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  • Living in Thailand Blog April 2011


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Living In Thailand Blog

Friday 22nd April 2011

I received a very complimentary e-mail earlier this week about the Learning to Read Thai Tutorials that I wrote a while ago.

It has been bugging me that I never finished these so I wrote another one today focusing on a couple of Thai vowels:

Learning to Read Thai Tutorial 27

The reason I stopped adding to these tutorials was due to lack of reader interest. My website stats show me that very few people visit those pages.

My personal belief is that being able to read a little Thai if living or travelling in Thailand is vitally important. I think my explanations and photos of real-life signs makes learning easy and when I started writing tutorials I thought there would be a lot of interest.

There wasn't. My pages about Thai girls continue to attract visitors but they aren't interested in anything else. Internet surfers are very interested in Thai girls but don't have much interest in the Thai language or Thai cultural behaviour. When their relationships with Thai girls go horribly wrong it isn't a big surprise.

I have continued my correspondence with the reader who sent the kind e-mail. He is planning to live in Thailand some time in the future. We have certain interests in common and the topic of conversation turned to stock photography and videos.

He made the very valid comment that if anyone was lucky enough to video an elephant crapping on a tourist's head it would be a YouTube sensation, but anything else would be of very little interest. Sad but true.

The Internet is an amazing thing, and incredibly useful, but so many people simply waste their time on so-called Social Networking sites and other rubbish instead of actually improving their knowledge. I'm not sure what the effect will be on society in the long-term but probably not very good.

I still absolutely refuse to join Facebook - probably the biggest time waste of time there is on the Internet.

Janet Street-Porter actually wrote a very good analysis of the Social Networking phenomenon. It's worth a read:

Janet Street-Porter: Why I hate Facebook

Regarding the tutorials, I still intend doing some more but only really to provide some self-satisfaction and not because I expect many people to use them.

If you do use them and find problems, or find that something isn't clear, let me know. Good, constructive feedback will help me to improve them.

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Thursday 21st April 2011

I've been writing about red tape in Thailand and how much time this wastes with all the waiting around and being sent from place to place. What can you do to speed things up?

The answer, unfortunately, is not a lot. First, you need to have endless amounts of patience. Then you need to remain calm, always speak politely, smile, do what you are told, and be prepared to wait.

Some Westerners think that by shouting and screaming enough they can always get their own way. This approach may work in some countries but not in Thailand. It's seen as a big loss of face and Thais will simply stop communicating.

At the hospital last week one of the nurses asked me to talk with a European woman who she was having problems with. The nurse didn't speak much English and the woman didn't speak Thai - even though she had been living in Thailand for a couple of years. She wasn't English but she could speak passable English.

All the woman wanted was some repeat medication but she needed a doctor's prescription. Her view was that it would only take the doctor five minutes and he could do it straight away without her having to wait.

Unfortunately, there was only one doctor available at the time and there were several other patients ahead of her in the queue. The nurse tried to explain that she couldn't jump the queue and would have to wait about an hour. She wasn't happy and started to make a big fuss.

The nurse then stopped communicating and went to fetch me. When you reach this stage with a Thai you have lost and you won't get anything.

If the woman had just smiled and agreed to wait, the nurse would probably have tried to get her in front of the doctor in less than an hour. Thais will try to accommodate you but they won't give in to someone who tries to force the issue.

If you can, always try to get a Thai friend to help you because Thais know the Thai way of doing things better than anyone else. Stay quiet in the background, do whatever you are told with a smile, and observe what goes on. If you speak Thai, ensure that you do so very politely.

Also at the hospital last week was an American guy with some kind of a problem. He turned up in flowery Florida shorts and flip-flops. I've also seen farangs dressed the same way in the local immigration office.

It might seem like a perfectly sensible way to dress in tropical Thailand when you first arrive but to Thais and long-serving expats this mode of dress anywhere apart from the beach borders on embarrassing.

If you are dealing with professional people in Thailand - especially if you are asking someone to extend your stay in the country - dress appropriately.

I once saw a couple of guys at the Thai Consulate in Penang who had gone a bit too far. A morning suit and top hat isn't necessary but at least wear a pair of long trousers, reasonable (closed) shoes, and a shirt with sleeves and a collar that doesn't advertise the brand of Thai beer you prefer.

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Wednesday 20th April 2011

I made a comment last week that Thais themselves are not immune to all the red tape that exists in Thailand. As proof of this, my Thai wife spent the whole of today trying to do one simple thing for our Thai baby. Of course, the taxi driver and general support guy had to go along too so there was no getting out of it for me.

The statement about Thailand not being a welfare state isn't exactly true. The system is nothing like the UK or other Western countries but the government does help. The amount of money may not be very much, for example Bt500 per month for old age pensioners, but there is some help. It should be noted that government employees get more assistance than those working in the private sector.

