Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 28th February 2014
Another huge crash in Thailand with yet more deaths and injuries. I am reluctant to refer to these incidents as accidents because the manner in which many Thais drive makes these incidents inevitable, not accidental.
Will anything be done now to try to prevent more carnage? Of course not, nothing at all. This is Thailand.
One vehicle was a large tour bus carrying schoolchildren. I believe the other vehicle was similar to the one in the video below. As a driver on Thai roads, I've experienced problems with both types of vehicle.
They accelerate at a snail's pace and can't go around bends, but once they build up a head of steam they can go fast in a straight line. As soon as the driver has built up speed he then wants to get past every other vehicle on the road. The favourite tactic is to drive as close to the vehicle in front to intimidate the driver into moving over.
It is really unfortunate in Thailand that even drivers tasked with carrying children still have no sense of responsibility or accountability. Minivan and bus drivers transporting young children drive in the same crazy style as other Thai drivers.
There have been recent incidents in which children have died after being locked in closed minivans with no ventilation and my wife tells me that the drivers think nothing of dropping very young children off on the wrong side of the road and letting them cross dangerous roads on their own.
In Thailand you have to take responsibility for your children all the time because no one else will. The poor kids in this crash had no choice. It was a school trip and they had to go.
Pretty soon, no doubt, I will be told that my daughter will be going on a school trip somewhere. This is not something that I am looking forward to.
Both of our cars have a child seat for our daughter and the baby has a baby carrier that can also be strapped in securely using a rear seat belt. There is legislation in the UK to make sure that children have appropriate seating in cars, and it just makes sense anyway. If you have to brake sharply or are involved in an accident and the child isn't fastened securely, then they are going to get injured or killed.
My insistence on proper child seating in the car took my wife by surprise and at first she didn't believe it was necessary. She estimates that 70% of Thais don't even know that child seats are available. She didn't before she met me. Most of those who are aware think they are unnecessary and that buying one is an unnecessary expense.
Most babies and young children sit on the passenger's laps in cars and trucks. If there isn't a passenger I have seen very young children just perched on the front passenger seat, and in some cases sitting on the driver's lap. This is fine if the journey is uneventful, but not if there is an accident or some heavy braking involved.
My wife made the rather strange remark (typical of Thai logic) that people never believe they will be involved in an accident so therefore don't believe that it is necessary to take any precautions. My guess would be that every person ever killed in a road accident probably started their fatal last journey thinking that nothing would happen.
I've heard remarks from farangs about the sheer stupidity of the ways in which Thais carry children in vehicles. Sometimes it is stupidity, but sometimes they don't really have a choice.
If Thais are fortunate enough to have a car or a truck, then not spending a few thousand Baht on a proper child seat is stupid. On the other hand, many Thais can only afford to run motorbikes and they carry their children on their bikes. I have seen one adult and five young children on small Honda Waves. Kids are also transported in the illegal home-made sidecars that are popular in Thailand.
I can understand that many can't afford cars, but it would be good to see a few more young kids wearing helmets. Small crash helmets are available, but very few children wear them.
Laws could be enforced, but that would present another big problem. So many laws are broken routinely in Thailand that if they were suddenly enforced it would prevent many people from doing anything. This would cause a revolt.
The illegal sidecars I mentioned are everywhere and without them many markets would cease trading because this is what most market traders use to transport their goods with.
So many problems in Thailand are caused by the huge wealth gap. Even if the government wished to raise standards in the country and enforce laws, there are pragmatic reasons why they can't. For example, if they wanted to ban illegal sidecars they would first have to ensure that everyone had access to safer methods of transport.
This is the reason why I believe the social problems in Thailand will take so long to fix. With all the current arguments about political issues, all I ever hear about is the corruption, which is a symptom of the underlying problems but not the cause.
I've yet to hear one politician talking about making Thailand a fairer country for all Thais.
While discussing child carseats with my wife, she remarked that Thailand is less developed than other countries. A friend of mine who has lived in Thailand for 25 years estimates that Thailand is about 50 years behind the West.
Some aspects of the country are not that far behind. The healthcare system may not have all of the latest leading edge technology, but overall it is just as good as many Western countries.
As a child in the UK I can remember a time when no one wore seatbelts and driving while drunk was fairly routine. Speeding wasn't really a problem because most cars, apart from E-Type Jaguars, had problems reaching the speed limit.
I guess it was around 45 years ago that the UK government started getting tough with seatbelt and drink driving laws. After all that time, Thailand still has yet to get tough with motorists ignoring traffic laws.
I stopped teaching a few years ago, but Thais continue to ask me to help them with their English. Sometimes it is impossible to say no. Our neighbour, a university lecturer, helped us a huge amount when we were going through a difficult period with the new baby and she sometimes asks me to check documents that she has translated.
Proof editing may seem like an easy task, however, that is rarely the case in Thailand. The grammatical structure of Thai is so completely different to English that when Thais translate word by word (or use an Internet translation tool) it doesn't make any sense in English.
If you're lucky you might be able to understand what they are trying to say and construct a proper sentence. If not, you can spend ages trying to figure out what they are tring to say. In the past I have attempted to proof edit complete Master's degree theses that were written in gibberish.
One of my wife's nieces is a nice kid, but she's not the brightest student in Thailand. She has just finished Pratom level and is about to enter Matayom. She failed the entrance exam at her first-choice school, which happens to be where I used to teach.
If she fails to get into her second-choice school she will end up at a school that takes the kids who couldn't get into anywhere else and this isn't desirable. Her pre-test entrance examination highlighted deficiencies in English so her mother then decided to send her to me for emergency cramming sessions in English. Great.
With so much going on in my life at the moment and so little time to myself to do the things that I want to do this is the last thing I need. But I can't say no because she is family.
It isn't just the time it takes that frustrates me, but also what I am supposed to be teaching her. Her English is very poor, but she told me that she wanted to understand the English grammar article.
The grammar article is horrendously complicated and difficult to teach, with pages of rules and lots of exceptions. It's something that even good foreign speakers of English have difficulty with. In the past when checking PhD and Master's degree theses I have spent lots of time adding missing and deleting superfluous grammar articles. Whenever I explain something and see her eyes gloss over I know that I am wasting my time.
She will take the entrance exam tomorrow and so today's session should be the last one. I hope so.
Monday 24th February 2014
The political problems in Thailand so far have just been one half of the story; in fact, not even half. The yellow-shirted supporters of the Democrat party, who mainly live in southern Thailand and parts of Bangkok, have been fighting against the government.
The red-shirted government supporters, who form a majority in Thailand and come mainly from the north and northeast, have been waiting patiently to see what will happen. With attacks at the weekend taking place against anti-government protesters, it would seem that they are now ready to enter the fray.
So far, the two groups have remained fairly separate. When they meet in sufficient numbers it is likely that the situation could turn really nasty and any intervention by the armed forces is only likely to inflame the situation. As is always the case in these situations, Bangkok will be their battleground.
If you haven't already done so, take a look at the Thai driving video below. This isn't just about driving, it's about the way in which many Thais react when they have a grievance with another person. In this case the argument was between two road users. The political issues involve people who have different political ideals.
As you will see from watching the video, and also videos of the political problems, there is a huge amount of confrontation and aggression. Books on Thai culture will tell you that Thais are non-confrontational. This is one of those massive generalisations, which is only partly true and only applies to some people.
Some Thais are genuinely non-confrontational, some avoid confrontation because they know that confronting someone will result in an act of vengeance against them, but a high percentage of Thai drivers are very confrontational and very aggressive. Thais still believe that they are a martial/warrior race and never is this more evident than when driving in Thailand.
In confrontational situations they quickly reach a point where they are completely consumed with anger and at this point it gets frightening. They can't control their actions and will attempt to kill their opponents. In the video the pickup truck driver looked just as guilty as the 10-wheel truck driver, but the 10-wheel truck was bigger and ran the pickup truck off the road. This incident could easily have resulted in multiple deaths, but once the red mist descends Thais do not consider the consequences of their actions.
This is why I have had to adapt my own behaviour when driving in Thailand. Getting angry with obnoxious Thai drivers only makes them angry and if a Thai gets angry enough with you the consequences could be fatal. This, unfortunately, is the reality of the so-called Land of Smiles.
Sunday 23rd February 2014
As a farang, whenever I think of door-to-door salesmen selling vacuum cleaners, air purifiers or water purifiers, I immediately think scam. If a product is so good why is it necessary for door-to-door salesmen to sell it using high pressure selling techniques? And why are these products so expensive? There is lots on the Internet about these scams.
After we moved into this house a friend of a friend, who I hadn't heard from in ages, called. It seemed that she wanted to look at the house and she also had something to show me. She wouldn't say what. Maybe she had undergone breast surgery and wanted to show me the results?
After she showed up I realised that she had joined the cult of Amway. She arrived with one of their star salesmen and started giving me the pitch on why I needed to buy a very expensive air purifier as well as a very expensive water purifier.
The justification for the high price of the water filter was interesting. According to the Amway reps, drinking water from any other source would result in kidney failure, which would then need regular, expensive dialysis. The Amway water filter would save me lots of expensive hospital bills in the future. Mmmm.
A couple of weeks ago I was working in the garden and a girl pulled up in a fancy SUV. I asked what she wanted and she wanted to sell me a water purifier. Oh no, not again. I told her that I wasn't interested, "Mai son-jai." She wouldn't take this for an answer and kept asking what brand my current water filter was. I wouldn't tell her.
Next came Plan B. Whenever Thais can't get the answer they want from a farang, they try to go through the farangs Thai companion. She asked if she could speak to my wife. No. She then told me she would come back on Saturday or Sunday. I told her in Thai that there was no need. She left and didn't come back.
With these people my aim is always to get rid of them as soon as possible and never to let them in the house. I couldn't do that with the first girl because she was invited in initially as a friend.
Yesterday evening I was upstairs and heard the front door bell ring. My wife answered the door and I assumed that it was a neighbour or one of her friends. When I went downstairs I was horrified to find two strange girls, a vacuum cleaner and an air purifier.
One girl was vacuuming our sofa to demonstrate the efficiency of their expensive vacuum cleaner and the other was giving my wife the sales pitch. My wife was lapping it all up and I was waiting for her to start signing an order form. I was not impressed and it showed on my face.
The girl doing the sales pitch kept using the Thai word for 'dangerous' and 'very dangerous'. This seems to be part of the standard sales pitch - to make people believe that by not using their expensive products it represents a danger to everyone in the household.
After about an hour and a half they left. I then started getting a grilling. Why am I always rude in those situations and why don't I believe what the sales people tell me about their wonderful machines? They are only trying to do a job and there is no obligation to buy. I always look at them as if they are bad people. Etc etc. My response to the last remark was that in other countries they normally are.
Quite often with my Thai wife I can never win and now I don't even bother trying. Are farangs too cynical or are Thais too naive? Yes, I am extremely cynical, but my cynicism is based on experience and being cynical helps prevent me from getting ripped off.
In these situations with my wife we can never agree. I think she is too naive and she doesn't have my experience of life. She thinks I am too cynical and too rude. She's a lot younger and has never been outside of Thailand. I'm a lot older, have travelled to many countries, and have much more and varied work/life experience. Here's another story about Thai naivety. I've told it before, but I will tell it again.
Some years ago I worked for a while at a local technical college. It wasn't the normal sort of Thai technical college where the students are mainly interested in making weapons with which to kill and maim students from rival technical colleges.
This one had a special petrochemical faculty and students were trained up to work in the local oil industry. A lot of money had been invested in the faculty, the students were guaranteed jobs after they finished their studies, and they could get jobs that paid very high salaries for Thailand. Teaching there wasn't too bad.
One day, the top man at the college asked to speak to me. I'm not sure what his title was, but he was in charge of everything and no doubt he was a PhD. He invited me to sit down and asked me to wait while he fired his printer up. He then handed me a print out of an e-mail he had received. When I started to read it I didn't know what to say.
It was a standard Nigerian scam e-mail and he had already started to exchange e-mails with the guy at the other end who, of course, had millions of dollars tied up in a Nigerian bank account and needed help from someone in another country to release the money - for a substantial reward, of course.
He was obviously quite excited about the prospect of making so much money, but I guess that before visiting the local Benz showroom to pick out his latest car he wanted a second opinion. I tried to let him down as gently as possible.
I might have expected this type of thing from a tuk-tuk driver, but this guy was supposedly intelligent and educated.
My wife doesn't have an e-mail account, but if she did she would probably receive similar e-mails. In the event of me explaining Nigerian scams to her, she would probably want to know why I didn't believe the e-mail was real.
Things aren't very easy at home at the moment. New babies deprive their mothers of serious amounts of sleep and sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. In addition, I have a three year-old constantly tugging at my trousers to do something with her when all I want to do is some work on my computer.
In order to keep the peace I am having to bite my tongue so often that it is now getting quite sore. The last thing that is needed is for someone to come into our home and do something that creates more friction between me and the wife.
In future I will need to try to answer the door if the bell rings and any door-to-door sales people will be despatched very quickly.
My previous girlfriend got caught up with Amway and although it was sad to see, it was quite understandable. She, like millions of Thais, was in a dead end job and virtually a slave to her employer.
She worked in a salon and had to be there all the time, just in case there were customers. She was only paid commission, which was perfect for her employer because there were always staff on hand, but they didn't need to be paid if there was no business.
She started work at around 9am and got home after the last customer had left - sometimes after midnight. She was always tired and even when she was very busy she earned peanuts.
Benefits, such as vacation leave and paid sickness, were non-existent of course. She had no money left over to save for the future and a decent pension is something that most Thais can only dream of.
The only way for Thais to make a decent living is to have their own business, which is why there are so many small businesses in Thailand. However, most have neither the capital or business acumen to set up a successful small business.
To quite a few, Amway is the only solution. Amway tells them that they aren't employers, but independent business operators. Prospective reps are sold a dream, which entails earning a lot of money, having money to travel, and being able to retire in the future with a pension.
Meetings are a big part of the cult and she was always attending big meetings where they would wheel in one of Amway's big earners who was only young but earned hundreds of thousands of Baht each month and drove a new BMW. These people are greeted like movie stars with applause and cheering.
She was completely taken in with the products and the dream. There was an expensive Amway product to treat every ailment I suffered from and she told me how wealthy she would be one day. Every product was 'world class' and consumable items were all concentrated so that they lasted forever. She worked hard for several years. Of course, she got no wealthier and the profit from all her hard work just went to people higher up in the pyramid.
I can't remember the exact time, and don't know what triggered it, but one day she just stopped being evangelical about Amway. Finally, she had seen the light and had come to her senses.
Previously, I had wanted to talk her out of it but she was obsessed and there was nothing I could do.
The experience I went through with her is another reason why I get so defensive whenever door-to-door sales people turn up at the trying to peddle expensive products.
Yesterday evening's experience is still annoying me.
I have written at great length about how bad, aggressive and dangerous the driving is in Thailand. The death rate from road accidents in Thailand is one of the highest in the world.
On many occasions I have wished that I had a dash cam fitted. The following video is quite extreme, admittedly, but the high speed weaving in and out of lanes and the desire for everyone to get past everyone else is very typical of driving in Thailand.
In the past I have used the term 'red mist' to describe Thais who are overcome with anger and can't control their actions. When this happens they will try to kill other people and won't think anything of the consequences of their actions. It's terrifying.
I used to get extremely annoyed with Thai drivers and I let them know it. As a result I was chased twice and given death threats. If driving in Thailand you just have to let the idiots go and watch out for yourself at all times. Don't expect to get any protection from the police in Thailand because there isn't any. It's just you and the lunatics.
It doesn't take long to figure out which kind of vehicles need to be avoided. Large vehicles get right of way and tend to be driven very quickly. The type of large truck in the video is a good example, as well as large tour buses.
Minivan drivers are notoriously aggressive, young males driving oversized pickup trucks are bad news, and some of the most aggressive drivers of all favour Toyota Fortuners. You should also look out for Thai boy racers with their big spoilers and exhaust pipes.
The unfortunate thing is that the bad drivers aren't restricted to this list. The majority of Thai drivers seem to think they are F1 racing drivers, even if they only drive a Toyota Vios or Honda City.
Driving in Thailand is best avoided. I really wish that I didn't have to drive, but unfortunately I don't have that option.
This is why I advised tourists to avoid protest sites in Thailand. The indiscriminate nature of gunmen firing into a crowd from the back of pickup trucks means that anyone can get hurt or killed. In this attack a five year-old girl was killed. My heart bleeds for her parents.
I would imagine that many casual visitors to Thailand are quite shocked at what is going on in the country. One of the things that you hear consistently from naive tourists is how 'nice' Thais are. The ever-smiling hotel staff in tourist resorts fall over themselves to help guests and they are completely inoffensive.
If you visit a Thai restaurant outside of the country you will see those same smiles and gentle behaviour again. A Thai guy on one of the camera forums I browse lives in the States, addresses everyone with the honorific 'Dear', and never has a bad word to say about anything or anyone. He comes across in the same way as my Thai friend who lives in the States - a little eccentric, but impossible not to like. Everyone loves Thais.
After you come to live in Thailand you still meet people like this, but you also see and read about the dark side of Thailand. Tourists are normally oblivious to the evil acts that are carried out in Thailand, but this current political crisis is probably educating a few.
Last year, gunmen on the back of a pickup truck gunned down the mayor of Songkhla (who was trying to fight corruption) in the same way that gunmen on the back of pickup trucks have just murdered more people in Trat, including a five year-old girl. This kind of thing will not surprise anyone who is familiar with Thailand.
It's not a bad country, but it irritates me when I hear once-a-year tourists going on about how 'nice' Thais are based solely on their beach holiday in Hua Hin. Some are, but some definitely aren't. There are two sides to Thailand and one side is distinctly unpleasant.
Saturday 22nd February 2014
Is it safe to travel to Thailand?
I've written before about having a great vacation in Egypt shortly after the Luxor massacre in 1997 and I paid a bargain price because tourists had stopped travelling to Egypt. I didn't have any problems and never felt threatened; in fact, I was made very welcome by the locals working in the tourist industry because they needed tourists to make a living.
Turbulent situations can open up opportunities but, of course, there can also be dangers. An Egyptian tour bus was just bombed by terrorists and three South Korean tourists were killed.
This kind of story, with tourists being targeted, would make me very wary about trying to grab a bargain vacation in Egypt, or at least I would be very careful about where I chose to visit.
Admittedly, some of the recent scenes of Bangkok on TV news have been quite appalling. The travel advisories being given out by various countries also tend to paint a worst-case scenario. William Heinecke, a businessman in this region for a long time, has just written an open letter about "... unnecessarily severe travel advisories".
Although there are risks, I think that the risks are low for most tourists planning to visit Thailand. As I have said many times, I believe the greatest risk for tourists occurs every time they get into a taxi or minivan in Thailand to go somewhere.
In the tourist resorts the only problems you see will see will be on the TV news. In the provinces there have been some demonstrations and the demonstrators have blocked some roads and some government offices. This has disrupted and inconvenienced the local population, such as myself, but there has been no violence.
Protest sites have been turned into mini fairs with vendors selling look shin, som tum and Doraemon style helium filled balloons. While protest leaders spew forth lots of anti-government rhetoric through loud PA systems, the supporters get stuck into their snacks and blow their whistles. As soon as three or more Thais get together, food appears and then a party takes place. The protest sites seem to have a real sanook atmosphere ... until the guns and grenades appear.
Most provinces are in either one camp or the other, with no 'enemy' to fight. The only place where the two sides come together is Bangkok, but even in Bangkok the problems only exist at strategic locations. These places are well known, busy, and easy to avoid. When I had to take my daughter to Bangkok for a hospital visit last month I simply stayed away from protest sites.
If you do meet protesters - from either side - they will probably offer you food and drink and make you welcome. This is the Thai way. If you have any views it is best not to air them, and it is best not to display any signs of affiliation to one side or the other. Red shirts, yellow shirts and 'I heart Thaksin' T-shirts are probably best avoided.
Thais generally have a very low opinion regarding foreigners' knowledge of Thailand. As far as Thais are concerned, foreigners can't speak Thai, can't read Thai, and know nothing whatsoever about Thailand. Of course, this doesn't apply to all foreigners but it is sometimes best to behave in the way that Thais expect you to behave.
Complete ignorance of the country equates to political neutrality, and in many situations taking a neutral stance is the best thing.
Staying away from protest sites is advisable, not because the protesters are targeting foreigners, but because attacks tend to be indiscriminate. Just before I arrived in Bangkok recently there was an explosion at Victory Monument, near to where I was staying. As a motorcycle drove past the rider or passenger lobbed a grenade into the crowd.
This is the reason why I have never travelled down into the three troubled provinces. I don't believe the insurgents have an issue with the likes of me, but you only have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An unfortunate character trait with Thais is that if they have a grievance with the government they will often try to cause as much disruption as possible in order to make their voices heard.
If thousands of angry rice farmers descend on Bangkok in their agricultural vehicles and decide to block access and egress to the international airport, that will cause a lot of disruption to tourists.
In summary, I wouldn't be concerned at all about visiting Thailand at the moment. Just keep away from protest sites, don't wear any inflammatory T-shirts, don't discuss politics with Thais, and prepare for some possible travel disruptions.
Another big advantage of travelling to Thailand at the moment is that the exchange rates now are better than they have been for a very long time. As soon as this all blows over, which I think it will soon, I expect the UK pound/Thai Baht exchange rate to fall quite quickly to below Bt50 once again.
With tourist numbers down it is likely that you will be able to find bargains in Thailand where hotels have reduced prices in an effort to get tourists back.
However, you may also find that some vendors have actually raised their prices to make up for the shortfall caused by the lack of business. This practice seems to be unique to Thailand. The country is very insular and many Thais are detached from reality regarding money and assets.
Where I live there is a huge condo building. It was the first, and when I arrived the only, condo building in town. It was virtually empty despite being built several years previously. The unsold units had actually started to crumble and it was a real mess.
It opened just as the Asian Financial Crisis unfolded in 1997. After many years of double digit growth in the Thai economy everyone was borrowing as much as they could and investing in property in the belief that the boom would go on forever. Of course, bubbles always burst and a lot of Thais got their fingers burnt.
The condo units were all priced at pre-crash levels and after the huge crash, which resulted in a huge devaluation of the Baht, the prices remained the same. This was akin to doubling prices and, of course, there were no buyers.
When Thais own an asset they seem to think that its value will never go down, despite external events and market forces. I have seen ancient second-hand computer hardware and cameras in Thailand with stupid prices and buyers will never be found.
For a long time the used car market in Thailand was stupid. Used cars were about three times the price of equivalent used cars in the UK. I couldn't work out why and assumed it was because Thais couldn't accept the fact that car prices actually depreciate.
This state of insanity eventually ended last year, mainly as a result of the government's populist new car subsidy scheme which flooded the crowded used car market with even more cars.
I was one of the losers because I was forced into buying cars before the market crashed and I was forced to pay the crazy prices. However, there is nothing I can do now. When I sell one of our cars I will get a lot less than I paid, but this is reality. If I buy another used car I will now be able to buy it a lot cheaper.
On the other hand, a friend of my wife's cannot accept this new state of economic reality. She wants to trade in her Toyota Vios for a new car. She has been planning this for quite a while and thought she would get about Bt400,000 for her car. In the UK a car like this would sell for about Bt100,000.
She has been offered Bt220,000, which seems like a fair price at the moment, but has refused to sell the car at this price. My wife has told me that she has now advertised it online for Bt360,000 but my wife - whose brothers are all in the motor trade - says she won't be able to sell it for this amount. Of course not.
I could never figure out why anyone, apart from rice farmers, would think the rice-pledging scheme was a good idea. This is another example of Thai economics that is divorced from both reality and open market economics.
Many Thais are also very stubborn. If they think that something is worth more than it actually is, they will rather not sell it than sell it for the going rate. I've had similar problems with taxi drivers who wanted to charge me the farang fare. They will rather lose my business than take me for the local fare.
The advice here is that although there may be bargains in Thailand at the moment, there will still be Thais trying to rip people off to make up for their general loss of income.
Friday 21st February 2014
It is no secret that most farangs who move to Thailand are male, and no secret that many are drawn to Thailand by the availability of lots of females. To say that this wasn't a factor in my decision to move to Thailand would be a lie. Never believe any farang male in Thailand who says he only moved to Thailand because of the food and a love of Buddhism.
Neither is it a secret that many farang males run into lots of problems with Thai females and that they also lose lots of money. It isn't always the case, but with many it is their own fault. If, as soon as you arrive, you get on a minivan to Pattaya to meet the girl of your dreams it is probably going to end in tears, especially if you are 65 and she is 19.
For a long time, I have maintained that if meeting Thai girls who work as nurses or teachers there is a much lower chance of failure. They have a certain level of education, even if it is only a Thai education, and the small salaries they earn is a good indicator that money isn't the only thing in their lives ... as it is for bargirls.
Having spent so much time at Thai hospitals recently, and also going through the process of getting my daughter into a Thai kindergarten school, I have met a lot of nurses and teachers lately. It has been a real treat.
They haven't all been drop-dead gorgeous, in fact, none have really fitted that description. Many have been quite plain, but there have been a few who would certainly have got my attention if I wasn't married.
Around thirty is a great age for single Thai girls. They're probably at their physical peak with wonderful, slim bodies, mentally quite mature, and many - because of a strong desire to have kids - are looking for a decent, reliable man. With so many Thai men only interested in drinking, smoking, and racing motorbikes and pickup trucks around, the career girls with a little education can have real problems finding suitable men.
However, they're not easy to hook up with, by any means.
The first problem is language and to meet girls like this you need to have a decent grasp of conversational Thai. My wife, an ex teacher, speaks very little English and our language of communication is Thai. All of the nurses I spoke to recently while our son was in ICU could speak very little English and all of our conversations were in Thai.
Bargirls know that they can improve their earnings by speaking better English and money is a great motivator. This is why Thai bargirls tend to speak better English than Thai PhD students. The easy option is not to learn any Thai, but it pays to make an effort with the language. Having some Thai conversational skills will not only open up many more opportunities, but you will meet girls who aren't simply interested in your bank account.
The other major problem is the girls' serious lack of free time.
Nurses work around a shift pattern of three 8-hour shifts a day. When they finish one shift, for example, from midnight until 8am it is quite normal for them to be back at work for the next shift at 4pm. Some nurses at the hospital seemed to be there permanently.
Their salaries are low and therefore they work overtime to get some more money. This often means working a double, 16 hour, shift. They work six days a week and, as you might expect, on their day off they don't feel like doing much. It's a tough job and it is difficult for them to have any kind of a social life.
Teachers aren't slaves to the same shift patterns, but they also earn very low salaries and most do private teaching to increase their incomes. This means working every evening after their day job finishes, and also at weekends.
My wife used to do this and for a while she also worked as a hotel receptionist in the evenings to bring some more money in. She started her second job when her teaching job finished and then finished her second job at midnight.
As a tourist in Thailand all I ever saw were desirable girls, and the only thing preventing me from getting into a relationship was my return flight back to misery ... or so I thought at the time. That view changed after I came to live in Thailand.
Firstly, I realised that girls I had previously thought of as desirable when I was a tourist didn't seem desirable at all. Then I realised that the most of the genuinely desirable Thai girls had already been snapped up. And then I realised that the ones left were very difficult to meet and to get to know.
As is the case with everything in Thailand, what you see on the surface as a tourist in the country is never how things actually are.
There aren't too many roundabouts (or 'traffic circles' as Americans call them) in the country, but every time I meet one it is obvious that Thais don't have a clue how to use them. I asked my wife if she was taught how to negotiate a roundabout while taking her driving lessons and she confirmed that she wasn't. At some roundabouts, helpfully, instructions are provided.
The first thing that struck me about this particular roundabout was the English translation of the instructions. Fortunately, farangs in Thailand know how to use roundabouts so don't need instructions. This is indeed fortunate because I doubt that many could understand this translation.
'Right next to the car'. The Thai says, "Hai rote taang kwaa bpai gon," which, roughly translated, says 'Let cars to your right go first'. A better translation on the sign might have been 'Give way to the right'.
Worldwide surveys have shown English language skills in Thailand to be amongst the worst in the world. Everyone knows that the majority of Thais have extremely poor (or non-existent) English language skills. However, when special signs are made at great expense why don't the people responsible get the translations done properly?
The other thing you need to be aware of if you drive in Thailand is that signs and traffic laws mean nothing. Right of way in Thailand is given to larger vehicles and aggressive drivers, regardless of what side they are on. This is why huge pickup trucks are so popular.
I went to the bank yesterday and parked in the small bank car park. When I returned to the car with my wife and two young children I couldn't leave because a pickup truck had parked in such a way that it was preventing several cars from getting out.
I left my wife with the children and then had to find the driver, who was doing his banking. I had to wait for him to finish what he was doing, and then had to wait some more for him to move his car.
Today I took my daughter out for a ride on her bike at a really attractive leisure area near to where we live. When I returned I found a beaten up old pickup truck stuck halfway across our driveway. I could just about get my car back in, but my wife couldn't get her car out.
Every house in the development has off road parking for two or four cars and for this reason there are very few cars parked on the road. There are hundreds of parking spaces and it is completely unnecessary to park in front of someone's driveway.
However, quite a few Thais seem to think that it is their right to park as close as possible to their destination without needing to walk and this is exactly what they do, with no consideration whatsoever for other people. This kind of thing has happened to me on many occasions.
In a bank car park there is a good chance that the culprit is inside the bank. However, this has happened to me on a normal street where I have had no idea where the driver was or when he would return.
When I drove to the bank yesterday there was the usual problem with double parking. This is where Thais want to pick up some food or visit an ATM and there is no parking available directly outside. Instead of finding a side road, parking and then (perish the thought) walking to where they want to go, they simply park in the middle lane of busy roads and put their hazard warning lights on. They don't care at all that they block an entire lane of a busy road during, even during times when the traffic is very heavy.
This kind of inconsiderate behaviour irritates the hell out of me, but it's how Thailand works. A lot of Thais think only of themselves and other people don't count. There is no enforcement of any traffic laws and Thais don't confront obnoxious people because there is a lot of violence, as well as a lot of guns, in Thai society and they fear reprisals.
To put this kind of behaviour in perspective, the majority of Thais wouldn't do this. Unfortunately, the minority who do is large enough for this kind of thing to happen to me regularly.
When I speak to Thais about this kind of behaviour it irritates them just as much as it irritates me. The only difference is that it is 'normal' to them and they have never experienced anything different.
While Thais are being shot and killed in gun battles in Bangkok, someone has created a Gangnam Style parody of the current political impasse containing all of the main characters including Thaksin in a yellow suit and Yingluck as a sexy redhead. The original Gangnam Style video was a huge hit in Thailand. The whole situation is so pathetic that I guess you have to laugh.
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Our son was born on January 10th. I had taken my wife to the hospital the previous evening and was getting ready to go to the hospital to see her and the baby with my daughter and parents. Just as I was about to leave, my phone rang.
It was my wife's sister. She told me to get to the hospital as fast as possible and to go alone. Despite my questioning, she wouldn't tell me what the problem was. Of course, I thought the worst.
I drove to the hospital like a lunatic ... but found I was still the slowest person on the roads. Did I ever mention before about how fast Thais drive?
When I got to the hospital my wife and son had been separated. She was recovering from a C-section and he was in an incubator being given oxygen. Shortly afterwards a tube was inserted down his throat to vent the oxygen directly into his lungs. As soon as he was born the medical staff realised that he had breathing difficulties and this was later diagnosed as pneumonia.
The hospital decided to transfer him to a hospital that had better ICU facilities. I was very disappointed when they said where he was being transferred to because my previous experience at that hospital hadn't been good. However, I was soon to find out that the hospital has the best Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the south of Thailand.
For the first five days I was visiting my wife in one hospital and my son in another. Both hospitals are downtown where traffic and parking are always a nightmare.
After my wife was discharged I continued making two visits a day to check progress with our son. The staff were excellent and despite its grotty external appearance, the hospital really does have a fantastically equipped Neonatal ICU.
I had never been in such a facility before and it is quite an eye-opener. They deal with premature babies and babies, like ours, who are born with life-threatening conditions.
The birthweight of some babies was less than a kilogram (even 500 grams) and they were tiny. Some had been abandoned, therefore after many months in ICU they would then be handed over to an orphanage. Some died and others had no chance, even though they were being kept alive. The staff there do wonderful work.
Our lad was allowed to go home after three weeks. We were expecting it to take longer, but he made very good progress towards the end of his stay in hospital and they decided he was well enough to go home.
While all this was going on, my parents were visiting. They helped enormously, but I felt obliged to at least get them out of the house occasionally. There was a period of one month when not only did I not have time to do this, but on most days I didn't even turn my computer on.
It has been better since, but I still have very little time. The baby is very demanding on his mother and she is taking care of him full time. That leaves me with our daughter, who is also very demanding in other ways, and most of the household chores to do.
Fortunately, we got our cleaning lady back in January. She does all the cleaning, but it still leaves dishes and laundry, etc.
I have attempted to sit down and do this on many occasions recently. The problem is that it needs time, and time is something that I never seem to have. After 10 minutes my wife either calls me to do something or my daughter finds me and wants me to do something with her.
The ironic thing about doing something like this is that I have least time when there is most to write about. On so many occasions recently I have thought about things I could write about, only to get home and not have any time to write. Normally, by the time my family is ready to sleep so am I ready to sleep.
I am not naive enough to think that I will ever get the same life back that I had before I was married with kids. Life has now changed completely, forever.
However, I am optimistic enough to believe that a time will soon come when I will at least have a few hours to myself each day. My daughter will start kindergarten soon and that should signal the time when I will be able to reclaim some of my former life.
It has been a difficult and frustrating time. Our son's situation was touch and go at first. In addition to the physical tiredness of all the driving and hospital visits, there was also the chance that we could lose a child. That isn't an easy thing to deal with.
For most of my life, finding time to do things has never been too difficult. Conversely, not having any time to do anything has been very frustrating. People have still been sending me e-mails about my local guide and whereas in the past I could always pop out to get some information I haven't been able to do that.
As I just said in an e-mail to one of my readers, "You can have anything in life, but you can't have everything." I have used this maxim in my own life for many years. You can't have a family life and children while still retaining all the freedom that you had as a single person. It's impossible.
I could have chosen to remain single and childless in Thailand, however, after many years of living that way the loneliness and lack of purpose in life got to me in the end. I decided to settle down and even though I knew that having children would be life-changing I didn't quite realise how life-changing it would be.
I want to write more now, but my eyes keep closing and I am having trouble focusing. More later, whenever I get access to that rare commodity called time.
Tuesday 18th February 2014
Tourists face many dangers in Thailand and many foreigners leave the country each year in coffins and bodybags. Some dangers are obvious, and some not so. Here's another tip about staying safe in Thailand.
The bargirls working at Patong beach in Phuket are generally quite young, quite light, quite lithe and quite agile. Engage them in a game of 'Connect 4' by all means, but leave dancing on the bar counters to the girls and don't try it yourself, especially if you are getting close to 60, drunk, and probably not in the best of shape.
I wonder if this one will be nominated for the annual Darwin Awards?
Friday 7th February 2014
"Business leaders and academics agree Thailand urgently needs face-to-face negotiations"
"Business leaders and academics agree Thailand urgently needs face-to-face negotiations"
This is exactly what a Bangkok taxi driver told me recently. Perhaps it would be better if taxi drivers swapped jobs with business leaders and academics.
There was a good quote on Channel News Asia:
"The political problems in Thailand will never end for so long as power and control continue take precedence over fairness and justice."
It's all a big power struggle and those people fighting for power and control in Thailand don't have any genuine interest in making Thailand a fairer country for all Thais. This is the root of the problem.
Tuesday 4th February 2014
It's not just Thailand:
Since living in Thailand I have never been able to take the country seriously. The outward appearance is normally quite acceptable, but then you see or hear something that turns everything into a joke.
Some years ago, I met a nurse. She was a bright, attractive girl and was studying for a Master's degree while working in the private hospital located near to where I used to live.
I was having lunch in the hospital canteen one day and bumped into her. She offered to take me on a tour of the hospital; an offer that I was pleased to accept because healthcare in Thailand is of interest to me and I thought it would be good to see what goes on behind the scenes.
After my tour, she and her colleagues desperately wanted to know something. They weren't interested in my impressions of the hospital facilities, instead they wanted to know which department I thought had the prettiest girls. They were very serious.
This question also cropped up quite a few times in the university dental faculty where I used to work. On a tour of that facility I was shown a room full of specialised equipment and there was a dental colorimeter. Instead of checking the colour of teeth, the students used it to measure their skin colour to see who was the whitest.
Beauty is an obsession in Thailand and Thais are most obsessive of all about skin colour.
The current anti-government protests in Thailand could be the start of some monumental changes in how Thai society and politics operate and what is going on now is quite significant.
Near to where I live there are quite a few protest sites and the protesters have blocked roads and caused disruptions. As I passed a protest site recently it resembled a fair.
There were the usual loud-mouthed men shouting anti-government rhetoric through loudspeakers and when they had finished the crowd started cheering, applauding and blowing whistles. But they were all smiling, laughing and treating it as a form of entertainment.
The vendors that travel around working at various fairs were all there selling typical Thai street food and also helium filled balloons and novelty items. An apparently serious had been turned into a festival.
On most days I have a quick look at the Bangkok Post and Nation websites to see the latest shenanigans in Thailand and this morning one of the main front page stories was about how Thai girls are swooning over a Japanese news reporter.
Most Thai girls don't seem to be that physically attracted to Caucasians. The main attraction with farangs seems to be money. The men they really go for are from other Asian countries.
Before he got married, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was a huge heartthrob in Thailand. Younger Thais are obsessed with South Korean culture, fashion, soap operas, and boy/girl bands, but a good looking Japanese will also get pulses racing.
There are some really crass Thai TV programmes about fashion and celebrity gossip, and if this story had appeared there it wouldn't have been a big deal. However, for it to appear in the context of such a huge political uprising in Thailand defies belief.
More bad news for Thaksin and Yingluck.
Or was this a fake deal with ulterior motives? I can smell a lot of rats. Short grain, long grain.
Having got used to receiving far more money for their rice than they would have achieved on the open market, Thai farmers are now furious that the government has delayed payments.
This entire rice-pledging scheme has been a complete disaster. Cambodian rice has been smuggled into Thailand to get the high price, rice has been left to rot because it is too expensive to sell, favouritism towards rice farmers has resulted in a lot of anger among growers of other produce, and now the rice farmers themselves aren't happy.
This scheme, along with the Amnesty bill that the government tried to sneak in so that Thaksin would be whitewashed of all his misdemeanours, were the final two straws that broke the camel's back.
How unfortunate. Minivan drivers in Thailand are usually so kind and considerate to their passengers and other road users.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand