis ever since I went to live in Thailand. The motorcyclist died and this morning I found out who it was, which sickened me even further. Please read to the bottom.
Driving in Thailand terrifies me. I know I talk about this a lot, but maybe the only way to get anything done is to keep on highlighting the issue otherwise nothing will ever happen. Despite the extraordinarily high level of road fatalities in the country, there seems to be no will in Thailand to change anything.
There are many reasons why Thailand has such dangerous roads and one day I will sit down and list them. One of the biggest reasons is that there is no real blame culture and Thais have a fatalistic approach. This could be from religious beliefs, but it actually goes against the Buddhist teachings of cause and effect which state that every volitional act brings about a certain result. As you sow, so shall you reap.
Serious road crashes happen for reasons. In Thailand the main reasons are excessive speed, recklessness and ignoring traffic laws. But no one is allowed to say this because it would be blaming those who drive recklessly at high speed while flagrantly breaking traffic laws. Remember, there's no blame culture.
Most Thais believe that accidents simply happen and there is nothing that can be done. If you have an attitude that nothing can be done, then - by definition - nothing has to change. And that's what happens, Nothing changes. But the truth is that if Thais took responsibility for what happens on the roads then a lot could be done.
Statistically, you are about seven times more likely to be killed in a road accident in Thailand than you are in the UK. Both countries have similar size populations, so why such a huge disparity? It's all down to Thai attitudes and cultural beliefs.
When I put a deposit down on our house seven years ago we were promised that a leisure and retail centre would soon be built at the front of the development. It opened (partially) last month. Thais have little sense or urgency and like to take their time doing things. A lot of the retail units are still empty, but there is now a functioning gym and swimming pool.
It's expensive compared to other facilities nearby, but it's convenient because it is so close to where we live. Also, because I am one of the few people who paid a service charge this year, the development owner gave us vouchers for two months' free use of the facilities.
My kids love playing in water and my daughter is currently having swimming lessons. We took both children to the swimming pool last night.
While keeping an eye on the kids I heard an extremely loud, quite sickening sound. My wife, who was at the other end of the pool, heard it too. It sounded as if a very heavy object had fallen from a very tall building, but my instincts told me what it really was.
From the leisure centre only a small section of road can be seen. I took a look, but didn't see anything. It wasn't until we left that I saw what had happened.
The airport road that we live on is insanely dangerous. Many Thai drivers drive at insanely high speed and the things they do on the road would incur prison sentences in more civilised countries.
However, in Thailand nothing happens. There isn't a single deterrent against speeding in the form of traffic police or speed cameras. Some of the worst culprits are the so-called 'professional' drivers. Many of the taxi and minivan drivers who drive up and down this road all day are maniacs. The van in the collision last night was an airport taxi that shuttles people between the airport and the downtown area.
The driver won't feel any guilt because in Thailand 'accidents happen' and it wasn't his fault because there is no blame culture. He will continue to drive in the same reckless way at high speed and not give any concern to other people's safety.
It was dark and it appears that the girl on the bike pulled out of our development, not realising how fast the van was moving. The van was overtaking other vehicles at very high speed. Her error of judgment cost her her life.
The vans often drive at 120km/h or more. Thai drivers who want to drive at high speed are not deterred by other road users who drive slower. They simply weave in and out of cars that are going slower. I saw this continuously on the trip to Samui last week.
There were slow vehicles in the left lane. If I was in the right lane I would allow a safe braking distance ahead of me. All the time, I was approached by vehicles travelling at up to 140km/h. When they got close behind me they would duck into the slow lane, overtake on the inside, and then pull into the space I was leaving for safe braking.
I find this behaviour incredibly annoying, but Thai drivers do this all the time.
I took some still photos last night and a little piece of video footage. I know it was a female on the motorbike because her shoes were left on the road. Her bike was a mangled mess. The impact was very heavy and the skid marks on the road show how far the minivan threw the bike across the road.
It is very rare for Thai motorcyclists to wear crash helmets in this area after dark, not that a helmet would have provided much protection in this particular collision. Thais only wear helmets in the downtown area during daytime. Once it gets dark, or as soon as they leave the downtown area, the helmets come off.
It fills me with dread every morning when my wife leaves for work with the two kids because she will first have to travel on this road. There are accidents on this road every day. I've witnessed many and quite a few are fatal.
