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  • Living in Thailand Blog February 2011

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Monday 28th February 2011

The Thai fish spa craze - Click for larger image Thais are crazy about crazes. No matter if it's 'magical' amulets, coloured polo shirts, electric tennis rackets for killing mosquitoes, coffee shops or Japanese food, one person starts the craze and everyone else follows.

Another craze that took off a few years ago was fish spas. The first one was a novelty and then they started opening everywhere. I tried it on one occasion to see what all the fuss was about. It felt very strange and I had doubts about whether there was any real health benefit.

There are now concerns that this particular craze could help spread infections:

Fish pedicure safety in question


The age of consent is 15 in Thailand but prostitutes need to be over 18:

Norwegian man arrested for allegedly buying sex from 17-year-old girl


Welcome to the Wild Wild East where guns are aplenty, the inhabitants are jealous and vengeful, and life is cheap:

Coffee boss shot dead in Rama III park

This type of killing isn't that unusual in "the land where people smile from their hearts" (the description I read in a Thai Airways inflight magazine recently).

When in Thailand keep yourself to yourself, try not to upset anyone, and don't display your wealth.


This is impressive:

In pictures: London 2012 Olympic velodrome

By contrast, the preparation for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year was anything but impressive when widespread corruption turned the whole thing into a farce:

Scary and chaotic, but India's Commonwealth Games will go ahead

Similarly, after Bangkok's new airport opened a few years ago everything started to fall apart because money had 'gone missing' requiring short cuts in the construction had to be taken. This is quite typical with any large project in Thailand involving a lot of money:

Bangkok airport problems expose corruption

After living in Southeast Asia for over seven years, I can't help but feel that the current love affair with 'emerging markets' in the Third World will be short lived.

There are many reasons why developed countries got into such a mess. They got complacent; they decided that the services sector - and especially the financial services sector - was more important than growing or manufacturing anything; political correctness went crazy; social welfare payments got out of hand; too much was given away to immigrants and refugees; too much money was borrowed to pay for all the waste, etc., etc.

But the bottom line is that when the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Singapore, Japan, the UK, and other developed countries set out to do something, they do it right.

So many things in the developing world are done in a half-arsed fashion and so much money is stolen through corruption that very little ever gets done properly.

While the developed countries are getting back on their feet investors need somewhere to put their money and manufacturing has moved East in recent years. However, once the United States and European countries have got themselves sorted again there won't be any competition.

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.

The turnaround will come.

US billionaire Warren Buffett upbeat over US future

Geneva car show aims for (European) recovery

Japan's industrial output up for third month in January

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Friday 25th February 2011

Now that I have some free time I've started the process of updating my 'Learning to Read Thai' tutorials. The scope of these tutorials only covers basic signs, menus, bus destinations, etc., Not newspapers, magazines or novels. I need to make this very clear.

Reading simple signs is a completely different animal compared to reading passages of Thai text. The former is very easy, whereas the latter (for various reasons) is very difficult. My Thai is limited so I can only cover the easy stuff.

It comes in extremely useful and there is probably no better skill to have in Thailand unless you never plan on going outside the tourist resorts. I use small restaurants all the time where nothing is in English and once you get a little off the beaten track in Thailand you enter a world where everything is in Thai.

The ability to at least be able to read a road sign could mean the difference between getting to where you want to go or getting lost. Being able to read is also a great aid to pronunciation if learning to speak Thai and you will be able to dispense with the dreaded transliteration of Thai into English.

There are various transliteration systems, all of which are as bad as each other, and not only do they NOT help you, but they actually hinder you by writing Thai words in a way that are completely wrong phonetically.

Thai isn't Chinese or Japanese. There are just consonants and vowels like there are in English. The characters and letter order are different but everything can be learned easily and quickly. If you look at the link above you will see a summary of all the characters. A lot of these you will never see, and some you will only see very occasionally.

You only need to remember a fairly small subset of the Thai characters, along with a few basic rules, and off you go. Within no time at all you will be reading signs as easily as if they were written in English.

I have quite a few photos I need to add and my plan is to expand upon and improve some of the explanations. I'm also planning to add a separate menu section. Feedback is always very useful and constructive criticism, suggestions and the correction of errors are always welcome.

I've never met an illiterate Thai. If I can do it and every Thai in the country can do it, it can't be that difficult.


Drunk farang - Click for larger image Thailand has a strange effect on many male visitors. I remember the feeling myself when I used to arrive as a tourist but after living here for a while it wears off.

Coming from strictly controlled societies in the West, you arrive in Thailand unknown to everyone and there is a wonderful sense of being able to do whatever you want to do without anyone interfering.

This (plus all the girls) is why so many foreign males become addicted to the Land of Smiles.

Of course, nothing is ever what it seems in Thailand and when you eventually start to see the country for what it is, it looks slightly less attractive.

The bar girls and the relaxed atmosphere have made certain tourist resorts in Thailand popular with groups of males on stag holidays. I saw quite a few on my last visit to Patong. There was lots of drunkenness and while walking around early in the morning I saw groups of farang males proudly showing off the fact they had been drinking all night and hadn't gone to bed.

There were also farang males lying completely unconscious in a drunken stupor on the beach. While people were forced to walk around their prone bodies spreadeagled on the sand they had no idea what was going on. I actually found it quite embarrassing.

There are also dangers. Alcohol removes inhibitions and causes us to do stupid things. I am no exception. In my youth an incident involving lots of alcohol, a paper football and a slippery railway platform might have resulted in me not being here had the next train been a few minutes earlier.

Whenever the sea is nearby, swimming always seems a good idea after a belly full of beer but it's actually quite dangerous. On one dive in Thailand I experienced a very strong current and there is no way you can swim against it.

The full moon parties are well known for drugs and - if anything - these screw up the brain even more than alcohol. There are quite a few stories of people going home in wooden boxes after full moon parties.

Thailand isn't one of the most dangerous destinations for tourists but there are lots of risks and dangers to watch out for. Be careful.

Kent man found dead at stag party in Thailand

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Thursday 24th February 2011

For those foreigners needing to work in Thailand (legally) there isn't a huge amount of choice. Quite a few occupations are blocked to foreigners and therefore work permits won't be issued. The language is an enormous barrier with many forms of work and if you are competing with Thais they work a lot cheaper.

Without having access to any statistics I would imagine that most foreigners working in Thailand are teaching English. It's one of those occupations that people can always shine a positive light on but the truth is that most English teachers only do it for the money and/or the visa and work permit. If they didn't need to teach for these reasons, I don't believe many would be doing it purely for the love of the job.

Teaching is tiring, it often feels as if you are banging your head against a brick wall, and it takes up a lot of time. Even if you only have a small amount of classroom time there is the lesson planning and marking, and if you have a bad schedule (such as the one I have had this year) there is an enormous amount of wasted time between lessons in which you just hang around waiting for the next class without having enough time to do anything productive.

Unless something quite dramatic happens in the next couple of months I will be getting out very soon. The job has had its good moments and I've met some good people but it's also been frustrating and you can never please all the people all the time. You work inside a flawed education system which no one is prepared to challenge and change, but instead people just find it easier to blame the teacher.

It's like being a football manager. If the players don't perform on the pitch it is never their fault or the team owner's fault. Just sack the manager. Teaching in Thailand is similar. Students, teachers, parents and language school owners all want very different (incompatible) things and the poor teacher is expected to make everyone happy. And all this for a salary that would be laughed at in many other countries.

Anyway, this is the final studying week of the Thai school year before the end of year exams and today is the last in my main job. I have a few other commitments for the company who I work for and then freedom. It will not be before time.

I can think of worse jobs. There is very little pressure, the pay is a lot higher compared to what Thai teachers earn, there are plenty of holidays, the (paid) school summer holiday is lengthy (even though it falls at the hottest time of the year), and it isn't necessary to commute.

When I compare teaching in Thailand to my old UK job I know what I would rather be doing. I used to be under immense pressure and - depending where I was working - I either had to do a lot of commuting or stay in hotels in grotty parts of the UK during the working week.

I'm fortunate with the way that everything has turned out in that I can choose to stop teaching at a fairly young age. The guy I worked with last year is in his 60's and doesn't have a penny saved. Unless he gets a very lucky break somewhere he will need to work until they put him in the ground.

It isn't an unusual sight in Thailand to see old farangs walking along in their white shirts, black trousers and shoes, toting a case full of teaching material. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what they are doing. They never look that cheerful and many seem to live quite solitary lives. I don't envy them.

Thailand is normally associated as a retirement spot for old farangs but there are also a surprising number of young foreigners living here permanently. They maybe come for a short stay but then get addicted to the lifestyle and/or meet and marry a Thai girl (most foreigners living in Thailand are male). Normally they end up teaching to support themselves.

Teaching allows them to live a reasonable lifestyle but there are no pension plans in Thailand and most seem to live to their means. Even if they manage to save Bt15,000 a month that still wouldn't allow for a very early retirement and I don't get the impression that too many save.

In your 20's the last thing you think about is retiring and having a pension but as you get older it becomes more important. The prospect of always having to work isn't very attractive. For most of us there will come a time when we've had enough and simply want to spend the rest of our days doing something other than working.

There is never a 'right' age to move to Thailand but before you do so I would suggest accumulating enough, or acquiring assets and investments, to live on later in life. It's just common sense really but for some reason many farangs get intoxicated with the perceived hedonism they experience in Thailand initially and leave their common sense at home.

The reaction I get from some people when I talk about giving up teaching surprises me. They seem to be under the impression that I will get bored and not know what to do with myself.

I guess that might be the case for some people but I have lots of things that I want to try my hand at and therefore boredom will certainly not be a problem.

Another profession popular among farangs wanting to live and work in Thailand is the scuba diving industry. As a hobby it is something that people pay quite a lot of money to do, so being an instructor or dive leader and actually getting paid to dive is an attractive proposition.

I'm not sure how the current problems with coral reefs in this region have affected the industry. There was recent talk about the Similan Islands being closed to divers because of coral bleaching.

According to the following report: "Regionally, Southeast Asia is the worst affected region, with 95% of reefs on the threatened list."

Coral reefs heading for fishing and climate crisis

If I was involved in the dive industry in Thailand I might be getting a little concerned at the moment.

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Wednesday 23rd February 2011

A difficult and emotive subject today, but one you can't escape if living in the Third World.

The woman across the street who asked to borrow money and then didn't repay it (simply looking me straight in the eye and telling me she had no money) appears to be a professional beggar. After we first moved in she knocked on the door and told me a pack of lies but I swallowed her story hook, line and sinker and I felt extreme sympathy for her.

We've seen her walking around busy areas carrying her small child and asking for money. She tells people that she doesn't have any money to buy her child milk and also that she is pregnant. It's all lies. She isn't pregnant and her husband and family provide for her. She has no need to do this and apparently goes off and does it without her family knowing.

I pity her. I am a firm believer in, 'What comes around, goes around,' or as the Thais say, "Tum dee, dai dee; tum chua, dai chua." She is storing up lots of problems for herself.

Occasionally there are news reports here about professional begging gangs operating mainly in Bangkok. Kids are forced out on to the streets to beg and if they are in an area with lots of sympathetic tourists, Thais can earn a lot more this way than through honest work.

After the tsunami an American friend e-mailed me telling me he wanted to donate money but was afraid it wouldn't get through to the people who needed the help. Shortly afterwards, stories started to emerge about dishonest Thais who had pocketed donated money.

The Thais who live locally to me circumvented the middleman in order to avoid such problems. People loaded up their cars and trucks and delivered money and essential items directly to the victims.

There has been some fuss in the UK recently about continued aid for India. It has been pointed out that India has more billionaires than the UK and that the country even has a space programme.

Corruption, scams, and the fact that rich people in Third World countries don't help their own are all reasons for other countries not to help. If you get scammed - like I did - or find out that your money has been stolen, or realise that there are enormously wealthy Thais and Indians, it's a good reason to stop helping those countries.

Or is it?

I have no experience of India as I've never been. However, I've been living in Thailand for several years and there is a gigantic wealth gap. The people with money live very comfortably and, if anything, they continue to get richer.

On the other hand there are people here who are desperate. They really are.

Little girl and father - Click for larger image Sometimes I use a pedestrian bridge nearby to where I work and more often that not there is a young girl sitting there with her father holding a plastic cup in her hands.

Both have some kind of inherited disease probably caused by a genetic disorder. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. I believe they are both blind; they have a severe skin problem and facial deformities.

Once upon a time I would have given money to anyone begging in Thailand. After a few problems, I am now more selective but this little girl always gets something.

On the last couple of occasions I've passed by I have tried speaking with her. I don't think many people do. She's very shy and speaks very softly making it difficult to understand what she says.

Yesterday I asked if she and her father go to the hospital often. She told me they have never been. I asked whether they have anyone to help them. She told me no.

With their skin as it is, I would expect the last place they want to be in southern Thailand is outside. Even at the coolest time of year it is hot, and as we approach the peak of the April hot season it is getting unbearably hot. But they need money to survive and the only way is to sit outside begging with just an umbrella to protect them from the sun.

They obviously need the basics of life: food, somewhere to sleep, and I also imagine they need medication to soothe their skin.

As I've pointed out many times before, there is no shortage of money in Thailand but most of it belongs to a minority of rich Thais. There are plenty of mansion-like homes around where I live and lots of very expensive European cars. Thais pay a lot more for German luxury cars than Europeans because of high luxury taxes but there are still plenty around.

I know that welfare systems are open to abuse from people who take advantage but there are always people in society who really need help. In countries where there is no welfare system there is no abuse, but the people who genuinely need help don't get any.

The little girl is a real sweetheart. She speaks very softly and politely like all well brought up Thai kids. She doesn't go to school and I would imagine that her whole life will be spent the same way - sitting on the street with a begging cup.

I had some big doubts about taking a photo and I had even bigger doubts about publishing it. I asked her permission first. She wanted to know why, and what I was going to do with it. I tried to tell her that I wanted people to know about her plight. Pictures are sometimes so much better than words.

With all the arguments about richer countries helping poorer countries I don't have any doubts that richer countries should continue to do so. Any doubts I have only concern corruption and ensuring that the money gets through to those people who really need it. Also, the poor countries themselves need to keep working to reduce the vast inequalities that exist in their own societies.

As individuals - unless we are Bill Gates or Warren Buffett - we can't make much of a difference but sometimes we can help individual cases in a very small way. It's a personal choice, of course. No one is obliged to give other people their money but I will always have enough or more than enough money for my own needs and to simply ignore other people who aren't so fortunate is something that I personally couldn't live with.


Very mysterious:

Thai police probe death of Lincolnshire couple

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Saturday 19th February 2011

This won't help the teenage girls who have already suffered severe eye problems, but it's a step in the right direction.

Nationwide raid on sellers of 'Big Eye' lenses ordered

Of course, even though raids have already taken place, selling these lenses will continue. If there's money to be made, nothing ever stops in Thailand simply because it is illegal. Law means nothing and money means everything. With many Thais money is the only thing of any importance in life. It's an obsession. They really don't care if their greed causes other people to lose their eyesight.

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Friday 18th February 2011

Chinese mosquito killer - Click for larger image After the mosquito man came to spray last week I was hoping that there would be a few less mosquitos flying around - even if only temporarily. Sadly, that wasn't the case. There are just as many.

I think that unless the local municipality sprays every day, or at least every week, (which they won't) it is a waste of time. Spraying twice a year is pointless.

As a Thai neighbour told me last week, in Thailand you have to take care of yourself because no one else will.

The one room in our house without mosquito screens swarms with mosquitos every night. They wait by the entrance to our living area and whenever someone opens the door they fly in the house. Just one in the bedroom can make life miserable. I woke up the other morning with bites all over my arm.

I've been spraying the mosquito room every morning but it gets expensive. With so many mosquitos, an 80 Baht can of mosquito spray doesn't last very long at all. I was looking for a professional grade 'Insectocutor' but I couldn't find any for sale. I ended up buying a device in Carrefour that does the same thing.

It looks like a kids' toy so I wasn't sure how effective it would be but it does a great job. An ultra-violet light attracts mosquitos which then get sucked on to the electric grid by a small fan. Each morning the grid is full of dead mosquitos (the only kind of good mosquito) and there aren't too many left flying around.

I am inclined to believe the manufacturer's claims:

"By adopting the advanced mosquito trapping technology, the automatic mosquito lamp can trapped into the machine and killed by the high-voltage power grid."

Mosquito zapper - Click for larger image The electrified tennis racket things for killing mosquitoes don't work all that well. First, you have to track down the mossies and swat them. Secondly, they are battery powered and the voltage isn't always enough to finish off mosquitos completely. Many are just stunned and recover later.

With my new machine I simply turn it on in the evening and turn it off in the morning. Apart from having to brush dead mosquitos off the electric grid, I don't have to do anything.

It was made in China so an added bonus is having instructions written in Chinglish. I love Chinglish. Thaiglish, which we have in Thailand, is poor by comparison. It's normally just a lot of English words pulled from a dictionary that are thrown together without any sentence structure or meaning.

Chinglish actually contains wonderful meaning and it is a joy to read. I think it also gives some insight into how the Chinese people writing this stuff view other countries. For example:

"After supper, it is a good time to kill mosquito when your family goes out for a walk."

Does the Chinese author believe that all people from the West live idyllic lifestyles in which families always get together for their evening meal and then go for a peaceful stroll afterwards?

I like the way that advice is given:

"If there are a few mosquito left when sleeping, you'd better continue to make this machine work after turning off your lamps."

I've had to warn the wife that from now on she isn't allowed to do certain things, otherwise there could be an angry Chinese man knocking on the door:

"For rooms without mosquito, you are not allowed to open the doors and windows to avoid that the mosquitoes will come back (except that the doors and windows are equipped with the net)."

Best of all, if I start to feel a little amorous with Bpom, our mosquito killing device can help:

"The light produced by this product is soft, and the noise is weak. It does not affect your sleeping, providing you with romance and warmth."

And all this for just Bt399. You have to love China.

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Thursday 17th February 2011

The Thai teenager big eye craze - Click for larger image Some time ago I talked about the ridiculous 'Big Eye' craze in Thailand where young girls wear cheap cosmetic contact lenses which they think make them look more attractive. They don't. It's obvious that they are wearing contact lenses and they just look stupid.

The most disturbing aspect of this craze is how it is treated so casually with no warnings about possible risks and nothing about the importance of thorough cleaning. Teenage girls stick contact lenses into their eyes the same way they would insert a clip into their hair and some sleep while wearing them.

When I first saw signs of this craze I knew it would cause big problems and last night there was a Thai doctor talking about the dangers on TV. Some Thai teenagers have already lost their sight because of this dumb fashion.

I started wearing soft contact lenses many years ago and shortly after coming to Thailand I contracted a fungal infection in one eye through a contact lens. I was always careful about cleaning my lenses and I don't know how it happened but it did.

The constant year-round heat and humidity in Thailand is a perfect breeding environment for bacteria, viruses and fungi.

The infection took a long time to get rid of. The doctor told me I could have lost my eye, and now I have irregular astigmatism in that eye. I've gone back to wearing glasses for myopia and I wear a hard contact lens in the bad eye to correct the astigmatism. It's a pain.

I only ever wore contact lenses to correct my vision. I knew there were risks but blurred vision all the time wasn't much fun. For anyone who doesn't need contact lenses to correct their vision, it is lunacy to wear them simply for fashion.

However, teenagers will be teenagers.


Student getting fed up with treading in dog shit - Click for larger image There is a lot of very antisocial behaviour in Thailand. I complain about it all the time because I am a foreigner. Thais don't, the main reason being that they are afraid of repercussions. Thais are very vengeful and causing a loss of face can result in violence.

However, this doesn't mean that Thais like what goes on. Not at all. Whenever I speak to Thais about things I don't like, I hear that they don't like those same things either. They don't say anything but they do have ways of letting others know what they think.

This poster just outside my school was written by a student. The student is obviously fed up with owners letting their dogs crap all over the place and the sign makes this very clear. I like the way she has drawn flies buzzing around the fresh dog turd!

It's written very politely. The everyday term for 'dog shit' is quite coarse but the student has used the polite vocabulary for both 'dog' and 'shit'.

Language is very powerful in Thailand. There are many personal pronouns and simply using the wrong personal pronoun for 'you' could result in a big fight. The student has referred to herself as 'mouse' in the poster, which is the common personal pronoun 'I' for young Thai kids.

Normally, when learning a language, you learn all the bad words first. I know hardly any bad Thai words - even though they exist - because my friends won't teach me.

Thai culture is non-confrontational. In the event of a possible confrontation, Thais will speak very politely to avoid confrontation, rather than speaking badly and provoking a fight.

As I've said before, the only problem with suppressing so much anger to avoid confrontation is that there is no way to let off steam in a controlled manner. It all gets stored up and when the pressure gets too much and the red mist descends, that's when things can get really ugly in Thailand.

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Wednesday 16th February 2011

Fat pet pig - Click for larger image On the way to work this morning, the motorcycle taxi driver had to drop off some food at his house. His home was where I had previously encountered a huge pet pig.

I asked about the pig and he told me it was dead - drowned during last November's big flood. The water came very fast, the pig couldn't swim, and it had nowhere to go. What a shame.

One of my students lost her pet dog in the flood; goods and property were damaged costing millions (maybe billions) of Baht; and some businesses still haven't recovered.

TOPS supermarket sells (or used to sell) the best food in town. The bread is (was) great and they stock(ed) a lot of foodstuffs from other countries that other places don't have.

We had three branches, but they were all located in the basements of department stores. Of course, being in a basement is about the worst place to be during a big flood. All three were wiped out and none have reopened yet.

While at Central department store last week I enquired as to when their branch of TOPS would be reopening and was told it would be another five months.

The flood was a major inconvenience and it made life very difficult but the worst thing for me - and probably many other people - is not simply having experienced a big flood first-hand, but knowing that exactly the same thing could happen during the next rainy season. It's a very uncomfortable feeling.

I will be staying in this rented house for one, or maybe two, more rainy seasons and then the plan is to buy a house that is located somewhere that doesn't flood. I am keeping my fingers crossed that there won't be more major flooding during the next couple of years. It will depend on global La Niña conditions.

No flooding here - Click for larger image Locations that do not flood have become a major selling point of new houses, with 'naam mai tuam' signs plastered across the advertising hoardings. This has also driven up prices quite significantly. Houses that don't flood are being sold at a big premium.

Buying a house that isn't prone to flooding is beyond the reach of many ordinary Thais. I was speaking to my brother-in-law and his wife recently. They are looking for a house but their budget will only stretch to a house that is located in a flood-prone area.

They - like many other Thais - will live with the knowledge that enduring severe flooding occasionally is simply a fact of life.

Thailand is a tropical country and when the monsoons come, so does an enormous amount of rain. It's difficult to deal with at times but I'm sure that more could be done. The money is there. There may be a lot of poor people in Thailand, but Thailand isn't a poor country.

You don't need to be a scientist to know that extreme rainfall events are becoming more common:

Climate change raises flood risk, researchers say


A Thai urban cowboy - Click for larger image There is a definite cowboy theme running in Thailand.

Many bars emulate the style of western saloons and it isn't that unusual to see Thais walking around provincial Thailand dressed up in full cowboy gear with replica (or maybe real?) guns.

Why is this?

I think it's more than simply fashion. It seems to be an expression of the lifestyle they want to lead. Thais are notoriously stubborn and don't like to be told what to do. This is why so many scoff at laws. Thailand - the Land of the Free.

The cowboy lifestyle evokes a sense of ruggedness and complete freedom. The early North American pioneers and frontiersmen lived a life of freedom that was unhampered by government and laws.

I don't think it's a coincidence that there are so many pickup trucks in both Thailand and areas of the USA outside major cities. Certainly in Thailand, the pickup truck seems to be the vehicle of choice for rebellious non-conformists who don't like being told what to do.

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Tuesday 15th February 2011

Malaysia tiger mauling stopped by wife with soup ladle

This mauling by a forest tiger happened not a million miles from my home in southern Thailand. The northern Malay states aren't very far away at all.

A few years ago I was taken to 'look at a waterfall' but it ended up being a five hour trek up a mountain in the Rattapoom district of Songkhla. Our guides told us that if you continue walking into the jungle for about a day there are wild tigers and elephants.

A farang friend knows an old Thai man in a nearby village who he met while out cycling. The village is only a few miles from Hat Yai, which is now the biggest and busiest city in southern Thailand. The Thai man told him that 50 years ago there were lots of wild tigers in this area.

The areas just a little way from Hat Yai city centre that are now very busy were just forest 20 years ago. It's incredible how quickly so much development has taken place.

The problem in Thailand is that too much development takes place in too few places. Hat Yai now is over-developed, yet you only have to drive 10 minutes in any direction and there is very little. Lots of people have moved into the city to find work because there is none in the outlying districts and neighbouring provinces.

On a much bigger scale, this is what has been going on in Bangkok for years. There are vast rural areas with nothing but rice fields, but certain cities in Thailand are now choking with pollution, overcrowding and traffic jams.

Now that I can afford to, I am desperate to get out. I need to stay in this house for a while to recoup the money I have put in to make it liveable but after that I want to find somewhere a lot quieter.

I don't know why Thailand does this. It would make a lot of sense to invest heavily in impoverished rural areas. This would reduce the wealth gap, it would allow Thais to find work near their families instead of having to move to the other end of the country, and it would give Bangkok and other busy cities some relief.

The positive part of this story is that there are still wild tigers in the forests of Malaysia. I think that's great news.


The mosquito man cometh - Click for larger image There was a most welcome sound just before 6am yesterday.

It was the sound of the mosquito exterminator doing his early morning rounds. There are swarms of mosquitos at the moment and everyone is complaining.

Our house is sealed off with mosquito screens apart from the front room downstairs that we use as a garage. Every morning I go into that room to spray and there are normally about 40-50 mosquitos flying around.

I've heard nearby areas being sprayed but this was the first time our Soi has been given the treatment since we've been here. In Singapore this is a daily activity but here we might be lucky if we see the mosquito man twice a year.

The local municipality has to decide where to direct funds and you can see that money is being spent on fairy lights, fancy street lights and decorations for Chinese New Year, but obviously pest control comes a lot further down the list. Such is the Thai value system.


Shack at the back of our house - Click for larger image There is a breeze block and corrugated iron construction behind our house and the guy who lives there has extended his shack so that it actually touches the back of our house. There is no guttering and so when it rains the water just runs off against our wall. I'm sure this will cause structural problems in the future but we only rent this place and we will be gone in a couple of years so I don't really care.

I'm sure that Thailand has building laws and that planning permission should be sought before building anything but of course this is Thailand. There are laws for everything but Thais ignore them and do whatever the hell they want to do.

The shack, being located right against the back of the house, also makes maintenance difficult. My parents will be visiting next month and I wanted to get an air conditioner installed in the back bedroom. You'd think this would be easy but even the simplest of tasks in Thailand can turn into a major ordeal.

I went to a large electronics and appliances store and the first problem was a complete lack of impartial advice. Different sales staff are affiliated to different brands and they all try to sell you their brand. If you try to ask any questions, their brand is always best of course.

I made a point of telling each sales assistant about the potential difficulty of the installation but they scoffed at me, replying that their installation staff wouldn't have any problem at all.

I eventually made a decision, paid, and arranged a time for the installers to come. When they arrived they took a quick look and told me that installation wasn't possible.

Point 1. Thai sales staff are only ever interested in making a sale and getting their commission. They will lie through their teeth, conceal information, and swear that black is white rather than actually try to help you.

The installers took the A/C unit back to the shop and I then had to mess around getting my money refunded while trying to locate a portable unit that didn't require an external compressor.

The other thing I need for the bedroom is something for guests to sleep on. I looked at sofa beds but the design is different to back in the UK and elsewhere, and all the ones I looked at weren't at all comfortable. I decided in the end just to get some inflatable mattresses. They would be cheaper and more comfortable.

There are a couple of places in town that sell the type of things you see on American style 'info-mercials'. They had inflatable devices that could be made into sofas or beds but these things were expensive (Bt 6,000) and were more than we needed.

I went to a department store and saw some inflatable mattresses intended for camping. They looked OK but the price was Bt1,700 which I thought was far too expensive. I asked if they had any other types and they said no. I looked around for a while and saw that there were other types.

Point 2. Thai sales staff will often tell you things that are completely wrong.

The Bt499 mattress - Click for larger image The other type they had cost Bt1,090 - quite a bit cheaper. When I asked why, they told me that the first one was bigger. When I looked at the boxes, the dimensions were EXACTLY the same. Yet more complete rubbish from the sales assistants.

I wanted two but they only had one. They had smaller ones for Bt890 but I decided to look elsewhere because I thought I had already seen them cheaper at another place. The sales assistant told me that he couldn't possibly give me a discount.

I was right. In another department store (Big C) I saw the smaller ones. These were exactly the same brand and exactly the same size but they were only Bt499. I went to another department store (Carrefour) and saw exactly the same product for Bt299. Remember, the first store was asking Bt890 for exactly the same thing.

Point 3. It pays to shop around in Thailand. Prices differences can be huge and even in places that are selling goods for almost three times the price as elsewhere they won't even give you a Bt1 discount.

And exactly the same product for Bt299 - Click for larger image Last week I saw the small ones in Carrefour and asked if they had larger ones. They didn't but said they would have some more this week. When I went back today they said they wouldn't be getting any more.

I also enquired about an electric mosquito killer that was out of stock last week. They told me they would have more stock this Friday just gone, but today the shelves were still empty.

Point 4. When Thais don't know something they will often tell you what you want to hear even if there is no truth in what they tell you.

I now have two air mattresses. They cost me Bt598 whereas if I had bought them in the first store I went to I would have spent Bt1,580. I had to go back to the first place to buy a pump because neither Carrefour or Big C had any pumps.

I asked the sales assistant why the exact same product they were selling was one-third the price elsewhere. As I have found many times in the past, I never get an answer to 'why' questions in Thailand. I just got the famous Thai shoulder shrug, a blank expression, and no answer.

I made two visits to each place today. They aren't close to one another, I used a lot of petrol, and it took me a good part of the day to make what should have been a simple purchase.

This is what frustrates me about living in Thailand at times. I wouldn't mind if the difficult things proved troublesome, but even the simplest tasks often turn into marathon ordeals. This isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened.

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Blog entries 1st to 14th February 2011

 

 

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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.

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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.

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