Living In Thailand Blog
Tuesday 22nd March 2016
My wife told me that there have been multiple incidents reported on the Thai TV news of mobile phones exploding. These are phones that have been left in cars or in the small compartments beneath motorbike seats. The intense heat in Thailand that we are currently experiencing has caused the batteries to overheat, explode and burst into flames.
If I leave my car outside in this heat even for a few minutes it feels like an oven when I return. The car air-conditioning (like the rest of the car) is old and not very effective. Usually, I keep it on the '1' setting, but at the moment it needs to be set at '3' to be comfortable. It's hot.
One of the best ways to cool down is to go swimming. The nearest beach is about an hour away, but I prefer fresh water swimming pools. There are quite a few near to where I live and a pool is currently being built at the front of my housing development, which will be very convenient. The piece of land that my developer owns is quite large and originally the plan was to fill it with houses. However, now that the economy has slowed down he has had a change of heart.
I found out recently that some of the land will be rented and that a water park will be opened. I have mixed feelings about this. My children will enjoy playing at a water park and it will be handy to have one within walking distance, but if it means listening to screaming children all day it won't be fun. Fortunately, my house is located in such a position that the screams shouldn't be audible but this doesn't apply to some of my neighbours.
The pool that we used to go to was demolished and in its place was built a Nissan dealership (as if the town didn't have enough car dealerships already). I wasn't very happy about that. Many of the other pools are overrun with screaming school children and not much fun, however, near to my house is a little piece of heaven. Its location is difficult to find and very few people know about it.
My local swimming pool - nice, eh?
I first spotted it from the air on a flight to Bangkok. The setting is among palm trees and beautifully manicured lawns and it looks like a private sports club. In addition to the swimming pools there are tennis courts, upon which I have never seen anyone play. When my kids are a bit older I want them to start playing tennis and golf.
After spotting it from the air I went to find it after returning from Bangkok and found that it was open to members of the public. There is a children's pool, which is perfect for my two youngsters, and the main pool is a serious lap pool where mature adults come to exercise. There is no horseplay or screaming kids. After supervising my children in the small pool, I do some serious swimming in the large pool. It really is perfect and the climate in southern Thailand is such that swimming outdoors is comfortable all year round. The water in the small pool yesterday was actually too warm.
My memories of swimming in England are nightmarish. Swimming in the sea was freezing cold, unpleasant in grey, opaque seas, and most of the 'beaches' consisted of rocks and stones. Indoor pools were bearably warm, but boring and stunk of chlorine.
In the 1930's there were many large outdoor pools in the UK, known as 'lidos'. During this time, the architectural style of art deco was in vogue and many such lidos were architecturally beautiful. In addition, there were quite a few outdoor pools and even my home town had an outdoor pool up until the 70's or 80's.
I have vivid childhood recollections of trips to the lido in Barking, Essex. The water was cold, but the atmosphere was good. This lido was closed permanently in 1988. By the 1980's many lidos and outdoor pools had closed. A few remain and a few have been preserved because of their architectural status.
Most swimming pools in the UK are indoors because of the cold climate and thus swimming in the UK isn't generally a great experience. Swimming in Thailand, whether in outdoor fresh water pools or in turquoise seas where you can see the bottom of the sea from the surface, is fantastic and I love the fact that I never feel cold.
I try to be honest with my blog and have no personal agenda. I've come across expats in Thailand who hate living here and only ever say bad things about the country. The opposite is also true. I've seen a number of websites written by expats who:
- wear rose-tinted spectacles all the time
- are extremely naive and walk around with their eyes closed
- are trying to sell a dream in order to sell something to make money
- are paid by the Tourist Authority of Thailand
Some aspects of living in Thailand are really bad, but others are really good.
After marrying and making the decision to buy a house I wanted to settle in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is way too commercialised for me and attracts far too many foreigners for my liking. I loved Chiang Rai and that would probably have been my choice. Beaches and islands do nothing for me, but I love mountains and the beautiful, tranquil green colour of rice fields.
That's not how it worked out. Thai females have an incredible attachment to their families, especially their mothers, and reluctantly I agreed to remain close to my wife's family. Sometimes it is useful, but at other times I really wish I had put my foot down and moved to the other end of the country.
If I bring up the subject these days, my wife's jaded response is that earthquakes are a big problem in the North and any house I bought would be destroyed by an earthquake. Nonsense. It's like a northern Thai saying that where I live is dangerous because of Muslim insurgents. It's only a problem in certain places, but most places are fine.
However, there is a genuine problem that affects the north of Thailand and it isn't very pleasant - haze. It is a perennial problem and news stories appear every year around this time of the year. The breathing problems I started to suffer with around five years ago are exacerbated in very hot weather, and they would be worse with severe air pollution. My son also has an asthma problem.
It's therefore quite unlikely that I will ever achieve my desire to live in the North.
This Bangkok Post editorial makes the same points that I made on Saturday. What seems to happen is that every crime has a statute of limitations and rich Thais can afford lots of lawyers to keep delaying and postponing matters until eventually the statute of limitations expires. The idiomatic term 'to get away with murder (or at least, manslaughter)' then becomes literal.
This is how it has always been in Thailand, but the difference these days is that many Thais exchange thoughts on social media and their voices are now being heard. The ever increasing educated middle classes are getting fed up living in a feudal system where law is applied discriminately depending on a person's wealth and the growing anger is palpable. I can't predict how this will all play out, but it's interesting to watch.
Monday 21st March 2016
There was nothing in my so-called 'formal education' to help me with the real issues in life. Instead, there is a kind of acceptance in Western societies that life will be fine and everything will fall into place by itself. That may be the case for some people, but not for everyone. And with so much change now taking place in the world I imagine that now there are a lot more people facing difficulties in life compared to 20 years ago, or more.
When I started having issues with the general unsatisfactoriness in my life in the UK I found it very difficult to get advice. According to most people around me, the answer was to go to the pub with some friends and get drunk. That advice might have worked for a few hours, but after shrugging off a headache the following morning the underlying issues would still be there.
In my 20's and 30's I had mainly used this approach to deal with problems and issues, but by the time I reached 40 I was looking for a more permanent solution.
The people who helped weren't Brits. One friend in South Africa gave me some good advice and recommended a book that shone a lot of light on why people become dissatisfied in life (Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck). A Malaysian lady who owned a small shop near to my house selling Asian goods and food was also good to talk to and looked at life differently to my British friends and family.
From experience I also realised that I was extremely happy whenever I visited Thailand. I met lots of poor people, yet they seemed far more satisfied with life than many British people I knew with money. I also started to learn about Buddhism and was given a small booklet from a monk in a temple, which is actually quite close to where I live now.
Buddhism is a huge subject and, unfortunately, many books about Buddhism are written in a cryptic manner with lots of Sanskrit terms that don't make them very accessible. However, once you find resources that explain it better you start to realise that it is a thorough examination of the human condition and that it can answer all questions regarding unsatisfactoriness in life.
This is why, theoretically, Thais should have an enormous advantage over Westerners when dealing with issues, problems and challenges in life. As Buddhists they are taught about Buddhism at school and Buddhist thinking should be a part of their normal lives. Also, it is traditional for Thai men to enter the monkhood (Sangha) at some stage in their lives for at least three months to acquire a much better understanding of Buddhism.
I have highlighted should because this isn't how it works for many Thais. They may receive education about Buddhism at school, but they also receive education about the English language at school. I have met many Thais who 'studied' English from the age of 3 until 18 and even the most basic sentence is beyond them. It seems to be exactly the same with Buddhism.
Most Thais have a strange relationship with Buddhism in their daily lives. Many of the rituals are Animist and it is all very selfish. Conspicuous merit-making is popular, but with many people it is only performed so that they will get something back immediately, such as winning lottery numbers.
Buddhist ordination has also turned into a bit of a farce for most, but not all, Thai males. One of my neighbours suddenly disappeared a couple of years ago and it turned out that he had ordained. There was no fanfare or big, boozy party beforehand and not only did he enter the temple for the entire Rains Retreat, but he also stayed an extra month. He wanted to learn about Buddhism.
On Saturday I was dragged along to a huge party for the ordination of one of my wife's nephews. Last week she kept disappearing to help her sister prepare for this event and thus I was left baby-sitting, unable to do anything productive. That is one (of many) reasons why I haven't been able to write much here recently.
His parents shaved his head and he wore a white robe to the party while making sure that all his friends had full glasses. As a monk he is supposed to follow 227 precepts. Lay Buddhists only have five precepts to follow. One of the key Buddhist precepts - whether you are in the Sangha or a lay Buddhist - is to refrain from intoxicating substances and to see so much alcohol at a Buddhist ordination just didn't seem right, but Thais see nothing wrong.
The Buddha isn't regarded as a 'god' but as a teacher and Buddhism is about learning, not about worshipping deities. Considering that he will only spend a week in the temple, as is the case with many Thai males who ordain these days, it is doubtful that he will learn very much, but to most Thais that isn't the point. It is done for selfish merit-making purposes, not to learn.
Even if a Thai male only spends a single day in robes as a monk it will satisfy his parents and it will provide the important photo opportunity so that a big photo of him as a monk surrounded by his proud family can be displayed prominently in the family home. I'm sorry to sound so cynical, but it is all so hypocritical.
I had to fork out Bt1,000 as a donation to the party. With my wife helping to dish out food I had more babysitting to do and the kids couldn't be left alone because the event was held on a building site. The ground was uneven and dangerous and huge construction vehicles were parked next door to the marquee.
The hypocrisy quite irritates me these days. Thais trying to prove that they are good Buddhists will get upset if you swat a mosquito at a temple because another Buddhist precept is to refrain from harming living things, but the country has a huge murder rate and road fatalities in Thailand are the second highest in the world. If they are so concerned about harming living things, why do they drive in such a way that they are guaranteed to kill other people? Thai men also consume a huge amount of alcohol.
When you look at the rest of the five precepts - to refrain from stealing, sexual misconduct, and lying/gossip - and compare this to what you see in Thailand every day, you can see that there are enormous contradictions between how Thais are supposed to behave in accordance with Buddhism and how they actually behave.
As I said above, it isn't the case with everyone. There are Thais who take Buddhism seriously and make a serious effort to learn. However, there are more who don't make any effort to learn and they have their own views on what it requires to be Buddhist.
There has been no respite from the current spell of hot weather, in fact, it's just getting hotter. The rate of evaporation from my fishpond is phenomenal and I have to top up the water level at least once a week.
This morning some passengers on an Airport Rail Link train were trapped in the train because of a power failure and some fainted. I'm not surprised. Being outside at the moment is almost intolerable and being trapped outside in a closed container of any kind without air-conditioning would be quite dangerous.
Even before this hot spell started, there had been a severe water shortage in Thailand due to the fact that last year's rainy season was very dry. That problem is now becoming serious.
Thailand has a total agricultural area of 130 million rai, but only 30 million rai is being irrigated at the moment - the water being restricted so that Thais have enough water to drink.
The central, north and northeast areas are suffering most and some households are only receiving tap water at certain times of the day. The south, apparently, has no problems. I have heard nothing about people here needing to be careful with their water usage.
Despite these serious water shortage problems, I have no doubts that in a few weeks' time billions of gallons of water will be thrown down drains all across the country in the name of 'fun'. TIT.
Apologies to my regular readers for a lack of posts recently. I have bored you enough already with the reasons, suffice to say there are lots of reasons, not least a lack of motivation because this site could be disappearing at the end of June.
Also, thanks to one person who has made a deliberate effort on a couple of occasions to try to support this site this year. I'm not exactly sure who you are, but you are currently in Bangkok staying at the Pavillion Place Hotel. Making your reservation through one of my links threw the site another lifeline and your help is very much appreciated!
Saturday 19th March 2016
It's horribly hot at the moment. Southern Thailand has seen temperatures in the high 30's this week and it is even hotter in the central, north and northeastern regions with temperatures in the low 40's.
My indoor thermometer in a north-facing room without any direct sunlight has been registering around 35°C. My body has acclimatised over the years, but I still suffer when it is this hot. I can survive without A/C for most of the year, but it becomes a necessity when it is as hot as this. A lot of poor Thais in the north, where it is even hotter, cannot afford to install or run air-conditioners. Life must be almost unbearable.
While downtown this morning, a Turkish tourist asked me where he could find a cheap, clean guest house. The first place I took him to was shut because of a broken toilet. We began walking to another place, but before we got there he told me he couldn't go on and needed to rest in an air-conditioned environment. It was only a short walk. He was almost 20 years younger than me and I was quite surprised, but I guess that I am a lot more used to the heat.
The land next to where I live has yet to be developed and there are lots of trees. We haven't had any rain for a couple of months and the ground is tinder dry. A small fire started in the woods yesterday and the fire brigade turned up, however, it didn't last long. There was a bigger fire in the same place a couple of years ago. Fires are a big problem in Thailand.
Forest fire near my house in March 2014
Six years ago, a girl from a wealthy family was playing on a mobile phone while driving and her car hit a minivan. Nine people in the van died. She received a suspended sentence, was ordered to do a little community service and banned from driving for a few years.
Four years ago the heir to Thailand's Red Bull fortune hit and killed a policeman while driving his Ferrari. It was a high profile case, but I never heard what happened to him. A Bangkok Post article just gave me the answer.
One news story has dominated Thai news this week. The driver of an expensive Benz car was caught on a dashcam driving into the back of a Ford Fiesta at an insane speed. The estimated speed was in excess of 180kph, some reports say 200kph.
The Fiesta driver was doing no wrong and travelling in the left lane at moderate speed. The vehicle was fitted with LPG and the huge collision caused the car to burst into flames. Both occupants, in their early 30's, were killed.
Yesterday, a journalist interviewed a policeman involved with the case and the policeman was very obstructive and defensive. The driver of the Benz was not tested for alcohol and there have been the usual statements from his family that the families will be compensated. When rich people commit serious crimes, it always seems to be a case of just give the victims some money and forget about it.
For the most part I enjoy living in Thailand, but there are certain aspects of Thailand that (to put it mildly) disturb me. The first, which I have witnessed personally on several occasions, is the insanity on the roads.
For example, while waiting at red traffic lights I have seen pickup trucks overtake two lanes of waiting cars at high speed on the wrong side of the road to go through the red lights. Such insanity, and the possible consequences, makes me shudder.
Secondly, the justice system depends on a person's wealth. Just recently a poor man was arrested for stealing three coconuts. His pregnant wife craved a coconut and he stole three to satisfy her cravings. The orchard owner wanted him to pay Bt50,000 in compensation, but he only earns Bt200 per day. He was dealt with harshly for an insignificant 'crime', yet when rich people drive high-powered cars at insane speeds and kill innocent people no justice is served.
Thais are also fed up with this injustice and these days many use social media to share ideas and opinions. They aren't happy at the moment, but whether ordinary people can bring about change in Thailand, it remains highly unlikely.
The Bangkok Post carried another article about 'justice' in Thailand. The military government has been cracking down on corruption. This includes the police, but police officers alleged to be involved in illegal activity have simply been transferred and allowed to carry on working.
Occasionally, there are times when I feel optimistic that Thailand can change, but when I read articles such as the ones above it seems that change is impossible.
Wednesday 2nd March 2016
Just recently all I seem to hear is Thais moaning about the economy. At home my neighbours moan and when I go to the local market, the market vendors moan. Chinese New Year seemed to draw in a lot of Malaysian and Singaporean tourists this year and everyone was happy for a while, but since then it has gone very quiet. No country remains unaffected and Thailand is no exception.
In fact, Thailand is probably more affected than most because it relies so much on tourism, manufacturing and exports. When money is tight people cut down on travel and buying unnecessary items. Regardless, there are always certain businesses that do well during a downturn.
Our local night market is referred to colloquially as 'bpert taay'. 'Bpert' = open, 'taay' = boot/trunk of a car. In England this would be a car boot sale. When the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis struck Thailand and the Baht was devalued, people flocked to the market to try to convert their possessions into cash.
I was wandering around town last week and decided to go for a foot massage. I've had lots of problems over the years with massage shops and uninterested masseuses, but one little shop is (was) really good and the three Isaan girls who work there are (were) really attentive.
At first I just walked straight past and then I became confused. Where is it? I walked back and found the shop, but it was shuttered up and all the signs had been taken down. An unfortunate casualty of a poor economy.
A little later I saw that two or three other shops had closed and a large pawnbroking shop had replaced them. It looks quite fancy and there is a security guard outside. There have always been pawnbrokers around, but I have never seen one in the center of town as prominent as this.
For the first few years after I moved to my house there were very few houses for sale. Now, there are quite a lot with signs outside saying that the owners need to sell urgently.
Another industry that never suffers as a result of the economy is fortune telling. In fact, during difficult times Thais go to seek the advice of fortune tellers ('mor doo' rough translation = looking doctor) more often than usual. I read somewhere recently that the fortune telling industry in Thailand is worth Bt4 billion a year, maybe more.
If you are thinking of moving to Thailand, take a course in palmistry or tea-leaf reading. It will be a lot more interesting than teaching English and your monthly income will probably be higher.
Unfortunately, I think the economy is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. I'm suffering as well. I've had a run of bad luck recently and have needed to spend a lot more money than I had planned. Also, because of the forthcoming EU referendum in the UK, the markets are getting very jittery.
The UK economy is suffering more than the Thai economy and this has been reflected in exchange rates. One UK pound bought almost Bt56 last August, but the rate has been falling ever since and is current below Bt50. These are not good times for many people, with the notable exception of pawnshop owners and fortune tellers.
My wife is an ardent fan of the Channel 3 news in Thailand and it gets switched on every morning in our house. I can hear it now, as I type, and I can hear the voice of the man I'm going to talk about.
I watch very little TV, but the Thai language news is interesting because it gives a very different view of Thailand compared to the English language news. A lot more news stories are reported compared to The Nation and Bangkok Post. I quite often relate stories I have seen on the Thai TV news in this blog.
As a result of being present every day when the TV is on I have become quite familiar with the main anchor, Sorayuth Suthasanajinda. Thai male TV presenters are generally soft-spoken and use the polite particle so often in their speech that it becomes nauseating after a while.
Sorayuth is different. He is quite gruff, gets to the point, and is so direct that he is almost harsh. His brusqueness and arrogance is more like a Thai politician than a TV presenter. Nonetheless, he is very popular and well-known in Thailand, and has a large following.
The rainy season last year was the first rainy season I can remember in Thailand in which there wasn't wide-spread flooding. This year, Thailand's problem with water is that there isn't enough, rather than too much.
In previous years Channel 3 has broadcast from areas badly affected by flooding and done a lot to raise money for flood victims. Sorayuth has been at the forefront of the fund raising.
On Monday my wife turned on the Channel 3 news, but there was no Sorayuth. It was strange, but I assumed he was ill or had another commitment. Later in the day, she told me that Sorayuth had been in courted and had been handed a 13 year prison sentence.
In 2005/2006 he was the host on a Channel 9 news programme, run by a state-owned company. It proved to be popular. He set up his own advertising company called Rai Som and was allotted advertising slots between two and five minutes. If ads overran the allotted time his company was supposed to pay Bt200,000 per minute. I had no idea that TV advertising in Thailand was so expensive.
However, Rai Som bribed an employee to conceal records of advertisng time so that there was no need to make any payments. These payments amounted to Bt739,770.50 and saved Rai Som from paying Bt138 million.
This was discovered in 2006. Rai Som asked for a 30% discount and offered to pay just over Bt100 million, but this offer was rejected. It finally went to court, 10 years later, and Sorayuth was handed a prison sentence. My wife said that he was to go to jail immediately.
However, when the TV news was switched on again on Tuesday Sorayuth was there, as usual, as if nothing had happened. I was confused. He didn't go to jail immediately and he has just continued with his day job. This has caused quite a lot of controversy.
I find it all a bit strange and this defiance just comes across as arrogance and having an attitude of being above the law. It has always been the case in Thailand that those who are rich/famous/powerful are above the law. Criminal cases may be brought against them, but there are delays of several years and then it all goes quiet without any real justice being meted out.
Thailand has definitly changed since Prayuth took over, but I'm still not sure to what extent.
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