I have hardly driven since we returned from Samui on Sunday. It has reached the stage now where I will only drive if it is essential. If I have a choice to drive or not to drive on Thai roads, I choose not to drive.
As I said in my Samui report, there appears to be an inversely proportional relationship in Thailand between law enforcement and the distance from Bangkok.
My neigbour received a speeding fine in the mail last week because her husband, who works in Bangkok, had been speeding and was caught by a speeding camera in Bangkok. On one of my recent trips to Bangkok, while in a taxi, I was amazed that the driver stopped at a set of lights when they were only amber. That never happens where I live and running red lights happens routinely.
Efforts are made to enforce traffic laws in Bangkok, but out in the provinces anything goes. On remote islands in the Gulf of Thailand 90 minutes from the mainland by ferry the situation is even worse than in the mainland provinces.
When on Earth will anything start to be done to reduce the carnage? Without any doubt, it is the worst aspect of living in Thailand. Life, generally, is great but however great your life might be it can all be easily wiped out on Thailand's horrendously dangerous roads.
Just after writing this my wife called from work with some more details. The girl on the motorbike did indeed die, as I suspected. When I saw the wreckage of her motorbike I didn't think that anyone could have survived such a big impact.
She was the daughter of the chief foreman in our housing development. I've known him now for several years and Nason is the kindest, most helpful, generous person you could ever wish to meet. He's an older guy who is always working and never takes a break. As you talk to him you can see the kindness in his eyes.
As I have mentioned before, my house - despite being a new build - has had lots of problems. On several occasions I have mentioned problems to him and he has come to fix them himself or sent one of his workers. He never asks for money and on some occasions I have had to force him to accept money.
Hearing and seeing the accident scene last night turned my stomach but now, finding out who was killed and knowing her father very well, it has made me feel quite nauseous.
I don't anticipate any problems with my daughter, but there is going to come a time with my son when he will want a motorbike because all of his friends have motorbikes. This is going to be a very difficult time for me, but I don't even want to think about it at the moment.
Monday 6th August 2018
I've never been comfortable with haggling, but in this part of the world you have to otherwise you will be massively ripped off.
A few days ago I went looking for a case for my wife's iPad. It's an old model and there are very few types of case available. I went to one shop and the first price was Bt480. The case looked very ordinary in terms of design and quality, and Bt480 seemed expensive. Also, because the cases are for old iPads there probably isn't a lot of demand.
The woman offered a small discount and we went back and forth until she came down to Bt350 - her lowest price. I said I would look around first.
The next shop had exactly the same cases, but this time the starting price was Bt350 and it very quickly went down to Bt300. By this time I was already getting bored with haggling so agreed a price of Bt300.
At this point the shop owner appeared and she appeared to know me, although I didn't have a clue who she was. This happens a lot in Thailand. You may think that as a foreigner you can walk around anonymously without anyone knowing you, but you find that everyone knows you. Foreigners in tourist resorts may be able to blend in, but in provincial Thailand farangs stick out like sore thumbs.
Her daughter is a classmate of my daughter and the woman had seen me at the school. This fact earnt me another Bt20 discount and having already handed over Bt300, I received Bt20 back.
The price I eventually paid was Bt280 compared to the first price I was given, which was Bt480. If I had been prepared to spend more time going from shop to shop haggling over prices I could probably have got it cheaper, but I find the process tedious and boring.
Previously, I mentioned the guy in Samui selling tablecloths on the beach. He told me he buys them for Bt500, but my wife suspects he pays less. He asks tourists for Bt1,800 and quoted me Bt1,300 because I spoke Thai. After a lot of haggling he was prepared to sell me one for Bt600. Just as I was about to part company with some money my wife started signalling that she didn't want one so the deal was off.
I don't like haggling, not only because it is boring and tedious, but because no matter how much 'discount' I get I always feel as if I am being ripped off. I much prefer department stores where there are fixed prices and I know that everyone has to pay the same price.
What's the secret with haggling? I'm no expert so I don't know, but you have to realise that vendors inflate prices by a huge amount. Don't, therefore, be afraid of insulting a vendor by offering too low a price.
With the tablecloth example, even if a tourist offered half the initial quote (Bt900) it would still be a rip off. If he says Bt1,800, offer Bt300. It may seem stupid, offering 1/6 the price, but you have no idea how much the price has been inflated. Don't just say Bt1,700 or Bt1,600 because you will still be ripped off by a huge amount.