Some of the handouts are just one-off payments. Money was handed out to victims of last November's flood recently and I remember a few years ago seeing long queues of Thais waiting for a handout of about Bt2,000 from the government. I can't remember what it was for.

We've been making lots of trips to the local hospital with our daughter, who has a small problem, and each time we visit I get a hospital bill.

The doctor wants to perform some minor surgery soon and this will result in a bigger bill. Yesterday, my wife announced that if Ellie is in possession of a special card then we will either get free or discounted treatment. My first reaction was to wonder why she hadn't told me this previously but anyway, we decided to get the card today.

We needed to go to a public hospital but not the one where she is receiving treatment. How long do you think it took us to get a simple card?

It took a complete day.

The public hospitals in Thailand are bursting at the seams with patients. I've been to both public hospitals in town this week. They are both huge buildings and they have both been extremely busy.

With the bureaucratic process there is always a pattern in Thailand. First you go to one place and wait. When you finally get to speak to someone, you are sent somewhere else where you have to wait again. This happens over and over again.

It happened this morning about three times before we were told to go somewhere else a few miles away. When we got there it was just like a small rural clinic. We arrived at 12:30 and there were no staff present. We were greeted by a sign on the desk telling us it was closed for lunch between 12:00 and 13:00. More waiting.

After the staff returned from lunch we were about fourth in line so had to wait more. Bpom was asked some questions and given some forms. We then returned to the hospital.

To add to the general hassle, the traffic has been horrendous this week after Songkran. It has been impossible trying to find a parking space near the hospital, Thai drivers are as bad as ever, and the weather has been blazing hot. Not a lot of fun.

When we returned to the hospital we had more of the same thing. We were shunted from one department to another and then to a nurse for some questions and then to a doctor for more questions.

We had to wait each time and our final destination was the same room Bpom had gone to first thing this morning. We spent the whole day going round in a huge circle to satisfy the bureaucrats. We were tired and hot and we also had to drag the baby around all day as well.

One thing to be grateful for is that Bpom had all the necessary paperwork. I've had problems before where I've just been sent away to get another form or another letter. Another hoop foreigners sometimes need to jump through is getting documents translated into Thai. I will have more of that when I visit Bangkok shortly.

The other good thing is that we were able to complete everything today. Quite often you have to submit documents one day and then collect them the next day - or the day after. My visit to Bangkok to get the documents I need to get married officially will take several days.

At the moment, with the baby still so dependent on Bpom and Bpom so dependent on me, it is hardly convenient but this is something I need to do.

It just strikes me that all this bureaucracy is a huge waste of time and resources. We have both wasted a whole day today and this is what happens to thousands of Thais every day.

In the hospital there were lots of trained nurses just pushing paperwork around and entering details into computers instead of doing the work they were trained for.

As far as I am concerned the amount of bureaucracy is completely unnecessary and should be done away with but this is how Thailand operates. The system is highly unlikely to change any time soon and it's just something that you have to accept and tolerate if you wish to live in the Land of Smiles.

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Friday 15th April 2011

The Thai wedding ceremony that I participated in last year means absolutely nothing in legal terms. Thai wedding ceremonies - as the name implies - are purely ceremonial in nature.

There is no pressing need to legalise the marriage but sooner or later it will become an issue so I spent some time this morning working out what to do and then making plans for a trip to the British Embassy in Bangkok.

Since I started working full time - with my employer doing all my visa and work permit paperwork - I had almost forgotten how much of a headache bureaucracy can be in Thailand.

There was a little reminder last month when Bpom went to register our daughter's birth. Instead of simply being able to do it there and then, I first had to get a fully certified translation of my passport because I'm a foreigner (or, in the words of Thai immigration, an alien).

Thais also have big battles with bureaucrats in Thailand but whenever a farang is involved there is always an additional layer of red tape or two.

The British Embassy web site is actually very good and explains the Marriage Registration Procedure very clearly.

I knew about the Affirmation of Freedom to Marry in Thailand document but I didn't realise that afterwards I need to get this translated in Bangkok and then head off to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Once the affirmation has been authenticated and the translation certified at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I will then be able to go home and get the marriage registered at the local Amphoe office.

It shouldn't be too bad but I know that if one little thing is missing, or if an i or t isn't dotted or crossed the correct way, then there could be additional problems.

I've already booked my flights so I have to get this all done within a limited time frame. If there are problems which subsequently cause delays then it could all go very badly wrong.

It wouldn't be too bad if I lived in Bangkok but when you live in the provinces you need to make a special journey into the capital and this isn't always convenient. Additionally there is the cost of plane fares and hotels.

Bureaucracy can be a big headache in Thailand and this is only the beginning. As a single man it was all relatively easy but as a husband and father now there are a number of things I need to do.

