Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 30th June 2008
It has been reported that the Thai government is planning to support the manufacture of electric motorbikes. What an absolutely fantastic idea.
The reason given is to rely less on oil (as the price of oil continues to spiral ever upwards), but it makes so much sense on so many other counts.
There are many poor people in Thailand who can't afford cars, and a motorbike is their only viable mode of transport but they're noisy, they pollute the environment, and far too many Thais use them as combined status symbols and toys. They're also dangerous, with motorbike casualties making up the majority of road deaths in Thailand, of which there are already far too many.
Compared to a standard motorbike, a well designed electric bike would still give poor people the mobility they need but it would be cheaper to run, slower, safer, more environmentally friendly, and silent.
It remains to be seen whether anything will actually happen, or whether this will simply remain as a good idea, but at least it's being thought about.
Well done, Samak. Who cares if he sits in government house making paper birds while he is supposed to be running the country if he is generating good ideas like this?
Friday 27th June 2008
The story about the British expat in Australia who put his 'life up for sale' on e-Bay made a lot of publicity last week. Just like the Million Dollar Home Page from a couple of years ago, it was obvious that Ian Usher had invested an enormous amount of energy on publicising his own story. Good luck to him.
Like Alex Tew, he has had his 15 minutes of fame and we will likely never hear about him again. There is a novelty value to these stories but novelty never lasts very long.
Inevitably, when stories like this break, the term 'mid-life crisis' is always quick to surface. However, it is anything but a crisis. It's a perfectly normal example of how our thinking changes as we get older (with regards to male thinking, anyway). Most females think a little differently, although there is no doubt that a few do go through a 'Shirley Valentine' phase at a certain age.
Up until the age of about 20, most male brains are only interested in vehicles, alcohol and sex. My teenage years were spent messing around with push bikes and cars; trying to find any females (regardless of what they looked like) who were interested in sex; and getting so drunk at the weekend that I stayed in bed until at least 2pm the next day.
I grew out of it, as most (but not all) males do, and I have also seen this kind of behaviour with some of my young male students.
At around 20, especially if they have embarked on a career, males start to get more responsible but they also start to get very materialistic. When I first started a proper career at age 22, I had a mental list of everything I wanted and nothing got in the way of me achieving my goals, including not being a very nice person towards other people if I thought it would help my case. By 32, I had got just about everything I wanted.
During this responsible, materialistic time, many males also acquire wives and children. For the ones who do, it is game over for the next 25 years. They either devote their lives to their kids being responsible parents, or end up divorced with just enough money after the divorce settlement to survive on. Either way, they aren't very able to do the things in life that they might really want to do.
Once the kids have left the nest, some people go off to do all kinds of adventurous things in the 'third age', but others find they no longer have the energy and/or motivation and slowly stagnate into a quiet retirement.
For males with no family commitments, 35 upwards starts to get interesting. After wanting and acquiring lots of material things, there comes a point for many when they realise these things aren't really what they want at all.
The guy in Australia is a classic case. From the photos and description on his web site, you can see he has lots of toys (cars, motorbikes, jet skis, skydiving gear, big screen TV, etc) but now he has decided to sell everything and leave with just his wallet in one hand, and his passport in the other.
He tries to give the impression he is giving up the 'perfect' lifestyle but it can't be all that perfect if he wants to leave it all behind.
The trouble for many of us is that we don't figure out for ourselves what we want in life. We let other people do it for us by watching 'lifestyle' TV programmes, reading 'lifestyle' magazines, and wandering around 'lifestyle' shopping malls. It isn't until we get a little older - and 40 is a significant age for finally realising what it is we do actually want in life - that we start to think for ourselves.
When that realisation dawns on us, provided we are in a position where we don't have major commitments, we can make big changes. That's why I'm in Thailand and that's why Ian Usher is just about to leave his life in Australia. If we have major commitments and can't make big changes, many of us are destined, as Henry David Thoreau put it, to 'lead lives of quiet desperation'.
The only part of this story I'm not convinced about is Usher's claim that after selling everything, he will go to the airport and take the first plane to anywhere that has a vacant seat. Somehow, I can't see him leaving Perth and going back to Britain, or to somewhere like New Zealand, mainland Europe, North America, or any other developed country.
In his mid-40's, single after a failed relationship, and with money in his pocket, he is a prime candidate for the Land of Smiles. What's the betting that the first plane he can find with a vacant seat just happens to be going to Bangkok?
It makes me laugh to hear about male expats living in Thailand who never really planned to go to Thailand in the first place but after they accidentally found themselves in Thailand on the way to somewhere else, decided they would stay because they liked the 'culture' and the 'food'.
Thursday 26th June 2008
I found this article from The Nation interesting for two reasons: Thaksin's lawyers imprisoned
Firstly, it demonstrates how rich, powerful people in Thailand have always (up until now) got away with dishonesty and corruption, and the way in which they have become accustomed to doing so.
A lawyer representing Thaksin and his wife claimed he felt sorry for the officials working at the court because they had to work so hard every day. The kind man decided one day to give the poor hard-working court officials a little gift - a box of chocolate candy. Aaaah, how nice. I can feel my eyes welling up as I write, just thinking about this act of unselfish human kindness.
Unfortunately, he gave the task of delivering the chocolate candy to his irresponsible driver who delivered the wrong box. Tut, tut, silly man. Instead of the driver delivering the box of chocolate candy, the court officials found a lunch box stuffed with two million baht. Well, this kind of thing happens all the time, doesn't it?
Of course, it wasn't an attempted bribe, oh no, it was just an 'honest mistake'; the same kind of 'honest mistake' Thaksin made when he 'forgot' to declare assets in 2001, and the same kind of 'honest mistake' the family made when they 'ticked the wrong box' on a form when declaring a share transfer worth 73.3 billion baht.
The second point of interest is that someone has actually gone to jail for corruption in Thailand. I've never heard of this happening before. Corrupt Thais normally just get pushed off to one side but they don't go to jail, and they are allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains.
This is a good indicator.
Wednesday 25th June 2008
The similarities between Thaksin and Berlusconi are simply incredible.
Tuesday 24th June 2008
The third sex. This is one of those stories that falls squarely into the 'Only in Thailand' category. With ladyboys everywhere, the Thai Education Ministry has decided it wants to build separate toilets for them at Mae Fah Luang university in Chiang Rai.
However, regular students want the money spent on more productive projects, and they also claim this plan is unfair because it ignores homosexuals.
I've never quite figured out which toilet they use but in this article 'transsexual nursing student', Worakarn Kantajaem, says he/she can use either. There you go.
Monday 23rd June 2008
Thais are very good (exceptionally good, in fact) at keeping their options open in life. On the 18th I wrote about how one of my students had explained to me that by acting humbly and modestly towards other people, she was then able to approach them for help. It made a lot of sense.
If someone is brash, arrogant or boastful, they alienate themselves from others and then find that the people they have alienated don't want to help them if they have problems. When I thought about this, I could see the Thai logic.
Another way girls keep their options open is to hide the truth (some might refer to this as lying) about their relationship status. Of the hundreds of unmarried Thai girls I have met and spoken to, I can count on one hand the ones who have admitted to having a boyfriend.
Normally, they will look you straight in the eye and swear they don't have a boyfriend, but what you will normally find is that there is at least one Thai male in the background. I have experienced this on numerous occasions.
Even if you see them with their boyfriend, they will still vehemently deny having a boyfriend. One stunning looking girl I knew had a Thai boyfriend who spent lots of money on her. She didn't work and was always buying things. She had a new motorbike and one day a new Honda Jazz appeared.
Not only was there lots of evidence that her boyfriend was buying all this stuff for her, but I used to see him quite often, and all her friends told me she had a boyfriend. The evidence was overwhelming but whenever I spoke to her she would still spin out the old line about not having a boyfriend.
Another very attractive girl had me going for a long time like this. As most Thai girls do, she flirted outrageously and gave me sad accounts of how she spent the evenings alone in her room. I didn't believe her at first but she was so convincing, that over a period of time I started to believe she was telling the truth.
I was about to try to step in but thought I would check first with one of her friends. I was told straight away that she had a boyfriend already so abandoned any ideas I had. I felt a bit stupid about having been taken in yet again because I should have known better, but she had been very convincing.
There's another girl I have known for a long time who has done exactly the same thing. The only difference is that I don't find her very attractive and she doesn't interest me. I chat on-line with her occasionally and she gives me the same sob stories about being alone all the time.
Whenever I meet her, she tells me with a pitiful look on her face how all her colleagues have boyfriends but, like a lonely wallflower, she has been left on the shelf and is all alone.
She also flirts outrageously. However, yesterday (for the second time) I saw her whizzing around on the back of some young lad's motorbike. When she saw me and realised she had been seen, she looked quite sheepish.
To call them liars sounds harsh (which is I why I prefer to say they 'hide the truth' or 'keep their options open'), but whatever terminology you use, the thing that is consistent is the lack of truthfulness.
And I can only believe they do this, not to be deliberately deceitful, but to keep their options open. Admitting to having a boyfriend would put other men off but if they can hide that fact and keep other men interested, if something goes wrong with their current relationship (or if a better offer comes along) they then have other options.
I could be completely wrong. Like everything else written here, it is just a theory based on observation and personal experience.
The subject of law in Thailand is a difficult one to understand. Here's an article about Thai law in the current political context from The Nation titled When elephants fight, the law books get trampled underfoot, which is based on a Thai proverb.
Some key phrases from the article:
- "... the practice of law has remained a strange technical art rather than an integral strand of the social and political culture."
- "Today, law is still the will of the powerful ..."
- "... the issue is not who is right, but who has the power to win."
- "Law is now very much part of the game of power."
- "This is not about law or legitimacy but about power."
How many times did you count the word 'power' in those phrases? Thais talk about democracy but so-called democracy in Thailand is only ever about a tiny section of elite Thai society obtaining, or retaining, power and influence.
Some things in Thailand will never change.
Saturday 21st June 2008
Old age is fast approaching.
My hair is still all there but turning whiter with each year that passes. To compensate for any baldness on top, my ever-growing ears have started sprouting thick clumps of hair to make up for any shortfalls, and my eyebrows have forgotten when to stop growing. (Ears and noses never stop growing; and with my nose that is very unfortunate.)
My memory is awful. I keep receiving e-mails from thoughtful banks asking me to confirm my on-line banking security details just in case a dishonest person tries to defraud me, but I can't remember having opened an account with these banks.
It's the same with on-line pharmacies who send me Viagra renewal notices when I can't remember having bought any Viagra from them in the first place. What is REALLY worrying is that after using the Viagra I can't remember buying, I can't remember if I had a good time or not. Oh dear.
Other signs of old age are increasing levels of grumpiness and cynicism. I score heavily in those two areas and a lot of my cynicism about Thailand isn't really justified. Like everywhere else, there are lots of good people in Thailand and a small minority of bad ones.
The problem in Thailand is that a lot of the bad people depend on foreigners to cheat, because their lies and scams wouldn't work with Thais. In actual fact, there is probably a far higher ratio of good to bad people in Thailand than many other countries but because the bad ones home in on foreigners it doesn't always seem that way.
After much procrastinating, I bought a new camera a couple of days ago. I previously had some reservations about buying major purchases like this locally but everything went extremely satisfactorily. The saleswoman was great.
My main concerns were to do with after sales service in the event of any problems. She answered everything very reassuringly and I really got the impression I could trust her. She had no qualms with me checking prices elsewhere or testing the camera as much as I wanted.
I've had the camera a couple of days now and although I haven't used it a great deal, it seems fine. It is definitely brand new and, as far as I am aware, faultless.
For those interested in such things, I replaced my ageing Canon 10D with a Canon 40D. The 10D was also purchased in Thailand four years ago. That too has been faultless, but my only criticism was that when I bought it, I am quite sure the salesman knew that a new model was just about to be announced.
They had cleared all their stocks and had to hunt around for a camera, which (with hindsight) is why I think they knew. However, it was no big deal in the end.
So, next time I start going on, you will know it is just the ramblings of a grumpy old man.
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