Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 19th May 2017
Just a quick update to say I am still around, however, life is a tad busy at the moment and I have had to put my on-line activities on the backburner for a while.
After two trips to Bangkok so far this month and one last month for my daughter's medical condition, I have another planned next week, another in June for an operation, and there will be more after that. Both kids also started the new term at school this week.
When I don't have time to do all the things that I want to do I have to prioritise my activities and, naturally, my children's health and education have to come first. The Thai 'education' system places a lot of demand on parents (at least, it does at my children's school) and although the health system is very good, when you require the best skills in Thailand it inevitably means going to Bangkok - in my case, frequently.
I'm not the only one. My wife spoke to another child at my daughter's school who has the same problem as our daughter and she also goes to Bangkok for treatment. A few days ago I asked a health professional if she knew of any good doctors locally for this problem. She told me that it was necessary to go to Bangkok. I was previously in touch with an Englishman living in Chiang Mai whose son has the same problem and he went to Bangkok to see the doctor who we see. In Thailand the best of the best is always in Bangkok.
Fortunately, with so many budget airlines in Thailand nowadays there are some great deals and you can fly around the country quite cheaply. The flights I have booked for my June trip were less than Bt1,000 each way including all the taxes and surcharges.
It was very different when I first arrived in Thailand. The only option back then was Thai Airways and fares were expensive. That all changed in 2004 when the budget airline boom commenced. Nowadays, lots of Thais fly around the country and domestic flights are always full. If you plan ahead a little and look out for promotional fares there are some real bargains.
I was going to say that life is difficult, but everything is relative. Yes, life is more difficult than usual at the moment, but still a lot easier than many other people's lives.
There was a young girl at the hospital on Monday who was about the same age as my daughter, who is six. She was lying down in a buggy and couldn't do anything. She couldn't speak or walk and she couldn't even drink. Her mother fed her water using a syringe.
I don't know what was wrong with her, but it didn't seem as if it was treatable. She and her parents have difficult lives, whereas my family is far more fortunate.
On a previous visit to the hospital we met another young girl who was in a really bad way. She had been hit by a truck and the truck driver seemed to think that he would be in less trouble if the girl couldn't say anything about what had happened.
He reversed and drove his truck back over her to try to end her life. He didn't succeed, but he did succeed in destroying her body. She was left unable to walk and without any toilet functions. Her brain was fine and she was a chatty, chirpy character. This was amazing considering what she had been through.
Since my daughter was born I have spent a lot of time in Thai hospitals. It is far more time than I ever wanted to spend in Thai hospitals, but some of the patients I have seen have really helped to put life into perspective.
Last week a policeman in the UK was in trouble for ranting on-line about the problems he has with local youths. I think many people felt sorry for him, but it can't be easy being a youngster these days. The opportunities I had when I left school in the 1970's for employment and home ownership no longer exist and many youngsters must feel quite desperate these days.
I sometimes hear people say that national service should be reintroduced (it still exists in Thailand) because a dose of military discipline would be good for youngsters, but I'm not so sure.
Based on my experience these past few years I would suggest that some compulsory national health service would be a lot more beneficial. A year or two working in the national health service would lighten the burden for health carers who already have too much to do, it would give youngsters a sense of purpose, and if they suffer from self-pity and think their lives are so bad, meeting people who genuinely suffer in life would help them to put their own lives into perspective.
It will never happen, of course, but it is just another one of my idle whims.
I'm not sure when I'm going to get back on track, but it could be at least a couple months - the same amount of time that my daughter will be wearing casts.
And just one more thing on that subject. Wearing casts is an important part of my daughter's treatment. It doesn't look very nice and it is unusual to see a young child with both legs in casts. Nonetheless, if you see such a child it isn't necessary to stare open-mouthed as if you have just witnessed the most shocking thing you have ever seen in your life.
Quite a few Thais did this in Bangkok and also (surprisingly) so did a few farang tourists. Staring is quite common in Thailand and I am stared at fairly frequently just for being what I am, that is, a non-Asian living in Asia. It doesn't bother me that much and when it does bother me I can make my feelings known in Thai, which I sometimes do. However, a young child doesn't know how to respond and it just makes the child feel self-conscious. I could have thumped a few people last week.
Thursday 11th May 2017
It's never a good idea to generalise too much about Thailand and the Thais, but there are certain patterns of behaviour that I have observed repeatedly since living in Thailand.
I've written elsewhere about the cultural concept of poot ao jai, which basically means saying something because it is what the other person wants to hear. Westerners tell harmless 'white lies' for the same purpose, but it goes much further in Thailand than simply telling your wife her new dress is attractive.
Some Thai tradesmen will tell you they will come back tomorrow, at a set time, when they have absolutely no intention of doing so. They only tell you they will because that is what you want to hear. Over the years I have wasted many days waiting indoors for Thai tradesmen who never show up.
However, there are also reasons why they don't show up.
A few weeks ago I noticed some termite damage in my house. I called the pest control company with whom I had previously signed a three year contract. In addition to scheduled maintenance, the contract states that they will fix any termite problems.
They told us when they would come, but didn't show up and didn't contact us. My wife called them and asked when they were coming. They said today. Again, they didn't show up, but at least they called my wife to tell her. When she spoke to them she got the impression that they simply weren't interested.
When I used to teach English in Thailand I was never paid in advance. I always had to do a month's work first before I got paid. Thais apply their own standards to foreigners and they do this because they know that if Thais are paid in advanced they then lose interest in actually doing the work.
There is no real concept of customer service in Thailand. Every interaction with customers is about money, and only money, and once the money is handed over the service stops.
In the process of buying my house I had some questions and requests before handing over the money. The sales reps, who were all temporary employees and could think of no more than their sales commission, would promise the world. Nothing I asked for was ever a problem.
"Well, the sun sets a little early in this part of the world and I can't get much done outside in the evenings. Could you arrange to put it back an hour?"
"No problem. Just sign the contract for the house and we'll arrange it straight away."
After I had paid for the house and moved in it was all a very different story. No one was interested in fixing any problems and when a worker reluctantly turned up a few days later he only wanted to do half a job and then leave as quickly as possible.
I was aware, of course, that termites are a problem in Thailand and spoke to a company who offered me a three year contract. My understanding was that they would treat the ground under the house once a year, perform regular two-monthly checks, and fix any problems. In addition to the peace of mind, I believed that signing a three year contract would save me money.
They gave me a nice printed schedule showing the dates on which they would come to perform each service.
Everything started well after I had paid my Bt14,000. They treated the ground under the house and then came back two months later to spray around the house and check for any termite damage. Whenever they came I signed the schedule to show the work had been done.
Carrying out the first underground treatment
But after the first year they just stopped coming. For several months I just forgot about the service, but after I remembered I called them up. When they eventually showed up they just sprayed around the house for 10 minutes and left.
I asked when they were going to treat the ground under the house again and they said they weren't. This, apparently, only happened once at the start of the three year contract. I expressed my disappointment and they agreed to change it. They treated the ground for a second time.
However, the regular checks stopped again. This year, year three, they should have done another ground treatment and come in January and March to spray and check. They didn't. Now I have a termite problem and they are being very unreliable.
In the same way that Thais apply their standards to foreigners I tend to do the same with Thais. If I signed a three year contract with a company in the UK I would trust them to honour their side of the contract. In Thailand, however, everything is different.
My three year contract has now expired. I reported the termite problem before it expired so they are obliged to fix the problem, but I won't be renewing the contract.
To get the ground treated costs between Bt4,000 and Bt5,000 each time. I think I will just get this done on an ad hoc basis once a year, preferably with a company that will give me a guarantee and fix any problems. I have pipes under my house specifically for this purpose.
Termite treatment pipe
Termites are nasty. They burrow up from underground and they are completely silent and invisible. You never see or hear them, and by the time you discover them they have normally done significant damage.
If you have a property in Thailand it is a good idea to guard against termites because they can do so much damage and because they are difficult to eradicate once they are in. Even if your property doesn't have pipes specifically for this treatment, the pest control companies can inject chemicals into the ground around the house with special equipment.
My other piece of advice is to use caution when considering taking out long term contracts in Thailand. Companies will talk very enthusiastically about the benefits of long term contracts and it might seem like a good way to save money, but my experience has shown that once Thais have your money they quickly lose interest in performing the work they were contracted to do.
Tuesday 9th May 2017
There are millions of small Japanese motorbikes in Thailand and they have performed the same role for Asia's poor masses as did the Ford Model T and Volkswagen Beetle for working class people in other parts of the world. They provide a reliable means of transport for people who can afford no other means of transport.
Unlike India, men don't receive a dowry in Thailand when they marry (quite the reverse, actually), but brides often come with a motorbike. Mine did.
My wife never thought to have her bike serviced and about six years ago I thought this would be a good idea so I took it in for an inspection and oil change.
Since then it has been neglected further and recently I had the tyres replace and the engine and transmission oil changed. The cost was Bt1,500. To have the same things done on my car would cost about Bt30,000.
It sips fuel and to fill the tank only costs around Bt80. The bike is used very little and a tank of fuel lasts for weeks. To fill my car costs Bt1,200 and the fuel never seems to last for long.
