Living In Thailand Blog
Thursday 21st August 2015
If you live in a Western country, how do you imagine the countries of the magical, mystical East? If you have never actually visited a Far Eastern country, what has influenced your views? Do you realise that the idealised images in your head bear no resemblance to how those countries actually are?
If countries such as Thailand are as wonderful as the Tourism Authority of Thailand would have us believe, why do so many Thais long to live elsewhere? Why is there so much political and social conflict in Thailand?
I could have written this article myself, replacing all instances of Japan with Thailand. Upon realising that the country he arrives in bears absolutely no resemblance to the romantic notions we have of other countries or the idealised images painted by the tourism industry, the author writes:
"We established that though his family was "technically Buddhist" he had no idea what that meant and he associated temples with school trips and dead people.Every single tourism authority portrayal I see of Thailand is exactly the same. The same old myths and highly idealised images of Thailand get trotted out regularly, but you never see these same images when living in Thailand because they don't exist in real life. And there is certainly no indication of the unsavoury aspects of living in Thailand that I write about here.
As we lapsed into silence, I considered asking Japan's tourist board for my money back. I had been mis-sold Japan!
Later I realised they were just doing their job, generating tourist dollars with the material available to them - one extremely gullible young man, plus a century and a half of Western misrepresentations of Japan."
Living in a world of deception, few things are more deceptive than the tourism industry. It's all about generating money and if that involves creating fantasies, then so be it. Highly creative people in ad agencies the world over are paid a lot of money by national tourist boards to create these deceptions.
The deception feeds on the general unsatisfactoriness that many people have with their lives and the belief that a satisfactory life can be found elsewhere. Creating perfect images of foreign lands drives the travel industry.
It's not entirely untrue, but neither is it true. Single Western men over 40 who find life unsatisfactory because they cannot meet attractive young girls in their own countries will indeed find countries like Thailand a lot more satisfactory. However, it isn't quite the perfect Land of Smiles that the TAT would have you believe.
You should also be aware that Japanese Myth 3 about Japanese women being submissive is also a big myth in Thailand. Sure, there are lots of females and a high proportion are very interested in Western men, but they certainly aren't submissive. They can be at times if they want something, but at other times they can be extremely difficult and belligerent.
Thursday 20th August 2015
Before I left the UK my home town had a CCTV system installed to monitor the High Street area. I don't commit crime and so I was never unduly bothered. In fact, it made me feel safer. However, many people were up in arms complaining about infringements upon their human rights and personal privacy, etc. It's quite a divisive subject.
In recent years, CCTV has become very popular in Thailand. Lots of private individuals are installing cameras in their houses, department stores and shops have their own systems, and many towns and cities have cameras in public areas. There is a lot of crime in Thailand and having cameras makes people feel safer.
The systems aren't always effective. The burglars who entered my neigbour's house deleted his CCTV footage and the system outside that is operated by the housing development management failed to get any usable images. The good news is that they are now adding more cameras to improve the system.
On the other hand, when I lived in an apartment building and the girl next door was seriously assaulted the police caught the assailant using CCTV footage from a nearby shop.
This morning on Thai TV news there was a lot of quite clear footage of the Bangkok bombing suspect. He was shown approaching the Erawan shrine, sitting down, taking photos, and leaving.
He then hired a motorbike taxi to take him to Lumpini park. Apparently, he spoke a foreign language but it wasn't Thai. When he was going about his business of planting the bomb I doubt he realised that he was being filmed.
Obviously, this won't bring back the people who were killed in the blast, but it may act as a deterrent to future potential terrorists if they realise that wherever they are they will be caught on video.
We have also seen recently that drivers who misbehave on Thai roads are being caught using dashcam footage. This may also act as a deterrent against reckless drivers if they suspect that their actions may be recorded on someone's dashcam.
Personally, I think it is a good thing.
Thai-bashing is a favourite pastime among many foreigners who have lived in Thailand for a while, and I am no exception. You can see many examples on the ThaiVisa forums. When I first arrived in Thailand I was enthusiastic about everything Thai and I started to have genuinely doubts about Western ways of doing things.
However, after a few years everything changed. It didn't take me long to realise that nothing ever changed in Thailand and that nothing was done about some quite serious social problems, such as the carnage on Thai roads. Every year at New Year and Songkran hundreds of people would die on the roads, but the following year would be exactly the same.
I observed lots of incompetent behaviour and eccentric decision making. After I started to teach and observed what goes on in Thai schools it only added to my cynicism.
There comes a point with many Thailand observers when it seems that the Thais can't get anything right. When you have a problem with rival college students engaging in running street battles armed with home-made guns and other weapons, do you fix it by refusing to admit any future students who have tattoos or pierced ears? Of course not.
The problem is that you can become too cynical and you can even be cynical when the Thais are right. My brother has never tried to live permanently in Thailand on back-to-back 30 day stamps without a proper visa. However, entering the country around 50 times a year without a proper visa obviously isn't quite right and immigration were correct to have a word with him.
To their credit, they acted very reasonably. At any point they could have barred him from entering the country, but they didn't and told him what needed to be done.
Upon returning to Singapore he visited the Thai Embassy to get a non-O Thai spouse visa and he commented on how efficient the Embassy staff were with issuing his visa.
I therefore need to retract a few 'Thai-bashing' comments that I made recently.
We all know about the high incidence of road fatalities in Thailand and recently I mentioned that enormous fires feature regularly in the Thai news. I've just been taking a quick look through the local Phuket news as reported by the Phuket Gazette and was reminded that there are also a lot of foreigners who die (or nearly die) by drowning in the sea around Phuket.
All of these stories are from this month alone. If you go back through the archives there are a lot more.
I used to scuba dive and I did some diving around Phuket and also the Similan Islands. The currents in The Andaman Sea are unbelievably strong, so strong that the strongest swimmer in the world couldn't swim against them.
Feeling the immense power of the current while diving was actually quite a frightening experience. Be very careful if you go swimming around Phuket.
The other type of news story that crops up often in Phuket involves snakes. The snakes are often large cobras. My brother, who has a house in a very rural area of Phuket, gets lots of venomous snakes in his garden.
I see venomous snakes where I live, but they seem a lot more common in Phuket. While on the subject of Phuket, the popular vacation island has some of the most dangerous roads in Thailand.
There are lots of very tight bends and steep inclines. In addition, the driving in Phuket is the most aggressive I have ever experienced in Thailand. Until I visited Phuket I didn't think there was anywhere worse than Hat Yai for aggressive driving. It's worse in Phuket.
The following Phuket Gazette article describes Phuket's roads as being some of the most dangerous in the world.
When you factor in the various taxi mafias, the sky-high prices, and all the scams that take place in Phuket because there are so many tourists, it remains one of my least favourite parts of Thailand.
I don't know why so many tourists love the place so much.
Wednesday 19th August 2015
A person's satisfaction with life depends very much on that individuals's expectations of life. If you set expectations that are too high, life - no matter how good life is relatively - will seem like one long series of disappointments. However, if you start with the premise that 'Life is suffering' it can only go up from there. This is one of the reasons why I use Buddhist teachings a lot in my philosophy of life.
Loneliness was one form of suffering that was alleviated after I got married and started a family. The problem is that marriage and children then bring many other forms of suffering. Life hasn't been easy recently and I have had to relegate this blog to the bottom of my priorities. This is just a quick updating explaining why.
My son was admitted to a private hospital again last Thursday with severe breathing difficulties. He was born with pneumonia and seems to have inherited some of my asthma problems. His immune system is still undeveloped and he gets lots of colds. Unlike his older sister, when he gets colds they normally turn into quite serious issues.
He came home on Sunday. Monday was busy and yesterday we spent most of the day at a public hospital waiting to see a pediatric pulmonologist. She was very good and has given us drugs to control the problem. We had to wait three hours to see the doctor and another hour for the drugs. The hospital was a zoo, but it was all free under the Thai healthcare system.
The private hospitals are fine and provide good healthcare, however, their first priority is always profit. The doctors always seem keen to admit patients even when the problem isn't that serious, the rooms are always kept full, and they seem to have incentives to keep the rooms full.
My lad was in for three nights and the bill came to Bt38,000. Fortunately, this was covered by health insurance. My wife asked about treatment at home to control the symptoms and they said that nothing could be done. They just want us to admit him whenever he has a problem and then pay a big bill. That's their business model.
The public hospitals are very different. They don't have enough beds and they aren't making lots of profit on every patient. Therefore, they are reluctant to admit anyone when it isn't essential and they offer advice on home treatment to reduce their workload.
Comparing private and public hospitals in Thailand, I wouldn't say that one or the other is better than the other. There are pros and cons for both and it depends what kind of healthcare you require and whether you are covered by insurance. We use both.
This hasn't been my only problem lately.
For a while now I have been having some major issues with my wife. In any marriage there will always be difficult times and when two people from entirely different cultures marry there are more problems regarding language, beliefs and values.
Additionally, one or both participants may have some personality issues that add another level of difficulty. These issues may often go undetected before marriage.
For a while now, I have seen a seething anger in my wife. It's a really nasty type of anger and I don't know why. She is from a poor background and had nothing when I met her. She now has everything and lives a lifestyle that was unimaginable for her before she met me.
She has the responsibility of two children, but I do a lot at home because I'm not working and I pay for a girl to come in to clean and iron clothes.
Compared to most women - my mother when she was bringing up three children with no help from my father and even her own older sisters - she has a very easy life. Despite this, she never seems satisfied with anything and always looks angry. She hides this from other people, but vents it at me often.
She stayed at the hospital with our son on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday morning she called me before I went to the hospital asking for something. I didn't understand what she said and asked her to repeat it. She screamed it down the phone and then hung up. I have done nothing to warrant this kind of behaviour.
I know that if we break up, life will be worse for all of us. Neither of us want to lose this house and I don't want the kids having a broken home. However, I was becoming so miserable living with an angry person all the time that it was getting to the stage where the other things didn't matter. Last week I was giving some serious thought to ending the marriage.
By Saturday I was at breaking point and said some strong words to her. I then stayed at the hospital on Saturday night while she went home with my daughter. She returned on Sunday morning looking quite contrite. Yesterday, we had a good talk and things are perfect at the moment but my concern is whether this will last or whether she will start to get angry again.
One of the big problems is communication, or rather lack of communication. She sometimes expects me to do things and I am expected to be telepathic. If I don't do what she wants, even though I don't know what she wants, she gets angry again. I have told her to speak to me more and not to bottle everything up. Her response was that she has been like this her whole life. She never confronts problems with a view to fixing them. The problems stay inside her simmering away until they eventually explode.
She also admitted that she has a bad character (nissai mai dee). She knows herself, of course, and knows that she isn't always a nice person. Interestingly, the girl I wanted to marry before her also warned me that she too wasn't a very nice person. She told me that however I felt about her at the time, I wouldn't like her after a year. It was a strange thing to say, but at least she was being honest.
I don't know why so many Thai girls seem to have this nasty streak inside them. Most of the Thai girls who meet farangs come from poor backgrounds and have nothing. Their only chance of a decent life is to meet a good farang man. However, when they achieve this, quite a few then mistreat and abuse the person who has given them everything.
Last week was yet another wasted week. I seem to have had a lot of those in the last few years.
I wouldn't describe myself as a naive person, but at various times in my life I have been exceptionally naive. I'm not naive in situations where, for example, Thai scammers are trying to scam me out of money, but that doesn't apply in other situations.
Before the Internet revolution arrived that we see today I was very naive about how IT would impact society. I imagined a world where everyone would have lead lives and where we would need to find more leisure interests to fill our time. This isn't how human nature works.
After children arrived I imagined that life would get back to 'normal' after a few years. I am only now starting to accept that life has now changed completely and that it will never return to how it was. As the kids get older, the issues that we face will change but they will still need to be dealt with.
I have always given my wife a lot of help with the home and the children - far more help than most Thai men ever give their wives. At the moment I am giving even more help just to try to hold everything together.
There are many things I would like to be doing, such as writing here, but I have to prioritise my issues and my family and home life must always take top priority.
Wednesday 12th August 2015
The ratio of pickup trucks to cars in provincial Thailand must be close to 1:1. These large trucks are often driven dangerously and aggressively and, in addition, there are often a lot of people in the back. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this is illegal. Whether it's illegal or not, it is a common sight to see lots of people in the back of pickup trucks. In the case of construction workers being taken to their place of work, there can be over 20 people in the back.
Burmese workers on pickup truck
Regardless of how many people in the back, many of the drivers still drive the same way in a dangerous and aggressive manner. When accidents occur, as they do often, those passengers in the rear have no protection at all.
A few days ago, four people were killed when their speeding pickup truck went out of control and hit a power pole. They didn't need to wear safety belts or drive carefully because the amulets in their truck and the good luck ritual that they were driving to afforded them ample protection.
This week, 13 people were killed in just two crashes and I have no doubt that there were others whose deaths went unreported. So, what will happen now? The answer is nothing.
Pickup trucks are utility vehicles, which is why they are known as Utes in Australia. They are built for a purpose and they certainly don't need to be capable of high speed. A responsible government and responsible manufacturers would limit the speed to 80 km/h, or so.
Instead, exactly the opposite is happening. Manufacturers want to increase their profits and the Thai car assembly industry puts a lot of money into government coffers.
There are lots of young Thai boy racers who like pickup trucks and they want their pickup trucks to be fast. The manufacturers know this and produce vehicles that will be popular with those Thai men who buy pickup trucks to race on the street.
A recent view of the new Toyota Revo pickup truck indicated that it has a top speed of 180 km/h and in advertisement advertising their new Navara pickup truck, Nissan have stated that the engine produces 190 bhp.
In addition to getting more powerful and faster, every new generation of pickup trucks gets bigger. When I see trucks that were made 10 or 15 years ago they don't seem that big, however, new trucks are huge.
In my opinion, it's unnecessary and irresponsible. It also demonstrates how money is always regarded as the most important thing in Thailand. In many other countries, safety would come first.
I've written a lot about how bad and aggressive the driving is in Thailand and I'm sure that this bores a lot of people who don't drive regularly in Thailand. Nothing has changed the way I feel about Thais more than when I started to drive regularly (and not in a good way). Before I started driving regularly in Thailand I had no idea how utterly obnoxious and aggressive many Thai drivers are.
I've also made a few comments recently about the booming popularity of dashcams in Thailand. This technology is allowing people who don't drive regularly in Thailand to see the kind of thing that happens and it's a good thing. I really need to get a couple of dashcams for my wife and me.
The incident recorded by a dashcam on the following link is very similar to some of the incidents I have been involved in many times.
Thais are forever pulling out on other people and I am forever having to brake sharply and suddenly because someone pulled out when they should have waited. They never bloody wait. It's annoying, but what I have realised is that you don't dare do anything when this happens.
I have also realised that so-called 'professional' drivers are, in most cases, by far the aggressive drivers. They are 'professional' only in that they drive to make a living. Taxi drivers, minivan drivers, and couriers are notoriously bad and should be treated with a lot of caution.
Those drivers who routinely cut in front of other drivers are fully aware that some people will get upset and they drive prepared for any confrontation that may develop. Some have guns; other carry steel bars or knives.
If you wind down the window and say anything or toot your horn they become furious and want revenge. They will chase you and try to block your path. The taxi driver in the video blocks the woman so that she can't go anywhere and then approaches her with a steel bar. I've received death threats in the past and had guys get out of their cars to get their revenge.
And what did I do? I did the same as this woman - I tooted when some idiot cut in front of me. It's highly annoying in Thailand, especially when it happens so often, but somehow you have to let these things go because it can be life-threatening. People do actually get shot and killed in road rage incidents in Thailand.
Welcome to the Land Smiles, in which all the guide books tell you about the gentle nature of Thais and how non-confrontational behaviour is such a central part of the culture.
Unfortunately, the most interesting aspect of this story is one that I shall never find out about. The woman driver reported the driver who cut her up and then threatened her with a steel bar. She had video evidence and his license plate number. What I would like to know about are the actions that were taken against him? Is he still driving a taxi? Has he been prosecuted? Was he just given a small fine? Was he sent to prison?
Ever since I moved to Thailand I have always had more questions than answers.
Tuesday 11th August 2015
Despite LKY's open dislike for Western style democracy and Singapore having been a single party state since 1959 with virtually no chance of any other party taking power, it is difficult not to admire what Singapore achieved under LKY and what it continues to achieve.
Prior to Prayuth, Thaksin was a big admirer and liked to use Singapore as a role model for his plans to develop Thailand.
On the other hand, on a tiny island with a smaller population than Bangkok, and 76% of the population being ethnic Chinese with a very strong work ethic, it was possible to do in Singapore what wouldn't have been possible in many other countries.
The view of Singapore always looks far better from the outside. When I first made the move to Southeast Asia I based myself in Singapore for quite a lot of the time. It never seems quite as good when you are there all the time. It's small and doesn't take a long time to see most places. It's safe and clean, but in some ways a little restrictive.
I appreciate orderly society and a strong rule of law. I also believe that Singapore's harsh justice system is a very effective deterrent against those who choose to harm society at large.
Even so, when I hear an announcement for MRT passengers not to cross the yellow line the second I place a foot on the yellow line while waiting for a train, it does feel a little Orwellian. Big Brother is never far away in Singapore.
Lots of Singaporeans feel this way and at home they also have a high cost of living. For these two reasons, quite a few Singaporeans make regular trips to Thailand whenever they can. This weekend some Singaporean friends will be coming to Hat Yai for cheap food, cheap massages, cheap shopping, and relaxation. They really enjoy it here, despite provincial Thailand not being nearly as safe and clean as the environment they are used to.
Singapore has transformed many things in its journey from Third World to First. Thailand could not possibly do the same even in a hundred years, but if the Thais want to replicate just one aspect of Singapore it should be education.
In every survey of education, Singapore ranks first or second. Singaporeans are generally very well educated and the country has no peasantry. The longer I live in Thailand and the more I see of the education system, the more it makes me believe that the education system is at the root of many of Thailand's social problems.
I have talked about different value and belief systems many times and the way in which many of these values and beliefs hinder progress in Thailand. And where are these values and beliefs inculcated? It starts at a very early age and this seems to be the main objective of the education system.
Monday 10th August 2015
I'm not overly happy at the moment. In general terms I have never liked being in situations in which I couldn't extricate myself in the event that the situation became unpleasant or undesirable. Freedom is a nebulous term, meaning different things to different people, but to me this is what freedom is about. It's about being able to make choices regarding the life I lead and being able to walk away from situations that I don't want to be in.
This is what made me unhappy during various stages of my working career. At various times I found myself in very undesirable circumstances due to factors that were completely out of my control.
After I quit my old life and moved to Thailand I went through an incredibly happy period because I was completely free to do what I wanted to do or go where I wanted to go. I had never felt so liberated in my life.
I lived like this for quite a few years, but loneliness became an issue. I got married and had kids, not expecting this to completely remove every piece of freedom that I had, but gradually this is what has happened. Specifically, I am having some major issues with the Thai education system.
In the past I had issues as a teacher, but I was able to walk away from teaching positions and I did just this on more than one occasion. The current issue, as a parent, is much more difficult to walk away from.
During my early years of schooling I can't recall anything that caused my parents to have major issues, but the Thai system is very different.
