Living In Thailand Blog
Sunday 31st December 2006
I was wondering how to wrap up this blog for 2006. With Saddam having just been executed, Thaksin still in exile, and Bush and Blair on their way out, it would have been easy to start getting political again but I don't want to dwell on evil politicians.
Everything in life goes in cycles. Politically, the last few years have been a nightmare for the world but at least the Iraq disaster seems to have put paid to American Imperialism and the neo-conservative agenda. Bush and Blair have been worse than Thatcher and Reagan but their time is coming to an end.
If it is acceptable to try and put to death leaders whose actions have been responsible for the deaths of innocent people and crimes against humanity, the noose that was put around Saddam's neck still has some work to do.
On a personal level - trying to forget the wrongs of the world for a while - I can't ever remember being as happy as I am now. I have an inner peace and contentment now that has been sadly absent for most of my adult life.
Today is significant because probably my lowest point was exactly seven years ago on Millennium Eve. My life hadn't been right for a while and all the hype surrounding 2000 was the last thing I needed. I went to join the crowds in London to see the spectacle but inside I felt desperately unhappy.
What has happened now is that I have taken back control of my life. I am happy now because I spend my life doing things I want to do. I am as busy as I have ever been but I don't do anything I don't want or don't enjoy doing. It's great.
A friend of mine recommended a book to me when I was going through bad times. Normally I steer well clear of American-style 'self help' books but this one was different. The book was called 'Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live' by Martha Beck.
The basic premise of the book is that we can all be happy if we lead the lives we were meant to lead. Unfortunately, many people don't and I was a classic example. I started off my career doing something I enjoyed but as the industry changed I moved further and further away from doing what I liked.
My company was only interested in getting me out on service contracts so they could charge lots of money for every day I worked. I would get a small percentage back in the form of a salary and some benefits while the company would make a profit from me for doing nothing.
And did they care what I did or if I enjoyed my work? Of course not. They were only interested in money and they expected their employees only to be interested in money and therefore to do whatever was required.
Instead of doing work I enjoyed doing, I was forever trying to figure out what sort of work was in demand and then trying to adapt in order to make myself employable. The situation was a mess, it started to make me unhappy and as a result my unhappiness affected my performance.
As I became more aware that my performance wasn't up to scratch, this only added to my unhappiness. Money is not the only thing in life and I figured that I would never starve so when I got an opportunity to quit with a severance package in 2002, I took it.
My fear at the time was that one day I would wake up in a cold sweat realising I had made an awful mistake. IBM, after all, is a company that many top people would do anything to work for so was it right to decide to leave voluntarily?
All I can say is that almost five years down the line I have never had one single regret about changing my life or one thought to return to that lifestyle.
Don't be a slave to the system. We are tempted by so much in life these days that it seems we can never get enough money to get everything we want or need. Blindly pursuing money though, at the expense of everything else, is a mistake.
My income now is a fraction of what it was when I was working but I spend my life doing what I want to do and I am not at the behest of an unreasonable customer or project manager.
Some of the meals I eat in Thailand for Bt150 are just as enjoyable as £80 meals in London restaurants. I am happier in my rented room which costs Bt6,500 a month than I was living in my detached house in England.
Driving Porsches was a lot of fun but I have no problems using tuk-tuks, sawng-thaews and buses. I only spend money on the things I enjoy and because I do not let external forces influence me, I have found that actually I want very little in life. I therefore don't need a huge salary and I don't need to work ridiculous hours doing work I don't enjoy.
What you find is that when you stop letting the advertisers influence you, it is possible to live very simply and not feel in the least bit deprived.
Of course, being in Thailand is a major part of my happiness. I probably couldn't live as simply and as happily as this anywhere else. The low cost of living is a big factor, allowing me to work very little. The only reason I actually work is not for money but for the paperwork that allows me to stay in the country (and because I enjoy it).
But the low cost of living isn't the only thing. Western capitalism and consumerism will eventually destroy the country if the Thais aren't careful but it is still possible away from Bangkok and the tourist areas to find a way of life that is all about being happy and nothing to do with being greedy.
I found my own North Star. It is living the life I am living in Thailand right now. Very best wishes for a happy New Year and may you find your own North Star too.
Tuesday 26th December 2006
After a pretty rough night with continued stomach cramps I feel a lot better this morning. I called into a pharmacy yesterday and described the problem. The pharmacist prescribed and dispensed Norfloxacin antibiotics and Domperidone. He also gave me some electrolyte powder. This wouldn't have been possible in the UK.
