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  • Living in Thailand Blog April 2009


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Welcome to Planet Thailand


Living In Thailand Blog

Tuesday 7th April 2009

After wintering in Singapore like migrating birds, my parents flew back to England on Saturday evening. My mother was robbed of her handbag at Heathrow airport just after landing. One minute it was there; and the next it wasn't. Welcome to the UK.

I was talking to a Filipino the other day who had left his Bt20,000 video camera in a small Thai restaurant. It took him a while to realise, but when he went back three hours later the camera was in safe custody with the people who run the restaurant. I have experienced similar things in Thailand.

Rather than this being a case of Thais being a lot more honest than Brits, I think this is more indicative of how things are in big cities and big airports compared to quieter areas.

The vast majority of people are honest. The dishonest people head to places where they can take advantage of others more easily. They know that a lot of people arriving at international airports are in unfamiliar territory and/or they are tired after long flights.

My parents are getting old, they'd just arrived after a long flight, and no doubt they had taken full advantage of the complementary in-flight beverages.

There are a few places in the world where this kind of thing is very unusual. Singapore is one such example. Perhaps my parents had also got a little too accustomed to the safety of Singapore and had let their guard down slightly upon arriving in London?

Singapore, unfortunately, is an exception. In places like London, Bangkok, Manila, etc., it is when you feel most tired and most disorientated that you have to be most on your guard.

After collecting your baggage and making your way through the arrivals hall into the heat and humidity outside be very careful, at least until you reach the relative safety of a hotel room.

The primary objective of most developing countries now seems to be to reach a stage where they are regarded as fully developed countries. Malaysia has its 'Vision 20-20' which aims to do this by the year 2020; but Malaysia is a country that still has laws in place to give special rights to one race over others. How developed is that?

One of my friends feels it is his duty to send me every chain e-mail being sent around the Internet and one of his favourite subjects is Dubai. The public image is one of a highly successful, prosperous, and fair country.

Lots of fabulous developments are taking place (Dubai can now claim the world's tallest building) and it is promoted as the favoured place for the rich and famous to rest and relax. Many celebrities have homes in Dubai.

Interestingly, Malaysia claimed the world's tallest building for a while. Constructing tall buildings seems to be a big thing with developing countries that are trying to make their mark on the world.

Readers of the BBC news site outside the UK are forced to watch adverts now and a recent advertiser was the Jumeirah Group, a Dubai hotel operator. Their adverts featured beautiful people enjoying the high life in expensive Jumeirah hotels.

But there is another side to Dubai: Dark side of the Dubai dream

The workers used to create all the fabulous new developments come from extreme poverty. They are paid a pittance for working long hours and they are forced to live in conditions that are not fit for humans.

Any country with genuine ambitions of becoming fully developed would address these problems properly. Dubai's response is just to hide this kind of stuff from view and to apply extreme censorship. The BBC reporters had to work undercover with hidden equipment, but even then they faced many problems getting this story out.

This is a short-sighted approach and I don't think the Dubai authorities have realised what a powerful force the Internet is. At one time only rich and powerful media organisations could get a message to the world but now anyone can do it. A video posted to YouTube can be seen by 20 million people straight away.

This is the power the Internet and digital camera technology have given everyone today.

Whatever the authorities do to prevent this kind of story getting out, they will always fail. The only way to fix these problems is to fix them properly; not by using censorship and attempting to hide their failings from the rest of the world.

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Sunday 5th April 2009

You can wander around provincial Thailand and think you are anonymous because you don't see anyone you know - and no one seems to pay much attention to you - but you are far from anonymous. I guess that Bangkok isn't quite the same because of the mass of people, but that there are similarities in the areas in which you live or work.

I've met many Thais for the first time who I know nothing about but they know all kinds of things about me. One guy not only knew where I lived but where my room was. They know what I do for work, where I work, and where I eat most frequently.

When I met my current boss for the first time last year I had never seen her before but she had known about me for years because her cousin is a friend of mine.

I went to a restaurant I had never eaten at the other night and was served by a waitress I had never met before. We got chatting as it was time to pay my bill and she told me she sees me often. I then found out that when she isn't waitressing she works at a clinic which is opposite where I feed the street cats most evenings.

I walk alone with a bag of food, feed the cats, and return. It's always dark, there are no people walking around because Thais don't like to walk, and I assume that no one sees me. How wrong.

Thais are very observant and many don't have a great deal to do. I don't know how the security guards at my apartment avoid dying of boredom. They just hang around in the car park for 12 hour shifts doing nothing apart from watching people come and go.

