Living In Thailand Blog
Wednesday 29th July 2015
NHK World featured a short report today on the Thai car assembly industry from a Japanese perspective. All of the big Japanese car manufacturers have assembly plants in Thailand to take advantage of cheap labour costs and to act as a gateway into Southeast Asia.
Toyota sales in Thailand are down by about 25% compared to last year, Honda around 16%, and Isuzu somewhere in the middle. To put this in perspective, last year wasn't particularly good either because of the coup and the closing of the discount scheme for first-time car buyers. Most passenger cars in Thailand are made by either Toyota or Honda, and provincial Thai males have an obsession with the huge pickup trucks and huge SUVs based on pickup truck chassis made by Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubushi, Ford, etc.
Toyota has just replaced its Vigo line of pickup trucks with the Revo model and also introduced a new version of its large SUV Fortuner model. Presumably, the company was looking for increased sales as a result, but this isn't happening even though I know that many rural Thai males will be lusting after these new models.
The reason given by a Japanese car manufacturer executive was the huge amount of household debt in Thailand, which is something I have mentioned many times.
The situation isn't dissimilar to Greece, except that in Thailand debt belongs to individual households rather than the government because there is only a very small welfare system. The outcome, eventually, is the same. People can borrow money for so long, but eventually it will need to be paid back. Either the borrowers pay back, which gives them financial problems, or they default and the lenders have problems.
The only glimmer of light seen by the Japanese parent companies is the weakening Baht, but this won't help domestic sales. The balance between cars made in Thailand for the domestic market and those for export is roughly 50/50. Export sales may increase, but the domestic market will continue to struggle.
I was brought up with my parents' views that excessive debt is not a good thing. Apart from mortgages on houses, I have never liked borrowing money.
I took out a loan in Thailand to partially fund my car purchase based on my mistaken belief that the UK pound/Thai Baht would improve after I bought the car. It didn't and actually I would have been a lot better off paying cash in the first place.
Most Thais don't even consider paying cash for big ticket items and car and motorbike dealerships don't want customers to pay cash because the finance deals are very lucrative for them. There is, therefore, a huge finance industry in Thailand.
Similar to Greece, I find it difficult to understand how people can believe they will be able to live on borrowed money for evermore. Sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost.
Tuesday 28th July 2015
My visit to the private hospital yesterday was very successful and I was in and out within half an hour. I had to go back to the public hospital today for one of my son's vaccinations and it was a very different experience.
The appointment was for 12:30am, but all of the non-emergency staff were at lunch. I've experienced exactly the same thing at this same hospital before and also at another public healthcare facility.
Most of the individual doctors and nurses are fine, but attitudes remain in Thai government facilities that are reminiscent of old UK nationalised industries. There is no competition and no incentives for staff to provide excellent service.
A few years ago I went to this same hospital to get the card for my daughter that entitles her to cheap healthcare. After arriving we were told to go somewhere else and wait. This kept happening and each time the waits were very long.
It got to midday and while in the middle of another very long wait I realised that all the staff had disappeared. When I questioned this I was told that everyone had gone to lunch. I was furious.
If you complain they get angry and say that they are entitled to have their lunch. I don't disagree, but when you are dealing with hundreds of people there should be staggered lunch breaks so that the service continues uninterrupted. It's crazy that nothing at all happens between noon and 1pm because absolutely everyone has gone to lunch.
This doesn't happen in private hospitals or private companies, but it seems to be normal at government facilities, such as public hospitals.
Lunch break at government health facility 12:00 - 13:00
The second problem was that no one seemed to know what vaccinations he needed. We persevere with the crowded conditions at this hospital because it is where he spent time in ICU after being born with pneumonia and it is the place where he had his first vaccinations.
Our assumption was that if we took him to be vaccinated at various places this would lead to confusion about what had been done and what hadn't been done. This problem, or so we thought, wouldn't occur if all his vaccinations were carried out at one place. We were wrong.
I also had problems with a surly member of staff. I wasn't in a particularly good mood and questioned her as to why we were given an appointment at 12:30 when they know that there won't be any staff in attendance from 12:00 to 13:00.
Later on she got very bossy telling my wife to sit in specific chairs and then changing her mind several times so that it was like a game of musical chairs. I often find that in situations where Thais are being unreasonable I get angry, but my wife remains calm. Whenever I see her get angry I know that things must be really bad, and yesterday she got angry.
I am usually very positive about the Thai healthcare system, but today was an exception.
Monday 27th July 2015
A neighbour's house just got burgled. The thieves were let in to the development by our security guards, climbed over the garden wall, forced entry into the house, removed two safes (to be opened later), deleted all the CCTV footage, and were then let out by the security guards. The police could find no fingerprints so presumably they wore gloves.
Apparently, they were in and out in five minutes. They obviously knew where they were going and what they were after. I can only imagine that this information was obtained from a tradesman who had previously done some work in the house.
