Living In Thailand Blog
Sunday 16th August 2009
I use this space to air my opinions of things Thai, and I have also quoted other authors and sources who have something to say about Thailand.
But what do Thais think about themselves? It's sometimes easy to think that Thais don't have the ability to look inwardly, and that their opinion of themselves is different to that of outsiders. But that's not true.
I've worked with hundreds of Thai students from junior high school to PhD level. Not only do they have amazing self-awareness, but they don't try to cover things up (as is usually the case in Thailand).
Here are just a few thoughts about Thai culture from some Matayom 6 students (the last year of senior high school before university):
- Thais pay respect to others with a 'wai'
- Do not sit in the same position as an older person (I think this means with regard to head height)
- Thais always lie about stupid things
- Cannot wear shoes or shorts when going inside a temple
- Thais like to gossip
- Thais are very judgemental about others
- Thais only look at other people's outward appearance
- Cannot sit on a table because people will think you are a teacher
- Cannot touch an older person on the head with hands or legs
- Thais respect the monarchy
- Cannot take photos or touch Buddha images
In Thailand - thankfully - there is no shortage of signs and tourist literature in 'Thaiglish' to keep foreigners amused. However, it doesn't tend to be quite as amusing as the Chinese variety.
This is interesting: Tourists face fines over fake gear
One of my students visited China last year and was surprised that so many Chinese merchants could speak Thai. I asked her why this was.
She told me it's because there is a massive counterfeit goods trade operating between China and Thailand. Thailand is full of counterfeit goods, and I assumed they were made in Thailand. However, it seems not.
There is a market near me that does a huge trade in copied DVDs and they all come from China. I know this not only because it is what the shopkeepers have told me, but because all the packaging is written in Chinese.
It would appear that it isn't just copied DVDs that come from China; a lot of other stuff does too.
Most tourists to Thailand have an incredibly narrow view of the country and they all seem to arrive with a fixed agenda, along with a fixed list of things to buy and do.
The backpackers first shopping stop is for their Chinese fisherman pants and ethnic hill tribe shoulder bags. Package tourists head straight for the nearest Indian tailor to buy a dodgy suit, and they like to accessorise their badly made clothing with fake watches and Louis Vuitton bags, etc. Thais also buy a lot of pirated and counterfeit stuff.
There have been various initiatives by Western countries to curb this trade in Asia but we all know how Thais regard laws, rules and regulations.
What seems to be happening now is that Western countries are changing their approach to the problem and they have started tackling buyers rather than sellers.
France and Italy are taking a hardline approach, presumably because these countries are where the designers are based who are most affected by counterfeiting. The UK is being more lenient for the time being.
Living in Thailand sometimes feels like being in a time warp. Attitudes about racial stereotypes and skin colour are similar to Britain in the 1960's. The belief system goes back a lot further - thousands of years.
I noticed a small fair during a few weeks ago so went to take a look. One tent intrigued me. The contents was hidden from view but outside were pictures of various animals. I paid my Bt20 and went inside.
Although I've never been to one, the atmosphere inside was how I imagine a 19th century freak show might have been.
There were various animals inside in the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Hanging from the top of a tent was a wooden perch with four monkeys sitting on it. They were chained and the chains were about two feet long. The poor creatures couldn't even stand up properly because the chains were so short.
In small cages were various large reptiles: an albino python, a crocodile, an anaconda, and some iguanas. The animals couldn't move; and the crocodile probably couldn't even turn around.
The whole exhibit was decrepit. A rickety walkway had been constructed around the cages allowing those who had paid their Bt20 to walk around the cages and view the cruelty taking place.
I have no doubt that in a Western country, such an exhibition simply wouldn't take place. Even if it did, there would be such a huge outcry from the public that it wouldn't last long. But not in Thailand.
I realise that I go on about certain things. However, the repetition in this blog is nothing compared to what actually goes on while living in Thailand.
Last week I attended a funeral and got talking to some typical Thai country boys. They were typical pickup truck driver types, the type who are perfectly content so long as they have enough beer, Thai whisky and cigarettes.
One asked me if I liked Thai girls, to which I replied yes. His next question was whether I liked black or white ones.
In the week I went to a massage shop I'd never been to before. The woman invited me to choose my masseuse and got all excited when she realised that one of the girls was dark skinned. Of course, she would be the natural choice for a farang.
I chose another girl who was from Chiang Rai and very fair skinned. During the massage this girl asked me why farangs chawp dum dum. I had to explain to her the way in which most foreign men meet Thai girls and why it is that foreign men appear to have a preference for dark skin but that isn't necessarily the case.
Thais are convinced that foreigners prefer dark skin because they see so many foreign men with dark girls, but they don't seem to understand the real reason.
Brits abroad (again): English turn to booze on holiday
Of the foreigners I know living in Thailand, the ones who have an interest in Thai language, Thai history, Thai cultural behaviour, etc., are seldom British.
When I first arrived to live in Thailand I was walking around and came across a bar that had been made to resemble a British pub. It was in the morning and there were no customers around at the time.
On the wall was a blackboard, and chalked up were the results so far of that month's drinking competition. Bert had managed 150 bottles of Singha, 367 bottles of Chang, 94 tequila shots, and five bottles of moonshine rice whiskey. Etc., etc.
I'd found the place where the British expats hung out. When abroad, and British, there are far more important things to do rather than bother with language, history, and cultural behaviour.
Many men come to Thailand to find wives and girlfriends. If you do, just be very careful. During my first year I acted like a typical stupid farang. I knew nothing but thought I knew everything.
I thought I was a kid in a candy shop and I chased all the wrong girls. In hindsight, I was lucky. I had one very close shave that could have changed everything, but I managed to get through my stupid phase relatively unscathed.
If you go down the bar girl route, good luck, because you are bound to have lots of problems. I didn't, but even with the so-called 'good' girls it is a minefield.
The girl I've just had to let go didn't know how to act like a normal human being. Her life was acted out as if she was in a Thai soap opera and her life was just one big game.
The guy she was supposed to be marrying kept postponing the wedding and now I think I know why. When she finished with him, her first game was designed to entrap me. It worked. She acted as if she was about to collapse from emotional stress and needed me to support her. She got her way.
Her next game was to pretend to be the perfect woman. For a while she kept showing up at my place after she finished work. She'd bring food and fruit, and then she would insist on massaging me, "Like my mother does for my father," she told me. Who was I to refuse; so I let her.
On one occasion she used my bathroom and then started to clean it. I told her not to bother as I would do it later. "I'm not a princess," she told me, but that was exactly what she was.
She's a good looking girl. In America she would probably have been a cheerleader. In Thailand, she has always been the girl asked to dress in traditional clothes and lead the Loy Gratong parade.
The problem is that she thinks men should fall at her feet. I didn't. Her next game involved a new strategy. When she couldn't get her own way, she kept hinting at suicide. She never meant it. This was just another game.
The last time I saw her, she had kept calling me to arrange to meet. However, she kept delaying her arrival. When she finally showed up I was just about to shower. I told her to wait and I took a really quick shower.
Five minutes later I finished my shower and was ready to talk. Before I got a chance to talk, she said, "I'm going now," and went. She visited but we didn't actually talk. It was weird.
I just let her go. I said goodbye, while thinking good riddance. She sent me an SMS as she left saying it would be the last time she visited. I didn't care. I'd had enough already.
Two weeks later she called me and said she was surprised that she hadn't heard from me!
Unfortunately, this crazy type of behaviour isn't unusual with Thai females. When I first arrived I thought I would be married quite quickly but after almost six years I am still very single. Most of the girls I have got involved with have played similar games.
A farang guy wrote and told me that his Thai girlfriend was always playing games. He was serious about the relationship and didn't want to play games. He said he didn't want her to play games, but playing games, unfortunately, is second nature to many Thai girls.
There are genuine Thai girls who don't give you all this grief but in my experience they are normally unavailable. Thai men know exactly what the girls are like and they snap up the good ones very early.
In the last year I've met two fantastic girls but both had long-term boyfriends. One is getting married this year and the other has known her boyfriend since the second year of university. The ones that are still available are normally available for a reason.
Prior to one vacation in Thailand many years ago, I'd been talking to a girl on-line for about six months and thought we knew each other well. After I'd booked my flight we agreed to meet in Bangkok.
She told me she had a problem with her phone and that I should call her friend when I arrived. This I did, only for her friend to tell me she didn't know who I was. I tried to explain and she said she would call the girl I'd been in touch with and get back to me.
I waited for several hours and she didn't call back. Eventually I called again. She said she had spoken to her friend (the girl I'd been writing to) but she didn't know who I was. Unbelievable.
It was around this time that I started to realise that a lot of Thai girls are a complete waste of time. There are many great ones but as a foreigner you need to be very careful to avoid the bad ones.
I met a poor girl recently who tried to play the poor girls' game. As is usually the case there is never a problem when you first meet a Thai girl. They make sure that they don't do anything to scare you off straight away.
The problems and games start once they get to know you a little better. With the poor girls it is always about money. When they figure they know you well enough, the smile that has been on their faces since the beginning disappears, only to be replaced with a glum expression.
When you ask what the problem is, it is always about a financial crisis back home. Internet folklore will tell you about the sick buffalo, but in the case of the girl I met it was that both parents were in hospital.
Not only was she worried, but she didn't have enough money to return to her home in the Northeast to visit them. What did she want from me? Sympathy and money (the latter mainly). What was in it for me? Nothing.
There was a time when, upon hearing such a story, my eyes would well up and I would reach into my pocket to hand money over. When I've done this before, the girl normally disappears shortly afterwards.
Call me cynical, but I've been through this scenario so many times that I no longer feel much sympathy. Some stories may even be perfectly true. Even so, things like this are perfectly normal for many poor Thais, and they manage well enough without farang assistance.
The other game is flirting outrageously even though they have a boyfriend and aren't available. They will swear they don't have a boyfriend - even though your instincts tell you though do; and all their friends also tell you they do.
I put up with this because the girls are quite addictive. For a long time, I've not had the slightest interest in farang girls. These days, when I see images of the most attractive females the Western world has to offer, they do absolutely nothing for me.
Thai girls are not the answer to the prayers of Western men who can't attract women. They are just an alternative, and will suit those who have a preference for Asian women. There are a lot here, and there is lots of interest in Western men - all of whom are perceived to be immensely rich.
Don't expect relationships with Thai girls to be easy. In addition to enormous language and cultural barriers, the games that Thai girls like to play can give you a massive migraine.
Why does this happen?
I don't know - and it's different for each individual (not all Thai girls play games) - but I have some theories.
Some are simply silly little girls who get a kick out of messing men around. Perhaps it gives them a sense of power?
For others, there are better reasons. They know that many men have no interest in them beyond sex, and playing games helps to filter those guys out. The men who are serious will stick around despite being messed around, whereas the ones who aren't serious will leave.
The stupidity of foreign men also affects the behaviour of Thai girls. The poor girl I mentioned above gets hit on quite often by Chinese Malaysian sex tourists, of whom there are a lot in southern Thailand.
She's not a sex worker but she's attractive and some foreign men seem to think that any Thai girl can be bought. She was offered Bt20,000 to spend one night with a Chinese Malaysian, and Bt100,000 to spend a month with a Chinese Singaporean.
It's not just foreign men. She was the unsuspecting mia noi (minor wife/mistress) of a Thai man for a couple of years. He kept her as a mistress while paying her Bt20,000 each month. She didn't find out that he already had a wife for a long time after the relationship started.
She got out of the relationship when he started to knock her around. I have heard so many similar stories from Thai girls (and seen the evidence a few times of girls covered in bruises) that this violence from Thai men doesn't appear to be that unusual.
In Thailand, any kind of relationship tends to be associated with money. When a man gets interested, a lot of Thai girls just think about how much it could be worth to them.
I got involved with a massage girl like this shortly after I arrived in Thailand. She also played lots of games but then I found out that she had several men on the go. Her game was just trying to decide which one would be best to marry from a financial perspective.
She had no genuine interest in me or any of her other suitors apart from money.
If you get involved with a Thai girl and she starts to play stupid games, don't lose heart completely. As I said above, some do it simply to test how serious a man might be.
My first year with Iss was a nightmare because she played every game in the book of games that Thai girls play with foreign men. After a while it stopped though. Our relationship changed to one that is very close, but platonic, and she hasn't played any stupid games since.
The first six months to a year seems to be when you have most problems.
My own policy these days is one of three strikes and they're out. I'm tolerant up to a point and give them a couple of chances but if they continue to play games then they are history, no matter how beautiful they are.
I live in Thailand; I speak a reasonable amount of Thai; and I know what the girls are like. If I put my mind to it I don't have any problems meeting Thai girls. There is no point wasting time with girls who just want to play games.
I also look at their behaviour as a kind of intelligence test. I know how the girls live and how few opportunities they have in life. Many men - both foreign and Thai - barely have enough money for their own needs, and quite a few Thai men think nothing of knocking girls around.
I would never show any violence towards a woman, and my financial position will be very strong very shortly. If they can't recognise a good thing when they see it - and continue to play games - then they can't be very bright, and I'm not interested in being with a stupid girl.
Thais are obsessed with education and - in particular - diplomas and certificates. In Thailand's strictly hierarchical social structure it is of the utmost importance that everyone is placed in the appropriate pigeon hole.
Naturally, image comes before substance - as it always does in Thailand - and therefore Thais need easy outward symbols of status in order to assign people their place in society.
Real knowledge or real wealth isn't worth anything if it isn't visible. This is why Thais aren't shy about showing off. Mulder makes the point, "... it is untypical and even foolish to hide behind modesty when one is entitled to honour. Symbols of status should be displayed and people should live up to them."
I find this all extremely superficial ... but I'm not Thai. Apart from the fact it can be potentially dangerous to display too much wealth, I'm just not that kind of person, even though I know I am far wealthier than most of the Thais I meet.
It's exactly the same with knowledge and education. Thai kids are forever taking courses outside of school. Most are clearly not interested in what they are taught and don't pay any attention during the course, but great importance is placed on the 'graduation' ceremony held at the end.