Despite all the neglect the bike starts every time and has never broken down. It has needed a few repairs, but these have been ridiculously cheap. On a few occasions I've had things fixed and the guy asked for just Bt30, which I found quite embarrassing. When my car needs repairs the bill is always over Bt10,000, sometimes a long way over.
This was drawn by one of my students when I was teaching
Annual inspections, road tax and mandatory Por Ror Bor government insurance for the bike are also very cheap.
As I mentioned previously, most Thais have very small incomes. Transportation is a necessity and so there has to be a way of providing them with affordable vehicles. This is why there are so many Japanese motorbikes in the country.
The bike is also quite enjoyable to ride. Cars have their obvious advantages, and for many Thais the main reason is that they are an important status symbol, but inside a car you don't connect with the area you are in the same way as you do on a bike.
If you need to transport passengers or luggage, it is never a problem for Thais. No matter how many people there are or how much shopping you have, they will find a way to get everyone and everything on the bike.
Five on a bike
However, there is one minor problem. Thailand has the second most lethal roads in the world, and most of the people killed on Thailand's roads are motorcyclists.
Thailand is actually number one in the world for motorcycle accidents, as the following sign explains.
Thailand has the highest number of motorcycle accidents in the world
The bikes aren't inherently dangerous in themselves, but the way that some people ride them makes them very dangerous. Sometimes I do the school run in the morning and to see how some Thai high school kids ride their motorbikes makes me feel ill. They obviously have no fear of death at all.
Also, motorbikes offer no protection in the event of a collision. Using a vehicle that offers no protection in a country that has such a high road fatality rate and which has so many lunatic drivers is therefore not always a good idea.
A British woman living in Phuket has just been killed on a motorbike in the same part of Phuket where my brother lives. If there is anything as bad as the way that Thais drive, it is the way that they park. They will (and do) park anywhere.
The owner of a restaurant where my brother likes to eat was killed when she was riding her bike and collided with a parked truck. In this latest fatality, the bike the woman was riding on pulled out to overtake a vehicle parked in the bike lane and was hit by a large truck. As is usual, the driver of the truck did a runner. In news reports of road fatalities in Thailand the term 'the driver fled the scene' is very, very common.
I don't know if she was wearing a crash helmet - many motorcyclists don't in Thailand and it is extremely rare to see a pillion passenger wearing a helmet - but even if she was it wouldn't have given much protection against a large truck. She was pregnant, so effectively two people died, even if one was unborn.
I have driven to Phuket on a few occasions to visit my driver and driven around the island. It is a horrendous place to drive. Thais usually drive fast and aggressively, but I found that in Phuket the driving is even faster and more aggressive than usual.
Phuket also has some very challenging roads with sharp curves and steep inclines. When you combine these factors with fast, reckless, incompetent driving and also possibly heavy rain and slippery surfaces it is a disaster waiting to happen.
Many foreigners who go to live in Thailand temporarily or permanently ride motorbikes. As I described above, bikes have lots of advantages and there are lots of good reasons for riding them.
However, if you do, you need to exercise a huge amount of caution. Thais do things on the road that you will never see in a country where people obey traffic laws and you have to learn to expect anything. For example, if you are first at a set of traffic lights never set off immediately as the lights turn green. Thais routinely run red lights and you have to wait for the last person to run the light before going. I have watched horrifying CCTV footage on Thai TV news of motorcyclists being hit by pickup trucks running red lights.
I have also seen many motorbike accidents with my own eyes, which were caused by the motorcyclists or other vehicles travelling too fast and running red lights. One accident, involving two young kids on a bike who were driving as if they were competing in the Isle of Man TT, was particularly nasty.
On a couple of occasions I have also driven past the scene of an accident that has just happened and seen a white sheet covering the victim. This is really not a good sign.
A regular motorbike accident in Thailand
One accident that I witnessed was quite serious
A frequent daily event in Thailand
So many road accidents in Thailand
I have been told by teachers, parents and university lecturers that large education institutions in Thailand lose a handful of students each year to motorbike accidents. Thousands of people in Thailand die in motorbike accidents each year.
Bikes can be a lot of fun, they are cheap to buy and maintain, and they provide a great way of seeing the country. But never forget the statistics or the risks involved. They can also be extremely dangerous.
Sunday 7th May 2017
To avoid any misunderstandings I will use the British English term 'lift' in this post, which is the equivalent of the term 'elevator' in Americanese. The two things are the same.
