Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 31st March 2017
My whizzy new computer developed a fault on the fifth day of using it. Every now and again the monitor would just go blank and tell me that there was no signal from the computer. The computer was still running, but without being able to see anything I couldn't save my work. To cure the problem I was forced to turn the computer off and back on again - thus losing any unsaved work. It was very annoying.
The machine went back to the shop on Wednesday and I have just got it back after replacement of the motherboard and graphics card. It has been fine so far, but time will tell. In 2010, when I bought the computer that has just expired, I had to get it changed twice initially. The first one was dead on arrival and the second one had an intermittent problem where it became unresponsive occasionally. The third one was fine and lasted almost seven years until it died.
The technology we have these days is incredibly advanced compared to just a few years ago. Our small phones and computers have more storage and processing power than the huge mainframe computers I worked with in the 80's and 90's. To keep those systems running there were armies of hardware engineers, software engineers, systems engineers, network engineers, systems operators, etc. Now, there is just us.
My wife's iPhone also developed a fault this week. She got it repaired on Wednesday, but the same problem occurred today. We were bemoaning the amount of time we waste getting things repaired. We also spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning things, especially clothes. The washing machines runs most days and there is always ironing to do.
Both children started their summer camps this week and it has added to our workload. Everyone in the household has been getting up at 6am so that we can prepare the kids and leave the house around 7am. It's also been quite difficult emotionally with my son, who we still regard as a baby. He - along with several of his classmates - sobbed when taken to school for the first time and as a soft-hearted parent I found it quite tough. Emotionally, my wife is a lot tougher than I am and I find it is the same with a lot of Thais.
Since I got married, and especially since children arrived, life has been challenging and it is about to get more challenging. My daughter is just about to start around two months of treatment on her feet to correct a problem she had at birth. She will undergo an operation and will have to spend lots of time in plaster casts. This will all be happening in Bangkok, just to make things a little more difficult. However, we are a lot more fortunate than others. The lives of many Thais are a lot more difficult. Our old cleaning lady, who was just 48, died this week.
She lived near our old rented house and was a friend of my wife's sister. She did cleaning work professionally and did many things when cleaning the old house that we weren't expecting. For example, she organised the mass of plastic carrier bags under the sink by folding each bag neatly and putting them all into another bag.
When we moved house the new location wasn't convenient for her, but we persuaded her to continue cleaning our new house a couple of times a week. However, something had changed. She started to become unreliable and she simply wasn't doing the job properly. She was also complaining of migraine headaches.
She stopped doing our cleaning and we found another young girl who was keen to get the work. We then heard that our old cleaning lady had undergone some kind of brain surgery. The surgeon inserted a tube to drain fluid from her brain to her stomach. We paid a visit a couple of years ago and she had aged about 20 years.
Recently my wife heard that her condition had got a lot worse. We agreed that we would visit but - as usual - life with the children meant that we were always so busy that we didn't have time. And then, this week, my wife heard that she had died, so we won't see her again. Very sad.
I heard another sad story last week when I took my kids to the local water park. My daughter was complaining that she didn't have anyone to play with and, as luck would have it, she met a girl of the same age who was by herself and they had a blast together.
The woman looking after the girl, who I assumed was her mother, never smiled and didn't look very happy. I got chatting to her and it transpired that she was the girl's grandmother, not her mother. When the girl's mother was pregnant her father disappeared, leaving the mother alone. Then, when the girl was two, she was orphaned completely when her mother was killed in a car accident. The grandmother's husband had also left previously, leaving just the grandmother to bring up the child.
Every cloud has a silver lining and our cleaning lady's death seems to have had a good effect on my wife. For a long time now she has had an anger problem and I don't know what's behind it. It's not all the time, but it happens quite frequently. It is mainly directed towards me, which makes my life pretty miserable, but some is also directed at the children. Comparing her life now to how it was previously, and comparing her life to the life of a lot of Thais, she should be very happy. But that isn't the case.
She went to the temple yesterday where the cleaning lady's corpse had been prepared and was lying in an open casket. I didn't go because she didn't want the children to encounter a dead person. I think that seeing her lying there, having died at just 48, has made my wife aware that this can happen to anyone at any time. Life is too short and too precious to be angry all the time, especially when there is nothing to be angry about.
As a Buddhist, supposedly, she shouldn't need incidents like this to remind her of the impermanence of life. Understanding impermanence is one of the main tenets of Buddhism. Unfortunately, like many Thais, her version of Buddhism revolves mainly around performing animist merit-making ceremonies and many of the real teachings of Buddhism have been lost.
The summer storms that normally arrive around the middle of April have already arrived this year, several weeks earlier than usual, and we have had some torrential rain. The rainy season this year finished about a month later than usual. Thus instead of getting about three and a half months of hot and dry weather, it has been less than two months this year. I quite like it because the heat can be quite oppressive.
I still have problems with rats in the house and this seems to be a common problem in Thailand. They are never seen, just heard, and the fact that I can hear them running around above the raised ceilings without being able to do anything is frustrating. They spend most of their lives underground in the storm drains and somehow gain access to the house through pipes which are there to discard water. They remain out of sight all the time. When they do appear, my male cat is quite an effective rat catcher but he rarely gets an opportunity.
My chief rat catcher
Nature at work
I have set snap traps in the storm drains several times, but the rats are clever and get at the bait without getting caught. The cages I bought that have spring loaded doors to trap the rats are too big to work in the storm drains, although they are quite effective at ground level. One rat found his way into my wife's car and was visiting every night. It chewed the seats and left droppings in the car. I set up one of the cages near the engine bay and caught the culprit very quickly. Today, I resorted to rat poison and I also put down some glue traps.
I have never used glue traps so don't know how successful they will be. I really didn't want to use rat poison because there are children and cats in the house, but this is an act of desperation. I was also concerned that if a rat was poisoned and died inside the house where I couldn't get it there would be a foul smell. However, Thais tell me that the poison initially just makes the rat thirsty. It then goes outside to find water and when it drinks, it dies. If the problem persists I will get some professional help.
A few days ago - not for the first time - a neighbour rang on the doorbell to tell us that a snake had just gone into our garden. Our old house had a serious cockroach infestation and there are constantly ants and mosquitoes in the house. We have to guard against termites because they can cause serious problems.
In the UK I had the occasional ant problem and wasps were anoying at the end of the summer, but there were very few pest problems. In Thailand it is very different. One of my old students asked me if I was sure the noise was being made by rats. When I asked her what else it could be, she said monitor lizards. These things also get into houses, apparently. She told me they keep rats away and that Thais regard having a monitor lizard in the house as being lucky. Lucky or not, I'm not sure that I would be very keen on having a two metre reptile living in the house.
Asian water monitor in Krabi, Thailand
I have always loved books and with it being so difficult (and expensive) to get English language books here, I bought a Kindle a few years ago. I'm now on my second Kindle - a Paperwhite version. With a backlight and much improved battery life it is a big improvement on the original Kindle.
I have bought a few Kindle books, but because I love physical books so much I find it difficult paying for just a computer file. If I pay real money to buy a book, I want a real book. What I have discovered, fortunately, is that there are lots of free downloads available. Most are rubbish. There are lots of books in the erotic romance genre with the word 'Billionaire' in the title. It seems that these days being a millionaire isn't enough for Western women and they only want to read about women being seduced by billionaires. Nonetheless, amidst the rubbish are a few gems.
Walden, which I have just read, was hard going in places but overall it was quite enjoyable. It was a free download. I am now reading about the Lewis and Clark expedition that took place between 1804 and 1806, which was also free. Parts of it are fascinating. Two hundred years might seem like a long time ago, but really it is nothing. If the total amount of time that humans have been around is condensed into one day, 200 years ago is just a few minutes ago.
Firstly, it is quite shocking how the colonial powers behaved and claimed (stole) land. The British, Spanish and French claimed huge tracts of land in what is now the United States as their own. France then sold the land it had claimed to the United States, a vast area, for US$15 million.
I also find it interesting how, relatively recently, so much of the world was unexplored and so little was known. After acquiring so much land for so little money, Thomas Jefferson organised the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore and map the new territories. The expedition party discovered places, people and wildlife that had never been previously recorded. Now we know everything and using the Internet and satellite imagery we can 'visit' most places anywhere on the planet without leaving our seats.
Thailand, just 40 years ago, was relatively unknown to outsiders and it was a completely different place to Western countries. Nowadays, there are tens of thousands of foreigners living in the country and no longer is there anything mysterious, unknown or exotic about the country. If you were teletransported to a Thai shopping mall without knowing where you were, it would be difficult to work out the location. With branches of American fast food chains everywhere, Thailand now resembles most other countries.
The technology and information we have available to us now is amazing, but something has been lost and it will never return. When I had access to a Thai university library a few years ago I was attracted to the books that described the accounts of early visitors to Thailand. In the same way, I now find it interesting reading about one of the first major expeditions through the United States.
I think I enjoy these nostalgic trips back in time through books because in reality it is impossible to recreate these days. There is so much I have seen that my children will never see, and that has happened in just one generation. What will the world be like in another 50 years' time?
Tuesday 28th March 2017
Average costs for anything are always very subjective because we are all so different, but I have just been comparing electricity prices between Thailand and the UK after my wife complained about our latest electricity bill.
April is the hottest month of the year in Thailand and already this year we have had some very hot days. During the rainy season we rarely use A/C, but at this time of year it is very uncomfortable not to use it. Because of our sleeping arrangements with the children, we have used the A/C in two bedrooms overnight on several occasions this month.
This month's bill is Bt2,600, whereas it is usually around Bt1,800 because the A/C units are the biggest consumers of electricity. Most people in the UK use a combination of electricity and mains gas. We have no mains gas and just use portable gas canisters for cooking. The last one I paid for was in November at a cost of Bt380 and even though my wife cooks several times a day they last for about six months.
We have no hot water tank, just electric shower heaters in each bathroom. Therefore, apart from the cooking gas canisters, our energy bill is only for electricity. In the south of Thailand there is never a need for heating at any time of the year, but this might be different if you live in northern Thailand where it can get a little chilly during the cool season.
Our house would be considered a large house in the UK and one website says that the average annual UK energy bill for such a house would be £1,475. At current exchange rates, that is about Bt63,800, or just over Bt5,300 per month.
Our average bill, taking into account high A/C usage for about three months and including cooking gas, is around Bt25,000 per year, which is significantly less.
I have also taken some measures to reduce electricity costs. New houses in Thailand come with very little and I had to pay to get the A/C units installed. This is different to the UK where all new homes will have built-in kitchens and central heating systems. I chose inverter A/C units, which are claimed to use 30% to 50% less electricity. They are also a lot quieter, but on the downside maintenance and repairs are more expensive.
I also replaced the compact fluorescent lightbulbs with LED bulbs in July 2014. It was an expensive project (around Bt20,000) because the house has so many bulbs, but they use a lot less electricity and last a lot longer. I also find that the light they emit is more comfortable on the eyes.
How long do they last exactly? Philips claim that their LED bulbs can last up to 15 years. Notice that no minimum period is given and the (very) small print on the box says that this estimate is based on usage of 2.7 hours per day. Most of the LED bulbs I have are made by Philips, but I bought a few made by other manufacturers. Some manufacturers claim the bulbs can last for 25 years.
One of the bulbs made by either Toshiba or Panasonic failed very quickly with very little usage. It must have had a fault. The Philips bulbs in our kitchen are used a lot of the time and one of them has just failed (after 2 years and 8 months). It didn't fail completely, but just started to glow very dimly and was useless.
Because of the high initial cost of replacing all the bulbs with LED bulbs it takes a while to start to recoup the costs and the saving on electricity bills relies on bulbs not blowing and needing to be replaced. Apart from two failures, the other bulbs (well over a hundred) are still all functioning and I hope they will continue to function for many years.
To sum up, energy costs for home owners are certainly cheaper in Thailand than in the UK. In addition to the unit cost of electricity in Thailand being cheaper than the UK, if you live in a cold country it costs a lot of money for heating. Using A/C units isn't cheap, but it seems to be cheaper to keep cool than to keep warm.
Of course, everything is relative and if you live in a country, such as Denmark, where electricity costs are very high you will find the savings in Thailand to be even more significant. Electricity costs in the US, for example, aren't a lot different to Thailand.
Sunday 26th March 2017
The irony of doing this is that in those periods when I have the most to write about, I have least time to write. I am desperately trying to get back on track, but that may not fully happen until the kids start the new school term in May.
After my computer unexpectedly blew up recently, giving no signs prior to the explosion that there were any pending problems, I had to install a lot of stuff on my daughter's PC so that I could use it. It was a cheap machine, but apart from being a bit slow (and having an Anna and Elsa screensaver looking back at me), I could do all I needed with the exception of photo editing because the screen is low quality.
I then started the search for a new machine. My old computer was an all-in-one (AIO) design, as is my daughter's. They are fine for general purposes, compact, and convenient because they contain everything in one package. I started looking at other AIO systems, but there were a few things I wanted that these machines didn't have.
For example, I really wanted a solid state drive (SSD). Hard disk drive (HDD) technology is now 60 years old. The technology has been improved over the years and HDDs these days are faster and more reliable, but with a spinning platter and an actuator flying in and out they are the major bottle neck with computer speed. Also, because they have moving parts they are prone to failure. SSDs are quite cheap now, but very few pre-built machines use them. I guess the manufacturers still have a big stock of HDDs to use up. I also wanted 8GB of random access memory (RAM) and most machines I looked at had 4GB.
After much deliberation I decided to have a machine custom built. Doing it this way enabled me to get the specifications I wanted at a fairly low cost. The first quote I got was from a retailer called JIB. However, they seem to cater mainly to customers who want machines for gaming and a lot of their components were for this purpose. The quote was also quite high - around Bt40,000.
Another shop I went to didn't have what I wanted, but recommended a shop called Advice for a custom built machine. There is a branch in Hat Yai and I went along to see what they could offer. They were actually very good. The sales assistant I spoke to knew his stuff and was able to offer several different opitions. He also made recommendations when I wasn't sure about something.
The end product has exceeded my expectations. I thought that my old machine was fast enough, but I had obviously just got used to its speed because compared to a current machine it was very slow. My old routine was to turn it on in the morning and then go to the bathroom. By the time I returned it was almost ready to use, but the HDD was still clacking away. The new machine is ready to use in about 20 seconds from turning it on and everything is blisteringly fast.
The only problem is that it won't pick up a Wi-Fi signal because the signal is too weak. The sales assistant recommended an external unit, but I thought that an internal unit would reduce clutter on my desk. The internal one can't be seen, but unfortunately neither can it see the Wi-Fi signal. I have gone back to using a wired connection, but this has given me another surprise.
Earlier this year I upgraded my router so that I could increase the connection speed from 18 Mbps to 30 Mbps. When I checked the actual speed this morning it was 55 Mbps. My ISP keeps upgrading the network for free. When I originally signed up the agreement was for 6 Mbps, which was then increased at no charge to 10 Mbps and then to 18 Mbps. Now, it seems they have upraded the 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps and I am actually getting in excess of that.
I now have the fastest computer I have ever owned, and also the largest monitor. I opted for a 27" AOC I2781FH monitor because I wanted a decent monitor for photo editing. If anything, it is a bit too big, but it's better than being too small. The design is attractive, it's very slim, the picture quality is good, and it wasn't too expensive.
The AIO system had internal speakers, but the volume was very low and they were distorted. I bought external speakers for the new machine and they too are a big improvement. I can now actually hear the sound on YouTube videos.
The total cost was about the same as I paid seven years ago for my AIO system, but this system is far superior in every way. Both systems were cheaper than what I paid for my first computer some time in the mid 90's and comparing that system to a current machine would be like comparing a Ford Model T to a Porsche 918. It's taken me a couple of days to install all the software, plug-ins and features I had before and to customise everything how I want it.
A friend in the UK recently referred to me as a technology Luddite. I was a bit offended because that's certainly not how I feel about technology. The technology we have nowadays is a wonderful thing and I wouldn't be able to live in Thailand like I do without being able to do so much on-line. I just have a few reservations about the way that some people use technology.
Firstly, it saddens me that so many people these days seem to concentrate on their virtual lives rather than their real ones. Secondly, when I came to Thailand to live I started to think more about life and the human condition, and I started to find out about Buddhism.
Buddhism talks about the dangers of grasping and craving because these things lead to a state of unsatisfactoriness. We live in a world where there is a never-ending stream of products being produced and we are subjected to enormous amounts of 'lifestyle' advertising.
I regard this as dangerous because once you give in to the temptation it never stops. There will always be something more that you want and therefore you will never be satisfied with life. I have trained myself not to want things, but possibly I have gone too far. One of the problems I have always found in life is getting the right balance.
Buddhism refers to the middle path, which is all about balance and avoiding extremes. The Buddha was a prince at birth, but that kind of privileged life wasn't satifactory. He then went completely the opposite way and lived the life of an ascetic, carrying austerity to the uttermost, but that life too wasn't satisfactory. He suffered great pain and hunger and his body became extremely unhealthy. He finally decided, "These austerities are not the way to enlightenment."
Had my old computer now blown up I would simply have kept using it, but I would never have found out how much faster and better a new system would have been. Instead, I only replaced it when it was necessary to replace it. Readjusting my attitudes a little bit is probably something that I need to do.
Thirdly, there is so much hate in the world these days and it is being spread by technology and social media. I worked in Saudi Arabia for a month in 1982, when there was no Internet or social media. It was an amazing experience and there wasn't a single issue at that time with the Muslim world. Compare that with the world today.
My job was to conduct directional surveys of bore holes (oil wells), of which there are quite a few in Saudia Arabia, and the wireline crews that assisted were made up of locals. They were friendly guys and it was their custom to hold hands with each other. This came as a bit of a shock to the Westerners working there when an Arab guy wanted to hold hands, but it was nothing to be concerned about.
They also made lunch on site, but they didn't use plates, knive, forks or spoons to eat it with. They would put their right hands directly into the pot to scoop up a handful of food, look up to the sky, and then squeeze the contents straight into their mouths. This was considered hygienic because they used their left hands when going to the toilet. As I say, at that time there weren't any problems whatsoever with the Muslim world.
When I worked in the States some year later my new colleagues were some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met. When it comes to hospitality, Americans are hard to beat.
I still keep in touch with one of the guys and he forwards e-mails regularly. I was obliged to respond to one he send a week or two ago because it completely misrepresented the Muslim world. It basically described all Muslim people as being Muslim terrorists which, of course, isn't correct.
I replied, explaining to him how me and my wife don't get any help from grandparents with our children, and that the only help we get is from neighbours who happen to be Muslim. Living where I do, where there are a lot of moderate Muslims, has given me a completely different outlook. I'm not sure how he reacted to my reply because he didn't reply again. He is a thoroughly good person, but the view he has of Muslims is very one-sided and inaccurate.
The news we hear about Muslims every day isn't generally very positive and the bad impressions that so many people already have only get reinforced when there is so much hatred being spread on-line. The big buzzword on the Internet now is 'false news', but even if facts aren't false, they can be selectively edited to create a certain impression.
The rate of change with technology in the last 30 years has been staggering and it only accelerates faster with each year that passes. Many problems in the world have been caused because we haven't dealt very well with such a rapid rate of change. It's getting better, but we still aren't there yet.
When I was teaching English in Thailand I occasionally received assignments from students that had obviously been written in Thai and then passed through an on-line translation application. Not only were they complete nonsense, but I could recognise some word patterns as being Thai and I had a pretty good idea what had happened.
If you just translate Thai to English on a word-by-word basis it doesn't make any sense. One reason is that Thai is very idiomatic and the same words used in different ways, and in conjunction with various other words, can mean very different things. There are also some single Thai words that, depending on the context in which they are used, have very different meanings in English.
For effective translation you need to understand the context and be able to translate using the appropriate word in English. Automated translation applications can't do this.
My wife and I took the children to a local floating market yesterday and I was most amused to see the following sign. I knew why the sign said 'Pig machine in' and I knew what it meant (I could also read the Thai version), but I thought that explaining it would be a useful addition to my 'Learning To Read Thai' tutorials.
Does anyone fancy a nice bowl of stewed pig machine in?
Here's the link with the explanation: Funny translations
I am aware that these tutorials don't appeal to many people. They don't get many visitors and one previous reader told me that he just skipped over anything to do with learning to read Thai in this blog. He lived in Thailand permanently and this attitude of stubbornly refusing to learn to read the local language struck me as being quite odd when you live somewhere permanently. Why would someone choose to be illiterate in the country where they live when, with a little effort, they could learn to read to a basic level? This attitude isn't uncommon, and it is an 'attitude' issue because everyone has the 'ability' to learn if they put their mind to it.
I was sitting in a temple a few weeks ago waiting for my daughter to finish school while making friends with the feline inhabitants when I got chatting to a Thai woman whose young son was a novice monk at the temple. Her husband was also there and I assumed that he was Thai because he spoke Thai very well, but actually he was Malaysian. He had lived in Thailand for 30 years and although he could speak well, he couldn't read or write. When his wife told me this, while simultaneously raising her eyebrows to the sky, I sensed that she wasn't very impressed.
My six year-old daughter now reads and writes Thai very well and she has only been studying for about three years. Her ability now surpasses my own. Her spelling is a lot better than mine and she gets the tones right every time, which I don't. Even if you spend a whole week on a single vowel or consonant it will only take just over a year to learn everything and, actually, you can learn a lot quicker. After I started to teach myself, I was able to read quite a lot after about six months.
I really find it strange that so many long term expats in Thailand can't read, especially when reading basic Thai is quite easy. If I can read basic Thai, then it can't be that difficult.
Wednesday 15th March 2017
Some philosophising today. As I get older, I find myself thinking more about the bigger picture of life. It's not something I was ever taught at school and I don't think that young people are generally very interested, but I think it's quite important. This post may seem even stranger than my regular posts, but there is always a lot on my mind and this is where I share my thoughts.
I wrote in a Google+ post how I had been accosted by an Indian guy who insisted on telling my fortune. He told me that I could give him whatever I wanted, but at the end he made it clear that he wanted Bt3,000. He told me that if I couldn't afford this, Bt2,000 or even a paltry Bt1,000 would be acceptable. I gave him Bt100, which was more than I intended at first, and he wasn't at all happy. The guy was just a charlatan.
One of the things he told me was that I was going to have good luck in March. So far, that hasn't happened - quite the opposite, in fact. I'm writing this on my daughter's computer because my computer blew up a few days ago. There was an electrical crackling sound from the UPS unit, lots of bleeping sounds, and everything went dead.
Neither the UPS nor the computer would come to life again. A fault had developed in one of the units and both expired at the same time. I took my PC to a repair centre yesterday and they told me that the main circuit board needs replacing. There will be a two month wait for the part and it will cost around Bt20,000.
The machine is almost seven years old and if I get it repaired the hard disk will probably fail soon. It's not worth getting repaired and so I will have to buy another. It was fine for what I needed and this is quite disappointing, but these things happen. Fortunately, I had backed up all the data a few hours before it blew up. You never know when a computer is going to fail and it's always a good idea to make frequent backups.
With the exchange rate being so bad and money being tight I will now have to put off a new camera purchase to fund a new computer. I was really looking forward to getting a new camera, but mai bpen rai. Shit happens, as they say.
I picked up my car today after nearly four weeks of not having it. It had a few dents and dings when I bought it in 2010 and these have been added to over the years courtesy of young motorcyclists weaving through traffic at high speed and people who are unable to park their cars in car parks without hitting other cars. In addition, the paintwork has faded because of the intense sunlight in Thailand.
I have spent a fortune on mechanical repairs since I've owned it, but nothing on bodywork. My brother-in-law owns a vehicle body shop repair centre and he has just given the bodywork a complete refurbishment. The car has never look this good - probably since it was new.
Strangely, when the car wasn't here I didn't miss it at all and when I heard it was finished I didn't really want it back. The first reason is that I don't enjoy driving in Thailand because driving here is generally very unpleasant.
The second reason is that because of its age it will continue to be a money pit. Recently, I had another Bt13,000 bill for a broken engine mount and things never stop going wrong with cars once they get to a certain age.
The problem for me is that I can't choose whether to have a car or not. We are dependent on having a car and a car has yet to be designed that will be available every single day. If we had just my wife's car there would be times when it was unavailable and that would give us a problem. Also, her car has very little storage space and isn't suitable for long journeys.
All I seemed to do last year was replace and repair things that had gone wrong. This year, with my computer being the latest casualty, it seemed just like a continuation of last year and I had attributed it to bad luck. But is it really bad luck, or is this just normal?
When I lived in an apartment building in Thailand very little went wrong. But I had very little to go wrong. There was almost nothing in the room to go wrong and, when it did, I just told the apartment manager because I wasn't responsible for anything in a rented room.
Now, as a result of marriage and children, I have so much more that - of course - I will have a lot more problems. In my apartment I had one bathroom that I wasn't responsible for. Now I have three full bathrooms, one half bathroom, and I am totally responsible for all of them. Last year I fixed lots of plumbing problems.
In my apartment I had one A/C unit that I wasn't responsible for. Now, I have six A/C units and I have to pay for all the cleaning and servicing. I used to have one computer. Now, my daughter has a computer, and my wife has an iPad and an iPhone, which is basically a very small, but powerful computer.
The more you own, the more there is to go wrong, and by accumulating more and more material possessions we just build prisons for ourselves.
I am currently reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The quote from this book, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," is one of my favourites, but this is the first time I have read the book from which it comes.
It's not an easy book to read, for several reasons, but it is very interesting and there are parallels with Buddhism. To get an understanding of society, Thoreau had to live outside of society. He built himself a little 10' x 15' cabin in the woods and just concentrated on the necessities of life (he uses 'necessaries' as a noun, but the book was published in 1854 and the style of language is very different to today). He had very few personal possessions and never bothered to lock his door.
When men ordain as Buddhist monks they give up all their worldly possessions so that they can get a better understanding of the nature of life and the human condition. It is so easy these days to get caught up in things that are trivial and irrelevant. This morning, while looking at some computer reviews before I purchase a new machine, I was comparing the differences between Intel i5 and Intel i7 processors. Pathetic.
I look at an on-line camera gear forum occasionally and there are many men whose whole lives seem to revolve around trivial and irrelevant matters, such as this. In a couple of years' time today's technology will be prehistoric, anyway, so who cares?
The things that many of us worry and fret about these days are completely trivial and I think that many people have lost sight of living in the real world. Every time I go out I see groups of young Thais sitting around all staring into the mobile phones. That isn't living.
The problem for me - and this was never a problem for Thoreau - was the feeling of loneliness. Thoreau lived as an ascetic puritan, never married, and was childless. He obviously had a huge intellect and living as he did he was able to satisfy himself intellectually.
His sexuality was undetermined and there is no evidence that he ever had sexual encounters with anyone. He explains how people can feel lonely even if they have company and devotes an entire chapter to solitude. He has visitors come to the cabin, but there are no neighbours nearby, and he never feels lonely.
Had I been the same as Thoreau, I would now probably still be living in an apartment building and trying to work out how to spend my accumulated wealth.
As it turned out I got married, had two kids, and am now solely responsible not only for three other people and two cats, but also for a long list of 'life accessories' that society determines are necessary when you have a wife and two kids.
I've always loved Thoreau's 'Mass of men' quote because it sums up so much that is true with so few words. I was quite unusual earlier in my life not to get married. Most of my friends got married early and had children. I saw the change in them and sensed that they weren't entirely happy, but there was nothing they could do. That feeling, where you can do nothing, leads to a sense of desperation but as you can do nothing there isn't any point saying anything so you just remain quiet and get on with life.
Another one of my favourite sayings is, "You can have anything, but you can't have everything." I could have had a very trouble-free life, but there would have been continued isolation and solitude.
The life I chose has no problems with isolation, solitude or loneliness, but it also meant accumulating a lot of material possessions and taking on lots of responsibility. You can have anything, but you can't have everything. Everyone, on an individual level, must choose what it is they want out of life because having everything isn't an option. And it's no use asking someone else, because only you know what it is that you want.
I still see people now who think they can have everything, but this attitude will only lead to disappoint eventually. It is exacerbated by the media and I feel quite strongly about so-called bucket lists. These lists of things you MUST do and places you MUST visit before you die.
Contentment in life has a lot to do with the appropriate setting of expectations and goals. We all need to have expectations and set goals, but when these are unachieveable it just means being disappointed.
Perhaps you wonder about what expats in Thailand do and think about all day. I realise that I am probably an exception, but it isn't beaches, massages and cocktails all day. I did that stuff when I was a tourist, but living in Thailand is very different, especially if you get involved with one of the locals and start a family. Also, your thoughts and priorities about life also change as you get older.
Then again, before I did get involved I often felt like I was living on the outside of life and looking in at other people's lives through a window. I have responsibilities now, but there is also satisfaction, contentment and companionship. Once again, it's a case of being able to have anything, but not everything.
Sunday 12th March 2017
Most Thais probably don't realise, but I can understand everything they say about me. The comments aren't normally derogatory, but in recent weeks I have found myself getting quite upset about a certain term and how it is used.
Thais have a name for white Caucasians. The origin isn't completely clear and there are a number of theories, which I won't go into now. It's a word I hear every day and a word that I use myself quite a lot when referring to people like me in Thailand. Even though I use it myself, I get quite upset at times when I hear Thais using it to refer to me. Black people use the 'n' amongst themselves, but take great offense if someone else uses it to refer to them. I am, of course, referring to the 'f' word.
ฝรั่ง - farang
As far as Thais are concerned, it is a perfectly legitimate and acceptable term for Westerners. According to Thais I have spoken to it's 'just what I am'.
A magazine written by farangs for farangs in Pattaya
According to Thais, we farangs speak paasaa farang (even though there is no such language), and we eat aahaan farang (Western food). I have seen signs outside restaurants written in Thai advertising aahaan farang.
The term farang is legitimised in the Thai language. An indigenous vegetable called mun is a kind of yam with edible tubers, while potatoes (the Western version) are called mun farang.
It used to be a tradition in Thailand to chew betel and some older Thais, my wife's mother included, still chew it. It is called maak in Thai. When chewing gum was introduced into Thailand from the West and the Thais needed a new word to describe it they called it maak farang. Not quite the same thing, but you can see the logic.
The first problem I have is that the English language has hundreds (probably thousands) of terms for people of different races, nationalities, religions, etc. Not a single one of these terms is acceptable; they are ALL derogatory.
There is no way I could justify calling a German person a 'kraut' or a French person a 'frog' (there are hundreds of other examples I could use) by simply explaining 'it's just what they are'. This explanation would NOT be acceptable.
When I used to teach English in Thailand, my boss (a fellow Englishman) had an enormous problem with a South African who he employed because her students constantly referred to her as farang. His theory as to why she got so upset was that she equated its use in Thailand to using kaffir in South Africa, which is an extremely offensive term for black South Africans.
Simply put, in the English language there are no slang terms for people of other races that are acceptable. They are ALL offensive.
Thais have terms for people of other races and, likewise, these are also offensive and unacceptable. I have heard these terms used by Thais about other people, but they wouldn't be used to someone's face.
For example, the word jek is a derogatory Thai term for Chinese people (the equivalent of chink or chinky in English) and the word kairk (meaning 'guest') is a derogatory Thai term for Indians, Middle Easterners, Muslims, etc.
These terms are unacceptable in Thailand but, for some reason, farang is completely acceptable and widely used. I don't know why.
That word again
As I was walking past an open air food shop recently I heard a guy say farang to the women he was with. I went back and asked him what he wanted (ao arai ?). He told me nothing. I then told him in Thai that if he didn't want anything there was no need to say anything. I walked off and heard the women falling about laughing.
Firstly, there is absolutely no need to make a comment when someone of a different race walks past. What purpose does it serve? Secondly, he knows I'm a farang, I know I'm a farang, and his women friends know I am a farang. Everyone knows, so what is the point of saying anything?
A similar thing happened a few days later when I walked into a shop to ask about the price of something outside. The shopkeeper didn't see me, but a female customer did and felt the need to announce me with the 'f' word. Once again, I got really annoyed.
If Thais really do have a need to announce me as a foreign person they can do it in a much more respectful and polite way - chaaw-dtaang-chaat or chaaw-dtaang-bpratet. I often point this out to them, but they always prefer farang.
Another guy recently approached me on the street with the greeting, "Hello farang." This just made me laugh and I didn't get upset. We got talking and he tried to sell me a plot of land he wanted to sell. I don't get upset if they use it to my face, but I don't like Thais using it among themselves to refer to me behind my back.
This term is never going to go away in Thailand. One reason is that Thais regard it as being perfectly acceptable and not offensive. Another reason is that there is no political correctness in Thailand. In Western countries political correctness now means that people are terrified to use slang terms to refer to foreigners for fear of being branded as racists, but Thais don't have this fear.
I am fully aware of this and therefore I know there is no point taking offense when Thais use it to refer to me, but there are still occasions when it upsets me.
As a foreigner living in Thailand there are lots of minor irritations that you simply have to accept, and this is one of them.
Friday 10th March 2017
The effect of the post-Brexit UK pound to Thai Baht exchange rate on my expenditure means that I now have to think carefully about every purchase I make. Hopefully this situation won't last forever, but the exchange rate probably won't recover to pre-Brexit levels until at least the end of 2018.
According to this report by Deutsche Bank, the UK pound is undervalued by about 15% and the Thai Baht is overvalued by about 2%. When this situation corrects itself it should give some cheer to British expats living in Thailand on an income from the UK.
When I asked my daughter what she wanted for her birthday last week she told me Lego. It's a great toy. All of my kids' other toys get broken and end up as junk very quickly, but Lego goes on and on. I played with it as a kid and it's one of those toys that never goes out of fashion. It's good for developing motor skills and it encourages kids to think and be creative, which the Thai education system fails to do.
Unfortunately, genuine Lego is very expensive in Thailand compared to Western countries and there is only a limited selection. In the past I have ordered Lego train sets from Germany.
In this part of the world there are a lot of cheap Lego knock-offs from China. I have avoided these cheap imitations in the past, but a neighbour bought some for her daughter and it looked fine. It is about a third to a quarter of the price of genuine Lego.
I'm not sure how legal it is, not that the legality of anything ever makes a difference in Thailand. Some cheap Chinese Lego-like sets are sold by Central department store, a very reputable retail outlet that I doubt would sell illegal goods.
The way that it is branded is quite outrageous. It isn't branded as Lego, so it isn't counterfeit, but genuine Lego is obviously what it is based on. One brand, Cogo, even has a four-letter name ending in 'go'. The bricks are the same size and colour as Lego bricks and the characters are obviously copies of genuine Lego products. Even the color and the shape of the boxes are copied. I don't know whether these Chinese products infringe upon Lego patents, or not. I doubt that Lego is very happy about these products.
I sat down with my daughter yesterday to assemble the set I bought her. The quality isn't the same as genuine Lego, but it's not bad. Putting together some parts required a lot of effort and it was far too difficult for a six year-old girl.
Occasionally I see publicity stunts in Thailand in which counterfeit goods are crushed with a heavy roller, but there is a huge counterfeiting and copying industry in this part of the world.
Anello bags from Japan are very popular with Thai girls. My wife bought an original one and it cost about Bt2,000, but she also bought a fake for about Bt600. The local markets here are full of well-made fakes and I can't tell the difference.
I would much prefer to buy genuine Lego and if I could buy it in Thailand for the same price that I could in Europe or the USA I would, but money is tight at the moment and certain products in Thailand are very expensive. Most Thais can't afford to choose between buying originals and buying fakes. Salaries are very low in Thailand and always buying original goods simply isn't an option.
Tourists also buy fake goods. On my first trip to Thailand I bought a fake Rolex watch, but it soon stopped working and of course I couldn't get it repaired. Some fakes are very poor, but some are actually quite good. Tourists should be aware that if they return home with fake goods they might have some issues with their local customs authorities.
Buying fake goods certainly doesn't seem to bother people here and there is no apparent awareness that it isn't a victimless crime. People look at quality and price and if these two items are satisfactory they will buy, regardless of whether something is genuine or not.
One sector that has really been cleaned up is computer sales. Just a few years ago, every computer in every computer shop was sold with an unlicensed operating system and a huge suite of illegal software applications. That is no longer the case.
Most computers seem to be sold with a free operating system, such as DOS, and if they have a copy of Windows it will be a genuine licensed version. It is still possible to buy unlicensed operating systems and software applications from small traders inside some of the local markets, but not from the more visible retail stores.
Thailand is well known as a counterfeiting centre and Thais are certainly clever at producing copies. I have read news stories in the past about fake Ferrari and Porsche cars being built in Bangkok. However, most fake articles being sold in Thailand appear to come in from China and elsewhere.
The accoutrements that Thai boy racers decorate their vehicles with are also mainly fake. The extra exhaust tailpipes sticking out of the back are fake, as are the Brembo brake calipers that all Thai men aspire to own.
Not Lego - do you think it looks vaguely similar?
Fake Anello bag
Fake Anello bag
I believe this Nissan is actually genuine, but that Ferrari for sale might not be
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