There are also some bureaucratic things I need to do in England and, because I now live in Thailand, I expect a few of those may also turn into big headaches.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, there is no escaping the bureaucrats or the taxman.

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Thursday 14th April 2011

Anyone who is a parent will know - and anyone who isn't a parent will have been told - that babies change your life completely.

Our lives revolve around the baby now and it's a full time job. Our daughter was also born with a little complication which entails more visits to the hospital than she would otherwise need.

What I'm really trying to say is that I have had very little time to do this in recent weeks, hence the lack of updates.

In addition, this 'blog' attracts very few visitors and the amount of traffic it gets simply doesn't justify me spending much time on it. Conversely, the regional guide I started writing a few years ago continues to go from strength to strength.

My regional guide gets considerably more traffic than this blog gets and that is where I should spend my time, especially now that any free time I get is such a valuable commodity. I will continue this but I expect to be writing a lot less in future.

We had to make an unscheduled trip to the hospital yesterday. Ideally I like to be outside the country during Songkran, but if that isn't possible I just stay indoors all day. Yesterday, I was forced to go outside and I don't find Songkran any fun at all. In fact, I hate it.

It must be me. There were lots of farang tourists on Thai TV news last night shown squirting water pistols at each other and explaining how much fun it was. I would have enjoyed this kind of thing when I was seven but now that I have passed puberty it's simply a waste of a day. It's basically a lost day because I can't go outside to do anything.

The anarchy on the roads yesterday was far worse than usual. Some kids had set up roadside water squirting stations but many were riding around in the back of pickup trucks with large drums of icy water dousing everyone they passed.

The pickups stopped wherever there was a water fight to be had and the drivers had no interest in the cars behind them. Of course, the traffic police weren't interested either.

At least it's only one day here. I understand that in other parts of Thailand the aquatic anarchy goes on for a week.

I popped out today and it was actually very quiet. The centre of town was packed with Malaysian tourists but many Thais visit their families in other provinces over Songkran and there were few around.

We've been spending lots of time in the children's orthopaedic clinic at the hospital. I feel desperately sorry for most of the kids we have seen because they were born with problems they couldn't do anything about.

However, that wasn't the case with one young lad of about 16 a few days ago.

He was wheeled in on a stretcher and one of the doctors explained he had spent 15 hours in the operating theatre the previous night where the doctors had attempted to put him back together again using metal staples and screws.

He had managed to shatter both legs and one shoulder in a motorbike accident and he probably had more metal in his body holding his bones together than remained on his motorbike.

He was lucky. If the injuries had been to his head and not his legs he would have been in a box at the temple waiting to be cremated instead of being at the hospital.

I should have felt sorry for him but every day - both as a driver and a pedestrian - I encounter teenage brats racing around on their Honda 125cc motorbikes without a shred of concern for their own or other people's safety.

They either have stupid grins on their faces or the nonchalant look of teenage boys who think they are the world's best motorcyclists.

I should have felt sorry for him, and for all I know the accident might have been someone else's fault and he was perfectly innocent, but all I could think of was a Thai expression - som naam naa.

I have already told Bpom that our daughter is banned from having a motorbike when she gets older.

The bad storm that caused floods in southern Thailand finally passed and of course when it did we went straight into very hot weather because this is the peak of the hot season. The rain had been keeping the temperature down but such a weather system is unusual for this time of year.

I wasn't completely unaffected. There was no flooding here - fortunately - but for several days the local 7-Eleven branches had empty shelves. Apparently, the main distribution centre for 7-Eleven stores in southern Thailand is in Surat Thani and the bad flooding had affected its ability to supply branches with new stock. All is OK now.

Our new house is being built on high ground that doesn't flood and it should be finished in about a year. Provided all goes to schedule, we should only need to spend one more rainy season in the current place. If we can manage to avoid flooding during the coming rainy season we should never experience flooding again after that.

The big flood last November really traumatised me. It brought forward my plans to buy a house by several years, and a big factor in choosing this particular house is that it is on high ground. It's a nice place and there are many other advantages but no matter how beautiful a house is, if it is prone to flooding I'm not interested.

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Saturday 2nd April 2011

Where do I apply?

Plan to hire native English-speaking teachers

This story states that native English speakers are going to be employed by the government and paid a salary of Bt83,000 per month. I was just about to hang up my teacher's hat but I wouldn't mind carrying on for a while if I was earning this kind of salary.

The average wage for a foreign teacher of English in the provinces seems to be around Bt30,000 a month and a good salary is Bt40,000. It's higher in Bangkok but so is the cost of living.

Bt20,000 per month is regarded as being a pretty good salary by most Thais. Most of the Thais I know earn significantly less than Bt20,000. The school where I work (used to work?) pays newly-hired Thai teachers Bt7,000 a month. Their salary goes up Bt200 per month for each year of service. Wow!

Foreign teachers normally work a lot less hours than Thai teachers anyway. If some are now being paid Bt83,000 per month at government schools while the average Thai teacher is earning less than Bt10,000 you can understand why there might be a little resentment.

The Thai teachers I know can't live on their basic salary alone. They have to work evenings and weekends doing private teaching to make ends meet.

It's not fair, is it?

Yet another farang suicide in Thailand. I wonder if any other country has such a high suicide rate among its expat and tourist community?

Swiss man found hung in Pattaya

When I see how many Thais drive I am thankful at least that they don't have seriously high powered cars and motorbikes otherwise the carnage would be even greater than it is already.

There are plenty of rich Thais with expensive cars but most wealthy Thais normally drive quite sensibly. Whenever I encounter a maniac on the road it is normally a lo-so country boy in his pickup truck or a minivan driver, rather than a professional Thai driving a Mercedes.

However, Thai maniacs do occasionally get hold of genuinely fast cars and you can guess the rest. In the following case the car was acquired through theft:

Laotian girl cut in half by speeding Porsche

I've owned two Porsches. They are wonderful cars to drive but in the hands of an idiot they are lethal. I can't believe the driver of this one drove 10km with half the girl's body still in the car before he decided to abandon it.

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Friday 1st April 2011

Weather is the big topic in southern Thailand at the moment so here is a quick update from Songkhla province.

It was a beautiful day yesterday. The sky was a perfect shade of blue, the sun was shining, it wasn't painfully hot, and there was no rain. Just perfect ... except we spent all day in the local hospital while our little one was being taken care of.

Today hasn't been so good. There has been lots of rain and overcast skies again. During the day it didn't rain with the intensity that develops into floods but it is heavy again tonight.

The BBC published some photos from web site readers and some areas look really bad - Samui island in particular.

As I found out last November, even after the rain stops it takes a long time for things to get back to normal after a bad flood.

If you're headed for Samui in the coming weeks be aware that some places might still be closed. There are still places closed in Hat Yai five months after the big flood.

Thailand floods: Your pictures

Hopefully, the rain will stop soon and the next time you get drenched in Thailand will be when someone throws a bucket of water over you during Songkran.

Who are the real heroes in life? Pop stars, football players, actors? I don't think so.

Our daughter was born with a small problem with her feet. I say small problem because firstly it is treatable, and secondly compared to some of the children we have seen recently at the hospital her condition is minor in comparison.

I always find it sad to see young kids with serious medical problems. It just doesn't seem fair that some people get dealt a bad hand even before they've had a chance to do anything in life. But that's how it is. Life is never fair.

We saw one little girl last week whose entire skeletal structure had a problem apart from her arms. She was about 13 but her body was the size of a four year old.

We've also seen kids with hip problems whose legs are different lengths and kids with horrendous injuries to their legs which looked like the result of accidents.

Yesterday we met a gorgeous, smiling little girl who was born with the same problem as our daughter but who is now perfectly OK. She was treated by the same doctor who is treating Ellie.

The clinic we attend deals only with kids and the doctor in charge is a true hero as far as I am concerned. Her work enables many children to have normal lives whereas without her help they wouldn't. Nothing in life can beat that.

I think she studied at Mahidol and later she worked in France and Belgium. She has all the ticks in all the boxes and because of her Ajarn status she also plays an important role in educating the Thai doctors of tomorrow. In addition she does a lot of management work and serves on the board of the Royal College of Orthopaedic Surgeons of Thailand.

I know for a fact that people come from all over southern Thailand to be treated by her and yesterday I heard that even Bangkokians head south to seek her services.

We feel very fortunate that Ellie is in her hands.

The nurses are also pretty wonderful. We get first class treatment every time we visit and nothing is too much trouble for them. I feel quite humbled being in the company of such a special group of people.

There is incredible dedication in this line of work. Ellie's first treatment was at about 11pm at night when the clinic was still in session, and yesterday morning we had to wait a little while because the doctor had been operating at midnight the night before and then she had to attend a meeting the next morning.

The top doctors must earn a good salary but I just don't know when they find the time to spend it. All they seem to do is work.

Doctors and nurses like this are the people I regard as being the true heroes in life.

On the other hand ...

I was reading the other day about some of the brave men of Bravo Company.

The Kill Team

These heroes, sent to help people in Afghanistan, amused themselves by throwing candy out of their Stryker armoured vehicles and then shooting the poor kids who came to pick it up.

They cut the fingers off other innocent children they killed to keep as souvenirs, and to justify shooting civilians they planted guns on the corpses and lied to their superiors that they had opened fire in defence.

Taking photos of the dead victims, sharing them with others, and boasting about their exploits were all part of the culture.

As I read this story my brain started to go numb, not being able to comprehend how any human being could do this to another human being - let alone an innocent child.

It's a strange world we live in.

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