Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 30th June 2014
On 27th May I wrote about how Thailand should be developing infrastructure to start pushing some wealth into the poor Northeast (Isaan) region. Apart from corruption, one of the biggest problems the country faces is a huge (and increasing) wealth gap and this is what lies behind all of the political problems.
I was therefore delighted to see this news article:
This project will ease traffic congestion, open up the Isaan region, and also form part of the Asean Highway Network, which is strategically important for Thailand's continued development in a fast changing part of the world.
The previous government initiated a lot of infrastructure projects, but some appeared to be white elephants that were only intended to be used as vehicles to siphon off money to corrupt politicians. Some of these projects have already been shelved.
In recent weeks, after watching General Prayuth's Friday evening talks to the nation and from reading articles such as this, I have been thoroghly impressed with the changes that the coup leaders are making. They are doing all the things necessary to develop Thailand and rid the country of many long-term problems.
Every Thai I have spoken to personally is similarly impressed and surveys in Thailand indicate a very high level of satisfaction with the military. The military in Thailand are respected by most people and seen as the good guys.
Despite this, Thailand continues to receive criticism and punitive measures from other countries that simply don't understand what needed to be done in the country. This must be extremely frustrating for the Thais.
I have always maintained that people in different countries of the world think so differently that it is completely inappropriate to impose any single type of government on all countries. This is what Western countries, especially the US, try to do. Iraq has been a huge failure, yet Western countries persist with the same strategies.
I have always said that Thailand needs a form of government that is suitable for Thailand and that is now what the country has. It's not ideal, but Thais now need to be pragmatic and not idealistic. In time, Thailand may be ready for a Western style of government, but that won't be until a long time in the future.
Saturday 28th June 2014
I wasn't universally popular as a high school teacher in Thailand. As far as I was concerned I was being paid to improve the kids' English, and with most of the students their English language skills were absolutely appalling. There were lots of areas that needed improvement, and that was what I set about doing.
Some of the students appreciated my efforts and appreciated being able to hear a real foreigner speaking English, rather than the poor attempts at English by their Thai teachers. They understood the importance of learning English. Others didn't seem to understand and weren't quite as appreciative.
The school was run by Catholic sisters and very conservative. The girls were kept on quite a short leash by their Thai teachers and quite a few regarded their lessons with a farang teacher as periods when they could goof off or go to sleep. I had other ideas and at times, inevitably, there were conflicts.
These differences in attitudes were reflected in the student feedback that I was given each year. To some students I was a wonderful teacher and their gushing praise was almost embarrassing. To others, I might as well have been the Antichrist. You can never please all the people all the time.
The first lesson I taught was to a Matayom 3 class and amidst the usual noise, chaos and heat (there was no air-conditioning), I remember one girl in the front row taking in every word I said with rapt attention. She answered my question and demonstrated an excellent command of the language.
I stayed at the school for almost four years and continued teaching her all the way through to Matayom 6 before she left for university. She came to the house for a visit yesterday and it was great to see her. Her English has continued to improve and now it is very easy to converse with her in English.
After we had caught up on various subjects, she really wanted to know why foreigners have a problem with what is going on in Thailand at the moment. I tried to explain that all countries are different - some very different - and that what might suit one country won't necessarily suit another. It is therefore very unfair for one country to try to force a system of government on another country that might be very unsuitable.
The Thais I normally deal with are middle-class who are educated and live fairly comfortable lives. They have witnessed the problems in Thailand at first hand for several years and have been frustrated that they haven't been able to do anything. Whenever they vote, they vote against a majority who outvote them and all they ever see is a never-ending cycle of corruption, violence and problems.
Everything has now changed and for the first time in many years that cycle has been broken. Since I have been living in Thailand I have only ever seen problems go continually around in circles and I honestly believed that nothing would ever change. I had gotten to the stage where I believed that Thais were incapable of fixing the problems in Thailand.
Last night, for the second week in succession, I watched General Pratuth giving his weekly address to the nation and I was blown away again. I was blown away by his understanding of the problems, his understanding of what needs doing, his sincerity, his selflessness, his honesty and his transparency.
We talk about politicians being transparent, but I have never seen anything as transparent as this where a leader talks to the nation once a week about what issues are being looked at and how they will be resolved. Very sensibly, in the light of criticism from abroad, these talks are being shown with English subtitles.
