Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 31st March 2014
The people at Guide Dogs charity in the UK say that motorists should be banned from parking on pavements because the practice forces vulnerable pedestrians to walk in the road and it is inconsiderate and dangerous.
They should see Thailand where every single inch of pavement is blocked by parked cars, parked motorbikes, food vendors, other vendors, plant pots, tables and chairs, etc. Two things that you never see on Thai pavements are wheelchairs and mothers pushing baby buggies.
When I carry my daughter outside I am forced to walk in the road all the time. Not only is it dangerous, but if it is raining or very hot it is also uncomfortable.
Sometimes Thais block pavements simply for their own convenience. They also 'claim' the pavement outside their shops and houses as their own by blocking access to pedestrians deliberately. The pavement is public property, but they act as if it belongs to them. This is another example of selfish behaviour in Thailand, where people only ever think of themselves.
If you try to negotiate the crowded, cluttered pavements you will discover other problems and potential dangers. For starters, the pavements are often broken and uneven. In addition, vendors set up their stalls with metal poles jutting out at eye level height and some food vendors set up red-hot charcoal burners that could easily be knocked over by a small child.
If you were to receive an injury as a result of their negligence there would be no responsibility or accountability on the vendor's part.
Singapore had similar problems 50 years ago when the country was still Third World. As a part of the island state's transformation to First World status, street vendors were removed from the pavements and relocated in Hawker Centres.
With running water and proper rubbish disposal facilities the Hawker Centres were more hygienic, and removing the clutter from pavements made the pavements accessible to pedestrians. Thailand, I suspect, will never change.
Sunday 30th March 2014
I don't usually get nostalgic when old technology becomes extinct, but while updating my old netbook today I felt a twinge of sadness when Microsoft gave me lots of warnings that support for Windows XP will cease on 8th April 2014.
My first personal computing experiences occurred in the early 80's when the user interface was a black, green or orange screen and a C:\ prompt. It was necessary to know some basic DOS commands if you wanted to do anything. Despite very low powered processors and no hard drives, early computers ran their programs quickly and were reliable.
When graphical user interfaces and pointing devices started to appear the interface became more user friendly for those who were less tech savvy, but this sucked up computing power and everything seemed to slow down.
Windows 95 was horribly unstable and the notorious Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) occurred frequently. When Windows 98 appeared three years later I still got lots of BSOD's. It was a nightmare every time that I tried to add a new device and I had massive problems at the end of 2000 trying to connect a Sony DSC-P1 digital camera.
My company forced employees to use its own operating system - OS/2. This, according to people who knew about such things, was technically better than Microsoft's offerings, but hardly anyone used it and this lack of popularity brought about other problems.
IBM was still sore at having allowed Microsoft to retain the right to sell the DOS operating system, which had been developed for the IBM PC, to other companies (one of the 10 Worst Business Decisions in History) and the company was determined to fight back. However, it came too late in the day and by the time OS/2 had become a stable enough product the war had already been one.
IBM vainly tried continuing to fight a losing battle, but to no avail. When an outsider took over as CEO of the company he didn't have any emotional attachments to an in-house developed operating system - as many true IBMers did - and he finally killed it off. This was actually the right thing to do.
When Microsoft launched XP it was their first successful attempt at releasing a decent operating system that didn't crash all the time. I've been using it for years and it still does a first class job.
The AIO desktop that I bought a few years ago came installed with Windows 7 and I was horrified one day when the dreaded BSOD appeared. How had this managed to creep back in? However, after hundreds of updates Windows 7 is now a stable operating system.
My little netbook has very little CPU power and is just about powerful enough to run XP. It is therefore foolish trying to upgrade the operating system. I will need to replace the entire machine. I was going to anyway because I now plan to do more work on the road and its low resolution screen doesn't allow me to use Photoshop or Bridge.
RIP Windows XP.
Saturday 29th March 2014
I find working in the garden particularly enjoyable and this also includes working on my fishpond. This seems to be quite common with people as they get older, and I also enjoy doing anything that doesn't entail driving in Thailand.
As a rule, urban Thai houses have very small gardens. In fact, many houses have no garden at all. In the area where we used to rent a townhouse, no one had a garden. On the plane to Bangkok a few months ago I looked down as we were descending into the capital and very few houses had gardens. Most houses in the UK have a garden, even if the garden is small.
The first houses to be built in the development had quite good sized gardens, and they were also cheap. I think the developer offered some very good deals initially in order to sell the first few properties, but later houses were more expensive and had smaller gardens.
Despite this, we have tried to make the most use of the available land. We have decorative plants and palm trees at the front and side of the house. The trees were given to us by a neighbour and as well as making the house look more tropical they also provide some shade.
At the back of the house on one side I have tried to make it into a fruit garden. The only success so far has been with a papaya tree, but I am also trying to grow mangoes, guava and rose apples.
I have regular battles with huge caterpillars that can strip the leaves off a complete plant in a day. I have also recently discovered a huge locust-type creature that has immensely powerful jaws and an equally voracious appetite. It too can eat entire large leaves in a single sitting.
There is only one and the frangipani that it has a taste for has plenty of leaves so I have left it alone. However, if there were more I would have to start getting rid of them. Considering the amount of damage that one creature is capable of, I can fully understand why plagues of locust are so feared.
Friday 28th March 2014
April is generally regarded as being the hottest month of the year in Thailand and by this time of year it is normally starting to get quite warm. I don't keep daily records, but today was possibly the warmest day of the year so far in Songkhla province.
This afternoon, my thermometer was reading 33.5°C in my study. This room doesn't receive any direct sunlight until later in the day and we have special insulation material in the roof to keep the heat out. In the UK I had insulation material in the roof to keep the heat in.
Outside in the shade the temperature was over 36°C. I had parked my car on the road in direct sunlight as I was doing some work in the garden and wanted access to the driveway. The inside of the car was like an oven. I put the thermometer inside the car for a few hours to see what the temperature was.
When I looked, the temperature had gone off the scale and all the bars were illuminated. I drove off and switched on the A/C. The inside of the car cooled down a little and the thermometer started to register just over 53°C. This is why children and animals die when they get locked in vehicles and then forgotten about.
I went to pick my daughter up and returned home. The A/C had been blasting out cold air all the time, but the temperature inside the car was still 40°C.
Even though Thais tell you that April is the hottest month, May doesn't seem any cooler, and neither does June, July or August. In the south it doesn't really start to get any cooler until around September.
I didn't use to like the heat, but now I do. I take my daughter swimming once or twice a week and it's great to swim in outdoor pools while never feeling cold. I was messing around with water again today while cleaning my fish pond filter and I enjoy hot weather when doing this kind of thing.
Over the years I have become acclimatised, and it also makes a difference having an air-conditioned car. I used to walk everywhere, or take non-air conditioned transport, but doing this can get quite uncomfortable in the hot season. Driving is no fun in Thailand, but having a car makes the heat a little more bearable.
The pickup truck driver in the following video appears to have learnt how to drive in Thailand. This video looks all too familiar. What is it about drivers of large pickup trucks?
Thursday 27th March 2014
This is a fact that even Thais are now starting to recognise. My neighbour owns a hotel on Koh Lanta and was complaining about low occupancy rates. My friend who works as a masseuse in a Bangkok hotel isn't working because there are so few guests.
The political problems are far from over and some Thais in the north and northeast want that region to separate from Thailand. The three southernmost provinces have wanted to do this for a long time. Instead of getting together as a united front to fix the problems, many Thais want to do the opposite.
This report says that Thai investors are looking at investing in neighbouring countries and that Thailand is losing market share to Vietnam.
Lots of foreign companies have assembly facilities in Thailand for cars and hard disk drives, etc. Even before the political problems there were lots of problems with flooding and these investors were getting jittery. Now, they have another major issue to be concerned about.
As soon as Burma starts to develop some decent tourist infrastructure the country is going to be a huge draw to the type of tourists who travel to Thailand. With completely unspoilt beaches, forest and reefs it is going to be a very exciting tourist destination.
With the exception of North Korea, there are very few places in the world that haven't been ruined by commercialism and mass tourism - and Thailand certainly has its fair share of over-commercialised tacky resorts.
Perhaps Thailand has finally started to lose its Teflon coating?
The problems are greed and selfishness. Many problems on Thai roads are caused by selfish drivers who only ever think of themselves and have no consideration for other drivers.
Graft and self-serving politicians who only go into politics to help themselves are still big problems. The book 'Corruption & Democracy in Thailand' opens with the folowing quote:
'The budget is like a popsicle that's passed around. Everyone gets a lick at it when it comes their way, so that by the time the one at the end of the line gets it, there's little left... Most of the time corrupt politicians and officials escape punishment. In fact, most of them continue to prosper and command respect in society.'
Thais have a saying that if all the money that has ever been allocated to build new roads had actually gone into making new roads, the roads in Thailand would be made of gold. Instead, lots of money is allocated for infrastructure projects, but money goes missing and short cuts are taken because there isn't enough left to do the job properly.
In Lee Kuan Yew's memoir he says:
'When we started in 1959, we knew little about how to govern, or how to solve our many economic and social problems. All we had was a burning desire to change an unfair and unjust society for the better.'
Thailand needs politicians who have vision, leadership skills, the ability to bring about change, and most importantly 'a burning desire to change an unfair and unjust society for the better'.
Ironically, before he came to power, Thaksin seemed to fit the bill perfectly. He wrote a beautiful open letter to his 'Respected Thai brothers and sisters' in which he outlined Thailand's problems, empathised with Thais, and explained why he was the best person to take Thailand forward. He was so convincing that any Thai would have been crazy not to vote for him.
Furthermore, as a successful businessman who was already mega-wealthy, corruption wouldn't be an issue because he had no need for more money.
Unfortunately, the problems began immediately he came to office with asset concealment issues and he turned out to be no better (if anything, worse) than other Thai politicians.
Thais are their own worst enemies. With such rich natural resources, a fairly well developed infrastructure, a growing number of very clever educated people, and a large non-skilled and semi-skilled workforce that can be trained quite easily, the country could be phenomenally successful if it had good leadership and everyone pulled together.
Instead, the country is just tearing itself apart. Most Thais don't follow Buddhism and I doubt that many even understand Buddhism. Religion has been reduced to going to the temple to make merit in the hope that such an act will provide winning lottery numbers. It's all symptomatic of a country that has lost its way.
Wednesday 26th March 2014
Some more details have emerged regarding the latest horrific road accident in Thailand. It all sounds only too familiar.
'The driver was trying to pass cars on a winding downhill road' - minivans and large buses in Thailand are always trying to overtake other vehicles, regardless of how safe it is to do so. No matter how bad the road, traffic or weather conditions, they want to go as fast as possible and overtake everyone else on the road.
'The driver, who survived the accident with a broken rib, said he tried to slow down but claimed the brakes stopped working' - whenever drivers of vehicles in fatal accidents are questioned they always claim that they were driving safely and slowly and that the accident was caused by a mechanical problem. Their first reaction is normally to flee the scene.
"We've put warning signs up to caution road users but the accidents keep happening." Thais never pay any attention to warnings or signs and they never learn from their own or other people's mistakes. Even after this latest tragedy, bus and van drivers in Thailand will be driving exactly how they usually drive.
'The accident occurred when a pick-up truck suddenly pulled out and attempted to make a U-turn in front of the vehicle' - Thais are forever pulling out on other people. They never wait for vehicles to pass before pulling out. They just pull out and force the other vehicles to brake, sometimes causing accidents.
'Alcohol also plays a significant role' - so does 'yaa baa' the 'crazy drug'. Attitudes towards drunk driving are at least 50 years behind the UK.
The report I saw also contained some interesting statistics. I had previously read that Thailand has the sixth highest road fatality rate in the world. This report says that it is third highest in the world after the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean and the South Pacific island of Niue.
In the whole of Southeast the road fatality rate is 18.5 per 100,000 people. In Thailand the figure is 38.1 per 100,000. It says that roughly 60% of traffic accidents in Thailand are caused by human error. I would estimate this figure to be a lot higher and would cite the cause as stupidity rather than human error.
It says that last year over 8,600 people died in accidents on Thailand's roads. This figure varies depending on the source. Other estimates I have seen have been a lot higher.
What's going on in Thailand? There is a serious problem with driving standards and as a result thousands of people die on Thai roads each year. Nevertheless, Thai drivers have absolutely no intention of changing the way they drive and the authorities do nothing to improve the situation.
The situation defies all logic, reason and common sense. That being the case, there must be other reasons, and those reasons are cultural.
First, there is the culture of 'luk gai'. The literal meaning is 'stealing chickens' but the idiomatic meaning is employing sneaky tactics to get ahead of other people. For example, if there is a queue of traffic and a Thai gets ahead of everyone else by using the hard shoulder or opposite side of the road he feels proud of his 'achievement'. Thais who run red lights and get away with it feel proud because they see it as an achievement.
Secondly, there is the culture of 'greng jai'. This is a very powerful and important part of Thai culture and I encounter feelings of greng jai every day in Thailand. It's another 'heart' word (jai) and greng means 'to fear' or 'be afraid'.
It manifests itself in many different ways, but basically it's an extreme reluctance to impose on other people, or to feel obliged to do something for someone else when you don't really want to.
Many years ago I was reading a small book about Thai culture and it tried to explain greng jai by giving an example. The example was about a person riding in a taxi. The taxi had 'No Smoking' signs, but the person wanted to smoke and lit a cigarette. Because of greng jai the driver of the taxi didn't say anything.
I once went to eat lunch at a large tourist hotel and the restaurant walls were plastered with 'No Smoking' signs. I was pleased because I hate people smoking near me, especially while I am eating.
A table of men finished their meal and they all started smoking. The waitress went over to their table and I thought she was going to remind them of the no smoking policy. Instead, she gave them ashtrays.
I see this kind of thing all the time in Thailand. Thais routinely ignore laws, rules and regulations and the people who are supposed to enforce laws, rules and regulations do nothing. They expect to be able to do whatever they want and they hate other people telling them what to do or what not to do.
The biggest joke is when you see 'No Smoking' signs that threaten a Bt2,000 fine. Not only will smokers not be fined, they won't even be stopped from smoking. Exactly the same thing happens on Thai roads. Thai police conform to Thai culture in exactly the same way as all other Thais.
This is the wonderful Thai culture that Thais are so proud of and which they would fight to the death to preserve. The culture in itself isn't necessarily bad, but everything is taken to extremes.
The culture of 'mai bpen rai' is another example. In some ways this is good. Westerners worry a lot about things that have happened even though we all know that it's no use crying over spilt milk. Thais say, "Never mind," or, "It doesn't matter."
However, you often find that 'mai bpen rai' often goes too far and Thais says, "Never mind," or, "It doesn't matter," about things that do matter.
Greng jai can be positive, but when students who don't understand something won't ask their teachers to explain something because they don't want to impose on them, then you know that there is a problem.
Similarly, when people do things that put other people's live in danger and the authorities do nothing because of greng jai, then you know there is a problem.
The biggest problem of all with cultural issues is that they are extremely difficult, or even impossible, to change. They can't be changed overnight and I don't even think they can be changed in one generation. Cultural behaviour is inculcated at a very young age and once it's there, it's there for life.
The only time that change will come about is when a new generation is brought up from birth with a new set of values. This will take at least two generations. All of the social problems in Thailand are cultural and this is why I believe that nothing will change within my lifetime.
Even if Thais had the will to change it would take many years. Considering the fact that there is no will to change anything and the process of change hasn't even started yet, it will be many years before development in Thailand reaches Western standards.
A long-term expat friend of mine, who is really laid-back and easy-going, told me that every time he drives he gets angry with Thais. It's the same with me. A good day now is one in which I can stay at home all day and have no need to go anywhere. I experience incidents on the road every day and today was no exception. The incident today sums up Thai attitudes towards road safety quite well.
I was downtown and about to go through a green traffic light. Most traffic lights in Thailand have a countdown timer and there was 20 seconds left on the clock. Just as I entered the four-way junction a motorbike appeared in my path after having gone through a red light.
I braked sharply, sounded my horn, and came to a complete stop. I stared at him and gave him a piece of my mind. Releasing some steam makes me feel better, but it doesn't change how Thais drive. He just stared back defiantly.
I continued and he went through the light, which was still red. As I looked in my mirror I could see him giving me the finger. This was typical. Many Thai drivers are lawless, stubborn and defiant.
This is exactly how they are. They do whatever they want and they take great offence when someone objects to their lawlessness. If I wanted to I could do anything on Thai roads because no one is going to stop me. The only thing I can't do is say anything to bad drivers. If I do it will result in a volley of abuse or a threat of physical violence. Put simply, the country is lawless.
If travelling by public transport on Thai roads there are two dangers. Firstly, there is the maniac who is driving your vehicle and secondly there are the other maniacs on the road. It's safer to drive yourself because it takes one maniac out of the equation and if you drive carefully you can avoid a lot of the other maniacs.
I worry about my family more than I worry about myself. My wife isn't a bad driver, but she's still not that experienced. Her car is very small and wouldn't provide that much protection in a big crash.
The thing I worry about most is when my daughter comes home from school some time in the near future and tells me that she is going on a school trip somewhere in a big bus. I won't be able to do anything and buses carrying lots of young school kids get driven in exactly the same fashion. It's an absolute nightmare.
How can Thailand fix the problem?
Whenever I read about this issue I keep seeing comments from naive farangs about improving driver education. This would have no effect at all and would be about as useful as trying to teach my cats why they shouldn't catch jing-joks.
When I was young there were lots of problems with driving standards in the UK. As a result there were long government campaigns that concentrated on making dangerous behaviour socially unacceptable. It took a long time, but it worked.
Peer pressure is very strong and if something such as drunk driving becomes unacceptable in society most (not all) people will change their behaviour.
The Austalian government went a step further and in one advertising campaign against speeding they accused men who drive too fast of suffering from small penis syndrome. I'm not sure how successful this was, but it was an interesting piece of psychology.
The biggest issue is not how Thailand can solve the problem, but whether Thailand wants to solve the problem. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no desire to fix the problem.
Tuesday 25th March 2014
The insanity on Thailand's roads never stops and nothing ever changes. Thai drivers continue breaking laws and driving like lunatics, the police make no attempt to catch reckless and dangerous drivers, and the government does nothing at all.
I picked my daughter up from nursery yesterday and was on my way home. I stopped at a set of lights where there were two lanes of traffic waiting for the lights to change.
Just as they changed, a single brain-celled maniac in a pickup truck overtook all the waiting cars and went through the lights using the central reservation at about 120kmh.
As he approached the lights at high speed he had no intention of stopping and waiting behind everyone else. He saw the lights change to green and decided to overtake the waiting cars at high speed using the central reservation, which is just about a car's width. He got through on this occasion, but he could easily have caused a huge crash.
When I see some of the things that I see when I am driving in Thailand I just can't believe how utterly stupid some Thai drivers are, and I can't believe how little regard they have for other people's lives. I also can't believe how nothing is done regarding catching, prosecuting, and banning these morons.
Nothing happens to them. There are no speed cameras, no traffic light cameras, and the police aren't interested. The idiots continue driving the same way until they kill themselves, but unfortunately they also tend to kill a lot of other innocent people before they kill themselves.
I could say that I fell in love with Thailand on my first visit in 1987, but actually it happened even before I stepped foot in the country. Guidebooks that I read (there was no Internet back then) and a special event in London organised by the Tourist Authority of Thailand completely intoxicated me.
That first trip, when Thailand was still considered a frontier tourist destination and there were very few farang tourists in the country, exceeded all expectations. By 2002 I'd had about as much of the UK as I could take and decided to quit my job and leave. I didn't need to decide where to go because I already knew where I was going.
Now, in my eleventh year of living in Thailand, I don't find that I love very much at all, and there are times (normally after particularly bad driving experiences) when I find myself really hating the country.
Is it me? Have I changed? Is it just a case of becoming more familiar with everything and no longer looking through rose-tinted glasses? Or has Thailand changed?
When I visited in 1987 I travelled with a friend and we met up with a Thai guy in Pattaya who had previously emigrated to the States and was back in Thailand for a vacation. We have kept in touch all this time. Piak came to visit me last Thursday and returned to his family in Bangkok yesterday.
He's in Thailand for about four months and the purpose of his visit was to try to decide where to retire. Should he remain in the States or return to Thailand?
The first question he asked me was whether I was going to stay or return to the UK. Apart from having no desire to return to the UK, I can't, not with a wife and two kids dependent on me in Thailand. Also, taking them back to live in the UK also isn't really an option.
He then told me, "I'm not staying here, hell no." I was a bit surprised at his strong reaction and questioned him some more. It's unusual for Thais to say anything negative about Thailand, and even more unusual for them to criticise their relatives.
His niece's driving was really concerning him. I didn't really need him to explain because I know how Thais drive. Anyway, he told me that she drives really fast and really close to other cars. She also gets extremely angry and suffers from frequent road rage.
They went out and another car cut her up. She laid on her horn repeatedly and eventually the guy gave her the middle finger. After this she continued honking. They were in traffic and the guy got out of his car. He tried to open the passenger door where my friend was sitting. He couldn't get in the car but the experience really upset Piak.
This kind of thing happens quite a lot now. A guy got out of his car after me on one occasion, I got chased on another occasion, and I've read about similar things on forums. No matter how badly they drive you can't afford to say or do anything because it just makes things worse.
His niece is the sweetest girl you will ever meet. She works for Agoda, the travel company. She works long hours and has worked hard to improve her English. When she is home she waits hand and foot on her parents and older brother. She does the same for her uncle and she has done the same for me when I have visited her family in Bangkok.
She is the kindest, sweetest, most mild mannered person when you meet her, but according to her uncle she becomes a monster as soon as she gets behind the wheel. Why is this? Why are Thais such ill-tempered, impatient, aggressive drivers?
I like to understand why things are the way they are and previously I had put this down to excesses of testosterone and the macho behaviour of Thai males. But some females drive the same way.
There is no one reason why the driving in Thailand is so bad. There are a multitude of reasons. One reason could be because of the strict hierarchical structure of Thai society where everyone knows their place and where the majority spend all their time kowtowing to people who are higher than them in the social hierarchy.
Thai cars have heavily tinted windows through which you can't see the occupants inside vehicles. This seems to give them a sense of anonymity and with everyone being anonymous there is no hierarchy on the roads. Instead of having to assume an inferior role towards big people (poo-yai), this is now their chance to be a big person.
Instead of a person's surname, background, wealth, education or position in society giving them power and status, which are highly sought after by Thais, power and status on roads are attained by bigger vehicles and aggressive driving. I am convinced this is why large pickup trucks are so popular in Thailand.
There is absolutely no courtesy on Thai roads and absolutely no giving way to anyone else. It's a dog fight. Even if you want to be courteous, you can't.
With heavily tinted glass in all cars, polite hand gestures and smiles have no effect. The only way to signal good intentions to other cars is by flashing your lights. But there is a big problem with doing this in Thailand.
Thais are forever pulling out on and cutting up other drivers. They do it, but at the same time they don't like other drivers doing it to them. Flashing headlights in Thailand equates to, "Don't pull out on me," or "Get out of my way." Thais also sometimes flash their light when they are about to deliberately run red lights. It's an aggressive 'get out of my way' signal.
On a few occasions I have noticed drivers stuck behind very slow trucks in the slow lane. They can't pull into the fast lane because Thais drive as close to the vehicle in front as possible to prevent anyone from changing lane. I have attempted to allow them to pull in front of me by flashing my lights, but they never do because they think I am telling them not to pull in.
I also flashed my lights at some pedestrians recently who were waiting to cross a pedestrian crossing in the Tesco Lotus car park. Thai drivers never stop at pedestrian crossings. Once again, the pedestrians read this as an aggressive gesture and wouldn't cross.
The other problem my friend told me about is with his older sister, who he says is now very greedy and materialistic. They are basically a good Thai Buddhist family so this surprised me. The story behind this was a little unusual and it started some years ago when she claimed that the spirit of man who was once very powerful and influential in Thailand had entered her body.
After this she started having premonitions and claims that she can see things that ordinary people can't. Thais go for this kind of thing in a big way and apparently she now has almost a cult following. My friend told me that people go to her house every day with gifts so that she will tell them things using her supernatural abilities.
She has also discovered that if she expresses an interest in something, she need only to tell one of her followers and they will buy it for her. This, he says, has made her very greedy.
Greed is a big problem in Thailand and it goes against all Buddhist teachings and the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy. Despite the majority of Thais being poor they are surrounded with material wealth and Thai TV and advertising constantly promote lives of consumerism and materialism.
Buddhism tells people to refrain from grasping, but Thais constantly grasp for material goods and many are up to their ears in debt as a result of buying things that they can't afford.
If, as a foreigner, you get involved with a Thai you soon find out why they got involved with you. No matter how poor they were before you met them, whatever you give them is never enough and they won't be happy until they have bled you dry. Even then there will still be no gratitude shown. Of course, this doesn't apply to every Thai, but it is a theme that recurs frequently.
He was also complaining about hygiene standards at his sister's house, specifically flies crawling all over the food. Thais seem to have no problem at all with cooked or uncooked food being covered with flies, but it's something that fussy foreigners find disgusting.
He's Thai and is perfectly aware of how Thais live, but after living in the States for 34 years I guess that he has become accustomed to slightly higher standards of hygiene.
After listening to Piak tell me about his troubles I concluded that most of his problems come from his family. Asian culture indoctrinates people with filial values and these are deeply ingrained. It's not a bad thing to respect your parents, but Thais are programmed to put their families before everything else.
My friend's family are really screwing him up, but he can't get away. I enjoy seeing my parents once a year, but wouldn't want to live with them permanently. It's another part of Asian culture that is very different from Western culture. It has its good points, but it also causes problems.
My wife is the same and puts her family before everything else. When she talks about 'her family' she means her parents and siblings, not her husband and children. I find this very difficult at times. I agreed to buy a house near her family so that she could stay close to them. Originally, I wanted to move to northern Thailand. I compromised, but sometimes I wish that I hadn't.
If Piak does decide to retire in Thailand then he needs to stay a long way from his family in Bangkok.
So, back to my original question. What is it that has changed so much about my relationship with Thailand in the last 27 years?
I have certainly changed. For starters, I have got older and more mature and Thailand is not a good place for right-thinking, mature people who appreciate law and order in society.
I am now also very aware of the real Thailand. Nothing in Thailand is ever how it seems at first and most foreigners are totally deceived at first - including me. It takes a long time to see behind the facade and it took me about four years to see the truth.
However, there are other things that have been far more significant. One of the biggest things was having children. If you are on your own you can escape a lot of the madness, but with kids you can't. You have to think about schools and hospitals and these places are located in busy towns, which are the craziest places of all in Thailand. Having children also makes you very aware of the potential dangers to life in Thailand, and there are many.
Thailand itself and the attitude and behaviour of Thais have also changed enormously. This seems to have started around the same time that Thaksin appeared on the scene, but I don't blame him.
Thai society has always been horrendously unfair. Despite what some foreigners may think, it isn't a poor country. It is a very rich country with a lot of poor people. The difference is that before Thaksin's programme of populist policies the poor seemed quite content with their lot. Now, they aren't at all content. They are angry, bitter and resentful as can be seen with all the protests around the country.
I don't blame Thaksin because if he hadn't started to change the expectations of the poor, then someone else would have done it eventually. Just as there was an Arab Spring, sooner or later there would have been a Southeast Asian Spring. It was only ever a matter of time.
When I first arrived in Thailand and saw how bad the driving was, what surprised me most of all was that other drivers didn't get angry. The things I saw would have resulted in intense road rage back home, but Thais remained calm. Now, it's the same as the UK. In fact, it's a lot worse in Thailand because the driving is far worse, there is no law enforcement, and so many aggressive Thais carry guns and other weapons in their cars.
In summary, everything has changed and the country I once loved is now a place that I'd rather not live in if I could afford not to. It would still be an acceptable place in which to live if I was single, but it is not a good place to raise children. There are many dangers and the education system is abysmal.
My situation now is that I have made my bed and now I have to lie in it. It's not an ideal situation, but it was difficult to avoid.
My original plans started to go awry as soon as loneliness started to become a problem. I met a girl who was a lot younger than me and Thai girls have an enormous desire for children. Life can change very quickly and as soon as you are responsible for other people it then becomes very difficult to get life back on track.
Many years ago when I was free to come or go as I pleased I noticed the farangs who had abandoned their homelands and severed all ties. They managed to eke out a living in Thailand teaching English somewhere, but they were trapped in Thailand.
My circumstances are a little different, but I too (for other reasons) am also trapped in Thailand.
Sunday 23rd March 2014
Air quality wasn't high on my list when I was choosing where to live in Thailand. When I came to Thailand my breathing was fine and air quality wasn't something that I gave much thought to. A few years ago I contracted bronchitis twice in quick succession. I have never smoked. I have always suffered from an underlying asthma problem that was only evident when I had a cold. However, since the bronchitis episode the asthma problem has started to affect me a lot more.
When I see news footage of the terrible pollution in Chinese cities or hear about haze from Indonesia affecting Singapore or Malaysian it makes me feel short of breath.
It is very fortunate that southern Thailand doesn't suffer too much from air pollution. In over 10 years of living here there has only been one really bad day. That was on 13th August 2005 when the haze from Indonesian slash-and-burn farming practices got as far as southern Thailand.
Bangkok is notorious for its air pollution, caused mainly by there being far too many vehicles in the capital. Also recently there was a large fire in a garbage dump in Samut Prakan that brought a lot of extra haze to parts of Bangkok.
I've written to two Chiang Mai residents recently and expressed my desire to go there for a visit in the near future. Both warned me about the haze and told to go later in the year. This seems to be an annual problem in northern Thailand.
Wednesday 19th March 2014
Yesterday, I was about to go upstairs to get my eyeglasses when she said that she wanted to get them. So I let her. When she returned, the frame of my glasses looked as if it had been through a mangle. Oh, dear.
It wasn't a huge disaster. The glasses were quite old and needed replacing. The lenses were badly chipped and whenever I propped them on my head to do close work they slipped off easily when I bent forward. This morning I went to the part of town where there are several shops selling eyeglasses.
Eyeglasses are a good example of something that can be bought in Thailand a lot cheaper than in the West. However, as with anything in Thailand, there are some dos and don'ts.
The first thing I would advise is to find a small, independent shop that can offer real discounts. This is sometimes easier said than done. The Top Charoen chain dominate the eyeglass retail market in Thailand and there are branches everywhere. There is another chain called Beautiful Optical. This is also owned by Top Charoen and prices are the same.
These places 'claim' to offer a discount, but if an item is never sold at the pre-discounted price then it isn't discounted. Their prices are high and if you ask for a real discount they refuse because they say the discount has already been applied, which it hasn't.
Furthermore, claiming to offer a discount using a percentage figure that contains four decimal places is just pathetic. I guess that this ruse was dreamed up by some bright spark MBA in the marketing department.
Once you have found the right shop, never agree to the first, second or third price that they give you. Instead, look at what's on offer but then tell them that you are going to take a look around. Firstly, the initial prices they give you are massively inflated and secondly, these shops tend to get very few customers. As a customer, you actually have some buying power.
This morning I didn't want to pay a fortune. I wanted a light, comfortable, sturdy frame and I find that the lenses that tint automatically in sunlight are useful in Thailand because it is so sunny.
Designer names mean absolutely nothing to me. A designer name just increases the price without increasing the quality. My only rule in Thailand is NOT to buy any eyeglasses with the brand name 'Percy' and walking around with 'Percy' on the side of my head all day. This may be acceptable to a Thai, but not to an Englishman.
I found some titanium frames that fitted the bill and was told the price was Bt7,000. The lenses I wanted were Bt1,800 - total Bt8,800. Too expensive. The shop owner noted my expression and told me that I could have the glasses for Bt6,500.
At this point I said I was going to look around other shops. As I started to walk out of the shop she shouted Bt5,000. I smiled, but said I was still going to look around. As I walked towards the door the price fell miraculously to Bt3,500.
I could probably have played this game a little longer, but Bt3,500 didn't sound too bad and if customers run these small independent places out of business all that will be left is Top Charoen. When that happens there will be no such thing as cheap eyeglasses in Thailand.
They told me that the glasses would be ready in half an hour so I went for a coffee at Starbucks. Sure enough, I returned 40 minutes later and they were ready. Now, I just need to make sure that my daughter doesn't get hold of them.
In big department stores and supermarkets in Thailand prices are displayed and these are the actual prices. In many small shops prices aren't displayed, and even if they are they aren't the actual prices. Haggling is still very much a way of life in Thailand at many small shops and markets.
You can pay a lot less for eyeglasses in Thailand than the Bt3,500 that I paid today. I have a friend in Songkhla who goes to a small shop and pays around Bt700 for glasses that look perfectly reasonable. There is no designer label and the basic lenses have no fancy coatings, but they still do the job.
Monday 17th March 2014
Following the missing Malaysia Airlines flight there has been a lot in the news in this region about the trade in stolen and fake passports. Channel News Asia has a special programme lined up this week and it is focusing on Thailand, which is described as a 'mecca' for stolen and fake passports.
Recently, I have read about down-and-out foreigners in Thailand selling their passports and then reporting them as lost or stolen. There have been other stories about people renting motorbikes using stolen passports and then stealing the bikes. There have been reports about how Thais will demand to keep passports as collateral for rented vehicles.
I have stayed in hotels in Thailand that have demanded to keep my passport. I'm happy for them to take a copy, but not to keep the actual passport. A Malaysian correspondent who visits Thailand frequently complains about hotels demanding to keep his passport. They have no right to hold on to your passport.
Not only may a member of staff steal it for fraudulent purposes but, from what I have observed in Thailand on several occasions, many hotels and guesthouses do not store guests' passports securely and they can easily be stolen if just left lying around.
It's also a little worrying that immigration authorities in most countries do not check the Interpol database of lost and stolen passports. Only three countries do this routinely - the US, Britain, and the UAE.
By all accounts it seems that the two passengers on flight MH 370 using stolen passports weren't terrorists. However, this episode has opened an enormous can of worms and Thailand (once again) is back in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Pickup trucks yet again. These deaths occurred over the weekend and no doubt there were lots more road fatalities in Thailand over the weekend that didn't get reported in the English language press.
Why is no one in Thailand the least bit interested in trying to reduce the carnage on Thailand's roads?
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand