Living In Thailand Blog
Thursday 29th August 2013
Crazy Thai drivers are not confined to the roads, unfortunately. Although not as dangerous as the Philippines for maritime accidents, Thailand has its fair share of accidents at sea and some involve tourists.
The basic reasons are normally the same as in road accidents. Boat operators overload their vessels to increase profits, and macho boat drivers drive too fast. At certain times of the year the sea can get pretty rough and this increases the chance of a collision or capsize.
My boat journey to Koh Tao some years ago was most unpleasant and a little bit scary because of large waves.
There are a lot of Internet users in Thailand (possibly reaching 52 million this year out of a total population of almost 70 million), but there are still big differences compared to the West.
Socialising and game-playing are very big on-line, shopping is growing, but small business still has a long way to go.
A Thai told me recently that the Line application has 80 million users overall, 10 million of whom are Thai. Those statistics are obviously out of date because Line now has over 200 million users, but it is still a big percentage of Thais. My wife spends lots of time using Line, and Thais keep asking if I have it. I don't and I'm still using an ancient Nokia 'dumb' phone. I have no interest in so-called 'smart' phones.
At one of our local hospitals there are some free PCs that can be used while people are waiting. On my last visit I saw five young Thai kids, about 10 years of age, all accessing their Facebook accounts. I don't believe there is a Thai student in the country of any age who doesn't have a Facebook account. A few years ago every Thai student had a Hi5 account, but they all moved to Facebook and Hi5 was consigned to Internet history.
My wife bought some Nike brand trainers for our daughter at Central department store. They cost Bt1,700. She has since found several Thai websites selling children's clothes and shoes. She ordered another pair of branded trainers for about Bt500. They look fine and the postage in Thailand is reliable and cheap. (Unfortunately, the postal service isn't so reliable for mail arriving from overseas.)
With these sort of savings, shopping by Internet will continue to grow in Thailand. It might also affect market traders. I know several people who buy clothes wholesale and then sell them locally in shops and from market stalls. Some go to Bangkok to but their stock because Bangkok has the cheapest prices in Thailand, but one Thai girl I know sources clothes from China and even Vietnam.
They can sell their goods cheaply and still make a profit. However, if people can buy directly from Internet stores and buy even cheaper, this may put many middlemen and middlewomen out of business. Amazon and other Internet retailers have put a lot bricks-and-mortar shops out of business in the West, and the same thing will happen in Thailand eventually. The Thai business people who have realised this already and opened Internet businesses are the ones who will succeed.
Business use of the Internet still has a long way to go, especially with small businesses and especially in the provinces. Not so much in Bangkok. Bangkok is always years ahead of the provinces and I saw lots of websites advertised there for local businesses.
If you want to find a house to rent or car to buy in the provinces, there isn't much information on-line. Many smaller businesses don't have websites and it is normally a case of pounding the streets if you need to find something.
Small Thai businesses sometimes have a website address on their business cards, but there is no actual website. Those that do have websites don't always maintain them, and a big problem is not replying when people send e-mails.
It seems that many owners of small businesses still don't trust or believe in the technology. They want to see people in the flesh, and hard cash. Interestingly, communication by phone and fax still seems to be acceptable but if you are a foreigner you will still have the usual language problems. The language problem is probably why Thais are so reluctant to reply to e-mails.
Thais use the verb 'play' (len) to describe computer and Internet usage. To many Thais the technology is still simply a toy for entertainment and socialising. Many still haven't grasped the fact that it is an important business tool and that money can be made.
There are plenty of English language websites around about Thailand, but most are run by foreigners and Thais are losing out due to poor technology and language skills. With the ASEAN Economic Community arriving soon in 2015, Thais are likely to miss out even more.
There is now an increasing awareness in Thailand that English skills need to be seriously improved for ASEAN, but it is too little too late. English will be the common language of ASEAN.
The head of the local education department asked me to check a speech he was making for the opening ceremony of a special course that his department was running to improve English skills of Thai teachers. There was lots about why English is so important, but it was full or errors and his English speaking skills leave a lot to be desired.
The book I'm reading has really underlined how quickly Thailand has change in the last 40 years. Every Thai and his dog has a Thai Bachelor's degree these days, but in 1975 (shortly before I finished high school) only 6% of the population had gained secondary or higher education.
On the surface there has been significantly change, but - as ever in Thailand - the emphasis is always on image over substance. The country can now boast of its millions of graduates, but standards still remain very low and real skills are in short supply.
Baker and Phongphaichit cited the problem of there not being enough technicians and scientists in the country because education planners had not foreseen the inflow of technology-based industries. Education in Thailand has always been about the teaching of Thai, indoctrination of students, turning young people into tractable subjects, and nation building.
The quote from this article is something that all foreign English teachers working in Thailand will know already.
"The Pisa results clearly shows Thai children are not good at thinking," Mr Phawit said.
One characteristic of Thais is to promote image over substance and another is always to take the path of least resistance. Achieving educational standards in Thailand to match developed countries would be an extremely difficult task. It is a lot easier simply to lower the bar, rather than to raise standards.
Here's an extract from an e-mail that I received from an English teacher teaching at a university in Bangkok.
I've just come out of a Department meeting at my university where we have been told that the final grades (for the entire course) which we have assigned the students are too low; so the university is forcing us to re-categorise (make much easier) C+ grade, the C grade, etc, down to Pass-grade: instead of being 50%, we now have to make the pass grade only 39%.
I complained in the meeting and said this was appalling, a shocking dropping of standards - but the reply was that the university needs to retain and attract more students, and that making sure the students get through the course will ensure that. I said: 'This is very bad for Thailand's future, especially with the AEC coming up'. Of course - none of the Thai lecturers supported me!
Another characteristic would be doing things to protect your own financial interests, even - as in the case of this example - if what you are doing is obviously very wrong.
Wednesday 28th August 2013
Once again, political issues are getting ugly in Thailand. The entire world witnessed this when protesters shut down Bangkok's international airport in 2008, but this time the problems aren't affecting many foreigners unless they happen to be travelling by road in the south where rubber farmers have blockaded highways.