No matter how much you want something, show no interest and always be prepared to walk away. Give them a really low offer and if they say no, walk away. If it really is too low they will let you walk away. However, you will often find that they call you back and agree the price you offered.
The vendors want to make massive profits from foreigners, but they have to make a living and a Bt100 profit is better than nothing. Be aware that the daily wage for many Thais is around Bt300, and that for this money they put in a full day of hard work. If a beach vendor can sell one tablecloth a day for over Bt1,000 profit he is doing a lot better financially than the majority of Thais. This is why so many Thais from all parts of Thailand flock to areas where there are so many farang tourists.
You might enjoy haggling. Some people regard it as a game and I know some Thais here who enjoy it. I don't but, as I said, you have to haggle in Thailand otherwise you will just be ripped off.
The neighbour who was burgled said that a window had been left unlocked in the house and, strangely enough, the burglar knew exactly which window. He suspects that another person who had entered the house legitimately opened it and then told his or her burglar buddy. I am always very wary of people we don't know coming into the house.
In our rented house we had a guy in to fix the A/C unit (in that house we only had one unit in the bedroom). It was a long job and we left him working upstairs. Some days, or weeks, later my wife discovered that a gold bracelet was missing and we suspected it was the A/C guy.
We informed the police, who were completely uninterested, and didn't (or couldn't) do anything. My wife's mother was also very unsympathetic and said that if you leave strangers unattended in the house this is what will happen. She has a point.
My current house has six A/C units and a few years ago we asked a shop to service them. The shop sent five men. Four set to work doing what they were supposed to be doing. The fifth just wandered around the house looking at everything. It made me very uncomfortable. Why was he so interested in everything?
When a nearby house was burgled and the intruders erased all the CCTV footage the owners suspected that there was a link with the CCTV installers.
Over the years I have tried to collate a list of tradesmen who specialise in fixing different things. The first reason is that many Thai tradesmen don't know what they are doing and I have watched in horror as so-called 'plumbers' smash tiles with a hammer in order to complete a small task.
If a tradesmen does a good job I make sure I get his number for the next time. There is also the issue of trust and some tradesmen I trust more than others.
In some countries you may be able to trust someone until they do something to lose that trust. In Thailand I use the opposite approach. I don't trust people who I don't know until they show they can be trusted. This also seems to be how most Thais think.
On Saturday a guy called at my neighbour's house to give him information about a burglar alarm system. I sat in on the sales pitch because I am interested in such a system for my own house and I wanted to know what kind of systems are being sold in Thailand.
It was a Yale 6000 series wireless system. The big part of the sales pitch was that Yale is an American brand and therefore it must be fantastic. This is something I've heard a lot of in Thailand. Most products sold in Thailand come from China and everyone seems to accept that although prices of Chinese goods are low, quality isn't great.
Conversely, Thais seem to think that anything made in Europe, Australia or North America must be fantastic quality. This opinion may have changed with a few Thais I know who have bought Chevrolet Captiva SUVs in the last few years. They have had horrendous problems and have had to spend enormous amounts of money for repairs.
The Captiva, although popular with Thais, is not a car I would recommend buying in Thailand based on the stories I have heard from Captiva owners. I have also heard similar stories from BMW owners. If you want to buy a car that is reliable and cheap to run in Thailand, buy a Honda or Toyota that was assembled in Thailand.
But I digress ... again.
What struck me with the Yale alarm system is how easy it would be to install because there are no wired connections. I could install a basic system easily in a few hours. The cost for a basic system with two window/door sensors and two PIR sensors was Bt32,000 (around £740). A lot more door/window sensors would be needed for my house and these were an additional Bt1,300 each (around £30), therefore the system would be around Bt50,000. At the moment Bt50,000 is over £1,100.
Because of the ease of installation I checked to see if I could find a system on-line that I could install myself. There weren't many in Thailand and prices were still very high. I then checked prices in the UK.
A basic system, which costs £740 in Thailand, can be bought for just over £200 in the UK and extra door sensors are about £14, compared to £30 in Thailand.
I will therefore probably be ordering a system from the UK. Even after delivery charges to Thailand, it will still be a lot cheaper. I estimate that by doing this the system will cost me a lot less than half the price in Thailand. In the past I have talked to fellow Ford owners who order parts on-line from abroad because it is a lot cheaper than buying the same parts in Thailand. In addition to complete cars, the high import duties are also applied to parts.
I attempted to help someone on an Internet forum a few years, but was shouted down by a know-it-all American once-a-year tourist who wanted to tell everyone that everything is always cheaper in Thailand. It's simply not true.
Labour is very cheap in Thailand, and many products made in Thailand with Thai labour are therefore cheap. However, because of the enormous amounts of duty paid on imported goods, anything that comes in from abroad is generally very expensive.
Duty is lower if goods come from other ASEAN countries. As an example, cars assembled in Thailand are very reasonably priced because there is no import duty. If you buy a made-in-Malaysia Proton it will also be reasonably priced because Malaysia is within ASEAN and duty is low. My Ford car was assembled in the Philippines (also within ASEAN), therefore it was sold at a reasonable price in Thailand.
However, if a vehicle is imported from a country outside ASEAN, especially if it has a large engine and produces lots of horse power, it can have over 300% import duty applied to the price.
Toyota models that are assembled in Thailand, such as Camry, Vios, Altis and pickup trucks, etc, aren't expensive. However, if you fancy a RAV4, MR2, FJ Cruiser, or any other Toyota model that has to be imported it will be very expensive.
Not all things are cheaper in Thailand.
In our local shopping malls there are often brand new cars on display. Being brand new, they absolutely gleam and some are very expensive. When I look at these shining beauties for sale it makes me think that the last thing I want in Thailand is a brand new, expensive car.
On many occasions I have returned to my parked car to find dings and dents that weren't there when I left it. While waiting in traffic jams, teenage kids weaving in and out of the waiting cars at high speed have hit my car and then disappeared into the distance.
In addition to the little dings and dents, Thailand has the second most dangerous roads in the world and thus there is a very high risk of being involved in a serious collision.
Is this really a country in which to own a brand new, expensive car? Not for me. I'm quite content with my old car and even though I don't appreciate Thais adding yet more dings and dents to the bodywork, it isn't a major catastrophe if they do.
I had this conversation with my wife recently and it surprised her. She basically told me that Thais covet brand new, shiny, expensive cars so that they can show them off to other people. It was a revealing statement.
I have never thought this way, but she does because she is Thai. Image is everything and it matters to Thais what other people think about them. It doesn't to me, and it never has. She nags me sometimes for dressing like a tramp because of what other people think, but I don't care what other people think. Not one iota.
Even when I owned used Porsches in the UK, there was never any thought about owning them in order to impress other people. This was the last thing on my mind. Ownership was about fulfilling a long term ambition and enjoying the driving experience.
This is a big difference between Thais and many foreigners, although some foreigners are like this. I've always thought it strange that Thais will buy mobile phones that are the equivalent to three or four months' wages, but having the latest mobile phone is important to them purely because of image.
If Thais spend money it is to buy things to entertain themselves or to impress other people.
When we moved to this house and I told my wife we needed house insurance she told me that most Thais don't bother. House insurance doesn't satisfy the criteria that I just mentioned. It is the same with other forms of insurance. These things have no entertainment value and they don't impress other people. This also includes various forms of taxation.
Many Thais don't have medical insurance and they only have the mandatory government Por Ror Bor insurance for their vehicles.
The issue over the housing development service charge that I wrote about previously is still annoying me. Out of 70 houses, only 15 people have paid. The money was due at the beginning of this year. Details of the service charge were written into the contract when people bought houses and when each house was handed over the owner had to pay the developer two years' service charge.
In the third year I was expecting to have to pay, but no bill arrived. The same thing happened in years four and five. For three years there was no service charge and the developer paid for the security guards and other services out of his own pocket. In the sixth year he asked for some money, which was quite reasonable.
I paid, 14 other people paid, but most people have refused to pay. Those who haven't paid have plenty of money, but don't want to spend money on anything that doesn't entertain them or which doesn't impress other people.
In light of the recent burglaries some are now panicking and want extra security precautions taken, but they don't want to pay any money.
Some people are saying they won't pay because they have had construction problems with their houses, but these are two separate issues. Some people won't pay simply because they know that other people haven't paid.
Some say the charge is too high and that the developer is ripping them off, but he paid out of his own pocket for three years. It's really unfair to him and really unfair to the people who have paid, such as me.
Most Thais have a horrible obsession with money and it causes lots of problems in Thailand. Foreigners will be aware of all the money-related scams that are perpetrated in Thailand against tourists, but there are also many money-related issues among Thais that foreigners won't be aware of.
Friday 3rd August 2018
There were house break-ins in my neighbourhood a couple of nights ago, including my next-door neighbour. When the burglars visit, as they have done before, they normally burgle several properties to make it worth their while.
When we go on trips, like the one last week to Samui, this is one of the things that worries me. There's not a lot of violent crime in Thailand, but there is a huge amount of theft, burglary and fraud.
Some CCTV footage has emerged and it appears to have been a single guy. He wasn't very old and was quite agile, entering through windows that had been left open or forcing them first. The aluminium framed windows and doors in the development aren't very strong. Last year I got someone in to add extra locks to all the windows and doors downstairs, but this still won't deter a determined thief.
Let's look first at what deterrents don't work. Firstly, we live inside a gated community with 24 hour security guards. The guards have procedures for letting in people who don't live here and they patrol the neighbourhood at set times. Day time is normally OK, although there have been burglaries during the day time, but everything gets very lax at night. On occasions I have to beep my horn to wake up the guard so he can raise the gate to let my car in or out.
Secondly, quite a few people have CCTV systems. I was considering such a system for my own house, but they are quite expensive. Burglars don't seem to have any fear of CCTV and the images are so poor that thieves can't be identified. With one burglary a couple of years ago the intruders simply found the CCTV recording unit and wiped everything.
Thirdly, safes. When I got my first digital camera, which was very expensive in 2004, I was staying in an apartment building and wasn't happy with security. I bought a safe to protect my camera gear and other valuables. It quickly filled up, so I bought another.
A house in the neighbourhood was burgled a couple of years ago and the thieves simply picked up the safes and put them in a pickup truck. With the safes that have external hinges it is very easy to open them with a disc cutter. If you are going to buy a safe, buy a big, heavy one that can't be moved or bolt it to the floor. I don't bother with my safes any more.
A few years ago I installed some motion sensing floodlights outside. When my house in the UK was burgled this was one of the police recommendations. My wife is of the opinion that they won't do any good, but thieves come at night for the cover of darkness and probably won't like floodlights illuminating.
I also bought some timers that automatically turn lamps on and off in the house as it gets dark. These are mainly for when we are away, but I also use them when we are at home. The idea is to make the house look occupied, but it doesn't seem to matter to Thai burglars if houses are occupied or not. Many homes are broken into at night when the occupants are asleep upstairs.
A fierce dog with big teeth is probably the best deterrent, but dogs need looking after. Also, Thai burglars have poisoned dogs in the past in order to get into a house.
If someone is determined to get into your house they will always find a way. All you can do is try to deter opportunistic burglars who are just looking for easy targets. If a neighbour's house looks easier than your one they may decide to leave your house alone.
My wife maintains that a burglar alarm with a loud siren would be the best deterrent because this would wake the occupants and alert neighbours. My initial reluctance with such a system was because of my experience in the UK many years with lots of false alarms. Alarms would go off with the occupants at work and neighbours couldn't then turn off the alarm.
However, technology has moved on a lot since then. Alarm systems can now send messages to mobile phones. In the event of an alarm we can call the security guards if we are away and ask them to check the house. If there isn't a problem we can turn off the alarm remotely. This is an option I am now considering.
The burglar bars I had installed in our rented house with one of my guard cats
Many Thais install burglar bars over their windows. In the area where we used to rent a house every house had these, except the one we were renting. This concerned my wife so much that I had some installed ... at my expense because the landlord wouldn't pay.
These don't make houses impenetrable, but they help. As I said above, if thieves are determined enough they will find a way in. Also, they look quite unsightly and make houses look like prisons.
My 15 year-old jalopy
I think my car also helps. One look at my old Ford parked outside and a thief would know immediately that the occupants of the house have no money and therefore nothing worth stealing.
I don't know what the thief's motive was. Lots of young Thais are addicted to drugs and will steal to get money for their next fix. Thais are also very materialistic, but many have little money because there are no opportunities to earn a decent wage. Stealing is their only option to get more money.
A few years ago a thief broke into a gold shop in the downtown area. The owner, an ex policeman, had a gun and shot him dead. In my neighbourhood there are quite a few soldiers and policemen who will have guns and, when protecting their homes and families, Thais will not hesitate to shoot.
Burglary is a very underrated crime. When I was burgled in the UK it did a lot of psychological damage and for several months I didn't want to leave my house. Some people are affected so badly that they have to move house.
I would have no sympathy for a house burglar who was shot and injured or killed. If the guy knocked on my door, explained his situation, and asked for work I have a lot of painting outside that needs doing. It's not a job I enjoy and I would appreciate some help. But don't think it is acceptable to break into my house, or anybody else's house, and help yourself.
Like most people, I have had to work to get everything that I own. That's how society works and you don't simply steal from other people. It is also a major sin in Buddhism. All Buddhist Thais will maintain that they are very good Buddhists because they go to the temple occasionally to make merit, but there is a huge amount of behaviour in Thailand that is very un-Buddhist.
I'm just glad this happened after our trip to Samui. Had it happened before we had gone I would have felt quite uneasy while we were away.
I said above that violent crime is quite unusual in Thailand, but not always. When I was living in an apartment building there was a single girl next door who was studying for a Master's degree in dentistry.
The piece of scum that broke into the room next to me while reenacting his heinous crime
One night a Thai man broke into her room. He stole money, stole her laptop (which contained her thesis), attempted to rape her, and beat her up badly breaking her jaw in the process. Because it was a serious crime the police worked hard to find him and a shop nearby had CCTV footage of the vehicle he used to flee the scene. This was one occasion when CCTV was useful.
He was a sawng-thaew driver and the camera recorded his license plate. The police arrested him and in Thailand criminals are taken back to the crime scene to reenact their crime after they are caught. These events turn into a bit of a media scrum. He was a nasty looking piece of work and powerfully built. It must have been terrifying for the girl.
After the incident the apartment building installed burglar bars in every room and installed external lighting as a deterrent.
Never be fooled by all the Land of Smiles nonsense in Thailand. There is actually a lot of crime and you always need to be very careful.
Thursday 2nd August 2018
I've made some small design changes to my site. I use a desktop computer with quite a large monitor and I have always optimised the site layout for desktop. However, I find that these days about 70% of the people who visit my site do so using mobile phones and on a mobile phone it looks very different.
Personally, I can't understand it. TVs get bigger and bigger all the time because movies and TV shows look better on bigger screens, but it is going the other way with the Internet. Apparently, most people regard mobility as being more important than anything else.
I do actually have a smartphone these days after holding out for years. When my wife got a new phone I had her old one repaired and use it occasionally. However, I only use it a little and still use my desktop for Internet work because I get so frustrated trying to do anything using a tiny smartphone display.
I've removed the links that used to appear on the righthand side when viewed on a desktop because these were appearing right at the bottom when viewed on a mobile phone. Most websites are responsive these days because of the different ways people view the Internet, but it makes designing web pages a bit of a headache.
If you wish to look at my old blogs, use the 'Blog Archives' link at the top of the page.
One of the divers involved in the recent cave rescue was a Belgian named Ben Reymenants. He's a technical diving expert and has a dive shop in Thailand called Blue Label Diving. The shop has a website, which I browsed around a little. On the information page about Thailand it says the following: "Most people don't really need an intro anymore as it (Thailand) is known by almost everyone."
I wouldn't disagree. There probably isn't anyone on the planet who doesn't know of Thailand, and a large percentage of the world's population has most likely visited the country at least once.
I would make the point that simply 'knowing of' Thailand and 'understanding' Thailand are completely different things. The former can be achieved by making one visit as a tourist or reading an article about Thailand. The latter requires living in Thailand permanently for many years, learning the language, studying all aspects of Thai behaviour, and being very observant. The vast majority of tourists don't have a clue.
It is remarkable how the whole world has gotten to know Thailand in such a short space of time. When I first started getting interested in Thailand in the late 70's or early 80's that certainly wasn't the case.
I finished my tertiary education in 1982 and as a 21 year-old with no responsibilities and nothing to lose, there were only two things that interested me - money and travel. Back then the world was very different and there was a sense of optimism that anything could be achieved. I'd really hate to be finishing my education nowadays.
I had a friend, slightly older than me, who felt the same way and he started getting me interested in the oil services industry. Salaries were good and the work pattern meant that people in the industry got a lot of time off for travel.
If you worked offshore in the Middle East for two weeks, you might then get two weeks off and it would be just as easy to go to Thailand for your time off than to return to the UK.
I applied unsuccessfully to Schlumberger and some of its subsidiaries, such as Flopetrol, before getting a position at Sperry Sun as a directional surveyor. Along with around half-a-dozen other new recruits I spent a good part of the summer of 1982 in Great Yarmouth doing my basic training.
In addition to all the technical stuff there was also safety training, one part of which involved being turned upside in a swimming pool while strapped into a helicopter simulator. It was probably the best summer of my life.
After basic training we were all sent to Saudi Arabia for a month to get on-the-job training. It was a fantastic experience for a 21 year-old and at that time there were absolutely no problems with the Arab world.
I met oilfield services workers who were familiar with Thailand and they regaled me with accounts of their trips to the Kingdom. I then started getting very serious about visiting Thailand.
Unfortunately, that job didn't last long. The recruiting drive I was a part of had taken place because of anticipated work in West Africa. That work fell through and my whole class was made redundant.
Within six months I got a job at IBM and found another colleague/friend who was keen on travel in Southeast Asia. After a couple of aborted attempts, we finally left for Thailand in 1987.
Compared to the above comment that everyone knows Thailand now and introductions aren't necessary, let me explain what it was like back then.
Apart from the odd oilfield services worker, no one I knew had been to Thailand or knew the first thing about Thailand. Phuket had just started to be heard of and Brits thought the name was hilarious as they assumed it was pronounced 'Fuck it'. Certainly, no one had heard of Koh Samui back then.
Of course, there was no Internet and guide books were scarce. My friend regarded himself as a backpacker and had a copy of Lonely Planet's 'Southeast Asia on a Shoestring'. There was so little information back then that Lonely Planet guides were actually useful, which they haven't been now for a very long time.
I managed to find one non-Lonely Planet guide book with lots of photos, which I treasured, and I thumbed through the pages so often that it became quite dog-eared.
1987 was a special year for Thailand. It was the year of King Bhumipol's 60th birthday, the year that a new terminal opened at Don Meuang airport, and the year that the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) launched its first major campaign to promote Thailand as a tourist destination.
The TAT organised various events around the world, including a big show in the Barbican Centre in London. This was close to where I worked so I attended one evening. Naturally, there was nothing about real Thailand with speeding pickup trucks and maniac drivers and only the best of Thailand was put on display.
There were Thais dressed in their traditional clothes, Thai food, Thai handicrafts, and even a tuk-tuk. I was completely entranced with Thailand and everything Thai. This was the probably the seed that eventually led to vacations in Thailand between 1987 and 2002, moving to Thailand permanently in 2003 and then getting married to a Thai national in 2010.
Even booking my flight to Bangkok in 1987 wasn't straightforward. Normally, I would just go to a High Street travel agent, such as Thomas Cook, but Thomas Cook didn't deal with flights to Thailand, which, at the time, was regarded as a 'frontier' destination. I had to find a specialist travel agent to book me a flight.
Within 30 years Thailand has therefore gone from somewhere that virtually no one knew of to a place that doesn't need any introductions because everyone knows of it. Remarkable.
I find it all quite sad. As human beings we are all naturally inquisitive and nothing quite beats the excitement of finding something, or somewhere, new.
In 1987 my visit to Thailand was like nothing else I had ever experienced and therefore absolutely everything was new and exciting. That just doesn't happen these days.
Every place in the world now has a large expat community, many of whom are creating websites, blogs and YouTube channels. You can go to a place where you have never been before, but it will already feel familiar because you have seen and read so much already.
The other point, which I made in my Koh Samui travelogue, is that many parts of the world that were untouched 30 years ago have now been vastly overdeveloped and now they will never return to how they were. This is also very sad.
You can't uninvent technology, and the technology that exists now has made moving to live in a different country a lot easier for me, but it has also taken some things away. It's a double-edged sword.
While working in the States in the 90's I phoned my bank in the UK asking them to do a list of things for me. The member of staff confirmed all my requests and then, at the end of the conversation, asked me to send a letter with these requests because they had to be in writing. The phone call was a waste of time.
Nowadays, we simply do everything remotely and immediately without wasting time sending letters. That's the positive side, but never again will I ever be able to go anywhere that is exciting and unknown.
When I returned from Thailand in 1987 people were genuinely interested to hear what I had to say and they enjoyed my photographs because they had no idea what Thailand looked like. Put Thailand into Google now and you will get "About 1,140,000,000 results".
I'm just pleased that I managed to get to see quite a bit of the world in my early years. Never again will those same place ever be seen in the same way.
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. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
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.
Images of Thailand