A few years ago a Thai man got in touch with me about teaching his son English. The child was three and could actually read English. His parents were wealthy and quite enlightened regarding education. They didn't like the Thai education system or teaching methods and wanted him to learn naturally with me, just like my daughter learns English naturally with me.
It didn't work out. I am not good teaching very young children and it was impossible to do in one hour a week the same as I do with my daughter 24/7. I decided that it wasn't working and told the parents that I didn't want to do it.
One thing his parents told me was that children shouldn't start to learn to write until they are six. This comment stuck in my mind.
At the age of four my daughter is being pushed extremely hard with writing. She has to learn to write the 44 Thai consonants, 26 letters of the English alphabet and the Thai and Arabic numbering systems. That is a lot, especially for a four year-old.
Every night she comes home with homework and has to write a certain character 70 times in her workbook. Letters such as a lower case 'l' are quite easy, but some of the Thai consonants are very tricky. With an easy letter it might take her 15 minutes. With a difficult one it might be four hours. Her cousin, who attends high school at the same school, is up to midnight every day doing homework. Something isn't right.
The usual routine with my daughter is that my wife tries to make her do her homework, and after she refuses my wife gets angry. My wife, being Thai, uses the Thai method of homework assistance and stands over my daughter with a ruler whacking her hand whenever she refuses to do it.
A friend of mine decided that a good way to learn Thai would be to sit in with junior high school students, but there were some problems. Firstly, native Thai speakers, even those as young as four or five, are normally far more advanced in Thai than foreigners who have been studying for several years. By the time they are in junior high school the level is far too advanced for foreigners.
The second problem was that she couldn't bear to be in the classroom and continually observe young kids being beaten by their teacher. Neither can I. After my wife gets the stick out is the time when I normally interject with a more 'carrot' based approach.
Depending on how tricky the character is, it can take a long time getting her to finish her homework. I can understand her not wanting to do, I don't think kids of four need to be pushed as hard, and I would rather be doing other things. The tantrums we have with our daughter are also causing a lot of friction between me and my wife.
And the way that the school adversely affects my home life goes further than homework.
On Saturday I spent several hours helping my daughter with homework and then had a load of laundry and other chores to attend to. The school then phoned late in the afternoon informing us that our daughter was scheduled to be in a performance on Monday morning. This entailed an unscheduled trip to the school to pick up her dress and also an unscheduled shopping trip to buy her gloves. This took up the whole of Saturday evening.
We couldn't find gloves so on Sunday my wife went shopping again. This was combined with her usual visits to relatives' houses and she returned at 4:30pm leaving me to look after our daughter all day.
This morning the household was awake at 5:30am as my daughter had a 6am appointment to have her face made up. We got to the school just before 8am and arrived home at around midday, feeling very tired.
The event was for Mothers' Day and consisted of the students saccharine sweet declarations of love for their mothers. In the run up to this, mothers of the children were asked to prepare sheets of paper with saccharine sweet declarations of love for their children. These were posted all around the school.
I felt really sorry for the kids. They had all been up since early morning and there was a lot of waiting around listening to boring adults and continually hearing moralistic views on how they should behave.
Some adults performed what was supposed to be a comedy sketch about a child who was 'deu' (obstinate/stubborn). This is a word I hear all the time related to kids. Thai kids are just supposed to do what they are told and never to question it. If they don't do what they are told, they are 'deu' and this is a really bad thing in Thailand.
The poor kids must be bored out of their brains.
As a teacher I witnessed lots of Thai teachers and it was always a one-way communication. The teacher spoke (often reading from a book) and the kids listened and wrote. They weren't invited to ask questions and the 'culture' is such that students don't ask questions.
On one occasion I saw a teacher sitting in a cubicle in the corner of the room where she couldn't even be seen. She spoke through a microphone and there was a loudspeaker on top of her cubicle. Thai teachers often use microphones and loudspeakers.
The teacher speaks and the students are expected to remember facts, which will then be regurgitated in a test later. I can't think of a more boring way to 'teach' children.
What are the effects of this?
Thai students soon learn to equate learning with boredom, whereas actually learning should be interesting. In their own time they choose to play instead of increasing their knowledge and waste their time. I don't think there is a Thai student in the country who doesn't play Facebook whenever there is an opportunity.
They also hate being told what to do all the time and when they get old enough they rebel. When they get older, many deliberate break rules and laws as a kind of statement that they won't do what they are told.
I just saw another story about police arresting more youngsters on motorbikes. My normal reaction is to be pleased because young street racers need to be taken off the road. However, when I read this story - and also just returning from my daughter's school - my reaction was different.
A lot of these kids didn't seem like bad people and, in fact, they had been raising money for various charities. They just seemed bored and it was fun to ride their motorbikes with a lot of other people. A few were probably out of control, but not all of them.
