Living In Thailand Blog
Saturday 31st March 2012
It wasn't a good day in the south of Thailand today.
And then a big explosion close to home.
I met a Malaysian friend today who was staying in a hotel right next to where the explosion occurred. He had brought some gifts and arranged to meet me away from the town centre. He did this out of consideration for me because he knows the centre of town is congested and that it's difficult to park.
Had I met him in Lee Gardens Plaza, I may not have been writing this. The blast was directly underneath McDonalds, where I had lunch two days ago.
I went to have a look this afternoon and it was a frightening sight. The blast must have been huge. My sister-in-law heard it from about 3kms away. It blew out all the plate glass, even at the back of the building. The glass was almost half an inch thick.
Beyond one pane of shattered glass I saw the same chairs where my wife, baby and I had been sitting just before Christmas when we went Christmas shopping and stopped for a snack.
I will probably make an update here tomorrow, but I think I'm going to take a break from writing this blog for a while. I have a huge amount going on in my life at the moment and I don't really have the time to write here.
If the explosion had happened two days ago, or if I had visited today for a burger it could have been me. As politicians always say, I will now take a break so that I can spend some more time with my family.
I'm not sure if the number of dead is known yet. Earlier on, I heard reports of one or two but the information wasn't consistent. One report said the victims were McDonalds staff, while another said that they were tourists.
My little Thai sister just called because she was worried about me. She heard on the TV news that five people had died. Apparently some people on the 4th floor in hotel rooms died of smoke inhalation.
Earlier today, there was black smoke billowing out of the building. Ever since 9/11, the sight of smoke coming out of tall buildings brings back the worst kind of memories.
The TV news reports showed people trying to escape out of windows hanging on to pieces of rope while trying to descend on a flimsy ladder.
I thought that one of my ex-students might have been working in Swensens, next door to McDonalds. She has always been my favourite student. I called her and although she was offered a job, she hasn't started yet. That was one piece of good news, at least.
She told me that another one of my ex-students was in the building involved in a beauty contest. I haven't received an update on her yet.
I know quite a few people locally and it is highly likely that people I know would have been in the building at the time of the explosion. Lee Gardens Plaza at lunchtime on a Saturday is a popular place.
My thoughts tonight are with the victims and their families.
Friday 30th March 2012
The UK pound to Thai Baht exchange rate has exceeded Bt49 a few times this week (Bt49.31 when I looked this morning). I've been waiting for a while to see what happens before transferring more money.
I could have, probably should have, transferred the money a while ago and put it into a Thai savings account where it would have got a decent amount of interest.
I didn't and gambled on the exchange rate improving. There hasn't been any significant improvement. With the European and UK economies still in the gutter and no end in sight, I can't imagine that there will be much improvement in the near future. Who knows? Economics is a mystery to me.
The Thai finance minister was pushing for a weaker Baht to help exporters but the governor of the Bank of Thailand wants to keep it strong. A weaker Baht would also help tourism, but that doesn't seem to be a priority either.
"Kittiratt (finance minister) believes that a weak baht would support exporters. But Prasarn (BoE governor) said high economic growth of trade partners was more important for boosting Thailand's exports than a weak baht."
Here's the full story:
When I first arrived in Thailand to live at the end of 2003, I was getting in excess of Bt70 for each of my UK pounds. The UK stockmarket was flying and I was also getting a decent amount of interest on my UK cash savings. It doesn't take long for everything to change.
Try explaining this to Thais.
The reason why so many manufacturing jobs are being lost to Asia:
And some facts about Chinese factory workers:
One of my first dalliances with Thai females was with a girl who used to work in a Bangkok sweatshop making T-shirts. For every shirt she sewed together she earnt Bt3. She could do 100 in a day.
I went back to her Isaan village with her and on our return we stopped in Bangkok for a few days. Despite having worked there, she had never seen any of the sights of Bangkok. When she wasn't sleeping, she was in the factory working on a sewing machine.
There is no way that Western workers would put up with the same pay and conditions as poor Asian workers. Western nations simply can't compete.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Here are some more of Bangkok Barry's thoughts on the matter:
"Westerners have priced themselves out of the market because of greed, and Thailand will follow as the middle class grows. Several countries, not just China, offer cheaper labour than Thailand. Of course, Chinese labour costs will also increase with the expanding middle class, and so manufacuring will move increasingly to India until the same thing happens there. Then maybe Africa will step in.
It is interesting to note how short-sighted people were in inventing machines that could do the work of 10 men in half the time, without giving a thought to what those surplus workers would do when they were made redundant. Same as the short-sighted dockers in London in the early 60's who struck themselves out of work and killed off an industry."
My wife's driving instructor is still playing up. First he changed the days he agreed to teach, then he cancelled lessons, and today he just didn't show up. My wife called him and he's in Bangkok. That's fine, but he should at least have the courtesy to call his students to let them know.
When we first started renting this house it was in a terrible state. The woman who owns it wasn't interested in doing anything and so I made appointments with various tradesmen and got the work done myself.
We were living elsewhere at the time and if I had an appointment with a tradesman I had to make a special journey. I did this many times, as did my wife, and on several occasions the tradesmen either didn't show up at all or showed up several hours late.
If you teach English in Thailand, Thai students are notorious for not showing up, cancelling five minutes before the lesson, or arriving very late.
This inconsiderate behaviour wastes an enormous amount of time, but time doesn't rate very highly in the Thai value system. People waste their own time and aren't concerned about wasting other people's time.
My Thai friend who has been living in the States for 35 years gets really upset about this when he visits Thailand. So do I.
The Land of Guns:
Yet another unwanted farang tourist in Thailand:
Thursday 29th March 2012
My wife offered to give me a massage last night. These offers get rarer the longer you are married, so I jumped at the chance. There then ensued a very strange conversation.
Our daughter was born with a problem that we are currently having treated in Bangkok. It's not an unusual problem and we are confident that eventually she will be perfectly normal.
No one knows for sure why it happens. The process of creating new life is a wondrous thing. A sperm and an egg meet, and nine months later you have a fully functioning human being. There's a lot that can go wrong in that time.
The conversation started off with her telling me that some Thai people believe that our daughter has the problem because one of us did bad things in the past.
This is just Buddhist Karma - what goes around comes around - and quite normal in Buddhist Thailand. This didn't surprise me. It was only when she started going into specifics that I was a little taken aback.
Her parents have some land where they grow fruit and oil palm trees to make a living. She told me that years ago she used to go into the forest with her mother and sometimes her mother would burn dead vegetation in the process of preparing the soil.
My wife was just a child at the time and said that occasionally she threw grasshoppers (dtuk-a-dtairn) into the flames. I didn't pay much attention. How many little boys haven't tried to burn ants with a magnifying glass?
Regarding cruelty to insects, I kill mosquitoes, cockroaches and wriggly things that come into the house every day. I don't like killing things but I don't want to share my home with these particular insects.
She then told me something she had never told me before.
Just after the birth she was put in a public ward before the hospital arranged a private room for her. A nurse came along and saw the problem with our daughter. The nurse then asked my wife if she had been cruel to grasshoppers in the past.
Of course, she thought back to the time of her childhood in the forest with her mother, where she had indeed been cruel to grasshoppers.
