Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 26th June 2017
Thais have something of a reputation for being lazy. This is something I have heard and read from expats many times, in addition to noticing it myself. If it isn't absolutely essential for something to be done it generally won't be done, and if a task must be completed it will be done using the easiest possible solution, but oftentimes not the best solution. A term I picked up from a fellow expat many years ago for this phenomenon is the 'path of least resistance'.
However, Thailand is the Land of Contrasts and Contradictions and whenever you make generalised statements about Thailand and the Thais you will always find examples that make you and your generalisations look stupid.
The builders I have in at the moment are a case in point and it was exactly the same a couple of years ago when I had different builders in to turn an unused upstairs balcony into a useful storage room. The storage room conversion was done at the height of the hot season in 2015. The heat was sweltering and it exhausted me just watching them work.
Thai builders at work
They arrive on the dot each morning at 8:30 and apart from a short lunch break they work solidly until dusk. It is tough physical work. The bags of cement weigh 50kg and each box of tiles weighs 28kg.
I don't think any of them have PhDs - although I could be wrong - yet the two older men obviously have many years of experience and they think things through well before they do anything to avoid problems later.
The work is also quite monotonous, but unlike many youngsters these days with attention deficit disorders who can't concentrate on anything for longer than two minutes, they do have the ability to concentrate and their work at the end of the day is as good as it is at the start of the day.
I am impressed!
Since I embarked on a journey of radical life change starting in my late 30's I have realised that sometimes major problems in life can actually be a good thing - even though it never seems that way at the time.
Humans don't particularly like change and even if a situation is not entirely satisfactory most people will put up with it rather than deciding to change anything. We justify this behaviour using sayings such as, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know," and we continue in unsatisfactory careers because we are afraid of losing the salary.
Big changes in life are never easy and even if we can see the potential advantages in the future it is easy to procrastinate in order to avoid the pain involved with making big changes.
Had my job in the UK continued to be acceptable, no doubt I would still be in the UK right now. I expect I would still be unmarried and childless, living in the same small detached house, probably with a used Porsche in the garage. I imagine it would be a fairly comfortable life materially, but - as Henry David Thoreau described - it would be a life of quiet desperation.
By the time I hit 40, life (my working life, especially) had become entirely unsatisfactory and to continue would probably have led to some psychological problems or a nervous breakdown.
To change my life as I did was enormously difficult and unsettling, but it had reached the stage when not to have done so would have led to some serious problems. The change was thus forced upon me and I am pleased it was because now I have a much better life and had my previous life not become so bad then I wouldn't have changed anything. Just like most people, I would have avoided making any changes if it had been possible to do so.
After I got married in Thailand in 2010 we started to rent a town house and I was planning to stay there for at least five years. It was in a terrible condition, but I spent quite a lot of money making improvements because the monthly rent was low and because I had plans to stay there for several years.
A few months after moving in and spending a lot of money, one of the biggest floods ever to Hat Yai destroyed a lot of my improvements and gave me another big scare. The big flood of 2000 was still in the memory of most local Thais, but this was my first ever experience of a major flood and it was nasty.
Some of my improvements before the flood
The same scene two months later
But, once again, it was probably a good thing in the long term. I immediately abandoned my plans to stay in the rented house for several years and went house hunting in areas that weren't susceptible to flooding. I did so just as house prices were about to soar dramatically and, had I waited, I might have been priced out of the market for the type of house that I have now. It's difficult to say. The money I used to buy the house was invested in stock markets that had fallen dramatically after the GFC, but in the following years the markets made a big recovery.
The town house was convenient and cheap to rent, but there wasn't much space, it was in a bad area with some very inconsiderate people in the neighbourhood, it was claustrophobic with no windows on the sides of the house, and when the rainy season arrived each year there was always the fear of another flood.
The house we are in now is everything that the town house wasn't. It is spacious, light, safe from flooding, and the cats and kids can go outside without me worrying that they will be moved down by pickup trucks or motorbikes racing around the streets.
Although not quite on the same level as waking up in the early hours of the morning to find two meters of dirty flood water in the downstairs of your house, moving an item of furniture and finding a nest of termites inside isn't one of life's most pleasant experiences. Believe me.
However, since I moved into this house I have known that the original flooring upstairs was a disgrace and that it needed to be replaced. I also knew that it would be a major job and that the house would be turned upside down as a result.
It was easy to procrastinate. Replacing it would be expensive and it would be better to wait until my finances improved. It would be difficult with the children and better to wait until they had got older.
The real reason was that I didn't want to live through the pain of replacing it and although there were many problems, replacing it wasn't essential.
That all changed when we discovered the termite infestation and then replacing the wooden floor did become essential. But as soon as the job started I felt happy that it was being done. Living in the house is not easy at the moment with two rooms cleared and everything from those rooms stored in other rooms.
There are workmen in the house all day long making a lot of noise cutting tiles and the house is filthy with dust and cement everywhere. Also, with windows and doors permanently open all day the house soon fills up with mosquitoes, which isn't a problem that we usually have.
It was absolutely the right thing to get this work done, but I'm only having it done because the decision was forced on me by a big problem. Had the termites not arrived I wouldn't have had the work done. We would then have accumulated more stuff in the house and when the time did eventually come for the flooring to be replaced it would have been an even bigger (and possibly more expensive) job.
As I started off by saying, sometimes major problems in life can actually be a good thing - even though it never seems that way at the time.
Saturday 24th June 2017
Nothing in life beats experience. Had I known what I know now a few years ago I would have done things quite differently when having my house built. In this update I will try to give a few tips based on my current experience, which may be useful to other people.
My builders arrived on Thursday afternoon and started removing the parquet flooring that I have grown to hate ever since we moved into this house. It was installed so badly that it was quite easy to remove.
Goodbye parquet flooring ... and good riddance
Even before the termite problem it was a pain in the butt. There were splits and cracks everywhere, it was uneven, and in some places it floated above the concrete and walking on it was like walking on a mattress.
The concrete floor is very uneven and cement under tiles automatically fills the void, however, the parquet flooring is secured with just a thin layer of glue and this doesn't do the same thing.
At one time I was considering getting someone in to try to fix it or replacing it with laminated wood flooring, but these options wouldn't have been permanent fixes. Tiles are definitely the best long-term solution. The ones we are having installed are textured and look like weathered floorboards to maintain the wood effect, but without any of the problems associated with real wood.
First tip: If you are having a house built in Thailand avoid wood as much as possible. Unless it is a very expensive hard wood, such as teak, it will be ruined in the event of a flood and the risk of termite infestation is high.
The builders have done a good job so far. They arrive at 8:30am and work a long day. The fact that we are still living in the house makes their job more difficult, but they are being very cooperative.
At the moment the two largest bedrooms (plus two bathrooms) are out of action. My office is being used for storage and we are all sleeping in the smallest bedroom and using the smallest bathroom. The original estimate to do the work was 7-10 days, which at first I thought was optimistic, but they may achieve it because they work quickly.
The guy in charge is a Jack-of-all-trades and can also lay tiles - he was actually the same person who repaired our leaking roof. An older guy seems to be a specialist tile installer and they have a young lad doing the labouring. There is also another guy who helps with the labouring and seems to be responsible for cutting irregular shaped tiles. They're a good team and work well together.
When they said they would be delayed after one of the workers was killed in a car crash I asked some Burmese workers who were working nearby to give me a quote. After I moved into the house I had quite a few jobs done by Burmese workers, but it wasn't always a good experience.
The first problem is with communication. Their English is non-existent and their Thai isn't always very good. Secondly, they never give quotes for the whole job. They ask for some money upfront and then keep asking for more as the job progresses. Jobs usually end up costing quite a lot this way and you're never quite sure what the final bill will be.
Thirdly, they never have any vehicles. I don't have a pickup truck and therefore it's quite awkward buying bags of cement and other building materials, and also getting rid of rubbish. The builders I have now arranged for sand and cement to be delivered and they are disposing of all the old parquet flooring. Their quote was for the whole job, so there shouldn't be any surprises with the bill. The way they work is much more convenient for me.
Second tip: If you are having building work done get several quotes, try to get a quote for the whole job - not just quotes for piecemeal items of work, and ask whether they will provide the building materials and dispose of rubbish. If you don't know exactly what they will do, you can be left with a lot of work and running around to do.
At first we weren't planning on replacing the wooden stairs or wood and glass rail around the stairs, but we found termite damage there as well and even if there wasn't a problem there probably would be in the future. It therefore has to go, too.
All this needs to be replaced as well
To have the rail replaced with a stainless version I estimated around Bt40,000. My wife thought it would be less than Bt30,000, but I knew that figure was too low. The first quote was Bt73,000, which shocked us both. The second quote was Bt40,000, which is exactly what I thought it should be. The two quotes were for the same work using the same quality materials.
As I said above, always get several quotes in Thailand if you want work done because prices can vary enormously. Also, I normally get my wife to do the negotiating. There is still a belief among many Thais that farangs (all farangs) are enormously wealthy and have infinite reserves of cash. If I ask for a quote it will most probably be higher than a quote given to a Thai because I am a rich farang, of course.
The truth is that my new life as a family man with a wife, two kids, two cats, a house and two cars is costing me a fortune and I have never felt poorer in my life.
Regarding costs, the materials have cost me around Bt50,000 so far and the builders bill will be around Bt40,000. Along with the work on the stair rail it will therefore be around Bt130,000. If I was having to do this purely because of the termite damage I wouldn't be very happy, but as I said before this is work I was planning to have done anyway.
As the parquet flooring was being removed we found quite a few live termites and there is brown dust all around the perimeter of each room, which indicates termite damage. Before the tiles are laid the builders have been dousing the floor with termite killing solution. This was very expensive - about Bt3,700 for five litres.
The brown dust is evidence of termite damage along the bottom of the walls
I still don't know where the termites got into the house and whether there is a nest with a queen anywhere. I will probably ask a pest control company - but not the one I used previously - to do an inspection once this work is complete.
Yesterday I spoke with a neighbour and she told me that a wooden display case was destroyed by termites. Once they get in they remain out of sight and when you eventually find them, whatever they have been eating has normally been destroyed.
Superstitious Thais have a belief for absolutely everything and, as I described earlier, my frangipani tree was hacked down a few weeks ago because of my wife's beliefs.
Thai beliefs about termite infestations are particularly bad and Thais believe that a termite infestation, especially in a bedroom, will cause the occupants to have bad health. My wife's brother had an infestation and this was linked with his wife's cancer diagnosis. My wife has linked our termite problem to our daughter's medical problems, despite the fact she was born with the problem in 2011 and the termite problem is only fairly recent.
I have heard of a number of termite infestations in the neighbourhood, but when I talk to neighbours about termites they get very defensive and are indignant that they don't have a problem. But I'm not so sure.
With termites being such a big problem here and with so much wood in people's houses, my suspicion is that a lot of people have problems that they don't yet know about. The termites had probably been in my house several months before we discovered them.
As you can probably imagine, life is a little tricky at the moment but because a big problem is being fixed my energy levels feel quite high. There's a lot of work involved and because we are having to effectively dismantle everything while this work takes place we are taking the opportunity to clean everything thoroughly as well.
When the house eventually gets put back together it should be a lot better than it was previously. The old flooring had made me reluctant to do much with the house because I knew it would have to be replaced eventually. There's no point working on a house if the foundations are bad and there's no point doing things inside if the floor is bad.
This is my second experience of a 'natural' disaster in Thailand, the first being the big flood in 2010. Flooding and termite damage was never a problem when I lived in the UK, but living in Thailand presents a new set of problems.
I will be taking my daughter to the hospital in Bangkok again next week for another procedure in the operating theatre under anaesthetic, but not invasive surgery. Hopefully, she and the house will be back to normal fairly soon (within a month, or so) and then I can return to some regular activities.
Or maybe there will be another disaster? This run of bad luck has been going on for so long that I don't know when, or if, it will ever stop.
Final tip: Look after your workers.
Thai society is based upon a very strict social hierarchy in which everyone knows their place and everyone is expected to be deferential to those above them. I don't particularly like this aspect of the country, but that's how it is.
There is enormous desire for status among Thais, many Thais nowadays aspire to getting a PhD so that they can use the title 'Dr' in front of their name, and many young kids want to be medical doctors because of the status and money such a profession offers.
That's all fine and good, but a medical doctor with a PhD is very unlikely to be able to do building work in my house or fix my car.
Bangkok has a notorious reputation for the running street battles that take place between students at rival technical colleges and, apparently, one of the reasons students get involved with these conflicts is because they have low self-esteem. Students at technical colleges have a much lower status than university students in Thailand, even though students at technical colleges learn skills that are vital for society.
When workers do work at my house I treat them as an equal and try to look after them, but I've noticed that not all Thais do this. Buying the workers some fruit or cold drinks on a hot day doesn't cost a lot compared to what the work is costing and I think it goes a long way in maintaining a good relationship and they will then probably do a better job.
Tuesday 20th June 2017
The workmen still haven't arrived to replace my upstairs flooring. My wife spoke to the head honcho and apparently one worker was killed and one seriously injured in a road accident a week or two ago. In any other part of the world I might have been thinking, "Is that the best excuse he could come up with?" but in Thailand it is an all too common occurrence.
I am informed that large education institutions in Thailand lose around half-a-dozen students each year in road accidents and there is probably not a Thai in the country who hasn't lost a relative, friend or colleague in a road accident.
I have lost many old friends and colleagues in the UK in recent years, but nobody I have ever known has died in a car crash.
As I was going into central Bangkok by taxi from the airport last week there were two accidents on the freeway and on the return journey there were no accidents, but there was one lunatic in a pickup truck who was travelling 15-20 kmh faster than everyone else and weaving constantly in and out of four lanes of traffic. If it didn't kill so many people, the Thai style of driving would be quite entertaining but as well as the idiots killing themselves they also kill a lot of innocent people.
As a result of the Bangkok trip I didn't drive for five days and it was a pleasant break from the madness on Thailand's roads. When I did drive again I saw a Toyota in a ditch just two minutes after leaving my house and then I was caught in a traffic jam that had been caused by a rear end shunt.
Rear end shunts are very common in Thailand because many Thais drive too fast and too close to the vehicle in front. My wife does the same thing and she isn't an aggressive driver. I am forever telling her to slow down and to keep a safe braking distance ahead of her. I don't know why they drive like they do.
The following day, in heavy rain, there was another hold up. This time a taxi had failed to negotiate a 90° bend in the road and ploughed straight into a brick wall in front of a small restaurant. Taxis use this route all the time and the driver must have known about the bend in the road.
My guess is that because he believed he was such a great driver he didn't think it wasn't necessary to slow down in wet conditions and he slid into the wall. I didn't bother to stop and photograph the other accidents I saw, but I stopped and took a quick snap of this one.
Whenever I watch the Thai TV news in the morning all it ever seems to consist of is similar carnage all over the country.
Most Thais have difficult lives and I can't understand why they drive in such a way that the consequences will make their lives even more difficult. Road deaths and injuries case a lot of suffering and inconvenience. Similarly, if a man has a driving job and loses his vehicle for a while because it is being repaired this will create financial problems. Despite this, the so-called 'professional' drivers in Thailand are probably the most reckless of all.
There are many reasons for the poor driving standards in Thailand, but the main reasons are the Thai male ego, the culture of street racing, and extremely lax law enforcement. Many Thai males seem to have the need to constantly demonstrate their machismo and the main way this is done is to drive vehicles fast and recklessly on public roads.
Returning to my termite problem, I was speaking to the construction foreman on my housing development yesterday and he mentioned that termites are a big problem in the second phase of the development, which is still being built.
After building the first phase the development owner, who didn't have much experience of being a property developer, wised up and made some changes for Phase 2. Instead of using red bricks for the construction he changed to breeze blocks to save money and increase profits.
He also moved away from parquet flooring and started to use laminate flooring. There were less problems with the installation of this type of flooring, but it is still wood and it is still the kind of wood that termites like to eat.
This experience has raised several questions in my mind. Why, if termites are such a big problem, did the developer use so much wood and why do Thais spend millions of Baht after buying houses fitting expensive built-in furniture, which is also made from the type of wood that termites like to eat?
When I was reading up on termites most of the articles I read came from Australia, where termites are a big problem. However, because it is such a big problem, Australia has implemented building standards and bye-laws to protect new houses from termites. Why don't similar regulations exist in Thailand?
The developer laid pipes below each house into which chemicals can be injected into the ground to protect against termites, but there are no termite barriers or anything. As I have pointed out many times, Thais aren't big advocates of rules, regulations or laws.
Then again, how effective would laws and regulations be even if they were implemented? Every article I have read about the Grenfell Tower fire has stated that the refurbishment of the building a few years ago was done in accordance to all building and safety laws.
However, when you look at how quickly the fire spread and the fact that there was no sprinkler system to douse the flames it is clear that the building was very unsafe in the event of a fire.
I can't think of anything worse than waking in the early hours of morning to find an intense fire blazing in the building where you live and there being no way to get out. It's one of the ultimate nightmares and I would imagine that many other people living in similar tower blocks will now sleep very uneasily.
My life feels very strange at this moment in time. From a purely personal perspective, I'm fine. It hasn't been particularly easy having my daughter in plaster casts on her legs since the beginning of May, along with all the trips to Bangkok, but this episode should draw to a close soon.
The termite problem has meant replacing the upstairs flooring, but this was something we had planned to do anyway because the flooring was so bad and getting this job out of the way sooner rather than later will be a good thing.
The relationship with my wife is also probably the best it has been. Cross-cultural marriages aren't always easy, and there is such an enormous divide between English and Thai culture that it makes the Grand Canyon look like a small crack in my parquet flooring.
A farang once wrote to tell me that Thai/farang marriages never last more than four years. I got married in 2010. I can see his point of view and with so many cultural differences there would have been times when it would have been easiest just to separate.
However, with the shared responsibility of children we have stuck together and going though some adversity together has made us both stronger. It has also highlighted the areas that we have in common, which centre around the children. All marriages need effort to make them work and Thai/farang marriages are no different, except they probably need more effort.
However, there are two things not allowing me to feel completely happy with the world.
Following the death of John Noakes (83) recently, Brian Cant (83) has also just died. These two names will not mean anything unless you are of my generation and grew up in the UK. Talking of Brian Cant, the BBC summed it up perfectly in one sentence: "For millions his voice immediately evokes childhood."
I mentioned above that many of my old friends and colleagues have already died, but these were all premature deaths. Although I was never a massive fan of John Noakes or Brian Cant, their deaths, along with the current poor health of my parents, comes as reminder that now the generation above me is dying from natural deaths.
Of course, nothing in life is more inevitable than death, but when death actually occurs it is a time for reflection and sadness.
The other matter that makes me sad is the hatred and divisiveness that I now see in so many parts of the world, especially in the UK.
Every issue now, whether it is people's views on leaving the European Union, climate change, or religion, results in extreme views on either side that lead to the kind of violence that should never exist in a civilised society. There is no debate, reasoning, or acceptance of opposing views.
Like every other decent person I was appalled to see the photos of young children and other innocent people who had died as a result of terrorist attacks in the UK recently. But I was just as appalled to see that a self-appointed vigilante had taken it upon himself to drive into a group of Muslims who were leaving a mosque to 'even things out'.
One thing I have learnt after living in Thailand for many years is that it is impossible to generalise and make sweeping assertions about whole groups of people, even though I still have a tendency to do this myself. Not all Thai drivers are insane maniacs, but unfortunately the percentage is high enough to make it feel as if they are on most road journeys.
I have quite a lot of photos on my website and many have been stolen. The thieves are normally individual blog owners, but it has also happened with larger news sites. They can't be bothered sending me an e-mail to ask permission and probably guess that I will never find out anyway, so they just take what they want.
A few years ago, contrary to this behaviour, I received a very polite e-mail from a Muslim gentleman in Malaysia asking to use some photos from my website that I had taken of Songkhla province central mosque. He was compiling a book called 'Masjid - Selected Mosques From The Islamic World'.
I sent him full size images and when the book was published he sent me a copy. It's a beautiful book and shows examples of some stunning mosque architecture. The postage alone was expensive and if you want to buy a copy of the book on Amazon the cost is US$100. Not cheap.
Not only was this a huge act of generosity, but I was also extremely proud to have my photos (along with a credit) published in such a high quality book.
The neighbour who gives us most help with the children is Muslim; she is another extremely kind and generous person. My first girlfriend in Thailand was Muslim, although you would never know.
During my time in Thailand I have read several accounts of heinous crimes committed by Buddhist Thais and this is also the case with Christians. Everyone is different and there is good and bad within all religions.
I am, of course, very aware that there is no point concerning ourselves with matters over which we have no control or influence, but it isn't always easy.
Firstly, unless you have a sociopathic personality with no conscience and lacking the ability to emphasise with the plight of fellow human beings, it is difficult not to feel pity for people who have suffered extreme misfortune.
Secondly, on a much more selfish level, my income comes from the UK and a favourable exchange rate is dependent on the UK being strong and successful, not weak, divided and failing.
What is the reason for all this divisiveness?
The people with extreme views of religion seem to be those with the smallest views of the world and they only see events from a very narrow perspective. They really ought to get out more and see some more of the world.
With subjects such as climate change and Brexit, there seems to be very little analytical thinking and people seem too dependent on their preferred news sources to tell them what is wrong or right with the world. However, these news sources, of course, all have their own political agendas.
I use the BBC as my primary news source, but the corporation is so biased with such a heavy left-wing political agenda that some of its reporting is a complete joke.
In response to Donald Trump's views on the Paris Climate Agreement, the BBC used quotes not from people who can assess the real situation scientifically, but from Elon Musk who has invested billions in electric energy and is heavily dependent on the manmade climate change argument being accepted and for vehicles to move away from fossil fuel sources of energy.
Climate change, sometimes extreme climate change, has taken place on Earth ever since our planet has existed. It's perfectly natural. That's why dinosaurs roamed around in tropical temperatures and why regular winter ice fairs took place during wintertime on the River Thames hundreds of years ago.
As for human activity being the cause of this change, there is lots of very solid evidence from some very clever people that it simply isn't true, or at least that human activity makes a minor, almost insignificant contribution.
Global Warming Debate (Jeremy Corbyn's brother)
The Great Global Warming Swindle Full Movie (YouTube video - put your views aside for a while and just watch and listen)
Even as I write this I know that there will be people thinking I am talking out of my backside and getting angry because they disagree, but this only emphasises the point I made above. People nowadays have a view, normally a very strong view, and refuse to look at evidence that disagrees with their view.
Despite all the industrialisation and burning of huge amounts of fossil fuel after WW2 (yes, I'm old enough to remember the smogs that used to envelop London reducing visibility to almost nothing) the world was becoming increasingly cold up until 1975 and scientists were predicting another mini ice age.
The global warming debate is now the great heresy of our age. At different times in different places people were put to death for denying the existence of God. Nowadays, it feels the same for anyone who disputes the theory of man-made climate change. Anyway who disagrees is a heretic.
Without the sun which warms the Earth our planet would just be a frozen deserted void. But the sun isn't a gentle, stable source of heat. It is a massive ball of fire that burns with extreme violence over which we have no control. Why do so few people refuse to believe that that the sun's activity with sunspots and solar winds might actually be causing the Earth's climate to change?
Even as I write my gut instincts tell me not to publish this because it is a controversial subject and I'm not allowed to have an opposing view, which, of course, I am.
I was quite annoyed to find the following at my daughter's school a couple of years ago. In a country where temperatures of 35°C aren't unusual, the temperature inside a greenhouse probably exceeds 50°C.
If you don't water the ground and prevent rain water from soaking the ground the grass inside will die, of course. This supposed 'demonstration' of the 'greenhouse effect' may scare school children, but it is completely unrelated to the argument about whether human activity causes climate change.
Political statement at a school
Considering that this is basically a political issue, it is wrong (and in some countries unlawful) to push a political agenda in schools.
During my recent Bangkok trips I have been staying in the Banglamphu (Khaosan Road) area. I am a firm believer in Feng Shui, not because I am some kind of a New Age spiritual mystic, but because I know that some environments charge me with energy and other environments drain me of energy.
Rambuttri Alley, Bangkok
I have always found that being in large cities with lots of high rise buildings is very bad for my energy levels. Most of Bangkok now consists of high rise buildings and, quite frankly, places like Sukhumvit depress me.
In 30 years of visiting Bangkok I have only stayed in the Sukhumvit area twice and both experiences left me underwhelmed. On the first visit I stayed in a hotel where I was the only farang male at breakfast without a paid-for female Thai companion from the night before.
I stayed there again with my family a couple of years ago and apart from a few good restaurants it was a very dull experience in which Thais, especially taxi drivers, were constantly trying to rip me off.
Being surrounded by high rise buildings depletes me of energy, there is far too much traffic, and the overhead tollways act like echo chambers and make the traffic noise at street level even louder.
Tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok
A taxi driver was telling me that the Banglamphu area has a four storey building height restriction and I really like the wide roads, neatly kept pavements, and a complete lack of food carts, shops and garbage on the streets. There are some very attractive buildings and some of Thailand's most venerated temples.
It will be 30 years ago a little later this year that I visited Bangkok for the first time. Bangkok then was a very different place to Bangkok now, and far more pleasant. On the east side of the river, the only places that don't seem to have changed much are Chinatown and the Rattanakosin Island areas.
The only downside is all the scruffy farang backpackers in the Khaosan Road area with their funky clothes and hairstyles, but they tend to stay just in that area.
Genital piercing service for backpackers
I have found that I feel quite uncomfortable in areas where there are lots of farangs. Admittedly, the farangs hanging out in the Khaosan Road area aren't exactly representative of foreigners as a whole, but even if they were I think my feelings would be the same.
Unfortunately, even though I now feel more at home in the company of Thais, this isn't always reciprocated. I have no problems with Thais I know, but I constantly run into problems with Thais who I don't know.
Many Thais have a fixed set of assumptions regarding foreigners and these don't tend to be very flattering. The first assumption is that foreigners can't speak any Thai, and because the Thais don't speak any English they assume that any attempt at communication will be futile.
Sometimes it seems that foreigners are viewed almost the same as aliens from another planet and that they have absolutely nothing in common with Thais. Therefore, even if it was possible to communicate, foreigners have completely different needs in life and whatever they want isn't available because they always want strange things that Thais don't have a need for.
Last week I went to HomePro to get some primer for the sliding gate at the front of my house because it has started going rusty. I explained what I wanted and the sales assistant replied, "Mai mee," (no have). I hear this a lot in Thailand and normally it isn't true. My suspicion is that many of the Thais who don't usually deal with foreigners do not enjoy talking with foreigners and the best way to get rid of a foreigner is simply to say, "Mai mee," hoping that the foreigner will then go away and bother someone else
The HomePro stores in Thailand are huge and the paint sections have thousands of gallons of all sorts of different paints. Telling me in HomePro that they don't have any primer for my gate is akin to being told in a Thai branch of Tesco Lotus that they don't have any rice. After being told, "Mai mee," I quickly found what I wanted.
Last week I went to a branch of my Thai bank to get the reference number I needed to link my PayPal and bank accounts. The woman I spoke to obviously had no idea what I was talking about and must have thought it was yet another weird request coming from an equally weird farang.
She obviously just wanted me out of the door as quickly as possible and I got the, "Mai mee," thing again. This time I got quite angry and told her to listen first to what I had to say before telling me that she didn't have it. They put me in touch with the central helpdesk and the girl I spoke with answered my question very quickly. You can normally get what you want in Thailand eventually, but sometimes the process is quite tortuous.
I'm struggling to think of other examples, but on several occasions over the years I have been told, "Mai mee," in shops only to find exactly what I wanted a few minutes afterwards when I look myself.
If you are told, "Mai mee," by a Thai shop assistant always take it with a pinch of salt and continue to look for what you are looking to find.
Sunday 4th June 2017
I doubt if anyone is still reading this, but just in case.
Life is a little challenging right now. I have three quite pressing issues at the moment, which are taking up all my time. However, as I alluded to previously, all problems are relative and there isn't a person in the world who doesn't have problems.
My brother, who usually keeps everything inside, opened up this week. He has a lifestyle that to many people from the outside looks idyllic - a six-bedroom villa in Phuket with swimming pool, a speedboat in which to tour the Andaman Sea around Phuket, new cars, and plenty of money left over for travel and the other good things in life.
However, to maintain this kind of lifestyle he has to do a high pressure job in Singapore and work with some petty-minded people, he only sees his family at weekends, he flies up and down the peninsula constantly, and in Singapore during the week he has to share a flat with someone who is not a good person to share a flat with. Idyllic? It may seem so on the outside, but his opinion is slightly different.
My view is that shit happens in life and you can't do much about it, and also that whatever problems you face there will always be someone worse off than you. However, my wife doesn't quite see it that way. After discovering the second problem I have described below she went to see a fortune teller the following day to find out when our run of bad luck would end. This is quite a typical Thai response.
In the Thai mind, nothing happens without a reason and there are people with special powers who know why things happen and when bad luck will stop.
The next casualty as a result of her belief system was my large frangipani plant. Many Thais regard this as a very unlucky plant for two reasons. Firstly, because it is used as a decoration at funerals and is therefore a symbol of death. The second reason concerns the name.
This plant used to be known as 'lun-tom' in Thai, which is quite close to the Thai word 'ra-tom' and the latter word has a very bad meaning. My Thai-English dictionary defines it as: 'to be brokenhearted, to suffer, to be in sorrow, to be grieving, to be distressed'. The ideal condition in life for all Thais is one of complete sabaay-ness and these conditions aren't conducive to the restful state of mind that they aspire to.
The situation concerning superstitious beliefs about this plant became so serious in Thailand that Thais actually changed the name of the plant. Instead of 'lun-tom' it is now known as 'lee-laa-wa-dee', but that hasn't completely solved the problem and many Thais still regard it as being unlucky.
Many Thais believe that this plant should never be planted in the house, and many don't even like it outside because they believe it causes bad luck. I have a feeling that my wife hasn't liked this plant for a long time and the recent run of bad luck was the final straw. She went straight out into the garden with the appropriate tools and starting hacking it down. Our garden is now sans frangipani and, of course, this will cause our bad luck to stop. I hope so.
My frangipani plant, which I thought was quite attractive, met an untimely end
Issue number one, and my biggest priority at the moment, is my daughter's health problem. In an ideal world she would have been born perfect, but since she was born I have heard about many children who were born with far more serious problems than the one she has.
Think yourself extremely fortunate if you have a child with no health problems at all, because there are a lot born with problems. Both my kids arrived in this world with health problems. One recovered from pneumonia after three weeks in intensive care, but the other still has a problem after six years.
The young lad in the UK with terminal cancer is only expected to live for a few more weeks. In recent weeks, several people in the UK (including young children) enjoying an evening out have been killed by deranged, misguided, brainwashed extremists. These are problems that make my current problems look quite trivial.
Moving on to my second issue ...
One of my greatest fears after buying a house in Thailand was termites. As I wrote previously, I signed a contract with a pest control company to protect my house from these nasty little insects. I also mentioned that I paid in advance for a three year contract and that after the first underground soil treatment the company lost interest.
I badgered them into completing the contract by treating the ground again a couple of months ago, but then I noticed a few signs of termite damage around the house. Termite excrement is a bit like sawdust and although I never actually saw a termite I suspected they might be around.
Two weeks ago I mentioned this to our cleaner and told her to tell me if she came across any termite damage. Five minutes after I spoke to her she moved a drawer unit and revealed what was quite a large termite infestation. It was a disgusting mass of wriggling, white termites.
Somehow they had got into the house and made their way under the wooden flooring. They had then burrowed up into the drawer unit and also into a bookcase. Fortunately, the larger, more expensive furniture was OK. The termites must have been there for quite a while, but they are silent and invisible. You just don't see them like you see ants because they remain under the floor and inside furniture. You have no idea they are there and by the time you find them they have normally done a lot of damage.
We threw out the affected furniture and have made plans for the parquet flooring to be removed and replaced with floor tiles that look like wood. Apart from a considerable amount of work, this will also cost me between Bt80,000 and Bt100,000. It is extra expense that I could do without at the moment.
I am not overly concerned. The house has no wooden structural features, so it isn't going to collapse. It is built using bricks and concrete and the roof is supported on an aluminium frame. I think the problem is contained within the wooden flooring and this will be removed soon. I have also sprayed under the flooring quite a lot to kill any remaining termites.
The parquet flooring has been a major headache since the house was being constructed. There were many delays with the construction and the normal excuse was that there were no tradesmen available to do the flooring. At the time in Thailand there was a huge construction boom and skilled workers were hard to find.
I was putting pressure on the developer to finish the house because I wanted to move out of our rented house and I think they got some general construction workers to do the flooring who had no experience. They made a real pig's ear of the floor and we have suffered ever since we moved in.
The dreaded parquet flooring being installed
The developer sub-contracted lots of different tradesmen and the flooring in some of our neighbours' houses looks fine, but not in our house. They butted the flooring right up to the wall and left no room for expansion. When the weather got hot and the wood expanded the flooring just bowed upwards.
There are lots of visible cracks, it makes creaking noises when it is walked on, and in some places it obviously isn't flat. And even if it had been installed properly, with so much wood in the house there is always a risk of termite infestation in Thailand.
Parquet flooring problems
Parquet flooring problems
One of our neighbours, who is an older man, elected not to have parquet flooring in his house and told the developer that he wanted tiles instead. I guess that this decision was based on experience. If I had known during the time of construction what I know now, I would also have made the same decision.
When we looked at the show house the parquet flooring looked very attractive and it felt good under foot. It was a standard part of the design and we felt no need to change it, but now I have more experience.
In the last few weeks I have read quite a lot about termites and it seems they are a particular problem in certain parts of Australia. Melbourne isn't too bad because it gets some cold weather and termites don't like cold weather. In temperate climates the risk is low, but in tropical and sub-tropical areas the risk is high.
Many homes are affected in the Sydney area and the problem is particularly bad in places further north - in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Southern Thailand doesn't have a cold season so there is also a big risk. The situation might be better in northern Thailand where there is a cool season. A neighbour was also telling me that teak flooring isn't a problem because termites don't attack teak, but I hate to think how much 100 m2 of teak flooring would cost.
We had planned to replace the detested parquet flooring with tiles at some stage, but was planning to do this in two or three years' time. This latest problem has just brought our plans forward. We have now been in the house almost five years and accumulated quite a lot of stuff. The second floor now needs to be cleared so that the work can take place. There is quite a lot of work involved.
So, how did termites get into the house?
I'm not sure, but there are a couple of possibilities. The pest control company who I signed a contract with obviously had no interest other than money and to maximise their profits they may have treated the ground with a very weak solution - or even water. But even if the house was protected at ground level, termites have other ways of getting in.
At certain times of the year after rain the house is deluged with swarms of flying insects. They get through the tiniest cracks in the door frames and at first I thought they were harmless. They are attracted by light, and the next morning they all seemed to be dead.
But I made two wrong assumptions. Firstly, they aren't harmless. They are actually termites during a stage of their life cycle. Secondly, just because there are lots of wings everywhere the next morning it doesn't mean that they have died. They fly in, shed their wings, and then crawl somewhere looking to reproduce where there is a source of food.
Since I discovered this information, we now make a point of turning lights off inside the house and turning lights on outside the house whenever these insects are swarming. This keeps them out of the house.
Third issue. My parents are now 80 and have been heavy smokers and drinkers all their lives. Even into their 70's they remained quite active, but in the last couple of years there has been a noticeable downturn in their health.
My Mum started to get pains in her leg a few months ago, coupled with black toes, and it sounded like some kind of circulation problem. However, my brother called last week to say that she has been diagnosed with cancer and a couple of days ago she was admitted to hospital.
Since I left the UK in 2003 I have never been back (and I have never had any desire to go back), but I may have to make a trip back soon. For all kinds of reasons, it is not a trip I wish to make, but it is looking inevitable.
My daughter's operation will take place this week and the flooring work to remedy the termite infestation should begin straight after that. At the moment, I just don't know when I may have to go back to the UK.
I have hardly spent any time on my computer in the last month. When I do turn it on I only do so for essential tasks. Website updates and blog posts have been so far down on my list of priorities that they were never going to get done.
The temptation at first was just to say that I won't be doing any more here, but things can't continue to go on like this and hopefully in a few months' time life will settle down again. When that happens I will have more time, but I'm not exactly sure when it will be.
To the people who read this blog regularly, I apologise, but I hope you will understand.
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