I believe that a lot of this type of behaviour is the result of the Thai education system. There is no attempt at understanding the things that interest young people and no attempt at making them interested in anything. If the kids developed more interests, they might use their time more productively later on instead of just playing computer games and racing around on motorbikes.
It would also help if the children were treated like adults and allowed to express more of their own views. At my daughter's school I often feel as if I am in a military camp with the fierce looks on the teachers' faces and the way that the kids are kept in check.
I'm not sure what to do about my children and it will be more of a concern as they progress through the education system. At the moment I am completely disillusioned with the education system and I am fed up with the problems it is causing at home, but I'm not quite sure yet what to do.
Friday 7th August 2015
The Thai Ministry of Education has interjected in the decision by vocational colleges to not accept students who have tattoos or ear piercings. It's refreshing to hear some common sense.
A spokesman was quoted as saying:
"I understand the vocational schools are trying to improve the image of vocational education, but you cannot judge people by their physical appearance. Some students who have tattoos are good kids. You cannot deny them the chance to study. If they are afraid some ill-intentioned people will try to apply, they can use other screening methods such as a criminal background check."I'm also sure that many of the kids who engage in street battles don't have tattoos or pierced ears. If you have a problem, identity the source of the problem and fix it. Don't introduce stupid rules that will penalise people who shouldn't be penalised and, at the same time, won't fix the source of the problem.
It has been wet here for the last couple of days and I was told the rain would last for five days. Areas north of Bangkok have experienced drought conditions recently and although many people complain about rain, life gets pretty miserable if there isn't enough.
The temperature is perfect, my thermometer is showing 27°C as I write. At one time in my life I would have considered that quite hot, but now it is cool. Southern Thailand doesn't get a lot cooler. Night times are especially pleasant at the moment, being able to sleep comfortably with no air conditioning.
There are some minor irritations. Twice yesterday I got caught in downpours and, with my wife and kids generating so much laundry, getting clothes dry is a hassle. My fishpond overflow pipe doesn't work and if the pond gets too full with rainwater I have to pump some water out. Apart from that, it is fine.
A neighbour was telling me last week that this area of Thailand is going to have the wettest wet season for 80 years this year. I don't know who told her this, but these predictions normally come from fortune tellers or monks with supposed 'supernatural' powers.
Thais love these predictions of doom and gloom and something like this goes round almost every year. There's always going to be a huge earthquake or enormous tsunamis, or something, but nothing ever happens.
Another unfortunate aspect of the grey, wet weather is that it highlights the ugliness of urban Thailand. Everything is constructed from concrete and when the original paint disappears after a few years, buildings are never repainted.
It's just a mass of grey, ugly concrete with the drab architectural style of a Soviet era apartment block and in front of all the buildings is an ugly mass of overhead electricity cables.
With the sun shining, as it does most of the year, this ugly urban cityscape doesn't look too bad, but with overcast grey skies it really looks depressing.
I've completely my chores and won't have to go out until this afternoon to pick up my daughter. The rain is now falling heavily and this is a perfect time to stay at home.
In every education survey I see, Singapore comes top and the latest survey is no exception.
The headline screams out Asia, but Asia is a very large continent and education levels vary tremendously within Asia. Seeing Vietnam at 12th was a bit of a surprise and this should also serve as a warning to other countries in ASEAN.
Thailand was ranked 47 and Malaysia, 52. I know people in Thailand who send their children to be educated in Malaysia because they say the education system is better. The private schools seem to be quite good and the level of English is certainly a lot better compared to Thailand. However, what I am beginning to understand is that the public education system isn't that great. I have seen some articles in the last year lamenting the decline of English skills in Malaysia.
Education is a very emotive subject and this BBC article has received a lot of comments. As I have said previously, there is a lot of memorisation and rote learning in Thailand and most probably in other Asian countries. I have taught students who achieved top scores for English, but who were actually very poor at English. I assume it is the same with other subjects.
The results of surveys like this shouldn't be taken too seriously. I discovered later in life that none of the real 'life skills' I needed were taught at school.
After looking at the statistics I realised that my learning to read Thai tutorials are being viewed more than I thought, which is encouraging.
They are not viewed by a lot of people, but what seems to happen is that certain individuals who are really motivated to learn how to read Thai go through all the tutorials and then go back for more. This is good. I would rather have people visit my site who are genuinely interested in the content rather than casual browsers with short attention spans who look at a page for two seconds and then leave.
Earlier this week I added another tutorial about days, months and time in Thailand. I had been meaning to do this for a long time, but I always seem to be busy.
I have been taking quite a lot of photos of signs with the intention of using the photos to expand existing tutorials or write new ones. Anyone with an interest in Thailand should learn to read some basic Thai.
My four year-old daughter is now in the second level of Kindergarten and she has to learn how to read Thai and English. She has only just started going to the toilet herself, so I'm sure that if she can learn to read Thai then foreign adults can too.
To say that it is easy to start recognising Thai script, which bears no resemblance to English at all, is probably inaccurate. Even so, with a little bit of time and effort, it really isn't that difficult just to learn a few basics.
The recent burglary in my housing development could probably have been avoided if the security guards had been doing their job properly. There are a LOT of security guards in Thailand and the work suits many people who can't really do anything else. Apart from letting people in and out, there isn't a lot to do and I often find them asleep on the job.
Thai security guard
Up until now there has been no legislation regarding the recruitment of security guards. Convicted criminals or sex offenders could be employed in jobs where they are supposed to be protecting other people.
Some legislation has just been passed to improve the situation. I don't know if it will make any difference, but it's a step in the right direction.
Please forgive my cynicism, but I have lived in Thailand for many years and there are good reasons why I have a cynical attitude.
In the 1990's at the height of Thailand's economic boom, new condo buildings were being constructed everywhere. One luxury condo project in Bangkok was called Sathorn Unique Tower. On one trip to Bangkok a few years ago when I stayed in a hotel by the river on the Thonburi side I used to pass it every day.
The building developer was having financial and legal problems, and when the Asian Financial Crisis hit in 1997 causing the real estate market to collapse, work stopped on the building altogether before it was finished.
I believe the condition of the building has deteriorated to such an extent that it can never be completed and, for some reason, the building has never been demolished. It is still there today.
It has become a favourite haunt for so-called Urban Explorers who like to wander around unused buildings taking photos and videos. A couple of years ago I watched a YouTube video of someone doing just this. When asked how he got past security he said that he just gave the security guard a few Baht.
This is the kind of thing that makes me cynical about Thailand. You can pass all the legislation you want, but for as long as low-paid security guards can be bribed for a small amount of amount it serves no purpose at all.
Thursday 6th August 2015
Thais seem to be gripped by a fear of escalators at the moment. A little while ago it was lifts (elevators in Americanese). There were a number of stories reported in the media in which lift doors had opened, but no lift was present. If people weren't paying attention they walked through the open doors and plummeted down the lift shaft.
The escalator problems have mainly occurred in China, where a woman was gobbled up and killed by an escalator recently, but apparently there was also a problem in Bangkok on Monday.
Someone dropped a coin into the escalator mechanism in Bangkok causing it to collapse.
The local university/hospital is just across the road to Tesco Lotus. Both places are very busy, as is the road that separates them. There has always been a pedestrian bridge, but Thais don't like using pedestrian bridges and people just used to cross the road.
The authorities didn't like this, so they constructed a fence in the middle of the road preventing people from crossing. Thais were forced to use the bridge and I guess that many objected. A couple of days ago I saw that they are now replacing the stairs with escalators to make the process of crossing the road easier. This will probably freak out some locals even more than the prospect of having to climb a flight of stairs.
At Big C Extra I noticed that signs have been erected at the entrance to the escalators informing people that using the escalator can be dangerous if they weigh in excess of 80kg. I'm not particularly heavy, but my weight approaches 80kg. A lot of farangs living in Thailand are well over 80kg, and that's just the women.
This escalator is only for light people
I can't really believe this, but I guess Big C Extra have done this to reduce their liability in case there is an accident.
The thing that concerns me most about escalators in Thailand is that many don't have an emergency stop button. I looked yesterday and the ones at Big C Extra did have emergency stop buttons. I worry about my kids getting an arm or leg stuck in an escalator, especially if there is no way of stopping the mechanism.
Thailand, especially Bangkok, is becoming a land of malls. Each mall has several floors and an abundance of escalators. I don't think it is a major concern, but I wouldn't be complacent or inattentive when using escalators, especially if you have children with you.
After leaving Big C Extra via the escalators yesterday, I went to pick up my daughter. It was early, there was heavy rain, and I got chatting to another father waiting to pick up his daughter. Turns out he was a policeman, although in most Western countries he wouldn't have satisfied the height requirement to become a cop.
It also turned out that he lived in a new housing development across the road to where I live. Upon us realising that we were almost neighbours the conversation turned to houses and he was very unhappy about the quality of his house construction. This seems to be a common theme.
I met a German guy who had first acquired Canadian citizenship before moving to Thailand. He was very unhappy about the quality of his house construction. His view, as was echoed by a reader's comment here recently, was that all the best workers had gone to Bangkok. My new Swiss friend was also very unhappy about the construction of his house, being used to much higher standards in Switzerland.
I have grumbled here about some aspects of my house, especially the parquet flooring, and it is a common subject of conversation when I speak to my neighbours. Many have the same parquet flooring problems, some have leaky roofs, and many don't like the way that walls are not smooth and not level.
The construction of this house is far better than that of my rented town house. Town houses in Thailand are generally the cheapest forms of housing and many are built on the lowest budget possible. The house felt quite sturdy, but there wasn't a single straight line or right-angled corner anywhere.
A housing boom started in this area about six years ago and lots of Thais decided to jump on the property development bandwagon. Friends of mine, who have no experience at all, bought land, got an architect to draw up plans, and went about finding construction workers to complete the project. The only purpose was to make a quick profit.
At the height of the boom it was almost impossible to find construction workers. This was the reason that my house took a lot longer to complete than it should have done. I visited often and there were periods when nothing was done for a month or more.
My developer had some of his own permanent staff, but subcontracted out a lot of work. Most of his permanent staff were unskilled, Burmese labourers. The parquet flooring caused a big delay because other work couldn't be done until it was completed. However, the developer couldn't find contractors to do the flooring.
Eventually, the long wait became embarrassing and I think he just got people in who didn't really know what they were doing. This was the reason cited by the guy I was talking to yesterday.
The housing boom seems to have come to an end and there are now many new houses standing empty that can't be sold or even rented out. The good news is that it is easier to find construction workers.
Different people come to Thailand for different reasons. Some people wish to design and build their own homes and doing this in Thailand is far cheaper than doing it in their home countries.
If you find away around the legalities it's relatively cheap to buy land, cheap to hire an architect to draw up plans, and construction labour is also cheap. On paper it looks very good, but the process can be fraught with problems and additionally there are big language barriers.
Thais have a tendency to do things there own way, rather than following the wishes of the person who is paying them. There is also a tendency to take the path of least resistance so that all jobs get completed with the minimum of effort. And then there's the problem of finding people with the right skills.
There are many skilled artisans in Thailand and they can perform beautiful work, but when demand for labour is high there are also a lot of cowboys around who will claim to have skills if they can earn some money.
I have been plagued with water leaks at home this past week (although some leaks have been present for quite a bit longer). Anyway, this week I decided to take action.
On the theme of skilled labour, the guy who did the plumbing in my house was actually quite good. While the house was being built I spoke to him a number of times. Instead of taking the path of least resistance, he actually did the opposite.
He added some nice little touches that make life easier. For example, he added valves in each bathroom so that when doing repairs the supply in a single bathroom can be turned off instead of turning off the water supply to the whole house.
Also, if I am using the water tank and pump and there is a power cut I can throw a couple of valves and use the mains water supply directly. I couldn't do this at my old house.
One of the leaks was caused by poor workmanship. The waste pipe for one sink was poorly sealed. All the other leaks - three toilet squirters and the water supply to the washing machine - were caused by leaking hoses. I have managed to fix the toilet squirters several times, but now they are beyond repair.
These days, things are never built to last more than a few years. They can't be repaired and therefore need to be replaced. The kitchen tap also has a small leak. I asked a plumber about fixing it, but it isn't repairable. He told me to buy a new one for about Bt2,000. He said that taps that can be repaired cost about Bt10,000.
This seems to be symptomatic of the throw away society that we live in today. When I arrived in Thailand 12 years ago, there were small repair shops everywhere that could repair almost anything. Now, a lot of them have gone.
We all want to buy lots of cheap things, but ultimately there is a price to be paid. Those things won't last very long and will need to replaced often. Also, for many years manufacturers have moved their production to where it is cheapest (more often than not, China) and that has decimated Western economies.
I have complained often about the practice of stringing up electricity cables overhead on large power poles. It looks ugly and occasionally people get electrocuted. There are also other good reasons to bury cables underground.
The running street battles between rival technical colleges, in which some young men get killed, are notorious in Bangkok. Students make their own weapons, including frightening knives and even guns. The battles sometimes take place on public buses and in the past members of the public have been injured.
How is Thailand tackling the problem? Technical colleges are now turning down applicants who have tattoos or stretched pierced ears.
I have made many observations in Thailand over the years and I take a particular interest in how Thailand deals with the country's many social problems.
Problems are not necessarily ignored, although sometimes they are, but when actions are taken they are often ineffective and target the wrong people.
I have no tattoos and I am not a fan of tattoos. My nightmare destination in Thailand would be Pattaya and it seems that every farang living in Pattaya is covered in tattoos. However, I'm sure that not all people with tattoos are bad people.
Many Buddhist monks have lots of tattoos and even my wife had a small tattoo when I met her. It was a teenage mistake and she was very self-conscious of it. She couldn't wear the wedding dress she wanted because the tattoo would show and she had it removed, even though she will always bear a scar.
Thai immigration has just added more requirements for people who wish to extend retirement visas. They have also told my brother, who commutes every week from work in Singapore to his home in Thailand, that foreigners are now only allowed to enter Thailand six times a year.
There are problem foreigners in Thailand, but the authorities introduce new rules that will only affect the people who play by the rules and don't do anything wrong. If a foreigner arrives on a 30 day stamp and then overstays for several years, never visiting immigration, nothing will happen to that person.
The staff who work at technical colleges know who the troublemakers are and they can be dealt with. Many teenagers decide to get tattoos done or pierce their ears, but it doesn't necessarily make them bad people and to deny them a place at technical college later may mean the country losing some good talent.
As I have said many times before, Thais have their own way of doing things and they won't change.
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. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
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.
Images of Thailand