After the nurse said this, everything fell into place and she understood why our daughter has a problem. It is her fault and this is Karmic retribution. She feels guilty as a result.
I use Buddhist philosophies to try to understand the problems in my life and believe that Buddhism is the greatest understanding of the human condition that has ever been described.
I have never fully understood the Buddhist ideas concerning birth, death, rebirth and Karma. For example, if my wife did something bad, why has her bad Karma come back and affected another person? Would Karma damage an innocent person who is close to another person simply to spite the other person?
If it is a result of Karma, why has our daughter received bad Karma when she has only just entered the world and has done nothing wrong? It doesn't seem very fair, does it?
The statistics I've read indicate that maybe one in 700 babies are born with the condition. In every case known, did one of the parents do bad things to grasshoppers in the past?
I do believe that everything that comes around goes around. Could the wife's hypothesis be correct? I bet that there are plenty of people out there who gave grasshoppers a really bad time when they were young, yet now have perfect children. What about them?
I don't want her to continually beat herself up with feelings of guilt. I wasn't exactly a perfect child - quite a horror, in fact, during my teenage years - so if anyone is to blame, it is more likely to be me.
I couldn't imagine having this conversation with a farang wife. The Thai belief system is extremely powerful and it governs the way Thais act and think.
It can be a very good thing because most people will try to do good in order to get good. Of course, there will always be people without any social conscious who don't care what they do and go against the grain.
On the other hand, when someone experiences something bad (as we all do in life), they can then get into a guilt trip blaming themselves.
I'm not sure where this will go next. If Thais feel that luck is going against them they will attempt to make a deposit in their personal Karma bank.
This happened to an ex student of mine who had a long run of bad luck. To fix the problem, his Mum took him out early in the morning to give alms to monks on their alms round.
This type of merit-making is of the utmost importance to Thais and it is carried out through the Sangha (the community of Buddhist monks).
I'm not dismissing any of this. I will be the first to admit that there are many things I don't understand. While living alongside Thais, who have a very different belief system, it gives me a lot more to think about.
As I was writing this, I was thinking at the same time. My mind went back to the summer of 1972. My uncle had emigrated to Canada in 1969 and my family went to visit in 1972.
At that time, very few Brits travelled abroad and if they did they went to places such as Spain or France. Hardly anyone went to the United States or Canada and it was a huge adventure.
There were no McDonalds in the UK then and little evidence of North American culture. Canada in 1972 was a very, very different place to England.
It was summer and the weather was hot. My uncle had a barbecue grill, something that was unknown in Britain at that time. He cooked steaks and sausages, while my brothers and I (being horrible pre-teenage kids) boiled grasshoppers.
I haven't told my wife this story yet, and I'm not sure if it would be a good idea to tell her. If I did, maybe she would just start blaming me.
There's just one more twist to the story. I mentioned before that animal nicknames have gone out of fashion in Thailand. However, a couple of years ago I was teaching a really excellent student called dtuk-a-dtairn.
She was a cute girl, good at English, and almost a perfect student. I thought it was a cute name and when we were thinking of names I wanted to call our daughter dtuk-a-dtairn (grasshopper/cricket).
My wife didn't like the name and so that idea was abandoned.
Still on the subject of my wife, she had a dream (actually a nightmare) a couple of nights ago that there was a fire at her brother's home.
We've all experienced bad dreams and I for one never know why. The human brain is the most complex organism in the universe and we will probably never fully understand how it works.
Perhaps there is an unexplained chemical or electrical reaction, some neurons start firing, and before we know it all this weird stuff has been dragged up from our subconscious memories.
To my wife, though, there was nothing weird or unexplained about the dream. She got on the phone to her sister-in-law and told her what had happened.
Personally, I wouldn't have bothered but this was important to her.
She and our cleaning lady will sometimes buy a lottery ticket. Thais don't just buy a random ticket. They go through a lengthy process looking at things around them that may provide answers to selecting winning lottery numbers. They are a lot more spiritual and a lot more in touch with the supernatural.
As a tourist, a lot of this stuff may not be evident. When you spend a lot of time with Thais, for example being married to one, you begin to see how they really think and behave.
It's not bad; it's just very different to the West.
I found out yesterday that my wife doesn't like me giving tips. I tipped the taxi driver who impressed me earlier this week, and she was concerned that I might have tipped a plumber who came to unblock a drain yesterday. I didn't.
When she worked, she earnt less than Bt300 a day (and, as an art teacher, never got tipped). The plumber asked for Bt500 for about an hour's work so she thought he had been paid enough. So did I, which is why I didn't give him a tip.
Most taxis want to charge me Bt350 for an airport run. The new taxi driver we found gave an excellent service and only charged Bt200. A metered Bangkok taxi would be even cheaper here, but most taxis here aren't metered. It was a good deal.
When I get my haircut I always choose the same woman, even if another barber is free and I have to wait for her to finish cutting someone's hair. A haircut and shave only costs Bt70; she takes her time and does a really good job. The Bt20 tip I give her is almost nothing, but it's Bt20 more than most people tip.
Before I started getting my hair cut at Thai men-only barber shops I used to go to salons. They didn't cut my hair as well, I didn't get a shave, and the price was always Bt150 upwards.
I don't like giving money away and I don't like places that expect tips on top of mandatory service charges, but if I find someone who gives me better service and I save money, it is no problem showing my appreciation.
Despite the wife's protestations, I will continue to tip people who deserve to be tipped.
As I have mentioned quite a few times recently, our daughter was born with a problem. The doctor who took care of her during the pregnancy and delivered our daughter handled the problem really badly.
He simply told me there was a problem and walked off without telling me how serious the problem was and what treatment was required.
Nonetheless, I was given instructions by my wife to give him Bt3,000 in a sealed envelope. This is the standard procedure in Thailand, apparently. I wasn't impressed but did what I was told.
This is exactly the kind of thing I disagree with. Why should someone be given a tip simply because it is the done thing and because it is expected that a tip will be given? This defeats the whole purpose of tipping for good service.
The populations of Thailand and France are roughly the same - about 66 million. The land mass of each country is also similar - 514,000 square kilometres for Thailand, and 547,030 square kilometres for France. The people from both countries have a love of food and a joie de vivre.
The similarities don't stop there.
I am too old to find anything amusing or enjoyable about participating in a mass water fight that lasts all day. I hate the fact that people who have no interest in participating in childish behaviour don't have the choice to opt out.
On the other hand, it's only for one day at a time of year when the weather is very hot. I make sure that there is enough food in the house and stay inside all day on Songkran Day.
I have often thought it fortunate that I don't live in northern Thailand where Songkran goes on for a week. So how do you imagine I felt when I just read this?
They've got to be joking. With the economy in a mess I can understand organising activities to boost tourism, however, I will not be at all happy if these activities include throwing water indiscriminately at people for a month.
Wednesday 28th March 2012
Seven Burmese killed, 12 others injured (in a pickup truck)
Tyre blowout causes fatality (another pickup truck - probably travelling at high speed)
Tuesday 27th March 2012
I experienced another one of those 'Only in Thailand' moments this morning.
The hotel we were staying at is quite respectable. It's well away from the sex tourist areas and the guests are just normal tourists and Thais.
There is a small tour desk and this morning it was unattended. On the table was a folder with details of the tours they arrange for tourists. I picked it up and started to browse.
As expected, there were tours to the major temples, floating market, Ancient City, etc. As I flicked through the folder, I came across one page devoted to Bangkok's famous nighttime entertainment.
There was an advert for an aap op nuat establishment with a picture showing a guy in a bath with two pretty Thai girls. Above this was the kind of card that tuk-tuk drivers hand out to tourists on the streets around the sex tourist areas.
The card advertised a 'pussy show' and described the various acts that Thai girls performing in the show could perform with their vagines (as Borat would say).
Bangkok is very well known for this kind of entertainment (even though some Thais live in a state of denial), but what surprised me on this occasion was the context in which it was advertised.
I thought it weird that in a hotel tour brochure that could be looked at by a group of Christian pensioners on a temple tour of Thailand, there were brothels and sexual services advertised along with the temple tours and cultural excursions.
I had to laugh. Thais are very relaxed about what goes on. My wife saw me laughing and laughed as well when I said I wanted to go. She said that she wanted to go too.
Thais really want foreigners to enjoy Thailand. They know why a lot of men visit and they want the men to have a good time. They actually seem pleased that these places exist because tourists will be happy, and they are not overly concerned about what goes on.
Not to mention, the commercial sex industry is a huge earner for the country.
At the same time, many Thais do get upset with the reputation that Thailand has - especially the reputation that Bangkok has. Probably the best known example was the Longman's dictionary incident:
Thais need to decide what exactly they want, because they can't have it both ways.
I should add that the industry isn't driven by tourists. What is visible and conspicuous is just the tip of the iceberg. There is lots of domestic demand.
Goodbye again Bangkok ... until next month, anyway.
It's a fascinating city and one that I believe everyone should see in their lifetime. Judging by the number of farangs here, it looks as though they are all trying to see it.
There is no evidence of any planning in Bangkok and even though lots of new buildings are appearing everywhere, the old way of life is still present everywhere you go. Outside every shiny new tower block is a woman with a cart selling som-tum on the street.
The action is non-stop, 24 hours a day, the noise is constant and the loudest noise of all is the incessant buzz of tuk-tuks as they scream along the roads.
This is what makes the city interesting. Singapore is very clean and very efficient, but it's sterile in comparison. Bangkok is an addictive place and I can see why so many foreigners come to live here.
Because there is always so much going on, there is a feeling that the city is full of opportunity. No doubt, there are opportunities but genuine opportunities for foreigners in Thailand are difficult to come by.
For every foreigner who has found genuine success in Bangkok, and by this I don't mean getting a teaching contract, there are probably a thousand others that Bangkok has eaten up and spat out.
I think this applies to Thais too. There isn't a lot of opportunity out in the provinces and Bangkok is probably the same to poor Thais as London was to Dick Whittington. To some, the broken, uneven, crowded sidewalks may appear to be paved with gold.
When I've written about the conservative nature of Thai females in the past, I've received e-mails for farangs pooh-poohing my ideas and telling me that girls can be picked up for sexual encounters in the streets of Bangkok.
As I've been wandering around, I sense that they are probably right. Some of the girls have that look in their eyes. It's very different here to the provinces and there are probably a few girls looking for any opportunity they can to make money.
When I write, I write from the perspective of living in the Thai provinces. Whatever I write doesn't apply to Bangkok. Bangkok is very much Thailand, but it is entirely different to everywhere else in Thailand.
Another example is pickup trucks. When I write about the prevalence of pickup trucks in Thailand, it is because for every five vehicles I see, at least three are pickup trucks.
In Bangkok, there aren't many at all and most people drive normal cars.
I mentioned before that it is easy to differentiate between farang tourists and those living in Thailand. Of the ones living in Thailand, I expect to see lots of retirees but it surprises me how many young guys there are. Foreigners living in Thailand tend to be mostly male.
I would imagine that they're having a great time now, but most salaries in Thailand are just about enough to live on and don't leave much to save. Without a pension and without building up assets for the future, I don't know what they're going to do later on in life if they stay in Thailand.
My feelings about the city are the same as last time. I think it's a great place to visit for a few days, a terrible place to drive, and a very difficult place to live permanently.
It's very much a young person's city. You need a lot of energy to survive in Bangkok, and that's maybe becoming a problem now that I'm the wrong side of 50.
When I was here earlier this month I saw a T-shirt with the words, "If the music's too loud, you're too old." Perhaps there should be a T-shirt with the words, "If Bangkok is too crazy for you, you're too old."
I look forward to many more short trips, especially once our daughter is old enough to appreciate some of the famous sights of Thailand, but I'm very happy to live where the pace of life is a little slower and the air a little cleaner.
What is it about Thai females and dressing up?
At the school where I used to work, there was a lot of emphasis placed on ASEAN. It's an important issue for Thais, especially in light of all the problems being experienced in Europe at the moment. I can see many parallels between the European Union and ASEAN.
As is usual for the Thai education system, a serious issue was diluted into the simplest constituent parts. The teaching staff avoided all the important issues and students concentrated on writing recipes for food consumed in other ASEAN countries.
The highlight of their ASEAN education experience was when selected students were allowed to dress up in the national costume of other ASEAN countries. This little fashion parade was turned into a big thing, with local dignitaries even invited to attend. Thai females love dressing up and wearing makeup and wigs. It's a national obsession.
Our cleaning lady's 16 year-old nephew has just been shot in the stomach. He is now in hospital and the doctors aren't yet saying what his chances of a recovery are.
So, what dangerous activity was he engaged in at which dangerous place?
Actually, he is a novice monk and this happened at a Buddhist temple in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. Apparently, some other novice monks were 'playing' with the gun and this was the result.
I've written before about how a friend's teenage nephew was shot and killed at a temple fair in Nakhon Sri Thammarat.
The daughter of a past student had her Achille's tendon shattered at a New Year celebration when an idiot fired a gun into the air. She was fortunate in that Thai surgeons were able to repair the damage well enough to enable her to walk again.
This moron with the gun had never heard of Newton and the laws of gravity and didn't realise that what goes up must come down. If the bullet had come down on her head, it might have been a very different story.
There are a lot of unlicensed guns in Thailand and even when people aren't using them intentionally, shooting accidents are bound to happen when there are so many guns around and so many idiots stupid enough to use them.
The situation is crazy.
There was a horrendous report on Thai TV news a day or two ago concerning a 9 month-old child who had been dropped and ended up wrapped around the wheel of a motorbike.
The emergency authorities were involved with trying to free the child but I don't believe they were successful and the child died.
Watching the TV news in Thailand is quite horrific at times. Newspapers also publish extremely graphic images of dead bodies.
You would think that after being fed such a gory diet of news every day, Thais would change their ways. They don't.
When I have driven past nasty road accidents it makes me feel sick to the stomach and I instinctively start to drive slower. No matter how much death Thais witness, they carry on the same way.
Monday 26th March 2012
On my first trip to Thailand in 1987 I was travelling with a friend and we met a Thai man in Pattaya.
He had been working as a batman for someone fairly high up in the United States military when the United States military had a big presence in Thailand.
His boss sponsored him to emigrate to the United States, which he did. We met him while he was back in Thailand on vacation. We were completely naive about Thailand and he acted as a personal guide.
After that, we kept in touch. Or rather, he did. Had it been down to me, we would have lost touch long ago but he phoned and sent birthday cards for many years. He visited me in the UK and I visited him in the US.
He is in Bangkok at the moment and yesterday we had a chance to meet up again. Piak is 61 and has never been married. He's one of the most caring people you could meet, and his family are the same.
His niece works for Agoda in Bangkok and she has helped me a lot over the years. They always bring gifts and always think about other people before themselves, without ever wanting or expecting anything.
It is knowing Thais like this that makes me stop when I want to make negative generalisations about Thais.
Back to Piak, and he is now thinking about what to do when he retires. He will be in a similar position to me and will collect a small pension. This won't go very far in the States (the same way that mine won't go very far in the UK) and he is wondering whether to return to Thailand.
His money will go further and because he is Thai it seems an obvious thing to do. However, he seems very reluctant. He asked me if I would go back to the UK and I said no. He said he feels the same way about Thailand.
He now suffers from reverse culture shock. I have seen this with other Thais who spend time abroad and then have trouble readjusting to Thailand.
His family here drive him crazy. He had a flight to Australia earlier this month and wanted to go to the airport early. His niece and nephew kept telling him, "Mai bpen rai, there is plenty of time," as Thais do.
The new airport is having big problems at the moment and it is taking forever to check in and get through immigration. When he got to the airport he found long lines of people and only had 40 minutes to get to his flight.
He was really frustrated, but later I spoke to his niece and she thinks he is paranoid about wanting to be early. He's experiencing cultural differences with his own family.
He said it's difficult to get around in Thailand and he doesn't want to use buses and trains. I suggested getting a car. He responded as if I was mad. He has no desire at all to drive in Thailand due to the driving standards.
I found it interesting to see what a Thai thinks about Thailand after living abroad for many years - he has been in the States for about 35 years.
It's not only foreigners who moan about certain aspects of the country.
A farang I know living in Thailand went back to England. His family there arranged a special treat ... and took him to their local Thai restaurant. This was the last place he wanted to go and I would feel exactly the same.
I am taking the opportunity in Bangkok to eat anything but Thai food. I can't go to the places that I really want to go to because of the baby. We have just been eating at restaurants near the hotel and the Western food has been OK, if not fantastic.
I had a good Mexican meal yesterday. Mexican food is non-existent in Hat Yai. TOPS supermarket sell taco shells and some Mexican food kits but if I attempted to make it myself it wouldn't taste very good.
Prices are cheap by London standards, but expensive by provincial Thailand standards. Instead of paying with loose change in my side pocket, I keep having to get Bt1,000 notes from my wallet.
The Thai street food here is as cheap, maybe cheaper, than the provinces. However, if you eat a lot of Western food, especially at the better places, it starts to get expensive.
I find now that when I eat farang food three times day, I start to feel really bloated. I don't have this problem eating Thai food.
My wife remarked on how many restaurants there are here selling Isaan food. Isaan food is popular throughout the entire country, and also there are lots of north-easterners working in Bangkok.
Isaan really is the engine that drives Thailand.
One of the sights that I always find sad in Thailand is the farang man and Thai girl sitting at a restaurant, not looking at each other, unable to communicate, and both looking bored shitless.
After the bodily fluids and money have been exchanged, there is nothing else. They have no idea about the other's culture or way of life, and neither have the communication skills in the other language to find out.
These relationships can, and do, work out, but it's so much easier and enjoyable if you spend some time learning about the culture and language first.
Sunday 25th March 2012
I'm writing this from Bangkok. We're back in the capital getting treatment for our daughter again and I'm feeling in a reflective mood.
I was going to drive to the local airport this morning but I didn't really want to leave my car in the airport car park for a couple of days. My wife's driving instructor gave her the number for a taxi driver. He was brilliant.
He turned up on time and was wearing a kind of uniform. His car - a proper taxi with a meter - was immaculate. He drove carefully and took care of us very well. He didn't use his meter but he charged a lot less than the other taxis do. I gave him a 25% tip and the fare was still cheap.
Nok Air was excellent, once more. The flight was on time and we received more special treatment as we were travelling with a baby.
At Don Meuang we got another taxi to the hotel. It was a very different experience to the taxi ride this morning.
The taxi was beaten up old Toyota that vibrated violently at speed. Parts of the car were being held together by pieces of string and the standard steering wheel had been replaced with a tiny boy racer's version.
The driver was quite scary. He was big for a Thai with a shaved head and sunglasses. He was quite thuggish looking and his driving was very aggressive.
He drove the same way as many Thai drivers I encounter on the road. I can avoid other cars but this time I was a passenger. His foot went to the floor, and at times the speedometer was registering 170kph. The car was a wreck and I was genuinely concerned for our safety.
Like many aggressive Thai drivers, he overtook on both sides, continually weaving in and out at high speed. This style of driving is dangerous and completely unnecessary. Nevertheless, you see it all the time in Thailand.
Thailand is the ultimate Land of Contrasts. There are rich and poor, clever and stupid, good and bad.
Some foreigners living in Thailand just concentrate on the negative aspects. If you read guide books or anything written by the Tourist Authority of Thailand, it is all good and you never hear about anything bad. Neither of these extreme views give an accurate portrayal of the country.
I've always tried to be honest but because there are so many contrasts I simply keep flip-flopping. For every good experience I relate, someone else will have a bad experience, and vice-versa.
If you visit Thailand or go to live in Thailand, you will experience the same. It is pointless trying to generalise because people are so different.
The art of living in Thailand is trying to avoid as much bad stuff as possible. There are times, such as driving, when it is impossible. This is why I get so angry about driving in Thailand.
However, with many other aspects of living in the country, there are ways to mitigate against having problems. You need to understand a little about the country and the people, but it can be done quite easily.
For example, if you're a 65 year-old man wanting to find a Thai wife you don't get involved with 19 year-old bargirls working in Pattaya. It's just common sense.
Saturday 24th March 2012
Most of the electrical goods and baby items we have bought here have been made in China. The washing machine hose I bought yesterday was made in China and when I was looking around the shop, almost everything else was too. It's mostly fine. I haven't had any real problems and if I thought that something for the baby could be dangerous I wouldn't buy it. Chinese products are cheap.
The following article describes a small UK business with production in China wanting to set up a factory in the UK. The owner of the company says the UK government doesn't help, and making anything in the UK is more expensive. I don't think many people will follow this trend.
I found the following comment interesting:
"A few highly skilled designers, marketing experts and finance brains create a new product, almost entirely on a computer. Then they get it made in China. The patents are all owned here, the money stays in the UK. But few jobs are created."
This just about sums up why Western economies are in such a mess. A few very clever people are getting rich, but with production going to China and other Asian countries many Westerners are losing their jobs.
When you look at how cheap it is to employ workers in Asia, you can't really blame the companies concerned.
Here's another story:
Glaxo invests £500m in UK and builds new factory With the pharmaceutical industry you need clever people. It's different to running a chicken or widget factory where staff can be trained to do basic tasks.
I can't see this trend reversing. The quality of Chinese manufacturing is getting better and costs remain low. A small number of highly skilled and clever Westerners will continue to do well but the bulk of manufacturing jobs will continue moving East.
With the existing welfare systems and high cost of living in Western countries, they will remain unattractive to manufacturing companies.
I'd like to be able to suggest a solution, but I don't have one. I don't know how Western politicians are planning to fix the situation.
For years capitalists have been chasing bigger profits, and by lowering costs as much as possible by moving jobs to Asia there are now very few manufacturing jobs left. Markets are driven by consumers and consumers like cheap prices.
As more jobs are lost, people buy less and the retail trade is affected.
What is the future for the Western world?
I'm not sure where Thailand is going, either. Thaksin is now controlling the country again and Thaksinomics has returned. There were lots of populist policies mentioned at the last election, but can Thailand really afford to implement them?
Many Thais are now struggling as the cost of living continues to increase. Implementing the minimum wage policies will lead to a further increase in retail prices.
Friday 23rd March 2012
Quentin Tarantino immortalised the for/against tipping debate in his classic piece of cinema, Reservoir Dogs.
The Bangkok Post has just run an article on the same subject.
I have always worked in the service industry but no one has ever given me a tip. We tip some people, but not others. Why?
I've spent quite a bit of time in the States and a tip of 15% or more is expected. It isn't optional. Wait staff have calculators to calculate 15% and if you don't leave a tip you are treated as if you haven't paid your bill.
Why do some establishments add on a service charge and then leave the amount on your credit card slip blank? Do they want you to add on some more as a second tip?
How does tipping work in Thailand?
I often have to wait to get my hair cut and I have never seen a Thai give the hairdresser a tip. I give her Bt20 because she does a good job and the charge is very low. I feel sorry for a lot of low-paid Thai workers. Incidentally, I don't believe that the service I receive is any better than the service received by people who don't tip.
In the small rice and noodle shops, no one tips. In better quality restaurants with A/C where you receive a properly printed bill, people do tend to tip. Tipping isn't calculated as a percentage of the bill. Most Thais I know just leave a flat Bt20.
Thais adopt Western practices if something suits them. Being able to charge extra for something suits them. They have adopted the Western concept of 'high season' in farang tourist resorts because they can charge extra at certain times of the year.
I have even been to tourist resorts where there have been very few tourists but they still want to charge me 'high season' prices. I can understand the laws of supply and demand but they still think they can charge high prices when there is little demand simply by saying it is 'high season'.
Thais don't usually add on service charges to the bill, but they do where there are lots of farangs. My room service bills at the hotel in Bangkok were more expensive than the menu prices. This was because they added on 7% tax and 10% service charge.
When the food was delivered I could sense that a tip was expected. I guess that many farang tourists do tip and so the staff start to expect tips.
You can't have room service without the service part of someone delivering the food. Why, then, is service an additional charge? It's not an option so it should be included in the menu price, along with any taxes.
When I get printed bills, I check to see if a service charge has been added. If not I leave Bt20 on the table for the waitress. Most are struggling students and don't earn much.
If you want to tip someone they will appreciate it. If not, no problem.
I once ate in an expensive burger joint in London. When I got the bill I saw they had added on taxes and a service charge. The bill was about four times the price of McDonalds (where no one ever tips the staff).
I didn't leave a tip because a service charge had already been included. As I walked out, I heard a volley of abuse coming from the young waitress directed at me. Nice. This kind of thing won't happen in Thailand.
Tipping can be a sensitive subject, as the Reservoir Dogs clip shows, and people have their own ideas. There are no hard rules in Thailand, as there are in the United States. Do whatever makes you comfortable and try to reward people who genuinely try to help you, and those who you think could do with some extra help. A lot of Thais do need some extra help; they work long hours for little pay.
This story caught my eye.
This is another example of the intransigence and inability to apply common sense that many lowly staff are guilty of in Thailand. In the UK there is a word for people like this - a 'jobsworth'. They can't possibly deviate from the rules because it's more than their job's worth. Of course, they can, but it's not in their nature to be helpful. Or perhaps they simply don't have the ability to think for themselves? Or perhaps there are other (cultural based) reasons?
Obviously, certain gas-filled containers could pose a safety risk on an underground train or plane, and passengers shouldn't be allowed to board with them. But really, a kid's balloon? Come on, give me a break.
According to the Thai TV news, he had already boarded trains a few times with the balloon and nothing was said. When he went to board another train it was suddenly a big problem that ended up in a fight.
This kind of thing doesn't just happen in Thailand. Singapore has a lot of 'jobsworths' too, especially overzealous airport staff.
If you have some kind of lotion in a glass bottle larger than 100ml, the staff at Changi will make you buy a 100ml plastic bottle so that you can transfer the contents and you are forced to throw away the remainder. This happened to an old girlfriend when we went to Singapore one time and she had to throw a lot of stuff away. She wasn't happy and I wasn't impressed with their stupidity.
I guess this happens everywhere now. There isn't much common sense used these days. The bad people still manage to get through and the dumb security procedures just inconvenience the good people.
I took a broken washing machine hose to HomePro yesterday so that I could get a replacement. There is a lot of theft in Thailand and they have a policy that goods you carry in have to be left at the counter. The security guard (following the rules) told me to leave the old pipe at the counter, but then I couldn't show it to the sales staff.
The example I gave about ice cream a couple of days ago was petty and trivial, but I quoted it to give an example of the intransigence and inflexibility that you encounter so often. The sales assistant had to follow exactly what was written on the sign and couldn't use any common sense.
This happens everywhere, but probably more so in Thailand than many other places. I believe it is cultural. There is a strict hierarchy in Thai society and everyone knows their place.
The retail staff that you normally deal with are low in the social hierarchy and do exactly what they are told by their superiors. They won't deviate from doing what they are told. They won't use their initiative or common sense for fear of upsetting a bigger person.
As I said before, if you want anything done in Thailand you have to speak to a person who occupies a high position in the chain of command. If you try to speak to people at the bottom of the hierarchy, you are just wasting your time.
"Thai society organizes itself in a hierarchical fashion in which people occupy differently ranked positions. Most relationships, therefore, are characterized by relative superiority versus inferiority."
"... while relating to one's superiors, an avoidance of initiative coupled with an extreme concern to please the boss may lead to acceptance ..."
Customers and common sense don't count. The only things that count are pleasing the boss and avoiding the use of any initiative.
Western social structure is a lot flatter with fewer levels of hierarchy and staff are encouraged to think for themselves and to use their initiative.
For many foreign investors in Thailand this is an advantage. Thai workers can be trained fairly easily and you know they will do exactly as they are told. In a widget factory you want staff like this on the production line.
When you have staff who deal with the public you want them to follow rules, but you can't possibly prepare them for every situation and so you need them to think for themselves occasionally and to apply common sense.
Another problem is the education system with its emphasis on rote learning. Just getting students to memorise and regurgitate something is easy. This is how they like to 'learn'. However, if you give them a task that requires them to think, most (not all) start to look very uncomfortable.
From Mulder again:
"Accordingly, seventy-five percent of school time in the fifth and sixth grades is now devoted to the socialization of tractable subjects of the state."
The education system doesn't want students to think. It wants to turn out tractable subjects who can be easily controlled.
If Thai cultural behaviour interests you, or if you simply want to try to understand the reason for unusual behaviour in Thailand, Mulder's 'Inside Thai Society' is still the best resource available.
Thursday 22nd March 2012
I thought I'd cover some basic costs today. This information might be useful for anyone thinking of living in Thailand.
Rental accommodation is very cheap in Thailand. You can rent a basic room in an apartment building for less than Bt2,000 per month and you can actually get a very decent room in the provinces for Bt6,000. It will be more in Bangkok and Phuket.
House rental is ridiculously cheap. The house we rent at the moment is quite a good size and fairly modern. The rent is Bt4,500 per month.
I should add that when we first arrived it was in a disgusting state and didn't have a number of things I considered essential. The owner wasn't interested in doing anything or spending any money, and so any improvements were down to me.
To get the house up to my required standard cost me quite a lot of money. I won't get a lot of the money back but spending my own money and renting cheaply was still a cheaper option than renting somewhere that didn't need any improvements for Bt15,000 per month.
Now on to utility bills.
My UK house uses a combination of electricity and natural gas for the occupants' energy needs. When I left in 2003, I was paying on average £31 per month for both (£14 for electricity and £17 for gas).
Energy costs have soared since then. I just tried to find the average electricity and gas price in the UK and it seems that it isn't unusual nowadays for people to be paying £100 per month, or more.
We cook several times a day in Thailand using a 15kg cylinder of gas. The first cylinder lasted about 14 months. We had to buy the first cylinder and it cost Bt2,250.
Once you own a cylinder, you can simply exchange your empty one for a full one. We've done this once so far and it cost a paltry Bt290. Not bad for 14 months' worth of cooking.
Our monthly water bill is about Bt200. We both shower twice a day, the washing machine runs about four or five times a week, and the baby has lots of baths every day.
The mains water pressure is really low. When we first moved in the taps upstairs sometimes wouldn't work, it took forever for the washing machine to fill, and the showers were lousy.
I had a 750 litre water tank and 1/2 horsepower water pump fitted to fix the problem. The pump uses a little electricity, as do the lights, fans, fridges, shower heaters, and other household appliances.
By far the biggest consumer of electricity is the air conditioner - we currently have one unit. This is the hottest time of year in Thailand and recently it has been running almost constantly.
I've just had my biggest ever electricity bill. It was Bt1,700. You can see that even in the worst case, utility bills are quite small. The lowest it has been in this house is about Bt400.
When I was in a rented room it was even cheaper. My water bill never exceeded the minimum Bt100 and when I didn't use the A/C my electricity bill was the same. Even when I used the A/C a lot in the hot season, my electricity bill was only about Bt400.
If I was still in the UK, my council tax bill would be about £150 per month. There is no equivalent in Thailand. Admittedly, my home town in the UK looks a lot better than my current environment but this comes at a price.
Our new place is larger and there will be six air-conditioners instead of one. However, I'm not expecting the electricity bills to be huge. The new house has something that this one doesn't: windows.
Being a mid-terrace there are no windows at the side of this house, and only one at the back and one at the front. There are buildings all around and as a result the house doesn't get any cool breezes. For such a hot climate, a lot of new houses are poorly designed.
Before the age of air-conditioners, Thai houses were designed to stay cool. There were air vents and high ceilings so that hot air would rise and escape. Many new homes need A/C. The new place has lots of windows and I think it will stay relatively cool without much need for A/C.
It also has decent roof insulation, which we don't have now. In the UK houses are insulated to keep heat in, whereas in Thailand the insulation is to keep heat out.
I have also opted for inverter air-conditioners. Standard A/C units are either on or off, and when they are on they run at full speed. Inverter units run all the time but at different speeds. They are supposed to save electricity. Also, because they aren't cycling on and off all the time, they wear less and are supposed to last longer.
A reader of this blog actually lives quite near to me and I visited his home last month. He teaches Buddhism and designed his house to Feng Shui principles. It is designed to stay cool without A/C and it works really well. Not only does this save electricity, but it's also good for the environment.
My brother's house in Phuket was designed by the original farang owner and has solar panels to provide hot water. With so much sunshine in Thailand this seems like a very good idea but there isn't a great deal of solar energy in the country.
I've seen a few wind turbines in the northeast part of Songkhla province, near Nakhon Sri Thammarat, but again, these are quite rare.
Thailand's large dams are used to generate hydro electricity and this accounts for just over 6% of the country's total production. Most electricity is generated by burning fossil fuel.
There are no nuclear generators in the country, but there may be in the future.
We currently have cable TV and it costs Bt300 per month. If you buy a dish for satellite TV there are no ongoing monthly charges for the service. Once you buy the dish, it is free. I'm not sure why, but Thais tell me this is how it works.
Internet providers are in a very competitive market and depending on your connection speed, you should be able to get an Internet connection for around Bt500 a month.
I think 3BB charge about Bt590 a month for my connection but by paying a year in advance I got a discount. The connection is OK most of the time but very slow when the network gets busy. Even if you pay extra for a faster connection, you will still have problems when the network gets overloaded.
Remember that not everything in Thailand is cheap, as some foreigners seem to think. Anything imported is subject to lots of tax and consequently European cars and other imported goods are very expensive. Used cars are also very expensive compared to the UK, even used cars that were originally assembled in Thailand.
If you get food cravings and want some food from home, there's a chance that you might find what you want in TOPS but you will have to pay a lot more than you do at home.
I've been told that mobile phones in Thailand are expensive compared to the UK and, with a baby, I was also told that powdered baby milk and disposable nappies are cheaper in the UK.
An advantage in Thailand compared to many places is that with most things there is a wide range of choice. Whether it is accommodation, food, hotels, clothes, etc, you can find the best if you have the money, but you will also be able to find a cheap option.
Yet another Phuket road death.
Finally. This article says the cameras will automatically fine violators. It will be interesting to see what happens and whether similar cameras start to appear elsewhere. Reckless driving at high speed is one of the reasons why Thai roads are so dangerous. There are many others.
Many years ago, quite innocently before I knew how monitor lizards were regarded in Thailand, I was at Dusit zoo in Bangkok. I saw a monitor lizard and, wanting to increase my vocabulary, I asked a girl what it was called in Thai.
She didn't answer, but just walked off without saying anything. I honestly didn't know why. Had I offended her, perhaps? Later on I found out that I did in fact offend her. Hia is not a good word in Thailand.
The photo is of a monitor lizard that I spotted in the Krabi mangroves.
Another farang death in Thailand. This one is being kept very quiet for some reason.
Just a few months after severe flooding problems, parts of the country are now suffering from droughts. The weather has turned very hot.
Wednesday 21st March 2012
We had an early lunch today. The baby didn't eat but the restaurant sold ice cream and my wife suggested getting some ice cream for her. I was given the task.
At the ice cream counter there was a sign - "Large scoop Bt49; 2 small scoops Bt50". Both options were too much for the baby so I asked for one small scoop. There was no price but I figured that if two small scoops cost Bt50, then one should cost Bt25.
My request was met with, "Mai dai" (cannot) and the assistant pointed to the sign. I explained why I only wanted one small scoop and who it was for. He just kept repeating, "Mai dai," while repeatedly pointing at the sign.
I was getting slightly rattled and at this point another man came over, who I assumed was the boss. I was quite pleased.
I learned long ago in Thai apartment buildings that if you want anything done that is ever so slightly out of the ordinary, it is a waste of time talking to the staff.
Thai staff are trained to do a job and that is all they do. They never use their initiative or feel empowered to make a decision by themselves. Everything has to be referred up the line and they will only deviate from the norm if their boss tells them to.
I was fairly confident that the boss would understand and I repeated my request. To my surprise, I got exactly the same line from him and more pointing to the sign, "Mai dai."
This stupid sign was being treated like a stone tablet which had been sent down from the heavens to be followed at all costs.
Apparently they can put two small scoops into a bowl, but it is physically impossible for them to add just one small scoop and sell it at half the price - even for a one year-old baby. His only suggestion was to order one large scoop or two small scoops, as per the commandment on the stone tablet, and for my wife to help eat the excessive ice cream.
I walked away in disgust, shaking my head and not saying anything. Once you encounter a situation like this in Thailand there is absolutely nothing you can do. They are stubborn as hell - possibly fearing the dreaded loss of face - and won't budge or see reason.
I normally leave a small tip, but not today. I won't be hurrying back there, either, and I may also be making a few updates to my regional on-line visitor's guide.
This is by no means the first time that I have encountered this kind of thing in Thailand. You request something that seems quite reasonable, but to Thais it is the most unreasonable thing in the world and they just refuse to do what you ask.
There is no logic, no rational reasoning, no explanation, and zero flexibility.
Only in Thailand.
Responding to some of my assorted ramblings from yesterday, Bangkok Barry offers the following comments:
"It annoys me in no small measure that, simply because you're a farang, you become the object of attention. Would we turn and stare at an African or Indian in our midst? Are we really so rare these days, and if so, so what. It just seems incredibly childish. I hate it when I am picked out as a foreigner, whether it is to be ripped off or to receive special attention. I want to be treated the same as everyone else.
I had a friend, a boy, who was allowed to do cookery. He had polio when he was younger and his growth was stunted and he had a hump and walked with a stick. We caught up a couple of years ago, and he has become a Justice of the Peace as well as a successful accountant. He is married and has a lift in his house, and he has travelled the world in his wheelchair. I have a photo of him on the Great Wall of China. He also visited Thailand, and he said that Bangkok was by far the worst city he has been to anywhere in the world for someone like him. It was absolutely impossible for him to go anywhere."
Tuesday 20th March 2012
It is common in southern Thailand to see men with caged birds. They hang the cages up to admire their birds and also carry them around on their motorbikes - holding the cage in their left hand and controlling the bike with one hand, of course.
I have known about bird singing contests for a long time. Yesterday, I happened upon a contest in progress for the first time. Some of the contests are huge, however, this was just a small one.
It was a weird experience (like many experiences in Thailand). There were hundreds of bird cages hung up on a frame specially made for the purpose and the birds were all singing together.
After a set time the whistle went again. There was much cheering and the judges scribbled their results on sheets of paper supported with clipboards.
What confused me was how any individual bird song could be assessed while over a hundred birds were all tweeting away at the same time. I certainly couldn't do it.
On one trip to Nakhon Sri Thammarat years ago, I got talking to a guy who had caged birds hanging up outside his shop. He told me that theft was a problem, and that a bird with a really good singing voice can be worth Bt10,000.
Songkhla has a wonderful zoo and many of the animals look contented enough in fairly large enclosures. However, there are Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus) in cages that aren't big enough to allow them to fly.
These magnificent raptors normally occupy territories covering a vast area and keeping them in small cages just isn't right.
One of the things I have an issue with in Thailand is animal welfare. Cats, dogs, rabbits and other pets for sale are kept in tiny cages where they can hardly move. These cages are often outside in brutal heat and the animals stay there until they are sold.
Our two cats were being kept captive like this when I bought them. Whenever I go past the same place now I can't bear to look.
Thais get upset when stray dogs are rounded up and taken to Vietnam to be eaten, but many animals in Thailand don't have much of a life anyway.
I also dislike the practice of releasing caged birds at temples as a supposed act of merit-making. Keeping animals caged is frowned upon in Buddhism but it's common in Thailand.
If you're interested in the Birds of Thailand, Craig Robson's field guide is a beautiful book and a really useful resource. I bought a copy some time ago.
You never know what you are going to come across in Thailand, such as the bird singing contest that I stumbled upon. I used to have only an SLR camera and because of its bulk I only took it out when I knew I wanted to take photographs.
There were many occasions when I wanted to take photos but didn't have a camera to hand. My mobile phone camera is useless. However, the technology has improved and now phone cameras can be quite good.
My preferred solution is a small point and shoot camera, which I clip to my belt and carry around at all times. I feel quite lost without it if I forget to take it anywhere. It's a Canon S90.
When this camera was introduced it had a larger sensor than most small P&S cameras and therefore better image quality. It is very light, compact and convenient. It was replaced by the Canon S95, which in turn was replaced by the Canon S100.
Canon recently introduced the G1X. This has the same size sensor as many DSLRs and therefore excellent image quality. It's bigger, bulkier and heavier than my little S90, and not as fast or responsive as an SLR.
The perfect camera has yet to be made. Until such time, you have to decide whether convenience or image quality is more important to you. I still have a DSLR for when image quality matters but it isn't the camera that I carry around with me all the time.
It is said that the best camera you can have is the one in your hand. The finest camera in the world is no use if it is sitting at home. There are so many unusual sights in Thailand that I would strongly suggest carrying a camera at all times.
On 13th August 2005 I woke up to find a thick smog outside. The cause was forest fires in Indonesia that had been started deliberately. I had previously read about Indonesian slash and burn practices causing problems in Malaysia, but this time the problem had reached southern Thailand.
Tall buildings that I could normally see clearly were almost invisible. Fortunately, the problem didn't last long and the air was soon clear again.
Northern Thailand has had the same problem for some time now and there are no signs of it getting better. Airlines are even having to cancel flights because visibility is so bad.
According to Wikipedia, Chiang Mai has a problem with air pollution annually around this time of year.
If you could choose between buying food very cheaply from a vendor or buying ingredients yourself (which are more expensive), preparing the food yourself, and doing all the washing up yourself, what would you do?
Now imagine going to your local Thai restaurant. Imagine condensing the entire menu down to about one page of the most basic dishes. Now imagine having to choose from this limited selection for every meal you eat.
How do you think you might feel about the food after several days/weeks/months/years? That's exactly how I feel.
I am an utterly useless cook but the food situation here has forced me to start cooking. The Internet is a fantastic resource for recipes and TOPS supermarket has a lot of foreign food ingredients. The only problem with TOPS is that even when I only go to buy a few bits, I never get much change out of a Bt1,000 note.
I attempted bangers and mash last week. Prior to that, I never thought I would actually make my own onion gravy from scratch but it wasn't bad. It wasn't particular good, either, but it was edible. The sausages were fine but the mash became boiled potatoes because I couldn't find a potato masher anywhere.
My wife is pretty handy in the kitchen and being a good husband I bought her some recipe books and a food blender for her birthday. The vacuum cleaner was her Christmas present.
Last week she made chicken kebabs with a barbecue sauce and fusilli pasta with a pesto sauce and grilled chicken. Her cooking is much better than mine.
Why is there such a limited choice of food in provincial Thailand?
Whenever we cook farang food at home, it is only me that eats it. She won't even try it and will only eat Thai food. I think this is the reason. Thais don't crave other food and seem content eating the same old stuff every day. There is no demand for other kinds of food.
There do seem to be a couple of exceptions. Thais love KFC. We have several branches locally and they're always busy. Also popular is what Thais refer to as pizza, but the pizza they eat doesn't resemble the same thing I call pizza.
It isn't only farang food. I am rather partial to Indian food and have been cooking quite a few curries using Patak's sauces. I also occasionally make chili con carne. These are spicy dishes eaten with rice, similar to Thai food, but she still won't eat them.
I was reminded in Bangkok why you never see wheelchairs in Thailand. We were trying to push a baby buggy around and it was very difficult.
The sidewalks were uneven, broken and overrun with street vendors. Thais don't have any concept of public space. If a space doesn't obviously belong to another individual - such as a piece of sidewalk - they claim it as their own.
I'm not sure why this is but it goes on all over the country. In addition to the sidewalk problem, there were lots of steps and very few ramps or lifts. As there were two of us, we were able to carry the buggy going up and down stairs. It would have been a problem for one person.
We will face the same thing again next week. Despite this, I'm looking forward to visiting Bangkok again.
In this list of Weird Baby Names, I suspect that the names Pornwadee, Nattapong, Suphachad, and maybe a couple of others are the names of Thai children.
If you've been in Thailand for a while, these names won't sound weird at all. They're quite normal here. The syllable 'porn' features in a lot of names. I believe it means 'gift' or 'blessing'.
Names with 'porn' in them seem to be going out of fashion these days. As Thais become increasingly familiar with the Western world, it may be because of the Western meaning of the word.
Also going out of fashion are animal nicknames. My wife has one older brother, Chicken, and two older sisters, Fish and Crab. At the school where I worked I don't think there were any animal nicknames among the 400 or so Matayom students. Among the older Thai generation there are lots.
Unbelievable as it may seem, evidence has emerged of a sex act taking place in Pattaya. Whatever next?
It is a well known fact in Thailand that "visitors come here to enjoy the natural scenery, not the nightlife."
Monday 19th March 2012
As well as being too hot, sand and salt water are uncomfortable. I prefer cooler temperatures, soft grass, fresh water lakes, rice fields and mountains. I should be living in northern Thailand, but marriage is full of compromises.
I don't mind having a stroll along the coast and getting some sea air but I don't like sitting around doing nothing.
The sea on the Gulf coast is usually grey and murky, but yesterday it looked almost attractive. Many farangs who visit Thailand are obsessed with the sea and the Western notion of 'paradise', which always consists of turquoise sea, white beaches, and palm trees.
On TV last week there was a German woman from some tourist organisation in Germany. She was at Donald Duck Bay in the Similan Islands telling everyone how wonderful it was. I've been three times and recognised the very distinctive rock that gives the bay its name.
It's exactly the type of place that would be photographed for the big posters displayed in European travel agencies. It's attractive, yes, but there's absolutely nothing to do - unless you enjoy doing nothing. I get bored in these places after about half an hour.
I once read that it was unfavoured Thai children who used to inherit beachfront land in Thailand because it wasn't good for anything. The favourite offspring inherited the fertile, productive land further inland where crops could be grown.
How things have changed since farangs started to come to Thailand.
Hat Yai and Songkhla are closely linked, but very different in nature. Songkhla is actually quite an attractive place; Hat Yai isn't. Songkhla has wide roads with lots of pretty flowers and trees; Hat Yai doesn't.
Songkhla is a fairly peaceful place. Hat Yai during rush hour is almost as bad as Bangkok and it continues to get busier every year.
I know a farang couple who lived in Songkhla for a while but moved to Hat Yai because Songkhla was too quiet. It's a case of being able to have anything, but not everything. There is a lot going on in Hat Yai but it's quite hectic.
When choosing where to live in Thailand you need to decide what is most important to you.
Customer service is highly variable in Thailand. We had good service at the hotel in Bangkok recently and I've had other examples of good service.
Thais promise the earth and nothing is ever a problem before you pay. However, as soon as they have the money things change. The driving instructor I spoke to agreed to all my requests and said he would teach my wife every day.
On the first lesson, he changed 'every day' to three days a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Last Friday he cancelled because he said he had to take his kids somewhere, and on Saturday and Sunday he cancelled because he was mai sabai (not well). It's been a week now and instead of having a lesson every day, she has had just one.
If you work in Thailand, you get paid in arrears. You have to work for a month before you get any pay. That's the way it is. With anything else you have to pay up front. I had to pay for 20 hours of driving lessons before the first lesson.
I've had to pay out about Bt200,000 so far for a new kitchen and I've seen nothing for my money so far. We are waiting for the kitchen people to check on the height of some windows to see if alterations need to be made before they install the kitchen. They agreed to do this some time ago, but we've heard nothing.
It was my wife, not me, who made the comment that once they have the money they aren't interested.
When service is really bad - even for Thailand - you hardly ever get an apology, and you never, ever get any form of compensation. It's unheard of.
I've just had a small problem with my UK bank. I asked them at the end of last year to send my replacement credit card to Thailand by courier. They didn't; they sent it to my UK address. I wrote telling them what had happened and they then sent another card to Thailand. Problem fixed and I was happy.
I logged into my Internet banking account a couple of days and found a very apologetic e-mail describing how sorry they were for the mistake, and that they had credited my current account with £100.
I was stunned. This gesture was completely unnecessary but I immediately went from being a very slightly dissatisfied customer to an extremely satisfied one. This is a lesson that Thailand has yet to learn.
Another problem is perceived status in Thailand where employers and shop owners are 'big' people, and employees and customers are nothing. Employees and customers don't have any rights in Thailand. It will change eventually but this is another area where Thailand is about 50 years behind Western countries.
If it seems that there are a lot of road deaths in Thailand, just wait for the Songkran festival next month.
Foreign men arriving in Thailand for 'Man Tours' still need to be careful.
Sunday 18th March 2012
More embarrassing farang stories. If you can't hold your drink or behave like a civilised human being, it's probably best to stay at home.
Friday 16th March 2012
Bangkok has the best of everything in Thailand. Well, perhaps not beaches.
The top universities - Mahidol, Thammasat, and Chulalongkorn - are all in Bangkok. The second tier universities are the Prince of Songkla with campuses located at various locations in the south, Chiang Mai in the north, and Khon Kaen in the northeast. Most of the rest are third tier.
In the World University Rankings, Thailand's top university - Mahidol - comes in at No. 373 (look on the last page of the Top 400 universities).
I have a good qualification from a recognised UK education establishment, which is now a university, in the newly designated City of Chelmsford. According to the UK government, my qualification is 'highly valued by employers both in the UK and overseas'.
They need to add 'but completely unrecognised and useless in Thailand' because it's not called a degree. With Thai universities ranked so lowly in the world rankings, it upsets me a little that I am considered inferior in Thailand to anyone who has been through the Thai university system.
A few more insights into the Thai belief system:
Taking care of tourists Phuket-style.
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