Living In Thailand Blog
Tuesday 31st December 2013
The carnage continues.
Quote from this story:
"If I don't own you, no one will."
The girl who I wanted to marry wanted to split up from her abusive cheating boyfriend, but he refused to end the relationship. She lived alone and hardly saw him, but he got angry whenever she went out to meet friends. He acted as if she was his property and she was only allowed to do something if he said she could. I have heard this kind of thing a lot from Thai girls.
I pursued her relentlessly for almost two years, but she wasn't allowed to leave him. She was terrified that he would "tum raay" (do bad) if she tried to leave and she had good reason for thinking this way. In the end I was forced to give up with her because I was just wasting my time.
A friend of mine is quite a senior nurse and is now a nurse instructor at the local university. She has a farang boyfriend and has no interest in Thai men whatsoever. Her view is that there are more bad ones than good ones. Many other Thais girls I have spoken to about Thai men estimate that around 60% are bad and "more bad than good" aligns roughly with 60/40.
She was telling me about one of her friends at the university. Her friend had a good job and was earning quite a good salary. Her Thai boyfriend was a no-hoper and liked the fact that his girlfriend was doing well. He expected her to drive him around everywhere and to pay for everything.
She got fed up with him and ended the relationship. However, while they were together he made a video of them having sex together. She knew what he was doing and didn't object - I don't know why.
When the relationship ended against his will he was furious and wanted to exact revenge. Thais are extremely vindictive. He went to see the girl's bosses and gave them the video. This was watched by several people where she worked (probably repeatedly with lots of freeze frame) and she lost her job.
I told my wife about this and she couldn't understand why something that happened in her personal life was used as a reason to sack her. I couldn't either, but I don't disbelieve the girl who told me.
In India and Pakistan there is a big problem with men throwing acid in the faces of women. Sometimes the victims are blinded and often they are disfigured for life. Channel News Asia ran a report recently about this subject and I mentioned it to my wife.
She responded that it happens in Thailand as well sometimes when girls break up with men against the man's will. Just like the quote above, if a Thai man can't have a girl he will do something to make sure that no one else can have her, or no one else will want her.
Many Thai men do indeed seem to believe they own women and have the attitude that their wives or girlfriends aren't allowed to leave them, even if the men are being abusive and/or unfaithful.
If the girls do leave, many Thai men will do something bad. This is another aspect of Thai society that is invisible at first, but after you've been in the country for a long time and spoken to lots of girls it is something that you keep hearing about.
Some years ago, I went for a massage. The girl seemed nervous and a little edgy. My conversational Thai is reasonable and I started to ask her questions. Having someone to talk to made her a lot more relaxed and she really needed someone to talk to because she had a lot bottled up inside.
Much to my surprise, she suddenly started removing items of clothing to reveal bruises all over her body. She was a Songkhla girl, but had moved to Phuket to open a hairdressing salon. She worked hard, was quite successful, and this had allowed her to buy a pickup truck.
She too had a drunken, abusive Thai boyfriend. While she worked he would take her pickup truck to a supermarket to buy cheap beer. He would then drive to certain beaches in Phuket where there were lots of farangs and sell the beer for a profit of about 300%.
He would then get drunk with farang tourists and when he returned home he would beat and rape her. This abuse went on for a while, but he wouldn't allow her to end the relationship. It got to a point where she just had to run away in order to escape. She left everything in Phuket, including her truck. All she wanted to do was get away from him.
She went back home to live with her sister and as she had no money she had to work. That's how she ended up in a massage shop. I never saw her again and therefore don't know what happened to her.
There are some very good Thai men and they certainly aren't all bad. However, a lot are. When I have pressed Thai girls to give me an estimate, they always seem to say that around 60% are bad. My experience driving on Thai roads has led me to roughly the same conclusion.
I generalise a lot about Thais, which I know is wrong because they are all different. My opinion of Thai women is better now compared to when I visited the country as a tourist. Male tourists staying in the well known tourist resorts tend to meet mostly prostitutes from the lower end of society and these girls aren't representative of Thai females in general.
I have met lots of hardworking, successful Thai women and have a certain admiration for them. As I've stated many times before, dentists in Thailand are very good and every dentist I've ever visited has been female.
Young Thai kids are fine, as are the older generation. There are some really nice people in Thailand. The only sector of Thai society that I have a problem with is those 60% of Thai men from the lower echelons of Thai society who are poorly educated, not very bright, highly aggressive, arrogant, defiant, and think they have the right to do whatever they want.
This is only one sector of society. Unfortunately it includes quite a large number of people, and it is this sector from which most of Thailand's social problems stem - most notably the horrendous problems on Thailand's roads.
Monday 30th December 2013
Thai drivers don't just frighten me, they terrify me.
I was sent out to buy food this evening and was driving slowly on the dangerous road that I mentioned previously. A pickup truck overtook me, travelling at around 120kmh.
There were traffic lights ahead, which had just turned red, and I was pleased because the maniac would be forced to slow down to stop. He didn't. He went through the lights at this insane speed after they had been fully red for three or four seconds. I felt a strange sensation in my stomach, one that I have felt many times in Thailand.
Had another vehicle been coming through the intersection legitimately on green lights it would have been curtains for everyone. It could have been me and my family.
I see this kind of thing all the time. The police don't do anything and the maniacs on Thai roads who drive like this don't worry about killing themselves, or they believe that they are such good drivers that nothing will happen. They certainly don't worry about killing other people. I don't know if he was drunk, on drugs, or just one of Thailand's many idiot road users.
According to the Bangkok Post in the report linked to below: "Drink-driving and speeding remain the major causes of accidents."
The statistics tell us that roads in Thailand are a lot more dangerous than most other places in the world and when you see firsthand what goes on you can understand why.
If there was now an easy way for me to leave Thailand with my family I would take it. Every road journey has started to feel like a game of Russian roulette.
Thais think very differently to Westerners and over the years you notice the same patterns of behaviour in many people. I also see these same things with my Thai wife.
Many Thais don't seem to be able to think ahead. By this I don't just mean thinking about next month or next year, but even thinking a few seconds ahead. This is yet another reason for the appalling driving standards. Westerners are taught to drive defensively, which involves always anticipating what might happen a few seconds ahead. If the unexpected happens, then we are ready for it.
Thais just see the end of the road and put their foot to the floor. When a person or another vehicle appears unexpectedly an accident occurs because they never think ahead.
As I have made very clear, I hate using Thai roads because they are so dangerous. Nevertheless, I do so several times a day and the reason is because my wife can't think ahead regarding food.
We regularly go out shopping and it is quite common a couple of hours after returning for her to start complaining that there is nothing in the house to eat for lunch. Why wasn't she thinking about this while we were shopping and why didn't she buy something to eat?
Three or four times a day she asks me the question, "Gin arai?" (what shall we eat) with a whiny voice. The whiny voice implies that there is nothing in the house and what this question really means is that I am going to be sent out to buy food. This lack of forward thinking has started to quite annoy me.
When we moved to this house I told her that we would go into town once a week to shop. I had anticipated buying a chest freezer and wanted to keep it well stocked with food so that there was always food in the house. She frowned upon this idea.
I have also noticed that Thais seldom take actions to prevent problems, again probably as a result of not being to think ahead. Problems are dealt with after they happen, rather than trying to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
I theorise that there are a number of environmental and social reasons for this inability among Thais to think ahead.
Firstly, the climate. Fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit are available year round. There is no single period of the year when food isn't available and thus no need to plan ahead to ensure that there is enough food to get through this period.
Secondly, there are food vendors on the streets everywhere. Whenever Thais are hungry they can just go to a nearby vendor and buy cheap food.
Thirdly, the Thai style of cooking is very fast and most dishes can be stir fried in a few minutes. Western food tends to take a lot longer and you need to think ahead before you are actually hungry. Thais don't. When they are hungry they can make food that will be ready in a few minutes.
The only time my wife actually thinks about food is when she is hungry and when that happens she needs instant gratification. This is when I normally get sent out to buy food.
When you are new to Thailand it is obvious that Thais are very different, but the differences seem fun and refreshing. It's fun for a while. However, after many years experiencing the things that seemed new and exciting at first, it can start to become very tiresome.
Sunday 29th December 2013
I am reading Alex Ferguson's autobiography at the moment and he recalls a situation where he was concerned about losing face. This is something that is talked about all the time in Thailand. The concept certainly isn't unknown to Westerners, however, there are big differences in what type of a situation would constitute losing face.
Ferguson's team lost a crucial match and he later found out (via a phone call from a friend) that a key player had been pissing it up in a pub the night before. He was furious about this lack of professionalism and suspended the player indefinitely.
A little later there was another important game and he realised that he needed the player who he had suspended. He feared that selecting him to play after giving him an indefinite suspension would incur a loss of face. As it turned out, the player begged him to return and so he was able to get him back without losing face.
On British TV thirty or forty years ago I remember watching Jasper Carrott, a standup comedian, do a comedy routine after coming back from a vacation in Asia. I can't remember which country he had visited, but possibly it was Thailand. For some reason, this routine remains stuck in my mind.
When he went to restaurants he would want a certain kind of sauce or something with his meal that wasn't on the table. Whenever he asked the restaurant staff if they had what he wanted they would say yes and disappear. He assumed that they would then return with what he wanted. But they never returned.
He probably thought nothing of this the first time, but after it had happened repeatedly he saw the funny side and incorporated it into his standup routine.
He didn't give an explanation. Perhaps he didn't understand enough about Asian culture and didn't realise what was going on? I've been in Thailand for just over 10 years and I have seen this kind of thing on many occasions.
My definition of losing face would be along the same lines as Alex Ferguson's. However, in Thailand and other Asian countries it goes way beyond this. Simply admitting that you don't know something, or don't have something, is deemed as a loss of face.
Jasper Carrott's waitress didn't want to lose face by saying that the restaurant didn't have what he wanted. To save face, she said that they did have it, but then never returned.
Similar things have happened to me and, for example, when I have asked for directions in the past, the person I asked obviously didn't know. Instead of just saying, "Kor tort, mai roo meuan gun," (I'm sorry, I don't know) they made up an answer that was completely wrong - to save face - and then sent me on a wild goose chase.
I'm sure that the insane driving style of many Thais has something to do with not losing face (along with lots of other factors). When I see red traffic lights a couple of hundred yards ahead I start to slow down, but there is always a Thai behind who has to overtake me before he gets to the lights.
No matter how bad the driving or weather conditions or how fast I am travelling, there are always Thais behind trying to get past. It's as if they will lose face if someone else gets ahead of them and so they always have to be first.
Still on the subject of football, I've been reading some articles about Cardiff City since it was taken over by Vincent Tan, the Malaysian businessman. Last week he sacked his manager, Malky Mackay, who was very highly regarded in footballing circles. Previously, he had sacked his experienced head of recruitment before replacing him with a 23 year-old friend of his son's who had absolutely no experience.
Cardiff fans hate Tan with a passion, and Tan seems to have no idea why. What's going on here is the enormous conflict between European and Asian value systems.
In this part of the world, Southeast Asia, there is only one god and it is money. Most Thais, Malaysians and Singaporeans lust after money like nothing else, and nothing else is more important in life.
Tan bought a struggling club, injected some money, and the club finally made it into the English Premier League. Because Tan's money was behind this, he seemed to believe that he could do anything with the club and also that the supporters should be eternally grateful to him.
How wrong he was.
Thais and other Asians will tell you how it is impossible for foreigners to understand some aspects of their culture. For example, Thais believe that it is impossible for foreigners to understand the relationship they have with their monarchy. By the same token, it is impossible for Asians to understand some aspects of European culture.
I was mildly amused to see a Manchester United shop when I visited Central Festival last week. I've seen these places elsewhere in Asia. Thais like football (mainly for the illegal gambling aspect), but almost every Thai you meet will declare himself to be a Manchester United or Liverpool supporter.
Liverpool were the dominant English team when I first visited Thailand and for a long time, under Alex Ferguson's tenure, Manchester United have been the dominant English team. One man, at least, has become bored with Manchester United's success and is trying to change things around. For that, we should all be grateful to David Moyes.
In Thailand you never meet any Scunthorpe or Grimsby supporters. Asians don't understand that Europeans can't simply choose the most successful team. If, as I was, you were brought up within walking distance of a football club, then that is the football club that you will support for the rest of your life. There is no choosing. I was cursed at birth by being born and raised near Upton Park ... and I am still suffering.
Asians don't understand the sense of community spirit that comes from supporting the same club, and don't realise what it means to young kids to find their latest local club's strip among their Christmas presents.
They don't understand the importance of the history and traditions of the clubs, and don't realise how deep the passions run. The colours of those club strips found in little boys' Christmas presents are of extreme importance and any new owner who decides to change the colour of the strip from blue to red on a whim is asking for severe trouble.
The point I have tried to make repeatedly about this thing commonly referred to as a 'culture gap' is that it is deeply significant. Further, it is not a superficial list of do's and don'ts about not pointing feet and not touching heads, such as you will find in the Lonely Planet section on Culture.
When you are brought up and indoctrinated with one set of beliefs and values and then live in a society where the belief and value systems are diametrically opposed, it can lead to some enormous problems.
There is no way that Vincent Tan will win his battle with the Cardiff supporters and if he thinks it is only about money he is very, very wrong. His whole attitude indicates that he has no idea about European culture, belief and value systems whatsoever.
He may be a successful businessman in Malaysia, but he has completely failed in Wales. Had Thaksin continued to own Manchester City for longer than he did, I suspect that he would have made exactly the same mistakes.
A few years ago I boarded a bus in Chumpon to go to Hat Yai. Every time you travel by road in Thailand you put your life at risk.
I would like to apologise for some of the language used in this blog.
To describe the unbelievable stupidity of some Thai drivers I have occasionally used the term 'moron'. I realise that this is wrong and I would like to make a correction. The term 'moron' is used to describe people with an IQ of 51-70.
For the sake of accuracy, I should be using the term 'idiot' (IQ of 0-20) or 'imbecile' (IQ of 21-50).
(These are the figures so far on Day 2 of the "Seven dangerous days" ... lots more to come in the next few days.)
Saturday 28th December 2013
I met and spoke to another farang on Christmas day. He was a nice lad and works at the university where I used to work. He is quite young, but he is married to a respectable Thai girl, has two young kids, and is obviously very dedicated to his family.
He has been in Thailand for four years. It was around the four year stage that I started to see Thailand very clearly for what it actually is, and it was at that stage that the country started to look very different to how I saw it as a naive tourist.
One of the first questions he asked me was if I still enjoyed Thailand. This question took me by surprise and I had no ready-made answer prepared. I always try to be honest. I told him that the longer I am in Thailand and the more I learn about Thais, the less I like the country. I also told him that since I started to drive regularly in Thailand it has completely changed my view of Thai men, and not for the better.
I remain ambivalent about Thailand. Had I remained in the UK I would still be single, lonely and childless, and I would still be living in a small house. After retiring young, Thailand has given me a lot. I have a young wife, a young family, two cats, a magnificent house that I couldn't afford in the UK, and I still don't need to work.
The weather gets too hot at times, but I would much rather be sitting here in December in 28�C of warmth - as I am now - than shivering in temperatures close to zero.
The private housing development on which we live is great. It's quiet, there is no through traffic, and most of our neighbours are decent, considerate people. We have security guards and it feels pretty safe.
But then there is another very different side to the country.
As soon as I leave the safety of our housing development I have to deal with Thai drivers and my primary objective every time is getting from A to B and then back to A without being involved in a major accident.
No one seems to have any sense of responsibility or accountability regarding the safety of other people and this makes Thailand a dangerous country in which to live. There is no rule of law because Thais will never accept that all people are equal under the law. In Thailand no one is equal and certain people are above the law.
Many Thais are extremely inconsiderate to others, but I know that they are also extremely vindictive. The combination of these two things can make life miserable at times. Thais try to ignore inconsiderate behaviour because of the very real risk of reprisals.
I've committed and invested a lot of my personal wealth in Thailand, but I have to grovel for a visa every year, report to immigration every 90 days like a prisoner on parole, and I have no legal protection or standing. If my marriage turned sour and my wife was so inclined, I could lose everything and not have a leg to stand on.
The political system is highly unstable and the education system is abysmal. Without children the education system wouldn't concern me, but now it is a concern. In addition, career prospects for children are another big concern.
The top 10% of the population own about 70% of the wealth in the country, and with so few decent job opportunities it is only the elite who get access to the best jobs.
Ambivalence. I love some things about the country, but hate other things and the longer I stay the more I am aware of the negative aspects.
Can Thai drivers beat last year's performance? Early results imply that they can, with the death toll already up by 21.88% compared to the same period last year.
Being a foreigner in Thailand doesn't give you any immunity from the carnage on Thai roads. In fact, tourists are probably more likely to be involved in accidents because they travel around the country a lot and they use dangerous modes of transport, such as minivans.
Phuket police seem to have been successful in their efforts to free up parking spaces along Patong beach road that had been illegally claimed by "taxi and tuk-tuk thugs."
This is highly commendable and other provinces should follow Phuket's lead. Laws need to start being enforced in Thailand.
Another protester was killed this morning, and another three injured. When this all started, both sides claimed that there would be no violence and protesters were filmed giving flowers to police and soldiers. Of course, with Thailand being such a violent society, it was only going to be a matter of time before people started being killed. This is what happens every time.
In addition to driving like maniacs or falling asleep, Thai bus drivers also drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Phuket's speed cameras have been switched on, but the Bt500 fine is far too low. It should be at least ten times this amount and a points system needs to be introduced so that drivers who speed all the time will lose their licences after a certain number of repeat offences.
Another stabbing incident involving rival high school students. This time in Phuket. The aggressiveness and violence in Thai society starts at an early age.
Friday 27th December 2013
With all the political turmoil in Thailand there hasn't been much media focus on the insane road accident rate in the country, but of course nothing changes. The anarchy, lawlessness and crass stupidity on Thailand's roads never ceases. If anything, with so many more cars on the roads these days, it just gets worse.
As I was driving back from my daughter's Christmas party on Christmas day we passed yet another bad accident. I didn't stop, but just grabbed a quick snapshot as we drove past. The way that the two vehicles were facing didn't make any sense at all. I guess that there was a big collision and they both span.
This road is particularly dangerous. The morons drive as fast as they can, weaving in and out of vehicles ahead. If the two regular lanes are full, they use the hard shoulder or the opposite side of the road to overtake. It is frightening to watch and their driving style makes serious road accidents inevitable. I have seen many nasty accidents on this particular road.
There are no speed cameras and the police are completely uninterested. If, as another road user, you dare to show your annoyance with one of these idiots you run the risk of being beaten up or even shot. It is completely lawless.
One of the vehicles involved was a pickup truck, replete with all the go-fast accoutrements that are favoured my testosterone-laden Thai males whose lives revolve around racing vehicles on public highways, routinely breaking traffic laws, and endangering the lives of other people.
A tour bus plunged into a deep ravine yesterday while on the way from Khon Kaen to Chiang Rai. Up to 29 - maybe more - innocent passengers now won't be welcoming in the New Year. Thai roads are extremely dangerous every day of the year, but even more dangerous than usual over the New Year and Songkran periods.
Reports are saying that the driver of the bus either fell asleep or was driving like a maniac. The majority of drivers of passenger vehicles in Thailand have no sense of responsibility or accountability, and have absolutely no interest in the safety of their passengers.
This accident seems to be quite a big news story abroad, but I actually had trouble finding it on The Nation website. Serious road accidents are so common in Thailand that they aren't even newsworthy and most go unreported. Even when 30 people are killed, it is just a side story.
Something has to be very, very wrong with a society that just doesn't care about the huge number of road deaths that take place and does nothing to try to reduce the number of serious road accidents that occur every day.
The road death rate in Thailand is over twice as high as the average for Southeast Asia, and one of the worst in the world.
The following quote is from The Bangkok Post's report on this crash.
"A recent report by the World Health Organisation said the country saw some 38.1 road deaths per 100,000 of population, compared to an average of 18.5 in Southeast Asia as a whole."
Thursday 26th December 2013
That was the most un-Christmas-like Christmas I have ever experienced. Since arriving in Thailand I have spent most Christmases with my brother in Singapore, or at his place in Phuket. Singaporeans understand Christmas, as of course, do the many expats in Singapore. This year we stayed at home because my wife is so close to giving birth.
Thais, of course, don't understand Christmas. Three special days are marked on my Thai calendar for December. The King's birthday on the 5th, Constitution Day on the 10th, and New Year's Eve on the 31st. The 25th is just a normal working day, as you might expect in a non-Christian country.
There was a surreal start to the day. Dressed in a Santa suit, with an extremely uncomfortable horse hair beard strapped to my face, I found myself first standing for the Thai national anthem and then singing jingle bells in front of a room full of young kids and their parents. It wasn't my idea of fun, but I didn't have the heart to say no when they asked me.
My quest to find a chicken to roast wasn't easy, which might seem strange considering that Thailand is probably the biggest exporter of chickens in the world. There are huge factories in Thailand where live chickens go in at one end come out in packs at the other suitable for supermarket shelves.
The problem is that ovens are a rarity in Thailand and the vast majority of Thais don't have one. Thais fry or grill chicken in pieces, and consequently they buy their chicken in pieces. I wanted a whole chicken to roast, but there were no whole chickens in TOPS or Tesco Lotus. I eventually found one in a branch of Tesco Express.
The wife did a pretty good job making a roast dinner and the Paxo stuffing that my mother sent me in an emergency Red Cross parcel further enhanced the flavour of the chicken.
In addition to having difficulty finding a chicken, I couldn't find a Christmas pudding or any mince pies anywhere. I have seen these items in previous years, but not this year.
My house took 20 months to finish building after putting down a deposit, and that was only because I put a lot of pressure on the developer. I hated our previous house and couldn't wait to leave. I hated the claustrophobic nature of a typical Thai town house with hardly any windows, I hated the lack of space, I hated the fact there was no garden whatsoever, I hated the antisocial behaviour of the local peasantry, and I hated the fact that there was a high risk of flooding every year.
Our new neighbours here are very different. It would appear that the new houses they have bought are simply additional houses, and they are in no hurry to move.
One house was completed three years ago, but it is still not being lived in and the guy is still having work done. That is also the case with houses that were completed shortly after ours. The houses next door and behind were finished about a year ago, but are still unoccupied.
One has just had built-in furniture fitted throughout, and the other has just started. This process takes three to four months and is all done on site. While the work is going on there is the continual sound of air compressors and circular saws. The noise is terrible, but there is nothing I can do. Yesterday, I went to bed with quite a bad headache as a result.
My Santa suit yesterday was made in China, as were our Christmas tree, decorations, and most of our daughter's presents. Most things I buy in Thailand are made in China. One set of 100 Christmas lights cost Bt129. They work fine, but as I looked at them I wondered how they could be made so cheaply.
The workers who make them must be paid a pittance, and there must be very little profit. Nevertheless, the Chinese seem very happy to manufacture anything and everything, no matter how small the profits. Western companies, such as the big corporation that I used to work for, got out of actually making things because there wasn't enough profit. Their Personal Computer division was sold to a Chinese company.
We all seem so badly hooked on consumption that we don't care how much our economies suffer, as long as we can buy cheap goods and keep consuming. When we have given away all of our manufacturing to China, will China then start raising prices?
Probably as a result of writing about beauty products recently, I just received a spam e-mail from the Kunming Runyantang Cosmetic Co., Ltd offering me their beauty and skin care products.
Whatever business you are in, there will be a factory somewhere in China making cheap products for that business. I'm not at all racist or xenophobic, I admire the Chinese work ethic, and I lament the decline of so much British manufacturing.
However, as is the case whenever you put all of your eggs into one basket, isn't it something of a risky strategy giving away so much manufacturing to one country?
I talked about a possible property bubble in Thailand recently and mentioned that the used vehicle price bubble had already burst. I could never understand why used cars were so expensive in Thailand because the market completely defied the natural laws of supply and demand.
The government's populist policy to give first-time car buyers a big discount if they bought an eco car was the pin that finally burst the bubble and prices came crashing down a few months ago.
I'm sure that far too many new houses are being built in Thailand and that now there aren't enough Thais with sufficient funds to buy all this new property. Prices are still on the rise, but I suspect that there will be another loud bang soon as the next bubble bursts.
Since the opening of the huge new Central Festival megamall, a lot of local Thais have remarked to me how quiet the other shopping centres have become. Some are being renovated and some are trying to entice customers in with discounted prices.
In our second branch of Tesco Lotus recently, I noticed that the branch of Wuttisak clinic is now empty. There is a sign on the door saying that it has relocated to Central Festival.
Is this another bubble? Are there just too many large retail stores now?
One cause of the 1997 financial crisis in Thailand was that Thais had been through several years of huge growth and many seemed to be under the impression that this would go on forever. People were taking about massive loans and speculating on everything, especially property. When the bubble burst a lot of Thais got their fingers burnt.
Since living in Thailand I have noticed that there is very little innovation in business. If Thais see that a certain segment that is doing well, they all follow. The people who were first normally do well, but that isn't always the case for those that follow.
Whether the craze is for coffee shops, Jatukham Ramathep amulets, hair extensions, big eye contact lenses, or yellow coloured shirts, eventually the market goes away.
When I was researching for my local guide I came a cross a small enterprise that really was innovative. A girl had opened a small shoe renovation business. I was quite impressed and have used her services.
If you have an old pair of shoes (in my case, my snake boots) she will carry out repairs - if any are needed - and renovate the shoes so that they end up looking almost new. They are returned in a special cloth bag, complete with a photo of finished product.
As far as I know, this is a unique business and no one else has copied it. This is how Thais should be thinking and not simply jumping on the latest money-making bandwagon.
Returning to large shopping centres, it will be interesting to see what long term effect Central Festival has on the existing places.
Another observation is that retail and the Internet are going the same way. In the same way that huge supermarkets with lots of purchasing power and economies of scale are forcing Mom & Pop stores out of business, so too are massive websites destroying lots of small, independent sites.
I think that both cases are very sad.
In addition to the recent bombs that went off in Songkhla province near the Malaysian border, a stolen pickup truck containing 180kg of explosive was found at Phuket City Police Station. It was defused before it exploded.
In a country with so many social and political problems I could never work out why the economy and currency has been so strong for so long. Thailand is fortunate to have such a huge tourist industry, it's quite rich in natural resources, and there is still a lot of cheap labour - although the labour force in China is bigger and cheaper.
Even at the start of the current political turmoil the stock market and currency remained quite resilient, but with no end in sight to the problems it looks now as if investors are starting to get jittery.
I transferred some money recently when the interbank pound to Baht rate was about 52.8 and got an actual rate of 52. However, the rate continues to rise and it is 53.7 as I write.
Further depreciation of the Baht is expected. Of course, no one knows how far this will go and I suspect that as soon as there is any sign of stability in Thailand the rates will quickly reverse.
For a while at least, tourists and expats in Thailand with incomes from abroad will have something to feel slightly better about.
Two places I have visited in Thailand reminded me of the horrendous atrocities carried out by Japanese troops in WW2 - Three Pagodas Pass and the Death Railway Museum (and war graves) in Kanchanaburi. It is the same story if you read about the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WW2. ANZ troops suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese, and the worst punishment was reserved for the Chinese.
I've also met lots of wonderful Japanese people in this part of the world, who are gentle, kind and completely inoffensive. Japanese tourists visit these same places and seem to have no idea of what happened during the war. That's because they don't, apparently. The BBC just published an interesting article:
The Japanese journalist who wrote this article explains that she only learnt about that part of history when she went to study in Australia.
A few days ago, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, Emperor Hirohito spoke about the tragedy of WW2. However, his sorrow was only for the Japanese people who lost their lives in war, and not for the pain inflicted on so many others by Japanese troops. Source: The Nation
"About 3.1 million Japanese people are said to have lost their lives in that war. It still pains me deeply to think that so many people, who must have had various dreams and hopes for the future, lost their lives at a young age."
It could be the loss of face thing (yet again), but Asian countries don't seem to be able to come to terms with their mistakes in the past. Many Western countries have done this and apologised. Japan even seems to want to inflame the situation.
It's also wrong that the education system is used not to educate students, but to make them think in a certain way or to hide facts from them. The Thai education system has many agendas, but giving students a broad based useful education that will be useful in life isn't one of them.
Monday 23rd December 2013
I was single up until the age of 50 and I was always quite good at managing both my time and my money. I never earned a fortune in my old life, but I never wasted money and thus I was able to afford to have good vacations and some fun cars.
I never wanted a lot, and not being able to afford things never bothered me. Nothing (apart from houses) was worth putting myself into debt for, and money was therefore never a problem. I also found time to do most of the things I wanted to do. I didn't do things that I didn't want to do, and therefore I had time to do the things that I wanted to do.
That all changed after I got married, and especially once children started to arrive. I now have no control over how I spend my time or money. For me personally, this has been the most difficult aspect of marriage and fatherhood.
Never a day passes without there being demands on my time. On Saturday I had to attend a Christmas fair, which took up most of the day. My wife is now less than three weeks away from giving birth and I am doing most things around the house. That in itself is almost a full time job.
Today, my task was to take the wife shopping to buy more baby items. With tasks such as this, there is a demand on my wallet in addition to a demand on my time.
Since I have been married, I don't think a month has passed in which my outgoings have been less than my income and in the long run this is unsustainable. I have been aware of this for a while and have been doing my best to limit my spending.
November was yet another expensive month, but at the beginning of December there was nothing urgent to buy or repair and I thought that December would be a relatively cheap month. How wrong I was.
It started with the wife, a Buddhist, wanting a Christmas tree. I have never considered Christmas trees necessary, but I now do anything for a quiet life. Also, despite being quite Scrooge-like myself, I would like our daughter to catch some of the Christmas magic.
The fake Christmas tree, lights, and decorations cost about Bt3,500. The wife then declared that we needed to buy things for the new baby - another Bt3,500. That happened again today and cost me another Bt3,000.
We were pleased that our daughter got a place at the Kindergarten next year, but the school then demanded a payment of Bt18,500 this month.
With all the rain last month there was no serious flooding, but on one occasion I encountered flooding almost a foot deep while driving home one day. Ah, no problem in an SUV I thought, and drove through the water. A few days later the car started to make a weird noise and there had also been a rattling noise underneath for a while.
I took it in to get these things repaired and found that a wheel bearing had bitten the dust. It was probably on its way out anyway, but the flood water finished it off completely. I was then presented with a bill for Bt16,000.
It's Christmas, of course, and my wife reminded me that Christmas presents need to be bought. That little expedition last week cost me around Bt8,000.
I give my wife a housekeeping allowance, which is intended to include food, but I always seem to be buying a lot of meals throughout the course of the month. Other little bits always need doing or replacing, of course, such as a washing machine hose this month, etc, and the spending never seems to stop.
I haven't bought anything for myself for a very long time. Even if I have some money left over one month I know that I need to hold on to it for the unexpected costs coming out of left field that will inevitably appear the following month.
If I were still single I would be wallowing in money at this stage of my life, but surprisingly (even if I could choose, which I can't) I wouldn't now want to go back to my single life. The good points still outweigh the bad ones.
The most anticipated event all year in this part of southern Thailand was the grand opening of Hat Yai's very own Central Festival on December 14th.
However, if there was one place I definitely wasn't going to be on 14th December it was Central Festival. The opening event featured Thai 'superstars' (who are completely unknown outside of Thailand), and the crowds and traffic jams were horrendous. Apparently, people travelled from faraway provinces - and even from Malaysia and Singapore - to attend the opening of Thailand's latest mega-mall.
We went today and I was completely underwhelmed. In fact, underwhelming is the mildest adjective I would use. I actually found it yawn-inducing and soul-destroying. The worst job I can imagine doing, apart from teaching English in Thailand, would be working in retail at somewhere like this.
I've been to lots of malls around the world so I knew what to expect, but I was rather hoping for a better selection of goods and food than is already available in Hat Yai. That wasn't really the case.
Every shop and restaurant in town seems either to have relocated to, or opened a new branch in, Central Festival. It's therefore all the same stuff, but in a different location. This realisation was quite depressing.
Probably the only highlight was the new branch of TOPS, which seems to be larger than existing branches, and it has a few more things on offer.
The other thing that depresses me is the way that the whole world has started to look exactly the same. These mega-malls started off in the US, but then quickly spread to other countries. UK high streets used to have lots of little, interesting independent shops (as well as independent pubs), but lots of these have now disappeared and been replaced with large malls and boring chain pubs.
On my early visits to Thailand I loved the fact that everything was so different from the West. There was never any doubt that you were in a country that was very different to home, and this was a wonderful feeling that stirred the senses.
If you could be teletransported to Central Festival in Thailand, you would have difficulty knowing which country you were in. If you looked closely you would notice that the shop assistants were Asian and the prices were in Baht, but everything else is exactly the same as anywhere else in the world.
The magic that I used to experience when travelling abroad is disappearing because everywhere has started to look exactly the same. The sad thing is that Thais want exactly the same things that most foreigners living in Thailand moved to Thailand to escape from.
I try to ignore the political turmoil in Thailand as much as I can. I can't change or influence anything, and I believe that the underlying problems are so vast, so complex and so ingrained in Thai cultural behaviour that it is probably beyond the power of anyone to fix them.
To simply say that "political reform is needed before elections take place" is so utterly wrong that statements such as this are completely worthless.
It now looks as if the democrats will boycott an election if an election takes place, but before this decision was taken the comments flying around about holding a 'fair and proper' election and 'educating' the electorate on how to vote were laughable. How did they intend doing this, and if you need to educate voters before an election doesn't this indicate that the country isn't ready for electoral politics?
Suthep's comments about having a "People's Council" to keep the government in check also resulted in my eyes wandeing off to the ceiling.
I can't remember where it came from, but one of the many books I have read about Thai cultural behaviour (probably Mulder) makes the point that Thais not only expect people in positions of power to use that position to benefit themselves, but they regard them as stupid if they don't. This is how Thais think. The members of the People's Council would be in a position of power and nothing would change.
This is just one reason, and then you have all the other parts of the 'culture', such as greng jai, constant deference to those higher in the social hierarchy, and patron-client relationships which are indoctrinated in Thai school children from a very early age.
Saying that political reform is needed, as if this was the only thing that is wrong in Thailand, completely overlooks the root causes of the problem.
The entire school curriculum needs to be changed and not until you have teachers who themselves have been through a completely revised curriculum teaching the next generation will any real change take place. I genuinely think it will take at least two generations after sweeping reforms take place.
Considering that Thais believe nothing is wrong with their culture and that no sweeping reforms in the education system are necessary, nothing will change any time soon.
Many of the current problems have their roots in the sakdina system, which goes back hundreds of years. The Thai way of thinking is so ingrained, and so alien to Western societies, that it isn't going to change overnight, and certainly not before the next election.
Additionally, the more I read about the situation, the more confused I become. The media is never impartial and every source of information has its own agenda.
I have been critical in the past of foreign journalists reporting on Thailand who obviously have no idea of the country. Jonathan Head of the BBC has always come across as someone who has a lot of knowledge about Thailand. However, I was very disappointed with his extremely one-sided report on Thailand's Red Villages.
To those who don't understand what has happened in Thailand, this report makes Thaksin out to be some kind of a saint. I actually found this report quite disturbing. What is the political agenda of Jonathan Head and the BBC? The BBC shouldn't even have a political agenda, but this report indicates that it most definitely does.
I came across a blogger going under the name of Tony Cartalucci (probably a pseudonym) who takes great exception to Jonathan Head's reporting.
But then I came across other articles that take great exception to Tony Cartalucci.
All expats living in Thailand claim to understand the situation, but how many really do and who really knows who is acting in the background? There's so much going on that we aren't told, and don't know, about.
With all the problems going on in Bangkok, there has been no let up with the southern insurgency. The three most problematic provinces are Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, but occasional problems also occur in Satun and Songkhla.
Yesterday there were coordinated bomb attacks in Songkhla province near the Malaysian border.
One blast was in Dannok, a place that fascinates and horrifies me at the same time. I've written about Dannok before in this blog, the last time being on 19th July 2013. I've also included it in my Hat Yai tourist guide.
A few years ago it was just a border crossing with nothing else, but now it has turned into quite a large town driven entirely by the demand for prostitution. It is full of Thai girls, mainly from northern Thailand, and Indian and Chinese Malaysian men.
I suspect that Dannok may now be quiet for a while until confidence is restored.
A few years ago I was asked by a teacher at the school where I was teaching if I could teach her children. Her son was nearing the end of his high school education and her daughter had just finished a Bachelor's degree, but wasn't working. I taught them for a while once a week.
Dtairng Mo (Watermelon in English), the daughter, was heavily into fashion and used to show up for her lessons with lots of make-up, long false eyelashes, and the latest clothes.
At the Christmas fair on Saturday I ran into her mother and asked what she was up to. The answer quite surprised me. She is now quite a successful businesswoman.
She opened a shop and started selling the kind of lotions, potions and pills that Thai girls are obsessed with. I don't know how effective (or safe) these things are, but they are all to do with (perceived) beauty and fashion. Thais girls want glossy black hair, snowy white skin, ruby red lips, and pink nipples. They also want to be very thin, which most are.
The shop was a huge success and now she has opened another. She buys her lotions, potions and pills in Bangkok for a cheap price and retails them locally. I asked her mother if the business was profitable, but wasn't quite expecting the answer I heard.
She is turning over more than Bt1 million a month and making a profit of about Bt300,000 a month. The current government's election pledges to pay graduates Bt15,000 a month and to give manual workers a minimum wage of Bt300 a day puts this into perspective. Many Thais earn less than Bt10,000 a month.
The equivalent of Bt300,000 would even be a decent salary in London, but in Thailand it is a fortune.
I am actually quite envious. Money is tight these days and I have discussed various business ideas with my wife to increase our income. However, nothing yet has sounded viable.
Dtairng Mo always came across as a bit ditzy with her make-up and eyelashes, but she was obviously very aware of the things that young Thai girls spend their money on, she saw an opportunity in the market, and she had the business acumen to turn her knowledge into money.
Some people seem to be born with the knack of making money. Others may be very intelligent, but they never earn much money. I can think of lots of Thais I know who have three degrees and now lecture at a university, but their monthly salary is a pittance compared to what can be earned by selling pink nipple lotion to young Thai girls.
At Central Festival today I noticed lots of beauty clinics. This is a huge industry in Thailand and it has made a few people very rich.
In addition, Dtairng Mo seems to have a natural ability for marketing. She has created a brand (Omoholic), which has it's own website. Naturally, she has the obligatory Facebook page for her brand, and she also uses the Line application on her mobile phone, which many Thais use, to talk with customers.
I read a story last week about a smartphone game that I had never heard of, and how it was making its creator USD 1 million a day, despite the fact it is a free game.
This is the reason why I will never be rich. In some ways I find it quite a sad reflection on today's societies that people are getting rich by selling whitening lotion, pink nipple cream and childish games, but you have to admire people who are able to understand what things will sell, no matter how brainless these products are.
Never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.
With constant interruptions it has taken me about five hours to write this. All I wanted was a couple of hours in which I could shut my office door and write without any interruptions, but that never happens these days. I'm not sure when the next update will be.
We couldn't find a suitable bird today to roast for Christmas. I have therefore been given the task of locating one tomorrow and, no doubt, I will also be given other tasks.
On Wednesday I have been asked to assume the role of someone who appears once a year and hands out presents to children. The character is traditionally someone who I consider older and fatter than myself but, in a location where there are very few Westerners to choose from, any farang will do.
Ho ho ho, and a merry Christmas to you.
By the way, I also owe two readers of this blog e-mail replies, and I am hoping to do that tomorrow.
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