Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 3rd August 2012
Someone searched Google to find out what had happened to me. I didn't realise that anyone cared.
The most significant thing to have happened - probably the most significant thing in my life - was the arrival of our daughter last year. As every parent knows, kids take over your whole life. I'm really enjoying parenthood, but I have little time for anything else these days.
I'm totally biased, of course, but she is totally amazing and the whole process of bringing a new life into the world puts everything else into perspective. My priorities have changed.
In addition to that we are having a house built. I didn't go down the route of designing and building a house myself because I envisaged too many problems dealing with Thais. I thought it would be less of a headache buying a house in a development that someone else was managing. It has probably been easier, but the process hasn't exactly been trouble free.
The house has already been delayed several months, the first foreman was sacked, the second foreman walked out without telling anyone, and there have been lots of other problems.
New Thai houses don't have a lot of the things that would be expected in new houses elsewhere. You need to realise this when calculating the cost if you plan to buy a new house in Thailand. First, there is the house price and then there is the cost of all the things you need to make the house fit to live in.
This also means that you have to deal with separate contractors, as well as the people building the house, and that you have to project manage everything. With all the delays and problems that keep occurring, this has been a difficult and time-consuming task.
The second foreman we had was actually a very nice guy who seemed to be genuinely concerned about doing a good job and he helped when dealing with outside contractors. However, for reasons we don't know about, he decided to walk out one day and never came back.
As with everything else in Thailand, the theory always sounds good but in practice there are always lots of problems. Buying or building a house is no exception. Thais do things their way and Westerners often have different ideas and expectations. This clash of cultures is never easy to deal with. Having a house built is just one example and when you're married to a Thai as well, life can sometimes become very trying.
There was some activity recently and it looked as if they were trying to get the house finished. Now everything has stopped again (for the umpteenth time) and we've just heard it's because all the workers have gone home. Great.
This happened during Songkran when they all disappeared for a couple of weeks. Thais are always complaining about how poor they are but when they have the opportunity to work they decide that it's better to be at home and not earn any money.
Thailand can be a very challenging and frustrating place for expats. Living in Thailand is completely different to spending a few weeks on a Thai beach in a tourist resort. This is the thing that tourists never realise.
I've also found that some tourists don't want to believe the hard truths about Thailand. I can understand this to some extent. For naive tourists Thailand seems like a utopia. The perfect vision they have of the country seems like an antidote to the problems in the rest of the world.
To accept the truth means having to shatter their illusions and ultimately to accept that nowhere is perfect. This is an unpleasant experience so it is easier just to keep wearing the rose-tinted spectacles and to live in a state of denial.
We're still waiting for the house to be finished and I expect more problems in the final stages. After experiencing a bad flood in 2010 I am desperate to get into the new place before this year's rainy season starts in October. Flooding is no fun and our rented house is in a very risky area if another flood occurs.
What else? I've noticed over the years how some farangs in Thailand seem to spend their whole lives on a computer reading and writing obsessively about strange Thai ways instead of actually enjoying the good things about living in Thailand.
After about four years of living in Thailand I had a pretty good idea of how Thais thought and behaved. Why do people who have lived in the country for 20 years or more still go on about it?
It serves no purpose. Posting 30,000 messages on an Internet forum won't earn you any money, won't win you a gold medal, won't improve your life, and you won't change anything. You can't change anything about Thailand because Thais have completely different value and belief systems. They don't think the same way as Westerners and so, of course, everything will seem strange to Westerners.
Example: It is unlikely that you will see many winning British athletes at the London Olympics proudly holding a photo of Queen Elizabeth II above their heads as they make their way to the medal podium.
Thais have a different set of values and beliefs to the rest of the world, especially to the Western world.
Trivial things such as being punctual, finishing work on time, taking care of the environment, not dumping rubbish everywhere, waiting in line for things, doing what you say you will do, effective education, obeying traffic laws, road safety, telling the truth, food hygiene, etc. etc. - things that are important to Westerners, aren't necessarily important to Thais, and vice-versa.
The longer you live in Thailand, the more you realise just how big these differences are. After you realise that you can't assimilate because it's impossible to accept the Thai way of thinking, you then need to develop some effective personal strategies to be able to continue living in the country without going insane. Moaning about things in forum posts may help you let off a little steam but it isn't really an effective strategy.
Apart from the different value and belief systems, there is also a lot of stupidity in Thailand, which I have a problem dealing with, and so it is best not to focus on things that are a result of stupidity.
After I moved to Thailand I spent many years reading relevant books and analysing Thai cultural behaviour. It started driving me nuts because as I learned more I started to dislike the country more and I was powerless to change anything. More recently, I decided to try to ignore what goes on around me for a while and get on with my own life. You can't avoid all the craziness that goes on, but you can ignore certain things before your own state of mind starts to be adversely affected.
The bomb blast that occurred nearby a few months ago also had a strange affect on me. I knew people who were in the building at the time and it could have been me. No one I knew was killed but a few other people died. Life can end at any time - especially when you use the same roads as Thai drivers - so make the most of it.
Don't waste your life with Facebook, Twitter, ThaiVisa or the rest of the Internet. You'll regret it later if you do. Just like drugs, these things are designed to be addictive and the only people who win are the website owners. I never look at any of the aforementioned websites and always try to use my online time productively.
This all sounds really negative, but actually I'm not negative about living in Thailand. Living in Thailand is a dichotomy. It is the differences compared to the West that drive you crazy, but it is also those differences that make life interesting.
One of the reasons I left the UK was boredom and if I went back I would die of boredom. There are lots of problems in Thailand but rarely is it boring. I also have a young wife, which I wouldn't have if I had stayed in the UK, and I will shortly live in the kind of house I couldn't afford in the UK. Life in Thailand can be good if you don't keep obsessing about all the negative aspects.
It's all pros and cons; weighing up the positives and negatives and working out what is best for you personally. This is why the decision to move to Thailand is very personal and can only be made by you alone.
I've still managed to find some time to do work on my website but not here. I did a bit more work on my learning to read Thai tutorials and my regional guide has become very popular recently.
Both of these things are actually useful, whereas this isn't particularly useful, and so my time has been better spent doing other things.
Another reason for stopping my blog is because nothing ever changes in Thailand and it starts to get really boring after several years.
When I stopped writing here I also stopped looking at news websites in Thailand for a while but when I looked again it was all the same old things. I get bored of reading about farangs behaving badly in Pattaya and road accidents all the time. Nothing ever changes in Thailand.
It is so predictable that I could write about the road accidents that will take place during next year's Songkran festival and I would be quite accurate.
I keep thinking about starting the blog again but I haven't enjoyed writing it for a while and there seems to be no point. There's also the problem of having very little free time these days. I still intend adding articles elsewhere within this site and rewriting stuff that I wrote years ago, but it won't be in this format.
Thursday 2nd August 2012
The wife wanted to go to her sister's house today. I was pleased to take her as it gives both me and her a break from each other. With neither of us working any more we spend an unhealthy amount of time together.
After I had dropped her off I did some computer work and then went for a massage. The cost of a massage here is less than the cost of a couple of pints in the UK (certainly in London pubs), therefore it's a luxury that is affordable to a lot of people.
I used to go regularly in my single days but this was only about the third time I had been in two years since I got married. I get massages from the wife if she's in a good mood and I've been a good boy.
The masseuse today was a young girl from Chiang Rai who had only been doing the job for 12 days. She was 22 and used to work in the rice fields. This is the only work available for many Thais. It's backbreaking, and very honourable, work but the pay is very low.
Among other things, she told me she had one younger sister of 16 who was still at home. She didn't have any children and said she had never had a boyfriend. She was taught how to give massages by an experienced masseuse. This took a couple of weeks and cost her Bt3,000. This is a lot of money for poor Thais, but at least now she has the opportunity to make some money so she can support her family at home.
I asked if she knew anyone here and she didn't. I asked if she had been afraid of travelling to the other end of the country to find work. She said she was at first but soon overcame any fears.
She had strong arms and gave a pretty good massage. Thai girls have lots of strength, as you may have noticed if you've been following the women's weightlifting at the London Olympics.
Surprisingly, she hadn't had any Malaysian or Singaporean tourists as customers. She said that all her customers had been Thai. This is relevant for what I am about to say.
At the end of the session she asked me if I wanted to pay the cashier directly or give the money to her. I said that I would give it to her and she told me the price was Bt240.
I followed her out a few minutes later and heard her speaking to the cashier. The cashier was telling her that I am a foreigner (the cashier used the polite Thai expression for foreigner and not the usual farang) and therefore the price was Bt300 and not Bt240.
The girl apologised and said that she had forgotten. I was then charged Bt300. Dual pricing is extremely common but usually the Thai price is written somewhere in Thai using Thai numerals. There was just one price on display and nothing written anywhere in Thai about prices for Thais. They just keep quiet about the Thai price and it isn't written anywhere.
I asked the cashier if the price was the same for Thais and foreigners. I knew it wasn't because I had just overheard her telling the young girl it wasn't. She lied and said it was.
Lying, just like the practice of having one price for Thais and another for foreigners, is very common in Thailand.
Now that I've explained what happened, what point was there writing here about it?
After living in Thailand for about six months I had been lied to repeatedly, and there had also been bad lies told about me to people who I knew at the time. After a year of living in the country I was fully aware that Thais lie a lot.
In addition, an Englishman called Dave who had retired to Hua Hin to play golf had sent me some e-mails and attached to one of them was a document describing Thai characteristics. I've still got it.
One of the bullet points on his list said that Thais will lie even if it is easier to tell the truth.
After living here for almost nine years I really don't need to be told (or to read) that Thais lie a lot. I know already. Most people who followed this blog when it was active don't need to be told either. They live in Thailand and/or visit Thailand often and/or read other resources about Thailand.
I know about the issue and you know about it, so what is the point?
Sometimes when I'm out and about I hear Thai women say to their friends, "farang," when they see me. I don't know why they do this. The woman knows that I am a farang, I know that I am a farang (because Thais never let me forget), and her friend knows that I am a farang. What was the point of saying anything?
If I were to continue writing here I would inevitably write about lying in the future because it is guaranteed to happen again. But I know that Thais lie and you know, so what's the point? It's the same with most things about Thailand.
What is it about living in Thailand that makes people go on about the same things year after year, even though they know already and so does everyone else?
I've done this myself for years regarding Thai driving standards. The stupidity on Thai roads, the utter disregard for any traffic laws, and the lack of interest in enforcing traffic laws is a national disgrace. But I know already, you know, and nothing will ever change. What's the point of keep going on about it?
This is the point I have reached with writing about life in Thailand.
Here are the things I was told by Dave from Hua Hin - written exactly how he sent them - when I first arrived to live in the country in 2003. He was given this advice when he first arrived in the country by another Englishman who had lived in Thailand for 25 years. Dave described the following points as four little gems of wisdom.
- You can take a girl from the bar you cannot take the bar from the girl
- The only thieves in Thailand are those you invite into your house (god that is so true)
- If it is easier to tell the truth Thais will still lie
- Conning and cheating are skills that are applauded not denigrated
Wednesday 1st August 2012
The expat community in Thailand is a very mixed bunch. There are some really wonderful farangs in Thailand who are sensitive, intelligent, caring and do a lot to help the locals. Their presence makes Thailand a better place.
At the other end of the spectrum the country has become a refuge for dropouts, losers and criminal types who are on the run from the police in their own countries.
The easy lifestyle, cheap cost of living, weak rule of law, sunshine, prostitutes, cheap beer, mai bpen rai attitude, and being able to live 'under the radar' for many years with no one knowing who you are or where you are make the country an attractive place for fugitives.
Phuket police have just captured Belgium's most wanted man.
Whenever I meet a farang who I don't know, I am always very cautious at first because I don't know anything about his (normally his and not her) history. This was also a factor in choosing to live where I do in Thailand. Certain locations in Thailand attract foreign criminals more than others.
It doesn't take long to find out what type of people they are and why they are in Thailand but at first it pays to be a little wary.
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