Living In Thailand Blog
Saturday 31st March 2007
I saw a copy of Windows Vista for the first time today. It was a pirated copy at one of the local markets, alongside thousands of pirated copies of software, computer games, music and movies. Much of the pirated software on sale in Thailand contains key generators to generate license keys or other devices to get around manufacturers' activation code.
There is nothing 'black market' or 'under the table' about where it is sold. Everyone living locally knows what goes on, and where, and no legal action is ever taken. In fact, if - as a tourist - you asked a local cop where to find cheap software he would probably give you directions ... along with a big smile.
I have yet to see a computer sold in Thailand that didn't come with an unlicensed copy of Windows and a suite of pirated software. This normally includes a copy of the top version of Photoshop (a $600 product) and other expensive software.
I bought my laptop in Singapore where it came with a licensed copy of Windows XP Professional and that was it. Pirated software is available in Singapore but the guys selling it operate like the guys in Oxford Street selling dodgy goods out of suitcases.
They are constantly on the lookout for police; constantly being busted; and constantly changing location. Malaysia is a hotbed of software piracy but there has been a clampdown in recent years. I think the industry is still big there but it isn't as open as it used to be.
This is another issue that's going to creep up and bite Thailand on the foot sooner or later. Thaksin, a lover of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and never one who was shy about selling off the country's sovereignty if he could make a fast buck, initiated FTA talks with the US in 2003.
As far as I'm aware, I don't think an agreement hasn't been reached yet and Thaksin's departure would certainly have stalled proceedings. There has been an ongoing battle in recent years between Thailand and the US about Thai shrimp exports, with US producers accusing the Thais of dumping shrimp and wanting to impose anti-dumping tariffs, that is, import taxes.
Presumably this is something the FTA would cover but you can bet your boots that the US would want lots of anti-piracy clauses written into such an agreement; being the world's major producer of commercial software.
The shrimp farmers might get a better deal but Thai computer users and pirated software suppliers would certainly suffer.
It's an interesting scenario actually. Just the cost of a computer with no licensed software is a big outlay for the average Thai but if you add on the cost of the operating system and all the applications, it would become prohibitively expensive for many.
If a time ever comes when piracy is really stamped out and people are forced to pay for expensive Microsoft or Adobe products I think all that will happen is that it will accelerate the open source software market.
Linux will take off as the preferred operating system in Asia, along with open source versions of applications such as OpenOffice or NeoOffice. Granted, the open source versions may not be as comprehensive as Photoshop or as refined as Office, but they get the job done and they will improve in time (and they probably used a lot less system resources).
As I jumped on a sawng-thaew today there was a girl already on board who had the most disfigured face I have ever seen. I have seen similarly disfigured people on TV and in photos but never face-to-face before.
I won't give a description and there are certainly no photos. Even if I'd been carrying my camera, only the most cold-hearted, insensitive human-being could have pointed a camera at her.
It was a strange situation and I admit that I felt a compulsion to look at her even though I knew it was being insensitive. There were two young girls and a middle-aged woman on the sawng-thaew as well and I could sense a strange atmosphere because of the girl.
It struck me that probably for her whole life she has been stared at, pointed at and ignored wherever she has gone. Some people have probably been afraid of her and some Thais have strange ideas; possibly believing that her misfortune is some kind of karmic retribution for sins in previous lives.
I wanted to show some compassion from one human-being to another but not just feel sorry for her in a patronising way. It has been another scorching hot today and she was feeling the heat as much as anyone else. As she fanned her face with her hand I made a comment to her about the hot weather.
My talking to her elicited a strange reaction and some sideways glances from the woman and the two young girls who just sat there in complete silence the whole time with awkward expressions on their faces.
I continued the conversation with some of the usual questions that Thais asks strangers. I spoke in Thai, not knowing if she spoke any English. At first I wasn't sure if her facial disfiguration affected her speech but I could understand her without too many problems.
She's a local girl, she was on her way home, and she told me her name is Pao. She rummaged in her bag and gave me two small packages. They are small bottles of the camphor/menthol solution that Thais like to rub on the back of their hands and then sniff. They are wrapped in lace and I think she sells them to make a living but she gave them to me as presents.
I got off before her and wished her good luck. How sad that inside she is the same as everyone else but because of her unusual appearance she probably never gets treated like a normal person apart from when she is with her family and close friends.