In their CVs they can cite a long list of qualifications they have but it means nothing. I have only ever had 20 hours of formal teaching in Thai; I don't have a certificate, but I can speak more Thai than most Thais can speak English - even the ones with lots of certificates.
When I was with Iss she wanted to do a hair cutting course so I paid for her to do it. At the end of the course they booked the top hotel in town and everyone hired out graduation robes for a massive graduation party.
If I hadn't known, I'd have thought they were the Thai equivalents of Harvard graduates - not a bunch of poor Thai girls who had just had a basic course in cutting hair.
Mulder attributes this to respect; or rather to a lack of respect. He says that lesser people in Thai society are treated arrogantly, causing them to feel disrespected and stifled. From Mulder, "Because this sort of treatment is by no means rare, it may partly help explain the quest for diplomas, government employment, or even a position in the monkhood."
I also paid for Iss to do a basic computing course. In one class that I observed, the students spent 45 minutes playing with the cursor keys. "This one makes the cursor go up, this one makes it go down, etc." Unbelievable.
I've never had any formal Windows training in my life but I would imagine that my computer skills are slightly better than that of most Thais ... no matter how many certificates they have.
If you want to teach in Thailand, formal qualifications and outward appearance are all that matter. You might be the best teacher and communicator in the world but if some stupid, spotty graduate comes along who is better qualified on paper, you won't get the job.
A friend just asked me to take some pre-wedding photos of her and her fiancé. I did this for another girl a few years ago. When I met them, her future husband asked me if I had studied photography!
No. Once again, I have no formal qualifications in photography but I've been interested since I got my first SLR 27 years ago and I probably know more than someone who has just done a course and obtained a nice certificate. I am self-taught in most things.
This aspect of living in Thailand is something that I find increasingly frustrating. In some ways the Thais are quite pragmatic but when they continually put image before substance all it does is create a façade, and that will create problems for the future.
I read a few years ago that of the 700,000 graduates being produced in Thailand each year, 300,000 leave university unable to do work because they can't actually do anything.
Thailand can claim an enormous number of highly qualified people but their actual skills are nil. Cheating in tests is commonplace and the education system is based on rote learning.
Students can often memorise enough information - or use other methods - to pass exams, but many can't think for themselves. When analytical thinking is required, this is what happens: Grim results in student tests give pause to educationalists
The kids who go to university with the intention of working hard do OK and medical students in particular work hard. Thailand produces a lot of good doctors, dentists and nurses. There are a lot though who get their degrees and are useless to society.
In Thailand, what you have or what you know is considered worthless unless what you have is paraded around for everyone to see, and what you know takes the form of certificates that can be framed and displayed as prominently as possible.
I have a big problem with Internet forums. That is the reason why I have avoided them for several years.
They're a wonderful idea, and it's a wonderful way to harness the power of the Internet. However, they have been ruined by people who it seems have nothing better to do in life than participate in forums all day.
On occasions I have tried to answer queries about Thailand, only to be beaten down by a Thailand part-timer who wants to be the 'forum expert' on Thailand.
A well-known photography gear site is particularly bad for its forums. Forum time-wasters spend all their time speculating about unannounced, unspecified new products and then argue with anyone who doesn't agree with what they themselves can't possibly know about.
The same stupid unanswerable questions appear week-after-week, year-after-year. "What's best, x vs y?" What shall I eat for lunch today, rice or noodles? I know, I'll ask the question on a forum.
Another really awful forum is a well-known one concerning Thailand. Whenever I look (which is very seldom), most of the stupid postings are about absolutely nothing by people who always refer to Thailand as LOS and obviously have nothing better to do than waste their lives on dumb forums.
I really don't know what to make of someone who goes to live in Thailand and then posts, on average, about 5,000 forum postings per year. Can you really believe anything someone says who obviously spends most of his time sitting at a computer?
My use of the word 'his' wasn't accidental. The dumb morons are always men. For some reason, wasting one's life on the Internet seems to be exclusively a male preserve. Women - who have far more sense - just don't do it.
One day you will die. Just before doing so you will probably spend some time reflecting on your life; looking back at what you have done in life and what you have achieved, or not, as the case may be. It is said that you never regret doing things in life, but that you only regret things you didn't do.
Just before you die, will you be regretting not doing something when you had the chance because you wasted a year arguing with other morons, who you've never even met, whether the speculative, unannounced Canon 7D would have a full-frame or APS-C sensor?
The Internet is probably the greatest invention in my lifetime but along with the good stuff it contains an awful lot of rubbish.
Thailand - sorry, LOS - has always been a magnet for those with addictive personalities. Internet usage is just something else that can easily become addictive for many people, especially men without any self-discipline and without any direction in life.
I was browsing through Benjawan Poomsan Becker's 'Thai for Advanced Readers' the other night. One article is about hill tribes in Thailand and she makes the comment, "Many of them believe in spirits and ghosts."
What, and Thais not belonging to hill tribes don't believe in spirits and ghosts? What a strange comment coming from a Thai. Thais generally are far more Animist than they are Buddhist.
Sunday 9th August 2009
When my Thai students have difficulty with their pronunciation it's normally because they don't make their mouths the right shape, or that they don't put their tongues between their teeth for 'th' sounds, etc.
Sounds that exist in English just don't exist in Thai and vice-versa. The best way to learn is by listening to native speakers while watching their mouths. Reading the words in Thai also gives lots of clues. Once again, this is an area in which transliteration of Thai words into English fails miserably.
Transliteration systems tend to use the same English letters for different Thai vowel sounds, and what's more is that they are inaccurate every time. This, combined with the tones, causes lots of problems.
Most of the answers are provided with the Thai spelling of words.
This word consists of three consonants with L, W and NG sounds. However, when the W consonant is used in a mid-position it acts like a vowel with an 'oo-uh' sound. We therefore get 'loo-ung' which means to deceive, to delude, to fool.
To make the 'oo-uh' sound the lips are pursed forward; just imagine a goldfish, or a ladyboy in shock. It is similar in sound to the English word 'sewer'.
This vowel sound is long, and a syllable ending with 'ng' is live. The initial consonant is low. The rule for this combination of values results in a mid-tone.
By using the same letters and adding a tone mark, we change the tone.
This word means to go beyond, to pass, to exceed, to overstep. The low class initial consonant with the first tone mark results in a falling tone.
This word means to pull out, to draw out, to take out, to fish out. The low class initial consonant with the second tone mark results in a high tone.
Another way of changing the tone is to put a silent 'hor heep' consonant in front of the word. This is done purely for tone purposes, and all it does is change the low class initial consonant to a high class one.
This word means royal and now that the initial consonant is high class we get a rising tone.
Another vowel gives a vaguely similar sound except that the mouth is given a very wide shape (imagine Cherie Blair smiling), rather than the pursed lips of a ladyboy in shock.
This word means to circulate.
For this word you need to look like a wide-mouthed frog when you say it. It uses the same low-class consonant and the first tone mark is used, so we get a falling tone again.
Another way to help describe the pronunciation of this vowel is by imagining you have stepped in something unpleasant. It's impossible to transliterate into English, but something like 'leu-ung'.
This word means yellow.
This word doesn't use a tone mark but uses the same trick as before and adds a silent 'hor heep' before the initial low class consonant to make it high class. In the absence of a tone mark, the high class initial consonant and a live syllable give a rising tone.
If a word ends in an 'oo-uh' sound (rather than this sound being in the middle of the word) we need to use another vowel written above the preceding consonant.
This word means head - 'hoo-uh' (rising tone)
Bull - 'woo-uh' (mid tone)
Picking up some basic Thais words is easy but progressing to conversational standard is pretty tough. Most farangs I hear are nowhere near being able to converse in Thai. They speak in English, just adding Thai words they know, "It's really hot (rawn) today," type of thing.
This week was an interesting week in the classroom. The 'official' version of events in Thailand given to foreigners is highly edited to save face, and to present a good image.
Thai students, on the other hand, can be quite uninhibited and the version they give you is generally unedited and therefore a lot nearer the truth. We covered lots of different subjects during the week.
There are a few subjects in Thailand, such as skin colour, where you only beat your head against a wall if you try to present an alternative view. But not others.
I found a presentation on the subject of the Isthmus of Kra canal to be particularly fascinating. The topics were of my choosing and I deliberately gave my students some controversial subjects to discuss.
At one point I mentioned that although such a project would inevitably strain Thailand's relationship with Singapore, it would bring a lot of revenue into the Thai economy.
At this, there was a huge - and spontaneous - cry of, "Corruption!" With huge mega-projects the Thais are under no illusions where a lot of the money ends up.
It has been such a big part of Thai life for so long for certain people to skim off money for themselves that sometimes it isn't even seen as corruption. However, there is a rapidly growing educated middle-class who really have had enough with what is basically theft.
At the moment this group is still a minority but the situation is changing fast. With Abhisit's appointment, there has been a big move towards cleaner politics and the situation now is infinitely better than it was before.
I have talked to a lot of university and high-school students since I arrived here and, from what I have heard, change is coming.
You cannot overestimate how strong Thai culture and tradition are. These things represent major barriers to change, but the young people of Thailand really do fill me with hope.
Another group of students presented on animal testing. I was expecting them to talk about cosmetics and medicine, which they did, but they also spoke about germ warfare. They told me about a 'gay bomb'.
It doesn't kill, but instead it alters people's hormones turning men into ladyboys. I'd never heard of this before but it may have helped to explain some things in Thailand that have puzzled me for a long time.
Sufficiency Economy was another subject I asked them to discuss and I was pleased to hear that their knowledge of real Buddhism was pretty good. Sufficiency Economy is tied in very closely with Buddhist philosophy in that having enough is seen to be perfectly acceptable, and that wanting more and more all the time will only lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Just after hearing this though, another group of students were explaining Thai musical instruments to me. They told me that the player must wai to the instrument before it is played to pay respect to the spirit within.
They may have a knowledge of Buddhism but in Thailand Animism is never very far away and the two things have become fused together; joined at the hip like Siamese twins.
Rather than Land of Smiles, I think a better epithet for Thailand would be Land of Contradictions. Whatever your opinion of any aspect of the country, it is very easy to find another aspect that completely contradicts the first one.
Wealth, for example. There are many genuinely poor Thais but there are also a lot of very rich ones. Don't let anyone ever convince you that Thailand is a poor country. The distribution of wealth may be exceedingly inequitable but it definitely isn't a poor country.
Intelligence is another example, and this was highlighted most when I was working at the university. In academic circles there are some extremely clever Thais. A law professor I used to have lunch with taught Thai to Thai degree students (yes, many Thais struggle with their own language - especially formal writing); he has two PhDs, speaks fluent French, speaks very good German, and his English is better than many young Brits.
However, in daily life you find yourself dealing with quite a lot of people who aren't the sharpest knives in the box.
Thailand is well known internationally for its high levels of prostitution but the most conservative girls I have ever met have been Thai.
Manners, honesty, kindness and general behaviour are yet other examples. In polite company, Thais are so kind, hospitable and willing to please that it can get a little embarrassing.
I've been to several private functions where, as soon as I arrived, Thai friends took it upon themselves to look after me. I just sat there while they constantly presented me with food and drinks; and made sure I was OK.
On the other hand, Thailand is notorious for its scammers, cheats, and con-artists that prey on foreign tourists at all the major tourist spots in Thailand. Potentially, by meeting too many bad Thais a foreign tourist could have a real nightmare in Thailand.
Because of these huge differences, whenever you start to generalise about any aspect of Thailand you may be right about some people, but you will also be very wrong about others.
Depending on your own individual circumstances, your perspective will vary. When I read certain accounts of Thailand that have been written by foreigners, I can normally tell where those foreigners live in Thailand and what kind of Thais they associate with.
Once again, Niels Mulder sheds some light on this contradictory behaviour. As I think I have mentioned before, Thai society is extremely hierarchical and this understanding of hierarchy is drummed into Thais from a very early age.
But in his analysis, Mulder also points out that apart from hierarchy (which is one dimension), the other dimensions of the world presented to Thais are that of inside and outside.
From Mulder's Inside Thai Society:
The inside is the world of near persons, of home, family and community; the outside is the world of distant persons, of strangers, power, and suspicion.
Both realms indisputably have their hierarchy. Where hierarchical relationships are understood to mean the recognition of wisdom, leadership, benevolence and relative age, we may call it the hierarchy of unequal moral relationships characteristic of the inside world.
Outside of these family-type relationships, hierarchy is primarily characterised by the element of unequal power.
As soon as one encounters the outside, its hierarchy is felt to be oppressive because of overwhelming power and basic unreliability.
Mulder talks about the techniques used by Thais to avoid conflict with the dangerous outside world: basically lots of smiling, polite speech, and avoiding any actions that will cause conflict. This is exactly the type of behaviour you see; and that's why you should never misinterpret a Thai smile.
What he describes is exactly what I have experience. The overwhelmingly polite behaviour occurs in intimate 'inside' groups where people trust each other.
The family aspect is interesting and Thais will often refer to people they are close to as family. When I used to come to Thailand as a tourist I heard a lot of girls referring to other girls as their sisters.
I assumed they were real sisters but found out later there was no blood connection. The pee and nong terms of address mean older/younger sister or brother.
While at the university, one of the staff there told me the campus was regarded as almost a sanctuary from the harsh outside world. She told me people speak and behave politely on campus whereas outside they don't. The example she gave was queueing. People at the university queue but outside it is dog-eat-dog.
I know many Thais who intend never to leave the sanctuary of the university environment. They study for years until they are almost 30, and then go on to become lecturers. The pay is lousy but I think a lot of the motivation is that they feel secure in their environment and that the outside world scares them.
As a tourist in Thailand, you spend all your time in the 'outside' dimension. To Thais, this is a pretty scary place with lots of powerful, unreliable, dangerous people. This is where you find all the cheats, crooks and scammers.
It's not really until you start living in Thailand, either through work or through close friends, that you find yourself in the 'inner' dimension.
This is when you start to realise how completely different life can be in Thailand depending on your situation and who you associate with.
Mulder's book is the most fascinating book I have ever read on Thailand. Upon first reading it, I thought it was quite dry and academic. However, the longer I have lived in Thailand, the more I can equate his theories with actual events that have happened to me.
It's not a huge book and even though I have read it many times, I still find things he has written about that shock me with their accuracy.
The great pandemic that was about to kill 65,000 people in the UK this winter is rapidly fizzling out. The number of people who have died is probably completely normal for any flu virus.
The biggest problem we have is with our media organisations. They have never struggled as much as they are at the moment, and many newspapers that have been around a long time have gone out of business.
The Internet has revolutionised the way we get news and information, and Internet advertising has decimated other forms of advertising. Why pay to run a classified ad in your local paper when you can use Craigslist for free?
With the Internet, no one expects to have to pay for many things these days. Murdoch has announced that he is going to start charging for news but why will people pay when there are so many other better news organisations around who provide free content?
He seems to be hoping that other organisations will follow his lead. However, I just can't see that happening.
Just to survive, the media companies are having to sensationalise every story as much as possible. Hence the constant panicking and scaremongering whenever a new virus comes along: HIV, mad cow disease, SARS, bird flu, swine flu.
These tactics have worked so far, and a gullible public always responds by panicking. People must have started noticing a pattern though. The media companies have been acting like Aesop's boy who kept calling, "Wolf"
You can fool people at first but after so many false alarms they just start to ignore you. Nonetheless, whenever the next strain of a flu virus is detected expect the media to go into another frenzy predicting the end of civilisation as we know it.
I wouldn't expect anything else of one of Murdoch's companies but it saddens me that the BBC is just as guilty as all the rest when it comes to sensationalising news stories.
The moral is don't believe anything you hear or read.
Brits abroad ... again: Latvian warning for British stags
And again: Woman 'torched Briton's genitals'
Both of these stories are related to drunken behaviour. People all over the world are getting sick and tired of the boorish, drunken behaviour of Brits travelling abroad. A few more need to heed Dom Joly's advice.
I thought this was a tennis story: Experts puzzled by spot on Venus
Saturday 1st August 2009
Time permitting, I am planning to put back some of the blog articles I removed earlier this year. I wrote the following Thai language article in December 2007 and an incident just recently reminded me of it.
One of my lesson plans last week was about a tourist's bad experience in Florida so at the start of the lesson I gave my students a quick overview of the USA.
We got down to Florida and I recounted the time I rented a convertible Chrysler Sebring in Miami with a couple of friends and drove down to Key West through Key Largo and the other Florida Keys.
Of course, several mentions of the word 'key' in close succession was hilarious to Thai students and there was much giggling in the front row.
ขี่ - kee with a low tone is the verb to ride, as used with horse, elephant or bicycle, etc. (The initial consonant is high class and combined with the first tone mark, this gives a low tone.)
ขี้ - kee with a falling tone basically means shit - as a verb or a noun the same as in English. (The initial consonant is high class and combined with the second tone mark gives a falling tone.)
It's actually a bit more than that though, because it can mean various kinds of secretion. kee-hoo is earwax, kee-dtaa is what we find in the corners of our eyes after sleeping, kee-mook comes from the nose, etc. Thai sentence structure uses noun-adjective, and not adjective-noun.
Just to confuse foreigners, using exactly the same word as a prefix results in adjectives to describe someone's characteristics. There are quite a few of these. For example:
kee-bon describes someone who nags or complains, kee-giat is lazy, kee-gong is normally used by southern Thais to described Thaksin, kee-mao is a drunk, kee-niaow is stingy.
I'm still not 100% sure about the phrase to describe lo-so farangs. farang kee-nok could mean birdshit foreigner (an insult), or possibly it could mean a foreigner having the characteristics of a bird.
The word ngok (งก) is an adjective for stingy, and therefore kee-ngok could mean someone who is stingy.
I've read different ideas about this. When I ask Thais, they tell me it is farang kee-nok (birdshit foreigner) but I'm not totally convinced.
Once you start to understand a little Thai, you soon realise that lots of words sound remarkably similar. This causes many problems for foreigners trying to learn Thai.
What it also means is that there is lots of word play in Thai. I can almost guarantee that if I describe someone as kee-len (playful), the Thai person will turn the words around and laugh because len-kee means to play with shit.
It's an interesting language and you can have lots of fun with the word play, but it's also a very frustrating language to try to learn.
In case you've never heard of him, Dom Joly did a kind of 'Candid Camera' show on British TV some years ago where he played pranks on the general public. He's an intelligent and very funny guy.
He speaks French, Arabic and English and, as a result of his love of travel, he has been to some very interesting places. This BBC interview is interesting.
In the interview he comments, "As far as I'm concerned, 80% of the world shouldn't be travelling. I mean, if you're going to travel just to vomit in a country and get drunk, and stuff, in someone's capital city, just forget it, stay at home and do it there. You should travel to travel properly and go to places to broaden the mind, not just to broaden your beer gut."
Strangely enough, this same thought occurred to me recently when I went to Nakorn Sri Thammarat for a few days.
I was wandering around one morning and came across two derelict farangs sitting on the side of the street drinking cans of cheap beer. As I walked past they stared and made comments to each other intended to provoke me. I just regarded them as a couple of low-life farang idiots and ignored them.
For most foreigners coming to Thailand, it is a land of endless fascination because everything is so completely different to what they are used to. The food, the language, the way of thinking, the cultural behaviour, absolutely everything.
If you have an open and inquisitive mind it's a wonderful place to acquire new experiences, and to find different ways of looking at life.
If you can think of nothing better to do in Thailand than to sit on the side of the street drinking cheap beer trying to provoke other foreigners, I agree with Dom Joly. Just forget it; do us all a favour and stay at home.
Rampant government corruption, alarming levels of street violence, a failed education system, a culture based around alcohol, and incredible examples of flawed logic. Yes, it could only be the UK.
Following accounts describing how UK MPs have been getting rich and leading flamboyant lifestyles at the taxpayers' expense, a brewery in Scotland has just launched the UK's strongest beer.
With an 18.2% alcohol content, this one will no doubt take over from Tennent's Super (also brewed in Scotland) as being the tramps' favourite brew; and it will be seen being drunk out of brown paper bags all over Britain.
According to the BBC site: "The company insisted the beer's high quality would help tackle the country's binge-drinking culture."
Yeah, sure. And the manufacturer of the cigarette with the highest nicotine content has insisted it will help tackle the problem of lung cancer and heart disease.
It's easy while living in Thailand to pick on the Thais, but it's just as easy to forget what is happening back in the UK. As most developing countries strive to become developed ones, exactly the opposite is happening back in the place of my birth. A once great nation has become the laughing stock of the world.
My cold dragged on for just over two weeks. It wasn't too bad, but bad enough to take the fun out of the other things in life for a while.
Of course, you aren't allowed to have a 'normal' cold at the moment with the Swine Flu panic in full swing. Anyone displaying any cold symptoms is treated like a leper, and the surgical masks come out immediately. I should have walked around with a bell proclaiming, "Mai sa-aat, mai sa-aat."
I read some comments about masks last week. Someone who apparently knows the facts about these things said that only N95(US), PP2 or preferably PP3 masks are actually of any use. Most of the masks you see people wearing are completely useless.
In fact, it goes further than that. Wearing a mask can actually increase your chances of getting the virus. As you breathe, the mask becomes hot and damp. Thus it provides a perfect breeding environment for viruses - and one that is right in front of your mouth.
Nonetheless, thousands of Thais are now wearing surgical masks, and I see them wherever I go.
I have just had an unexpected week off due to mid-term exams. I'm not sure that getting a holiday while I was ill was bad luck or good luck. Feeling as I did, it wouldn't have been any fun teaching.
One thing I never consider is not going to work if I am ill. This makes no sense at all. Going to work if you are ill means you can't perform very well; you prolong your recovery time; and there is a risk you will infect other people.
This is something peculiar to the British. I also read last week that the French will report in to work sick at the first sniffle. Brits may laugh at this attitude but Swine Flu is a big problem in Britain and not in France. The French attitude makes a lot of sense.
British culture is far from perfect. Along with the 'stiff upper lip' there is a prevailing attitude that 'a little suffering does you good' and that alcohol will fix any problem.
In my working life, if someone called in sick no one ever believed them. There were always knowing looks that they had just taken a day off and used sickness as an excuse.
Consequently, when people are sick they don't want to be talked about. They go in to work sick to avoid gossip, or to demonstrate that they really are sick. As a result, they infect other people and the situation gets worse.
I've highlighted aspects of Thai culture that seem strange but the British also have all kinds of strange traits. Many aspects of British culture are not at all attractive and they do not make me proud of my roots.
SARS and the Bird-Flu threat fizzled out just as quickly as they arrived, but the Swine-Flu virus seems to have been a lot more successful in getting itself established.
What concerns me more are mosquito-borne diseases because these are untreatable and they can be really dangerous. The sign in the photo has been posted in a very prominent position of town to warn people of Chikungunya.
I'd recently heard that Japanese Encephalitis was a problem in the region and at first I wasn't sure whether this was the Thai word for this disease. However, it seems to be a different disease altogether.
It is transmitted by the same genus of mosquito that transmits dengue and apparently it is similar to dengue. Dengue continues to be a problem, as does malaria, as does Japanese Encephalitis.
On one of the pedestrian bridges I use, there is sometimes a guy begging who has Elephantiasis in one leg. This is yet another disease that is spread by mosquitoes. His leg is so disfigured that I can barely bring myself to look.
When I went to Singapore a few years ago during a dengue fever outbreak I was struck by how much public awareness there was of the disease. There were posters everywhere. On my return, I was disappointed that there was nothing like this in Thailand.
At least now, that situation seems to have changed and the authorities are making people aware. It goes a step further in Singapore where inspectors can suddenly arrive at your house and check for standing water.
They will take any samples away for analysis and if you are found to be providing breeding environments for mosquitoes, you will be prosecuted. That's something, of course, that will never happen in Thailand.
Lots of containers are just discarded in the streets and these will accumulate water when it rains, which mosquitoes can then breed in. The authorities can give out as many warnings as they wish, but there will always be a certain section of the Thai public who will never change their ways.
Real Buddhist thinking represents probably the most accurate understanding of the human condition ever written. What is interesting is that during the last 2,500 years the way humans think hasn't changed at all.
In fact, not only is Buddhism still relevant today, it is probably more relevant to people today than it was during the time of the Buddha. Any unsatisfactory condition in life can be traced to grasping, craving, attachment and not understanding impermanence.
In today's electronically-connected, highly materialistic world with intensive 24-hour advertising we are constantly bombarded with images of things to crave. Consequently, Buddhism still has all the answers.
You'd think that The Nation newspaper would know better. This is one of Thailand's English language newspaper, and the newspaper is never slow to criticise foreigners' lack of understanding about Thailand, or to lecture foreigners about Thai ways and customs.
Writing about Thaksin's birthday, they refer to Buddhist black-magic rites. Thaksin, in the past, is alleged to have consulted with Cambodian witch doctors so this doesn't surprise me.
What really annoys me though is the 'Buddhist' connection in this story. I refer again to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, whose books have given an excellent account of 'real' Buddhism to the English-speaking world.
Pick up any book written by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and you will read what the message of Buddhism really is. What you won't find is anything about black-magic rites, magic amulets, spirits, supernatural powers, or any of the other superstitious nonsense that somehow always gets linked to Buddhism.
If Buddhadasa Bhikkhu does mention these things, it is only in a very disparaging way.
For the same reason, all of the animistic rites, rituals and superstitions that go on in Thailand - a predominantly Buddhist country - doesn't mean that these things have anything to do with Buddhism (even though most of the population believe and participate in them).
Put simply, most of the belief systems practiced widely in Thailand have absolutely nothing at all to do with real Buddhism. They pre-date Buddhism and are animistic in their roots.
To quote Mulder (Inside Thai Society by Niels Mulder):
"The common understanding and practice of Buddhism remains animistic in the sense that merit-making is generally understood as a mechanism to ensure safety and auspiciousness, and thus the institutionalised Buddhism of the masses has become a powerhouse for individual and communal protection.
Some people, though, are genuinely interested in following the morality and wisdom of the Buddhist path and, especially in old age, many practice seriously; such people are no longer interested in the decha dimension of existence.
To most Thais, however, accruing merit is a technique to ensure safety in a world that is replete with unreliable forces, and the consequent understanding and practices of Buddhism can best be described as 'Buddhist Animism' (Terwiel, 1975)."
When Thai students only study in Thailand their ability seems to plateau fairly early on, and after that they simply don't seem to be able to improve - no matter how much they try. However, with the ones who have studied abroad there is a distinct jump in ability.
It's not all perfect though. This girl studied in Texas and has picked up quite a drawl. The accent can't really be helped but one thing I had to have a word with her about (because it was irritating me so much) was that she had started peppering every sentence with the word 'like'.
We all have irritating little vocal habits but that particular one takes some beating. It's almost as bad as someone who returns from Australia and peppers every sentence with the word 'heaps'.
I'm not sure to what degree this is intentional. Thais like to show off and by speaking English with an American accent, and by using American teenage slang, it's a way of letting others know where they have been.
Pretty much the same attitudes exist in Thailand and, from what I can make out, most of the rest of Asia.
Singapore is probably the most Westernised of any Asian country but with a 76% ethnic Chinese population, Asian attitudes and ideas persist.
White skin is good, dark skin is bad, and it is quite acceptable to use shark fins or bird nests - thus threatening those animals with extinction - for our own selfish purposes.
I have asked some of my students to give group presentations on given topics, one of which is advertising. One girl said she didn't know what to talk about (who said Thai students have no imagination?).
As an example, I asked her if it was right that every time she opens a magazine or watches TV she is given the message by advertisers that white skin is good and dark skin is bad, and that she should buy the skin-whitening product being advertised?
She paused momentarily and told me she agrees with the advertisers.
Thai value and belief systems are so strong, and so deeply ingrained, that getting Thais to alter their views can feel like bashing your head against a brick wall.
In addition to seeing more females, I always ask new students about their families. Time and time again, I hear about lots of female relatives but not many males.
This doesn't make any sense though, apart from one theory that concluded more females are born in tropical countries. This story was reported on 1st April but apparently it wasn't a joke.
Nature normally does a good job of keeping the sexes in balance. I've read before that it is normal for slightly more males to be born because males are more skilled at killing themselves prematurely. Infanticide has never been practiced in Thailand - as it has been in India and China - and I know of no other unnatural reason why there should be an imbalance in the sexes.
The official Thai government statistics agree that there are more females, but by less than a million people. I've heard it suggested that the difference is significantly more.
Could it be that because of the type of work they do, women are a lot more visible in day-to-day life? Could it be that as farang males we just happen to take more notice of Thai females?
The official statistics give a breakdown by province and only 20 of the 76 provinces have more males than females. Using the standard (inaccurate) transliteration, these are: Krabi, Kanchanaburi, Trat, Tak, Nan, Prachuap Khirikhan, Phangnga, Mukdahan, Mae Hong Son, Yasothon, Ranong, Lopburi, Loei, Sa Kaeo, Surin, Nong Khai, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Amnat Charoen, Udon Thani, Ubon Rat Chatani.
I don't know if these figures are calculated by the number of people born, or by the number of people actually living, in each province. There has been a huge amount of economic migration in Thailand and people from poor regions will go to live wherever they can find work.
I guess we will never know but if you get the chance, take a look and see what you think.
Teaching Thai girls has its problems but these are quite manageable. On the other hand, I have found that trying to teach large classes of Thai boys is simply impossible.
The girls tend to be very conservative but the boys are encouraged to express their manhood in a manner of different ways; by womanising, racing cars and motorbikes on public streets, drinking alcohol, smoking, etc.
Here are some quotes from Niels Mulder's 'Inside Thai Society':
"The Thais like women to be beautiful and charming, virtuous and unassailable. Yet, simultaneously, the men also seem to have a strong need to express their virility.
While women seem to represent beauty and virtue - the two elements are almost fused in Thai thinking - men are supposed to be able to dominate the wider world and express their manliness in the brothel and the (boxing) ring, in politics and religion."
If you have only ever been to tourist resorts in Thailand and this talk of Thai girls being conservative confuses you, it is because the tourist resorts are not representative of real Thailand.
The girls working in these places all tend to come from Isaan, and the need for money to support their families overrides all other aspects of Thai culture.
It is not only the Thai girls who sell their bodies who can be difficult to deal with. The 'good' girls find that because of certain Thai cultural behaviour, there is a shortage of men they regard as being suitable partners.
This causes many of them to be extremely insecure. As a result, their behaviour can be very difficult to deal with. Once again, I have had to end a relationship with a Thai girl for behaving so unreasonably that I just couldn't stand it any more.
Her behaviour wasn't at all unique for a Thai girl. In fact, it was exactly the same as the other girls I have been involved with in the past.
One of the first things they do (and she did it at the very first opportunity she could) is to get hold of your mobile phone when you aren't around. From this they can quickly find out all the other females you have contact with.
There then comes lots of warnings not to have contact with these girls any more - even though some may be very good friends that you have known for a long time.
The next thing is ridiculous demands for commitment for the rest of your life - even though you've only been in a relationship for a few weeks.
After repeatedly asking me when we would be married, this one had asked questions about surnames so she knew what her name would be after we married, and had already worked out where we would live - with her parents.
I'd worked with her for quite a long time, but after only two weeks of being in a relationship with her she had completely mapped out the rest of my life. I started to feel like a trapped rat and reacted accordingly.
I tried to be honest but what you can't do with a Thai girl is be honest. I really don't know how I will feel in 10 years time but telling her I didn't know wasn't good enough. I could have lied to placate her but that didn't seem the right thing to do.
I am officially a single man again, and much relieved. The way I feel at the moment I don't ever want to get involved with a Thai girl again. They're great until you actually begin a relationship. When this happens, their demands, expectations, insecurity, possessiveness and jealousy start to become unbearable.
When I first came to Thailand I imagined I would get married very soon. Now, after almost six years, I can't ever see that happening.
I know lots of Thai girls for different reasons. Some I like to socialise and be friends with. Others are very well-connected and useful to know because they can help me. I know other girls for other reasons.
It just seems unrealistic to expect to find one female who can be everything.
I was talking to a male hairdresser recently. He wasn't old, but he wasn't young, and I don't think he was gay. He was single and happy. He told me that when you are single you get lonely sometimes but not often.
He said that relationships cause so many problems, they aren't worth it just to avoid being lonely occasionally. He said he valued friends more than a partner.
I think he was right. In Thailand it's easy to find some temporary company for those lonely times and that way you avoid all the hassles involved with permanent relationships.
The girls are great to get to know; to be friends with; to flirt with; to have fun with; to laugh and joke with. However, what I have found since I started living in Thailand is that once any serious kind of relationship develops, then their demands, expectations, and insecurity can start to drive you nuts.
This behaviour tends to be worse in single girls in their late 20's. Thai girls seem to think that their chances of finding a husband end at 30. Consequently, if they are still single as they approach 30 they start to panic and get very demanding, wanting lots of reassurance, guarantees, and commitment.
Younger girls don't tend to behave like this, and neither do older ones - especially if they have already been married. Unfortunately for me, it is single Thai girls in their late 20's that I normally tend to develop relationships with.
Something that is very sad about Thailand is that as a foreigner (especially as a non-Thai speaking tourist who is not familiar with the country or the people) you are highly likely to be targeted by scammers sometime during your stay.
Cheats and scams vary in severity. You might just be ripped off a few hundred Baht, in which case, no big deal. Put it down to experience.
Depending on where and how I travel, I know whether I need to negotiate a fare first or not. It's not necessary to do this every single time if you are in familiar territory and know what the fare should be.
On the occasions I should have negotiated a fare first, but forgot, the driver has then demanded a stupid fare after reaching our destination. By that time it's a bit late to argue. As I said, no big deal, just try to remember next time.
On the other hand, some scams can be quite serious. The infamous gem scam is so old, and so well documented, that I can't believe anyone in this day and age would fall for someone in Bangkok offering gems at bargain prices.
With the old routines becoming less successful, crafty Thais are having to think up new ways of extorting money out of foreigners. I saw the following story on the BBC news site: Tourists warned of Thailand airport scam
You might have been very careful to avoid scammers during your stay in Thailand, but on the way home you innocently pop into the duty-free shop at the airport before your flight. And then you get taken.
The tourism industry in Thailand is massive, and it is a vital part of the Thai economy. You'd think that the Thais would want to stamp out any petty crime that might potentially damage the industry.
If they wanted to, they could. Quite easily. The problem comes when you analyse who it is that the scams benefit.
I just loaned my little Thai sister Bt20,000. She wouldn't have asked unless it was urgent and although she said she will pay the money back, it's no big deal if she doesn't. I'm not exactly sure why she needs this money but it is related to her dealings with Amway.
I have to admit that ever since she got involved with Amway I have been very concerned about her, and that's what I'm going to write about today.
First, some background about her.
Before she became my little sister she was my girlfriend but for various reasons that relationship ended. However, we stayed close and I really do think of her as a younger sibling.
She studied accounting at university but hated working in an office. She is very much a 'people person' rather than someone who enjoys working alone at a desk.
She sold clothes for a while before starting work in a beauty salon doing beauty treatments and cutting hair. Many Thais have no opportunity in life of a decent career and salon work seems to be a favourite with the poorer girls. That was where I met her almost six years ago.
It always struck me as an awful job but she seemed to enjoy it. I felt sorry for all the staff working there because they were treated almost like bonded labour. At potentially busy times they had to remain in the shop just in case customers turned up.
Sometimes Iss would work until 11pm or midnight. She wasn't paid overtime but only earned money if she got a customer. Everything was weighted in her boss's favour. The boss always had staff on hand if customers arrived, but there was no obligation to pay them if customers didn't arrive.
This kind of arrangement simply wouldn't work in many other countries but Thais who don't have any other choice just accept it as normal.
Eventually she got fed up with her job there, and she also started getting skin problems from doing that type of work. This was around the time our relationship ended. She quit her job, stopped living with me, and went back home.
I'm not sure how it happened but a little later she 'discovered' Amway. The next time I saw her she was like a changed person. In many ways, she was like someone who had 'discovered' religion. Amway was now her life and that's all she could talk about.
She was suddenly very interested in my well-being. I didn't have any major problems but whatever little problem I had, there was always an Amway product that could cure the problem. She spoke about Amway with such zeal, fervour and passion that again I was reminded of someone who had suddenly found Jesus.
I was very concerned but I didn't want to voice any of my concerns because I didn't want to rain on her parade. I was happy to see her with so much enthusiasm for life but I wasn't happy about the reasons why.
It is easy to understand why Amway can be so appealing to Thais (and many Thais are into it in a big way).
- As I said above, it isn't much fun being an employee in Thailand. Amway is very clever in that the sales people selling their products are referred to as Independent Business Owners (IBOs). This makes them think they are, in fact, business owners.
- Secondly, Thais don't tend to be as cynical as foreigners. If someone tried to sell Amway to me I would just raise my eyebrows and think 'pyramid scheme' but Iss believed everything she was told.
- Thirdly, most Thais won't receive any kind of a pension which means they never stop working. Amway sold Iss the dream that if she worked hard enough for a few years she would then be able to retire to a life of leisure because money would continue to roll in.
- Thais are suspicious of salespeople. Lots of business is done by personal referrals and word of mouth. Amway salespeople target people they know, ie friends and family, and that is a very natural way of doing business in Thailand.
Despite all my concerns, I still didn't say anything. I imagined that in her closed circle of Amway colleagues, they would be telling her not to trust anyone who said anything against Amway. I knew that it wouldn't do any good saying anything.
Since she got involved she has worked extremely hard with hardly a break. I took her to Phuket in May and the reason for that was just to force her to have a break. She was reluctant to go and even when she did we had to go to the Amway shop in Phuket, and she continued to do business.
She called a couple of weeks ago and, as usual, I started joking with her straight away. After a few seconds though, I sensed there was something wrong. She then started crying. She has been spending her whole life trying to make a success of Amway and subsequently she has lost touch with all her friends.
The latest now is that she needs to borrow money for 'a small problem with her business'. She has been working hard for about three years now and if she still isn't making a profit, will she ever make a profit?
She attends a lot of Amway meetings and I get the impression these are like religious gatherings. At these meetings they always wheel in a couple of high-rollers who have been made rich by Amway and tell everyone they can do the same. Yeah, sure.
One word I have learnt not to use with her is 'pyramid'. This is network selling, she tells me.
From stuff I've read, the IBOs are obliged to buy a lot of promotional material from people higher up in Amway. This stuff isn't cheap and apparently people higher up the chain make most of their money this way, rather than from selling products.
I believe the quality of the products is fine but they are expensive. They are expensive even by Western world standards, which makes they very expensive in Thailand. Iss maintains that the products are 'World Class' and the way she speaks about them is as if they have almost miraculous powers. Thais are very cost-conscious and selling these expensive products must be quite difficult.
What drives her is the dream she has been sold of putting in a few years hard work and then being able to put her feet up for the rest of her life. What she doesn't accept is that might never happen, and so she continues putting in long hours each day.
When I last saw her bank book (a few years ago) she had about Bt100,000 in her account. The fact that she has had to come to me to borrow money would indicate that money has now gone. I therefore assume she has been using her own money to get this business going.
As an older brother who cares about his little sister, this has become something of an issue for me. I want to help her and I want her to know about my concerns but I fear the regular brainwashings she gets will make her believe I am an enemy if I say anything negative about what she is involved with.
On the other hand, she really enjoys this line of work that involves meeting people and selling things. She doesn't want to go back into the salon business, and unbelievably - at the great age of 35 - she is regarded as being too old for many employers in Thailand.
There is no such thing as political correctness in Thailand. When you look at job adverts, employers often specify an upper age limit and this can be as low as 30 or 35. There is also no such thing as sex discrimination. For certain jobs, employers will specify that they want females only, and in many cases they only want attractive ones.
All job applications in Thailand require that the applicant attaches a photo, and if you thought that things such as appearance or skin colour don't matter, think again. That may be the case elsewhere but definitely not in Thailand. Thailand is full of discrimination and prejudices.
I buy very little fruit from supermarkets or traditional markets. Instead, I regularly buy fresh fruit from people on the street. They either set up a small stall or sell their goods from the back of a pickup truck.
Often, it comes from their own gardens. It isn't unusual for provincial Thais living out of town to have some land, and on that land they will probably grow some fruit. It might not be a lot but it will probably be too much for their own consumption.
Those of you who can read Thai will see that the mangosteen in the photo above comes from the deep southern province of Narathiwat.
Mangosteen, known as the 'Queen of fruits', is my favourite tropical fruit. The red skin is thick and conceals white, fleshy segments that taste divine. I can polish off 2kg in one sitting! This isn't quite as bad as it sounds. The thick skin is heavy so for each weighed kilogram there isn't actually a great deal of edible fruit.
If you're wondering what the 'King of fruits' is, it's durian. Most Asians go wild for durian but I have never been able to get past the smell. The sulphur compounds found in durian are responsible for the foul smell.
If you've ever smelt rotten eggs, or visited a sulphurous hot spring (the small spring at Glenwood Springs in Colorado comes to mind), that will give you some idea of the smell. Despite their love for the taste, Durian is banned in many hotels in Asia.
Another foul-smelling fruit found in Thailand is known as jum-bpaa-da. My Thai-English dictionary calls it chempedak but I this is not a word I know. Possibly it's a Malaysian word? It is large, like a jackfruit, and the two fruits are related I believe.
Jackfruit has an odour but it isn't too bad. The odour of jum-bpaa-da, on the other hand, is quite strong and overpowering.
Fruit is so abundant in Thailand - especially in the south - you can be fooled into thinking that it simply grows on trees.
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