I agree with everything I've heard so far and disagree with little. Many Thais, like most Asians, are fanatical gamblers and as long as gambling is illegal there will also be underground gambling dens. Rather than the military raiding places where gambling goes on, the Thais might as well make it illegal, regulate the industry, and tax it.
Corruption has long been known to be one of the major forces preventing Thailand's development and Prayuth spoke a lot last night about stamping out corruption. This can only be a very good thing. Everyone knows about the corruption that takes place in Thailand, so this wasn't a surprise, but he also surprised me.
When I observe a lot of unacceptable Thai social behaviour I think to myself it is because most Thais have no source of reference. Most have never set foot outside the country and have nothing to compare Thailand against. When I used to teach I always noticed huge changes in those students who had been abroad to study for a year.
Now only were their English language skills far better, but their thinking and attitudes also changed. I have even heard about Thais who live abroad for several years and suffer from reverse culture shock when they return to Thailand. They see how people from other countries do things, accept that they are right, and then have big problems when encountering Thais again who do things the 'Thai way'.
Last night, Prayuth told Thais to watch TV and learn about other countries. I can't remember the exact words, but it was about learning how foreigners who have different opinions can still live togther harmonious without feeling the need to throw grenades at each other.
It is this inability of Thais to accept other people's points of view that has caused the military to ban all protests. The human rights lobbies are up in arms, but it was the only way to stop the violence. When the protests were going on and Thais were throwing grenades at each other some very young children were killed. This had to stop.
I really don't care about the criticisms that other countries are levelling at Thailand at the moment, and I hope the Thais don't care - but the truth is that they are sensitive to it.
The country was in a terrible mess and heading for civil war. The politicians and the Thai people at large were afforded several years to try to establish a Western style system of electoral politics, but they could never do it and the experiment was a failure.
Eventually, the military were forced to step in. They stopped the violence, removed the agitators, and have taken many positive steps to eliminate problems and get the country back on track. For the first time since I moved to Thailand in 2003 I actually feel quite positive that the country can now start to move forward.
One thing that I was hoping Prayuth would address, but didn't, was the lawlessness on Thai roads. It is responsible for so many deaths and makes driving in Thailand quite stressful. However, it seems that this particular social problem in Thailand has not been overlooked.
I have recently seen the police taking harsher action against parking offenders, but so much more needs to be done regarding the enforcement of traffic laws. Time will tell whether anything will change, but this is a good start. I am thoroughly impressed with everything that the military are now doing in Thailand.
The 2006 coup needed to happen, but the military government that took over was ineffective and then simply returned power to Thaksin again (in the form of a nominee), thus nothing was achieved. It's all looking very different this time.
Thursday 26th June 2014
My house has started to resemble this laundry shop in Phattalung province. As a single man in Thailand I paid Bt500 month to use my apartment's laundry service. They washed and ironed my shirts and trousers, and once a week I threw my socks and underwear into a bucket of detergent and washed them myself. I never ironed anything.
Laundry wasn't an issue when I first got married, but everything changed when the first child arrived. Since the birth of our second child the laundry situation has gone crazy. Today is the first day this week that I haven't ironed. My wife tackled the daily pile of ironing today, but instead of being free to do something I had to take care of the baby who sleeps very little and demands a lot of attention.
On Tuesday I had been ironing for most of the day and had just finished when the baby decided to throw up on the bed, thus generating another machine load of laundry. It never stops.
Our house cleaner returned at the start of the year. In the old place she used to clean the house and iron clothes, but this house is a lot bigger and she just cleans. If I can find an ironing lady who wishes to earn a little money I will gladly employ her, but this kind of casual domestic help can be quite difficult to find.
In addition to being a domestic goddess, I have also been doing some jobs around the house that have needed doing for a long time. This gave me the opportunity to visit HomePro, which is a store that I love. My house and family are my main interests these days and I wouldn't be able to afford a house like this in the UK so it is a pleasure for me to work on.
Living in Thailand isn't always a bed of roses and there are many social problems, but property is a lot cheaper and foreigners can afford to buy much plusher homes than they could back home. New Thai houses come with very little as standard, but with stores such as HomePro that stock a huge range of high quality goods you can do all the upgrading you need.
While in HomePro I saw that there was a promotion on LED light bulbs. I have been considering LED lighting for a long time, but the cost and the messing around has been prohibitive. My brother in Phuket put in some LED lights a few years ago, but he also needed to install transformers and adapt the light fittings.
My other reservation about LED lighting was whether the actual light quality would be acceptable. I therefore decided to buy a few to test before buying too many. The price for a 7W LED daylight bulb was Bt209.
The first problem is the power rating. I was brought up in the era or 40W, 60W and 100W incandescent lighting and then had to get used to the new power ratings of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL). LED bulbs are more efficient than CFLs and therefore the power rating is different again.
My house has a lot of 11W CFLs that are rated at about 570 lumens. The 7W LED bulbs I bought to replace them with are rated at 600 lumens, therefore as well as using less electricity they are actually a little brighter.
The light quality itself is good and the sales assistant told me that it is a lot better for the eyes, although in order to make a sale he would probably have told me that LED lighting makes me irresitible to women.
The light is a little directional and consequently shadows are a little more noticeable. Apparently, improvements have already been made to LED bulbs for this problem, but the diffusing could be better.
Last month's electricity bill was around Bt3,000 and the bill we have just received was just under Bt2,000. Lots of factors are involved (air conditioning usage being a big one), but I'm sure the LED lights have helped.
The house has a lot of lights and so far I have only replaced those that get used a lot. Eventually I plan to replace all of them. Just as it became almost impossible to buy incandescent bulbs when CFLs became the norm, I expect that within five years the only bulbs for sale will be LED.
Thai TV news reported a clampdown on illegal parking in Chiang Mai a few days ago. The same thing has been going on here at the other end of the country and it is a very good thing. My wife tells me that it is happening all over the country. I even saw a motorbike that had been clamped.
My only complaint is that they aren't doing enough clamping or aren't fining offenders enough money because it continues to be a problem. Another gripe is that they only target cars right in the middle of the central business/tourist district and no action is taken outside of this zone.
Every time I do the school run I find entire lanes of traffic blocked by selfish, inconsiderate Thais who believe that they have the right to park anywhere they want, and who aren't interested in finding a legitimate parking space and actually walking. They turn on their hazard warning lights and leave their vehicles blocking the lane while they go to buy food or use an ATM.
The TV report was mildly amusing in that the offenders looked totally surprised when they were caught. They seem to be unable to comprehend that what they do is wrong. If this is really the case, then Thailand needs to educate drivers on what is acceptable and what isn't. If, as another driver, you dare to point out the error of their ways you run the risk of being beaten up or even shot.
My wife saw some cops applying wheel clamps the other day, but she said that before the cops put on the clamp they used a megaphone to alert the driver of the car. If the driver heard his licence plate number and returned to remove his vehicle he would escape punishment. This is lenient indeed, and it is a courtesy that would not be extended to drivers in other countries.
I just hope that the police continue with this clampdown and don't give up. Thais need to realise that what they do isn't acceptable and that they need to change their ways. With traffic jams being a major problem in many Thai cities, the last thing that is needed is selfish drivers blocking complete lanes of traffic.
I've never been able to work out why there is such weak enforcement of traffic laws in Thailand. The country has one of the worst road accident death rates in the world. Enforcing laws would make the country safer and would also bring in revenue. This revenue could be used to employ lots more traffic police.
I used to think that it was an aspect of greng jai where Thais feel reluctant to impose on anyone - even if they are breaking the law. However, after doing the school run twice a day recently and seeing Thais almost kill themselves through acts of enormous stupidity I now think it might be something to do with Darwin's theory of natural selection.
Wednesday 25th June 2014
The US is now punishing Thailand for taking the only course of action that was available to the country to prevent a civil war from occurring. The normal Thai reaction when this happens is 'disappointment'. My own feelings are mixed. The Thais only have themselves to blame for getting themselves into this mess, but when they take genuine steps to fix the problems they get lots of criticism from abroad because "it's not democratic."
Thailand can't win and there are times when I feel quite sorry for the country. There are a lot of good people in Thailand and they deserve better than they get.
When I used to go for lots of Thai massages (before I was married) I made a point of finding out a bit about the background of the girls. Their stories were almost exactly the same in 99% of cases.
Here's a typical profile. The girl was originally from Isaan. She left school early with very little education and worked in the rice fields or had another low-paying, tough job. She had a Thai boyfriend from the same socio-economic background who made her pregnant in her teens. As soon as the boy realised the girl was pregnant he did a runner and left her to take care of herself.
There is no Child Support Agency (CSA) in Thailand and no laws to make men responsible for the support of any children they father. Even if there were, they wouldn't be very effective because a lot of irresponsible young males have no money. And even if they do support the girl, many Thai men think that Bt3,000 per month is ample. When my daughter was a baby we spent about Bt3,000 a month on imported formula milk alone and there were lots of other expenses.
Basically, a poor pregnant Thai girl has two choices. She can terminate the pregnancy or try to raise the child herself. Many choose the latter option, but it means having to leave the child with her parents and moving to another part of the country where she can earn better money. These places are normally where there are lots of tourists.
Some opt to go into prostitution, while many others start working in massage. They get minimal training, but the money they earn is a lot more compared to working in the rice fields and there is even a chance that they might meet a wealthy foreign boyfriend.
They live frugally, often living in the cheapest accommodation they can find with a friend, and eating the cheapest food they can find. They work long days, sometimes having to wait around for hours if there are no customers, and whatever money they can save they send home to their parents, siblings and children.
As a result, many kids in Thailand are brought up by people other than their parents. However, I wasn't aware that this applies to as many as 21% of Thai children. It's a staggering figure and the figure in the northeast Isaan region is even higher at around 33%. This has a big impact on the children's rate of development, psychological health and overall emotional well-being.
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Firstly, that readers often have extensive knowledge of things that I didn't expect them to have knowledge of. Secondly, that generally very few people send e-mails. Thirdly, that people are very quick to write e-mails if I make a mistake!
I welcome e-mails that point out my mistakes. I learn from them and after correcting my mistakes I don't mislead other people.
One of my regular correspondents - a Malaysian who visits Thailand at least once a month - informs me that he has searched the Internet regarding the differences between jackfruit and jum-bpaa-da and pointed out that the photo I posted of a jackfruit was actually a jum-bpaa-da.
I went through my library of photos and found another photo that I think is a jackfruit. Jackfruit is called Nangka in Malaysia and the other fruit is called Cempedak. As far as I know, there is no English name for Cempedak. Jum-bpaa-da is simply my own transliteration of the Thai word.
He gave me the following information:
"There is no term in English for the cempedak (the fruit as shown in your blog) but it also fruits during the durian season in Malaysia, the taste is buttery sweet and can be eaten raw when it is ripe and try this, mix some flour with water into a batter and fry the cempedak with it like flour fritters, it is really tasty and popular as sold by roadside stalls in Malaysia. The jackfruit is the nangka and it is bigger and heavier than the cempedak, in Malaysia, the fruit can be cooked with curry and coconut milk as a popular dish in the northern states like Kedah and Perlis and eaten with rice and salted fish.
The nangka(jackfruit) is commonly cooked in coconut milk (santan kelapa) or in thick rich curry. It is cheap, affordable and always served at wedding receptions in the North of Malaysia as the jackfruit is not seasonal unlike the cempedak."
My wife tells me that there are also roadside stalls in Thailand that sell fried dempedak. I am familiar with the fried banana stalls, but can't recall seeing cempedak.
Thais say that farangs don't (or can't) understand Thailand. Some farangs understand Thailand very well, therefore this sweeping generalisation is unfair. However, in many cases the Thais do have a point.
This report is full of tired old phrases from farang politicians who don't have the slightest idea about Thailand along the lines of, 'restoring the legitimate democratic process and the Constitution, through credible and inclusive elections.'
The thing that surprises me a little is that when these reports appear on TV, the politicians shown are people such as William Hague. They are clever people, and not idiots such as George Bush or Tony Abbott.
Think of Thailand as a school of mainly poor students in which students can elect their own headmaster. All teachers and students get to vote, but the poor students form the majority and therefore always win.
A shrewd businessman stands for the position of headmaster and offers the poor students lots of goodies that normally they wouldn't have access to. He is voted in because the poor students like the things he gives them. He then uses his position of power to benefit himself, his relatives, and his cronies.
The teachers know that what he is doing isn't in the best interest of the school or the pupils, but they are powerless to do anything (because they are in a minority) and they can't change the way that the poor students think. This is the first time the poor students have ever received goodies and they like it. Why should they vote for anyone who doesn't give them goodies?
If the headmaster hears of any dissent he simply states that the school runs under democratic principles and the only way to resolve the issue is for another vote to take place. He knows that he will win every time and the students know that whoever they vote for will win every time. They are all very happy with this system, but the parents and teachers - who form a minority - can see lots of problems.
In such a scenario the school would have to abandon the system of students voting for a headmaster and even though it would appear to be autocratic, they would need to appoint someone as headmaster who would act in the best interests of the school and the students - not himself.
If such a thing were to happen, would outsiders be up in arms about the school abandoning its democratic process, or would they simply think that the students weren't mature enough yet to decide what is really in their best interests?
When I ask my daughter what she wants for lunch she always tells me ice cream. When my son is a little older he will probably be the same. If they both tell me that they want ice cream for lunch, they will outvote me by 2-1. Should I abide by democratic principles and give them ice cream for lunch every day or should I be autocratic and decide that serving them rice, meat and vegetables would be a better choice?
In societies where the majority of people are educated and well-informed the system of Western style democracy in which everyone gets a vote can work well. However, there are still many countries in the world where such a system simply doesn't work. Just because more people vote for something doesn't mean that they are right.
Western style democracy has never worked in Thailand. The situation has become so bad that the Thais have had to stop it. They are currently trying to get the country back on track and eventually the country will return to a more democratic system.
In the meantime, what doesn't help is foreign politicians who have no idea about Thailand calling for the country to restore democracy.
Saturday 21st June 2014
I have deliberately avoided saying anything about the political situation here, but I watched General Prayuth Chan-ocha's weekly Friday evening talk to the nation last night and I was impressed. So was my wife. Her view is that the military are doing exactly the right things and she would be happy for them to continue running the country indefinitely. She - like many Thais - has a deep distrust of politicians, and the reasons are easy to understand.
I know that what has happened must look really bad to the outside world - especially when so much foreign news reporting is ignorant, inaccurate and biased - but in the end there was nothing else that could be done.
Last night, Prayuth suggested that democracy in Thailand is 'stalled'. I would go further than that and say that the system was irretrievably broken beyond any hope of repair. To have continued with more elections would have meant that the vicious circle that has existed in Thailand for many years would never have been broken. Something drastic had to be done to stop the rot - and that's why the military stepped in. There was no other solution.
Transparency and honesty are vital ingredients of good governance and Prayuth came across as being very honest and very transparent. I didn't see last night's address from the beginning, but he covered a lot.
The huge wealth gap in Thailand is at the root of most problems and he said a lot to reassure the poor, who he said are exploited. He was also honest and realistic. He explained why subsidies and pledging schemes were bad for the country, but explained other ways in which he would help farmers - lowering production costs, assisting with distribution, and promoting the sale of crops, etc.
There are many social problems in Thailand and lots of corruption and illegal practices. He addressed some of these and I believe that in previous speeches he has addressed others. The kind of things he spoke about were growing crops, such as para rubber, illegally on publicly owned land and clamping down on mafia-type practices, for example, making poor Thais who want to become motorbike taxi drivers pay Bt400,000 to get the vest which allows them to operate. My wife told me that the military was also going to clamp down on illegal unlicensed minivan operators. Mafia-style taxi operations are also being targeted.
I guess that it's even conceivable in the future that a short tuk-tuk ride in Phuket might cost less than Bt300 and that farang tourists won't be beaten into a coma for the sake of a Bt100 tuk-tuk fare.
It was recently reported that board members of Thai Airways will no longer get free flights and I was told my a well-informed Thai today that this perk also applied to their families. He also told me that there is lots of corruption, nepotism and cronyism in other big state enterprises, such as PTT. Malaysians pay a lot less for petrol and a clampdown in Thailand could possibly result in a drop in petrol prices.
Thailand has many problems and everything I heard him say was focussed on resolving these problems for the good of the country. Thai politicians seem to be unable to fix anything, or their focus when making policy decisions is working out how to get the most money into their own back pockets.
Every Thai in the country knows what goes on. They don't like it, but they feel powerless (or afraid) to do anything. Now, they can see that action is being taken by people who aren't afraid and who aren't self-serving and the impression I get is that many are very happy. That certainly applies in southern Thailand.
There is still a very long way to go and Thailand will continue being under pressure from other countries to go back to a 'democratic' system of government. As I have said all along, Thailand needs a system of government that suits Thailand and not simply a system of government that suits other countries that are very different to Thailand. In many ways, the country is quite unique and what applies elsewhere doesn't apply to Thailand.
Prayuth asked Thais to give him time. As he pointed out, the problems he is trying to fix have existed for decades and they can't be fixed easily or quickly.
After writing about an abduction attempt on two children quite near to where I live, Thailand and Malaysia have both been downgraded regarding human trafficking. This is more bad news for Thailand in the eyes of the international community.
Both countries are now in the same tier as North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe and it is likely that the US will impose sanctions as a punishment. Lots of media outlets are reporting this story.
Here is a quote from The Business Insider:
"Thailand, Malaysia and Venezuela promote themselves as modern, fast-developing countries, but their Tier 3 ranking puts them among the world's most lawless, oppressive and dysfunctional."
In addition to all the other problems he has on his plate, this is yet another major problem for General Prayuth. He must be a very busy man at the moment.
Friday 20th June 2014
Just as the Thai doctor told me it would, the broken tendon in my finger repaired itself after keeping my finger straight using a splint for six weeks. It's still a bit tender and it isn't completely healed yet, but it's a lot more convenient not having to wear the splint all the time.
The human hand has to be the most intricate piece of engineering in the universe. It can perform an incredible range of movements and it can also sense the minutest changes in texture or size. Not only that, but it doesn't require any regular maintenance, it lasts for a lifetime, and it is self-repairing. Amazing!
My admiration for medical professionals in Thailand continues to grow. Just recently I have met and spoken to several dentists - some quite young - and they are really exceptional people.
Being accepted as a dental undergraduate is more difficult than being accepted into any other profession. Dental students in Thailand are therefore the crème de la crème and it really shows.
Instead of Land of Smiles, I prefer the sobriquet 'Land of Contrasts and Contradictions'. In the course of any one day you meet people in Thailand at both ends of the intellectual spectrum and this can make life very interesting and enjoyable, or intensely irritating. This is also why it is wrong to generalise too much about Thailand.
My wife returned from her rice run this morning with a bag of jackfruit segments. Jackfruit are huge and are generally not sold complete. The vendor will open the individual fruit to remove the orange/yellow segments inside and then sell portions of the segments separately.
She paid Bt30 this morning and the supermarkets normally sell a similar sized portion for Bt60. When we took a little trip to Nakhon Sri Thammarat province last year (where a tremendous amount of fruit of many varieties is grown) we passed a little stall in the middle of nowhere where a woman was selling the same sized portions of fresh-off-the-tree jackfruit for Bt10.
The texture is quite firm with very little juice or moisture and eating jackfruit can leave your teeth a little furry. The taste - like most tropical fruit - is difficult to describe and is almost like a combination of certain other fruits. It isn't all that sweet, but neither is it bitter or sour.
I saw something online recently about another Southeast Asian country where they make curries using jackfruit. I haven't personally encountered any Thai dishes that use jackfruit (although I'm sure that they exist), but I can imagine that it is quite good in a curry.
I enjoy eating fruit grown in temperate climates and still really love a good apple, but a big benefit of living in a tropical country is having year-round access to so much great tropical fruit.
I like most tropical fruit, with the notable exception of durian. I can't get past the smell and have no great desire to eat a fruit that smells worse than my cats' dirt boxes. My wife loves it and goes for durian gorging sessions at a neighbour's house because it is banned in our house.
There is another fruit called jum-bpaa-da, which is a kind of cross between durian and jackfruit. It is large and contains segments, similar to jackfruit, but has a strong smell, similar to durian.
I was offered some many years ago and accepted without hesitation because I thought that it would be similar to jackfruit. After taking a bite my nose was assaulted by the foul smell and I decided that one segment was enough.
As I have said before, varieties of tropical fruit are like insects. No matter how many you have seen, you will always come across varieties that you have never seen before.
What else is positive at the moment? Not a lot, I'm afraid, which is one of the reasons why I haven't written much recently. Just writing about negative aspects of Thailand starts to get me down and probably has the same effect on my readers. It also makes me feel quite guilty. However, if I only write about positive things there isn't a great deal to write about.
In the past week I have heard several desperately sad reports concerning young children. The first was an abduction attempt on two children in a district fairly close to where I live. Apparently, the two kids (who were siblings) were doing homework at the front of their house when a minivan stopped and two men tried to get the children inside the van. Fortunately, the children's father saw what was happening and intervened. I don't know whether the men were caught or not.
This kind of thing isn't that uncommon in Thailand and it is also a problem in Malaysia. In Malaysia I have seen TV reports where the kidnappers wanted a ransom. In Thailand the kids probably get sold to begging gangs or are sold into prostitution. Life is cheap and they probably aren't sold for much. The people who do it obviously have no guilt about destroying the lives of the children or their families.
My three year old daughter goes to Kindergarten. In Yala last week another three year old girl went to Kindergarten, but never returned home.
The school knew about the faulty gate that crushed her, but failed to repair it. Anyway, the school said they were sorry and have now promised to repair the gate, so everything's OK now. Life is cheap in Thailand.
There are frequent reports of mothers discarding newborn babies in Thailand. Earlier this week a newborn child was abandoned in a rented room in the downtown area where I live. The child was heard crying and I believe it was rescued.
The following day my wife went to visit her sister who lives near a large canal and a newborn baby of 2-3 days had been found in the canal. This one didn't survive.
My wife's sister was saying that she knows a schoolgirl who is pregnant and won't be able to take care of the child when it is born. She has contacted the local orphanage and they have agreed to take it. I can understand that in some situations a pregnant woman will not be able to take care of her child, however, there is no need to kill the child. I get quite upset at these reports.
These incidents were followed by another report on Thai TV of a woman who was being paid to take care of an 18 month old child beating and killing the child.
Channel News Asia ran a report this week about child abuse in Cambodia, which is a haven for those sick men who prey on children. That was also quite a disturbing report.
I don't have much sympathy for many adults who get themselves into difficulties because a lot of the time their problems are self-inflicted. On the other hand, I have intense sympathy for children who suffer at the hands of adults before they are old enough to take care of themselves.
I wanted to get a DVD player repaired this week and in the past I have seen many small repair shops around town that can repair almost anything. This was always something that I liked about Thailand. Western countries have a throw away culture and don't repair anything, which is not good for the environment.
Thais - by virtue of the fact that many are quite poor and simply can't afford to buy new things all the time - have to make their household appliances last for longer and due to this demand there are a number of repairmen that repair all manner of things.
The reason why I wanted to get my DVD player repaired wasn't because I can't afford a new one, but because I can't buy a similar model in Thailand. It's for my daughter in the car and has a special mounting bracket so that I can mount it on the back of the driver's seat.
I went to an area near the bus station where I had previously seen several small repair shops. They must have closed because I couldn't find any. I asked a motorbike taxi driver if he knew of a repair shop. He asked what I wanted repaired and I told him.
He told me that he didn't know of any shops. His suggestion was to throw it away and buy a new one. Thailand changes continuously and the rate of change is incredibly rapid. Compared to when I first visited in 1987 the country has changed beyond recognition, and even compared to when I came to Thailand to live 11 years ago there has been enormous change.
Unfortunately, not all of the change has been good. Instead of selectively picking out the best aspects of Thai and Western culture and practices, the trend seems to be simply to move to a Western model and Thailand is gradually becoming as screwed up as Western countries.
A few days ago I asked Thai immigration what the procedure was for a permanent resident visa. They told me to go back in December. I asked what was needed and got the same answer - go back in December. They said that the requirements change every year and in December they would know what the requirements are. I also believe that the requirements change depending where you live in Thailand and what your personal circumstances are.
I spoke to a farang I know about the process and he told me that the Thai language test was the same level as a Pratom 6 student (around 12 years old). My speaking and reading ability is probably better than most farangs in Thailand (especially reading), but I know that I can't compete with a 12 year old native speaker who has been in school learning to read Thai for nine years.
Someone at ThaiVisa wrote quite a comprehensive guide about the process and although it is eight year's old I guess that a lot still applies. His description of the language test doesn't sound quite so daunting.
As he points out, written Thai tends to be very formal and even if you can speak Thai quite well you don't become familiar with the formal vocabulary that is used in written Thai.
Thailand is turning into a strange place and over 120,000 Cambodians decided recently to call it a day and go home.
My wife and kids depend on me completely and it just seems crazy to live in Thailand on a semi-permanent basis relying on visa extensions each year that are never guaranteed.
Thursday 19th June 2014
Another very sad death:
The music of Steely Dan has been an important part of my life for almost 40 years and it also introduced me to musicians who influenced Becker and Fagen.
Ricky Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan
Song For My Father - Horace Silver
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