The situation I found myself in today just happened without me being able to think about it beforehand. I almost always talk with Thais when I take public transport; it is normal behaviour for me. It seemed only right today that I should do the same with her and not change my normal behaviour because of her physical appearance.
She is obviously very aware that most strangers stare and go quiet in her presence. I hope I didn't embarrass her or make her feel awkward but I don't think I did.
Thursday 29th March 2007
It's been another very hot day today and still the hot season hasn't fully peaked yet. I put my thermometer outside for a while today at around 3pm. It measured 34°C (93°F) in a very shady north-facing spot that never gets any direct sunlight and 46°C (115°F) in the direct sun.
That probably doesn't sound very hot for people used to living in hot environments but I have problems in extremes of temperature and the sun here seems to be very intense. I've been going out plastered in factor 50 sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and I've tried to stay in the shade as much as possible but I've still been returning home with a sore, red face.
Apart from a brief trip out this morning I've spent the day inside with the A/C on. I can survive without A/C but the heat drains me of energy and I just end up sleeping all day. It's frustrating because I get plenty of time off and there are lots of places I want to visit but the heat prevents me from spending much time outside. At times like this I feel as if I am trapped in my own room.
The intense heat has brought about a few late-afternoon and evening storms recently which cool things off nicely but as soon as the clouds disappear the heat is full-on again. It isn't until around 5:30pm that I feel I can take a walk outside without getting fried.
Just recently, my evening walks have taken me to an area which is like a completely separate village from the rest of town that has been frozen in some kind of a time-warp. It's one of those parts of Thailand where farangs don't usually go.
I know this to be true, not only because that's what the locals have told me, but from the reactions I observe when people see me. They stop what they are doing and stare. At the restaurant I ate at this evening I made the woman working there very nervous.
When she first saw me she laughed nervously and starting speaking to a table of three Thai customers about the farang that had just shown up. She was quite old and Thais of her generation very rarely speak any English at all. They also assume that all farangs can't read or speak any Thai so it's potentially an awkward situation for them.
The area consists solely of Sois (small side roads, for those not acquainted with Sois) and it is fairly peaceful. The people are incredibly friendly and everyone I have met there has smiled and spoken to me. They have also been very keen for me to return for further visits which I said I would.
The people I have become friendly with operate a small recycling business. In Thailand you often seen individuals going round the streets collecting recyclable material. They bring it to places like this where they sell it.
The intermediary then sells it on in large quantities for a very small profit. The woman tonight told me that what they sell goes on a big truck and ends up in Bangkok.
They have a very relaxed life. People arrive to sell waste material which is weighed, packaged up and resold later. They sit around most of the time on furniture that looks as if it was thrown out previously.
There are animals everywhere. Chickens run around and there are numerous cats and dogs, including a number of kittens. I'm always happy with a couple of cats on my lap so it suits me. I think I am drawn to this particular area because it acts as an antidote to the stress of modern living.
I find it very relaxing and it's good practice for me listening to the locals speak. They think I can speak Thai fluently but - as I pointed out before on 19th February - it is only an illusion. When talking to Thais at the lower end of the social hierarchy they don't tend to ask any deep or searching questions and most of what they ask I can handle.
Very nice people though - "Salt of the earth," as the Brits might say.
On a sad note, I wrote recently about the death of Iss's cat (killed by a car) and how many other cats I have known in Thailand that have been killed by cars and motorbikes. Well, you can add the one in the photo to the list.
I took this photo less than two weeks ago and on my visit today I was told that the kitten was killed by a car last week. There are still three left but they will have done well if they reach their first birthday.
Oliver Jufer is now looking at spending the next 10 years of his life in a cockroach and mosquito infested Thai jail eating rice gruel for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. His original sentence was for 20 years but it was reduced to 10 after he pleaded guilty.
I want to be compassionate about his plight but under the circumstances it is difficult. He didn't murder, rape or rob anyone; nor did he chop off anyone's arm. But what he did was to attack the institution that means more to the people of Thailand than anything else - the Thai monarchy.
More specifically, his little act of drunken vandalism was aimed at the King on his 79th birthday in the year he celebrated 60 years on the throne. It was a sickeningly insensitive thing to do in a country that treats foreign guests very well.
The BBC report, in a masterstroke of understatement, says, "King Bhumibol, the world's longest-serving current head of state, is a very popular figure in Thailand." I'm sorry but 'very popular' just isn't sufficient to describe the feelings the Thais have for their King.
During the 60th anniversary celebrations last year a good Thai friend of mine sent me a text message. It read, "I really love my King and I just wanted to let you know." I then received a very similar text message from one of the secretaries at work. It's interesting that Thais almost always refer to my King, not our King or the King.
Yes, it's personal and it's love; the same kind of deep love that we have for our parents. It comes as no surprise that the King is sometimes referred to as a father (Por) and that Father's Day falls on his birthday, as Mother's Day falls on the Queen's birthday.
The BBC report (which I didn't like very much) refers to laws in Thailand forbidding 'criticism of the monarchy' but this wasn't criticism, it was a terrible insult. There is a big difference. How would the Catholic world feel, for example, if someone went to Vatican City and started spraying paint over images of the Pope?
The BBC, by using words such as 'draconian', has twisted the story implying that the sentence was not justified. It's the classic reaction of foreigners who don't understand Thailand. Foreigners who do understand Thailand - and I include Oliver Jufer - understand, or should understand, the seriousness of what was done.
If they don't understand, they should first learn about how Thai society is structured, then learn about what has motivated many (not all) Thai politicians since 1932 when 'democracy' was introduced and whose interests they have worked for; and finally they should try to get some idea of the amount of effort members of the Thai monarchy have put in over many years to help Thai people and in whose interests they have worked for.
If possible they should also try to watch some of the old news reels of the King as he travelled to every province in the country in sweltering heat, armed with a map of the area, a notepad and a camera to talk with the local people, understand problems and devise solutions.
He set up agricultural experiments in the grounds of the royal palaces which, if successful, were introduced into different areas of the country where they would be of most use. With Thailand being largely an agricultural country, he has concentrated mainly on problems regarding land and water management, both of which are essential for the well-being of the country.
From the introduction of Vetiver grass used to prevent soil erosion, to the "monkey's cheeks" system of flood prevention used in Thailand today and many more projects; there is so much in Thailand today that is owed to the King.
Finally, when the politicians get themselves into such a mess that there looks to be no way out, who is it that fixes the problem and restores order? In some ways it is a little worrying but you just cannot underestimate how important the monarchy, and especially the King, is to Thailand.
I have digressed a little from the original story but only by understanding a few things about Thai society and history is it possible to put into context the jail sentence that has just been meted out to Oliver Jufer.
If you need any further reading suggestions, there's a list of books elsewhere on this site which have helped me to understand some of these issues and which may be of use to you.
Here's some more analysis from the BBC which once again completely misses the point and demonstrates a total lack of knowledge about Thai society, culture and history.
Wednesday 28th March 2007
Sooner or later it's a problem that all of us living in Thailand have to face. Near to where we live are some coconut palms with sweet, juicy coconuts ripe for the picking but they are completely inaccessible. What is needed is a monkey to retrieve the tasty fruit but how do you catch a monkey? It's an age old question.
Perhaps you already know but I only discovered the secret recently and I would like to share it here. The first thing you need to do is get hold of a coconut. At one end make a small hole and secure the coconut using string to a fixed object.
At the other end make a hole that is just big enough for a monkey's hand - I guess that 3cm should be about right but this may require some experimentation. It also depends on the size of monkey you wish to catch. Put a little rice inside the coconut and wait.
After a monkey finds the coconut it will put its hand inside to get the rice. However, after forming a fist to clench the rice it won't be able to withdraw its hand. Further, as a result of not wanting to give up the food, it won't unclench its fist and thus it will remain trapped. (Who said monkeys were clever?) Et voila, you now have your monkey.
What you do with the monkey after you catch it is up to you. It's possible to train them at home but this can be frustrating and dangerous. Official monkey schools exist in places such as Koh Samui where the monkeys will wear uniforms and undergo formal graduation ceremonies at the end of their training, as is the custom in Thailand.
On the other hand, it might just be easier to stick with Tesco Lotus for your coconut requirements.
Monday 26th March 2007
Today is the 40th anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson who went missing while taking a break in the Cameron Highlands area of Malaysia.
Credited with reviving the Thai silk industry, his name is still very well known in Thailand due to the house he left in Bangkok - now a major tourist attraction - and the chain of Thai silk shops which bear his name.
Here is a link to the BBC report.
Sometimes they're alone and sometimes they form gangs. Some are so young, they barely seem big enough to be able to ride a motorbike but this doesn't stop them. They are fearless in their quest for the thrill of speed and they terrify local residents. Even the police are reluctant to take action.
They have no regard for the law or their own safety; never wearing crash helmets or protective clothing. Often, their behaviour is made worse as a result of being drunk on over-ripened fruit that has started to ferment.
Be on your guard and be especially careful if you own a fruit shop.
Whatever people think of him - and opinions tend to be deeply divided - Thaksin certainly left his mark on the country. I thought that, historically, corrupt Thai politicians just walked away with their ill-gotten gains without fear that Thailand would want the money back or that they would go to jail.
However, that all seems to have changed since the coup last September. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it was the extent of how wealthy Thaksin became; or perhaps it was other more sensitive matters; or perhaps it was leaving his legacy in the form of the new airport which now serves as a massive monument to all the greed and corruption that took place under his administration.
New airports these days normally make the news for their fabulous feats of architectural excellence. I can't think of any other new building that has made so much news for all the wrong reasons. It's now costing Thailand a lot of money to put right and having to reopen the old airport must have been a tad embarrassing.
Or perhaps the Thais have just had enough of the political nonsense that has been a part of Thai politics for a very long time and want to clean things up by first making an example of the Shinawatra and Damapong families?
It's different elsewhere in the country, but down here in the south the mention of his name almost gets people spitting venom; something that is very un-Thai.
The knives are definitely out for him and the authorities seem serious about going after him with lèse majesté charges. Today, his wife, her brother and her personal secretary were formally charged with tax evasion.
If found guilty they will have to pay the evaded tax, plus fines, and they could face imprisonment for criminal conspiracy. Meanwhile, several other investigations are being carried out for other irregularities and more charges could be brought.
It's a massive investigation with many people implicated. Thaksin narrowly escaped wealth concealment charges after first coming to office, partly by assigning paper-ownership of many of his assets to personal staff. On paper, his maids and chauffeur suddenly became very, very rich.
When news of the Shin sale to Singapore first broke he tried to laugh it off by telling reporters that it had nothing to do with him and that they should speak to his children who, he claimed, had instigated the sale. What an insult to the intelligence of the Thai people.
I also noticed that King Power, the duty-free company given preferential treatment at the new airport, is to lose its contracts. The company will be allowed to bid again but in a fair environment where other companies will also be bidding.
The exact reasons why King Power received such special treatment have yet to surface but it's not difficult to work out why. As with every other contract that was awarded during the building of Suvarnabhumi, lots of money was passing under the table.
Sorry to get back to political stuff again after promising not to but I am just pleased that finally there are some signs that things might actually be starting to change in Thailand for the better.
What I really want to know though is, does Khunying Pojaman own more pairs of shoes than Imelda?
Sunday 25th March 2007
Continuing on from yesterday, I will take a look at some more written Thai today. The spoken language exasperates me and I don't think I will ever master it. The written language though is something of great beauty.
Not only is it aesthetically pleasing to look at, it is a joy to write, and it is amazingly precise and logical (which cannot be said of written English). I do this not only because I enjoy it but because I learn and remember in the process of writing.
The sign above is the same one from part of yesterday's blog. It reads:
1 เมษา 50
Compared to yesterday's sign, the font used in this one is very similar to the font used here and thus very easy to read.
The first character เ is a vowel which can be used on its own or in vowel combinations. It is written before the consonant and when used on its own makes an '-ay' sound, as in pay, say, hay, may, gay.
However, in the first word it is used as part of a vowel combination เ-ิ and what you can see is that part of the vowel combination goes before the consonant and part above. It's a kind or '-er' sound.
The consonant it surrounds is ป for which there is no direct transliteration in English. It is half way between a 'b' and a 'p'.
The next letter is ด which is a 'd' sound at the start of a syllable but a 't' sound at the end of a syllable. This letter completes the first word.
We have a 'BP', 'ER', and a 'T'. The sound falls somewhere in between the man's name Burt and pert (as in breast). It's actually quite an explosive sound but because it is not a 'P' sound there is no aspiration. This word means 'open' in English.
There is no tone mark so we have to use some other rules to deduce the tone. The syllable ends with a 'T' so it is classed as a 'dead' syllable (as opposed to a 'live' one). The '-er' vowel is a long vowel (as opposed to a short vowel).
Longs vowels are ones that you can continue voicing such as 'aaaaaaaa ....' or 'errrrrrr ....' With short vowels you can't do this, such as 'i' or 'o'. Once the sound leaves your mouth, you can't continue voicing it.
The letter ป is a mid-class consonant and if we look up the tone rule for an initial mid-class consonant, a dead syllable and a long vowel, we see that it is low tone.
The next letter - ว - is one I covered yesterday which is a 'W' sound. Above it is the character -ั which is a 'U' sound as in 'fun'.
In almost every transliteration system I have seen, this letter is transliterated as an 'a' but I disagree. Don't take my word for it though; listen for yourself. Point to your teeth and ask a Thai for the Thai word. Do they say 'fun' or 'fan'?
The next letter น is an 'N' sound. We now have 'WUN' which is Thai for day but we haven't finished yet. Following this is the letter ท which is a 'T' sound and this is followed by the vowel -ี which is an 'EE' sound, sometimes written 'II'.
The word 'WUN-TEE' means date so thus far we know the sign is referring to an opening date. Right at the end is a tone mark. The initial consonant this particular tone mark is used above is low-class so the syllable therefore has a falling tone. The first syllable (WUN) is mid-tone and the second (TEE) is falling.
In the bottom line, 1, obviously, is the day of the month. The เ vowel appears again but this time it is used on its own and not in a vowel combination. It comes before the consonant ม which is an 'M' sound. The first syllable is 'MAY' but do not be deceived; that's not the month even though it may (no pun intended) sound like one.
For more information about Thai months refer to my blog of Sunday 17th December 2006.
The second syllable consists of ษ - an 'S' sound and า - a long 'AA' sound which we covered yesterday.
The word is therefore pronounced 'MAY-SAA' (an abbreviation of 'MAY-SAA-YON'), the Thai word for April. The 50 refers to the Thai year 2550 which is the Christian year 2007.
Putting a sign up in the street seems to be the preferred way to advertise in Thailand and most signs are only written in Thai so if you can't read anything you won't have a clue what's going on around you.
It starts off with the word มี which consists of one consonant and one vowel, both of which I have covered already. The word is 'MEE' which is the Thai verb 'to have'.
Next, comes ห้องว่าง which is exactly the same as yesterday's sign so the person who placed the sign has a room free. There are some extra words on this sign though.
It then says ให้เช่า after stating that the person has a room free.
The first letter ใ is a vowel which is one of two vowels which have exactly the same sound. It's an 'AI' sound, like an Ali G acknowledgment or a Star Trek, "Aye aye Captain." The other vowel with the same sound ไ is more commonly used.
You should already recognise the next letter - ห which is an 'H' sound. The word is therefore 'HAI' and it can mean: to give, to grant, to offer, to present, to permit/allow/let.
There is a tone mark used. The initial consonant is high-class which, with this particular tone mark, results in a falling tone.
The final word begins with the vowel เ again but this time it forms part of a vowel combination where the two vowel characters go before and after the consonant เ-า. This particular vowel sound is 'AO' or 'OW'.
The initial consonant (written in the middle of the vowel combination) is ช and it is a 'CH' sound. You need to be careful though because there are other Thai letters that look similar. An extra little notch or a lack of a notch can turn the sound of the letter very easily into a 'K' or an 'S'.
The word is therefore 'CHAO', or 'CHOW' if you prefer. Once again, there is a tone mark used. The initial consonant is low-class and when used in conjunction with this particular tone mark, it results in a falling tone.
'HAI CHAO' then, means 'to rent' and both words are pronounced with a falling tone. The person who placed the sign has a room available to rent.
Saturday 24th March 2007
Written Thai can be difficult. Even after learning what sounds the letters make you will find that many sentences don't have any spaces. You have to learn to separate the words and then separate the syllables.
Adjacent consonants sometimes form consonant clusters but sometimes there are implied vowels (that is, unwritten vowels) between them. In addition to vowel sounds that are voiced but not written, there are vowels and consonants at the end of words that are written but not voiced. When this happens, a special character is sometimes used to indicate the unvoiced letters but not always.
Then, of course, there are the tone rules and - not least - the written language is quite different to the spoken language. Even if you are a good speaker of Thai, you will find that there are various words and expressions that are only used in the written language.
On the other hand, signs consisting of just a few words can be very easy to read - and quite useful. A basic ability to read can give you a lot more independence in Thailand and anything that takes away your dependence from the utterly hopeless transliteration systems that exist can only be a good thing.
Let's look at the sign above that I spotted yesterday while walking around. Oh yes, I forgot about one of the other problems that exists and that concerns the various fonts that are used. With some it is very difficult to work out what the letters are. The particular font used on this sign isn't the easiest to read but it isn't too bad compared to some others.
The sign says: ห้องว่าง
As you can see, some of the finer detail (such as the little loops) shown in the font used here is not present in the sign. The Thais are an artistic race and use a lot of artistic licence in their writing.
Let's begin with the first letter ห which has an 'H' sound in English. Some Thai consonants have a different sound depending on whether they come at the beginning or the end of a syllable but this one is never used as a final consonant.
It is sometimes used silently at the beginning of a word for tone rule purposes - it converts the consonant that follows to high class - but not in this case.
The next letter อ can be a vowel (as it is here) or a zero consonant. If used as a zero consonant it is used silently at the beginning of words that start with a vowel sound. Some Thai vowels are written above the preceding consonant which is obviously a problem if there isn't a preceding consonant which is why there is a zero consonant. As a vowel it makes an 'or' or 'aw' sound in English and is transliterated both ways (plus a few others).
The third letter ง is an 'ng' sound in English which is easy if it's at the end of a syllable but tricky if it's at the beginning.
The sign consists of two words and those three letters make up the first word - I will come on to tone marks in a minute. We have 'H', 'AW' or 'OR', and 'NG'. We could transliterate the word as 'hong', 'horng' or 'hawng'. However, the pronunciation is not 'horn + g'. 'Hawng' is probably more accurate. It means 'room' in English.
The next word begins with ว which is a 'W' sound in English. What's interesting is that it is often transliterated into a 'V' despite the fact there is no 'V' sound in Thai and the Thais have great difficulty with 'V' sounds.
For examples of this you need only look at the name of Thailand's newest duty-free shopping area where planes occasionally land and take off if they can find a flat piece of runway - Suvarnabhumi - or that favourite farang area of Bangkok, the Sukhumvit Road.
In both cases, the 'v' should be a 'w' and in both cases, if you pronounce the words exactly as they are transliterated in English you will never be understood by Thais.
Following, is the vowel า which is the sound your doctor asks you to make if you have a bad throat. It is variously transliterated as 'aa', 'ar' or 'ah'. It's a long sound. Sometimes it is transliterated as a simple 'a' which is plainly wrong.
This second word also ends with the ง 'ng' sound so we have 'W' 'AA' 'NG'. 'Waang' means 'free' or 'available' in English. The sign is advertising a room that is available but I wonder how many foreigners in Thailand wandering around looking for somewhere to stay would walk straight past?
You might also have noticed a couple of symbols above the letters. These are tone marks. Some vowels and parts of vowel combinations are written above consonants but not in this case. Of the four tone marks, the two used in the sign appear frequently and the other two (-๊ and -๋) appear less frequently.
The first letter of the first word is a high class consonant and with the particular tone mark used we need to use a falling tone.
The first letter of the second word is a low class consonant and with the tone mark that is used we also need to use a falling tone.
A falling tone can be approximated by imagining you are calling someone's name from a distance. As the sound continues, the tone falls. This is the tone to use for both of these words.
A significant proportion of foreigners visit Thailand - among other things - to have sex, get drunk, get fitted for very dodgy bespoke clothing, and/or buy fake goods.
It is therefore no surprise that tourist areas are full of beer bars, prostitutes, street stalls selling fake Rolex watches, and dodgy tailor shops (most of which, incidentally, are Indian, not Thai).
Lonely Planet readers looking for some kind of spiritual awakening in Thailand insist on wandering around dressed in baggy Chinese fisherman pants and indigo cotton-dyed farmer's shirts. They look like twats but the Thais don't care and Thai shopkeepers will happily sell them what they want.
It is not only demand from foreigners. As I mentioned recently, a Jatukham Rammathep amulet craze is currently sweeping the nation. In an effort to satisfy demand, the shop in the photo appeared last week and as you can see from the sign in the window, it opens on 1st April 2007.
Friday 23rd March 2007
I'm getting quite worried about the girl who works in the convenience store next door. I first got to know her about 18 months ago and after that spent a lot of time chatting with her whenever I went in to buy anything. She was always keen to improve her English. I wasn't sure why at first but it became clear later.
Some time last year I went into the shop to find her crying her eyes out. This phase lasted for several weeks. By that time she had enough trust in me and she needed a shoulder to cry on so she told me her story.
She is very typical of so many Thai girls. She is from a good family and as riep roi as they come. She's in her early 30's and spent most of her life never having a boyfriend. Part of the reason is that she works all the time. She works in the convenience store in the evenings and at a restaurant during the day.
She's not the prettiest Thai girl I have ever seen but she is 100% honest and would treat any man in her life like a god. She's also not the kind of girl who has casual sex and any man with those intentions would need to make a fairly serious commitment first.
A couple of years ago she went to work in her brother's restaurant in Phuket and while there she met a Danish guy. I've seen photos of him and he's not the exactly the type of guy who would drive the girls in Copenhagen wild. He's a frequent visitor to Thailand though and has money which is the only qualification for success with many poor or lonely Thai girls.
He sweet-talked her and she fell for his charm hook, line and sinker. He promised her what the majority of Thai girls want - marriage, a house and a family. She was absolutely smitten. So, why the tears?
What she told me was that when he comes to Thailand he spends a couple of days with her initially but then buggers off to Isaan for a month where he rents a house. Now, considering this is the girl he supposedly wants to marry, why doesn't he spend the whole time with her and what - possibly - can the attraction be in Nong Khai?
I had a pretty good idea of the game he was playing but she couldn't see through him. After all the false promises he had managed to have his wicked way with her but then went off for more fun in the northeast.
I told her just to forget him but she wouldn't - or couldn't. She had probably reached an age where she thought she would never find a husband and have a family and he came along when she was very vulnerable.
In January she mentioned he was coming back to Thailand and then she disappeared. She didn't say anything and what was strange was that her friends in the convenience store wouldn't tell me anything. I found out from her friends at the restaurant where she had gone.
That was over two months ago and she still hasn't returned. This evening I tried to find out what she is up to now and where she is but her friends just refuse to answer my questions. They tell me they don't know where she is but I don't believe them. I also asked for her telephone number but they tell me it has changed and they don't know the new one. More lies.
It is possible that everything is now fine between them and their relationship is back on course but somehow I doubt it. From what she told me about him he doesn't seem very honest and - with some money in his pocket - I think he is just butterflying around Thailand having a good time with lots of different girls.
If my suspicions are confirmed, there is no knowing what she might do. It was one of the worst cases of lovesickness and infatuation I have ever seen. For weeks she just cried openly in the shop as she was working and nothing I was able to say - such as, "Just dump the bastard," did anything to console her.
The girls at the convenience store know that I know her well and that I don't like the sound of this guy which is probably why they aren't saying anything. I have a feeling that if I make enquiries at the restaurant where she works I might get some more information.
Most stuff on the Internet about Thai girls paints them in a bad light with foreign men being scammed and cheated. It's not all one-way traffic though. Girls like Bel - and there are thousands of them - live like nuns for years because of the conservative nature of Thai society.
When they eventually lose their hearts to a man they do it in a big way and if things don't work out, the consequences can be dire. In this case I want my suspicions to be wrong but, as yet, I just don't know what has happened.
Known by the sobriquet, 'Land of Smiles,' I would suggest that a more accurate description for Thailand would be, 'Land of Contrasts.' It really is a land of contrasts. From my room I look out directly at a mini-palace. It's a massive residential property with its own 24-hour security guard.
The guy who owns it has his own haulage company and a fleet of 10-wheelers which run between Thailand and Malaysia. Obviously business is pretty good at the moment. However, all around his house are people living in corrugated shacks with chickens and dogs running around like something out of the middle-ages.
On the roads you see whole families sitting in home-made sidecars attached to old motorbikes but there is no shortage of the finest automotive hardware to come out of Germany and Japan. It isn't only material wealth and lifestyles where huge contrasts are evident. There are also marked contrasts with behaviour.
The way Thais deal with each over disagreements most of the time has to be the ultimate in civilised behaviour. There is none of the rage and anger that I am so used to seeing in England. They are very, very civilised people. But at times they are plain crazy.
The latest crazy story to emerge is that of a Thai girl working in a Karaoke bar who was approached by three drunken men; one of whom was a policeman. They gave the girl a hard time and wanted her to go with them to a private room.
Not only wasn't she interested but she was probably quite frightened as well so she attempted to get away on her motorbike. They followed her and, having caught up, hacked off her right arm. It just seems incredulous that this kind of thing can happen in Thailand but it does.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand