Living In Thailand Blog
Tuesday 23rd December 2014
My apologies for the lack of posts recently. I have been insanely busy with the run-up to Christmas, school activities, attending to sick children, and 101 other things.
A Malaysian reader just sent me an e-mail asking if it was advisable to go ahead with his trip to Hat Yai next week, or to go to Trang instead.
A couple of weeks ago a big storm arrived in southern Thailand and dumped an enormous amount of rain. About a day after it left, another big storm came in and dumped further enormous amounts of rain. That storm has yet to depart and, as I write, it is still raining.
The canals here are full and, of course, everyone is fearful that the town will suffer flooding once again. The flood flag that I pass every day was yellow today and in some places the flags are red. There has been some quite serious flooding in neighbouring provinces, such as Phattalung and Narathiwat.
What I became aware of after the big flood of 2010 is how much there is that I'm not aware of.
There was extremely heavy rain throughout October 2010, but Hat Yai's flood defences seemed to cope quite well. After the previous big flood in 2000, a lot of work was done to the town's flood defences.
The night before the big flood in 2010 it stopped raining and there had still not been any serious flooding. I remember going to bed feeling quite relieved that we had escaped a flood and I slept well.
My wife then woke me up in the early hours of the next morning to tell me that the water had arrived. Soon after that, there was two metres of murky brown flood water in the downstairs of our rented house. Where had this water suddenly appeared from?
What I hadn't realised was that all the heavy rain had been filling up huge reservoirs in outlying districts. I had no idea that these reservoirs even existed.
At some stage a decision was taken to release the water. The town's flood defences could cope with lots of heavy rain, but they couldn't cope with the sudden surge of millions of cubic meters of water being released from reservoirs. The result was a huge flood.
When people ask me now what the flood situation is in Hat Yai, all I can tell them is what is happening in town right at this very moment. There is still heavy rain, but so far there is no flooding.
However, what I don't know about is the situation outside of town. Are the reservoirs getting dangerously full, and will a decision be made to release water again? I just don't know.
Rumours spread like wildfire, but their validity is often suspect. We live on high ground and yesterday one of my wife's friends called and asked if she could leave her car at our house. She lives downtown and had been told that water was about to be released and would inundate the downtown area.
Her car is now here, but so far the water she said would be released hasn't arrived. Will it arrive? I don't know. Obviously, a few people know what is really going on, but most people living around here don't have a clue.
Regarding other areas in the deep south, unless you visit an area of high ground I think that there will be good chances of flooding. Hat Yai is probably better off than most other places in southern Thailand in terms of flood defence infrastructure.
The town is the biggest commercial centre in the south of Thailand and attracts lots of tourists from Malaysia and Singapore. It is therefore quite a rich town, relatively speaking, and some of that income has been invested in flood defences. Other provinces don't have as much income and their flood defences aren't as developed.
The website that I have given a link to before has information, weather maps and webcams related to the flood situation in Hat Yai. It's in Thai, but the graphics and webcam images don't require any reading ability.
Friday 12th December 2014
I've stated before that taxi fares in Bangkok are too cheap. I am not wealthy and I'm always looking at ways to save money, but it's almost embarrassing in Bangkok sometimes when you take a fairly lengthy ride and get charged less than Bt100.
Obviously, I don't want taxi fares in Bangkok to start replicating those in London, but a little increase is only fair (no pun intended). The drivers have to work very long hours just to break even and most of them (with the odd exception) are decent, honest people.
Driving in any Thai city isn't much fun, but the frustrations are greatest of all in the capital. Fares will increase tomorrow by 8% and after six months will rise a further 5%. The initial Bt35 charge will remain the same.
I would like to see meters made obligatory elsewhere in Thailand. Where I live, the local municipality issue fare pricing guidelines, but taxi drivers refuse to use them. They simply give passengers a price, and if you are a foreigner the price is normally a lot higher.
Thursday 11th December 2014
The daily school run is a bit of a drag and the early mornings hurt. However, my daughter is almost four now so I will only have to wait about five years before she can drive herself to school. Living in Thailand does have its benefits.
The school run gives me an hour alone each day with my daughter. I never speak Thai with her. Living in Thailand, she won't have any problems at all learning to speak Thai because she will be exposed to it all the time, but that isn't the case with English. I want both my kids to grow up fully bilingual and they need to be exposed to as much English as possible. I see that as possibly my most important role in life at the moment.
This morning we were doing some rote learning - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
We all come into this world with a blank canvas and initially our brains need to be filled with information. Rote learning is good for this and I did a lot of rote learning when I was at primary school.
Reading Thai involves remembering a lot of things and rote learning is perfect for learning how to read Thai. Initially, all schools in Thailand were located in temples and they were set up basically to teach kids how to read and write. Rote learning worked very well.
When the education system was expanded to other subjects, Thais continued with rote learning because it was the only system they knew. Unfortunately, it doesn't work so well with other subjects. Thais still have a lot to learn about education.
In England there are educational institutions that are hundreds of years old. Teaching has been carried out at Oxford for over 900 years. In Thailand the current system of education only goes back a couple of generations. Thailand churns out hundreds of thousands of graduates each year, but the country still has a lot to learn about actually educating students.
In almost every survey of education that is carried out, Thailand comes near the bottom. The latest survey I saw concerned IT skills.
When I was teaching English to Matayom students I asked them what they studied in their IT class. They gave me an impressive list of different technologies, but subsequent probing showed that they knew nothing about any of the technologies.
If you ask them about programming languages, they can probably give you a list of different languages and maybe even tell you the advantages and disadvantages of each. But do they have the skills to write basic programs? Most don't.
Compare this to Singapore where all schools have 3D printers and the students are taught how to program the printers to actually make things. Thai students have a superficial knowledge of IT, but students elsewhere can actually use the technology. It's the same with every subject.
Thai students will remember lots of facts and then do a multiple choice exam (which means they don't have to write much). If they can't remember, there are plenty who will cheat. They will get high grades in their exams and look like A-grade students on paper, but they have no real world skills. This is a big problem in the country.
I have never been to Russia, but I have been made aware how horrendous the driving standards are in Russia because there is so much dash cam footage available. Just type in 'Russia dash cam' on YouTube and you will see what I mean.
The driving in Thailand is probably just as bad as in Russia, and it would be a lot worse if there was snow and ice in Thailand as there is in Russia. If Thais had to deal with snow and ice the carnage would be unbelievable. One thing that is different is that there are few dash cams. Most foreigners, therefore, don't realise how bad the driving is.
However, dash cams are gradually becoming more popular in Thailand and slowly the rest of the world is waking up to just how bad the driving standards are.
On Thai TV yesterday I watched some quite frightening dash cam footage. A minivan pulled in front of the car with the dash cam and blocked its path. A guy with a gun then jumped out of the van and walked towards the driver of the car pointing the gun at him. I don't know what had preceded this incident, but I can't think of anything that would justify pointing a gun at another driver. Road rage incidents involving guns in Thailand aren't uncommon. Drivers get shot and sometimes killed.
In addition to the dangerous way in which Thais drive, they drive very selfishly as well. I have mentioned many times about how there is no lane discipline and how drivers will use whichever lane has least traffic and then push in. Other drivers don't tend to react or do anything when this happens because doing so in Thailand can be very dangerous. Selfish drivers are very aggressive and as the video footage showed, some carry guns.
On a couple of occasions I have made my displeasure known to obnoxious Thai drivers and have then been threatened with physical violence and chased. Forget all this Land of Smiles nonsense and the tired old cliches about Thais being peace-loving and non-confrontational. A lot of Thai men are highly aggressive and highly confrontational, especially those driving pickup trucks and minivans.
I don't have a dash cam (yet), but I just watched a Thai driver's dash cam footage showing the kind of thing I mean.
Every morning he goes through a busy intersection and coming the other way there are lots of cars waiting to turn right. Quite a few drivers are not prepared to wait in the correct lane, so what they do is overtake the line of waiting cars on the wrong side of the road so that they can get to the front of the queue.
As they do this, they encounter cars coming in the other direction and they expect the drivers of the other cars to pull over. The Thai guy who posted this video got fed up with selfish drivers and refused to give way to them. This could have been dangerous had another driver been carrying a gun.
As he turns left on the correct side of the road he comes face-to-face with several selfish drivers on the wrong side of the road who are only there because they don't want to wait in the correct lane to turn right. They just drive on the wrong side of the road because it's the fastest way to get to the front of the queue.
Thais who do this kind of thing do it routinely and they should be banned from driving.
In other countries with a points system they would be banned from driving quite quickly. In Thailand they never get stopped, and even if they do get stopped they simply pay a small fine and continue in the same way.
This is the kind of thing that I see every single time I drive anywhere. It's infuriating. The poster of the video provides the licence plate numbers of the offending vehicles and encourages the police to take action, but I can't see this happening.
I encounter a lot of obnoxious drivers in Thailand, but what is also very conspicuous is the absence of any deterrents. I see no traffic light cameras, no speed cameras, and no traffic police watching out for drivers breaking traffic laws.
A few days ago I mentioned that some things in Thailand really need to change, but because of Thai culture these things are unlikely ever to change. I've given two examples today - the education system and the way that Thais drive.
Wednesday 10th December 2014
Today is a public holiday in Thailand - Constitution Day.
Bearing in mind the Thai value system and the rather unconstitutional way in which Thailand has been governed for a lot of the time since 1932 it always strikes me as a strange celebration, but I'm not complaining about having a day off from doing the school run.
All Thai students sing the national anthem and pay respect to the national flag at 8am. This means that they have to get to school before then. With so many parents doing school runs there are enormous traffic jams in the morning and to beat the rush I have to leave home at around 6:50am.
This means getting up before 6am and I have never really been an early morning person. This schedule doesn't fit in with my circadian rhythms and after getting up so early I lack energy for the rest of the day.
It is therefore always a relief when I can get up at a more civilised time. Everyone has slightly different body clocks, but I read recently that the optimum time for most people to wake up in the morning is at 7:22am. The school run has me setting my alarm clock 90 minutes earlier than this civilised time.
Since June the world oil price has fallen from $115 a barrel to less than $70 - over 40%. With the current Thai government eager to 'return happiness to the people', these falling prices have been reflected at the pumps quite quickly.
I have a habit of running my tank to almost empty and then filling it up to the brim. I reset my odometer and this way I can keep an eye on fuel consumption. It used to cost me almost Bt2,000 to fill the tank and for a while it went above the Bt2,000 mark by Bt100 or Bt200.
When I filled the tank this week it cost only Bt1,540. My car uses Gasohol 95, which is the most expensive type of fuel. I guess that a lot of Thais will be feeling happier as a result. Nonetheless, everything in life is cyclical and sooner or later prices will go up again.
My wife asked if we could buy fuel now and store it at home, but that didn't sound like a very good idea. She then asked whether one of the petrol stations would store it for us if we paid now at the current price. I can't imagine that any oil company would agree to this, but at least she is thinking about how to save money.
In Thai terms the house that I bought was quite expensive. When we bought it there were several sales staff (working on a commission basis) and they would do or say anything to make a sale. We could have anything we wanted and they promised lots of great benefits. All of the sales staff have now gone.
One of the things they promised was a leisure facility at the front of the development. It would include a coffee shop, restaurant, minimart, various other things, and - most significantly - a swimming pool.
My daughter loves to go swimming and at the moment we have to go to pools elsewhere. It would be a lot more convenient to have one inside the development.
Earlier this year, work started on the leisure facility and a huge advertising hoarding was erected with artists' impressions of what the completed facility would look like. It all looked good.
A few months ago the advertising hoarding disappeared and I couldn't work out why. There was no reason for it to go until the work had been finished.
A neighbour has just been to look at the construction progress and the way that they have driven in the foundations doesn't look at all right for a swimming pool.
What I suspect has happened is that the developer has realised he can make more profit by building and selling commercial buildings rather than building leisure facilities for the residents who have already bought his homes. That's probably why the advertising hoarding was taken down.
If this turns out to be true it really stinks. It stinks that in order to sell homes they promised things that later they would renege on.
When you talk to foreigners about Thailand, Thais have a certain reputation for lying, cheating and being untrustworthy. Unfortunately, this is often true. In so many aspects of Thai life nothing is ever more important than money and many Thais will do whatever it takes to maximise their profits regardless of the consequences, and broken promises mean nothing.
Of course, potential house buyers were given promises verbally and there was never any written contract. Even if there was, and the developer decided to change his mind, I doubt that anyone could do anything. In other countries the expression, "My word is my bond," might be meaningful, but in Thailand - sadly - that is not the case.
The vast majority of tourists in Thailand can't speak a word of Thai and therefore have to communicate in English. They have no choice. Thais who deal with foreigners usually speak enough English to communicate, even though their language skills are generally weak.
Once a foreigner can speak some Thai, which language do they then use to speak with Thais? My Thai isn't good, but it is the language I use most of the time and it is the language I use to speak to my wife. It can't, therefore, be that bad.
My view, as usual, is pragmatic. If my Thai is stronger than their English, we speak Thai. If their English is stronger than my Thai, we speak English. I can gauge their degree of English proficiency as soon as they open their mouths.
I have met Thais whose ability in English is far better than my Thai will ever be and it is natural to speak English with them. Other Thais, whose English is weak, are grateful that a foreigner can speak some Thai.
Occasionally I meet stubborn Thais who speak Thaiglish, rather than English, but they have a hugely over-inflated opinion of their English language ability, or they regard it as a big loss of face if a foreigner's Thai is better than their English. They refuse to speak Thai with me.
This normally happens in places where there are lots of tourists. Tourists can't speak Thai and therefore Thais speak English. Their English is poor, but because they speak to a lot of tourists they think it is good. The other category is some Thai women who are married to non Thai speaking farangs. I can tell that my Thai is better than their English, but they refuse to speak Thai.
Normally I just find this stubborn behaviour irritating, but I had another incident this week in which the implications could actually have been dangerous.
At the hospital on Monday I was attended to by a nurse who seemed to think that her bad Thaiglish was good English. It wasn't. I had been speaking Thai with all the other nurses, but she wanted to prove that her English was better than my Thai.
I already had some antibiotics, but she wanted to give me more. The big question was whether I should take the new drugs in addition to the old drugs, or whether I should start taking them after I had finished the old drugs. This was quite an important question and the wrong answer would have meant a drug overdose.
It took me a long time to get the answer because she insisted on trying to speak English, which she couldn't. All she kept saying to me was, "In the same, in the same." Eventually, I started to get quite angry.
What did this mean? Did she mean, "At the same time," or was she trying to tell me that the medicine was the same, in which case I would finish the old ones first and then take the new ones.
Eventually, she told me in Thai and I understood immediately.
To put things in perspective I have lived in Thailand permanently for over 11 years. During that time I have spent quite a lot of time trying to study the language. I speak Thai to my wife and because I live in a part of Thailand where there are few Westerners I speak Thai to most people. I speak Thai every day.
She probably hadn't studied English since she was at school and probably only sees a few farang patients each month. The first problem is because most of the foreigners that Thais meet don't speak Thai, or speak very little, and they assume that all farangs are the same.
Secondly, I think it has something to do with the cultural 'loss of face' thing. They lose face if they have to accept that a foreigner's Thai is better than their English.
I have experienced this kind of thing a lot and it doesn't really bother me. However, when a medical professional does it and the resulting miscommunication could actually be dangerous, Thais should be sensible and pragmatic enough to simply admit that their proficiency in English is inadequate.
Tuesday 9th December 2014
Buddhism stresses the Middle Way (or Middle Path), and balance in life is so important. I quit my life in England and moved to Thailand basically because I couldn't get the right balance in my life. An unfortunate aspect of many developed countries is that there is far too much emphasis on working and acquiring money.
We heard from a friend in Singapore today about the imbalance in his life. He runs a car repair business and the business is doing well. The cost of car ownership in Singapore is very high and more people are keeping their existing cars instead of trading them in for new ones. With more older cars around there is more demand for repairs.
However, he works long hours six days a week and he is stressed. He's 63 and now wondering whether it is time to call it a day and, in his words, smell the roses.
Money is essential to live, but it isn't everything in life and if we have no free time to spend it there is little point in having money. It doesn't make sense to work all the time and the way to be content with less money is to stop grasping at things that we don't need (more Buddhist thinking).
On the other hand, it is irresponsible to act as if today is our last day on Earth. I used to work with a guy who lived his life like this.
When he got paid he would repay the money he had borrowed from the previous month and use the rest to get pissed in one of the local expat bars. A week or two later he would borrow more money to get through to the end of the month and then repeat the same cycle after he got paid. This cycle went on perpetually and was never broken.
If he suddenly needed money for something else, he never had any. He overstayed in Thailand for years without getting caught. Other people gave him a lot of help to get a proper visa, but the last I heard he had gone back to overstaying when his visa ran out.
For a long time I have tried to lead a balanced life (not easy when kids come along), but it also helps to get a reminder occasionally.
I received a big reminder recently when I heard about the death of a close friend who was just a little older than me. There is no point working and accumulating money for the future all the time because we never know what the future holds. Balance is important.
Lying in a hospital bed for two days wasn't much fun last week, but it forced me to break my usual routine and gave me a lot of time to think about what is important to me in life. Any kind of illness or injury is also a reminder to us all of the importance of good health.
Good health is easily taken for granted, but things can change very quickly. My friend was fine and one day went to see a doctor about poor vision. A melanoma was detected in his eye, the cancer spread to other parts of his body very quickly, and now he is no longer with us.
The hospital I stayed in had a good movie channel and, with nothing else to do, I was able to watch a few movies, including Rush, about the intense rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula 1 season. It was very good.
At that time, before Formula 1 was completely taken over by technology, I enjoyed following the sport and remember this rivalry well. Of course, James Hunt was also a national hero in England. Hunt and Lauda were completely different characters, and went to extremes in different ways. The movie portrayed this well.
It was a good illustration of why it isn't advisable to go to extremes, but to follow a path somewhere in the middle of the two. The Middle Path.
I've had a bad year. I have just found out that my wife has known for a long time that I would have a bad year, based on astrological predictions using my year and month of birth. She didn't tell me before because she knows how sceptical I am about this kind of thing.
Nowadays, when she brings up the subject of astrology and fortune tellers I just listen attentively and feign interest. It's a simple case of my brain having been programmed too logically to accept any of this, but it's fine if it makes her feel better.
There was a time when I would openly dispute and scoff at predictions from fortune tellers, but it doesn't do any good. All it does is create a problem at home, which I don't want.
If you live in Thailand for several years you realise eventually that you can't change anything. Thais think a certain way and do not appreciate alternate views. If I have an alternate view I won't get any support from Thais and I just find myself being isolated. Of course, it is natural for people to want to be accepted, not isolated. Therefore, I find myself just going along with the consensus.
I think this is why things never change in Thailand. The culture is based on value systems and belief systems. Certain things are important to Thais, such as merit-making, and the belief system is very strong.
Not only is the belief system powerful, but it has an influence on all levels of Thai society. For example, it is well known that Thai Prime Ministers seek advice from fortune tellers before making decisions.
When I first started teaching in Thailand I was very idealistic, but eventually I just got beaten down. It is very difficult to change anything in Thailand, and impossible for outsiders to change anything. You can't beat the system and if you try you will also get beaten down. You end up leaving the country or just going with the flow.
The thing that concerns me the most is that certain aspects of Thai thinking and behaviour really do need to change. I'm just not sure how this will ever happen because the people in Thai society who have the power and authority to change things have exactly the same value and belief systems as all other Thais.
The second phase of our housing development is still being built and already there is a good size stray dog population. They are actually really nice dogs. For a long time I've been taking my daughter to give them food, and other animal-loving neighbours do the same thing.
The pups that were born last year have now grown into adults and are producing more pups. Most of the houses aren't finished yet, but when people eventually move in there will be no shortage of dogs to play with.
One dog obviously got fed up waiting for people to bring him food, so he started coming to our house. We've been feeding him for a while. He's a lovely dog. He never barks or makes any noise, doesn't worry the cats, and shows no signs of aggression at all. He just turns up at the house, sits, and waits patiently. Even when I'm putting his food out he waits patiently and doesn't lunge at it.
Our situation is such that we are unable to adopt him permanently, but we feed him when he turns up hungry at the house. Also, several neighbours (who are friends, too) are Muslim. Muslims have an aversion to dogs and my wife doesn't want to upset them by encouraging the dog too much.
My doggie friend - with one of my cats and some sheep in the background
For most of my life I've lived alongside pet cats and describe myself as a cat person, but I certainly don't dislike dogs and I have become very attached to certain dogs in the past. Conversely, I have no affinity with the type of feral cat that I encountered last week. It depends on individual animals and it is exactly the same with people.
Our cleaning lady is the most inoffensive person you could wish to meet, but recently I saw her with a look of pure hatred on her face. When I enquired as to why, it was her reaction to seeing a couple of Muslim women walking past. On several occasions I've heard Buddhist Thais talking badly about Muslim Thais.
I have come across nasty Muslim Thais, but I've also met a lot of nasty Buddhist Thais. It depends on individual people. The neighbours that we are friendliest with, and who give us lots of help looking after the children, are Muslim. They are great people.
At various stages, waves of anti-Chinese sentiment have swept through Thailand. Chinese immigrants have assimilated into Thai society almost seamlessly and have been very successful at business, but at times this has led to some resentment. I have read and heard the term 'Asian Jews' a few times in reference to the Chinese.
However, some of the kindest, most generous Thais I have met have been Thai-Chinese. There is good and bad everywhere.
There have been a number of snake stories in the local news recently. My brother has had several snake incidents at his home in Phuket and I have seen several snake reports in the news concerning Phuket.
While in hospital last week I watched about six men pulling a huge python out of the ceiling of a house in Chonburi. This morning my wife was telling me that there have been several incidents of cobras entering people's homes via drains and suddenly appearing in the toilet. The latest incident was in Ayuthaya.
The area where I live now was deserted 10 years ago. It was just a wasteland. At the time I was teaching a biology student who had carried out a survey in this area. She camped out for several days in a field and recorded all the fauna that she encountered. On the list were a lot of cobras and King cobras.
The area started being developed about five years ago and now there are lots of new housing developments. So, where did the snakes go? They have been squeezed out of their homes and probably find it difficult to find new homes. A few are still around and indeed there have been sightings of cobras and King cobras in our neighbourhood.
The last thing I want is venomous snakes around the house, but I do feel sorry for them. They were here first. My wife is quite frightened at the prospect of a dangerous snake getting into the house, but it's just a hazard of living in Thailand.
I am currently planning to terminate this blog at the end of this month. I am aware that there are some people who visit regularly, and have done so for a long time. To these people I am very grateful. However, overall visitor numbers remain low and this part of my site gets virtually zero financial support.
Websites cost quite a lot to run, both in terms of time and money for hosting costs. I don't mind spending the time, even though I have very little free time to myself these days, but each part of the site has to at least pay for itself. This part doesn't and so it will be culled.
I am planning to concentrate on other areas of the site that do get supported.
Monday 8th December 2014
We put up our Christmas tree today. My wife had previously decided that we wouldn't because the baby would be forever pulling it over but we both felt sad for our daughter, who was looking forward to decorating the tree. As a young kid I loved Christmas and putting up the tree was a big event.
I hated Christmas in the UK for many years. I hated the fact the fact that Christmas started in September, I hated the crass commercialisation, and I started to hate the drunkenness with young women throwing up on the train home after their office party.
Suddenly, I like Christmas again. The biggest factor, of course, is having young children in the house. There is nothing like young children to spark the magic of Christmas.
It also helps being in a Buddhist (Atheist) country. Christmas starts in Thai department stores in November or December, as it should, and the balance is just right. I don't have to fight with crowds of people and all the shops remain open. Christmas in Thailand is great and if I want to I can take my daughter swimming in an outside pool.
I have to admit to missing London a little at this time of year. Even with the crowds, I always enjoyed taking the train into Liverpool Street, jumping on the Central Line to Holborn, and walking through the West End at Christmas.
It's a case of being able to have anything in life, but not being able to have everything. I miss certain things at certain times, but I still wouldn't want to be back in the UK.
One of the best things about Thailand is the choices that you have available to you. At times it is very apparent that you are in a developing country, but in developed countries those same choices don't necessarily exist.
If you want a really cheap room to stay in Bangkok, there are plenty. If you want to stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which regularly features in lists of the Top 10 hotels in the world, you can.
It's the same for healthcare. There are healthcare options for Thailand's poor rural masses, and first-class healthcare options for the very wealthy. Take your pick.
I don't fall into either category, but find myself somewhere in between. Money is an object and I have to try to get the most healthcare benefits for the least cost.
This year I dropped my OPD health insurance. I now take out insurance for my wife and two children, as well as myself. I get a discount for buying multiple policies, but one of the conditions is that every policy has to be the same.
I can't have one level of insurance for one person and different levels for other people. Likewise, I can either choose OPD for everyone or no one.
OPD insurance is quite expensive and there is a daily limit. Private hospitals are quite expensive and I was finding that my Bt1,000 daily limit wasn't enough. Every time I went to the hospital as an OPD patient I had to pay some of the cost myself, despite having insurance. Upgrading the policy to get more cover is quite expensive.
For OPD insurance to be cost effective it meant every member of the family making on average about one visit to OPD every month. I couldn't see this happening, so I dropped it.
There are hundreds of private clinics in town and the doctors who own them are the same ones that you meet in public and private hospitals. The service is the same for a fraction of the price. I figured that if I needed to see a doctor it was more cost effective than having OPD insurance.
I still have emergency and in-patient insurance for all of the family for incidents such as the one last week. The treatment at public hospitals is fine, but public hospitals are always crowded. This means waiting around for ages to see a doctor and in the event that you need to be admitted the wards are often full. When my son was in ICU at the beginning of the year in a public hospital I saw lots of patients on beds in the corridors.
My approach to healthcare in Thailand has worked quite well for me, but sometimes I am forced to use the OPD facilities at a private hospital. After being admitted last week I now have follow-up appointments at the same hospital.
What this means is having to pay way over the odds for medicine, but it can't be avoided. This morning I had a follow-up appointment and was forced to pay almost Bt400 (quite reluctantly) for six antibiotic tablets. Never mind.
I am quite happy with the approach I have taken for healthcare in Thailand and apart from the odd occasion it works quite well for me personally. I don't pay out an absolute fortune, but I am fairly satisfied that all of my family will have access to adequate healthcare when it is required.
Saturday 6th December 2014
With so much ill health and even death having befallen family and close friends this year, it was probably too optimistic to think that I would escape personally. I managed to snap a tendon in a finger earlier this year, but it was only inconvenient for a while and not painful.
I have just returned home after spending two nights in hospital being pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers. I don't think I have ever experienced as much pain in my life as I have experienced this week. The incident that caused all this occurred about four hours into the month of December when I was attacked by an unwelcome intruder in the house.
Sunday evening had been routine and the plan, after taking my daughter to school on Monday morning, was to attend a special event at the school for Father's Day in Thailand. The events that followed after I went to bed on Sunday meant that none of this took place.
The first clue that something wasn't right was at 4am on Monday morning when I heard my male cat making some very strange noises downstairs. He wasn't at all happy about something.
I went downstairs to investigate and discovered the problem. A feral cat had somehow managed to get inside the house. I guess that we must have left a window open.
I have seen this cat a lot. It doesn't interact with humans and fights with people's pet cats, including my own. One of my cats returned home with a huge open wound last year after having been bitten by this cat. It's just a pest.
When it saw me, it panicked. It jumped on to the kitchen counter and started smashing drinking glasses. Then it ran upstairs and into the room where my daughter was sleeping. As it came out it was about to go into the room where my wife and son were sleeping. It was going crazy.
I experienced an immediate adrenaline rush and the chemicals that entered my brain started to control my actions. There was a threat in the house and it represented an immediate risk to my family. I needed to contain the threat and the last thing on my mind was whether I was at any risk. My own safety didn't even enter into the equation.
As the cat came out of one bedroom and was heading for another bedroom I grabbed it with my bare hands.
Unfortunately, I didn't grab it in quite the right place to secure its head. I pinned it to the floor, but it was able to spin its head round and it sank its teeth into my hand at the base of my left index finger. At the same time it lashed out with its claws.
At this point we entered a stalemate. The cat wouldn't release its bite and I wasn't going to let it get away. I wanted to immobilise it. This went on for what seemed like hours, but it was probably only 10 minutes. Eventually I dealt with the immediate danger, but the altercation had left my hands in a very bad state. Feral cats are basically wild animals and they make for fierce opponents. I drove myself to hospital and explained what had happened.
They cleaned up the wounds, but insisted on treating me for rabies. This probably wasn't necessary, but they insisted that it was. They injected me with rabies serum and rabies vaccine. The doctor said that the injections had to be done as close to the wounds as possible, some of which were quite deep.
I have no problem at all with injections in my arms, but having multiple injections in my hands was one of the most painful experiences I have been through.
On Tuesday I went back to the hospital so that they could clean and redress the wounds. The same thing happened on Wednesday, except that after the cleaning a doctor examined me. His verdict was that the wounds were infected and that he had to open them up in order to remove the infection.
This was done in the hospital's small operating room under local anaesthetic. It took several more injections in my hands to apply the anaesthetic and once again it was extremely painful. The doctor saw how much pain I was in and offered a general anaesthetic, but I declined and just told him to keep going with the injections. I then spent Wednesday and Thursday night in hospital while they injected me with antibiotics every six hours.
My hands are still bandaged and a little painful, but I think that everything will be OK. It just needs time to heal. There are lots of tendons in the hands, not very far from the surface. I was told that it can be dangerous if these get infected.
I read on-line that the last case of rabies being transmitted from a cat to a human was 40 years ago. I'm not concerned about the risk of rabies, but will complete the course of five injections anyway so that I am fully vaccinated.
The initial hospital bill at A&E was over Bt8,000, but my insurance company paid Bt6,000. My hospital admission bill was over Bt30,000, but I only had to pay Bt550 myself. It was quite a relief that they paid after refusing to pay a claim for my wife earlier this year. They managed to wriggle out of paying and this resulted in my having to cough up around Bt20,000 after having already paid for my wife's health insurance.
This is why I have health insurance in Thailand. It sometimes seems like wasted money when I don't use it, but things like this can happen without any warning and rack up big hospital bills.
Over the years I have heaped immense praise on the Thai healthcare system and once again I have only praise for the health professionals that treated me. The surgeon was the same guy that removed a small cyst a couple of years ago and he's a very nice, very competent guy. The nurses do a great job too.
My only criticism, and this is something that has been bugging me for a while, is the perceived emphasis on profit at the private hospitals. I often get the impression that the staff are on some kind of an incentive scheme. Let me give you some examples.
With the rabies serum, there are two kinds. One is made using horses and the other is made using humans. The human one is very expensive - around Bt30,000.
I sensed that the nursing staff were trying to use scare tactics to make me opt for the expensive serum by telling me about the possible nasty side-effects of the horse serum. They did a test on me first with the horse serum and told me that the test was positive, that is, there had been a reaction. However, I went ahead and opted for the horse serum and there were no problems.
On several occasions when I have been to a private hospital with a health problem, the doctor has encouraged me to stay overnight when I didn't think it was really necessary. It seems that one of their objectives is to keep all the rooms full.
Furthermore, when I have needed a room in the past the normal response is that all the normal rooms are full and that only the expensive suites are available. Of course, you have no choice and have to pay for an expensive room that you don't need.
Private hospitals make a profit with the medicines they sell. Whenever I go to the hospital I always seem to come away with a bag full of medicine and it seems too much. They also charge a lot for drugs.
I now get my asthma medicine from the doctor's private clinic because exactly the same medicine is half the price compared to getting it at the private hospital where he works part-time.
On Tuesday I had to return to the hospital to get the wounds cleaned and redressed. This service cost Bt920. I cancelled my OPD insurance this year because it wasn't cost effective and now I have to pay for things like this myself. I needed to do the same thing today and went to a small clinic near to where I live where it cost Bt100. That's a big difference.
The people who go to private hospitals in Thailand are either quite wealthy or have insurance. The private hospitals seem to take advantage of this to maximise their profits.
I do understand that private hospitals are businesses, not charities or government services. I also realise that medical care is expensive. However, I have sensed on several occasions that they seem to do unnecessary things in order to maximise profits and it just gives me a bit of a bad feeling.
I don't care if my insurance company is paying, but I do care if I am paying myself. If I need to get new bandages it makes a big difference to me whether I pay Bt100 or Bt920.
There are good people and bad people in Thailand. When I'm well it is easy to focus on the bad people - the ones who rape and murder young girls and throw the bodies out of train windows when they have finished, and the Thai women who murder foreign husbands in order to get at their life insurance policies.
When I am ill or incapacitated my focus changes. I then start to become very aware of the good people. Among Thais are some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Some Thai friends and old students visited me in hospital bearing gifts and the hospital staff were great.
Also, a Western friend was concerned and called me many times. There are still lots of good people in the world.
I've mentioned before about how it is impossible to generalise about Thais because they range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some are immensely kind and some are downright evil. Probably the biggest problem for most foreigners is not being able to distinguish the good from the bad. It's difficult at first, but it gets easier the longer you are in the country.
Apart from the people who are just evil, there are also quite a lot of nasty Thais. My wife drove to Tesco Lotus today and as we were going back to the car we had to cross a road in the large car park.
Both my hands were bandaged and I was holding my daughter's hand. She's three years old. The road was clear at first, but then a large oversized pickup truck appeared driving quite fast straight at us. As usual the windows had a heavy tint, but I just stared at the windscreen wanting him to slow down.
He had no intention of slowing down and just swerved at the last second to avoid us. This is by no means the first time this type of thing has happened to me in Thailand. I simply can't understand how this type of person thinks. Am I supposed to jump out of the way because I am an insignificant little pedestrian and he is a big man in a big pickup truck? The British have a word for people like this. It starts with a W.
This kind of behaviour is the reason why the Thai Embassy in Japan has felt the need to publish a guide for Thai tourists in Japan telling them to stop at pedestrian crossings and not to sound their horn at pedestrians when they are trying to cross the road.
On the subject of how some Thais think.
On the Thai news this week was a report of a nine year old girl driving herself to school in a Suzuki Swift. I have seen lots of seven and eight year-old kids riding around on motorbikes in Thailand (some even younger), but never driving cars.
Some video footage on Youtube showed that she has to grab the steering wheel and pull herself up so that she can see over it. Apparently, this arrangement was more convenient for her father because he didn't have to take her to school himself.
There are so many aspects of Thai behaviour that simply defy belief. For as long as I live in Thailand I will never understand how some Thais think.
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