Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 31st December 2007
Another reason for deciding to stop this blog is that the same old boring subjects keep coming up time after time.
If it's not corrupt politicians, it's the arrest of farang perverts teaching English somewhere in Thailand, farangs throwing themselves from tall buildings in suicide death leaps, farangs misbehaving in a variety of other ways, or the lunacy on Thailand's roads.
In the first two days of the New Year break, 118 people have already been killed with 1,254 injured. The usual carnage on the roads always reaches stupid levels at New Year and Songkran with drunk driving being a major factor. Thai drivers are reckless enough when sober, let alone when they are drunk.
The report I've linked to mentions police checkpoints and arrests. That may be the case in other parts of the country but when I walk around in the evenings observing the madness on the roads, I hardly ever see a policeman on any other deterrent.
As we say farewell to 2007, I am saying farewell to the stupidity and greed of other people, and concentrating on the things that will make a positive difference to my life.
Saturday 15th December 2007
After almost two years of blogging, I am about to seriously reduce the amount of time I spend here in order to pursue some other interests. More information further below.
Iss wanted to make merit by donating to the local orphanage so we went today after having not visited for a while. I've been about five or six times and the last time was at the beginning of March when my parents were here for a visit.
On the advice of one of the staff from a previous visit, we took shoes (about a dozen pairs), underwear (20 pairs), and several cartons of soy milk. Iss also threw in a few packs of cookies but I don't like to see kids constantly munching on sweet stuff.
One little girl really got to me today. The kids are well cared for by the staff and there is lots of support from both the local community and foreign visitors who make donations but what they have isn't quite the same as a loving family.
Some are quiet and withdrawn and some just want the emotional comfort of holding hands and being hugged. They have each other of course but other children don't provide the same kind of emotional security as an adult and there are far more kids than staff so the staff can't 'mother' each individual child.
Today, as has happened before, a group of little tots just clung to me. One little girl of about five or six with huge, black eyes got as close as she could, clung to my arm, and looked longingly at me as if she didn't ever want me to leave.
I started to feel myself welling up and was quite overcome for a minute or two, knowing that we would be leaving soon. But what can you do? If my plans work out, trying to adopt a Thai child might be a future possibility but, while currently unmarried - and because of the general instability of my current situation, it's not possible now.
Some of the kids have been at the home since they were babies and quite a few were born with HIV. Whereas Thai children whose parents can't raise them (for whatever reason) will often be taken care of by family members, adopting from outside the family doesn't seem to be a big part of the culture.
As we left though - watching the kids laughing and playing quite happily together on the grassed areas - I wondered who it is we should really feel sorry for in life.
Materially, they have nothing apart from a few donated clothes. Society now judges people on their material possessions so, by that standard, these kids are poor. However, you won't find any of them spending their lives in isolation in their bedrooms playing computer games or 'socialising' (if that's the word) only with people they meet on-line who they have never actually met. Neither are they just stuck in front of a TV all day to keep them quiet.
They actually lead very healthy lifestyles - both physically and mentally - with lots of time spent outdoors playing games and doing other physical activity. They don't have parents but there are always plenty of other people around and they learn quickly how to interact with people as part of a wider society.
They probably grow up being far more mentally balanced than many Western kids who have parents but who are spoilt rotten from the day they are born.
There used to be a sign outside in English which said that visitors are welcome but now it's gone. I think visitors are still welcome but for people who can't read Thai, the orphanage will now be difficult to locate. I don't know why the sign was removed but I hope it wasn't because the home had become some kind of a tourist attraction.
I promised to add the mnemonics that Thai children use to remember the high and mid class consonants. However, I'm not sure these will be of much help to students learning Thai as a second language; and, anyway, they don't include all of the consonants.
ผี ฝาก ไข่ ใส่ ถุง ให้ ฉัน
pee faak kai sai tuung hai chun
Something along the lines of a ghost left an egg in my bag.
ไก่ จิก เด็ก ตาย (เฎ็ก ฏาย) บน ปาก โอ่ง
gai jik dek dtaay (dek dtaay) bon bpaak ong
They're a macabre bunch, the Thais. The first one was about ghosts and this one is something about chickens pecking dead children on the opening of a large water jar.
It has been another eventful and fascinating week in southern Thailand - for me, anyway. Not a day goes by without having something to write about.
Writing about life in Thailand has to be the easiest thing in the world. Since starting this blog, I have never had to think about what to write about in advance because things just happen to give me material. And it never stops.
In addition to more strange classroom goings-on this week, I found out I have broken one girl's heart, and I received a sincere marriage proposal from another. Both are actually quite sad stories, especially the latter regarding the girl who asked me to marry her.
She's a sweet girl and I feel desperately sorry for the situation she's in but she isn't really what I consider to be wife material, unfortunately.
Despite all this, however, I have a dilemma.
Hard to believe, though it is, this rambling nonsense actually takes time to write and time is a constant enemy. It's almost two years ago exactly that I started this 'blog' and I've really enjoyed the writing process but there are other things I want to do and I need time to do them.
Some entries here are quick but I like to include photos when I can and editing photos adds to the time involved. The Thai language stuff is also quite time consuming.
I have just secured an unprecedented stay in excess of nine months on my visa and got my work permit in synch. Not having to deal with any Thai bureaucracy until next September feels wonderful and it gives me a great opportunity to try to take a couple of my hobbies and interests to the next level (one of which is the Thai language).
I state at the top of this blog that it is occasional but for much of the time it has been almost daily.
I've been thinking about this issue for several days and my first decision was to stop altogether but I know there will be times when I will want to write about something.
What I have therefore decided to do is continue, but on a genuinely occasional basis. This site doesn't get many visitors but I know from the stats there are a few people who visit regularly and it's very flattering that they do so.
I'm sorry about this but if I don't make a conscious decision to cut down, then I will continue to put off the other things that I want to do with my life and never achieve anything.
There's real life and there is the Internet and nowadays it's easy for the Internet to start to take over. Since having a broadband connection, many mornings have disappeared while surfing around but it achieves nothing and my time could be much better spent. The Internet is fantastic for certain things but it can also be a colossal waste of time.
So, that's my resolution for the new year - more real life and less Internet life - which I have decided to implement even before the year is out.
Monday 10th December 2007
This is a good month for public holidays. There was a holiday last week for the King's birthday, with another day off later in the month to allow Thais to travel back to where they work after voting.
Normally, Thais must vote in their home provinces and for many this involves a lengthy journey if they work and live away from home, as many do. I think that New Year's Eve is also a holiday.
There is another holiday today for Constitution Day to commemorate the transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 1932.
Given the number of coups since that time; the number of times the Thai Constitution has been rewritten; the extended periods of military dictatorship; the problems caused by corrupt and self-serving politicians; the general political mess within the country and the huge rifts that now exist within Thai society; and the genuine reverence the Thai people have for their monarchy, it seems a strange day for them to commemorate but I'm not complaining about another day off work.
From a Thai blogger living in Canada, here's the Thai political process in a nutshell. Vicious Cycle of Thai Politics. The diagram shows exactly where politics in Thailand is at right now (on the small arrow between constitution and election, if you're not sure) and where it is going next.
Saturday 8th December 2007
I was wandering around and came across a small temple school. Traditionally in Thailand, everything used to be centred around the temples, including schooling. Nowadays, many Western style schools have been built but some kids still get their primary education at old style temple schools.
There is nothing modern about them. The rooms are not air-conditioned, the desks are very old-fashioned, and blackboards and chalk are still used rather than whiteboards and marker pens.
In the past, I have thought it would be a good thing to teach at such a school - even on a voluntary basis - to give something back to Thailand and to make a difference to the lives of kids from poor families.
Yesterday, I got chatting to some teachers at the school and was invited in to meet the kids; an invitation I readily accepted.
All through my schooling - starting from around the age of five - there were never any scheduled sleep breaks but sleeping is a very important 'activity' in Thailand and the Thais are very good at it. If sleeping was an Olympic event, Thailand would win the gold medal every time.
The slightly older kids just play games. This is something else I have noticed before. The games may have numbers or letters written on them but there is no educational benefit.
After meeting the very young ones, I was taken upstairs to meet the older kids. The entire floor was partitioned off into three classroom areas but one side of each classroom was completely open.
I couldn't believe one text book a student showed me. In it were lists of English verbs that he was supposed to memorise. This exercise, in itself, isn't a bad thing but the verbs were some of the most obscure words I have ever seen.
I have never used the verb 'to verbify' and I would never dream of teaching a young Thai student such an obscure word. This word isn't even in my reference dictionary but I believe it does exist. It is no wonder then, that Thai kids find English so terribly boring when you consider how (and what) they are taught.
The noise was deafening (yet another thing I have noticed often when walking past Thai schools). In the first class, I managed to get the kids to be quiet but because of the open plan design, there was still an unholy din coming from the other classes.
While speaking as loudly as I could, it was still only possible for a few kids on the front row to hear what I was saying. I got a few kids to stand up and tried to get them to speak but it was almost an impossible task because of the noise.
One teacher I observed looked as if she had given up trying to speak long ago because she knew it was pointless. Without speaking a word, she just wrote things on the board that the kids copied. She never once smiled and the look on her face was one of utter dejection. Poor woman.
I asked the kids to ask me some questions. They asked in Thai but that's not what I wanted. Some of the teachers tried to help them but that highlighted another problem. Something I have known for a long time was confirmed when one teacher told the kids to ask me, "Where are you come from?"
As I have said many times before, one of the reasons Thai children are so poor at English is because they are taught by Thai teachers who can't speak English.
The last class was a nightmare. These were kids of about 10 and 11 but there were half-a-dozen or so very dominant and aggressive young boys. They wouldn't sit at their desks but penned me into a corner and completely disrupted the lesson.
One of the little buggers even started rummaging around in my camera bag. Their female teacher was completely incapable of instilling any discipline so I started to raise my voice and at least got the little brats to sit at their desks.
They wouldn't stop shouting though and it was impossible to talk to the other kids. The difference in behaviour between the sexes in Thailand is noticeable at a very early age. The girls are never any problem whatsoever but some of the boys are a complete nightmare.
I felt sorry for the girls and those of the boys who wanted to learn because the disruptive elements in the class made it impossible for them to do so. All they are doing each day at school is wasting their precious time.
There is a massive private tutoring system in Thailand and you will find that many kids study outside of school in the evenings and at weekends. They always look tired from spending so much time in classrooms but if they actually learnt something at school, all this extra studying would be unnecessary.
I am often asked to teach the children of people I know. It would be paid work but it's something I'm not interested in. The Thais are obviously aware of the shortcomings of the education system but rather than try to fix it, they look for ways to work around it. This is typically Thai.
Trying to fix a problem might be seen as being confrontational so they just ignore the problem and look for alternative solutions. They also deceive themselves. I still hear locals praising an all-boys school I worked at for one month some years ago but the reality of what happens inside the school bears no resemblance to the reputation the school has locally.
When I used to go to Regent's Park zoo in London as a child to watch the chimp's tea party, there was more discipline among the chimpanzees than there was among the boys when teaching at that school. And discipline is not the only area in which chimps have an advantage. Chimps beat humans in memory test
The main problem I noticed yesterday was a lack of discipline with a small minority of boys, such as the one giving me 'the finger' in this photograph. I understand that boys of that age can be a real handful but they can't be allowed to disrupt the entire class.
They need to be punished or banned from the classroom. The teachers kept telling me they are naughty (ซน 'sohn' in Thai) but unless the bad boys are dealt with, nothing will ever improve - and they are never dealt with. This seems to be a cultural thing though and Thai boys, who are treated like little princes, get away with anything and everything.
The other problem was the Thai teachers who, despite trying their best, aren't proficient enough in English themselves and who reinforce bad habits and mistakes. None of the teachers teaching English could hold a conversation with me in English so we had to speak Thai.
Nothing I observed really surprised me but some of my suspicions were confirmed. Whenever I can, I like to speak positively about Thailand but the education system is fundamentally flawed.
But what can you do?
If I was teaching at that school, I would first deal with the disruptive boys, then try to get the noise down to a level at which everyone could hear, and then try to teach some meaningful English. That would be a huge task though and it would only affect the students at one small school.
What really needs to happen is for the whole education system to be looked at and rewritten. However, this is very unlikely to happen because there are some big cultural issues. The Thais are quite an arrogant race and have an attitude that they always know what is best for Thais and Thailand. Often this is true, but sometimes not.
There is also the culture of 'face' and it is a fear of 'losing face' that prevents Thai teachers from going back to school themselves to learn English so they are in a position to teach it.
If Thailand is really interested in improving English skills, the Thais need to get a lot more good, foreign teachers in to teach both students and teachers. However, Thailand isn't interested in paying teachers a decent wage - compared to many other countries - and the procedure to work legally takes forever and involves mountains of red tape.
The impression I get is that even if a school or other establishment finds and tries to hire a good foreign teacher, Thai immigration will do all they can to prevent that person from being able to stay in Thailand. That makes so much sense, doesn't it?
As I know from personal experience, acquiring an appropriate visa and work permit is a long and arduous procedure. Acquiring these documents so that I can work legally in Thailand has also involved a lot of personal expense.
Good career teachers end up going to Japan, China, Korea, or wherever, while in many cases the people who opt to teach in Thailand (mainly men) do so for reasons other than wanting to improve the English language ability of Thai students - as we have seen with so many high profile news stories in recent years.
Thai children are not at all stupid. English is a vitally important life skill for them and at a young age they have a remarkable ability to learn how to speak it, and to speak it extremely well with hardly a trace of a Thai accent.
They are being failed by the system though and it is a terrible waste of young talent. And even though my personal interest mainly concerns the English language, this table shows that the ability of 15 year-old Thai children is also below average in the fields of mathematics and reading.
I have no doubts that the situation now is far worse in the UK than in Thailand but the difference is that I no longer care about what happens in the UK. I do care about Thailand though.
Here's an interesting article from The Nation entitled Thai country girls dump their foreign husbands.
In Thailand, as Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin' - very much so. The basis of the article is that once upon a time, desperately poor Isaan girls would put up with anything (and anyone) for a little money.
However, with fewer Thais living in abject poverty nowadays, attitudes have changed, and the girls are becoming more fussy about choosing husbands. Many have become disillusioned with ill-suited, ignorant farang husbands so are dumping them. Good for the girls.
What with Thai immigration having a major clampdown on foreigners living in the country and Isaan girls apparently no longer interested in washed-up, geriatric farang men, where on earth will Western men with few prospects start going next?
In this region, I would guess that Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines are possible options but what about somewhere like Panama? Do they have bar girls in Panama?
I've been following the story about the missing canoeist who faked his own death and what a fascinating tale it has been. And what a way to fund your retirement.
I am trying desperately to get my finances in order by the time I am old enough to get a Thai retirement visa (another three years) so that I can retire properly and never have to do another day's work.
I'd never thought of faking my own death but what an easy solution. Anyway, back to Panama. There was a nice article on the BBC web site about retiring there and I would already be eligible for a retirement visa, the criteria being a minimum age limit of just 45 and an income of just £200 a month.
The minimum age limit for a retirement visa in Thailand is 50 and the monthly income requirement (I believe) is Bt65,000, which is considerably more than the Panamanian government stipulate.
Perhaps I ought to forget about studying Thai and start to learn Spanish instead?
As the election date draws nearer, the political situation in Thailand is already getting very dirty. Thaksin - who has sworn on several occasions that he is no longer interested in politics - continues to campaign from thousands of miles away through the People Power party.
The audacity of the man is unbelievable. Five million copies of a CD video he has made have been distributed in northeast Thailand - the stronghold of his disbanded TRT party.
Watching a clip of him addressing Thais as brothers and sisters and talking so pathetically made me feel really angry. "Mai mii krai doo lair," no one cares (about you now that I have gone). As if he ever really cared about poor Thai people, beyond simply getting their votes to keep himself in power. Pass the sick bucket, Alice.
The good news is that the audaciousness of releasing such a video could lead to the People Power party (the reincarnation of Thai Ruk Thai) being dissolved before the election takes place. Now, that would be good news.
Friday 7th December 2007
I went to see a Thai movie last night but I can't remember what it was called. Fortunately, it had English subtitles. The language used was full of slang and idioms so I understood very little of what was said. Judging from the raucous laughter in the cinema, it was a very funny movie to the Thai audience but I don't remember laughing much.
The story revolved around a small cinema owner and his staff trying to save their beloved cinema from greedy developers. The cinema in the movie (naturally) was haunted, with ghosts and ghouls popping up frequently throughout. It is impossible to have a Thai movie or soap opera without ghosts.
The film brought a new level of meaning to the term 'toilet humour'. Every 10 minutes there was a reference about someone needing to defecate and one lengthy scene inside a toilet involved a fat kid defecating while describing his bowel movements using a football style commentary. This was so hilarious to the Thai audience that I could feel the pain in their ribs. It actually made me feel quite nauseous.
A large part of Thai comedy is based on the mentality of the 19th century freak show. Watch any day time Thai TV variety show and you will see an assortment of dwarves and other weird looking people. This film was no exception with one scene depicting a dwarf being massaged by one of the cinema employees who had got a job as a masseuse to try to raise cash to save the cinema.
The pathos element in Thai movies and soap operas is usually provided by scenes of unrequited love. There is always someone who looks desperately sad because the person they love has another partner. Again, this film was no exception.
I guess it's the same in all countries. If you watch a Bollywood film, you know exactly what to expect and after being in Thailand for a while, you realise that all movies and soap operas use the same plots and comedic devices over and over again.
After the Looney Tunes studio stopped making cartoons, Thai soap opera producers bought up the entire stock of cartoon sound effects. Just listen while you watch a Thai soap opera to see what I mean.
The bottom line is that films and TV shows are made to entertain and amuse, and in Thailand the films and TV shows do a great job of entertaining and amusing a Thai audience ... even if I (as a foreigner) don't find them particularly entertaining or amusing.
Yesterday morning, I found myself back at the local immigration department once again for another attempt at getting a visa extension following the Thai Embassy in Singapore's refusal to give me a one-year visa in September.
It was very straightforward and they were as good as their word. Everyone was very courteous and professional. The process took about 45 minutes and there were no problems at all. I walked away with a further nine month extension to the three months I was granted by the Embassy in Singapore.
This is the longest continuous stay I have ever been given without the need even to do 90 day border runs. If I want to leave the country, however, I will need to get a re-entry permit. This wouldn't have been the case had the Singapore Embassy given me the one-year, multiple-entry visa I requested in the first place but they didn't.
Considering I have a work permit and a signed one-year contract from the top university in southern Thailand, I think it was unnecessary to have been subjected to so much hassle but all's well that ends well. I can relax for a while now.
Thursday 6th December 2007
In his birthday speech on Tuesday evening, the King spoke about unity and how important it is that Thailand remains a united country. At various times in Thailand's recent history, politics has torn the country apart but there has always been one unifying force: The King.
It was very touching to attend a public celebration last night for King Bhumibol's 80th birthday. Several thousand Thais - all dressed in yellow shirts - gathered around the reservoir at the university and sang by candlelight.
The sound of several thousand proud, unaccompanied voices was carried over the water and the emotion of so many people singing from their hearts was really something. The event ended with a firework display.
It's a wonderful country full of wonderful people. I'm fortunate indeed to be here, and I hope I will be able to remain for many more years to come.
Wednesday 5th December 2007
Thailand celebrates His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 80th birthday today.
Thailand's Guiding Light
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