Apart from the obvious act of not farting in lifts, there is also an unwritten list of lift etiquette that most civilised people observe. This list doesn't need to be taught because people with any degree of consideration for others will do what is necessary without being told. However, there are still some people around who have no consideration for others.
A few days ago I went on a family shopping trip to Tops supermarket at Central Festival. On the way back to the car park I was carrying my daughter because she has casts on her legs and my wife was pushing a heavy shopping trolley. Our three year-old was running ahead and, as usual, being quite difficult to control.
My wife pushed the lift button and after a minute or so a lift arrived. The doors opened, our son ran in, and before we'd had a chance to do anything else the doors closed and the lift disappeared.
This caused great concern. We weren't sure where the stairs were, didn't know which floor the lift would stop at, and didn't know whether our son would get out when the doors opened or stay inside. My wife went to find him and, fortunately, found him very quickly. She then burst into tears.
I am 99.9% sure that this happened because a woman inside the lift was pressing the button to close the doors as soon as they opened.
After being reunited with our son we waited for another lift. I went inside first so that I could hold the doors open while everyone else got inside. As I was pushing the button to hold the doors open, a young Thai male of about 20 was repeatedly pressing the button to close the doors despite there being people outside waiting to get inside the lift.
In my first few years in Southeast Asia I spent a lot of time in Singapore and this was a common problem there. Lift doors would open, but immediately close again because someone was pushing the button inside.
I tried to cast my mind back to my days in the UK to see if I could remember problems like this. I couldn't, but it is probably because I used lifts so seldomly.
Singapore is a tiny little island with a population of almost six million people and because there is so little land everything is built vertically. Every building is high rise and subsequently there are lots of lifts. Thailand has a lot more land than Singapore overall, but much of it is uninhabited and Thais crowd together in Bangkok and the provincial cities.
These cities and towns are becoming so crowded that the same kind of thing is happening. There are now lots of high rise buildings in Thailand (there were very few 30 years ago), especially in Bangkok, and there are lots of lifts.
To be honest, most Thais are fine. If they see people waiting to get in they will hold the doors and they exhibit polite lift etiquette. But just like driving in Thailand, there is a minority who have absolutely no consideration for others and make life unpleasant for the majority.
In one conversation with my mother, she told me that a friend had taken her cat to a vet in the UK and had been presented with a very large bill (over £400) for something not that serious. I did a search on Google and found that large veterinarian bills in the UK are quite common.
For this reason, pet health insurance in the UK is quite common but policies aren't cheap and there are limits on each individual condition. You can have insurance but in the event of an animal breaking a leg or having another serious problem you will still have to pay out. If this is the case for cats and dogs I hate to think how much horse owners have to pay out.
My cat needed emergency surgery on Friday and it cost Bt2,805 (about £62). He went back this morning to have the wounds cleaned and redressed and the bill was Bt550 (just over £12). Thais think this is horrendously expensive (I guess it is if you only earn Bt300 a day), but I didn't think it was too bad for all the specialist skills and equipment, medicine, dressings, etc.
Whenever I take my cat to the hospital I have to pay upfront. My wife tells me this is because there are Thais who will not want to pay the hospital bill and will simply abandon the animal. If they didn't have to pay beforehand they would leave the animal at the hospital and never return to pick it up.
There was a report last week that London has the most expensive public transport in the world. Everything is expensive in the UK, especially in London, and therefore vets need to charge high fees to cover their cost of living. This applies to everyone providing services in the UK.
Thais almost fall over when they hear how high salaries are in other countries, but they seem to have no idea about the cost of living in those countries. There isn't much benefit earning a high salary if a big chunk of that salary goes toward the things that are essential in life.
Salaries are very low in Thailand and therefore goods and services intended for Thais have to be quite low, otherwise no one could afford them. It is a different story with services, such as plush hotels in tourist resorts, that are aimed at 'rich' foreigners rather than Thais, and also with goods that are imported.
If you live like an average Thai in Thailand you can live cheaply, although not as cheaply as some Internet commentators might suggest. However, if you have a taste for luxury and/or crave things from home, such as certain food products, then your cost of living can rise quite dramatically.
New luxury foreign cars are about three times the price in Thailand compared to Europe, and the little food treats from home that I buy in Tops supermarket are horrendously expensive.
I try to take the Middle Path, but the real cost of living in Thailand would probably surprise a lot of foreigners who seem to have the (false) impression that absolutely everything in Thailand is dirt cheap. It isn't.
The public education system is cheap but, to be honest, it isn't very good. Thais send their kids to private schools if they can afford it and costs are quite high. Costs at the international schools are even higher. Extra tuition for students is also regarded as 'normal' in Thailand and this increases the cost of education.
The public healthcare system is fine, but not perfect. Public hospitals are where the rural masses go for their healthcare and they are normally very overcrowded with long waiting times.
Much better are the private hospitals, but these aren't cheap. And, as I explained recently in the case of my daughter, it is sometimes necessary to travel to Bangkok to get the best level of treatment. Even if the medical bills aren't high, these trips incur other expenses.
I made a mistake by buying an America car and now that it is old and needs frequent repairs the parts are very expensive. The same kind of mark up is applied to imported car parts as is applied to imported cars. Ford parts in Thailand are far more expensive compared to the United States.
Labour costs are cheap in Thailand and one way to get around this problem is to order parts on-line, but this isn't always straightforward. If a part doesn't fit it is a pain getting it changed, some suppliers don't ship to Thailand, and sometimes goods from abroad will be held by the Thai postal service until import duty has been paid.
It certainly isn't the case in Thailand that everything is cheap, but neither is everything expensive. The thing I like about Thailand is that there is quite a lot of choice. In the UK, any restaurant I go to will either be fairly expensive or very expensive. Those places also exist in Thailand, but there are also a lot of very cheap restaurants. The choice is far greater.
The more 'Thai' you are able to be in Thailand, the cheaper it gets to live, but this depends on the type of person you are. Pickup trucks, which Thais love, are cheap to repair in Thailand and buying a truck would have been a far more sensible choice, but because of the way many pickup trucks are driven in Thailand I feel very negatively about them.
I have no problem at all eating Thai food occasionally, but not every day, three times a day. When I rented an apartment room I wanted one suitable for foreign standards, and not one of the Bt1,500 per month rooms that some Thais rent. The same applies when we go on trips and stay in hotels. I can live like a local sometimes, but not all the time, and whenever I deviate I find my expenses going up.
This is why the question of how much it costs to live in Thailand is impossible to answer. Theoretically, it could be a very small amount, but when you actually live in Thailand, and depending on the type of individual you are and your own personal needs, it varies enormously from person to person.
Of course, you may have noticed that my major expenses are all things that aren't at all necessary. If you go to live in Thailand it isn't compulsory to get married, have children, buy cars, buy houses, and own pets. Indeed, you can live on a LOT less money if you avoid these things.
For my first six or seven years in Thailand I had none of these commitments. Money was never a concern, I was in control of my spending, and I spent time working on my investment portfolio. However, by the time I was 50 I realised that this wasn't the life I wanted. Although I had no financial commitments, I always felt that rather than participating in life I was on the outside looking in at other people's lives.
It's a very personal thing, of course, and we are all very different. For those people who have done the marriage and kids thing before they move to Thailand I can fully understand them not wanting to do it again. If you are genuinely happy by yourself, that is fine too.
The other thing, without being morbid, is that you never quite know what lies ahead. I have quite a good expat friend nearby - even though I don't see her that often - and she was good friends with another expat who had been living and working in Thailand for over 15 years.
In February he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and he died in April at the young age of 59, just two months after the diagnosis. Obviously, we aren't all going to die suddenly at a young age but none of us are going to be here forever, so it seems pointless worrying too much about personal wealth. As Buddhism reminds us, nothing in life - including life itself - is ever permanent.
Friday 5th May 2017
My male cat came home last night with a big gash in his side and some other smaller injuries. I guess that he was attacked by one of the many semi-stray dogs that live in the development. The dogs are fine with people, but some take exception to cats.
Apart from killing the odd rat and bird, my cats are very gentle and have no fear of anything - including dogs. It would be better if they were frightened and ran away.
Fortunately, the excellent Thai healthcare system that I talked abour earlier extends to animals. In Hat Yai there are four animal hospitals (three private and one government) and several veterinary clinics.
When I discovered the wounds last night it was too late to do anything apart from cleaning him up and applying some iodine. I took him to hospital this morning where he was admitted for emergency surgery to sew up the big gash.
I went by myself and I was glad I didn't take the children as someone brought his American Pit Bull Terrier into the hospital. These things terrify me. I find the colour of their eyes and the intense way they stare quite frightening. They have fierce teeth and are immensely strong.
American Pit Bull Terrier
The owner said that he wasn't aggressive, but I am always very, very wary. As far as I am aware, Thailand has no dangerous dog laws unlike many other countries. For example, the UK Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. Or perhaps there are laws, but these get treated like all other laws. It seems that any breed can be owned and that there is no need for certain breeds to be muzzled in public. The one today wasn't muzzled. News stories of people, especially children, being attacked by dangerous dogs are fairly common in Thailand.
I know that some visitors to Thailand are afraid of the street dogs that are ubiquitous in Thailand. They aren't usually a problem, but even if you like dogs it is generally a good idea to leave them alone.
A few years ago I went to pet a street dog that I thought was friendly and it tried to bite me. It wasn't successful, but I felt its teeth on my fingers and I got very close to being bitten. If you get bitten by a dog in Thailand it is advisable to have rabies shots and these are extremely painful because they are injected at the point of the wound.
I had an altercation with a feral cat a couple of years ago after it got into our house at night. The hospital gave me several rabies shots in my hands and fingers and I have never felt pain like it.
Solitary dogs aren't usually a problem, but dogs are pack animals and display different behaviour when they are in a large gang - the same as humans.
Next door to the school where I used to teach, which is the school my children now attend, there is a temple and I go there often just to get away from the chaos of urban Thailand, which is far too frenetic for a peaceful state of mind.
There are lots of dogs inside the temple and a few months ago a pack of about 10 dogs got really upset when they saw a farang walking around. They surrounded me while barking aggressively. I was carrying an umbrella and waved it at them, but this just made them madder. A passing monk cooled them down and I was able to walk away, but it wasn't very pleasant.
I experienced a similar thing many years ago outside of a temple with dogs that were used to guard a business premises. Again, it wasn't very pleasant.
On our housing development there are some dogs that I've been feeding since they were pups. They know me and my children and I trust them not to bite, but I never trust dogs that I don't know.
Thai security guard taking care of a street dog
In summary, don't be worried about Thailand's many stray dogs. Generally, they won't hurt you if you don't hurt them and because so many Thais feed street dogs they are normally fine with people. Sometimes they get upset when someone approaches and start barking, but they won't normally bite. If dogs start barking just walk away without antagonising them.
After I was confronted by several guard dogs simply for walking past the building they were guarding I spoke to someone afterwards who understood dog behaviour. He suggested that if I was really worried I could get some pepper spray.
I don't know if this is a good idea, or not. Spraying dogs with pepper spray might just make them more aggressive. It's a suggestion that I didn't take up.
Thursday 4th May 2017
In a previous post describing rat problems in my house (a very common problem in Thailand) I said that the glue traps I'd bought hadn't been successful. Just after that I went to remove them and discovered a dead, decomposed rat. I was therefore wrong. They had been successful.
I bought some more and today I caught another rat. Even if the rats aren't interested in the bait, sometimes they will just walk across the glue tray and get stuck. They are more effective with smaller rats. The bigger rats can get out of the trap and the glue trail they leave is quite messy.
Rat in a glue trap
Even though rats are classified as vermin I don't enjoy killing them. The son of one of our neighbours' keeps hamsters and genetically there probably isn't much difference, but one is regarded as a cute, adorable pet and the other is seen a filthy, disease-ridden rodent.
In the movie Inglourious Basterds there is a classic piece of Tarantino dialogue in which Christoph Waltz's character discusses the differences between rats and squirrels. Again, they probably have very similar DNA, but one is despised and the other is regarded as cute.
When I caught the rat that kept getting into my wife's car in a non-lethal trap I had planned either to drown it or give it to my cats to play with. However, it was quite cute and I didn't have the heart to kill it so I took it for a drive and released it in the Thai countryside.
I feel the same way about snakes. While in the garden last week, I heard my three year-old saying, "Snake, snake." I didn't pay much attention at first, but when I looked up, sure enough there was a snake. It was very thin with a very small head and I don't think it was venomous. I don't like killing them but, all the same, I'd rather not have snakes around the house.
I poisoned the rat that got into the space above the false ceiling downstairs. I don't know where it died - and I haven't noticed any foul smells - but for a few days afterwards the house was full of large flies. This was very unusual and probably not a coincidence. I may not have found the dead rat, but presumably the flies did.
Last week I found some minor termite damage in the house. I have a contract with a pest control firm and they are coming on Sunday to treat the ground underneath the house again. This morning while doing some gardening I disturbed a small nest of very small bees. This must have upset them enormously and sensing that their nest was under attack they attacked me. They were very aggressive and the stings were quite painful.
I also came across a huge cockroach while doing the garden. Our old rented house had a major cockroach infestation, but so far this house has been fine. The big Asian cockroaches are vile creatures. This morning, while cleaning the cats' boxes, I was bitten on the foot several times by a mosquito and last week we heard that one of the children in our housing development is in hospital with Dengue fever. We get a lot of the stripy Aedes mosquitoes that transmit Dengue.
Living in Thailand, I seem to be engaged in a constant battle with the local wildlife. It's just one of the downsides of living in the tropics.
My garden is very small - as seems to be the case with most Thai houses, regardless of the size of the house - but it actually gives me quite a lot of pleasure. Probably like many people these days I find it all too easy to waste several hours on a computer doing unproductive things.
I enjoy being outside (despite the intense heat and insects) and it is good to do some physical work. I also find garden work intensely satisfying. The garden has been neglected for quite a while so the work I did today has made a big difference.
My wife and I share the same view that if we have plants then they might as well be productive, rather than just ornamental. We have some chilis, lemongrass, basil, and other plants that my wife uses for cooking. There are also a few fruit trees.
Our lemon tree has now grown quite large and the leaves look very healthy, but there is still no sign of any fruit. Our rose apple tree was exactly the same, but suddenly quite recently some fruit appeared. The individual fruits are quite small, but they taste fine.
This fruit is known as chompoo in Thai. It's similar to the Thai word for 'pink', but the tone on the second syllable is different. Our guava tree (farang) has been productive for a couple of years and the branches now are very long.
Rose apple (chompoo) fruit
The weather at the moment is intensely hot and humid. Walking into any room in the house feels like walking into a sauna. To give an indication, as I write I have my office A/C unit set to 29°C and it feels really cool. The temperature outside has been around 37°C. I can just about cope up until 35°C, but once the mercury goes higher than that I wilt and retire to places that have air-conditioning.
Because of the rain in April it was about the coolest April I can remember since I moved to Thailand. April is normally the hottest month of the year in Thailand. However, now that the rain has stopped, May is proving to be very hot and uncomfortable.
Wednesday 3rd May 2017
A friend of my wife's is doing a second Master's degree and she put together a survey in order to acquire data for her thesis. She gave my wife a copy to fill in and I assumed (naively, as it turned out) that the other surveys would be completed by other people.
Last night my wife asked me to help her with something. I went downstairs and discovered that she was filling in about 200, or more, of these surveys. It was time-consuming, so she asked me to assist.
There were 46 questions, all in Thai. I can't scan Thai in the same way that I can scan English so I didn't make any attempt to read the questions. Each question had five boxes and I was told that I could tick either box 4 or box 5. I then spent an hour or more randomly ticking boxes.
I made a point of making my views known, as I always do, but doing this never elicits much of a response from Thais. They obviously know it isn't right, but there is no guilt and it just seems to be a case of 'this is how things are done in Thailand'. I am told that this kind of thing is quite normal.
In the same way that traffic laws are broken so routinely and so matter-of-factly, Thais know it is wrong but as everyone else does it they see no problem with doing the same thing themselves.
At least she wrote the survey questions herself. I am told that some Thais doing Master's degrees would simply have paid someone else to write the survey questions and then paid someone again to provide the fake answers.
You may have noticed a certain degree of cynicism when I write about Thailand. I don't think that I'm naturally cynical, indeed, when I first arrived in Thailand I was extremely positive and fiercely defensive of all things Thai. However, living in the country for several years and seeing so much stuff like this has made me cynical.
There is a massive obsession with qualifications in Thailand. Mulder writes about this in his 'Thai Images' book and explains that it is all about the quest for rank and prestige. Many Thais study for degrees not to expand their own knowledge or to do research that will benefit society, but purely so that they can move higher up the social hierarchy, which is another Thai obsession. All Thai university lecturers are now required to have, or to be studying for, a PhD.
I see lots of Thai politicians and other 'big people' (poo yai) using the title 'Dr' before their names and having a doctorate nowadays seems to be the ultimate goal for many Thais. However, when I do see this title being used I normally assume that the qualification was bought.
For my tertiary education I did a four year HNC course. The benefit over a degree is that there is a lot of practical work and such a course therefore teaches practical skills in addition to theoretical ones. However, because it isn't a degree I am now unemployable in Thailand and I have actually had some Thais look down at me sneeringly because I don't have a degree.
Yet there is a big thesis writing industry in Thailand and someone who is looked up to because he or she has a Master's degree or PhD may have simply acquired that qualification for a fee. A Master's degree thesis is supposed to be based on original research, but when the raw data for that research is supplied by a farang randomly ticking boxes it makes a mockery of the whole education system.
In the UK I worked alongside some exceptionally talented people, yet very few had qualifications higher than Bachelor's degrees. If you did meet a PhD you could sense that you were talking to a very clever person. In Thailand every other person I meet seems to have a Master's degree or a doctorate, but I have met very few truly exceptional people.
When I was teaching English in Thailand there were some students who had zero ability and who applied zero effort. This was reflected in the grades that I gave them. However, I found out later that all the grades I gave were intercepted and altered before they went back to the school. Students never fail in Thailand and even the ones who apply zero effort get good grades.
Some years ago I read a blog entry by a girl teaching English in Bangkok. She was impressed one day when she found that her school had invested in a complete new library. What she didn't realise at the time was that the books were only there temporarily for a school inspection. As soon as the inspectors had left the school, the books were returned.
This is the kind of thing that has made me cynical. Image is always far more important than substance. Thailand has a full set of laws just like Western countries so it looks good from the outside, but generally laws are not followed and the enforcement is normally weak or non-existent.
There is a Western style education system with a massive number of highly qualified people in the country (on paper), but the way that some people go about obtaining those qualifications isn't always totally legitimate.
I was told a long time ago that if Thais can cheat and get away with it, they regard it is a skill to be proud, rather than ashamed, of. Unfortunately, for many this seems to be the case but ultimately it is self-defeating. Another problem is the way that money can buy anything. If someone who has money commits a serious crime or wishes to gain a PhD, then it isn't a problem.
It's not all the time, but these examples aren't as rare as they should be. Medical and dentistry degrees are a notable exception. They take six years and Western standards apply. Many Thai doctors and dentists work or study abroad for a while and they aren't let loose on patients until they have reached a satisfactory level of competence.
There are maybe some readers who think I am too cynical at times, but if you have never lived in Thailand permanently for several years you will never understand. Citing some examples may help to explain why I have certain views about Thailand. I do my best to be positive when I can, but unfortunately there are still many aspects of Thailand that make me cynical.
It's sad because there is certainly enough ability in the country to succeed without stooping to such low limits.
Tuesday 2nd May 2017
Aerial view of Bangkok
Laan island with Pattaya in the background
Roof tiles at the marble temple in Bangkok
Buddha image at the marble temple
I have just returned from Bangkok and I've already booked my flight for the next trip in two weeks' time. It wasn't a bad trip and certainly more successful than the trip at the beginning of April.
It's not that easy travelling with a six year-old who finds visits to temples, etc, extremely boring and who only wants to go to toy shops, but that's normal. I too would have been extremely bored with temple visits at the age of six.
When my daughter was born her feet were turned inwards and - despite lots of treatment already - the problem persists. The doctor is having another go at fixing the problem, but it takes a lot of time.
The doctor who devised the most popular method of treatment for her condition was called Ponseti and worked in the States. He died in 2009. The doctor we see in Bangkok actually studied under Dr Ponseti in Iowa and is recognised as being the leading doctor in this region for this particular problem.
This is why we go for treatment in Bangkok. Unfortunately, we found that our local doctors don't quite have the required skills and they seemed to run out of ideas before the problem was fixed.
The doctor works at two private hospitals and a public hospital. We see him at the public hospital to save money and the charge is ridiculously low. The consultation fee to see such a highly qualified doctor is just Bt50. The new wing of the hospital where he works is just like a private hospital and it is a fantastic facility. Thailand has so many social problems, but I have, and have always had, enormous praise for the Thai healthcare system.
I have to pay out for flights and hotels each time we see him because of where we live, but the actual medical costs are very low.
Today I watched a very touching video of the talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel, talking about the problems with his son just after birth. There was an awful lot of emotion. It brought back memories from three years ago when my son was born with pneumonia and I exhibited similar emotions. After he was born he went straight into a Neonatal ICU facility where he stayed for three weeks. We were told there was a 20% chance that he might not make it, but he did and now he is full of energy and drives us crazy - just like a three year-old should.
There aren't many events in life that put life into perspective so easily, but being a parent when your child has a life-threatening problem at birth is one of them. There are lots of things in life that we can (and do) whine about, but most are incredibly trivial.
In the NICU facility my son received fantastic round-the-clock care from qualified doctors and nurses for three weeks and it didn't cost me a single Baht. As Jimmy Kimmel says, if your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make. This is something that Thailand has got so right and some other countries have got so wrong.
My daughter at Bangkok airport
My daughter came home with casts on her legs, which is the first part of the treatment. I could carry her, but after a while she got quite heavy. I asked for a wheelchair at Bangkok airport. With the wheelchair we were fast-tracked through security and the service by Nok Air was superb. We were given lots of assistance and upgraded to premium seats. In fact, on every flight recently I have been given a free seat upgrade. I have flown with Nok Air many times and have always found the service to be excellent.
Thailand can be such a great country and Thais are particularly sensitive to those who are mai sabaay or who need assistance. At those times when I have been ill myself, there is probably no better place to be than Thailand. It is very important for Thais to be sabaay and they get genuine concerned if someone else isn't sabaay.
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