Whenever they see me leaving or arriving they ask where I am going or where I have been. Presumably they do this with everyone, and thus they get to know about everyone's movements and activities.

With my students, they often tell me they saw me some place or other but I certainly didn't see them. This visibility I have as a foreigner in town has altered the way I behave. It would not be good to be seen at certain places and I am always conscious that someone is watching.

Even when an inconsiderate driver almost runs me over, I try to control my reaction just in case the driver is someone who knows me!

This doesn't just apply to foreigners. I was talking to my boss about a bar but she told me it had closed down now. I didn't know because I don't participate in the bar scene. However, she knows the previous owner and knew what he was doing now, and where.

Don't ever think that people don't know what you are doing in Thailand. It's a very close-knit community and Thais make a point of knowing what other people are doing.

An inquiry has just been held into the Santika nightclub blaze that killed 66 people on New Year's Eve: Disturbing details in Thai blaze inquiry

The nightclub wasn't registered as an entertainment venue, but as a private residence. This was because it is located in an area where nightclubs are banned.

The report goes on to say that because it was only registered as a house, then it wasn't subject to any safety inspections. The BBC says, "... the failure by the police and the city authorities to act against a club that was so obviously illegal is hard to explain."

Not really.

Look at some of the quotes in the story I have linked to if you need any more clues, or read this report.

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Saturday 4th April 2009

For the first time in almost two years I am feeling optimistic again.

The G20 summit in London seems to have gone well and has been well received by the stock markets. We are being told that financial markets and hedge funds will actually start to be regulated. The other piece of news was that UK house prices are going up again.

I thought that we were already supposed to have financial regulators but by all accounts they weren't doing their jobs. Someone reported Bernard Madoff a few years ago because they said the returns on his investments were impossible without there being some kind of a fraud. Nothing was ever found.

Last year was the worst year of my life and I never want to go through another year like 2008. When future historians look back at this period I think they will say that what happened was necessary because of all the stupidity that went on before. Anyway, I hope we are now over the worst.

On a personal front, I have just finished my teaching commitments for a while and have a long break (which I found out yesterday will be a paid break).

I haven't made any definite plans yet but first I need to get some work done at home and I will probably do some travelling in Thailand after Songkran. I need to do some stuff in Bangkok and as it's been three years since I last visited the capital I will probably take the opportunity to play tourist there for a while.

My feelings about the City of Angels are very mixed. There are some fantastic restaurants, great museums, and all the Thai culture you could ever want. The shopping is also very good.

On the negative side, there are just too many cars and too many people - and far too many farangs. I am planning to go at the peak of the hot season and with so much tarmac and concrete in the city it gets extremely hot. The heat combined with the air pollution can get quite uncomfortable.

With so many farang tourists, Bangkok is a Thai con-artist's dream and as a farang I know I will be hassled all the time while walking around. This is something I don't experience at all in the provinces but it always happens in Bangkok.

There are also a couple of provincial towns I am quite interested in seeing - Lopburi and Phitsanulok - and Mae Hong Son is a place I have long wanted to visit. However, nothing is fixed and I will just go where the wind takes me.

All I know is that I won't be going to beaches or islands. There are lots of those in the south near to where I live but they bore the pants off me. Give me a dirty provincial Thai town with a working heart any day, but please don't make me sit on sand staring at coconut trees.

Once again, I find myself writing quite negatively about Thailand. You may wonder why I choose to live in Thailand if there is so much 'bad stuff' going on; and it would be a valid question.

If you read the book by John Laird that I mentioned yesterday, you will not come away with a positive impression of Thailand. In fact, it's a damning account of Thai politics, Thai management of the environment, the patronage system, and so on.

Yet, at the back of the book is a photo of John Laird holding his favourite cat looking very happy and contented. Where does he live? He lives in Hua Hin ... or at least he did when the book was published.

If Thailand was that bad, none of us would live here. It's not bad at all. We live here because we don't know anywhere that is better overall.

Nowhere is perfect. The problem with Thailand is that if you just visit for a few weeks (as most tourists do) it can seem perfect. Even if you come back 20 times as a tourist and stay for a few weeks it can still seem perfect.

There's another side to Thailand that doesn't start to become evident until you have lived in the country continuously for quite a long time. I write about this side of Thailand for various reasons. The first is purely for selfish reasons.

A lot of what I see hurts me. When I see new-born chicks thrown in the back of a pickup truck and left to die in the midday sun, that hurts. Seeing so many cats and dogs born on the streets only to die a few weeks later hurts.

The unnecessary loss of so much innocent life on Thailand's roads hurts. Seeing the blind man with a serious congenital skin disease and his young daughter - who suffers from the same condition - sitting in the midday sun on top of a pedestrian bridge begging for money hurts.

Lots of things about Thailand hurt me and I need a way to get this stuff off my chest. This blog gives me a channel through which to vent.

If you have been seduced by 'perfect' Thailand as a tourist and plan to live in the country permanently, then hearing some alternative accounts might help you to set your expectations more realistically.

I try to point out the areas in which you may experience problems, and I try to give advice on how to avoid or lessen those problems.

Finally, by trying to explain some of the cultural behaviour (which is the thing that fascinates me most about Thailand) I might be able to explain strange behaviour.

The first year in Thailand drove me nuts because people kept acting strangely and I didn't know why. They wouldn't explain why, and other Thais wouldn't (or couldn't) tell me. However, things are a lot clearer now - most of the time.

Does your request involve asking a Thai to impose upon a superior? If you suddenly meet a brick wall then you could be the victim of greng jai.

If a Thai doesn't know something, or doesn't have something, and starts acting strangely or gives you false information it could be because of a potential loss of face. "I don't know," or "I don't have any," may be perfectly reasonable answers in the West but can cause a loss of face in Thailand and other parts of Asia.

Shortly after I first arrived, I heard about a local monument and asked a tuk-tuk driver to take me. We got to the entrance and he stopped. Even though I thought we had agreed to go to the monument, he refused to go any further than the entrance.

What I found out later was that the monument was at the top of a steep hill and his low-powered tuk-tuk didn't have enough horse power to make the ascent. However, he didn't make any attempt to explain this at the time, leaving me extremely confused.

Language is another huge barrier. The majority of Thais are very weak at English, and they don't expect foreigners to be able to speak or read Thai. Their initial approach to foreigners is that they won't be able to communicate and this doesn't change even if the foreigner demonstrates some Thai language skills.

So, to summarise. Nowhere is perfect. Everywhere has good points and bad points and it is necessary to choose the most suitable place for you to live depending on the things that are important to you personally.

Before I came to Thailand I travelled quite a lot. After weighing up the pros and cons of everywhere I had been, Thailand still came out as the most suitable place for me to live. John Laird must have come to a similar conclusion.

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Friday 3rd April 2009

Westerners who are used to Western levels of customer service may be in for a surprise or two in Thailand. I was talking to a young Spanish lad living in Thailand the other day about the wireless Internet connection in his apartment. It doesn't work.

He called the person responsible but this guy obviously doesn't know what to do. He tried calling again - several times - but the Thai responsible had decided the best course of action was not to answer his calls.

This was confirmed when he used his girlfriend's phone and the call was answered immediately. No doubt this surprised the Thai guy but now all it means is that he two numbers he will ignore in future.

This kind of response isn't that unusual in Thailand. In the West it usually pays to persevere and make a nuisance of yourself if you have a problem but in Thailand you will just be ignored. If you phone, your calls won't be answered; but even if you complain face-to-face you will still be ignored.

There have been times when I have simply become invisible in Thailand. If I'm not getting the service I want and push too hard, the Thai will simply act as if I'm not there. They will continue speaking Thai to Thais around them but they won't look at me and won't respond if I speak. The invisible farang.

Even in a learning environment, if I push a student too hard it isn't unusual for them just to switch off completely. They will just sit there, staring into their lap not responding to anything. It's frustrating but this is the Thai way.

I'm fortunate that my Internet connection is managed by a Thai who has spent a lot of time in the States, speaks fluent English, and understands farangs. I never have a problem with him but he is an exception in provincial Thailand. I would suspect that Bangkok is a lot better in this respect where attitudes are much more Westernised.

I arrived in Thailand with just a large holdall and one of my first purchases was a small bag for short trips in Thailand. I bought it from a street stall.

On the first day of my first trip with my new bag the zip broke. When I returned I took it back to the shop but it quickly became clear that the woman wasn't the least bit interested in replacing it or refunding my money.

After I realised this I just dropped the bag on the floor and walked out in disgust. This taught me a little lesson and from that day I have only ever bought stuff from department stores. The quality of their goods is a lot better, the prices are often cheaper, and you get a proper guarantee.

If you try to save a few Baht by buying something from a local market or street stall don't expect any kind of customer service if something goes wrong with what you have bought.

Customer service sometimes seems contradictory. I bought a cheap studio lighting kit last year that came in a sealed box from the manufacturer. I was happy to pay and take the box home as it was but the guy unwrapped and tested everything, before carefully wrapping everything up again.

This was unnecessary but appreciated. If there had been a problem it would have saved me another trip to the shop.

However, the following week I went back to the shop to order an infra red trigger for the kit and they didn't have one. At this point they had no interest in helping me and said the trigger wouldn't work with my kit. This surprised me so I contacted the manufacturer who said it would work.

I went back again with this information and asked them to get me a price and call me. They didn't do anything. Perhaps the effort involved was too much or perhaps greng jai meant they didn't want to bother the manufacturer? I don't know but the service I received from them on two occasions in a short space of time was very different.

A memory card I bought last year was faulty. After taking about 150 photos at the Singapore Grand Prix I saw a message on my camera saying the card needed to be reformatted. When I returned to Thailand I went back to the shop for a replacement.

They didn't replace it straight away but asked me to come back the following week. This kept happening and eventually it took four months to get my money back. This was frustrating but actually worked out quite well for me. During that time the price of memory cards had plummeted and I was able to buy double the memory for the same price.

If something is easy to do Thais don't seem to mind providing some service. However, if something takes a little bit of effort they can't be bothered - even if it means getting some business.

When I went computer shopping last month the shops I went into were only interested in selling me models they already had in stock. If I asked about something they didn't have in stock the response was simply that it was unavailable; not that they could order one for me.

It wasn't until I bought a model that was in stock and had problems that they offered to order the newer model. Up until that point, they had acted as if the newer model was impossible to get.

Because of the hierarchical structure of Thai society, someone lower down the chain will be reluctant to do anything without involving someone further up the chain. The problem then is that because of greng jai they won't want to impose upon their superiors. If you ask them to do something they might agree, but they don't actually intend doing anything. They don't feel empowered to do things themselves and they don't want to bother their superiors. Catch 22.

A tip here is not to bother with the people lower down the chain. Find out who has the power to get things done and make a direct approach.

When you travel by public transport forget all about customer service. In Thai society if a person is worthy of receiving customer service that person will drive a car. Most Thai buildings and car parks have security guards, and you will see the uniformed, whistle-blowing guards saluting drivers of cars.

People using public transport must obviously be 'Lo-So' types so why bother with them? When you buy a ticket for a bus or minivan you are entitled to a seat (if there's one available; and if you board mid-route there often aren't any seats available) but that's about it. The people working on the bus will tell you exactly where they want you to sit, and you may have to share your seat if they want to overload the vehicle to maximise profits.

The drivers will make as many stops as they wish, they will drive round delivering parcels en-route because that's another way they can make money, and if the driver wants to wait somewhere for 20 minutes in the hope that more passengers will arrive (even if the vehicle is already full) he will do so.

Thais decide where someone fits into the hierarchical social scale and provide service accordingly. 'Lo-So' types - like myself - use public transport and get treated accordingly. However, if you pull into a petrol station in a new car you must be a 'Hi-So' type so there will be people fussing around to fill your tank and clean your windshield.

It's the same if you arrive to eat at a fancy restaurant or upmarket hotel. Whenever I'm in Bangkok I always like to eat at the Oriental hotel so I take appropriate clothes otherwise they won't allow me in.

As I enter the Oriental I am greeted like a VIP but this is the same person who was sneered at on the bus the previous day.

There's nothing you can do. This is Thailand, so get used to it.

The reason I was distressed and unbalanced in the UK: Sisters 'make people happy'

It's all the fault of my two brothers; I have no sisters. Since arriving in Thailand, however, I have acquired a little sister and life is a lot better. Men are trouble.

The English-speaking ability of the Thai middle classes continues to improve but it is a different matter among the lower classes. Their English vocabulary and general ability to learn is somewhat limited.

Apart from the 'F' word (farang), "You" is shouted at me quite often, and occasionally, "Hello you." Young kids tend to use "Good morning" instead of "Hello", but they use it at all times of the day.

I was wandering around a while ago and came across a Tessabaan school. These are the public schools where kids go if they can't get in to any other schools. Thai kids are great, and being poor is certainly no crime, but their attitude to learning isn't terribly good.

In no time at all I was surrounded by laughing, inquisitive Thai youngsters who were fascinated by the long-nosed farang and they weren't shy about firing questions at me ... all in Thai.

I asked if they studied English. Yes, they did. How long had they been studying English? Five years. At this, I decided to try to get them to speak English instead. I was in for a little surprise.

After five years of formal study the only thing they could say was, "My name is." Apart from when they meant, "My name is," this phrase also acted as a general question.

If they said, "My name is," and nodded towards me it meant, "What is your name?" and if they nodded towards a friend while saying, "My name is," it meant, "His/Her name is."

This single three-word phrase was the result of five years formal study.

I tell Thais my name is farang because it makes life easier. That's what they call me anyway, and it gives them one less word to learn.

Motorbike taxi drivers in Thailand sound like broken records. Last year, all I kept hearing was naam-mun pairng (oil is expensive) whenever I wanted to go anywhere. They used this to justify increasing their fares but never reduced fares once the price of oil started to fall.

This year, all I keep hearing is settagit mai dii (the economy isn't good). And so it was the other night when I got a motorbike taxi home. But then the guy surprised me with his next line. He told me it was better when Thaksin was here. I was gobsmacked.

That kind of remark in this part of southern Thailand is almost blasphemous. It's like being at Upton Park and hearing West Ham fans complimenting Paul Ince and Frank Lampard Jnr.

I knew the guy couldn't be a southern Thai so asked where he was from. When he told me Isaan, that explained his comment. I could never agree that Thailand was better under Thaksin but I understand why he thought that way.

Thailand is now colour-coded. The 'yellow shirts' protested to get Thaksin out because they saw him as being self-serving and corrupt. Correct.

The 'red shirts' are protesting just as vigorously now because they see the current government as being a continuation of the unfairness in Thai society where a small sector of society get everything and the majority get nothing. Correct.

Before Thaksin arrived on the scene, poor Thais just accepted the fact that society was unfair and didn't seem to care too much. I always attributed this apathy to Buddhism. Our current lives are the result of our actions in past lives so whatever we have now we deserve because there is no denying the law of Karma. Simple.

Here's a quote from John Laird's excellent 'Money Politics, Globalisation, and Crisis - The Case of Thailand' (p107). The quote was made by Prof. Kriengsak Charoenwongsak, a Thai, from the Institute of Future Studies for Development.

[If Thais condone dishonesty] then Thai society is corrupt and headed towards self destruction.... The prevailing utilitarian values and principles of Thai society have resulted in society attaching greater importance to wealth than to honesty.... Many people will do anything possible, including dishonest or illegal acts, for material gain, as society overemphasises the value of material wealth - which always brings much prestige and power....

Throughout history, the people of Thailand have never known the true meaning of an egalitarian society. Consequently, Thais do not attach importance to the concept of freedom, individual rights, and equality. Instead, they submit to people with power and material wealth - and many grow up to believe that cheating without getting caught is an achievement of which they can be proud....

Thaksin arrived with his own agenda but to execute his plans he needed lots of support, so he cleverly tapped into the mindsets of the rural poor. He had his own reasons for doing this but his legacy is that Thailand's poor no longer accept the unfairness of Thai society as they once did.

The government will try to appease the poor by giving them some handouts but there will never really be equality in Thailand because that isn't how Thais think. Thais have many prejudices but these seem so normal that they aren't even perceived as prejudices.

The day you see a dark skinned actress or a dark skinned TV presenter on Thai TV is the day you know that things might be starting to change.

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Thursday 2nd April 2009

The job I started last year has given me a much better insight into the Thai education system. Before that I hadn't had much experience working in Thai schools.

The curriculum seems to have been devised by several different committees comprised of people who have never met, and who all have their own (separate) agendas. The school itself is run by Catholic nuns who also have an agenda.

The end product is a weird mish-mash that is supposed to please everyone but I don't really think it helps anyone.

The senior high school students are divided into two streams where one stream do more science-based subjects and the others concentrate more on arts-based subjects. One national curriculum committee want to create Nobel prize winners and the academic level they have set is very high.

Maths was always my strongest subject at high school but the level of maths taught in Thai schools is way beyond my capabilities. This also applies to science.

Despite the streaming arrangement, many subjects are commonly taught to all students. One subject that gives them a lot of grief is what they refer to as 'Social'. I wasn't quite sure what this was about but the material I have seen has been economics - an impossibly complicated subject if ever there was one.

At least science has laws but with economics (as we have witnessed in the last couple of years) not a lot makes sense.

The ministry of culture has obviously had a big hand in devising the curriculum. In addition to all the more complicated academic subjects, the girls spend time doing the following: Art, Thai language, Thai history, Thai dancing, Thai music, Thai cooking, (some even do Thai boxing), flower arranging, fruit and vegetable carving, etc.

It doesn't stop there. The school is Catholic but most of the students are Buddhist and they have to study Buddhism. Because they are girls, and because Thailand at its heart is still very old-fashioned and conservative, they also have to study motherhood and raising babies.

There's more. One lunchtime, I found my students studying the PVC piping used for plumbing in Thailand. These are girls but they are also required to study household maintenance. They have to learn how to do basic electrical and plumbing tasks around the house.

Another big subject is morality. Moral goodness is a huge part of the culture and there are frequent 'moral panics' in the Thai press. I like The Nation but this newspaper is particularly guilty of moral panicking.

I used to be taken in by these stories but now I ignore them because they tend to make a big fuss about nothing. With the Songkran festival approaching the Thai press will soon be having moral panics about girls wearing 'spaghetti strap tops' and that kind of thing.

If you believe everything written in the Thai press you would think that every female student in Thailand is out there selling sex in order to buy a new mobile phone but it is a mountain made from a molehill.

Thaksin's demise also caused a resurgence in the morality debate. With a team of lawyers to assist him, a lot of what he did was seen by Thais to be just within the law but not morally correct.

Back to the school curriculum and I actually have a lot of sympathy for the students. I think a UK system where students choose subjects for 'O' level that matter to them and drop other subjects might work better. However, all students must continue studying subjects that might be completely inappropriate to their interests until they leave school.

Having to study so many subjects means they just don't have enough time during regular school hours. After school they all trot off to tutors where they continue studying for another couple of hours. When they finish they go home where they do their school homework before going to bed.

They don't even get a proper break at weekends because there is more homework and more tutoring. English is a vitally important skill for Thai students but it is relegated while the girls figure out the best way to unblock a blocked pipe, or struggle to make a dragon fruit look attractive.

The Western argument is that kids perform better if they have less to do and aren't so tired. The Thai counter-argument is that it's a very competitive world and students have to do all this studying just to keep up.

From what I have seen, it would be a good idea to drop lots of subjects and let the students concentrate on those subjects that are really important. However, because the culture is so strong there will always be a powerful lobby fighting for the fruit carving, baby care, Thai music and dancing, etc.

I get the impression that my single status in Thailand is regarded almost as an affliction by lots of my female Thai friends. It visibly concerns them and to put things 'right, Thai women love to play the role of matchmaker.

I got a call last week from the girl whose wedding I had helped put back on track. She didn't beat around the bush. She told me she had a beautiful friend who she wanted me to get to know; that her friend's day off was Tuesday; and that I was to call her to arrange a date on her day off. Hmmm. It didn't happen.

When I lived in the UK I tried (in desperation) some Internet dating. It was a disaster. No matter how well you try to match yourself to another person, the most important thing is chemistry and if you have never met you have no idea if there is any chemistry. Nothing else matters.

I don't care how beautiful, or well-educated, or intelligent, or amusing and witty the girl may be; if I haven't met her before I'm just not interested.

Since Iss stopped being my girlfriend and became my little sister I have been very content being single. Firstly, I don't want a Thai girlfriend who regards me as a bank. And the problem with the 'nice' girls in Thailand is that many have unrealistic expectations of men (more below on this subject).

The same girl as the one above called a couple of days ago to say she was having more problems with her boyfriend. His crime this time was to have bought cinema tickets without telling her first.

I thought that girls were supposed to like spontaneous acts, but not this one apparently. She told me she wasn't happy because he should have asked her first if she wanted to go to the cinema; and then he should have asked what she wanted to see. The poor guy can't win.

There are lots of girls in Thailand and I have many female friends and associates. All of them fulfil different roles and I can't think of any one person who could fulfil every role.

Some are very well connected in local business and politics. If I have a problem, there are girls I have as friends who I can talk to, and who can help me. This is very important in Thailand where who you know is far more important than what you know.

Some are just good to talk to, good to socialise with, and good company. What's really great is that there is no commitment or obligation with these girls. I can meet up with them, have a good time, say goodbye, and then not see them again for a long time.

There are some other girls I know for other reasons. Again, the relationship I have with these girls is mutually beneficial, it's understood, there is no commitment, and no one gets hurt.

In Buddhist terms, there is no attachment. When I get together with any of these girls we have a good time, and that's it for as long as it lasts. The arrangement works really well. Nothing is permanent though, and there may come a time when I want to settle down with one person but when (or if) that happens, I will know.

In many societies there is probably too much emphasis on getting involved in a monogamous relationship as quickly as possible where one person is meant to be all things at all times. For the time being, I'm quite content to have different kinds of relationships with several different girls to fulfil different emotional and physical needs.

The potential matchmakers, therefore, needn't bother.

Waiting for the perfect man - Click for larger image This post is related to other pieces I have written recently. Like everything I write, it could be complete rubbish or there might be something in it. However, I wouldn't be writing this if I believed it to be complete rubbish.

After living in Thailand for more than five years, I have met hundreds of girls in different situations. The girls are all different but some very clear trends and patterns have emerged.

I received yet another call a few days ago from a female friend who wasn't very happy. There was no real purpose for her phone call but I could tell from her voice that there was a problem. She told me she was going to the temple to make merit the following day. I asked why.

Most Thais I know do not visit the temple regularly but do so to make merit for a specific reason. Many do it on their birthdays or other auspicious occasions; or when they want to improve their own personal Karma.

She told me she was going because she wasn't very happy.

On the surface Thais make an effort to look happy but once you get to know them well enough to dig a little deeper, a lot of unhappiness begins to appear. With all the unhappy girls I've been speaking to recently there are some remarkable similarities.

All are very conservative southern Thai girls from very conservative southern Thai families, all are single, all are educated with decent jobs, and all are in their late 20s.

There is a huge difference between how girls and boys are treated in Thailand. The boys are pretty much allowed to do what they want. High school boys are a nightmare to teach and most just spend their time acting the fool trying to make their friends laugh.

They all have motorbikes on which they race around the streets, and if they want to visit prostitutes that seems to be OK. One of my ex-students quite shocked me.

He lived on a diet of instant noodles because it was the cheapest possible way to eat, and he saved all his money for prostitutes. In class he would talk openly to me and to his male and female classmates about his night time adventures.

Had this been a Thai girl speaking it would have been outrageous but as he was a boy no one seemed to think it was that strange. He was seen as a bit weird personally, but what he got up to didn't appear to be that unusual.

On the other hand, good Thai girls are expected to behave almost like nuns. The way they are expected to behave is drummed into them by their parents, their teachers, and Thai society at large. This message is so powerful that most good Thai girls go along with what they are told.

The difference between teaching boys and girls at high school level is night and day. I know because I have done both. The boys are impossible to teach but the girls study fairly hard and, because of the way Thai students study, they are always studying.

They don't study very efficiently but they put in a lot of hours, and when they aren't actually attending school they are attending special lessons outside of school somewhere.

Their education continues to Bachelor's degree level and maybe beyond. After that, they find work and devote their lives to their jobs for a few years.

However, when the age of 30 starts to loom, that's when the problems start. Most females are programmed to want children, but with Thai girls this desire is particularly strong. The buun-kuun relationship that exists between a Thai mother and her children is a very powerful part of Thai culture.

In addition, for many Thais their children are their support and pension in old age. What's more, Thai girls view 30 as a kind of landmark birthday and many think they need to get married and have children before that age.

With the girls I know who are approaching 30 and who don't seem happy, it's as if they have suddenly realised that time is running out. What they want is for a perfect man to come along, but perfect men don't exist.

They have led good lives, worked and studied hard, been virtuous, so they expect to find a man who has led his life by similar standards. They are very fussy and not prepared to compromise or forgive any indiscretions. When that perfect man doesn't appear, they become unhappy.

When this happens, the pattern that follows is also quite common.

Some very attractive girls I know have married quite ugly and ungainly men. How a man behaves, and whether they can trust him or not is very important. These qualities are more important than money or looks. If anything, good looking men are at a distinct disadvantage because this gives the girls another reason not to trust them.

I have been quite surprised at times upon meeting the husband or boyfriend of a girl I know because he isn't at all how I imagined.

The other thing I have seen happen is that a Thai girl will just resign herself to staying single for the rest of her life. If she hasn't found the 'perfect man' by a certain age she will just concentrate on work, and carry on life never expecting to marry.

This is what I think my friend Aor has decided. She started working abroad a few years ago and is only doing this to earn enough money so that when she returns to Thailand she can buy a house in the country for herself and her mother.

She has no brothers or sisters and her father walked out when she was a baby. She has an incredibly strong bond with her mother and I don't think there is a man on this earth who will ever mean more to her than her mother.

She's a lovely girl - and not unattractive - but I can't ever see her getting married.

Complete rubbish? It might be, but there has to be a reason why so many attractive, single girls all about the same age - late 20s - don't seem very happy with life. I don't believe it's a coincidence, but I do believe the situation exists because of certain aspects of Thai culture and societal expectations.

The fact that there are more females in Thailand than males also doesn't work in their favour.

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Wednesday 1st April 2009

Shortly after arriving in Thailand some years ago I entered into correspondence with an expat who was convinced there are significantly more females in the country than males. To prove his point he counted Thais of differing sexes at random locations. I could understand what he was getting at.

You do get the impression there are a lot more females in Thailand than males. However, the official statistics don't bear this out and I was left wondering if there was a good reason for why there appears to be such a difference.

The official statistics I remember reading at the time showed that the numbers of males and females were about equal at birth but the ratio of females to males increased with age. When you look at how many Thai males carry on, it isn't surprising that females outlive them.

Thai females also seem to work harder and because of this they are more visible. In day-to-day life you see lots of women working but you don't see the men who are holed up in snooker dens drinking beer, or asleep.

However, my correspondent may have been correct: Hot climate produces baby girls

This BBC story (if it's not an April Fool joke) says that people living nearer to the equator tend to have more girls; and that it could be caused by miscarriage rates or sperm quality.

I'm not complaining. I generally find women to be much better company and far more civilised than most men.

I was walking to lunch a couple of days ago when I heard a lot of noise coming from the back of a pickup truck. I stopped to look.

In the back of the truck were about 30 new-born chicks. There was no shade and it was impossible for the chicks to escape the midday sun. It was noon, and this is the hottest time of the year in Thailand.

About half the chicks were dead and the others were very distressed as they waited to die. I waited around for a while hoping to see the owner of the truck who I was going to lay into verbally but no one came. What could I do?

I continued on my way but this was yet another episode that makes me despair in Thailand.

One of the cats I feed regularly is like a kitten machine. She gave birth about six months ago and got pregnant almost straight away. When she appeared last week her huge, inflated belly had receded so she had given birth somewhere.

I don't know where the kittens are but they probably won't survive very long. If a cat can survive into adulthood in Thailand, it has done well. Loads are born and loads die at a very young age. In the short time I have been here I have met many cats who have then died early.

In the West we control life and we then protect that life. In Thailand, there is no control and no protection. Animals are just left to breed and the high death rate prevents any kind of population explosion.

It's not a lot different with people. I don't know what the official statistics are but purely by observation the birth rate seems to be a lot higher in Thailand than it does in the West.

At the same time, so is the death rate. Since arriving in Thailand I have never experienced so much death in all my years, and most of it occurs on Thailand's roads.

A reader asks, "What do you think is the reason for the Thais penchant for death?"

I can only think this has to do with the Buddhist belief system. According to Buddhism, existence is a cycle of life, death and rebirth until enlightenment is attained. Death is therefore not as final as it is in the West.

I can think of no other reason why Thais regard death so lightly.

I got bored with reading the Thailand news and missed this story originally, but I just spotted this update. Thailand may seem a very friendly and hospitable place on the surface - and many Thais are friendly and hospitable - but don't be lulled into a false sense of security.

Thais themselves are very, very wary of the dangers that exist, especially if they are female but even if you are male this doesn't make you immune to the dangers.

Thailand death family nears closure

Cheap room for rent - Click for larger image It was suggested to me that maybe I should explain why it is useful to be able to read Thai in Thailand. However, I believe that if someone needs to ask that question then they aren't going to understand the answer.

It's the same kind of question as, "Why don't you live in Phuket?" If someone doesn't understand why, then it's not worth trying to explain.

Another suggestion was that it would be useful for farangs to be able to read Thai identity cards so that if they took a girl back to their hotel room they could confirm it really was a girl.

I was told a couple of days ago (by a Thai) that there has been a change in the law, whereby ladyboys can now write the Thai equivalent of 'Miss' on their ID cards. I don't know how true this is but if it is true then that method will no longer work.

Official motorbike taxi fares - Click for larger image Do you want to find a cheap room in Thailand? It's easy if you can read Thai. The room in the advert above (with furniture) is going for Bt1,600 per month. In Phuket's Patong beach you will struggle to get a hotel room for one night for that, and I saw apartments advertised there for Bt40,000 a month.

I had some problems recently with a motorbike taxi driver. I take the same short route often and each time I am charged Bt20. However, when this one particularly guy dropped me off he started shouting Bt30 when I gave him Bt20. I walked away ignoring him.

Now, he refuses to take me anywhere. I knew that somewhere there must be an official fare chart but I didn't know where to find it. The drivers know but they won't tell you; they just try to get as much as they can and they increase the price for foreigners.

I came across this sign recently which gave me the answer but how many foreigners can read it? The journey I mentioned is under 2km so the fare should be Bt20. I think I will get a print of this photo and give it to him.

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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.

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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.

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