It is unfortunate that those with genuine grievances have been joined by 'other groups with political interests and violence-prone teenagers'. The violence-prone trouble makers have armed themselves with rocks, sticks and other improvised weapons.
The Bangkok Post editorial says exactly what I said a few days ago about supply and demand. The rubber farmers understand this basic law of economics, but because the government has vowed to support rice farmers with the rice-pledging scheme, they believe that they should also get government support along with guaranteed prices for their rubber.
By introducing the rice pledging scheme to assist one sector of the agricultural industry, the Thai government has made a rod for its own back. From the Bangkok Post:
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Yukol Limlaemthong said on Sunday he can only help rubber producers in minimal ways. Thailand is the world's leading rubber producer and exporter, but it cannot control world prices, which depend on the inseparable siblings of supply and demand.
The rubber farmers resent this explanation, given the government's deep pocket for the rice-pledging scheme.
This is what I can't understand about Thais - they never learn from their own or other people's mistakes. Exactly the same problems continue to occur year after year after year.
The Transport Ministry has now said that warning lights must be placed in the road at a scene of an accident to alert other drivers.
Does this mean that Thais will be rushing out to buy warning lights in case they are involved in an accident? Does this mean that drivers will be charged by the police for not placing warning lights in the road after an accident?
Of course not. A law was introduced a few years ago to ban mobile phone use while driving, but I see drivers talking on their phones all the time.
It's always the same in Thailand. There is a lot of rhetoric following a major problem, but then it all goes quiet again and nothing ever changes. If new laws are introduced, the enforcement is either non-existent or very lax.
Neither was wearing a crash helmet. The two kids were lying motionless on the ground. One had severe leg injuries and the other had a severe head injury.
Straight after it happened I saw other Thai motorcyclists without crash helmets running red lights. The level of utter stupidity that takes place on Thai roads is unbelievable.
Regarding the problem of developers building resorts and other properties on land that doesn't belong to them, I mentioned that this is a problem in Phuket because land prices are very high in Phuket. If you own a property in Phuket I hope that you checked the land registration documents very carefully at the time of purchase.
Down-and-out homeless farangs living (probably illegally) in Thailand are now stealing money from temple donation boxes. This is about as low as it gets in a Buddhist country where poor Thais make donations to temples in order to make merit. Temples are maintained and monks are supported from these donations. The Thai authorities really need to come down hard on this type of undesirable farang.
Tuesday 27th August 2013
This quote is from the following story, after yet another fatal minivan crash in Thailand.
"According to the World Health Organisation, up to 26,000 people are killed in road accidents every year in Thailand, the sixth highest in the world for road fatalities."
If the figure is correct, that is over 71 deaths a day.
And what did I say previously about excessive speed and losing control? From the article: "Passenger Bootsaba said the driver lost control of the van as he was going at a very high speed." It's like déjà vu when you read reports of road accidents in Thailand.
My wife was watching the TV news about this accident and there was yet more rhetoric about what 'should' be done to make roads safer in Thailand. The problem in Thailand is that nothing ever changes. She has a friend who was severely injured in a minivan accident in Bangkok.
Every New Year and Songkran hundreds of people die in road accidents. There is lots of soul searching and rhetoric, but the following year the same thing happens all over again. It's the same whenever there is a big accident with lots of people killed. There is more rhetoric, but nothing ever changes.
Thais are fully aware of the reasons behind the problems. What she was telling me tonight was exactly the same as I write here - minivan drivers drive fast, aggressively and pay no attention to traffic laws. They overload their vans with passengers and additional LPG tanks, and if someone dares to say anything about their driving they get angry, want to fight, and they drive even faster.
I read something a while ago after a previous accident that minivans were going to be restricted to a maximum speed of 80 kph. That was a great idea, but it obviously didn't happen and it will probably never happen. How many more lives need to be lost on Thai roads before any effective measures are taken to reduce the carnage?
It's a real shame because Thailand would actually be a very pleasant country to live in if it wasn't for the maniac drivers. There is aggression and violence in Thai society, but it is different to the aggression and violence that exists in the UK.
I have never met a Thai who was just looking to start a fight with someone for the sake of it. When I lived in the UK there were always men whose night out drinking wasn't complete until they had been in a fight.
The majority of Thais are fine and I really like the culture of non-confrontation. If I went back to the UK now with all the confrontation that exists there I would be suffering from severe reverse culture shock. Here's an example.
I had a minor parking accident tonight. I pulled alongside some parked motorbikes ready to reverse park. I was only there a few seconds, but a guy on a bike couldn't get out and started giving me the evil eye. It was quite unnecessary, given that he only had to wait five seconds.
He rode off, but kept staring and this made me a bit angry. I wasn't concentrating on parking and pushed over another bike. I have never done this before and I felt really bad. As the bike toppled over the tip of the brake lever broke off and there was some minor paint damage to the fairing.
The lad whose bike it was didn't get angry or anything, although his girlfriend was none too happy. I apologised and asked how much he thought it would be to repair. He said Bt350. I offered him Bt500 and asked if it was OK. He said yes and that was the end of story. There was no anger, no harsh words, no aggression. He could have made it really uncomfortable for me because it was my fault, but he didn't.
It wasn't intentional and had he got mad it wouldn't have helped the situation. If it had happened to me I would probably have got angry. Instead, I learnt a lesson tonight from the young lad and I will remember this incident if a similar thing happens to me.
I've actually mellowed a lot recently regarding driving. It was a matter of necessity. Nothing is likely to improve any time soon on Thai roads and I needed to calm down in order to prevent high blood pressure and to avoid dangerous altercations with violent Thai men.
I am still trying to avoid driving whenever I can, but this isn't always possible.
Monday 26th August 2013
Thailand is about the same size as France and I have heard other comparisons made between the two countries because of the shared love of food and general laid-back attitude to life. There are also other similarities:
This has happened before with fruit farmers, who demanded that the government pay them a minimum amount for their produce. I sympathise to an extent, but this is the way of the world. They all rub their hands together when there is demand for rubber and the price goes up, but when the price is down they throw their toys around and demand support from the government.
The government is already paying out lots of money for the rice pledging scheme and can't afford to keep subsidising farmers. The cost of living in Thailand is indeed rising very quickly, but this isn't the way to fix the problems.
The book I am currently reading throws some more light on the subject. Industry overtook agriculture in Thailand back in 1984 and has been declining ever since. The government has tried to help with crop diversification schemes, but with poor results.
The book suggests that the failures resulted because of harsh local conditions, incompetence, and because the Agricultural Department recommended the same scheme to everyone, thus creating a glut.
If the rubber price is currently very low supply must be a lot greater than demand, i.e., a glut. Why did they all follow suit planting para-rubber and not further diversify?
There has been a coffee shop craze where I live in Thailand. I arrived 10 years ago and there were just a few Western style coffee shops. Now, there are zillions. There seems to be a natural tendency among Thais to follow everyone else instead of trying to carve out a unique niche.
I don't know if this is due to a lack of imagination, or if it just makes people feel more comfortable doing the same thing as others.
More illegally built resorts are being demolished. It's heartening to see the authorities finally clamping down on illegal activities in Thailand.
Sunday 25th August 2013
Thai attitudes towards public land are different to what I am used to. I tidy up the public areas outside my house because no one else will and I don't want the areas around my house looking like a garbage dump.
Many of the construction workers do not tidy up properly after finishing a job and leave all manner of rubbish lying on the ground. I am the exception and none of my Thai neighbours tidy up areas outside of their property border.
The Thai attitude seems to be that if a piece of land doesn't belong to them it can be abused, and that someone else will pick up all the rubbish dumped in that area. I've seen rubbish dumped at the very attractive Tinsulanonda Park after some Thais had eaten a picnic lunch and I saw the same thing at the local Agricultural Fair recently.
A group of Thais had just dumped all their left over food and food containers on the floor, despite there being rubbish bins located 20 yards away. I pointed out the rubbish bins to them, but they just grinned stupidly at me and walked off.
The other attitude with public land is that it can be claimed (stolen) for personal use. It's impossible to walk along sidewalks in Thailand because house and shop owners 'claim' the piece of sidewalk in front of their premises. They put down large plant pots and other things to prevent other people from using that piece of sidewalk and treat it as if it belongs to them.
On the roads outside their shops and houses they 'claim' parking spaces by placing plastic chairs and other things in the road. Again, these parking spaces don't belong to them personally but they act as if they do.
If they own land they will sometimes try to claim adjacent pieces of land as their own, and the building of properties on public land is quite common. I was reminded of this after reading the following story today and I was really pleased that the authorities have ordered the demolition of these illegally built properties.
It happens in national parks and it happens in places like Phuket where land is very expensive. If you are thinking of buying a house in Thailand, have some checks done to make sure that the land it is built on was obtained legally.
When Bangkok was having flood problems in 2011 it was discovered that some canals had been illegally filled in by property developers in order to build houses. condos, and even golf courses. It may sound unbelievable that important flood defences are destroyed by illegal activity, but it happens. Nothing is ever more important than money to many Thais.
The story about homeless farangs in Thailand really seems to be making waves.
It would appear that opinions are quite sharply divided. One view is that these poor men were the victims of cruel Thai women who divorced them and then took everything. This is not my view, based on the near destitute foreign men I have met in Thailand.
They were failures at home and after going to Thailand in search of a better life they try to reinvent themselves by persistently lying. They always claim to have been highly successful in their own countries, but they never have any money. They always claim to know everything about Thailand, but a short conversation will reveal that they know almost nothing. Why is this?
They want easy lives, but they have never been prepared to work hard in order to get an easy life. They are full of bullshit and eventually they get caught out. Many go from one teaching job to another because their contracts are never extended.
Many didn't have enough money before they went to Thailand to live in Thailand. The Bangkok Post story said that Sylvester spent most of his savings buying a car and a truck in his bargirl girlfriend's name. Two points here.
One. If all he could buy from his savings was a car and a truck, he didn't have enough savings to go to live in Thailand in the first place.
Two. If you play around with Pattaya bargirls, you are going to have problems. It's guaranteed.
He shouldn't have gone to Thailand in the first place, and when he did go to Thailand he should have left the bargirls alone.
The Bangkok Post also carried another article saying that marriages between non-Thai Asian men and Thai women are often successful because of shared cultural values, but that marriages between farangs and Thai women are risky. This is something that all Western men with an interest in Thailand should know already.
Firstly, there are many ways to lessen the risk of relationship problems with Thai women by meeting the 'right' kind of Thai woman. Heading off to Pattaya and playing around with bargirls isn't one of them.
Secondly, because of the high relationship failure rate and the fact that Thai law is structured so that she will probably end up with all your money and possessions if you divorce, you have to have a backup plan and financial resources if this happens.
I find it difficult to have any sympathy for lazy and stupid men.
Saturday 24th August 2013
Now that the algae problem in my fishpond has been fixed, there was one remaining issue. It's quite deep and with one small child running around now and another arriving early next year, we were very concerned about safety. A child can drown in less than 30 seconds.
My wife had talked about filling the pond in or making some major modifications, but after all the work I have put into it so far I really didn't want to do this.
There are two open areas and I figured that we could cover one part and put a guard rail around the other.
This would make it safe for children and covering one section would create a patio deck on which kids could play or adults could relax. The wife agreed to my ideas and the next step was to find some workmen who could do what I wanted.
Tradesmen are never too difficult to find in Thailand, but it is particularly easy for me at the moment because my housing development is still under construction and there are workers around every day.
There were some workers installing a stainless steel guard rail on one of the balconies on the house next door so I went to speak to them. They called their boss, who then took a look at what I wanted. He took a few measurements and just over a week later my guard rail arrived.
It has been made extremely well made and the guy who arc-welded it together is a talented welder indeed. The alignment and spacing of the rails is all perfect, as is each welded joint. During my mechanical engineering studies many years ago I had to perform various kinds of welding and brazing, and my efforts were pretty useless. My ineptness makes me appreciate good workmanship even more.