Perhaps it was the people who serviced the air-conditioners or, with apparently good skills in deleting CCTV footage, it was the technicians who installed the CCTV system?
We have tradesmen come into the house fairly regularly to do jobs. In our rented house a guy turned up to repair the A/C unit while I was out. My wife was looking after our daughter and couldn't watch him all the time. A few days later she realised that a gold bracelet had been stolen.
The police weren't interested and my wife's mother's view was that it was our fault. I guess she was right. With so many thieves in Thailand if you invite a stranger into your house to do work and leave valuables lying around there is a good chance they will be stolen.
In this house we have six A/C units. When they were cleaned last year four guys turned up. Three worked, while one walked around the house looking at everything. It makes you wonder.
Thursday this week is a Buddhist holiday - wun aasaan-ha-boo-chaa. It falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon in the eighth lunar month. The following day is the start of the Buddhist Lent (Rains Retreat). This lasts for three months and traditionally Thai men ordained as monks during this time.
This period of the year is also when Thais should think about the Buddhist precepts and resolve to lead better lives, in the same way that Westerners make resolutions at New Year.
However, when you have lived in Thailand for a while and realise how much murder, theft, sexual misconduct, lying and alcoholism there is, the Five Precepts are something of a joke. A Buddhist country? Really?
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing.
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
- I undertake the training rule to avoid sensual misconduct.
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.
As a result of the burglary a residents' meeting was called last night. This was the first one. I had thought for a long time that it would be a good idea to have some kind of residents' association where people could discuss common problems and how to resolve them. My wife attended while I took care of the children.
I'm not sure what (if anything) will happen as a result of the meeting. Unfortunately, there were no representatives from the development/management company or the security people.
The management never want to spend any money (as is usual with Thais) and if the residents want more CCTV cameras we will have to pay ourselves. This will be in addition to a service charge that everyone already has to pay for amenities and security, etc.
At the moment I have some doubts about the effectiveness of CCTV. The footage at the neighbour's house was wiped and no useful footage has been recovered from the public cameras in the development.
The general consensus is that the security guards need to do more. They just let anyone in and they are often asleep. If you toot to wake them up, they wake with a start and just open the gate without really looking.
This may mean employing more security guards, but it will be the residents who have to find the money. Thais are very good at taking money and very good at not giving money away. When the house was being built and I wanted very small changes that incurred no expense I was charged a lot for them. However, when there are problems the developer will never pay out.
I also have doubts about the use of safes now if thieves just remove the whole safe. I will now need to review my own security arrangements.
My UK house was burgled several years ago. It was December, when darkness falls at around 4pm in the UK, and I had gone out straight after work in London. I returned home around midnight to find the back door open and evidence of an unwanted visitor.
House burglary is a deeply upsetting, vastly underrated crime. Your home is s very personal space and to have that space violated is very disturbing. After the burglary I didn't want to leave the house for months for fear that while I was out it would be burgled again.
This latest burglary and ineffective security guards has made me feel uneasy again. We are at home most of the time, but there are occasions where we are away for a few days.
The Boy Racers - Bangkok Post article
I've written about this from my perspective. This article gives insights from the perspective of some of the kids who participate. It seems that my suggestion to build circuits where they could race safely would be futile. They don't want to wear any safety gear, they hate controlled environments, and they like the adrenaline rush of illegally racing on streets.
Two reasons given for why they participate are boredom and lack of attention from their parents. This is quite sad. Sad that their parents have all but abandoned them and sad that wider society can't provide anything of interest for them to do.
The term for the little hooligans used by Thais, and in this article, is dek wairn. Dek means child and wairn is an onomatopoeic word for the sound their motorbikes make when revved excessively: wairn wairn wairn.
เด็กแว้น - dek wairn
The groups of young male racers are often accompanied by young females who have a similar outlook on life. The Thai term for the young girls is sa-goy. I'm not sure what this means or whether the word even has a meaning.
สก๊อย - sa-goy
A very similar problem exists in Malaysia where thousands of out-of-control young males engage in dangerous, illegal street racing. The problem in Malaysia could actually be a lot bigger than in Thailand. The Malaysian term for illegal street racers is Mat Rempit.
Singapore may have a small problem, but in Singapore the caning they will receive will make it physically impossible for them to sit in their cars or on their motorbikes for a very long time afterwards. Many countries could learn a lot from Singapore's justice system.
I saw another doctor this morning - another very bright, meticulous, thorough and completely professional physician who would do well in any developed country.
The vast majority of Thai doctors and dentists who have treated me or my family have been just the same. The one exception was the guy in Chumpon who, many years ago, told me I had a perforated eardrum when the problems was just a bit of loose ear wax.
I continue to be highly impressed with the Thai health system. If driving is the worst aspect of living in Thailand, then having access to such an excellent health system is probably the best.
As I have said many times before, Thailand is the Land of Contrasts and Contradictions. As soon as I left the civilised environment of the private hospital a minivan driver with the IQ and social skills of a cockroach did his best to force me off the road to demonstrate his superior driving prowess.
I have some great neighbours who are genuinely kind and helpful and who would never dream of doing harm to other people. At the same time there are people who think nothing of breaking into other people's houses and stealing their possessions.
The young girl we found to help with cleaning and ironing has been great. She's led a tough life. Her parents separated when she was young, she left school as soon as she could with barely any education, and has had to fend for herself her whole life.
She's a real worker and never sits around. I tried to give her some extra money today because the ironing took quite a long time, but she refused.
Conversely, I have met plenty of Thais who are bone idle and want to take the path of least resistance whenever they do any work and, at the same time, want to try to charge as much as possible.
Every country has good and bad, but in Thailand the contrasts seem more extreme and I cross paths with people from each extreme a lot more frequently than I did in the West.
Occasionally I have days when I do is meet good people and I rave about Thailand. Other days are the opposite and I'd rather not be in Thailand. Most of the time it's a mixture.
Years ago when I was working a manager told me that with each job move you make within the company you should aim to do more of the things you enjoy and less of the things you don't enjoy. Unfortunately, the ability to choose what jobs I did was taken away from me and I ended up doing something I hated.
The secret to living in Thailand is basically to follow my old manager's advice. I moved house to live in an area where there were more people I wanted to live close to and less people who I didn't want anything to do with.
If we eat at a restaurant where the food and service is good, we go back, and if we find someone who does good work we give him more work. All Thais work this way and I think it is why so much importance is given to word of mouth and personal recommendations.
Over a period of time you work out which people and establishments to avoid and which ones to get involved with. This also explains why driving is so nasty in Thailand. Unfortunately, I can't choose to use roads that are used by civilised people and avoid ones that are used by idiots, cretins and morons. There is just one road network for everyone.
Sunday 26th July 2015
Some good news for a change. Prayuth has finally turned his attention to the huge social problem of illegal racing on Thai roads.
My wife also saw something on Facebook this morning that explains why I complain so much about this problem. Last night there was a big police operation in Hat Yai to catch teenage motorbike racers.
It turns out that Hat Yai is the worst place in Thailand for this particular kind of antisocial behaviour and the area where the operation took place was where we used to rent a house.
Yes, I used to live in the number one area in Thailand for illegal street racing. This is why I go on about it so much.
Photos on Facebook showed the little brats lying face down in the road while police confiscated their motorbikes. They have problems now, but if they reoffend they will have bigger problems.
Sensibly, the authorities are now making parents responsible for their brats' behaviour. This should always have been the case, but responsibility isn't a big thing in Thailand as I described last week.
The authorities are also targeting shops that sell accessories for street racing. Such a shop has just opened very close to my home. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but noticed that it attracted a lot of boy racers in pickup trucks and that they always departed with screeching tyres and clouds of smoke.
As I went past the other day I stopped to take a look. The shop sells replacement engine management chips and even nitrous oxide kits to increase performance.
The situation is completely out of control and needs some very tough enforcement. I am really happy about what has happened, but my one reservation is that it will be a one-off effort. I have seen this often in Thailand. Something gets done, but then it stops and everything reverts to normal.
There is also another racing related issue that needs attention. The police operation last night targeted gangs of kids who organise races against each other on public roads.
In addition, there are lots of lone boy racers who set out to race against other drivers who don't wish to race. They drive at breakneck speed continuously weaving in and out of traffic to get past every car ahead of them. They are just as much of a menace, but normally no action is taken against them
One such driver was caught on a dashcam last week and the footage was shown on TV news. He repeatedly pulled over to the side of the road, stopped, and then came racing past again weaving in and out of four lanes of traffic.
His driving caused an accident between three other cars and a motorbike while he sped off into the distance. The dashcam footage was handed over to the police and he was subsequently arrested. He was a young soldier.
What is disturbing is that if there had been no accident or if another car hadn't had a camera on board he would just have got away with his reckless driving. I witness the same kind of thing (although normally not quite as extreme) every time I drive my car.
There is a big 'racing' thing with Thai males. They like to plaster their vehicles with stickers and many stickers include the word 'racing'. Many minivans full of paying passengers are plastered with TRD stickers (Toyota Racing Development).
That's fine, but there is no way that their racing activities should be allowed to flourish on public roads as they do. This is a good move by Prayuth, provided that it is continuously enforced.
Perhaps also the Thai authorities might think about building some off-road race tracks where Thai males could dissipate some of their excess testosterone in such a way that it didn't put the lives of the public at risk?
Once you have followed Thai news stories for a while you start to see some very repetitive patterns. There are serious road crashes almost every day and twice a year (at New Year and Songkran) the number of deaths on the road soars.
Big corruption cases come up regularly, as do stories of monks behaving badly. Another rather concerning news event that occurs regularly is that of huge fires. Not just fires that destroy single houses, but fires that destroy huge buildings.
There have been a number of large fires where I live in the last year. Often they take place in old wooden buildings that start to resemble tinder boxes after a few months of hot weather, but not always.
Thursday 23rd July 2015
There was a quote in a Bangkok Post editorial recently that said the Thai education system actually lowers a student's IQ. It's maybe difficult to believe from the outside, but not so difficult if you witness what goes on inside.
I have criticised the formal education system many times, but the problem with education in general goes well beyond that. For most Westerners, education never stops. There is a thirst for knowledge throughout life and regardless of our age or level of formal education there are always new things to learn. The most important things I have learned in life were learned a long time after my formal education.
With many Thais, especially those lower down the socioeconomic scale, not only do they have a very low level of formal education but they also learn very little after their formal education. I think there are several reasons for this.
For starters, the intellect of many is quite low and watching TV soap operas or some other form of mindless entertainment is far preferable than increasing one's intellect or knowledge. The pervading culture is one of sanook, sabaay, and not thinking too much. These cultural values are not conducive to any kind of higher level philosophical thought.
In addition the Thai education system, and especially rote learning, conditions people to equate education with boredom. They remember facts, regurgitate them for an exam, and then forget them. If they aren't forced to learn (remember) something, they won't do it voluntarily in their own time
For all my life learning has been enjoyable. As a kid I always had my head stuck in encyclopedias, atlases or other educational material and loved finding out new things. If Thai kids read outside of school time it will most likely be Japanese manga cartoon books.
The culture just doesn't encourage learning throughout life and this is exacerbated by a lack of opportunity to learn later in life.
Another problem for Thais is that their beliefs and values are so firmly set in stone. It is the belief and value systems that determine cultural behaviour and Thais don't seem to be able to change. This is extremely inhibiting, particularly in a fast-changing world that demands constant change.
During the main part of my career I was sent on many courses. In addition to lots of technical training, both in and out of the UK, I was also fortunate enough to do a lot of what was classed as non-technical training.
The company I worked for owned large country houses in the UK and these were used for this type of training. My employer spent a lot of money sending employees off to live in a country manor for a week to learn non-technical skills. The employees continued to receive their salaries despite being completely non-productive, but in the West employees are regarded as an asset which need to be invested in.
In Thailand I have spoken to doctors and dentists who attend conventions abroad to learn and share knowledge, but outside of the medical profession this is almost unheard of. Most employees are expected to do as much work as possible for as little money as possible. It's simply exploitation.
The other thing that stops Thais from learning is a lack of financial opportunity. Because of their perpetual lack of money, many Thais believe money is the answer to everything. Unfortunately, they will never have enough to realise that this isn't true. Their whole lives are spent grasping for money when the answers to their problems often lie elsewhere.
So far I have talked in vague terms, but what type of things am I talking about?
Some years ago I attended one of the non-technical training courses that I mentioned above. It was different to anything I had ever attended before. Basically, it challenged every value of every student in the room. The company paid well and there was lots of materialism among employees. My life at the time was very materialistic and my goals then were simply a series of material acquisitions. However, I was a long way from being happy.
This course and the ideas that it introduced to me formed the catalyst that led to me to completely change my life a few years later. I guess that I was probably around 36 at the time.
Things that it taught me were deep self-analysis to try to understand what it was that I really wanted in life, not the things I thought I wanted as a result of how I had been conditioned by society.
Setting goals was another important lesson. Getting to where we want to be eventually is never a single journey, but a number of steps. If we know where we want to be eventually we make sure that each small step takes us nearer our final goal. If we don't know where we are going, which direction do we take with each step?
Overcoming resistance to change is a major obstacle for those wishing to change their lives. Doing nothing and continuing in a life of quiet desperation is always the easiest option, but not necessarily the most satisfying. Money is normally the reason given, but often this isn't the case.
I gave up a good salary at the age of 42 and at the same time lost my pension and health benefits. However, I now have a higher quality of life and support a wife and two children.
Another very important life lesson that I learnt on that course is that you can have anything, but you can't have everything. If you try to have everything you will not be successful. If you accept that you can't have everything it automatically creates a much more realistic expectation level. This, too, has nothing to do with money. Many things in life are simply incompatible, regardless of how much money you have.
You can't decide to raise a young family and make a comfortable family home and still expect to go off backpacking around the world for a couple of years. Money is irrelevant because these two activities are incompatible with each other. You need to choose which is more important to you. You can have anything, but you can't have everything.
My Thai wife doesn't have the benefit of my advanced years and better education and realising that she can have anything but she can't have everything is a problem that I see in her.
Like many Thais from poor backgrounds her whole way of life has been defined by never having enough money. This is the problem for about 99% of Thais. As far as she is concerned, the only reason she has never been able to do things is because of money.
To a certain extent this is correct. Before she knew me she had never travelled outside of Thailand and never been on a plane because she never had enough money. The winning lottery for a poor Thai girl is marrying a farang and, of course, as soon as that happens everything is possible.
She now has the young family and comfortable family home, in addition to no longer having to work and exchanging her motorbike for a car, but this isn't enough. She wants everything. There are many cultural problems with Thai/farang relationships, but there are also the problems associated with different levels of education.
Thailand means the land of the free and this is something that Thais are very proud of. The country was never colonised, as was every other country in the region, although one of the colonial powers could have colonised it easily. Thailand was regarded as a convenient buffer zone to keep the British and French apart, and the country also ceded an enormous amount of land to the British and French to remain independent.
There are good and bad types of freedom, and the freedom that exists in present-day Thailand isn't the good type. Thais have the freedom to do whatever they want to do basically because laws aren't enforced. This may sound attractive to foreigners who feel that maybe traffic police are a little overzealous in their home countries but, believe me, when so many people routinely ignore laws it starts to get just a tiny bit tedious.
What Thais haven't learned, or won't accept, is that with freedom comes responsibility.
Singapore is not a free country. The little island state is notorious for its strict (and many laws) and its harsh, sometimes barbaric, justice system.
Singaporeans don't have to act responsibly when setting up food stalls on the sidewalk because they will never have the freedom to set up food stalls on the sidewalk. If they attempted to do so they would be removed very quickly and punished accordingly.
Thais have the freedom to set up food stalls almost wherever they want because laws aren't enforced but, in addition to having this freedom, they also want to be absolved from any responsibility if someone gets injured as a result of their actions. People regularly suffer injuries from boiling oil or charcoal burners that have been set up on the sidewalk by vendors. Their food stalls often have sharp metal poles that stick out at eye level.
Thai men want to run red lights and race their cars around on publics roads as if they are racing drivers, but don't want to accept any responsibility if they cause accidents - which they often do. In almost every accident report I read I see the phrase 'The driver fled the scene'.
I've met lots of massage girls over the years, mostly from the poor northeast Isaan region, and mostly single mothers. They work wherever there is money to be made from tourism and send money back to their parents at home who take care of their children. In most cases they got pregnant quite young and the father 'fled the scene'. It's just another way in which Thais refuse to accept responsibility.
They want everything both ways - they want everything when they can't have everything. I'm not sure how Thailand can fix the problem. It is particularly sad that Thailand is supposedly a Buddhist country because so many of the answers can be found in Buddhist teachings.
After I came to Thailand I continued with my education, which is ongoing and will never stop, and I learned many valuable lessons from Buddhism. Buddhism is the most perfect analysis of the human condition that I have come across and because humans haven't changed in nature for thousands of years the lessons taught 2,500 years ago apply very much today.
The rains retreat has now commenced in Thailand and at one time it was traditional for Thai males to enter the temple and ordain as monks for the duration of the rains retreat - about three months.
As well as learning about Buddhism this also used to serve a practical purpose. In the days before a road network and mass transport, Thais went around by foot. Keeping men inside temples for three months after new rice plants had been planted lessened the amount of damage as a result of people walking on the crops.
Nowadays, there is very little real understanding of Buddhism in Thailand. If Thais had a better grasp of attachment, impermanence, grasping, the five precepts, the eightfold path, etc, and weren't so focused on money and materialism, I'm sure that many would lead much more satisfactory lives.
For many Thais 'Buddhism' is just about going to the temple to make merit so that they will receive winning lottery numbers in return.
It is still expected that Thai males will ordain (normally before they are married so that all the merit they accrue will go to their parents, not their wives), but the typical period of ordination is now a week or even just a few days. It's a token - and quite selfish - act with no intention at all of learning about Buddhism. How can anything useful be learnt in a few days?
I accept that the vast majority of Thais will never have the same educational opportunities that were accorded to me but, as a supposedly Buddhist country, a lot more could be done within the realms of the nation religion.
Thailand has long had the reputation of being Teflon coated. Regardless of the self-inflicted problems that the country brings upon itself, nothing ever sticks.
Initially, Thailand chose the wrong side in WW2 and allowed a Japanese occupation (although the country still claims never to have been occupied). When things started going the way of the allies Thailand changed sides. The British were furious and wanted war reparations, but the USA was the new world super power after WW2 and regarded Thailand as a strategically important ally in the fight against Communism. Thus Thailand wasn't punished.
The country relies heavily on tourism, but despite political protests completely closing an international airport no long term damage was done to the tourism industry.
This ability for problems never to stick in Teflon Thailand makes me reluctant to predict economic problems for Thailand, but how long can the country's luck last?
The country has a big car assembly industry and relies a lot on domestic sales. It seems that every Thai in the country buys cars using finance and in parallel with the car industry there is a huge finance industry. Both industries bring a lot of money into the economy.
However, there is a huge amount of household debt in the country and even though rural Thais throughout the land will now be lusting after Toyota's latest pickup trucks and Fortuners I think that many have well and truly exceeded their credit limits.
The Baht has been kept strong for a long time making Thai exports and vacations in Thailand more expensive. Inflation rages and food prices continue to increase. With drought problems in many areas of the country threatening rice crops, the price of rice is also likely to increase.
I notice these economic indicators and I keep thinking that the Thai economy will start to have major problems, but how thick is the Teflon coating?
Tuesday 21st July 2015
I've been sick. At the time of year when the weather starts to change I often get colds that quickly go down on to my chest. When I lived in the UK, September was my favourite month for getting sick. In Thailand, the hot season starts to transition to the rainy season around now. It's a bit earlier in the central and northern regions, and a bit later in the south.
Last Monday my throat started to feel bad and I recognised the symptoms. I woke up feeling bad on Tuesday. The problem needs antibiotics and I already had some at home. Thai doctors tend to prescribe a lot of drugs and I had been prescribed antibiotics for a previous problem that I didn't need.
I took them for five days. On Saturday I thought I was getting better, but there was a relapse on Sunday. I went to see a doctor yesterday. She diagnosed bronchitis and prescribed different antibiotics. Already I feel better and hope for a full recovery by the end of this week.
This should serve as a lesson in self-diagnosis. Had I seen the doctor last week I might have recovered by now. It is easy to buy a lot of medicine over the counter in Thailand that is only obtainable elsewhere with a doctor's prescription. The temptation may be to do self-diagnosis and treatment, but there can be risks. The first risk is that you get it wrong and prolong the problem.
A few years ago - thanks to Thai food hygiene standards - I contracted a severe intestinal infection. I was confined to the toilet and was left feeling so weak that I couldn't stand. Without any medical training all I really knew about was medicine such as Imodium that blocks diarrhea.
This had no effect at all and my wife somehow got me to a doctor on the back of her motorbike because we didn't have a car at the time. The doctor diagnosed some kind of bacterial diarrhea and prescribed appropriate medicine. Trying to self-treat problems like this can actually be quite dangerous and is not advisable.
Yesterday was quite interesting in that I spent all day in hospitals and witnessed the full spectrum of the Thai healthcare system.
Before 8am we went to one of the public hospitals with my son. From the outside, and also many areas inside - it is a complete zoo. I can't think of another word to describe it. It is located in the most Third World area of Hat Yai.
This is where the poorest of poor Thais go for treatment and it brings you face-to-face with the Great Unwashed. As I waited outside for my wife to park the car I saw quite seriously ill people turning up at the hospital on the backs of motorbikes and sitting in homemade sidecars. They were transferred to rickety wheelchairs and moved into the bowels of the hospital.
We waited in the children's clinic for almost three hours while it became more and more crowded. When we saw the doctor, who didn't show up until after 10:30, she just wanted to get through the patients as quickly as possible. We received free medicine and it was a relief to leave.
The medicine, however, was not for the cough he was exhibiting yesterday and his symptoms seemed very similar to my own. I then saw a doctor at a private hospital and we took him to the children's clinic at the private hospital.
The difference in the two levels of healthcare is night and day. The staff and even the patients are completely different. The public hospitals cater for the peasantry whereas the private hospitals cater for the educated middle classes.
Waiting times were short, hygiene and cleanliness standards very good, service excellent and doctors competent. The doctors certainly aren't incompetent at the public hospital - often the same doctors will work full time at a public hospital and part time at a private hospital - but they have such a busy workload that they seem too pressed for time to do an effective job.
The other big difference, of course, is cost. Bt1,860 for me and Bt1,765 for my lad. With outpatient medical insurance it wouldn't have been as much, but the insurance premiums are high and I stopped OPD insurance because it wasn't cost effective.
This hospital was where my son spent weeks in Neonatal ICU after he was born with pneumonia. When I first heard he was being transferred here I was horrified, based on my negative impressions of the hospital, but the NICU is the best facility of its type in southern Thailand. There are always many contrasts and contradictions in Thailand.
I never take time out of my day to deliberately watch TV (basically because most of it is a complete waste of time), but in my current situation helping to bring up two young children I have to do a lot of mundane tasks that don't allow me to do anything useful. While doing these tasks I often resort to the idiot box.
A girl comes in to iron clothes these days, but with a sick baby vomiting on beds last week I found myself doing lots of laundry and stuck behind the ironing board again. And at other times I just have to keep an eye on the baby while he sleeps.
At such times the TV can relieve the boredom a little. Despite there being a language problem with Thai TV I could force myself to understand more if the content was worth watching, but it isn't. To say that Thai TV is juvenile or puerile doesn't really describe it in adequate terms.
My four year-old daughter has now outgrown Barney the Dinosaur, but even when I had to endure Barney he looked quite sophisticated compared to the average Thai entertainment programme. It is another reminder of how different I am to Thais when I look at Thai adults laughing hysterically at this garbage.
Up until recently I chose to watch Channel News Asia from Singapore, but got a bit fed up with all the emphasis on Singapore. The BBC World programming schedule always looks boring and Al Jazeera is too focused on the Middle East. Just recently I have quite been enjoying NHK World broadcast from Tokyo.
Japan, a country I have never visited, has always appealed to me. I think it has a fascinating blend of ancient culture and modern technology. Living where I do now, I always compare things I see in other countries to Thailand and the Japanese are just so much more advanced in every aspect of society.
A Japanese 'game show' I watched a few days ago, in which two teams competed against each other, demonstrated the kind of differences I mean.
The game involved stacking a pile of heavy, solid steel discs in a machine where a hydraulically activated piston struck the bottom disc at high speed. Depending on the coefficient of friction between the discs, the remaining pile of discs would remain standing or it would topple over.
One team used special coatings and the other used special machining processes on the surface of the discs to lover the friction coefficient. The game ended in a draw when both teams managed to remove three discs each before the pile toppled over.
Shortly afterwards, I watched some Thai TV news. A woman in rural Thailand was shown turning on a tap, but the tap was dry. She uttered not a word, but was simply shown with a blank expression on her face. I have seen this expression in Thailand many times.
The ongoing drought in Thailand is now hitting some areas quite hard, but it still seems as if some Thais don't understand why there are problems. All they know is that when they turn on a tap water comes out. When the water doesn't run it is time for the blank expressions.
Instead of all Thais owning the problem and trying to prevent problems with water shortages, they carry on the same way they have always done and when problems occur they respond in a number of predefined ways.
Defiance is a national trait. Despite being told to only use water for personal use and drinking, farmers have been defying government instructions and pumping water on to their fields. Sure, if their crops die they will have financial problems, but if they run out of drinking water they will have bigger problems.
After defiance comes protesting. Many Thais don't want to own problems - they don't want the responsibility. In a system of patronage where they are clients they just want a patron to fix all their problems. In this case the patron is the government and if there are droughts they protest against the government, even after defying the government's advice.
Thailand is a land of huge contrasts and contradictions. There is a huge wealth gap and a huge intelligence gap. These things cause big problems for the country at times when everyone is expected to work together.
Thai society often reminds me of a lot of naughty children. The children are given a lot of freedom and rules aren't enforced. They are allowed to do what they want to do without regarding any consequences and when problems occur they go running to their parents.
On the other hand it is the people at the top who perpetuate the system, therefore, the people at the bottom can't carry all the blame. Do those at the top of Thai society worry about a desperately poor education system when they can send their own children abroad to study or to the best international schools in Thailand? Do they worry about an overloaded public health system when they can afford the best private hospitals in Thailand?
Rich Thais like opening in businesses to target wealthy foreigners and they like having a cheap work force. An education system that doesn't educate and mindless TV programmes maintain the status quo.
This is not a socialist rant. I do not believe that all people are created equal or that it is fair to take more from those who contribute more to society in order to give to those who contribute less.
Thailand is never going to turn the rural poor into middle class professionals, but at least give them a little more knowledge. Explain population growth and environmental issues, and encourage responsibility. This is what a patron/client society doesn't do and for as long as they simply expect someone else to magically fix major issues Thailand will continue to have major problems in society.
Monday 13th July 2015
My house in the UK looks out on to an area of grass that is public land. It provides a much better view than looking out straight at another house and it is a lot less claustrophobic.
There are no stray dogs and dog owners are responsible with their animals, therefore, it isn't covered in dog faeces. People don't use it to dump rubbish or set up food stalls. Council workers come to cut the grass fairly regularly in the summer months and it makes a big improvement to everyone's living environment.
Attitudes towards public space are completely different in Thailand and what goes on can be quite shocking to foreigners. The general attitude towards pieces of land that don't have an obvious owner or purpose is that the land can be stolen for personal use or that it can be used to dump rubbish.
Thai friends of mine visited the UK last year and came back with very positive impressions. One of the things they raved about was the uncluttered, neat and orderly footpaths in London. It was convenient for pedestrians and it didn't look a complete mess. Of course, this is normal for the developed world, but Thais have become so used to how things are in Thailand seeing how it should be in other countries surprises them.
The most obvious example of stolen land is when trying to use footpaths anywhere in Thailand. In most places the public footpath in front of a house or shop has been 'claimed' by the owner deliberately placing objects outside to prevent pedestrians from passing.
A deliberately blocked footpath
Another deliberately blocked footpath
Typical Thai sidewalk
The land may have been claimed just to give the house owner a bit more land to relax in or, in the case of shops, the land is used to extend the shop or erect food carts.
There was an interesting article about this in the Bangkok Post.
In Bangkok, where laws are enforced more strictly than the provinces, vendors are only allowed to sell in designated places and they must have a licence, which is renewed every year. Stalls must not exceed two square metres, must not exceed a height of 1.5 metres, and a gap of one metre must be left for pedestrians to pass.
As with most things in Thailand, laws may be enforced in Bangkok but the provinces are almost lawless and people do whatever they want. I'm sure that there are probably designated areas in the provinces, but people claim footpaths everywhere. They also block the footpaths completely so that it is impossible for pedestrians to pass. This can't be legal, but nothing is done.
A shop that has been extended using the full width of the footpath
This shop selling sticky rice and mango has even constructed string barriers, just to make sure that no one can get by.
A string barrier just to make sure that pedestrians can't pass
Even if you are able-bodied it is a pain, especially if it is raining heavily. I find myself continually stepping out into the road and in some places the road is the only place where you can walk. As I have mentioned several times before, Thai roads aren't the safest places in the world.
If you have a baby buggy, that presents another level of difficulty, and if you are a wheelchair user it is very difficult. Wheelchair users are forced into busy roads where there are lots of crazy drivers.
Wheelchair access in Thailand
However, the problem goes much further than simply blocking footpaths. Large areas of beach get claimed by food vendors, people build semi-permanent restaurant structures on public land, and huge permanent resorts are built in designated national parks.
During the Bangkok floods in 2011 some old maps were consulted and it was discovered that canals had been filled in so that developers could build private homes and even golf courses. No wonder the water couldn't escape.
This issue of stealing land is one that Prayuth has paid a lot of attention to. There has been a recent clampdown on Bangkok street vendors and scenes of soldiers and bulldozers claiming back national park land by demolishing resorts are shown fairly regularly on Thai TV news. Unfortunately, none of these measures have filtered out to where I live yet and thus the situation is exactly the same.
The other thing that public land is used for in Thailand is to dump rubbish. Instead of the pleasant view I used to have from my UK house, this is the view I had from my rented house in Thailand.
View from the front of my old rented house
There were rubbish bins just a few yards to the right and frequent rubbish collections, but obvious some people thought it was more convenient just to dump the rubbish like this.
Another thing I found strange was that even people living close by would just dump rubbish. Didn't they care about the environment they lived in? Apparently, not. Even a piece of unused land right next to their own house could be abused and they had no objection to living next to a rubbish dump.
On a few occasions while standing on my balcony watching people discard their rubbish I would say something. Sheepishly, they would pick whatever they had discarded, but intervening like this can be quite dangerous in Thailand.
When I do the school run I pass several areas that have become impromptu dumping grounds. The UK term is 'fly-tipping'. This is very common in Thailand and I have noticed the broken window syndrome. One person dumps rubbish and then other people follow.
The rubbish dumped is not only household waste, but also construction debris. In one place the local municipality erected barbed wire and signs telling people to stop.
One of the unofficial dumps
At another place they had to lay down big concrete posts to physically stop vehicles from entering and dumping rubbish.
The unofficial dump after access was closed
Any piece of land without an obvious owner or purpose is seen fit to be used as a rubbish dump. The following is in a fairly nice neighbourhood close to an expensive private hospital. It's just a big eyesore.
Roads are public space and this is another contributing factor to the appalling driving standards on Thai roads. Rather than drivers having an attitude that they have to share the road with other drivers, they use roads for their own purpose.
Boy racers use roads to race at breakneck speed, other vehicles creep around blocking roads to pick up passengers or to blast out advertisements over loudspeakers, and people think nothing of parking in busy roads even if it means blocking an entire lane of traffic during the rush hour.
I can't really understand any of this behaviour, but it has always been this way in Thailand. This type of behaviour is so entrenched within the Thai psyche that people can't, or won't, change.
This is why I raise my eyebrows when I hear talk that Thailand can be a fully developed country within 17 years.
Let me be clear here. The vibrant street vending scene is an integral part of Thailand's culture and it is something that I loved as a tourist. Many visitors to Thailand feel the same way. I wouldn't want it to disappear, but I would like it to be more regulated and I would like more consideration shown to other people.
The Bangkok Post article I linked to above was "Do we really want to be just like Singapore?" as if being like Singapore was a bad thing.
In the early 60's before Lee Kuan Yew started his transformation of the island, Singapore was a Third World dump with slums and street vendors everywhere. The PAP's actions were met with a lot of resistance, but things had to change.
The slums were bulldozed and vendors removed from the streets to new hawker centres. The hawker centres were regulated and there was access to electricity and fresh running water. Food hygiene was improved and simultaneously the clutter was removed from the footpaths, but Singaporeans were still able to buy street food.
I don't see why similar regulation couldn't work for Thailand and, while they are at it, they could also designate zones in which people can participate in water fights once a year so that those who don't wish to participate won't be inconvenienced.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand