Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 30th April 2007
I was never a good student. Like many young males, I suffered from a general lack of brain development and a surplus of testosterone during my teenage years which, combined with a lack of discipline, resulted in me underachieving. That stage of my life wasn't particularly enjoyable and it is no surprise that I never fostered any ambitions to become a teacher.
But turn the clock forward a few years and what am I doing in Thailand? Like many other farangs in the Kingdom, I have ended up teaching English. Life is full of strange twists and turns.
My first experience teaching in Thailand was not good for a variety of reasons and involved teaching youngsters. After that, I did my best to avoid youngsters but recently I agreed to go back into the lion's den. I wasn't looking forward to teaching teenagers again but the current assignment I am doing has been very rewarding so far.
Inevitably, there are always a few students whose objective throughout the entire lesson is to disappear into the background and not do anything. It seems such a waste but as a student I was often guilty of the same thing.
On the other hand, when you encounter very bright, enthusiastic students it can be a real joy teaching them. I was marking some homework this evening and came across something that touched me. It reminded me that as a teacher you really do have the power to affect other people's lives.
Some kids just want to sleep or play around but others have hopes and dreams which will only be fulfilled through education and - as an educator - you play an important role in their lives. Last week I taught my students how to write a CV and covering letter for job applications. It's a skill I believe will serve them well in the future.
One of them added an extra section which he titled 'Future Plans' and this is what he wrote:
"I intend to further my studies at (name of education establishment deleted). It has always been my dream to study here. My family also supports me and hopes that I will graduate from here so I can get a good job and help my family.
I wish to support my younger brothers and sisters in their education in the future. My family is not rich and there are too many people, so I have to work to pay for my education. If I can fulfil my dream to study here, I will do my best for my future and my family. I hope you will understand and consider me as a student here."
After pissing around at college for four years I began applying for jobs with the dream of one day owning a Porsche. How's that for superficiality? The dream for Thai kids from poor backgrounds is that one day they will be able to support their families and pay for their younger siblings' education.
Yes, as a teacher it can be very frustrating at times but also it can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. What value is driving a Porsche compared with helping another person to realise their dreams and ambitions in life?
Sunday 29th April 2007
Can anyone help a visitor to this site who wants to rent a car in Thailand and drive to Cambodia and Vietnam? He's having problems finding a rental company that will allow this and I can't help.
This morning, Iss went to 'have it out' with the laundry lady. When she returned I could still see the rage on her face. She's five foot nothing and weighs 40kg but you don't want to be in her path when she is angry. I know this from personal experience.
I can never work out when it is permissible to show anger in Thailand. I wanted to be angry with the woman yesterday but in the past I have been told off for showing anger. In a non-confrontational culture it is not a good thing to show anger and, anyway, it doesn't change anything so what's the point?
I guess the point is that it allows you to let off some steam and if the person was taking advantage - or not being honest - maybe they will change their ways in future? The bed sheets are currently being laundered at another laundry and should be ready this evening but it's probably a good idea to buy a second set.
The saying 'familiarity breeds contempt' seems particularly appropriate in Thailand. Service is often very good initially but goes downhill fast when people get to know you. It has happened to me at restaurants, apartment buildings, massage places and hair salons.
I changed laundries because the last place was messing me around and now the new place has done the same thing. About three months ago I changed where I get my hair cut because the old place started to keep me hanging around for ages.
The new place was superb at first but I had more problems last night when I went for a hair cut. The girl got half way through cutting my hair and then started doing someone else's hair before returning to finish mine 20 minutes later. I just sat there twiddling my thumbs, trying to hide how annoyed I was.
It was even more annoying because Iss was waiting for me while I was getting my hair cut so I wanted to be quick. Customer service levels in Thailand still have a long way to go to reach Western levels and later I will discuss some more theories as to why I think this is.
I am beginning to think that miracles can happen and if West Ham do actually manage to escape relegation this year it will be one of the greatest footballing miracles ever. What does not bode well is a trip to Old Trafford for the last game of the season.
West Ham have proven in the past on the last day of the season that they can be a match for the Red Devils but it is going to be a big ask to get anything from the fixture this year. I just hope that Man U have already secured the winners' title over Chelsea before the game takes place.
Being a Hammers fan, I have an affinity with underdogs and I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Manchester City. If I lived in Manchester, there is no question which team I would support.
It is therefore concerning to see what is going on at Manchester City at the moment. The square-faced one obviously has no shame about how he amassed his wealth or how he spends it and is using the same 'populist' tactics he used to woo rural Thai voters as he is using now to try to woo Manchester City.
Despite his rubber-faced, kind-uncle grin and his endless rhetoric, the man is as slippery as a Mekong catfish and more mercenary than the most cynical, hardened Pattaya bar girl. All I would say to Manchester City is to be very, very careful when dealing with him.
Saturday 28th April 2007
It hasn't been a very successful weekend so far. I went with Iss to the Thale Noi wetlands reserve in Phattalung province yesterday and we stayed overnight. Thale Noi is looking like an ecological disaster these days. When we went for the first time just over two years ago, it was wonderful.
Two years ago, it seemed as if almost every square inch of water was covered with a carpet of lotus flowers and there were birds everywhere. We went the following year hoping to see the same - or better - but it was disappointing.
Our third trip was in January this year and it was extremely disappointing. There were hardly any lotus flowers but we were told it was too early in the year and to come back in March or April. That's what we just did and there are still no lotus flowers - at least not where there used to be. I'm not sure why. There weren't too many birds either.
A few of my ex-students were studying the Thale Noi environment and ecosystems for their Master's degrees. I think I will try to get in touch with some of them to see if I can find out more.
Our trip didn't get off to the greatest of starts. A new central minivan station opened on Friday (the day we travelled). There used to be minivan stands all over town and depending on where you wanted to go, you had to know which stand to go to.
The individual stands have all been closed now and the vans have to leave from the central station. It's probably a good thing in the long run but it took us by surprise and also the drivers. Our driver didn't know how to get from the minivan station to the road to Phattalung.
He got there eventually but the extra mental effort involved obviously shut his brain down for the rest of the day. I was sitting in the front seat and as he drove towards some red lights, he continued accelerating at about the point he should have been slowing down.
This worried me but I didn't like to say anything. However, a few seconds later it was obvious he was going to drive straight through the red lights and I was forced to voice my concerns. "Fai dairng ... fai dairng ... fai dairng ... FAI DAIRNG!"
My shouting didn't do any good. He drove straight through the lights and was then forced to screech to a halt when he saw a motorbike in his path which we very nearly hit.
I just sat there with my head in my hands. After everything I have been saying in this blog recently, it was almost prophetic. The driver mumbled something that I couldn't understand and pointed to the amulets dangling from the passenger sun visor.
I have no doubts that my days are numbered before being involved in a serious road accident here.
After months of scorching hot weather, the monsoon arrived shortly after we arrived at Thale Noi. Our normal routine is to take a boat trip around the wetlands in the evening on the day we arrive and again the following morning before we return home.
Our evening trip had to be cancelled on this trip due to very wet weather. We had an early night so we could make an early start this morning. Thale Noi is normally very quiet but last night there was a large group of Thais who wanted to party all night. One was strumming a guitar (the way people do who can't actually play a guitar) and there was lots of drunken singing.
Neither of us got any real sleep and it was made worse by the public announcement system they have in Thale Noi. Huge loudspeakers mounted high up on poles blast out announcements at around 6am in the morning. The stuff this morning was about the funeral of an old local lady.
As we made our way to where the boats are located I wasn't feeling at all alert due to lack of sleep and didn't really fancy a boat trip. But then the rains came again anyway, forcing us to cancel. Instead of our usual two boat trips; on this trip there were none.
Before we left yesterday, Iss took the bed sheets to be laundered. It's something I normally do but I had to leave for work before the laundry opens. She told the woman we wanted them back the next day so, when we got back today, I went to collect them.
They were still sitting in the bag as they had been left and I was not happy. "Is tomorrow OK?" she kept asking me but tomorrow is not OK because I only have one set. She told me that a girl (Iss) had brought the sheets in and said she wanted them back tomorrow.
I tried to explain that because this happened yesterday, 'tomorrow' was actually today but she still kept saying tomorrow. Sometimes, living in Thailand is like living in a comedy sketch. It's like the sign in the pub for 'Free beer tomorrow' where the customer is always told to, "Come back tomorrow."
I had to return with the unlaundered sheets and put them back on the bed. As I said, it hasn't been a great weekend so far.
Thursday 26th April 2007
Yesterday was the hottest day in Tak Province for 47 years after the temperature reached 44°C. As I've mentioned quite a few times recently, this year's hot season is unbearably hot.
It was forecast last year that this year would be the hottest on record ever and the forecasters seem to have got it right. The weather is cooler in southern Thailand where I am located but still very uncomfortable.
In recent weeks during my free time I have been confined to my room on several occasions because it is just too hot to go outside. My electricity bill rocketed last month due to increased air-conditioner usage. Outside of the hot season I rarely use it.
You know when it's hot when the Thais start complaining and at the moment they complain all the time about the heat. It really is no fun at all.
Thursday 26th April 2007
My journey to work this morning summed up quite well my feelings about living in Thailand. There was some rain last night which cooled things down and I slept well. The night before was unbearably hot causing me not to sleep and I woke up feeling like crap. I never sleep with my air-conditioner on because it gives me a bad throat.
I was in a great mood when I left for work. I passed the crossroads where I saw the motorbike accident a couple of days and although the driving was exactly the same, there were no accidents today.
As usual there were stray dogs everywhere. One was wandering around dazed in the middle of the road oblivious to the traffic. It was one of those half dog/half pig things - pink with black spots and completely hairless.
Thailand often feels quite surreal. Motorbikes appear from nowhere and buzz in all directions. Tuk-tuks could almost be joke vehicles that Noddy and Big Ears would be embarrassed to travel in but they are a serious transport option here.
The whole atmosphere during rush hour time is frenetic, bordering on being chaotic. Sometimes it seems like fun but at other times it just seems, well, crazy. This morning, however, it felt like fun because of my good mood.
I walked past the private hospital and got some lovely smiles from a few of the nurses and that really made me feel good. I thought to myself, "I could spend the rest of my life here."
I then boarded a sawng-thaew (the converted pickup trucks with bench seats in the back) for the 10 minute journey to work which is normally quite uneventful. Not this morning though.
After a few minutes I realised that living the rest of my life in Thailand could very easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy, except that the rest of my life might end up being rather shorter than I had hoped.
The sawng-thaew driver drove off like a maniac - as many of them do - but after a few minutes slowed down and almost came to a halt. On the other side of the road were a lot of people looking across at our side of the road.
I had a pretty good idea what might have happened and then I saw it. There had been a fresh car accident on a stretch of road where there really shouldn't be many accidents.
The car involved didn't look as if it had been involved in a road accident. It looked as if it had been through a crusher. I should really buy a small camera to carry with me at all times to record these things. It was a horrific scene.
Never mind seat belts or air bags. There is no way the passengers travelling in that car could ever have come out alive.
I got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and let out a very audible, "Oh no, oh no." There were two girls in the sawng-thaew. Their reaction? They just smiled.
At the start of my lesson today, I asked my students quite passionately to please be careful riding their motorbikes and I told them about the accident. A few of them had also seen it. Their reaction? They all laughed.
There are things that I will never understand about Thailand regardless of how long I live here or how much I learn about the culture, religion and other belief system. I realise that in Buddhist thinking, death isn't quite as final as it might be considered elsewhere.
Existence is an eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. I know that but I still can't understand why people throw their lives away the way they do, and I can't understand the almost casual reaction to death. It's beyond me.
No matter how many accidents and deaths there are, the Thais seem to have no interest in changing their behaviour to prevent it happening to themselves or their loved ones. Nothing ever changes.
I can't understand it. All I can do is accept I will never understand it. I'm in my fourth year of living here now and so far (touch wood) I haven't been involved in any serious accidents. But for how much longer? I honestly think that it is only a matter of time.
Within about 15 minutes, from leaving my room this morning to arriving at work, my mood had changed from feeling great and wanting to spend forever more in Thailand, to feeling quite sad and thinking this country is completely mad.
As the British Isles gradually fill up with Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians, and British men head off in their droves to Latin America and Southeast Asia for a better life, could Mauritania be the country that starts to lure away British women? It sounds perfect for them.
"A thin girl could be blown away in the wind, people think she is a stick and she will never find a husband."
Force-feeding them to get the desired effect is completely unnecessary. Just like Thai girls and farang men, Mauritanian men and farang girls sounds like a match made in heaven. Better get the map out, girls.
Women, buses, taxis and job offers. There is never one when you need one and when they arrive, they come in threes.
Wednesday 25th April 2007
Why do some people have such difficulty seeing further than their own horizons? While I was working in the US in the 80s and 90s, differences between British and American English used to come up quite frequently.
The Americans thought that British English was hilarious while their version was perfectly normal, not seeming to be able to comprehend that other versions of the language existed and that people from other countries might actually think the same way about American English. Differences - as far as I am concerned - aren't right or wrong; they are just different.
To try to make my Thai students feel better yesterday, I illustrated some of the absurdities of the English language. It's easy because there are so many. There may only be five vowels in the English language but they change sound in different words with no explanation.
How is a non-native speaker new to English supposed to know that 'put' and 'but' don't rhyme? Two 'o's together can sound like the 'oo' in 'book' or the 'oo' in 'boot' (unless you're from certain areas of provincial England where they sound the same).
The combination of letters 'ough' can be pronounced in several different ways depending which word they are used in. A 'c' can sound like a 'k' as in cat, an 's' as in ceiling, or a 'sh' as in ocean. Etc. etc. etc.
This exercise was most amusing and went down well. However, I did try to make the point that similar things exist in their language, making it tricky for foreigners learning Thai.
For example, there are two consonants that on their own have 'T' and 'R' sounds but if used together make an 'S' sound instead of a 'TR'. A consonant that usually makes an 'R' sound on its own makes a 'U' sound when two are used together.
What was a little worrying was that there was no reaction or recognition that there was anything strange about this. They could understand the strange things about English but all the 'strange' things about their own language were perfectly normal and not strange at all.
I've also been trying to work on their pronunciation, explaining that English consonants keep the same sound regardless of whether they come at the beginning or the end of a syllable - unlike Thai.
For example, if you want to get to the famous Oriental Hotel in Bangkok by taxi, make sure you tell the driver 'Orientan' (and stress the last syllable) because an 'L' sound at the end of a Thai word becomes an 'N'.
I can explain all this writing in Thai but even so, the concept seems to be very difficult for Thais to grasp. This kind of insularity is a little bit concerning - especially in America. The world consists of a lot more countries than just the one we live in and they are all very different.
Tuesday 24th April 2007
It's really not funny at all but you have to laugh. From The Nation today:
"A well-known anti-drunk driving crusader (Doctor Thaejing Siriphanit) was injured when his car was crashed into by a speeding car driven by a drunk driver, police said.
Thaejing is the secretary-general of the Anti-Drunk Driving Foundation."
As I walked to work today there was another motorbike lying in the road, having just been hit by a car. The two young lads on the bike - one wearing a crash helmet and one without - weren't hurt. At the crossroads where the accident happened there are accidents all the time.
At a crossroads in the US (4-way stop), everyone stops. In the UK, traffic going in one direction will have right of way and traffic in the other direction will stop.
In Thailand, no one stops. When a motorcyclist comes to a junction, the last thing on his mind is stopping. They slow down but the primary objective is to keep going without stopping, whether they want to turn left or right or go straight on.
Most of the time, they get away with it but of course, if no one ever comes to a complete halt then there are going to be frequent accidents.
I will tell you later (if you don't know already) how Thai motorcyclists turn right at intersections without stopping. Remember, they drive on the left on Thailand.
So as not to mislead anyone, I should clarify my current relationship status. Throughout this web site there are various references to 'my girlfriend' but also some mentions of having fun with other girls which doesn't sound too good (even in Thailand where being jao choo is a way of life). I'm actually single again.
Iss moved out at the beginning of the year; a move I thought was temporary but it appears to be permanent. At some stage my feelings towards her changed. I love her to bits but started to think of her in the same way as a daughter or younger sister. I'm very protective towards her but for a long time I haven't regarded her as a girlfriend per se.
This kind of platonic relationship wasn't what she wanted or needed. She had also become very unhappy with her job and needed a complete change so she moved back home with her family. She now helps with her father's fish business and her aunts' restaurant businesses.
She seems very relaxed and happy. We speak every day by phone and have a trip planned together this weekend. She will also probably go with me to a wedding in Singapore in July. Our feelings for each other are still very strong but not in the same way they were before.
She's my best friend now. If I were to fall ill and needed someone to take care of me she would come straight back. I would also do anything I could to help her.
She's a fabulous person and perhaps I am making a big mistake but it's difficult to change your feelings about another person.
I am quite happy alone. I have lived alone for most of my adult life; I'm happy with my own company and have lots of interests with which to occupy my time. Another problem with Iss was meeting her far too soon. We met on the day after I arrived in Thailand.
The last thing on my mind at the moment is looking for another girlfriend. In England the search for a girlfriend became all-consuming but in Thailand I'm not bothered. In a desert, it's difficult not to think about water all the time but in the land of a million lakes, who cares?
Some farangs in Thailand treat life here as a kind of sexual Olympics, describing their sexual adventures in intimate detail on blogs, with one guy (at least) even posting anatomical pictures. I have needs but I'm not obsessed and just take my fun as it comes. All I worry about is not hurting anyone in the process. Life is actually pretty damn good at the moment.
I can communicate fairly well with the girls in their native language (as long as they speak the central dialect), I'm healthy, I have all my own hair and teeth, my finances are good and (strangely) the things about me that farang girls hated, the Thai girls seem to like. They are also not put off by big age gaps.
Some years ago, a comedian called Armando Iannucci had a TV show in the UK and I remember one sketch very well. The sketch was about a special retirement home for single men over the age of 42. It was for comedic effect but, as always with the best comedy, there was a large element of truth involved. Even after 30, single men do not generally fare very well with the opposite sex in Western countries.
Not so in Thailand. It really is no surprise that the majority of expats here are men. It's a good feeling when the shoe is very firmly on the other foot. The women's liberation movement didn't get very far and political correctness doesn't exist but I'm not complaining.
In my opinion, Western societies have got it all wrong and the result is that many people - of both sexes - are now unsatisfied and unhappy. The majority of Thais may be poorer financially than Westerners but I wager that their happiness index is a lot higher. The same can probably be said for most foreign men who make the move East.
Monday 23rd April 2007
It's always good to get some positive feedback about these blog entries, so Peter, thank you for your very welcome comments. Following on from my tip last week about drinking more water while living in a tropical country, here's another.
If you like cats, make sure before you pick one up that its arse is clean. Doing so should avoid conversations that go along the following lines:
"Sniff, sniff - what's that foul stench?"
"It's me; I've got cat shit on my shirt."
"Ah, OK, I thought that's what it was. Why don't you buy some durian? It might help to mask the smell."
It was an old shirt fortunately that has now been thrown away.
Thailand loves to prove me wrong. It has happened so many times in the past, I have stopped counting. Whenever I've had bad experiences, good ones have inevitably followed quite soon after. I know now that it is impossible to generalise about anything because there will always be exceptions.
Three days ago I said that I had never met a good-time university girl and, at the time, it was completely true. After three-and-a-half years of living in the country, or thereabouts, I never had.
I went for a massage this evening and my chosen Mor Nuat was a young lady who attends university in Bangkok but works as a masseuese for a month and a half in the summer holidays. She was 20 and I am a year younger than her mother; not that age gaps seem to worry Thai girls in the slightest - unlike their farang counterparts.
Without going into too many details, let's just say we got along rather well and, as I said above ... Thailand loves to prove me wrong. It was all very unexpected but I certainly walked out with a spring in my step. As the tourist authority slogan says, 'Amazing Thailand'. What a country.
Saturday 21st April 2007
The Jatukham Rammathep amulet craze has reached epidemic proportions. Another amulet shop near to where I live has suddenly opened and yesterday I saw a gift shop owner taking delivery of a new banner he'd just had made advertising the fact he now sells Jatukham amulets.
Nakhon Sri Thammarat (home of the Jatukham craze), along with Phattalung, is one of the places I escape to when I feel the need to retreat into 'real' Thailand and get away from all the tourist nonsense. On previous visits I have just turned up at the hotel I normally stay at and there are always loads of rooms available.
The Nation reported a few days ago that since the Jatukham craze began, all hotel rooms in Nakhon Sri Thammarat have been sold out, as have all flights from Bangkok to Nakhon. People are having to fly to Krabi and get buses to Nakhon.
I was speaking to a doctor about the current craze last week - a very clever man who speaks virtually fluent English. He just rolled his eyes in disbelief about the whole thing and told me about the enormous profit margins of the amulet trade. Many of them cost very little to make and are being sold at huge mark ups.
It's no wonder then that everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon and grab some of the money. The doctor I was speaking to has never bought an amulet but owns many as a result of happy patients giving them to him as presents.
I called in to see a friend last night who is a local entrepreneur business owner and radio DJ. He had a Jatukham amulet hanging around his neck and I couldn't resist asking some questions. He won't admit to believing but it seems that he doesn't want to take any chances which is his reason for having one.
When I thought about it though, I am probably just the same. I wouldn't admit to being superstitious but I walk around ladders in the street and not under them - just in case. You never know!
This is how many Thais seem to feel. They won't admit to believing or disbelieving but they have a Jatukham amulet - just in case. It's a kind of spiritual insurance policy. I haven't taken the plunge yet. Maybe I will and maybe I won't.
What worries me more than anything else is that many Thai men sporting huge amulets around their necks bear more than a passing resemblance to 1970s 'Medallion Men' (but without the hairy chests and platform shoes) and this really isn't the image I wish to portray.
Seriously, I can't help believe there must be a connection between this particular Thai belief system and the carnage on the roads. If you're driving a bus at speed downhill along a single lane mountain road and want to overtake a line of pickup trucks, what can possibly go wrong when you have a bunch of Jatukham amulets swinging from the rear-view mirror to protect you?
The weather is perfect at the moment. It's perfect for drying clothes (I did some hand laundry yesterday which was bone dry within an hour); and it's perfect for staying in an air-conditioned room all day doing various computer work and lesson planning.
It's always good to get confirmation about some of the points I make - just in case anyone thinks I make this stuff up. Roads the biggest killer of teens.
Thailand is a classic example; a point I have been making repeatedly for a long time. It's a serious social problem yet it is something that could so easily be improved. Here's a direct link to the WHO report: Road traffic crashes leading cause of death among young people
"Road traffic accidents, not Aids, cancer or any other disease, are the biggest killer of young people worldwide, experts warn.
Nearly 400,000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled.
Most occur in low income countries, such as Africa, and are avoidable."
Friday 20th April 2007
I received a call yesterday about a full-time English teaching position at the Prince of Songkhla university, Surat Thani campus. I'm not interested for a number of reasons, not least because I don't want to move from where I am, but if anyone is I have an e-mail address you can to write to. Just drop me a line.
If I understood correctly, interview candidate selection is 5th May; interviews will be held on the 10th; and the successful applicant will be notified on the 13th. Applicants should have a minimum one year experience of teaching in Thailand. Those interested should send their resume for consideration before 30th April.
For those not familiar with working at a Thai university, it's a pretty relaxed and comfortable kind of atmosphere. The pay isn't great (Bt19,000 per month for the first year) but free accommodation is provided and you can eat for almost nothing (provided you don't mind eating basic Thai food for every meal). You will also get lots of holidays.
An English teaching job at a Thai university is not for bluffers or blaggers trying to fund their existence in Thailand by doing the easiest thing possible. Being able to speak English, unfortunately, is not a sufficient qualification to be able to teach it.
Bluffers and blaggers can get away with 'teaching' young kids who don't know any better but many Thai students in higher education (Master's Degree and above) have a technical knowledge of English way beyond that of most native speakers.
If you don't know your past perfect from your present perfect; you can't distinguish your active voice from your passive voice; you can't spell; and you use apostrophes the same way as a high street grocer, then this probably isn't the job for you. You will be exposed very quickly.
For foreign males who may have ulterior motives for working at a Thai university - other than improving the students' English - it is maybe appropriate at this juncture to separate fact from fiction and dispel a few myths.
I don't have figures to back this up, but from my observations there are a lot more female students at Thai universities than male. Many of them are very nice looking girls - a fact they are well aware of - and they dress to show it off.
Even though they are bound by uniform rules, it is remarkable how different two girls can look dressed in a black skirt and white blouse. The same very pretty girls will smile (and some will openly flirt) with farang teachers.
There's nothing wrong with that but don't expect anything more than some smiles and occasional flirting. Thai females - especially university students - are some of the most conservative females I have ever met in my life.
For a long time now, I have heard a story circulating about university girls who sell their bodies to get money for clothes and mobile phones, etc. The story is mainly circulated by Thai people and the Thai media - not by foreigners - but I have never personally seen any evidence. Perhaps I'm just unlucky?
No doubt it has happened - and still happens - but it is certainly not normal behaviour and I think stories about this kind of behaviour have been wildly exaggerated. There is nothing the Thai media likes more than a juicy story about moral decay in the country and they can be just as sensationalist - if not more so - than the foreign media.
It's been several years since I passed through Surat Thani and, from what I remember, there isn't a great deal in the main town. It's basically a typical Thai provincial town. The province is quite pretty (home to Wat Suan Mokkh, one of the most famous meditation retreats in Thailand, founded by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu) and, of course, it is the gateway to Koh Samui - if that kind of thing appeals to you (it doesn't me).
The final road accident figures for Songkran 2007 were 361 dead and 4,805 injured. 90.56% of accidents involved motorbikes and 'many' (although the figures don't say exactly how many) accidents were due to drunk-driving.
The overall number of accidents was up on last year but the number of deaths slightly down. Next year (and the year after, and the year after that ...), exactly the same thing will happen. It's as predictable in Thailand as finding pieces of pulverised crab in your som-tum.
Tuesday 17th April 2007
I needed to do a border run today at Dannok on the Malaysian border. It was pretty routine apart from a series of irrelevant questions as I was exiting Malaysia about why I was going into Thailand.
The questions might have been relevant coming from Thai immigration as I attempted to re-enter Thailand but what I do in Thailand has nothing to do with Malaysian immigration.
I assume the ones I used to see were perpetual 30-day border runners and either they have got proper visas now or they have gone elsewhere.
From my own observations, and from what I can glean from various forum postings, Thai immigration are taking the new regulations seriously. They are counting the number of days people without visas have spent in the country and not allowing cumulative stays of over 90 days within any six month period.
Normally, I go straight back after getting a new stamp but today I spent a while looking around Dannok. It's a strange place. The surrounding area contains lots of nothingness. There are acres upon acres of rubber plantations and several factories producing finished rubber products, such as rubber gloves.
Dannok - like other towns on the Malaysian border - is the way it is purely because of its proximity to Malaysia; the fact that Malaysia is a Muslim country; and the fact that the economy in Malaysia is quite strong.
I can only assume that Karaoke singing is banned under Islamic law and the desire to wail into a microphone just gets too much for the poor souls.
The Thais have recognised the problem and built towns all along the border choc-a-bloc full of Karaoke bars just so the poor men can sing to their hearts content. They've even brought down hundreds of girls from the other end of the country just to operate the Karaoke equipment. How kind.
The fair-skinned girls, many of whom come from northern Thailand and are used to a cooler climate, don't like hot weather and I think this explains why they prefer to wear lighter, more comfortable clothing - as shown in the photos. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
With such an obvious love for music and the arts, Indian and Chinese Malaysians must surely be some of the most sophisticated and cultured people in Southeast Asia. But I knew that anyway from my time spent in southern Thailand. OK, ah?
Monday 16th April 2007
"Hello Frog, have you seen Chicken?"
"Oh hi Shrimp, yes, she just went shopping with Fish and Crab."
"OK, if you see her can you tell I'm having lunch with Pig?"
Thai nicknames can sound a little strange once you understand what they mean. The reason (once again) lies in ancient animist and spiritual belief systems that existed long before Buddhism came to Thailand.
It was (is?) believed that ghosts (phi) shape clay into the shape of a child which is then placed into a woman's womb and a conception follows. When the child is born the phi visits within three days and if it likes what it sees it will take the child.
Obviously, for the child to get into the same realm as the phi, what this actually means is that the child must die first. The Thais have a saying, "Saam wun look phi, sii wun look kon" (Three days a phi's child, four days a human child).
Within the first three days of life the baby is very vulnerable to being snatched by the phi so parents take precautions against this happening. One way is to make the child sound undesirable by giving it an undesirable nickname and these nicknames last throughout the life of the person. OK, Fatty?
The theory is good but there could be a problem if the phi is partial to seafood.
The Songkran road death toll after five days stands at 273 (with 3,832 injured) and there have been yet more bus accidents.
As I said before, the worst tragedies can take place - and there have been several in recent weeks - but nothing ever changes.
There has been the usual knee-jerk reaction after flash floods killed 37 in Trang province with various officials spewing forth rhetoric about installing watchtowers, loudspeakers and sirens (exactly the same as happened after the 2004 tsunami).
It's all very well but natural disasters are impossible to predict and very difficult to guard against. It's tragic that 37 people died in Trang but I can't understand the reaction to these kind of events when similar numbers of people die on Thailand's roads every single day and nothing is done.
Most road deaths in Thailand are very preventable and it's one area where the government could take effective measures to seriously reduce the number of premature deaths in the country. It's a strange attitude - almost as if road deaths are regarded as natural deaths which they certainly aren't.
Sunday 15th April 2007
About five of my students went together to Trang province for Songkran (I'm not sure where, exactly). With fears of terrorism in certain parts of the country, the last thing anyone was expecting was a natural disaster in Trang but that's what has happened.
Why is it that the people who spoil life in Thailand are nearly always foreigners?
"The purpose of bathing or splashing water in the Songkran Festival is to give and request for blessings through water, not for the rigorous water war."
This, and other tips for Songkran, can be found at Songkran Splendours.
From what I can gather, the rowdy scenes in central Hat Yai caused by Chinese Malaysian tourists were replicated in other areas of Thailand where there are large numbers of farangs. Perhaps I'm just getting old but this boorish, inconsiderate behaviour from people who don't have a clue about Thailand or Thai culture just isn't something I want to be a part of.
It's the same for many Thais, especially girls, who are afraid to go outside at Songkran. I'm not afraid, but having four or five Chinese Malaysians blast me in the face (and only the face) with water from a few feet away just pisses me off and I don't want to run the risk of being arrested for assaulting one of them.
It's a time for gentle fun and to pay respect, not a one day excuse for behaving in a way towards strangers that is totally unacceptable.
Yes, as maybe you can tell, I am still annoyed about having my enjoyment cut short by a few idiots on Friday but I will try to end my Songkran 2007 rant here. However, I'm not yet finished with Malaysians - the worst sex tourists in Thailand.
I needed to escape yesterday and one of my favourite retreats is Phattalung province. It's a gorgeous province with limestone karsts, lots of water and some of the most abundant bird life I have ever seen.
There is also quite a lot of rice grown in Phattalung and the newly planted crop has recently emerged from the water of the paddies. The particular shade of green of rice fields has to be one of the most relaxing and beautiful colours on earth.
One day in the future - provided things continue to work out well - I would like to live in a traditional Thai house surrounded by rice fields with mountains in the background.
Despite Phattalung being such a beautiful province, there are virtually no farangs. A handful live there - men perhaps whose partners come from Phattalung, or those who just want a quiet life - and the only tourists I have ever seen were elderly ones in a group tour of the Thale Noi wetlands area.
Perhaps the explanation for this absence of foreigners has to do with what Phattalung lacks, rather than what it has? Few people speak English; there are no beaches, no luxury hotels, no fast-food restaurant chains, no Starbucks, no Siam Paragon-style designer shopping malls, no massage parlours and no prostitution.
Without wishing to be hypocritical, I don't think I would be completely comfortable living an isolated existence in deepest, darkest Thailand. I go for frequent massages, enjoy western food once or twice a week, and that house I mentioned will need to be fairly close to a decent-size provincial town.
It just seems a shame though to visit or live in Thailand and to only experience life in a confined tourist or expat bubble when experiencing the Thai way of life can be so rewarding. I have tried to balance my life to get the best of both worlds.
It really depends on the reasons why foreigners come to Thailand in the first place; reasons that - often - are as transparent as a very clear piece of glass.
The Songkran road accident toll currently stands at 169 dead and 2,296 injured. The figures aren't broken down by gender or age but I would bet my house that most are young and male, and died or were injured as a result of being drunk while riding motorbikes at great speed.
Nature does a pretty good job of balancing the sexes at birth but the adult population of Thailand certainly seems to have far more females than males. After living in Thailand for a while it starts to become clear why this is.
They're nice young lads generally who under normal circumstances wouldn't dream of harming other people. However, it is well known that the male brain doesn't mature fully until the age of 20 to 25 (and this male was no exception, being a real tearaway up until the age of around 21).
The problem in Thailand is the degree of freedom that exists. When I was at that stupid age (fortunately for me) I wasn't allowed to get drunk and race around on a motorbike with two of my mates on the pillion with no one wearing crash helmets. I wasn't even allowed to have a motorbike.
The first obstacle was my parents but, even had I managed to get past them, the police would have got me fairly quickly. The majority of young Thai males do not have such obstacles. They apparently have lots of parental freedom and the police do not constitute any kind of an effective deterrent.
It is not uncommon to see kids of 10 and 11 riding motorbikes and to see 15 and 16 year-olds drinking beer and riding motorbikes. It's sad and if the Thais really wanted to fix the problem they could but it just seems to be lip service.
On the way to Phattalung province yesterday, there were anti drink driving signs posted all along the road and messages are often written across road bridges but the signs, messages and campaigns are just ignored.
Drink driving was a common feature of British life up until the 1970s and maybe beyond. What happened was that the government orchestrated a long-term campaign to make it socially acceptable. It was very effective.
As a result, the socially unacceptable aspect of drink driving made it self-policing. Drunken people seen getting into cars to drive home were looked upon as social pariahs by their friends, relatives and peer groups, and this had a powerful effect.
That - combined with very strict law enforcement and harsh sentencing - has pretty much eliminated drink driving in much of the Western world apart from the odd incident, of course, and a rise over the Christmas and New Year party season.
It can be done. If there is a will, there is a way, but first there has to be a genuine will.
Update: The first four days of Songkran have so far resulted in 236 deaths and 3,182 injuries from road accidents. And it's not over yet.
Some warm weather has arrived in the UK and, reading through the reports, I can almost hear the joy in people's voices. I too remember how good the first rays of spring sunshine felt after months of cold, wet, gloomy weather. The British winter can be extremely depressing and it actually causes some people to seek medical help and/or to use artificial light boxes as a sun substitute.
The medical term is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and yes, I used to be a SAD person. The thing I found most depressing about living in England was the sun disappearing at 3:30pm in the depths of winter; and once you get up into Scotland and Scandinavia, it gets even worse.
How different in Thailand. Having ventured no farther than Chiang Rai to the north or Singapore to the south since I arrived, I can barely remember the last occasion I actually experienced cold weather. I left the UK in September 2003 after a very hot UK summer so I guess it must have been the early part of 2003. How welcome a few blasts of cool air would be right now.
Ironically, on Songkran day when millions of gallons of ice-cold water were being thrown around, there was a huge storm making it the wettest and coolest day for many a long month.
Today is brutally hot once again. There is a big beach-volleyball competition taking place at Samila Beach at the moment. This morning I was thinking about going along to take some photos but after being outside for most of the day yesterday, I just can't face another day of intense heat.
That's what living in a constantly hot climate does to you. The Thais are very reclusive in the heat and that's how I have become. It is no wonder they look at farang tourists openly basking in the midday sun as if they are completely mad.
Friday 13th April 2007
Happy Songkran Day!
Marks out of 100: Thais - 100; Chinese Malaysians - 0
I resisted the urge to buy a really bright Songkran shirt this year, favouring this little number with traditional figures. The shops are full of Songkran shirts just before the main event. This one was approved by several female shoppers.
With everything in Thailand from clothes to cars to notebook computers, the most important thing is appearance. Who cares what's inside the computer or how it performs as long as it is suwaay?
The day started off very pleasantly with some gentle squirts and lots of polite behaviour from polite Thai people. A few were ultra-respectful; pouring water containing jasmine flowers over my hands from small tin cups. That was one of the high points of the day.
One guy squirted me and then noticed I was carrying a camera. He started to apologise profusely which was completely unnecessary as the camera was in an underwater housing intended for scuba diving. As I walked further into the centre of town, the celebrations started to get more boisterous but everything still had lots of Thai politeness and respect.
Before I came to Thailand to live I didn't really have an opinion of Malaysia or Malaysians but over a period of time I have developed one. It's not particularly good and today it got worse. I know some very pleasant Malaysians but the ones who visit Thailand regularly for cheap weekends seem to come from the bottom of the barrel.
My eyes aren't great these days, especially after contracting a very nasty fungal infection a couple of years ago which caused irregular astigmatism in one eye. I need to wear one neutral hard contact lens in that eye just to pull the eye back into shape, in addition to eyeglasses to correct myopia.
After all the politeness and respect from Thais, I was assaulted by Chinese Malaysian tourists who started squirting high-powered water guns straight into my face from point-blank range. The water on my glasses made it impossible to see and then a powerful jet of water dislodged my contact lens.
I was forced to return to my room to sort out the contact lens problem and after getting out of my wet clothes and taking a shower, I didn't have the inclination to go out again. My fun had been ended by a handful of Chinese Malaysian idiots. Thanks guys.
There was a Thai TV crew in town filming the fun. The cameraman had done his best to protect his camera by keeping it inside plastic but the front part of the lens was exposed. I watched a Chinese Malaysian standing six feet in front of him squirting water directly at the lens.
The cameraman had to intervene and tell him to stop. What was the guy trying to prove? That he could damage the camera by continually squirting water at the only vulnerable part? They just don't get it.
I don't know whether to feel anger or pity towards them. On several occasions I've seen Chinese Malaysians screaming at Thai shopkeepers and salon owners for discounts. It seems incredible that anyone can be so rude but when I speak to the Thais they tell me they are always the same.
They never look happy and even when they talk among themselves they shout, sneer and appear aggressive. I have been told this is their culture and they don't know any different. Thais, being extremely tolerant, just put up with them. I wouldn't be able to and I would flip eventually but I'm not Thai.
They seem clueless that their behaviour might actually offend other people. I complained to a restaurant manager on one occasion. He just shrugged his shoulders and told me, "They are Malaysians."
A massage place I go to is frequented by lots of Malaysians. The gents toilet also has 'No Smoking' signs but the urinals are always full of cigarette ends because Chinese Malaysians have no respect for other people.
Today was no different. I expect they could see no difference between the polite Thai behaviour that was going on all around them and unloading their water guns in someone's face from three feet away. Ignorance is bliss and they have an abundance of it.
Several hours have now passed and my initial anger has subsided. Had I written this earlier, my words would have been very different.
Yes, pity is what I feel for them. I also feel pity for the poor Thai girls from impoverished parts of the country who need money so desperately to support their families that they are forced to have sex with them. Life can't get much worse than that.
There were absolutely no problems with any Thais today but the young boys just get over excited and don't seem to able to control themselves. There were several motorbike groups and when riding in packs they develop a pack mentality.
As one lad starts to rev his engine and tries to get his front wheel off the ground, all the rest follow. I wasn't out very long before I started to hear sirens and saw the ambulances and emergency rescue vehicles. It's a shame that on what is meant as a fun occasion so many will end up dead and injured.
According to The Nation, the Songkran death toll is now up to 98 with 1,234 injured; drunken driving being responsible for many accidents. There was certainly no shortage of booze around today.
The main Songkran day is over for another year. People keep telling me I should go to Chiang Mai for Songkran and perhaps that's what I will do next year. The further away from the Malaysian border, the better. Jeremy Clarkson was right; Perodua Kelisa does sound like a very nasty disease. OK, ah?
Are you superstitious? It's said to be unlucky to get a haircut on a Wednesday in Thailand; monks have to arrive in odd numbers; and incredible faith is placed in magical charms and amulets.
Talking of which, I was informed yesterday that if I wish to purchase a Jatukham Rammathep amulet this month, I must do so on the 18th and not before. This may be because 18 is a multiple of nine (which is a lucky number in Thailand) - I'm not sure. Prices of amulets always contain nines; Bt999 being a popular price.
The Jatukham craze continues to go from strength to strength. The latest story I've heard (as reported in Thairath, apparently) was of one man attempting to shoot another in Nakhon Sri Thammarat but the bullet was prevented from entering his body as a result of the saksit power contained in his Jatukham amulet.
I think I need one to bring me luck and keep me out of harm's way but I still have five days to wait before I can make a purchase.
Thais consult astrologers regarding auspicious dates for any important occasion. I recently asked a girl I know if she had had her car blessed by a monk after buying it. She didn't but she admitted to having bought it on an auspicious day, as told to her by her grandmother.
On the other side of the world, lots of people will have superstitious beliefs about today's date but it means nothing to the Thais, just as getting their hair cut on a Wednesday means nothing to Westerners. What a strange lot we are.
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