Part one was getting the guard rail and part two was getting the middle section covered. I bumped into the site foreman and told him what I wanted. He came over to the house with one of his carpenters. After explaining what I wanted the carpenter told me how much wood he required and also where to buy it.
I went to the shop, bought the wood, and they delivered it a few hours later. I called the carpenter to tell him it had arrived and he came back that very evening. After a few hours he had done what I wanted. The next day he came back to paint the wood. It couldn't have been done any quicker. As per my request, he has left some planks unsecured so that I can remove them when I want to clean the pond.
In fact, the whole project couldn't have been easier to arrange. It was completed quickly and it wasn't too expensive. Had I gone through the sales office it would have taken a lot longer and they would have marked up the price, as they always do.
I've had quite a lot of jobs around the house done after talking to one of the workers directly. It gives them an opportunity to make a little money and it also means that I save money because there are no middle men involved to add on a surcharge for doing nothing.
In the UK I wouldn't even know where to go to get a custom-made stainless steel guard rail. In Thailand a lot of houses have burglar bars to keep burglars out. Sometimes these are simply painted iron to keep the cost down. Some people opt for stainless steel, which looks a lot better but it is more expensive.
The demand for burglar bars in Thailand means that there are lots of Thais around who are good at fabricating them. Some of the stainless steel ones I have seen are very attractive. There are cowboy tradesmen in Thailand, just as there are everywhere, but there are also some very skilled workers.
Here's some vocabulary:
ช่าง - chaang falling tone (tradesman)
ช้าง - chaang high tone (elephant)
เหล็กดัด - lek dut low tone / low tone (wrought iron)
My Thai to English dictionary says that 'lek dut' means wrought iron, but this is the general term that I hear Thais using for burglar bars, regardless of whether they are made from wrought iron, stainless steel, or another material.
With tradesmen, the type of work they do is specified by adding a word after chaang. The Thai word for wood is mai with a high tone, so a carpenter would be chaang mai (falling tone / high tone).
The word for new is mai with a low tone. The tones are tricky in Thai and an added complication is that most Thais turn off their ears when a foreigner is attempting to speak Thai to them. If you want a carpenter, don't be surprised if you end up with a new elephant.
Thais use English words when they don't have a word of their own. For stainless steel they use stainless. It sounds roughly the same, apart from the fact that 's' as a final consonant doesn't really work in Thai. The final 's' sound therefore takes on a kind of unreleased 't' sound.
Thursday 22nd August 2013
With Thailand's economy entering recession and the Thai stock market being hit by Bernanke's decision to reduce the amount of bonds the Fed buys each month, the UKP to THB exchange rate has crept above 50. This hasn't happened for a while and it is good news for British tourists and British expats who rely on incomes from the UK.
When I first moved to Thailand at the end of 2003 I was getting a rate of 70 Baht, or more. I don't expect we will ever see those days again.
This trend may continue, but stock markets and exchange rates are notoriously fickle and next week the rate could be 47 Baht again. Who knows? Betting on stock markets and exchange rates is no different to putting a fiver on the 3:15 at Kempton Park. I think I will transfer some money before the rate falls again.
I had my monthly haircut today, but it wasn't as enjoyable as usual. The guy who had his hair cut before me, a motorbike taxi driver, had thick greasy hair and looked as if he needed a good bath.
The barber doesn't make any attempt to clean her combs and scissors, etc, between customers, and I doubt that they get cleaned at the end of the day either. Perhaps Westerners are too fussy, but I would prefer to see a little more effort as far as hygiene is concerned.
It's the same with many small restaurants, where hygiene standards are pretty appalling and no effort is made to keep flies off the food. Perhaps I am too fussy?
A couple of observations. The first is about tipping. I waited for a while before getting my hair cut and was particularly interested in what happened when Thai men paid. Did they leave a tip?
I observed five men paying. The cost of the haircut was Bt70 and each one gave the barber a Bt100 note. They were given their Bt30 change and the female barber gave them a very respectful, "Kop khun ka," and a wai.
Not one gave a tip. When it was my turn in the chair I asked how many people give her a tip. The answer was very few; it isn't common at all. I always give her a Bt20 tip. This is partly because tipping a hairdresser in the UK is customary, and partly because the cost of a haircut is so cheap in Thailand and I feel a bit sorry for the barbers. In Thailand it isn't expected that you will give your barber a tip.
What about tipping for other things?
Taxi drivers don't expect tips, but I often just round it up. For example, if the fare is Bt67 I might give Bt70 or Bt80.
A Thai student told me that tipping is only done in restaurants that present you with a bill in a little folder at the end of the meal. No one tips in the little restaurants selling cheap food that don't give you a bill.
I've noticed with Thais that they normally tip Bt20 regardless of how much the meal cost. They don't adhere to the American obsession of tipping exactly 15%. If it's a cheap meal or an expensive meal, they leave a Bt20 tip.
I normally check the bill to see if a service charge is included and if it is I don't tip. Why should you pay for service twice?
Many years ago I ate at an American-style diner place in London that served expensive hamburgers. The bill was about £10, which for a hamburger and some chips was quite expensive. A service charge was included on the bill and therefore I didn't leave a tip.
As I left and walked down the street, the young waitress opened the door and called me a, "****ing *anker." I guess she was used to serving American tourists who paid the service charge and also gave her a big tip.
Tipping is discouraged in Singapore and if you don't tip in Thailand it isn't a problem. You should remember that Thais earn really low wages and for a whole shift of waiting on people they might only earn Bt300.
I believe that tipping should be left to the discretion of the customer. What I object to with the system in the States is that tipping is mandatory. Tips shouldn't be relied on to make up a waiters salary, and the government should not tax people on the assumption that they will receive tips.
My other observation at the barber shop was that the Thai craze for hair extensions has ended. There were two hair extensions displayed on a mannequin, optmistically priced at Bt3,500 each.
There are regular crazes in Thailand that everyone follows. The biggest one I have seen was for Jatukham Ramamthep amulets. At the height of the craze new shops were opening just to sell these amulets and existing shops added a line of Jatukham Ramamthep amulets to their product line.