The UK could learn an awful lot from the Thai public health system. In the UK these medicines can only be prescribed by doctors and, as a result, GP surgeries are so overcrowded that it is difficult to get appointments.
The majority of patients have routine problems that could easily be diagnosed and treated by pharmacists (who are already well-qualified people), thus easing the burden on GPs and increasing the efficiency of the system. However, British policy-makers no longer adhere to common sense and a sensible move such as this is unlikely to happen.
Monday 25th December 2006
No updates for a few days because I am desperately trying to get tasks done in order to go into 2007 with a fairly clean sheet. I have also been poorly today with a mild case of food poisoning. I haven't had any such problems for almost two years but food poisoning is totally unpredictable.
I went to Phattalung yesterday and had a fantastic day. It's one of my favourite places in Thailand but before you get too excited remember that my ideas of good and bad in Thailand are different to 99% of farangs. As I was waiting in the minivan to come back I actually saw another farang; the first one I have ever seen there in about six visits.
It's a pretty place with some great natural scenery. Phattalung is where the gigantic limestone karst formations begin which get more dramatic as you go towards Krabi and Phang-Nga. But what I really love about the place is that it is completely Thai.
There are no fast-food chains, you barely see a word of written English and if people do speak any English it is very, very basic. Places like these aren't impossible to visit if you don't read or speak any Thai but it certainly helps.
In many restaurants there is unlikely to be an English menu and it is doubtful that the restaurant workers will speak English. If you need any information, such as where to find buses or vans, knowing a little Thai goes a long way.
The most pleasant aspect though is just being able to converse with ordinary people instead of simply acting like a grinning moron.
The negative aspect is that everyone stares as you walk down the street and you hear the 'f' word a lot but for me it is a real pleasure to be somewhere in Thailand that hasn't been tainted by tourists and Westernisation.
Unfortunately, the restaurant I ate at would appear to be the culprit for my tummy problems today. I had put tai talay (seafood) and although it looked, smelt and tasted fine the problems started to occur shortly after I arrived home yesterday evening.
The small places selling dishes for a few Baht work on such small profit margins that I doubt they throw anything away when it starts to get old. Many local-style restaurants don't look very clean but that doesn't seem to be a factor with food poisoning. Some of my regular haunts look awful but I've never had a problem.
Yesterday I wanted to write about Phattalung but I will save it for another time. It's a great province for birds. If you travel by train through Phattalung you will see lots of kingfishers perched on the phone lines that run alongside the railways tracks.
On this trip I found a great spot with cows grazing and the cattle had attracted hundreds of cattle egrets. I am planning to make another trip soon with a longer lens to get some shots of the birds. There were also a few Brahminy kites flying around but they were way too distant to photograph.
I have said it before and I will say it again that the worst Thais are always found in heavily infested tourist areas. The opposite is true of places with no tourists. When you venture into 'real' Thailand the people are lovely.
I met two very cute sisters and their equally cute mum yesterday. Mum, I expect, was a real looker a few years ago and is still very shapely even after having eight children - two boys and six girls. Unfortunately, the girls' father died.
They have a small tailor shop business. The younger sister was sewing sequins on to a silk blouse individually by hand. Her workmanship was outstanding. It takes her one day to complete an article of clothing and they sell it for just Bt300.
Sweet and kind just don't describe them. Every time I hear a farang idiot banging on about how all Thai girls, in general, can't be trusted (just because he got involved with, and taken by, a bar girl) I want to drag him out to the southern provinces and show him the kind of Thai girls I meet.
In this life I'm afraid that you only get what you deserve. Get off your bar stool, learn some Thai and make an effort to meet some decent Thais - who make up the vast majority of the population.
With the second anniversary of the tsunami occurring tomorrow, there was another sad article about Thailand on the Internet today regarding how an estimated 'half' of the Bt60m donated to help victims was 'stolen'.
After the tsunami, an American friend wrote to me asking for advice. He wanted to donate money but was concerned that it wouldn't get to the right people. I didn't know what to say. He had a point but would it have been right just to have ignored the plight of the victims by doing nothing?
I told him that at certain times you have to put your trust in other people to do the right thing. I put Bt1,000 into a collection box at one of the local supermarkets knowing that there was no accountable record of my donation and that if the person collecting the money stole any, no one would ever know.
The first stories of theft started appearing soon after the tsunami and it was sickening. I believe in Karma though - what goes around comes around - or, as the Thais say, "tum dee, dai dee; tum chuwa, dai chuwa. Karma will get them in the end.
What was interesting was watching the Thai response after the tragedy. Thais, naturally, know other Thais better than anyone else. Did you see them throwing large sums of money in collection boxes? Many did make monetary contributions but what you found was that a lot of people made sure money and essential items got to the affected people by direct means.
They loaded up their pickup trucks with blankets, cooking utensils and food etc. and drove to affected communities along the Andaman coast. This made it impossible for any middle men to steal anything. It's really sad but the local people were fully aware of what might have happened.
It makes me so sad to meet so many wonderful, honest people in this country who work long hours every day just to scrape by (like the mum and two sisters yesterday) when there are a few filthy rich (or should I say Ample Rich) people who have amassed their huge fortunes by theft and corruption.
The director-general of the Revenue Department and four other senior officials have been sacked and are facing charges related to not collecting taxes from the Shinawatra and Damapong families. There are also some interesting facts beginning to emerge about the massive corruption that went on at the new airport.
Pojaman's name keeps appearing in the corruption investigations and if anything she seems even more corrupt than her husband. In fact, it has long been rumoured that she was the brains of the outfit and was controlling Thaksin from behind the scenes. The saga is beginning to sound very much the same as what happened in the Philippines under Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. I demand to know how many pairs of shoes Pojaman has in her possession.
My gut feeling is that Thailand has had enough of corruption and since the coup there has been a determined effort to stamp it out. Time will tell. The problem is that certain practices which would be classified as corrupt in other countries are just normal in Thailand.
To get rid of the problem altogether requires a complete change of mindset and a few cultural shifts but that's not going to happen any time soon.
Friday 22nd December 2006
I'm being stalked again. Well, not really stalked - which is too strong a word - but lots of phone calls, text messages and e-mails all through the day, every day. If the girl in question goes anywhere, even for a day or two, she brings me back a small gift. She's a pleasant girl and not unattractive but it's attention that I don't need or want at the moment.
It's not about money - she has a better job than most Thai girls I know. I think it's just loneliness. She works a lot of hours, lives alone and isn't attracted to Thai men. I like the girl and don't want to hurt her so I'm just being polite while trying my best not to lead her on.
I feel sorry for her, not least because of my own situation a few years ago which was similar. I had a decent job and no financial worries but there were many problems with the opposite sex of my own kind and I too was lonely.
A change of geography worked wonders. From being the Invisible Man, I now have a presence again with the opposite sex. I'm sure it would be the same with this girl if she went off to live in Farangland but that is extremely unlikely to happen. She probably doesn't have the money it would require to set herself up and she would have enormous problems getting a visa.
Things aren't always easy in Thailand for farangs but many of us - even with modest means - can come here to live without too much effort and live well. We have choices available to us that the majority of Thais will never have. It's something we should be grateful for and never forget.
I was taken out for lunch by some of my students today. I am so lucky to have the job and the students I do; not that they are really students in the strict sense. They are all adults with very good jobs who happen to study English with me once a week.
They are pretty high up in the Thai social hierarchy and several went to the top universities in Bangkok for Master's Degrees and PhDs. On paper they are far more qualified than I am but they still treat me with the greatest respect.
After lunch I started to make my way home and was approached by a tuk-tuk driver who, seeing a farang walking down the street, wanted to know, "Where you go? You want girl - nice lady?" Five minutes after leaving very respectable company and being treated with respect, I was just another farang sex tourist looking for a prostitute in the eyes of the tuk-tuk driver. This kind of thing has really started to piss me off.
In some ways though you can't blame the tuk-tuk drivers for thinking the way they do. They deal with lots of tourists and, while driving them around, get a good idea of what they are up to.
The tuk-tuk driver who actually took me home today was desperate for business and backed his tuk-tuk up a long to get my custom. Hat Yai is dead at the moment. There are never many farang tourists but the town relies heavily on tourists from Malaysia, most of whom are Chinese.
The tuk-tuk driver was telling me how he normally makes Bt400 or Bt500 a day but at the moment he is only making Bt100 or Bt200. Sure enough the streets were empty as they have been for a while. My theory was a combination of Christmas and the southern insurgency problems but the driver gave me a very different explanation.
He told me that the Chinese Malaysians aren't scared of terrorist bombs. Firstly, he told me something that I already knew (because it is so obvious) and that is, the majority of Malaysian men come to Thailand for sex. What he told me next I wasn't aware of though and it was quite disgusting.
He told me that the local police have been having a purge recently to get young sex workers off the streets and out of the brothels. They have been arresting girls from 14 to 18. He went on to tell me that girls of this age are what the Malaysians come for and now that they aren't available, the men have stopped coming. Apparently, Chinese men aren't interested in girls of 19 or older.
This made me feel quite nauseous. I have developed a very low opinion of Chinese Malaysian men since living in Hat Yai and it is purely as a result of observing their behaviour in Thailand. When I see groups of them wandering around in Hat Yai or Dannok it's obvious what they are in town for but I didn't realise they were preying on 15 and 16 year old girls.
A big example is always made of Westerners caught after engaging in child sex in Thailand but I don't think it is a big problem. There will always be odd cases but most Western men come to Thailand as a result of loneliness and just want to find a girlfriend or wife. Many Chinese, on the other hand, are decidedly disgusting but no one ever hears anything about their exploits.
In a previous post I posed the question, "What next?" in relation to government crackdowns. The reputation that Thailand has around the world is not something the Thais are particularly proud of and under age prostitution is not something that any country wants to be known for.
The fact that the police are out there arresting under age sex workers indicates that a crackdown has already begun and it's not before time.
Thursday 21st December 2006
This time of year in southern Thailand is my favourite. It has rained every day for the past week - sometimes heavily and sometimes persistently. The rain has brought some lovely, refreshing cool winds and cooled the air temperature nicely.
This morning it was 26°C and the temperature only rose one degree throughout the day. The cool weather has acted on me like an instant energy boost. I think that if I live out the rest of my days in Thailand I will never truly adjust to the intense heat that is present for most of the year.
Forget this nonsense about a so-called 'hot season'. In the south there are only two seasons - hot and wet and hot and dry.
I can tolerate the heat better these days but it still drains me of energy in no time at all and on very hot days it makes me feel quite ill if I am outside for more than a couple of hours.
The temperature now is about perfect but to observe the Thais you would think that it was Siberia. They are so amusing. Who needs a TV when you have Thais around? The laundry staff at my apartment were hugging themselves and shivering with cold this morning.
I can't imagine how they would survive being in a genuinely cold country. The UK has freezing fog at the moment which has disrupted flights out of the country. My tolerance for extremely cold weather is no better than my tolerance for very hot weather but if I had to choose, I would choose the heat.
In the last three years I have never worn an article of warm clothing (the fleece I brought with me from England just hangs in the wardrobe unused) and I have never felt the least bit cold. Sometimes I think it would be nice to sit inside by a fire on a really cold day but I'm sure I'd get fed up with that fairly soon.
The Thai stock market is still volatile apparently. I went to throw out an old newspaper today and saw on the front page that the Bank of Thailand had been threatening this move for a while but were waiting for approval from the Finance Ministry.
This latest move to curb short-term currency speculation and the recent immigration crackdown are a little concerning. It's obvious that the new government want to be seen to be cleaning things up in Thailand and addressing problems. That's fine but they never seem to think things through very clearly and still use the 'sledgehammer to crack a nut' approach.
The central bank's move, which was made to address currency speculation problems and to weaken the Baht in order to help exports and attract tourists, has thrown the markets into turmoil and scared off a lot of investors.
The immigration crackdown may have got rid of some bad apple farangs but a lot of good ones will go as well and I can't help but feel that Thailand will be the ultimate loser. What's coming next, I wonder?
Wednesday 20th December 2006
After yesterday's stock market crash in Thailand, the central bank has eased measures by not including equity investments in the new ruling and the market is already starting to recover. The BBC report includes the comment, "Analysts were left wondering why the bank would make such a "draconian" move."
Indeed, it seems strange but this is Thailand where people think differently to Westerners. I don't believe the real answer will ever be given and that the official line will continue to be about protecting export markets. I stand by what I wrote yesterday. There is no doubt that what happened in 1997 still hurts the Thais very much. What happened yesterday has everything to do with the events of nine years ago and it is my theory that Thaksin's actions at the time were also a major factor.
The BBC report says the actions are to deter overseas speculators but with Thaksin having so much of his money invested in tax-free offshore holding companies such as Ample Rich, people like him are effectively overseas speculators despite being Thai. Genuine overseas speculators do not have access to the highly sensitive financial information that Thai politicians have access to so when mega-wealthy Thai politicians with inside information start speculating against the Baht the situation becomes a lot more dangerous.
It's corruption - plain and simple; something Thailand needs to get rid of once and for all. To quote again from HM the King's 1999 birthday speech, "If governmental, or political, or economics, or business, or professional activities are corrupt, Thailand will collapse. Our country has not yet fallen because Thailand is intrinsically strong. But nowadays, if we are not careful, but try to hasten the downfall, our country will be like a house that is shaky. A shaky house will easily collapse with only a slight jar."
Tuesday 19th December 2006
Today is being described as Black Tuesday in Thailand after the Thai stock exchange recorded its biggest ever one day drop and Bt800 billion was wiped off the stock market. What's going on?
This comes as a result of the central bank introducing new tax regulations (effectively locking in foreign capital brought into Thailand for a year) in an effort to eliminate short-term currency speculation.
It appears the official version is the Baht was too strong and it was hurting exports but I'm not so sure this was the real reason. By a complete coincidence, last night I was reading the King's birthday speech that he gave in December 1999.
His birthday speeches cover all sorts of topics and include a great deal of humour. One section of the 1999 speech is devoted to currency exchange and he mentions that he spoke about the same thing in a previous birthday speech two years before. That would have been in 1997 - the year of the Asian financial crisis.
Because of royal protocol the King cannot speak too directly or name names but the Thais always know who - or what - he is referring to. In the speech, he mentions 'artful' people who use 'inside knowledge' to make money from currency fluctuations. It is obviously something that concerns him and if the King has concerns you normally find that actions are taken.
George Soros is always picked out in Thailand to be the biggest culprit in the area of currency speculation and he was demonised after the 1997 financial crisis but it's not only foreigners who are to blame. A few select Thais did very well out of the crisis.
After the financial crisis, all of Thailand's telecoms companies reported losses but one company lost significantly less than its competitors and therefore came out of the crisis a lot stronger financially. That company - with its reserves of cash - was then able to snap up assets at bargain prices from bankrupt companies and float them on the stock market making huge profits in the process.
The company was Shinawatra, later to become Shin Corp, owned by Thaksin Shinawatra. As an example, SC Assets - a Shin Corp company - started to buy up real estate around 2001 that had fallen into the hands of banks and creditors and was being sold cheaply. On the day that SC Assets was floated on the stock market it's share price doubled, raising an estimated Bt2.3 billion for the Shinawatra family.
So, how did Shin Corp manage to avoid huge losses during 1997 and get into such a powerful financial position when the financial crisis destroyed so many other companies?
The Thai finance minister at the time was one Thanong Bidaya. It so happens that Thanong Bidaya was a financial overseer for Shinawatra before his post as finance minister. He was Thaksin's main financial adviser; had been a director of Shinawatra companies and had arranged some of Thaksin's first loans.
In addition to having a very close relationship with Thaksin; as finance minister in 1997 he was part of the team that made the decision to float the Baht and knew about the decision a week before it happened.
So, how did Thaksin manage to escape the brunt of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and from that position of power succeed in building up a huge conglomerate when the Thai economy had been severely crippled? I will let you draw your own conclusions but does the above reference to 'inside knowledge' start to make a little more sense now?
Suffice to say, a major investigation has been taking place in Thailand ever since Thaksin was run out of office as a result of the September coup. The new government is doing everything in its power to prevent a repeat of what happened with Thaksin and I suspect that what happened today is related.
I may be way off the mark but the Thais aren't stupid. They know exactly how Thaksin made his fortune and I can't see any other reason for such drastic measures to curb currency speculation. They are also worried about foreign currency speculators attacking the Baht but I'm sure Thaksin's exploits have been a major factor.
If you want to read more, everything is detailed in Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker's book, 'Thaksin - the business of politics in Thailand.' Book details can be found on the front page of this site. Pages 58 and 216 are where you can find more information about what I have written here.
Sunday 17th December 2006
It's not unusual when walking around the streets in Thailand to turn a corner and come face-to-face with a fully grown elephant.
Buffaloes can often be seen walking along the road in certain parts of the country and in the south there are quite a few bulls. They are raised to fight. Bullfighting is popular in the south but it is unlike the Spanish version. Bulls are pitted against bulls with no matadors involved.
I find it quite sad because naturally they are such peaceful animals whose only interests (similar to males of most species) are grazing and servicing the cows when the time is right. Some will actually refuse to fight in the arena by running away - good for them.
One of my New Year resolutions for 2007 is to try not to waste as much time on-line as I have done this year. The permanent broadband connection I have now is both a curse and a blessing. I'd hate to be without it but it has allowed me to waste far too many precious hours doing nothing.
I love interesting information and there is plenty of that on the Internet but reading through Wikipedia for half a day isn't exactly productive. What really irritates me though is when I occasionally get caught up reading Internet forums because they really are a waste of time.
In general, these have to be the biggest waste of time known to man. It's a shame because the medium is perfect to exchange information but instead of that they are mostly used for worthless opinions and petty squabbling.
It is fairly obvious that some people who are supposed to be interested in a specific subject (such as travel, photography or Thailand) actually have no real interest in the subject because they spend their entire waking lives behind a computer on Internet forums wasting their own, and other people's, time instead of doing what they are supposed to be interested in.
I want to start spending my time a lot more productively on matters that are important to me and one such topic is improving my Thai language skills. Occasionally I will share some of what I study here. It's not to show off, or to embarrass myself by revealing how little I know, or because I want to be charitable, but more to do with the fact that writing something up fairly formally commits it to memory. If I just read through something I will often forget what I have read.
For some reason, I can remember certain things but not others. I can remember Pi to seven decimal places very easily but after living in Thailand for more than three years I still have problems with the months. Why this is, I just don't know. I can remember other things and there aren't exactly many months to remember - 12, to be precise. It's just a mental block I have and I want to see if this little exercise helps me remember.
The final syllable of each Thai month is dependent on how many days in that month. This is handy and means there is no requirement in Thailand for rhymes equivalent to, "Thirty days hath September, etc."
Months ending in 'kom' (คม) have 31 days and months ending in 'yon' (ยน) have 30 days. The Thai month for February ends in 'pun' (พันธ์). The final syllable is often omitted in colloquial speech.
January: mok-ga-raa-kom (มกราคม)
February: goom-paa-pun (กุมภาพันธ์)
March: mee-naa-kom (มีมาคม)
April: may-saa-yon (เมษายน)
May: preut-sa-paa-kom (พฤษภาคม)
June: mih-too-naa-yon (มิถุนายน)
July: ga-ruk-ga-daa-kom (กรกฎาคม)
August: sing-haa-kom (สิงหาคม)
September: gun-yaa-yon (กันยายน)
October: dtoo-laa-kom (ตุลาคม)
November: preut-sa-jik-gaa-yon (พฤศจิกายน)
December: tun-waa-kom (ธันวาคม)
Kiasu is a Hokkien word that means 'fear of failure' but actually it's much more than that. It results in social behaviour that is rude to the extreme where absolutely no consideration is shown to other people.
It seems to be a throwback to the old days when life was very tough for the Chinese and surviving in a competitive environment required a dog-eat-dog attitude. My general observation is that kiasu behaviour nowadays is more commonly seen with the older generation.
It manifests itself in many ways but if you spend any time in Singapore - or around Singaporeans - you will see some examples. The obvious one is on the MRT train system where Singaporeans will wait on the platform where the train doors open. That way, they make sure they are first to board to get any vacant seats and old ladies will happily shoulder-charge alighting passengers to get those seats.
A year or two ago I did a day-trip to Phi Phi from Phuket and a buffet meal was included on Phi Phi island. Unfortunately, there were a number of Singaporeans in the group and you don't want to be sharing a buffet meal with Singaporeans. They will be first to the food and they will clean up.
One travel web site I used to belong to had some Singaporean members and they would go to great lengths making sure their travel pages were rated higher than anyone else's by fair means or foul. Singaporeans must be the first ones to buy new products, the first ones to see new movies, and supporters of only successful football teams which explains why 99.9% of them support Manchester United and why I've never found a fellow West Ham fan there.
Tiger Airways operate a 'free-seating' arrangement to keep operating costs low but it is a standing joke whenever I fly with them. The Singaporeans fight to be first to board so they can get the seats at the front of the plane. This means they can be first off the plane and first through immigration.
The photo was taken at Changi airport in the new budget terminal. The flight hasn't been called yet and no gate number has been given. Normal passengers wait in the departure lounge keeping an eye on the board for a gate number.
These Singaporeans are waiting as near to the gates as they can get without knowing the gate number. One watches the board and as soon as the gate is announced they all run to the gate as fast as their little legs will carry them to make sure they are first on the plane. Almost as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac when the plane lands they are all out of their seats to get their luggage so they can be first off.
It's bloody annoying actually. Ask any Singapore expat about kiasu and I'm sure you will be told a few stories.
On another occasion last year I was shopping for a new laptop computer in Sim Lim Square. I was waiting for a lift but as the lift door opened it shut almost immediately and crashed into my shoulder. Inside the lift was a Singaporean and as soon as the door opened at each floor he would push the door close button.
He wanted to get to the floor he was going to as quickly as possible and this was his method for achieving that objective. Bugger everyone else. I mentioned this to my brother - a Singapore expat himself - and he told me it was common.
What is strange, and a little contradictory, is that in Singapore you experience wonderful acts of kindness but interspersed all the time with this kiasu crap.
Saturday 16th December 2006
When Raffles planned the layout of Singapore he set aside separate areas for the different ethnic groups and that layout still exists very much today. The Kampong Glam area is predominately Muslim and is probably my favourite part of Singapore.
It's peaceful, quiet and spotlessly clean. The old shophouse buildings have been restored in wonderful, vibrant colours and Sultan Mosque is a magnificent building. I love the little shops there almost as much as I hate huge, soulless, American-style shopping malls.
You will also find some delightful small restaurants and cafes, some of which offer hookah pipes provided you are over 18 and into that kind of thing. Alcohol is banned by Islam, including that used in perfumes, so small shops make and sell non-alcohol based perfumes and there are also shops selling supplies for Muslims to take on their pilgrimages to Mecca. It's a fascinating area.
This web site has gone very quiet lately. I wasn't sure why at first. Maybe it's because there is nothing here worth reading or maybe the time of year has something to do with it? Sitting in southern Thailand, today seems just like any other.
I'd forgotten that it is almost Christmas. Even though little here is different, I know that elsewhere in the world people will be going crazy in an endless round of drunken parties and shopping trips. I have disliked Christmas for many years. As a child I liked it and in my teens and early 20's it was just an excuse to get drunk but after that I just tried to avoid it as best I could.
I hate the crass commercialism of Christmas and the drunken, loutish, immature behaviour which people think is perfectly justified because, "It's Christmas." When I was commuting to London the sight (and smell) of people throwing up on the train all through December got a little tiresome after a while.
In the last 10 years, the only time I have vaguely enjoyed the Christmas atmosphere was in Germany at one of the famous Christmas markets. The Germans (and other mainland Europeans) generally have a lot more class than the tacky, lowlife Brits.
In Thailand, Christmas is a fairly low-key affair. The Thais love bright, coloured fairy lights so it is an excuse to put up a few more and the tourist areas try to make a bit of a thing about Christmas to generate a festive atmosphere and encourage spending.
Staff in the big, foreign-owned supermarkets wear Santa hats - which look ridiculous - but beyond all the paraphernalia, I don't think the Thais actually understand the true meaning of Christmas. But the question is, how many Westerners these days understand the true meaning of Christmas?
Life will not stop here in Thailand for 10 days from 22nd December and for that, I am truly thankful. Bah, humbug I know ... but I also know where I'd rather be for this stupid time of year.
Friday 15th December 2006
What's in a name? Just as the Nissan Cedric wasn't a huge success in Britain, this chain of clothes shops in Singapore would be advised to change their name if ever they decide to open a branch in the UK.
Here's an article on expat life in Thailand from the BBC's 'Brits Abroad' series. As expat Frances Khetrat says, "It's very different being here all the time than just being here on holiday." Never has a truer word been spoken. Two week - or even two month - a year tourists understand absolutely nothing about the realities of living, and getting things done, in Thailand.
Thursday 14th December 2006
It's been a very comfortable, relaxed day today and I've caught up with some computer work that needed doing. On my last few visits to Singapore I've reacted badly upon returning to Thailand and it takes me a few days to readjust.
After reading my recent comments about Singapore and Thailand - especially Bangkok - it would be easy to say, "If Singapore is so great, why don't you move there?"
The reason is that nothing in life comes free. Singapore is an expensive place in which to live and to survive there means working in a high-pressure job which would probably result in a stressful existence. For me, that would be going back to the kind of lifestyle I had to escape from a few years ago.
For a little over 10 years, one of the maxims I have lived my life by is, "You can have anything, but you can't have everything." Would I prefer to be in Singapore with all it has to offer, but with a lot of stress from working too many hours, or in Thailand living a very easy, stress-free life where I have lots of time to do the things I want to do? You can have either but not both.
It's not actually a difficult decision for me. I am happy to make two or three trips down to Singapore each year but base myself in Thailand for as long as the Thais will have me.
The differences between the two countries aren't necessarily about money. Thailand seems very chaotic after Singapore which exudes an air of calm and civility. It's small things such as being able to cross roads safely, lots of green spaces and not being subjected to other people's noise.
These things have nothing to do with money but obviously no one in Thailand considers them important enough to want to make any changes.
One thing I forgot to mention was at Thai immigration at the airport last week I saw that they now have cameras at each desk where digital mug shots are taken of everyone entering and leaving the country. My brother had seen them before but they certainly weren't around on my last flight out of the country which I think was in April.
Whatever is happening with the immigration authorities in Thailand, it seems to be getting serious. I noticed also in the Tiger in-flight magazine that there are plenty of adverts for expensive condos in Phuket aimed - I assume - at wealthy Singaporeans.
According to Asia Trading Post Online, the Investment Visa is no longer available. At one point, if you bought a condo you could get an investment visa provided the condo was over Bt3 million, but no longer.
It would seem that foreigners are still being encouraged to buy condos in Thailand but some will not be able to live in them permanently. If they enter Thailand on 30 days stamps they will only be able to stay for 90 days in any six months.
If they are foreign businessmen they are hardly likely to want to find English teaching jobs so they can get non-B visas and if they are younger than 50 without a Thai spouse or any Thai dependents they aren't going to be able to get non-O visas.
If a wealthy 40 year-old foreigner buys a condo in Thailand, just how is he supposed to be able to live there? Perhaps I've missed something somewhere? I guess the bottom line is that if you can afford a Phuket condo you must have money and with money anything is possible in Thailand.
After being far too negative about Thailand recently, I'd like to get back on to some positive stuff. Ever since I have lived in this country it has confused me. One minute I am almost ready to leave and the next I love it so much I never want to leave.
Today, being Thursday, I started my usual four day weekend and even when I have to work it is hardly taxing. That can't be bad. I went to a local opticians (of which there are many in town) to get some new lenses put in an old pair of glasses. The guy did it in 40 minutes and I paid Bt950. I could have got it done for Bt450 but I opted for some kind of special lens coating. I don't know what this would have cost in the UK but significantly more I imagine.
In the evening I went to a local restaurant where I go about once a week. There are about half-a-dozen waitresses all of whom aren't too shabby and the restaurant attracts a lot of young, pretty, female customers.
One of the waitresses in particular has 'the' perfect 10/10 body. Her looks aren't exactly what Thai men go for and she would be considered dum-dum in Thailand (black-skinned) but in reality she is just a nice tan colour. Dressed in nice clothes in Farangland she would stop traffic and in a bikini she would cause road accidents. In Thailand, however, she is just a plain-Jane who waits tables in a little restaurant every evening and I am 99% certain she is single.
I have been flirting with her for ages and not getting any response. Tonight, she was smiling and giggling with me and asked my name. With the good girls it takes a lot of time and effort to break the ice because they are so shy.
I called into Tesco Lotus afterwards to do some shopping. Tesco was also full of lovely, smiling girls. My shopping was quite heavy so I waited for a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi because I didn't want to walk. Nothing came along.
A couple of women and a young child on a motorbike and side-car stopped and asked where I was going. I think they were three generations of the same family and grannie was driving. They told me the taxis had stopped for the night and offered me a lift.
This was my first time on a motorbike and side-car. They were on their way home out near the airport somewhere (which is miles away) with a week's shopping. It was a bit of a Beverley Hillbillies experience but they were just lovely, kind people - as many poor Thais are.
This act of a kindness - going out of their way to give a complete stranger a lift home - is not untypical in Thailand once you get out of Bangkok and the tourist areas.
Rather than trying to explain what life is like in Thailand, it might be a better idea just to scrap this web site and have a single page saying, "Thailand is a very confusing country."
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