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  • Living in Thailand Blog February 2012


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Living In Thailand Blog

Wednesday 29th February 2012

Another motorbike, another pickup truck, and another three people dead - including a pregnant woman. In addition there are a lot more road accident fatalities every day that don't get reported, or only get reported in the Thai press.

Why is nothing ever done about the daily carnage on Thailand's roads?

Pregnant mother, family killed in Phuket road accident

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Tuesday 28th February 2012

The Bank of Thailand Governor believes that the Eurozone will eventually break up.

Euro zone will break up, Prasarn predicts

He may be right. What confuses me a little, bearing in mind all the problems in Europe, is the current Thai enthusiasm for ASEAN. There are quite a few people in the region who believe that a common currency within ASEAN would be a good idea.

I sense the same naive enthusiasm for ASEAN as many Europeans had for the Eurozone and Euro. There are benefits, admittedly, but unless it is thought through very carefully there can be big problems as well.

Dr Dilaka Lathapipat from the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) believes that the education system in Thailand is out of date.

O-Net test 'stuck in 20th century', academic says

Here is another question that was given to high school students recently.

What is the defining characteristic of transvestite behaviour?

  1. Sexual gratification from collecting the underwear of the opposite sex.
  2. Sexual gratification from wearing clothing of the opposite sex.
  3. Sexual gratification from peeping into bathrooms and toilets being used by others.
  4. Sexual gratification from relationships with people of the same sex.
  5. Sexual gratification from showing off one's sexual organ.

The first thing that might strike you as strange is the subject and suitability of the question. I can only think of one country in the world where this type of question would be considered normal. With so many ladyboys in Thailand, no one raises an eyebrow about the subject.

What I found interesting was the comment about what this question was designed to test. "This question tests students' memorisation of the content of a textbook.

This comment just about sums up the entire Thai education system. Students cover quite a lot of subject matter but actually learn very little. The entire system is based on short term memory skills. Students memorise topics, pass a test, and then forget everything they've learnt.

This is why most Thai students learn English for 12 years or more, get great grades, but can't speak English. It makes teaching in Thailand very frustrating. Students can normally follow what they are taught quite well and pass a test. However, if you ask them about something they were taught last week they can't remember.

The Thai education system started in temples and the main skills taught were reading and writing. You can't read or write Thai without remembering rules and sounds. Rote learning is actually a very effective system for learning to read and write Thai.

For other subjects it isn't an effective system but rote learning continues to be used as the main teaching method. There are many other problems, but this particular one goes back further than the 20th century.

This is good news. Once the system has been proven, it then needs to be rolled out to include pickup trucks and Toyota Fortuners.

Thai Transport Dept to adopt new method to control speeding passenger vans

The following story suggests that if the motorcyclist was wearing a proper crash helmet, it might have saved his life. It seems he was wearing one of the Bt250 helmets that you can buy from any supermarket.

It is mandatory for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets in Thailand but many don't bother. Some drive around with their helmet in the motorcycle basket - just in case there are police around.

Apparently, any form of headwear - not necessarily a proper crash helmet - is acceptable. I've seen motorcyclists wearing fireman's helmets and construction worker hard hats. They're lighter and more comfortable than a crash helmet but completely useless in a crash.

I've heard people joke about this, but I'm sure that if you were to wear half a coconut shell on your head while riding a motorbike you probably wouldn't be stopped.

Phuket hotel barman dies in motorbike crash

Thai motorcyclists seem to think that when the vehicle in front indicates to turn right, this is a signal that it is safe to overtake. My farang friend has a big gouge in the side of his car where a motorbike was trying to overtake while he was turning right.

It has happened to me several times, the most recent case being today. I missed hitting the stupid kid on a bike by about six inches.

When this has happened in the past and I've shown my displeasure, they just laugh as if it's the funniest thing in the world.

Almost 40 people die on Thailand's roads each and every day. A high proportion of the fatalies are motorcyclists. It's a terrible thing to say, but when you see how they behave on the roads quite a few of them deserve what they get.

Running red lights is so common in Thailand that if you actually decide to stop at a red light there's a good chance that the idiot behind will run into the back of you.

This hasn't happened to me ... yet ... but in the past, after stopping for a red light, the driver behind has actually overtaken me so that he could run the light. It sounds almost unbelievable, but many things you see on Thai roads are unbelievable. Unbelievably stupid.

Red light confusion ends in Phuket pickup sideswipe

With so many Swedish tourists being killed in Phuket, the Swedes are taking drastic action.

Swedish Gripen jet fighters in tests over Phuket

More shootings in the "Wild East":

Separate shootings leave two dead in Phuket

You need to remember that Thailand has the third highest murder rate by firearm in the world, after South Africa and Columbia.

Crime Statistics > Murders with firearms (most recent) by country

Welcome to the Land of Smiles.

The Australian who was killed on a motorbike in Phuket a few days ago was a model:

Phuket road victim identified as Aussie model

The accident involved a motorbike with a sidecar. There are tens of thousands of motorbikes in Thailand with crudely made sidecars attached. I've been told that these sidecars are illegal. I've also heard that it is illegal for passengers to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. Lots of other things you see on Thai roads are also illegal but no one worries about anything as trivial as traffic laws.

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Sunday 26th February 2012

Is Dannok the new Pattaya? - Click for larger image Is Dannok on the Thailand/Malaysia border the new Pattaya?

I started off going to Dannok years ago when I needed border stamps. It's in the Sadao district of Songkhla and there didn't used to be anything there apart from a few small market stalls, a duty-free place, and an immigration office.

There was always a small sex industry catering to Malaysians who experienced sexual urges, but who couldn't play football. This consisted of a few Karaoke places. Karaoke is one of the euphemisms used in Thailand for brothel.

A few years ago, efforts were taken in Hat Yai to clean the town up a little and make it more wholseome for families. Some of the commercial sex establishments became less conspicuous, while others moved to Dannok.

Dannok suddenly started to grow like crazy. I went in June 2008 just to take a look to see what was happening and I was quite astounded. There were new hotels springing up and other development everywhere.

It's really not my kind of place and I didn't go back. I had a free day yesterday without any plans and decided on the spur of the moment to drive to the border.

Once again I was quite astounded to see how much further development there had been since my last visit. When Oliver hotel was built it seemed quite a long way from the centre. Now, however, this hotel appears to be right in the centre because so many other places have been built further out.

There is absolutely nothing of any interest in Dannok. Quite a lot of para-rubber is grown in the Sadao area and Dannok is simply where a border crossing exists. Unlike Pattaya there is no sea or beach. There is no attractive natural scenery and nothing man-made that is worth visiting.

The whole place is built around the sex industry. You see lots of Thai girls walking around in very tight tops, very short shorts, and very high shoes. They are all from the north or northeast of Thailand and it is very obvious what they are doing in Dannok.

The tourists there are virtually all Malaysian - mostly Chinese, but also some Indians, and almost entirely male. There is lots of Malaysian food, signs are in Chinese, and the people there give you prices in Ringgits.

Being an unaccompanied foreign male, I was of course offered a girl. I asked how much and was told, "Three hundred." That's cheap, I thought. "Baht?" I asked. Of course not - Ringgits. A straight factor of 10 is used for the exchange rate so RM300 is actually Bt3,000, which is expensive by Thai standards.

There seem to be a lot of girls from Chiang Rai there. The only employment opportunity for many poor girls in the rural north is working in the rice fields. It is one of the most honourable professions there is, but the pay may only be Bt100 a day for backbreaking work.

In Dannok the girls can earn in a night what they would earn in a month back home, and they just need to lie on their backs. They can wake up at midday, shop, eat, and then put on their working clothes and makeup for the evening. It's easy compared to their lives back home and it pays far more.

It is no wonder that so many poor Thai girls go to the tourist areas to work as prostitutes.

Pattaya was once a sleeping little fishing village. During the post-World War 2 US offensive in Southeast Asia, US military personnel started spending their R&R breaks in Pattaya. From those early beginnings the town has grown into what it is today.

I can't ever see Dannok growing as big but it is continuing to develop very quickly and there are no signs that the development will stop any time soon. It really isn't an attractive place at all, but watching it change from one year to the next is quite fascinating.

A Thai version of the Bermuda Triangle perhaps? - Click for larger image I love Chinglish. Thai signs written in bad English (Thaiglish) aren't amusing like Chinglish ones; they're just badly spelt, grammatically incorrect, and plain wrong. Very occasionally, a Thai sign purporting to be written in English almost matches those found in China.

This one refers either to a Bermuda Triangle type zone in Thailand where vehicles mysteriously disappear, or it is a warning that if you park your motorbike here there is a high chance that it will be stolen.

I suspect the latter, even though I would hope for the former.

From Phuket:

Australian, Swede die in accidents in Phuket

Another Phuket student dies in motorbike crash

And from Pattaya:

79-Year-Old Brit Pedophile Caught "In Flagrante" with 13-Year-Old Pattaya Boy

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Friday 24th February 2012

A big chunk of the TV news this morning was about vehicle thieves. The good news, at least, is that the police are catching them.

Whenever police catch criminals in Thailand there is always a big show put on for the media. The criminals and everything involved in the crime are put in the full glare of the cameras.

The stolen goods are displayed, along with any weapons, tools or mobile phones used in the crime, and any cash gained from the crime.

The gang of motorbike thieves on TV this morning were only about 14 years old. They looked like the same kind of out-of-control teenage kids who race motorbikes around where I live.

The other story concerned young staff at a car wash place in Sattahip. It seems that very few people in Thailand wash their own cars because there are car wash places everywhere. They aren't the automated car washes that you find in the West. Instead, the cars are washed by hand by low-paid staff.

I use these places myself. There is normally a queue of cars waiting to be washed and so it is impractical to wait. You give them your keys and then go back later. For this reason there has to be an element of trust. Touch wood, I've never had a problem at the place I normally use.

The car wash staff in Sattahip had been making copies after the owners handed their keys over and then stealing the cars later.

When I wanted another car key last year, I found that I couldn't just get a cheap copy made. There is a microchip inside that prevents this. I had to get the Ford service centre to make a copy and to programme the chip in the new key.

It took them a long time - and cost a couple of thousand Baht - but it is reassuring to have an extra level of security with so much vehicle crime going on.

Something else reassuring is that my car isn't a model that is targeted by Thai thieves. I was talking to a guy at a car audio place last year and he told me that thieves normally steal to order. I think that quite a few of the stolen-to-order cars leave the country fairly quickly on their way to Cambodia and elsewhere.

The recipients of the stolen vehicles are quite choosy and want specific models. A few years ago I heard that Toyota Fortuners were in high demand. The guy last year told me that Toyota Vigo pickup trucks were high on the list. These types of vehicle are popular with the locals. Fortunately, Ford Escapes aren't.

I've been making enquiries about driving lessons for my wife. She will need a car soon and I don't want her driving a car without a licence. She never bothered about a motorbike licence and tells me that having a licence isn't necessary or important. Thais don't think the same way as Westerners.

The good news about lessons in Thailand is the price. Twenty one-hour lessons are Bt6,500. That's about £6.80 for each one-hour lesson at current exchange rates. I looked on the Internet and in the UK lessons are somewhere between £20 and £30 an hour. When I took lessons in 1977/1978 they started off at £1.75 before the price was increased to £2.25. Now I'm showing my age.

The bad news is that driving lessons in Thailand don't teach people how to drive. There are no dual controls in the car and the instructor takes students to a location where there is no other traffic instead of teaching the students in real traffic conditions. Students are taught how to operate the controls in the car; not how to drive. There is an enormous difference.

The driving test is similar. It is about operating the controls in the car and it isn't carried out in real traffic. There are a few basic checks for colour-blindness, stereoscopic vision, and braking reaction. I had to do these when I got a Thai driving licence. Thais also have to watch a video and I think there is a written test.

The first time that many new drivers in Thailand encounter real driving conditions is after they get their licence. It must be quite a frightening experience for them.

A medical certificate is also required to get a licence. A farang friend of mine went to get his licence and needed a medical certificate. As he started to make his way to the nearby hospital, a security guard stopped him and offered to get it for him. This 'service' cost Bt100, or so, but in Thailand you can get a medical certificate without seeing the doctor yourself. I've also heard stories that the driving licence itself can be acquired in the same way.

There are many, many reasons why the driving standards in Thailand are so bad. The poor standard of lessons and an inadequate test are just two. Whenever I negotiate roundabouts, for example, it is very clear that Thais don't have a clue which lane to use or who has right of way. The local rule is that bigger vehicles or aggressive drivers have right of way.

As soon as the wife gets her licence it will then be my job to teach her how to drive. I don't think that she will be a bad driver but neither do I think she will be skilled enough to avoid the morons she will encounter. Few things in life worry me more than the thought of her driving in Thailand with the baby in the car.

If you're interested in farang-related news stories in Thailand, the national English newspapers (The Bangkok Post and The Nation) don't report very much. You'll find out a lot more by looking at regional publications.

Many farang expats base themselves in Phuket or Pattaya, and these two popular farang tourist resorts are good places to start.

I take a look at the Pattaya Daily News and the Phuket Gazette occasionally, not because I have any desire to live in those places whatsoever, but because I find many of the news articles quite fascinating.

Most stories in Phuket centre around horrific road accidents, farangs drowning themselves, turf wars between taxi mafia gangs, or tourist rip-offs.

The Pattaya Daily News has a different flavour. There are stories of deranged foreigners, foreigners ending it all by performing the Pattaya death leap, tattoed farang thugs who come to Thailand to stab people and engage in bar brawls, and geriatric farangs who are robbed by prostitutes or ladyboys. There are also quite a log of drug-related crimes but these normally involve Thais.

Sattahip Dad & Son Caught With 400 Meth Pills

Sometimes a Pattaya-type story appears in the Phuket Gazette:

Pregnant Aussie teenager beaten, robbed in Phuket ladyboy attack

Soi Bangla in Patong is where the Phuket ladyboys hang out. I've never heard of them being violent before, but they are very aggressive when they demand money from foreigners after first inviting the foreigners to photograph them.

Some are large and powerfully built - they are men, after all. Many are quite volatile and walk around with a permanently pissed off look on their faces. It is best to avoid them.

If you want a quiet life in Thailand, it is also probably best to avoid the tourist resorts.

Thai students were confused in a recent test when they were asked for the correct course of action in the event of experiencing a sexual urge.

The answer has now been revealed.

Answer for sexual relief is football: NIETS chief

Of course it is.

Thailand's moral crusaders obviously have a very different view of the country compared to the millions of tourists who visit Thailand each year.

I taught a group of young petrochemical students some years ago. One of them suffered from frequent sexual urges but didn't own a pair of football boots.

He existed solely on Bt6 packets of Mama instant noodles so that he had enough money left over each month to relieve his sexual urges using more conventional methods. He wasn't at all shy about describing his exploits to me and his classmates.

Had I known then what I know now I might have been able to suggest a game of football, and maybe spent some time comparing the advantages and disadvantages of 4-4-2, 5-3-1, sweepers and lone-strikers, etc.

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Tuesday 21st February 2012

After over eight years of trying to learn, I still struggle immensely with Thai - just one language. I struggle to say what I want to say and I struggle to be understood.

Some people just have a knack for acquiring language skills. John Bowring - famous for negotiating the Bowring Treaty between the United Kingdom and Siam in the 19th century - was a polyglot, actually a hyperpolyglot. He claimed that he knew 200 languages and could speak 100.

Slightly less impressive but still quite remarkable is Alex Rawlings, a 20 year-old student studying at Oxford:

How do you become fluent in 11 languages?

The cult of the hyperpolyglot

Some people have enormous talent.

Apparently, Dutch is the easiest language for native English speakers to learn while the five most difficult are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. Thai doesn't even make the list.

As would be expected, a language is easier to learn if it is nearer to your native tongue. When I learnt German at school the vocabulary and sentence structure was a lot easier to remember than Thai because of the similarities with English.

I'm grateful to Ken from Australia for providing more of his thoughts about Thailand. If you want to write something, please drop me an e-mail.

Your Stories: Ken, Australia

In the past Thai students have asked me to help them with multiple choice questions set by Thai examiners but none of the answers have been correct because of grammatical errors.

The same thing has happened again, but this time with a slight twist and nothing to do with bad grammar. Unanswerable questions.

Question: "If you have a sexual urge, what should you do?"

Possible answers:

  1. Ask friends if you can play football together
  2. Consult family members
  3. Try to sleep
  4. Go out with a friend of the opposite sex
  5. Invite a close friend to watch a movie together

I wouldn't have a clue what the correct answer is. In my day it was a cold shower or wearing boxing gloves to bed. During the Second World War there's a story that they used to put potassium bromide in soldiers' tea. An Asian girl once told me that eating papaya has a similar effect.

In Thailand - of all places - there should definitely be an answer f. I can think of at least a dozen places locally where trained staff can deal very effectively with sexual urges.

Unanswerable exam questions have students scratching their heads

To many tourists Thailand seems like the perfect destination. Most will stay by the sea and Thailand has some very attractive coastal areas.

The food is good and cheap; the weather pleasant, if a little too hot most of the time. In addition, the laid-back nature of the locals seems like the perfect antidote to life in the West. No one hurries, no one seems to worry about anything, and everyone smiles. The mai bpen rai attitude is there for all to see.

For single foreign men, of which there are many in Thailand, there is the added (possibly main) attraction of there being lots of interested females. From being ignored and unwanted in the West, you suddenly find that there are some females in the world who are still interested in you. They're actually interested in your money, but you will discover that later.

For tourists the country can be completely intoxicating and many people get hooked. My brother and one of his friends went off travelling to Australia many years ago. They stopped in Thailand on the way and then didn't want to leave. Many years later he married a Thai girl and bought a house in Phuket where he will eventually retire.

I got hooked even before my first trip. I experienced Thailand through books (no Internet back then) and a key event was attending a special promotion at the Barbican Centre in London where the Tourist Authority of Thailand was trying to encourage people to visit Thailand.

The first Visit Thailand campaign ran in the same year that I first visited Thailand - 1987. Before then, Thailand received very few Western tourists.

When I decided to leave the UK I didn't need to think about where I would go. I already knew, and I had known for a long time.

After you have lived in Thailand for a long time, you look at the country differently. Everything changes and you start to see the problems. My intention here isn't to endlessly criticise Thailand, but to make people more aware of the real Thailand.

The unsavoury aspects of life in Thailand are very well hidden and it can take a long time to start to see the truth. It took me about four years.

The Phuket Gazette is currently running a poll about the things that upset expats in Phuket.

Phuket poll: Irksome complaints by foreigners

Here are the things on their list:

  1. Overpriced alcohol
  2. Double-pricing (when foreigners pay more than Thais)
  3. Tuk-tuks, taxis
  4. Local driving habits
  5. Immigration requirements
  6. Jet-skis

I stopped drinking alcohol shortly after I arrived in Thailand. It's expensive and too many lives are wrecked through alcohol. I associated (and still associate) mainly with teetotal Thai females and the peer pressure to drink that exists in the UK is no longer present.

I once spoke to a Thai girl who had been working in Phuket. She had to run away from her Thai boyfriend who had beaten and abused her. For a living he bought cheap supermarket beer, loaded it into her pickup truck (which he had stolen from her) and sold it to farangs at the beach for 100% profit.

Buy your alcohol directly and cut out the middle man.

I have written extensively about dual-pricing. I think it's a disgrace and probably illegal under international law. To do such a thing in the UK would fall under the banner of racism and there would be a huge uproar.

If Thais didn't think there was anything wrong with dual pricing they would go to such elaborate efforts to disguise what is happening to foreigners by using Thai script and Thai numbers for the Thai prices.

If they really want to do it, fine, but other governments should make reciprocal arrangements for Thai tourists visiting their countries.

The problem with tuk-tuk and taxis only exists where there are no meters. Metered taxis in Bangkok are fine. Every type of taxi should display the official tariff and charge passengers based on distance.

The situation in Phuket, with its taxi mafia, is unique as far as I know. Most other places aren't as bad.

I have also written extensively about local driving habits. The driving in Thailand looks better than Cairo, for example, but it is still very Third World. You really need to have driven in Thailand for a while to see how bad it really is. The road death statistics are another indication.

I'm not sure if people complain about the amount of bureaucracy involved with immigration, or the fact that most foreigners live in Thailand on a series of temporary one year visas.

Thailand encourages foreigners to retire to the country but most have a one year visa that needs renewing every 12 months. The requirements for the visa can change at any time.

It is possible that you could commit totally to Thailand - buy a property, get married, have children - and then find that you can't meet the visa requirements. What do you do then?

Foreigners can't buy land in Thailand but I kind of understand this. If foreigners could buy land, Thailand would now be almost entirely owned by foreign concerns and it wouldn't be the country it is.

For the sake of convenience, many foreign men get married and buy property in their Thai wife's name. It's convenient but it isn't exactly risk-free. In Thailand the odds are always stacked in favour of Thais.

I don't live near the sea but I can understand how jet-skis would drive you crazy if you do. On previous trips to Phuket I have seen hundreds. They make a hell of a noise and they're dangerous.

Jet-skis don't affect me but the residential area in which I currently live is home to lots of teenage motorcyclist road racers. They change their exhausts to make the maximum possible noise and they are also dangerous.

The tone of the article in the Phuket Gazette implies that foreigners complain about things unnecessarily:

Foreigners in Phuket, both tourists and residents, have developed somewhat of a reputation for complaining over the years.

I don't think that is fair. All of these things - plus a number of others - warrant complaining about.

Changes are taking place extremely rapidly in Burma and I expect it will hurt Thailand eventually.

One of the biggest problems in Thai society is the vast wealth gap between the haves and have-nots. Apparently, Thai investors are keen to put their money into Burma but the following report also says, 'Looking to create jobs, the Burmese government plans to woo labour-intensive industries.'

Thai investors feel urge to rush into Burma despite challenges

The rich Thai investors will no doubt get richer, but if labour-intensive work moves to Burma then low-paid Thais could find themselves out of work and a lot worse off.

The report mentions lots of industries with good investment potential in Burma, but apart from the 'spa business', tourism isn't mentioned. However, there are great opportunities in Burma for tourism, and many natural environments are still unspoilt.

If low-paid Burmese workers are offered opportunities to work in Burma, Thailand could lose a lot of its cheap labour force and this in turn would drive up costs.

There are still lots of challenges ahead for Burma but it is interesting to see what is happening.

People from Nakhon Sri Thammarat have a certain reputation in Thailand. Statistically, Nakhon has the second highest level of crime in Thailand after Chonburi. (Source: Corruption & Democracy in Thailand by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Sungsidh Piriyarangsan page 76.)

My wife was born in Nakhon and I've never personally had any problems with Nakhon natives. They are quite direct but at least you know where you stand with them. However, there are problems in the province and there seem to be a lot of unlicensed guns.

A friend's teenage cousin was shot and killed in Nakhon at a temple fair. He had some kind of an altercation with some boys he knew and one of them shot him.

Gun Crime on the Rise

The number of unlicensed guns in Thailand is frightening but people continue to carry them around and many are only youngsters. Occasionally, the kids carrying guns around in their pockets get what they deserve:

Young Thai Southerner Dies When Gun Goes Off Into His Genitals

Here's another Buddhist precept:

I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from harming living beings.

Theft is a big problem in Thailand. Motorbikes are a favourite target but Thai thieves would steal the wheels off their grannie's wheelchair.

I asked an air-conditioning company to do some preliminary work at our new place so that all the pipes and wires for the A/C units are concealed in the walls and above the ceiling.

They did a decent job and a bit later they will return to install the actual A/C units and compressors. When they have finished it should all look very neat. What I failed to realise was that this work would include installing some copper pipe.

The foreman in charge of building the house is now worried that thieves will rip out all the copper pipe. It's only worth about Bt5,000 but Thai thieves will steal for a lot less.

Back to those Buddhist precepts again:

I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from taking things not freely given.

Thais don't do very well either regarding the other two precepts about false speech and sexual misconduct.

Foreigners move to Thailand for different reasons. Some, like myself, move because we became disillusioned with the greedy. materialistic way of life in the West and after visiting Thailand for vacations we thought it was different.

We met lots of poor people who seemed happy enough and their outlook on life looked a lot healthier. After living in Thailand for a while you realise that nothing is what you thought. Some things are just as bad as the West, and a few things are actually worse.

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Monday 20th February 2012

Our neighbour's mother has just died. An ambulance arrived on Saturday after her blood sugar level went through the roof and she died shortly afterwards.

She was living in the neighbour's house and my wife was explaining to me how her son took care of her. She was overweight, bedridden and unable to do anything for herself. He washed her, dressed her, fed her, bathed her, and changed her adult diapers.

I thought I'd have some fun with the wife so told her how we just send our parents to an old people's home in the UK when they get like that. Her reaction, of course, was shock and horror.

This is one of the big cultural differences between Thailand and the West. Thais are taught that the debt of gratitude they owe to their mothers for bringing them into the world (buun-kuun) is so great that it can never be repaid.

They are expected to take care of their parents, especially their mothers, until death. In addition, the state pension of Bt500 a month for old people means that old people can't take care of themselves. The fact that farangs have different ideas about how old people are taken care of seems heartless and cruel to Thais.

She asked sarcastically how I would like being sent to a nursing home in my old age. I wouldn't like it in the UK where there is a chance of being abused by ugly staff. However, if it's in Thailand where the caring female staff are young and pretty, no problem. Sign me up.

Yesterday evening we went to the temple to wai sop - pay respect to the corpse. The Buddhist cremation ceremony is being held on Thursday. I didn't think it was a good idea to store a body outside for several days in this heat but the wife told me that the coffin they use for this purpose is refrigerated.

While we were talking about the cremation, she told me that it has to be done on an auspicious day ... as is the case with most things in Thailand. She asked if it is the same in England and I told her it isn't. She remarked that everything is easy in the West because we can do things any day we want without needing to wait for auspicious days.

I told her that farangs don't have the same beliefs as Thais. She said it's not the Thai people, but it is Buddhism that determines such things. I found this comment very interesting. My wife is a typical Thai. She believes everything that other people tell her and has never sought to find out anything for herself.

She is proudly Buddhist but does exactly the opposite to what her religion tells her to do. By the way, she is regarded in Thailand as being better educated than myself because she has a Thai degree.

In Buddhist thinking, death and rebirth are of the utmost importance and to die in the right state of mind - with the mind calm and peaceful - is very important.

A Buddhist's Death

There are certain other things to be observed, but whenever I have read anything about Buddhism - The Four Nobles Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path, and articles such as the one above, etc - I've never seen anything about auspicious days, lucky amulets, or lottery numbers.

The superstitious beliefs and animist rituals that pre-date Buddhism have all become intertwined with Buddhism into one overall belief system that Thais refer to as Buddhism. Most, like my wife, seem unable to differentiate what actually comes from Buddhism and what comes from other, more primitive belief systems.

I've met and corresponded with some great people through this blog. The last person I met actually lives close to where I do. He's from mainland China but lives in Thailand with a Thai wife and works here as a teacher of Buddhism at an international Buddhist college.

Next time we meet, I need to discuss more about the Thai flavour of Buddhism with him so that I can hear his views.

Just before we left the temple last night, the Thai men in attendance broke out the cheap Thai whiskey and soda water and started a typical Thai male drinking session before driving their pickup trucks home.

On Saturday night a pickup truck travelling back from a cremation ceremony in Phuket crashed into a tree killing five of the occupants:

Five dead, 16 injured in Phang Nga crash

I once spoke to a foreigner in Phuket who was involved in a bad road crash with a pickup truck that was returning from a funeral. The Thai driver of the pickup truck was drunk. The foreigner told me that in these situations it is always the farang who is in the wrong.

The carnage on Thailand's roads never stops. Drunk and reckless driving are common causes. Thais are fiercely proud of their religion and one of the five Buddhist precepts that is supposed to be mandatory for all Buddhists is:

I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from intoxicating drinks and drugs causing heedlessness.

If only a few more Thais were to actually follow what Buddhism tells them, the country would have far fewer problems.

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Sunday 19th February 2012

I have finally added another 'Learn to Read Thai' tutorial. I started this one months ago but until now I've had no time to complete it.

This one isn't really a tutorial. The idea is to provide real-world reading practice after studying the previous tutorials.

It's very practical. If you go through all the tutorials and get as far as this one it will enable you to go into any small Thai restaurant (where everything is written in Thai) and be able to order something meaningfully from the menu.

This is something that Thais never expect farangs to be able to do.

Going through the process of learning is one thing, but the only way to really learn is to practice, practice, practice. If you live in Thailand it is easy.

Wherever you go in Thailand, whatever you do, there are always lots of opportunities to practice reading Thai. This is how I've taught myself over the years. Sitting down reading books all day just gets boring.

If you are trying to learn to read Thai while not living in Thailand it is far more difficult. For people learning to read who live elsewhere, I hope these real-world examples help.

As with all my tutorials, I will no doubt add some more to this one and fix the errors that I have inevitably made. If you spot an error, or want me to add something or make something clearer, please let me know.

Learn to read Thai - Tutorial 28

Many of us think about leaving the 'rat race' to go to live where we want, doing what we want, but for most people it will never happen. The fear of the unknown and leaving a life that has some financial security - even if it miserable and unpredictable - is just too much for the majority of folk.

I just read about two people who got disillusioned with their lives in the UK - despite considerable career success - and left everything for a life on the open seas. They spent the next 36 years at sea before finally going back to the UK in their 80's because of health problems.

Final berth for seafaring couple Bill and Laurel Cooper

A life at sea would not suit me at all, even though it suited them very well. If you're going to change your life completely, first of all you need to know exactly what you want to do. Listen to your own gut instincts and never decide to do something simply because someone else wants to do it. You are the only person who knows what will make you happy. We are all very different in this respect.

Money - or rather not having enough money - is another major fear for most people. The wife in this article says that living at sea is quite a cheap way of life.

Living a happier life needn't be expensive if you know what you want to do. Living a simpler life often makes you happier. The more we have, the more we have to worry about. Also, in most new situations you can always find opportunities to earn money. Money needn't be the obstacle that many people think it is.

The other part of this article I found interesting was the husband's view on 'concrete' and 'abstract' stress. He doesn't articulate exactly what he means, but coming from a corporate background I think I understand.

He said that with his life at sea he only dealt with concrete stress. This would be, for example, when the boat encountered severe weather. The situation would be stressful but it would be very clear why it was stressful, and it would also be very clear when the stressful situation had passed.

In the business and corporate world there is the 'abstract' stress that he talks about. This is a lot more difficult to deal with.

I can remember feeling stressed while I was working in the UK and not being able to put a finger on why. The 'job for life' philosophy in many major companies - including the one I worked for - disappeared some time in the 1990's. In the corporate world these days the fear of redundancy hangs constantly over employees.

If everything you have in life depends on your monthly salary, yet there is a genuine fear that your job and monthly salary could end at any time it can cause a type of stress that never goes away. This 'abstract' stress is constant and it can make life miserable.

Had I stayed in the UK, I can only imagine that my life would have been unimaginably miserable by now. Making the break wasn't at all easy. I had so many fears at one stage that I didn't think I would be able to go through with it. I did, however, and now I am very happy that I did.

After making the change, things haven't always run smoothly. Life is never easy. Whatever you choose to do, there will always be barriers that need to be overcome.

It can be done, though. What you need to avoid is getting to a point in your life where you regret not having done things previously in life, but at which stage you are too old to make any changes.

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Friday 17th February 2012

Certain aspects of the Thai language are easy. Grammatically, it is far simpler than English. "bpai nai?," Thais will ask. Where are you going? Verbs only have one form, pronouns are implied and not necessary, there are no singular and plural nouns, no articles, no auxiliary verbs, and no difficult tense structures.

On other occasions, it is the impossible language. When I try to communicate and just receive a blank stare, I don't know why I bother.

In these situations, I estimate that the problem is about 80% with the other person. Thais don't expect Thai to come out of a farang mouth and consequently they don't listen to what is being said. Before you've even said anything they have already made up their mind that they won't be able to understand you. You can't do much about this.

I've experienced this many times. After they realise you are speaking Thai they tune in and can understand. I've had Thais give me blank stares at first, only to compliment me 10 minutes later on my Thai.

The rest of the time, the difficulty with tones probably does make what I say incomprehensible to Thais. As everyone knows, Thai is a tonal language and the tones are difficult to master.

When you start learning Thai vocabulary you soon notice that words with completely different meanings have roughly the same sound. Was the maa I just heard 'dog', 'horse' or 'come'? Did that glai mean that it is near or far?

The next thing you notice is that completely different sounding words actually mean the same thing. Once you've realised that maa with a rising tone means 'dog', you then get stumped when you hear suu-nuk for the first time, which is the more formal word for 'dog'.

And then come the regional variations and maybe even some royal vocabulary. You start off thinking it's a breeze, but as you learn more you become more aware of the difficulties.

For every noun you learn you should try to learn the formal and informal versions, and also the noun classifier.

What are classifiers?

English has classifiers. We don't ask for a bread and two milks. Loaf is the classifier for bread, and depending how the milk is packaged we might buy a carton or a bottle of milk. The trouble with Thai is that absolutely everything has classifiers and you need to know which one to use.

In English we can have two books, but not in Thai. The classifier for book is lem and so 'two books' becomes nung seu song lem. When you combine classifiers and tones it can start to get confusing.

The classifier for 'packet' is song. Thai has many consonants with the same sound and the spelling for 'packet' is different to the Thai word for 'two', which is also song.

สอง song (two) rising tone

ซอง song (classifier for packet) mid tone

The 'S' consonant in the first word is high class, whereas the 'S' consonant in the second word is low class. This alters the tone of the word. Both of these words have live syllables. The tone rules thus give the first word a rising tone, and the second a mid tone.

Earlier this week I attempted to buy some sachets of electrolyte powder. The classifier for these is song with a mid tone.

I wanted ten so I asked for sip song (quantity followed by classfier). sip = ten

สิบ (low tone) ซอง (mid tone)

The assistant gave me 12 sachets, and not the 10 I had asked for. Why?

sip (low tone) song (rising tone) is the Thai word for 12 (literally: ten two).

I don't think it was because I got the tone wrong. I think he just expected me to use a number, rather than a number along with a classifier.

As I said, at times it is the impossible language.

Perhaps the taxi wars that have blighted Phuket for so long are about to arrive in Hat Yai?

Hat Yai tuktuk drivers: No taxis

The tuk-tuk drivers and airport taxis operate a cartel (price fixing) system. They hate the idea of meters, fixed prices based on distance travelled, or competition.

I am very happy to hear that concessions have been granted to taxi cab operators.

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Thursday 16th February 2012

I mostly write about Thais and Thai behaviour but the subject of farangs and farang behaviour in Thailand could fill a book.

Down in Singapore, for example, it is totally different. For starters, to live in Singapore you need a visa. You can't simply live in Singapore for years 'under the radar' without a visa - or even a passport - without anyone noticing, as you can in Thailand.

Pattaya Police Catch US Fugitive Wanted For Drug Related Crimes

The fugitive in this article, who had been on the run for drug offences in the States, had lived in Thailand illegally for two years before police caught him. I suspect there are a lot more still living in Thailand illegally who haven't been caught yet.

And then there's the question of money. In Singapore you need money, whereas lots of foreigners turn up in Thailand with barely nothing and somehow manage to survive.

On balance, there are more good foreigners than bad ones in Thailand but the country attracts some very strange people.

We were doing our weekly shop in Tesco Lotus on Monday and I saw a farang talking to himself as he pushed his shopping cart around the aisles. He was dressed in the usual tourist or newbie expat uniform of shorts with a sleeveless shirt. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't place him immediately.

A little later he happened to be in front of us at the checkout, talking to himself once again. He knew some Thai numbers, which he kept repeating under his breath, but when the checkout girl asked him in Thai if he had a Tesco Clubcard he couldn't understand.

It was at this point that I recognised him.

He was the same guy that I've seen posing as a Buddhist monk. Farangs do come to Thailand to ordain as monks occasionally, but when I saw him in saffron robes I knew there was something wrong.

I normally only see monks out on the street in the morning, and whenever I see them they always walk very purposefully. The first time I saw him it was lunchtime and he was just hanging around outside McDonalds looking at everyone and obviously wanting to draw attention to himself. He didn't look anything like a genuine monk, despite the way he was dressed.

The second time I saw him dressed as a monk I was with my wife. He was in the same spot at the same time - just outside McDonalds at lunchtime - and he was sitting on a wall with one foot resting on the opposite knee. It was very un-monklike (if there is such a word). My wife remarked that he wasn't riep roi and the image of a farang dressed and sitting the way he was struck her as being very strange.

After I saw him wearing shorts in Tesco Lotus this week it confirmed my suspicions that he isn't a monk at all. I don't know how he got hold of the robes but there are plenty of shops here where you can buy a complete genuine police uniform so I guess that obtaining some monk's robes can't be too difficult.

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Blog entries 1st to 15th February 2012

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