I went into a pharmacy one day and as well as all the usual medicine, there was a display cabinet of amulets on the counter. It was crazy. People were claiming that the wearers of these amulets were protected from bullets and other dangers, and one woman was stampeded to death in a rush to get new amulets.
The craze started in Nakhon Sri Thammarat and during the craze it was almost impossible to find a vacant hotel room.
That craze died out, a few others came along, and then there was the craze for hair extensions. These things were made of real hair and I think it created some opportunities in poor countries for girls to make money by selling their hair.
They were bonded to existing hair and lots of Thai girls bought them. These crazes die out as quickly as they arrive. At first you may not realise they have died out, but then you see a little reminder - like a I did today - and realise that another Thai craze has been consigned to history.
Wednesday 21st August 2013
The story about homeless foreigners in Thailand is currently the most read article on the Bangkok Post website.
There are so many different types of farang in Thailand, ranging all the way from diplomats to alcoholic sexpat bums, that you can't generalise - the same way that you can't generalise with Thais.
However, you do see the same patterns emerging with a lot of people.
I don't know what the actual figure is for foreigners living permanently in Thailand, but it is high and, as far as I know, there is no official immigration process. With Brits I know who have emigrated to places such as Canada and Australia, they go through an official immigration process.
If they are successful they go to live in the country of their choosing and become citizens with all the rights that citizens of that country have. It's completely different in Thailand for the vast majority of foreigners living there, most of whom just decide to stay and live on back-to-back one year visas (with no guarantee of getting their visas renewed) and have no rights.
The vast majority of foreigners living in Thailand are men. After an initial visit, Thailand appears to offer the perfect lifestyle for many and they decide to live there.
Some are financially sound and return to Thailand with enough money to live. Some aren't, but decide that they are going to stay in Thailand anyway. Some find jobs as teachers and can make enough money to survive, but can't afford to stop working. The ones with no money who can't find work probably account for some of those living on the street.
The article mentions that some men moved to Thailand, married, put all their money in their Thai wife's name, divorced, and then lost everything. This still happens. It has happened so often in the past that men should know the dangers and be more cautious. Unfortunately, they don't learn from other people's mistakes and they always think that they know better than others.
The article contains a classic piece of Thai understatement - "Under the current laws, foreigners' rights are not very well protected." Let's get this straight. As a foreigner you have no rights in Thailand. None.
Thais don't want foreigners buying land and Thai laws make this very difficult. Whichever way you buy a house/land it is very risky. The easiest, most convenient way is to buy a property in your wife's name. However, making her the legal owner means that technically she can boot you out at any time and you don't have a legal leg to stand on.
If she dies, you may be able to inherit the property, but only for a year in which time you are expected to sell it.
The article suggests that the law should be changed, but I really can't see this happening. Laws in Thailand are designed to give Thais an advantage over foreigners. Thailand really doesn't care if foreigners get into difficulties, especially those who brought the problems on themselves. What can you do?
If you can't afford to live in Thailand, don't go to live there. Sooner or later you are going to run into problems and your lifestyle in Thailand won't be good if you have no money. The bargirls may be all over you on a two week vacation, but if you live in Thailand permanently and have no money it is a different story. The T-shirts sold in Thailand emblazoned with 'No Money, No Honey' are not a joke.
Be very careful with property. Foreigners can buy condos, but proceed with caution. Many are sold with 30 year leases and although the sales agent will solemnly promise that the lease can be extended, there are no guarantees. Get a lawyer to look at the contract beforehand.
Do you remember the old saying about not putting all your eggs into one basket? If you buy property through your Thai wife, make sure that you have something to fall back on if she throws you out. I've put a lot of money into my Thai house, but I still have a UK property to fall back on. If the worst happens, I won't have to live on the streets.
In addition, don't give her incentives to throw you out. Many years ago an Englishman living in Thailand with his Thai wife told me that initially he paid money into her bank account regularly each month. After a while she was able to take out a mortgage on their house, however, she needs his money to make the repayments. She will struggle financially without him and won't be able to keep her house. My wife's only income is from me.
Make sure that you are worth more to her alive than dead. A Thai woman arranged to have her foreign oil worker husband killed a few years ago so that she could get her hands on his life insurance policy and live happily ever after with her Thai lover.
I don't have much sympathy for people bumming around in Thailand. Thailand has enough social problems without seeing homeless farangs sleeping, busking and begging on the streets.
A guy I knew living in Thailand was of the opinion that the world owed him an easy lifestyle, and that he didn't need to put in much effort to get that lifestyle. Thailand attracts people like this. He arrived, managed to find some work, borrowed money from whoever he could, and somehow survived.
He lived - and probably still lives - hand to mouth and never has any money left over at the end of the month. He has a fairly serious alcohol problem. He ran up a two year overstay, but managed to clear it with some help. I then heard that he had ran up another overstay.
When my passport filled up recently it took quite a lot of effort (and the best part of Bt10,000) to get a new passport. I would suspect that a lot of people like this living in Thailand have old passports that have expired.
You can be lucky and your luck can last for a long time. The problem with living this kind of a lifestyle is that when your luck does eventually run out, all off your problems can come back to haunt you.
Nothing is permanent in life, and this applies especially to health. Recently, I had breathing difficulties and ended up in ICU for 36 hours. This cost would have been about Bt30,000 had I not had insurance.
If you are involved in a road accident you will have medical fees and the police will get involved. As a foreigner, they will want to see your passport. If they find that your passport has expired and that you are on a massive overstay you will have more problems.
To summarise, be realistic. When I first went to Phuket in 1992 it was still fairly quiet and nothing like it is today. I was walking along the beach, the weather was great, every Thai girl gave me a warm smile, and I really did think it was perfect.
I knew that I wasn't in a position then to move to Thailand, and I didn't go to live in the country for another 11 years. In that time I worked on my finances and waited until the time was right.
Thailand is getting more and more expensive each year, and there are no safety nets for people who get into financial difficulties. Even the locals have no safety nets, and there is certainly nothing for foreigners.
If you are rich, Thailand is a fantastic country in which to live. If you have moderate means it can still be good and your lifestyle will probably be better than it is at home. However, it is a bad place to be if you don't have money.
With the girls, and particularly in regard to making serious investments, be very careful and always make sure that you have something to fall back on.
I had never heard of Bribespot.com before this article. Reading through some of the comments is quite interesting. There are lots of comments from Thais, as well as from foreigners living in Thailand.
One guy got fined Bt200 for running a red light. If the police in this part of Thailand fined every person for running red lights they would be able to double their salaries and still have lots left over for a big Christmas party. I can't understand, therefore, why they take no interest. It would also improve road safety.
One Thai got fined Bt100 for using the wrong lane. This is one of my biggest gripes with many drivers here, who use whichever lane has least traffic and then force their way into the lane that they want, but no action is ever taken against them. He was fined in Bangkok and I have previously been told that the police are a lot tougher about traffic offences in Bangkok compared to the provinces.
Another big gripe of mine is the way that Thais (normally driving pickup trucks) constantly weave in and out of lanes at high speed, undertaking and overtaking. A farang was fined Bt180 for this and told he was driving dangerously, but Thais here never get stopped for doing this.
There are quite a few traffic offences mentioned in the comments where a 'fine' is paid directly to the policeman instead of taking a trip to the local police station. The offender pays less this way, the policeman doesn't need to do any paperwork, and he supplements his salary. Everyone wins and no one gets hurt, so some people may think that it is perfectly acceptable.
To be honest, I've never encountered this type of incident in Thailand and even though I don't doubt that it goes on I suspect that it is a much bigger problem elsewhere.
The book 'Corruption & Democracy in Thailand' by Pasuk Phonphaichit and Sungsidh Piriyarangsan takes a closer look at these types of issue and surveys were carried out for the book.
Thais may view this kind of incident not necessarily as corruption, but as a gift of good will, tea money, bribery, improper behaviour, or dishonesty in duty. In this case it makes a difference to Thais whether the policeman asked for money, or not, and the level of education and social status of the person completing the survey also makes a difference as to how they perceive such incidents.
What is corruption? If you tip a waitress for good service in a restaurant, that is perfectly acceptable. Why should it be any different if you receive good service from a government official and offer a small gift?
There are also historical reasons why Thais have different attitudes to behaviour that foreigners class as corrupt. Not so long ago, it was quite normal and acceptable for certain people to remunerate themselves by skimming some cream off the top because they didn't receive salaries. People receive salaries now, but many of the old ways continue.
A farang friend here gets quite upset when you talk about corruption in Thailand. His view is that all countries are corrupt, but in many Western countries only politicians and big corporations can take advantage of corrupt practices.
He says that in Thailand it is a lot fairer because bribery and corruption are open to everyone with a little money - not just rich and powerful people.
A lot of little incidents where money changes hands are questionable, but what is obviously wrong is when money allocated for large projects goes missing, short cuts are taken with the construction, and then people die. Some things in Thailand are obviously wrong, but I agree with my friend that corruption goes on everywhere.
Tuesday 20th August 2013
We had three water heaters installed in the upstairs bathrooms when we moved into this house. With the one in the main bedroom ensuite bathroom I sometimes got a mild electric shock when I turned the water on and off. I asked the electrician to check it out and he said that there wasn't a problem.
The problem disappeared for a while, but returned recently. My wife has received mild shocks, and so has our daughter. There have been reports about people being killed in Thailand because of incompetent shower heater installations and a friend of mine takes a neon screwdriver with her when she travels to check hotel shower units.
I Googled 'electric shocks shower water heater' and two Thai-related forums appeared on the front page of the search results despite not including a geographic location in the search. This probably isn't a coincidence.
The forums confirm that this is a fairly common problem in Thailand. They also confirm that many people calling themselves electricians in Thailand don't have a clue. The most common reason is the lack of an earth connection, which many Thai 'electricians' believe is unnecessary.
When I had a shower heater installed at the old house the electrician didn't install an earth connection, despite a big red warning on the heater unit saying that an earth connection must be installed. When I questioned this he told me it wasn't necessary, but he would add one if it made me sabaay jai.
The problem heater in this house has three wires connected, but I don't know if the earth connection is actually grounded or whether it just goes into the loft space and then into thin air.
I studied mechanical and production engineering and don't have a great aptitude for electrics or electronics, but would imagine that there are tools and techniques available to check the effectiveness of a ground connection.
I got the electrician back in today, but it didn't really help. He poked around in the distribution box, did a few checks with a neon screwdriver (his only tool), and declared that there was nothing wrong. He told me that the ground connection to the heater was good, but performed no actual test.
If there is a problem he says it is with the water heater - not his wiring - and that I must get the heater replaced. If I go back to the shop where I bought it, no doubt they will tell me it doesn't have a problem and that I need to get my wiring checked.
I watched him today and wasn't totally convinced with his diagnosis techniques. He may well be right about the heater being the problem, but I suspect that it could still be the ground connection.
The electrician and his mates have been really helpful getting things installed in the house and I have been pleased with their work. The problem with a lot of tradesmen in Thailand is that their knowledge isn't very deep. Electricians can install things, but with a problem like this many don't really know how to diagnose and fix it.
With the air-conditioners in the house I opted for inverter units. They are more expensive to buy initially, but cost less to run and should save money in the long term. One had a problem and we got the A/C installers back. The inverter units contain more technology than regular units and the installers were at a loss how to fix it. They had to get help from Mitsubishi and the repair took quite a long time.
Among the comments on the Thailand forums was advice to seek the assistance of a competent electrician. I don't disagree with this advice at all, but it is a lot easier said than done in Thailand. Finding any kind of a tradesman to do something basic is easy, but finding one who really knows his craft and can diagnose and fix problems such as this is another matter.
An old teacher friend of my wife's came to visit. They used to work together, but the girl went back to rural Trang to take care of her sick mother and found a job there. She works in a small school and instead of just teaching one subject, she takes care of one group of six kids and teaches them every subject.
I was quite shocked - and so was my wife - to learn that she earns Bt5,000 a month. My wife used to earn around Bt9,000 a month, which is bad enough, but Bt5,000 is a complete joke. She is married with a child and her husband doesn't earn much more than her. Of course, they can't afford to stay in a place of their own on such a small combined income, and a car is out of the question.
We went on a mini shopping trip this morning to pick up a few items that were running low. It was nowhere near a main shopping trip, yet the bill was Bt2,500. When you have young children, nappies and milk powder alone are quite expensive, and there is no child benefit allowance in Thailand. Inflation has taken a hold in Thailand over the last few years and it is no longer a cheap country to live in.
This fact seems lost on employers and wages don't rise in line with inflation. I do feel genuinely sorry for a lot of Thais and this also affects foreigners teaching in Thailand. In this part of provincial Thailand the standard monthly wage for a foreign teacher is Bt30,000.
If you want to live in decent accommodation, have a comfortable life, and do some travelling, it isn't enough. However, it is already three times as much as many Thai teachers earn so you can imagine how sympathetic employers will be if you say you want more. They already think you are being paid too much and when you say you want more they think you are being greedy.
The schools could afford to pay better wages because a lot of money is paid in by students for tuition fees and other things. Big schools are quite rich. The problem for teachers is there being too much supply and not enough demand.
Thailand churns out hundreds of thousands of graduates each year with no jobs to go to. New graduates are desperate for work and will accept very low paying jobs. If they are unhappy and want to leave, their employers know that there will be lots more graduates to take their places. There is no incentive to pay them more in order to retain them.
It is the same with foreigners wanting to teach in Thailand. Millions of tourists fall in love with the country while on vacation and quite a few decide to come back to live and work. The supply is so great that farang teachers are simply a commodity and can be replaced very easily.
On the subject of small schools, I learned recently that there are thousands of very small schools in Thailand. I have only ever worked at big ones. The government now wants to close all schools with less than 60 pupils. My wife's friend's school has 82 students so should survive.
It is thought that a fewer number of larger schools will be cheaper to run and that this will also raise education standards.
Channel News Asia ran a story about this recently. One concern that came up with pupils having to travel to large schools further away is the danger on Thailand's notoriously dangerous roads.
My view on the education system is that this is just a tiny change to the system, whereas what is needed are some massive reforms that would turn the system on its head. Of course, nothing like this will happen because Thais always know best.
Monday 19th August 2013
In Bangkok recently I was quite shocked at some of the condo prices, and in Hat Yai there has been a massive house building boom in the last few years. New house prices have gone up so much in the last few years that now I couldn't afford to buy the house that I bought a couple of years ago.
When I came to live in Hat Yai there was one condominium building. It was finished just as the Asian financial crisis blew up in 1997. Despite the devaluation of the Baht and big financial problems for many Thais, the developers kept the prices at pre-crash levels. The result, of course, is that lots of units remained unsold.
Originally there had been plans to open shops and restaurants in the building, but these plans were shelved and the building remained virtually empty for many years. It still isn't fully occupied.
With people wanting to live near the centre of town, and with little land left to build on near the centre of town, a new craze for condo buildings started about three years ago.
About six months ago a friend, who is a land and property speculator, told me that there were 43 new condo developments. More have been started since then and now there must be fifty. It is quite common for all the units to be reserved well before the building is finished.
What's going on? Is this a sustainable boom, or is another bubble forming and will it burst eventually? I'm not sure.
Lots of Thais rent rooms or houses, and although the rents are really cheap compared to most other countries there is a feeling of resentment that they won't get anything back in the long run for their monthly payments. As with almost all people, Thais desire to own their own property knowing that eventually they will own it outright. That's one reason.
The second reason is that due to the ongoing trouble in the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, many people from that region are moving out. Songkhla province is nearby and Hat Yai is the biggest and most important commercial town in the south of Thailand. I have been told that at least 10,000 people have moved here from the troubled south.
Thailand's economy seems to be doing well with billions of US dollars coming into the economy from tourism alone. The country has manufacturing and assembly industries, and exports a lot of food and other goods. There is no welfare state to cripple the economy, as has been the case elsewhere in the world.
I can understand why the economy overall is doing well, but the thing about Thailand is that most of the wealth will go to a few and won't be evenly distributed. Who is buying all of these condos?
As I said above, I have a friend who is a property speculator. She buys condos, as well as buying land on which she builds houses and sells for a profit. Where I live there are several unoccupied houses that have been finished for some time. I suspect they have just been bought to make a profit and that the owners are waiting for house prices to increase further.
Before the 1997 crash, Thailand's economy had been growing by double digit figures for a number of years and Thais acted as if this would go on indefinitely. It didn't, of course, and quite a few got their fingers burnt. I'm wondering if the same thing will happen again.
I just read that the Thai economy has gone into recession, which seems to have surprised analysts.
I wrote recently about the huge level of household debt in Thailand (Blog 3rd July 2013). Very few Thais buy major purchases with cash and it is common for them to rack up a lot of debt. One reason given in the article is the lack of domestic demand. If people have a lot of debt, they won't be spending much.
There is a big culture of credit in Thailand and many products are advertised without a cash price. All that is shown is the down payment and monthly repayment amount. Both are kept low, thus enticing Thais into buying. Many buyers don't have the money to pay cash, and many sellers want people to buy using credit so that they profit from both selling the item and interest payments on the finance.
My wife has predicted that there will be a glut of nearly new used cars for sale next year. Lots of Thais took advantage of the government's rebate scheme for first-time car buyers, but it is likely that quite a few won't be able to keep up with the repayments and their cars will be repossessed by finance companies.
The other reason is exports and previously I have wrote about the central bank's policy to keep the Baht strong, despite the damage this policy was doing to the export and tourism industries (Blog 30th March 2012). It doesn't actually seem to be hurting tourism too much, based on visitor numbers, but a strong Baht also makes exports more expensive.
There has been a lot on Channel News Asia recently about Burma's ongoing development. Most of the world has been bled dry by Western governments and corporations already, and there isn't much left that is untouched. North Korea is likely to stay closed for a long time, and maybe Cuba will be opened up sooner. A lot of people have been waiting to get their hands on Burma.
AS soon as Burma has a decent tourist infrastructure the country will take a lot of tourists away from Thailand. Plenty of countries would be happy to develop their manufacturing and assembly industries, and undercut Thailand at the same time. Service industries that rely on English would do better in other countries because English language skills are so poor in Thailand.
At the same time, I am always wary about writing Thailand off too soon. It's a lucky country and no matter what happens it always seems to come out smiling.
Regarding the unemployment rate in Thailand, how do they know? Presumably other countries use their unemployment benefit figures to calculate unemployment. If there is no benefit for people out of work, what figures do they use?
With no benefit, there is no incentive for lazy people not to work in Thailand. They work or go hungry. This is why the unemployment rate is so low, and this is why you find at least five sales assistants in every mobile phone shop.
And if there is no support network for Thais who fall on hard times, why should the Thai government assist foreigners living in Thailand who can't afford to live in Thailand?
Sunday 18th August 2013
In February 1942 the 'Impregnable Fortress' of Singapore fell to Japan, an event described by Churchill as the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British military history.
An attack on Singapore was only expected to come from the south, and the shells used in the large coastal guns (pointing south, but able to swing around) were designed to sink warships.
Instead the Japanese landed in Thailand and northern Malaya before advancing down the Malayan peninsula and attacking Singapore from the north.
Not all Thais were in favour of an alliance with Japan, but Prime Minister and military dictator Phibun regarded Japan as being the dominant force in WW2 and saw this as a convenient way to reclaim territory that had previously been ceded.
The British were furious and wanted to punish Thailand. My previous understanding was that the British demanded war reparations from Thailand in the form of rice, and that around 1.5 million tons of rice was to be handed over.
However, I just came across a document from the 'Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training' website that throws a little more light on the subject. The document contains accounts from various high ranking diplomats who spent time in Thailand since the 1930's. It's long, but contains some very interesting points.
Apparently, Britain demanded 21 things from Thailand after the war. The document provides no detail about what these things were, but says that Thailand would have been made a virtual British colony had the country complied with these British demands.
It was a negotiator from the United States who beat down the British demands, leaving only one: that of providing war reparations in the form of rice. This is the part that I didn't realise.
WW2 signalled the end of the British Empire and the beginning of era in which the United States was the world's dominant power. The US was looking to halt the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia and saw Thailand as an important ally. To punish Thailand wouldn't have been in US interests.
Thailand was pro-American, anti-Communist, and the country's location was strategically important for American sorties into nearby Communist countries. By 1969, 45,000 US military personnel were stationed in Thailand and there were several US bases in the northeast region.
Something else I noted in the diplomatic accounts was how highly foreign diplomats regarded the Thais they dealt with. Being important people themselves, they dealt with similarly important and educated people in Thailand. These people from the nobility and upper echelons of the Thai social hierarchy were often educated in Britain's top universities and they also spent several years living abroad.
There are vast differences between Thais of different social classes - much more than in developed countries. I know and have met some very clever Thais. It makes me feel guilty sometimes when I write about 'Thais' in general, but really only mean Thais from a certain (lower) sector of society.
I write about my experiences in everyday life, and in everyday life I tend to have more dealings with Thais near the bottom of the social hierarchy than those at the top.
Saturday 17th August 2013
One of the joys of living in Thailand is not having to commute. There were many things I hated about my working life in the UK, and one was spending hours commuting to and from work each day. Every place I have ever worked at in Thailand was within walking distance of where I lived at the time. Walking to work wasn't always the preferred option, but it was possible.
Most foreigners who work in Thailand teach, and most rent rooms to live in. Work can be found close to your room, or you can find a room close to work. If you don't work, then of course there is no need to commute. For most foreigners living in Thailand there is no need to spend lots of time travelling back and forth from work.
That situation may be changing for me in the next year, or so, related to my daughter's schooling.
My car was serviced yesterday and I drove to the service centre on the other side of town in the morning rush hour, and back again in the evening rush hour. It was horrendous, and no better than Bangkok. The journey each way took three to four times longer than usual and I spent most of the time sitting in traffic jams.
I don't mind doing this every once and a while, but my wife wants our daughter to go to a school in the centre of town and if this happens then the nightmare journey will become a twice daily event. I'm not sure what to do.
The school my wife wants her to go to is the one where both of us used to work. It is a safe environment and the education standards for very young kids are quite good (unfortunately, that isn't the case for older students). The fees are also very reasonable.
Young kids just need to learn the basics and get their brains filled with information. The Thai rote learning system works quite well for this. It is only once students are older and need to start developing critical thinking techniques that the education system starts to let them down.
Education is generally a big problem in Thailand. Lots of schools have very low standards and the international schools can get quite expensive. In addition to high tuition fees at the international schools, there are lots of mandatory extras to be paid for as well.
The education systems in Malaysia and Singapore are better than in Thailand, and English is used much more. I have seen huge advertising banners in town for schools in Malaysia.
A friend suggested home schooling to me. English wouldn't be a problem, and I would be happy teaching maths and science at a low level. My wife could teach Thai and art. However, it would be a problem later on and I would also be concerned that she wasn't developing the social skills that she would develop in a school environment.
This isn't an immediate problem, but it will become a problem within the next year. I'm not sure yet what to do, but will be looking out for some alternative options.
Friday 16th August 2013
Thailand's roads aren't perfect, but at least I've never heard of anything like this in Thailand. The scumbags in the UK who do this target vulnerable people, such as the elderly or women with young children because they don't put up any resistance. They should be strung up and their heads put on posts as a deterrent to others thinking of doing the same thing.
This kind of story makes me feel quite guilty about singling out problems in Thailand when so many problems exist everywhere. It's actually a pretty crappy world we live in these days, with so many morally corrupt and evil people in society.
More excessive speed:
Another phrase that keeps appearing in reports about road accidents in Thailand is 'the driver lost control of the vehicle'. If they slowed down a little, maybe they wouldn't lose control so often. Perhaps this radical concept is too difficult for Thais to grasp? And anyway, why is there a need to slow down when drivers have so much saksit power contained in the amulets on their dashboards to protect them from accidents?
More shootings and high-speed road accidents.
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