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  • Living in Thailand Blog November 2013


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Living In Thailand Blog



Saturday 30th November 2013

A friend of my wife's told her that Big C Extra was having a sale and so that was where we spent this evening. I have always relied a lot on my sixth sense, and Thailand feels very edgy at the moment. If I was in a pub and experienced these same feelings I would leave. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to be able to leave the country.

Thais live on the edge of chaos and I have always maintained that the country is two steps away from complete anarchy. As I drove to Big C Extra today the roads were even more anarchic than usual and at times like this it feels as if the country is only one step away from complete anarchy.

The TV news today looked foreboding. The yellow shirt anti-government protesters are in several places in Bangkok, but they seem to be centred around democracy monument. Meanwhile, there is a growing gathering of red shirt pro-government protesters at Rajamangala Stadium. It looks like two armies preparing for battle.

The Bangkok Post published photos of protesters attacking taxis and buses. Gunshots have already been fired and people have been treated for gunshot wounds. With so many guns in Thailand it would be naive to think that the protesters do not have guns and other weapons. Violence is endemic in Thailand.

This is what always happens in Thailand. Both sides start off by saying there will be no violence and give flowers to policemen and soldiers, but soon afterwards you see the rage on people's faces and they start killing each other. This is how Thais are.

Thailand protests: One killed by gunfire at clashes

Clashes at Ramkhamhaeng stoke fears

No doubt, a few foreign reporters are still harping on about how peaceful and non-confrontational Thais are.

I went to pick up my daughter from day care yesterday and there was a huge convoy of motorbikes heading towards the city centre. They were making a lot of noise and waving flags. They looked as if they were having a lot of fun.

Whenever protests occur they involve genuine protesters who have genuine grievances, but the protests always attract other people who simply have tendencies towards anarchy and violence. These people take advantage of semi-anarchic conditions to vent their anger at society and cause some trouble.

It happened in Thailand with the rubber protesters and it happened in London in August 2011. Additionally, people who are normally peaceful get caught up in the pack mentality and behave out of character.

The situation in Thailand is getting quite worrying. The country has been divided into two ever since Thaksin was PM. The southern provinces and probably half of Bangkok are mostly yellow shirt Democrats.

The north, northeast and the other half of Bangkok are red shirts who follow the government led by Thaksin. The party name changes every couple of years, but the party leader and policies remain the same.

In areas where everyone supports the same colour there shouldn't be too many problems. The clashes will come wherever the two opposing sides meet each other, and that is Bangkok.

At this stage no one really knows what will happen, but the stakes and tensions continue to get higher every day.

Suthep has been saying all week that the battle will be won by Sunday. I can see things getting ugly tomorrow. My gut feeling is that the current situation is a lot worse than the situation three years ago when over 90 people were killed. It's frightening thinking about what could happen. Will 2013 end up being added to 1973, 1976 and 1992?

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Friday 29th November 2013

Noise pollution is a big problem in Thailand but, for some reason, most Thais seem oblivious to noise. They seem to be able to ignore or filter out noise that would drive me crazy if I had to listen to it for a prolonged period.

On the other hand, they are extremely sensitive to strong smells. Our house is fairly new and lots of surrounding house are still having work done. Consequently, there is quite a strong smell of paint in the air. It doesn't really bother me, but it really upsets my wife.

You often see Thais on buses and in other public places with menthol sticks stuffed up their nostrils. They use these sticks when they encounter smells that are objectionable to them.

What's also strange is that Thais think nothing of really pungent food if it is Thai, but they object to strong smelling food if it isn't Thai. Many Thais refuse to eat Indian food because they say it smells bad. They are a strange bunch.

This story therefore amused me.

Sriracha hot sauce factory production partially halted

Sriracha sauce originates from Thailand. Production of this sauce has stopped at the factory in Los Angeles because the fumes are "extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses".

According to Wikipedia: "Los Angeles has the largest Thai population outside of Thailand. Roughly 80,000 of California's estimated 120,000 Thai Americans live in Los Angeles."

Here's a link to a documentary about Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.

In 2007 police closed off three roads in central London because of fears of a biological terror attack. Firefighters were called after there were reports of noxious smoke filling the air.

It wasn't a biological terror attack. It was just a Thai restaurant cooking some Thai food.

Burning chilli sparks terror fear

But, of course, according to Thais, Thai food doesn't smell bad. Next time you are in Thailand, go to an Isaan restaurant and ask for some som-tum spicy salad with bplaa raa (fermented fish) sauce and see what you think.

A number of foreign tourists have drowned in Thailand recently. Here's another story:

Swedish tourist drowns at popular Phuket beach

A few times while scuba diving in Thailand I encountered extremely strong currents that were impossible to swim against. The power of the sea is frightening. The sea in Thailand, especially off the Andaman coast, may look very inviting but it also has hidden dangers.

This is yet another danger to be aware of in Thailand. There are many.

Kingdom facing skills gap

Thailand's education system is another huge problem for the country and most problems in society can be traced back to poor education. Young students spend about 80% of their time learning social subjects. The purpose of this is to indoctrinate them with the beliefs and values that the state believes they should have in order to turn them into tractable state subjects. Most of the rest of the time they are taught Thai.

Mulder analysed the school curriculum for his 'Thai Images' book and provides some very interesting insights. If you want to know more about what goes onside Thai education establishments, go to teach in Thailand for a while and also read Mulder. Do not be deceived by the public presentation of schools to the outside world. These public performances are not representative of what goes on inside schools every day.

There is very little emphasis on actually educating students or teaching them how to think critically. As students get older the emphasis changes to passing university entrance exams and high schools are graded in accordance with how many of their students are accepted into universities.

The system of rote learning, which actually works well when learning the Thai language because there are a lot of rules to be memorised, is used for all subjects. It doesn't work well for most other subjects in which students are required to think for themselves, but it is the only teaching system that most Thais are comfortable with.

School is all about passing exams and many exams take the format of multiple choice. Facts and figures are memorised, students cram like crazy before exams, some cheat, and the facts and figures they have remembered are regurgitated for the exam and then forgotten.

For a long time in Thailand the minimum qualification for any kind of a decent job has been a Bachelor's degree. Thais are very aware of this and, provided that their families can afford it, school children are sent to university for another four years of the same kind of thing they did at high school.

After many years of education they come away with their Bachelor's degree but they aren't actually capable of doing anything. There are so many Thais who have 'studied' English from the age of three to 21, and yet they still can't form a correct English sentence.

Many Thais have Bachelor's degrees these days, but this level of qualification still doesn't help them find a job. Therefore, quite a few go on to do Master's degrees and PhDs. All university lecturers are now expected to be PhDs and other people do PhDs because they want to use the title Dr. This public display of status is extremely important to Thais and there are doctors everywhere.

On paper the population is highly qualified, but as the headline above demonstrates, there is still a big skill shortage because many people with paper qualifications can't actually do anything practical. In Thailand image and presentation are always more important than substance.

If you are a foreigner in Thailand the same rules apply to you as apply to Thais. If you have a degree it doesn't matter what it is in or if you can actually do anything, you are worth employing. Conversely, if you don't have a degree you are unemployable, no matter how able or successful you may be.

As I've said before, the field of medical sciences is an exception. Medical and pharmaceutical degrees take six years of study instead of four and there is a lot of practical work, as there has to be. Obviously, a dentist can't graduate if she has never filled a tooth.

The field of medicine is one of Thailand's big success stories. There are so few decent career opportunities in Thailand apart from medicine that many students enter the field if they can pass the entrance exams.

There are lots of students studying to be doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists, and the education they receive is good. Poor English skills have prevented Thailand from taking advantage of call centre outsourcing work, etc, but excellent hospitals have helped the growth in medical tourism.

What Thailand really needs to do is to overhaul the education system and to apply some of the lessons that have been learned in medicine to other areas. The country also needs to stop its obsession with paper qualifications and start looking at - and rewarding - real skills.

The following report about the Thai government's controversial scheme to issue every child with a tablet computer (one of the government's many populist policies) also touches on a few of the problems with the education system.

Are Thailand's tablet plans paying off?

Quote: "After all, this is a country which spends more of its budget on education than almost any other, and yet whose children come out of school with poorer educations than many (actually, all) of Thailand's neighbours."

Thai education ranked bottom out of eight Asean countries surveyed

It mentions the tutoring industry, which is a huge business in Thailand. After regular school and at weekends millions of Thai school children go for extra lessons at tutoring classes to make up for the poor education they receive at school.

With so many students in the country and so few opportunities in life, competition is tough in Thailand for university places and decent jobs. Parents worry that their children won't be competitive if they study only at school so pay out for extra tutoring. It is expensive for the parents and the poor kids always look tired.

The really sad part is that even after doing all this tutoring, standards still don't improve. I can't speak for all subjects, but that is certainly the case with English. If they received a few hours of quality tuition at school, all this extra tutoring wouldn't be necessary.

Thailand ranks near bottom in English proficiency: survey

Ironically, the extra tutoring (which is supposed to make them learn more) results in them being tired all the time and thus they learn less at school because they are sleepy and can't concentrate or absorb information.

Despite its obvious failings, the education system (along with the constant dross on Thai TV) does exactly what Thai politicians want it to do and politicians don't have to worry about sub-standard education because they can afford to send their offspring abroad for their education, or to the very best foreign-run schools in Thailand, such as the Harrow International School which is attended by Nong Pike.

Annual tuition fees at this school go up to Bt725,000, along with all the other (not insignificant) expenses incurred if you send your child to an international school in Thailand. This is way beyond the means of most Thais and, I suspect, most expats but that is never the point in Thailand.

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Thursday 28th November 2013

Where on Earth is this going?

The civil disobedience has now spread to the south. I was told yesterday that there was a 'mob' (Thais have borrowed this English word to describe large crowds of protesters even though their definition may be at odds with the standard definition) protesting outside the local District Hall. This has happened in several provincial towns.

Apparently, their objective is to peacefully prevent civil servants from doing their work in the hope that this will paralyse the country and force the PM to resign.

Protests spring up in 24 provinces

The Songkhla governor even joined in:

Songkhla governor joins mob for town hall sit-in

There is intense passion on both sides and the protest leader says he is prepared to die for the cause:

Suthep: I'm prepared to die

An arrest warrant has been issued for Suthep, but his supporters are protecting him and the police are reluctant to arrest him because this will inflame the situation.

In the last round of government protests over 90 people did die. Yesterday, Channel News Asia reported that a home-made bomb and a grenade had been found among protesters.

Nothing has really happened yet as a result of the protests. The government is still there, no one has resigned, and everything is still functioning.

Bangkok protests in 2010 when the Red Shirts were protesting against Abhisit - Click for larger image For the time being the Red Shirt government supporters are holding back. However, if the anti-government protesters start achieving what they want the government supporters are likely to intervene. Their numbers are similar, if not more, and hundreds of thousands of political rivals opposing each other on the streets of Bangkok doesn't bode well for the country.

The protesters seem to be quite enjoying their time in Bangkok, blowing their big whistles and socialising with lots of other like-minded people, but have they really thought things through? Somehow I doubt it?

Their actions are unconstitutional and apparently Suthep wishes to bring in a people's assembly that will oversee the work of politicians.

Will this mean yet another change to the constitution, or is it time for Thailand to admit that this little experiment with Western style democracy hasn't worked and that it is time to implement a system of government that will work?

The only democratic solution is to call a snap election, but all that will happen in that case is that the current government will win and the situation will return to square one (this was always Thaksin's favourite ploy because he knew that he would win every time).

A democratic vote of no confidence has just been won by the government and any Thaksin sponsored government in Thailand and will always win any contest that relies on getting a greater number of votes. Simply put, Thaksin has far more clients under his patronage than any other politician in Thailand.

Thai PM survives no-confidence vote amid street protests

The most populous region of Thailand also happens to be the poorest and Thaksin used the system of patronage along with populist policies to ensure that he (or any proxy government under his control) would always win at the ballot box.

The BBC's Jonathan Head just interviewed a Thai anti-government protester about the problems. She has obviously lived abroad for many years because Thais who have not lived abroad do not speak English as well as she does. She seems quite intelligent.

Thailand protests day four: Momentum builds in Bangkok

Bangkok protests in 2010 when the Red Shirts were protesting against Abhisit - Click for larger image She puts forward an argument that I have heard many, many times. She says that the only difference between the two sides is knowledge. She says that not even 0.1% of "those people" (Thaksin's supporters) know exactly who Thaksin is. This is why so many Thais who claim that they understand what is happening get so upset about the one person one vote system of Western style democracy that is used in Thailand.

To them, the fact that a poor, uneducated Isaan rice farmer has exactly the same amount of power at the ballot box as a highly educated doctor in Bangkok or the south of the country is farcical. In Thai society with its strict and multi-layered social hierarchy, this is the height of stupidity.

The argument is that poor, uneducated, peasant rice farmers who vote blindly for Thaksin every time don't understand anything about the man. Whenever I hear this argument I am never quite sure what to believe? Are they really that stupid, or do they look at the situation differently?

Do they simply see it as a choice between Government A, which is corrupt and gives them nothing, or Government B, which is corrupt and gives them something? I don't take sides in Thailand because basically they are all as bad as each other.

It's difficult to predict what will happen next. These peaceful protests often turn to violence in Thailand and it will only take one small incident to ignite the tinder box. There is also a key date approaching - 5th December.

Several countries have issued travel advisories for Thailand.

UK advises citizens against visiting protest areas

Will visiting Thailand at the present time be dangerous?

Bangkok protests in 2010 when the Red Shirts were protesting against Abhisit - Click for larger image From where I sit, life is perfectly normal (or to be more precise, as normal as life ever gets in Thailand because life in Thailand is never normal) and I wouldn't know that anything unusual is happening if it wasn't for the TV and Internet. I would imagine that the beach resorts are completely unaffected.

If the protesters decide to occupy airports once again, as they did a few years ago, this will obviously cause disruptions, but that hasn't happened yet. With so many people in Bangkok, and some roads closed, it is no doubt making travel around the city even worse than usual, therefore it might be difficult getting around. Even at the best of times it is never easy getting through Bangkok's 24/7 traffic jams.

Bangkok protests in 2010 when the Red Shirts were protesting against Abhisit - Click for larger image I was in Bangkok in 2010 when government protests were taking place and went along to take a look. I spoke to people, took some photos, and wanted to find out why people were there. I didn't feel threatened.

However, these things can get ugly very quickly and it probably isn't a good idea to get too involved. Thais are not always the brightest of people and some do stupid things. There have been a number of incidents over the years where people have fired guns in the air at big festivals.

These idiots obviously have no idea about gravity and don't know that what goes up must go down. The daughter of one of my old students had her Achilles tendon shattered after a bullet was fired into the air. She was lucky to be able to walk again, and I guess she was lucky not to have been killed.

With tensions running so high I would advise against visiting protest sites.

And as if things weren't already depressing enough in Thailand, the heavy rain has returned in the south, courtesy of Storm Lehar. It never rains, but it pours.

More rain, wind forecast over flooded South

At times like this I feel like saying, "I'm a farang, get me out of here."

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Wednesday 27th November 2013

This analysis (from a Thai journalist) is very good.

It's a power grab, not a push for reform

This is how it always is in Thailand - a constant power struggle among various selfish factions with no interest in making society fairer for everyone.

I have been trying to think how things can change in Thailand, but I don't think they can. Just like the appalling driving standards and lawlessness in Thailand, the problems are so ingrained and so widespread that to try to fix them now retrospectively would be virtually impossible.

I will never be able to assimilate into Thai society because my values and beliefs are diametrically opposed to Thai values and beliefs. I can't throw away a lifetime of thinking and start thinking like a Thai.

It's exactly the same for Thais, even though their values and beliefs are the root cause of the political and social ills in the country. While all the protests are taking place in Bangkok, Thai schools are still indoctrinating students with the same values and beliefs and this will simply perpetuate the current problems into the next generation.

The changes that are needed to turn Thailand into a true democracy are so alien and disagreeable to Thais that they are unlikely ever happen.

Basically what most ordinary Thais want is a little more fairness in society, but the hierarchical and deferential way in which Thai society is structured is inherently unfair. And therein lies the dilemma. Their own cultural behaviour has caused the problems, but at the same time they will fight tooth and nail to preserve it.

I can't think of any other country that suffers from the same problems as Thailand. The country is quite unique. I read a reference about a 'Thai Spring' recently, but the situation in Thailand is very different to the Middle East.

How can you change the whole mindset of a country?

Mulder's 'Thai Images' looks at the how images of the country are presented by Thais via the school curriculum, newspapers, literature, the Office of National Identity, etc.

Thais are now beginning to see how images of Thailand are presented by foreigners.

Don't Thai to me

Not all Thais are bad. Not all Thais cheat and lie. I'm married to a Thai and I know lots of good Thai people. However, there are lots of problems in the country and nothing is done about them because no one seems to care.

Thirty years ago hardly anything was known about Thailand outside of the country. Tourism was then encouraged to bring money into the country, the 'Land of Smiles' sobriquet was coined, and a flattering image of the country was presented to the outside world. This fooled many people, including myself, for a long time.

Nowadays, with a large resident expat population, over 20 million tourists a year, 24 hour global news, the Internet and everyone using social media websites, another image of Thailand has started to emerge. It's not quite as flattering.

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Tuesday 26th November 2013

Having a haircut in Thailand - Click for larger image The BBC says that men's haircuts in the United States are expensive, and this is something that I vaguely remember from when I did some work assignments over there in the late 80's to the mid 90's.

Apparently, American Salon magazine did a survey some years ago and the average price was $21 in small salons with fewer than six chairs, and $44 in large salons with more than 13 chairs. I expect that prices have now risen.

The article I read said that some places in NYC charge 14 to 18 times as much as the prices above, and that they justify these crazy prices by saying that your hair is the first thing that people notice about you. I wonder how much Donald Trump pays?

North Americans also have very strange ideas about tipping and so you need to tip as well. Whichever way you look at it, the USA is an expensive place for a man to get a haircut.

I had another haircut in Thailand today. The girl takes about 30 minutes per customer and does a really thorough job. In addition to the haircut, she shaves you, removes every unwanted hair above your shoulders (ears, nose, nostrils, eyebrows, etc), wipes your face with a cold towel, and gives you a mini shoulder and arm massage.

The fixed price is Bt70 ($2.19). Last year it was Bt60 ($1.88), but there was a price increase at the beginning of the year. I have never seen a Thai man give a tip. Never. They hand over Bt100, get their Bt30 change, and put it straight in their pocket. I always give at least Bt20 and sometimes Bt40.

As I have now moved house I tried a new place nearer home for my last haircut. It wasn't good. After she had finished it didn't feel as if my hair had been cut and my wife didn't even notice I had been for a haircut. Today I went back to the place near to where we used to rent a house because I know that they always do a good job.

Everything is getting more expensive in Thailand - and some things are more expensive than in the West - but there are still goods and services that are very cheap.

When I was going for regular massages before I got married the price at most places was Bt240 ($7.50) for a two hour massage. At a few places it was only Bt200 ($6.25). The price is now around Bt300 ($9.38).

If you feel a bit tired or stressed or whatever, you can go for a massage and the cost is pretty much insignificant. In my native UK, as in many places, going for regular massages would be prohibitively expensive for most people on normal salaries. Normal people simply can't afford to do it.

Thailand has some enormous problems, but foreigners living in the country on what would be regarded as very small incomes elsewhere can still live reasonably well and enjoy treats that they couldn't afford in their home countries.

Last week's big storm has passed and the temperature is back up to almost 33°. This is the coolest time of the year in the south, but when it isn't raining it can still be almost as hot as the hot season. It always seems to be either too hot or too wet. Still, I can't complain. Last week was thoroughly miserable with all the grey skies and rain and this is much better.

There was no flooding in Hat Yai, but some other places in the south weren't as fortunate. In Phattalung, all 11 districts were declared flood disaster zones. Phattalung is one of my favourite provinces because it is so undeveloped. However, the lack of development also applies to the flood defence infrastructure, and flooding is a big problem there.

Flood crisis in South eases as rain stops

After we moved in last year there were a few big storms and we discovered a leak in the roof. The developer fixed the problem quite quickly. Last week's storm was the first really heavy rain that our neighbours have experienced since they moved in and there were some more leaky roofs. The workmen were out and about in their cherry picker fixing roofs today.

The biggest problem I had with the rain was my fish pond overfilling because the overflow pipe is blocked. I had to keep pumping water out and I will need to get the overflow fixed before the next rainy season. This is trivial compared to the problems that many Thais face as a result of heavy rain.

When watching foreign media organisations report news in Thailand it never ceases to amaze me how naive and ignorant many foreign reporters are about Thailand.

Not all. The BBC's Jonathan Head is excellent and understands Thailand very well - so well, in fact, that he ran into problems a few years ago by saying a little too much. However, even the BBC has previously had correspondents in Bangkok who don't have a clue about the country.

This morning I was watching Channel News Asia's coverage of the events in Bangkok. Channel News Asia is normally quite good and they have some excellent documentaries, but the female reporter this morning kept going on about Thais being non-confrontational and unaggressive. Mmm. I think her 'knowledge' of Thailand was gleaned from a brochure describing Thai culture printed by the Tourist Authority or the Office of National Identity.

As I have discovered after living in the country for several years, non-aggressive Thais are extremely reluctant to confront other Thais because Thais are highly vindictive and they know that any confrontation will most likely result in retaliatory actions. With 10 million unregistered guns in the country and lots of other weapons, acts of retaliation often involve shootings or stabbings. On the other hand, aggressive Thais are very confrontational.

So yes, you may notice that Thais often avoid confrontation but they do this for reasons of self-preservation. Blanket statements about all Thais being non-confrontational, without offering any explanation as to why this might be, are inaccurate, misleading, and next to useless.

Regarding Thais being unaggressive, I have a few suggestions for the Channel News Asia reporter so that she may become better informed.

  1. Go to live in Thailand for a few years
  2. Hire a car and drive around Thailand for a while. Just see how unaggressive drivers of minivans, pickup trucks and Toyota Fortuners really are
  3. Read the English language press in Thailand and take notice of how many murders there are every week
  4. Watch the documentary about Thai vocational students that was made by the very media organisation that you work for
  5. Go to your local library and borrow a few books about Thai history
  6. Surf around the Internet for a while if you don't want to go to a library. Some key dates would be 1973, 1976 and 1992 but there are also other events

Yingluck popped up on TV last night while Thais were engrossed with their favourite soap operas to announce that the Internal Security Act has been invoked. Curfews can now be imposed and roads blocked. I believe this is only in Bangkok, but it could spread to other parts of the country.

The scenes are getting really ugly in Bangkok and we've seen it all before. The protesters have said they will be peaceful, the government has said it won't use force, and there were scenes on TV of protesters giving flowers to soldiers. This is how it always starts but then, all of a sudden, everything changes and it all ends in tears.

Protesters have started to occupy government buildings and there are concerns that they will cause a lot more disruption. When protesters occupied the airport in Bangkok a few years ago it was hugely disruptive and also embarrassing. If the government think the same thing will happen again they will be forced to take action.

Based on previous anti-government protests in Thailand, this really isn't looking good. Yingluck says that she won't step down and the protesters won't give up until she does. Thais are extremely stubborn. When an irresistible force meets an immovable object the outcome normally isn't pretty.

Thailand protests: More ministries surrounded

This is the start of the high season for farang tourists in Thailand and the problems could result in big monetary losses to the tourism industry.

Travel-warning threat looms over tourism

The country has massive problems and they are all self-inflicted. When will it ever end? Or will it never end?

The following is a quote from Jonathan Head:

"What we do know is that we saw protests exactly like this five years ago and you have to sense that Thailand is stuck in a merry-go-round of conflict that nobody can resolve."

That just about sums it up.

Full story here:

Thai protests 'surge in momentum' in Bangkok

'Tis a strange world we live in these days when people go to bed with their tablets and smartphones to chat with their 'friends' on Facebook and Twitter (who they have never met in person) rather than having sex.

Modern life 'turning people off sex'

I refuse to join Facebook or Twitter and I have no desire to own a smartphone. I am convinced that many young people who are caught up with all this nonsense will be having big problems later on in life.

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Monday 25th November 2013

The BBC recently looked at the cost of broadband around the world and the results were quite surprising. For example, I was very surprised at how expensive it is in the United States.

Why is broadband more expensive in the US?

The States is a cheap place to buy camera and electronic equipment, but some things are very expensive. The BBC cites men's haircuts, loaves of bread, and broadband.

The follow-up article was also quite enlightening:

Broadband: Readers' bad and good experiences

Some places in the world have fast connections for a low cost, while other places are very expensive and/or have lousy connections.

Thailand is actually quite good. I have one Internet TV and get Internet on another TV through a Bluray player. Most of the time I can watch Youtube videos without any delays. Occasionally, the service stops or is very slow, but not often.

I just performed a speed check. My download speed was 11.39 Mbps (better performance than the provider quotes) and the upload speed was 0.62 Mbps. Not bad at all.

I've just renewed my yearly subscription at a cost of Bt6,969.50 for a standard 10 Mbps connection (the slowest speed on offer). That's just over Bt19 a day, which is a real bargain.

This is why I get upset at Starbucks. They pay the same as everyone else but charge each and every customer Bt150 for 20 minutes Internet usage if they want to check their e-mail while drinking an expensive Starbucks coffee. It's nothing less than daylight robbery and the owners of Starbucks should hang their heads in shame.

Most of the coffee shops that sell reasonably priced coffee offer Wi-Fi as a free service. It costs next to nothing and it's a service that customers appreciate. Greedy Starbucks is the notable exception.

When I used to rent a room I didn't have a private phone line so couldn't have my own broadband service. The apartment people supplied it for Bt500 a month. Of course, I had to share it with other residents and at times it was slow. If apartments have lots of paying customers, which they do because almost all people need Internet access these days, providing broadband is quite a profitable service.

Some apartments charge less and some offer it as a free service. They could all afford to supply it for free, but what they charge depends on their level of greed.

The most expensive place I have seen for Internet was inside Phuket airport some years ago where it was something like Bt250 an hour. Of course, if you have something urgent to do on-line in the airport you have no choice and have to pay. It's the same with airport food and drink. They have a captive customer base and can charge what they want.

Some airlines provide a free service for their passengers. I usually fly with Nok and they provide WiFi in the departure area. The service is password protected and passengers need to use their booking number to access it.

If you're in Thailand without your own laptop or smartphone and need to access the Internet there are still a few Internet shops around, but not so many these days. The ones that exist are normally full of Thai schoolkids playing World of Warcraft and posting grinning selfies to Facebook.

The Internet landscape has changed beyond recognition since I arrived in Thailand 10 years ago. My landlord at the time had no interest in supplying broadband and made me use an expensive dial up line (he then increased his charges for phone line usage). Very few apartments supplied broadband connections and there were Internet shops everywhere.

Nowadays, most people carry some kind of a device that can access the Internet. There are Wi-Fi networks everywhere (some free, some not) and Internet shops have gone the same way as Netscape Navigator.

The computers in the old Internet shops had more viral infections than a Pattaya house of ill repute. There was a good chance that your passwords would be stolen by key logging programs and doing anything as sensitive as Internet banking certainly wasn't advised.

The situation is far better these days and with decent connection speeds for Bt19 per day you can't really grumble.

I heard recently that lecturers at the local university have only been working in the mornings and that in the afternoons they have been staging protests against the government. I was told that today there are no lecturers present because they have all gone to Bangkok to join in with the huge protests in the capital.

Thailand protests: Demonstrators fill Bangkok streets

Huge marches in city today

I also heard that their demands have changed. At first they just opposed the proposed Amnesty Bill. The next demand was for Yingluck to resign and to dissolve the government. The latest thing I have been told is that they want Yingluck out of the country.

"We have stood by silently while her [PM Yingluck Shinawatra's] brother calls the shots and she runs the country into the ground with loss-making policies," Reuters news agency quoted protester Suwang Ruangchai, 54, as saying.

Feelings are running very high indeed.

I can no longer take Thai politics seriously, so I don't even bother trying. The good news for expats and tourists is that they can now buy more Baht with their own currencies. The UK pound was below Bt50 for a long time, but as I write it is almost at Bt52.

Thai shares under political pressure

If Thailand genuinely wants to change it will be futile getting rid of one government and electing another. There will need to be some colossal changes in cultural behaviour and attitudes, which now hold the country back.

The Nation reported on a meeting in Samut Songkhram about a new flood-prevention and water-management scheme. Residents already suffer knee-high flooding every year and they say that the proposed changes will result in neck-high flooding.

Tensions boil over at flood scheme hearing

The local residents oppose the scheme, but it is alleged that they were offered Bt800 to show their approval. This is the Thai definition of democracy where one person gets one vote, however, votes can be bought. Until vote buying, the never-ending struggles for power, coups, constitution changes, nepotism, birthright, social hierarchy, corruption, money politics, conflicts of interest, greed, selfishness and the system of patronage end, nothing will ever change in Thailand.

Thais really do need to think beyond Thaksin and think about some of these things. Academics in Thai universities can see the problems, as can most foreigners, but apparently many ordinary Thais can't.

And of course, with so many people travelling back and forth to Bangkok for the protests this is Thailand and so there will inevitably be some serious road accidents.

Six protesters injured in bus crash home, recovering in Phuket

Elderly British Man Robbed In Alley

With so much crime taking place in Pattaya every day, this kind of story is hardly surprising. What caught my attention was the use of the word 'elderly' in the headline. The 'elderly' victim is 58!

It's true that most Thai employers won't employ anyone over the age of 30 because they are too old, but to refer to someone of 58 as elderly is ridiculous, if not insulting.

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Saturday 23rd November 2013

I have hated Christmas for as long as I can remember, which is one of the great advantages of living in a country where the main belief system is animism.

On the other hand I used to enjoy the Easter break. The main reason is that Easter normally coincided with the time of year when the weather changed. There was nothing quite like those first warm rays of sunshine after a long, cold, damp, miserable winter. I have similar feelings today.

There was more torrential rain yesterday, but it looks fine now. The sky is blue with lots of white, puffy clouds and the sun feels good. Ironically, November in southern Thailand is when the weather can be at its best or worst. When it isn't actually raining it is the most pleasant time of year because it isn't too hot.

My thermometer is back up to 27.5°C and this is bout as perfect as the weather gets in thios part of the world. I'm not dripping with sweat all the time and it may actually be possible to get some laundry dry today.

It's surprising how quickly we adapt and how quickly we take things for granted. Tourists from cold climes who wallow in the sun are sources of amusement to Thais and also to long term expats. However, a little reminder of cold, miserable weather reminds us all how they feel - even just a few days comapred to half the year as is the case in some countries.

I used to travel a lot before I came to Thailand. However, upon arriving in Thailand my travelling stopped. I've been down to Malaysia and Singapore a handful of times each, but that's it.

The only sources of references I have to compare Thailand with other countries are from memory and I take a lot of the good things for granted. There is so much hot weather that it often seems a curse. After a few days of terrible weather the sun starts to look different.

I would not recommend doing what I have done. The foreigners I have met who spend about half the year in Thailand and half the year in the civilised world seem to be more contented and less cynical about Thailand. If you begin a love affair with Thailand the best way to end it is by going to live permanently in the country.

When will Thailand ever got over the obsession with degrees and paper qualifications? Most graduates are unable to do anything practical and lots of students cheat anyway.

16 per cent of university students cheat exam: survey

In Mulder's 'Thai Images' book, he talks about the thriving thesis-writing industry that exists in Thailand.

"Depending on the qualifications of the ghostwriter, the research to be invested, the number of pages to be written, original academic papers and theses can be commissioned for prices ranging from five thousand to eighty thousand Baht."

In a country where titles and job descriptions mean everything, the prefix 'DR' before someone's name is the ultimate accolade and the amount of money needed for a ghost-written PhD thesis is peanuts to rich Thais.

I don't know if this was reported in the English language press, but the wife was telling me about an incident that occurred in Bangkok earlier this week.

She told me as we were waiting in traffic at some traffic lights. There were three lanes and as usual a pickup truck driver decided that he didn't want to wait behind everyone else. He just flew up the hard shoulder, put his indicator on, and then proceeded to force his way into the front of the queue.

This happens all the time and it was exactly the same thing that resulted in me being involved in an angry road rage incident a few months ago when I objected to Somchai's queue-jumping and made him aware of my feelings.

My wife noticed that I had started to get angry with the queue jumper and quickly told me the story in order to remind me why you can't afford to get angry with obnoxious, selfish Thai drivers.

A Bangkok taxi driver cut up another car quite badly and the guy who had been cut up reacted. In this type of confrontational situation the red mist descends very quickly and someone normally ends up getting badly hurt or killed.

Thais seem to think that they have the right to do anything they want on Thai roads and cannot accept any form of criticism for their bad behaviour. Instead of simply apologising for cutting the other guy up he got aggressive. He was carrying a fake gun and pointed it at the other driver, presumably to scare him.

What Somchai taxi driver didn't realise was that the other guy was carrying a real loaded gun. When he saw the fake gun pointed at him, which could have been real, he fired with his real gun. There are an estimated 10 million firearms held by civilians in Thailand, most unregistered, and the evidence suggests that a lot of Thais carry guns while driving. I think that the taxi driver was shot and killed.

If you drive in Thailand you can basically do anything you want. You can speed, drive drunk, drive recklessly, go through red lights, use whatever lane you want, cut drivers up, ... anything.

There are never any traffic cops around, no speed cameras, no traffic light cameras, and other drivers won't do anything because for all they know you could have a gun and they don't want to catch a bullet.

The one thing you can't do is get angry with another driver who does all the wrong things. Even if he cuts you up badly or does something that puts your life in danger you can't do anything. If you do something, you could get shot or beaten up.

In addition to guns I've read several accounts of how taxi drivers and other aggressive individuals carry iron bars or baseball bats in their vehicles.

The local markets here sell a frightening array of dangerous weapons including knives, martial arts equipment and baseball bats. In all my time in Thailand I have never seen a game of baseball taking place, but there are an awful lot of baseball bats for sale.

Thai roads are very dangerous in all respects.

Image is everything to Thais and Thailand wants to present a perfect image of the country to foreigners because the tourist industry brings in so much money. Thais are very good at obscuring problems so that other people don't see them. However, in the world we live in these days where it is so easy to communicate it is no longer possible to edit out all of the bad stuff. You can only block so many websites.

Scams, accidents scare away tourists

Thailand generally does not have a good reputation among foreigners. The fact that I moved to Thailand results in lots of raised eyebrows and smirks. Foreigners who have only been to Pattaya seem to think that Pattaya is representative of the entire country.

The scams in Thailand have been known about for a very long time (I got scammed on my first visit in 1987) and foreigners are becoming more aware about other problems, such as the horrendous driving standards and road accident fatality rate, and violence against foreigners.

These problems don't only affect foreigners, but are endemic in Thai society. Here's a bit more from Mulder after analysing some Thai literature.

"Life in wider society, yea, even among people who are closely related, is a life of people preying on each other, of people insensitive to the feelings of others, of people needing others to boost their fortune, ego or sense of self-importance. The honestly motivated ones are at the mercy of the rest, and usually do not fare well. All experience appears to be delusive."

"This unpleasant condition, in which especially the less influential are exploited by those with more power, seems to relate to the strong sense of inequality that these writings emphasise. It is the palpable importance of life's hierarchical dimensions that explains competition, the scramble for diplomas, the goal to achieve power, and the ambition to have face, status, honour, and reputation. Often it seems that money - obtained by whatever means - is all that is needed to achieve such success in life. Then, being on topjustifies contempt for others, ruthlessness, disregard for the law, and yields recognition and admiration, the more so if one is a clever manipulator of presentation, or mask."

It doesn't paint a very pretty picture of the country, does it? Not much has changed in hundreds of years and greed has always been a problem.

The following is an interesting piece, but now you can't read the whole article unless you subscribe:

Time stands still in the age of avarice

Nai Khanom Tom was a Thai peasant. He became a prisoner of war following the second and final fall of Ayuthaya to Burma in 1767.

March 17 was National Muay Thai Day. On this day 237 years ago (1774), Nai Khanom Tom defeated 10 Burmese fighters in a row in front of the royal audience of King Hsinbyushin in Rangoon.

Following the feat, the Burmese king said: "The Thai is lethal all around. With only his bare hands, he defeated 10 fighters. If all Thais had good masters, if they'd get along, if they didn't get into conflicts with each other and if they didn't only pursue selfish, personal and family interests, it would have been impossible for Ayutthaya to have fallen to her enemy."

Someone over at Teak Door copied the original article into a forum and you can see it here.

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Thursday 21st November 2013

It has been raining almost solidly for about two days now and the sky is grey all the way to the horizon in every direction. This is about as miserable as it gets in Thailand. The rain might stop temporarily for a few minutes, but then it returns. Rather than starting and stopping, it just tends to rain constantly with changes in intensity. Sometimes it is a light drizzle, sometimes it is torrential.

My thermometer was registering 25.1°C this morning. I just looked again and it is exactly the same. I feel cold as a result of spending 10 years in temperatures that normally range from about 28-34°C. Many Thais scoff at the need for shower heaters, but at times like this I really don't want to take cold showers.

The weather in southern Thailand is more moderate than elsewhere in the country. In other regions of Thailand the hot season temperatures can exceed 40°C and in the northern mountain regions it can get down to zero.

A brief respite from the heat is welcome, but this is starting to get depressing. At least I don't have to worry about flooding, which is a massive relief. If we were still in our old house I would now be starting to get very anxious indeed.

The canals aren't full yet, but what you observe locally can be deceiving. This current spell of weather is reminiscent of October 2010 just before the big flood.

Three years ago it had been raining for a long time, but even though the canals were full to the brim there was no flooding. The rain suddenly stopped and despite all the flood warnings I thought we had escaped. I went to bed and slept well because the rain had stopped and there had still been no flooding.

In the early hours of the next morning the water arrived and by daybreak it was two meters high. I didn't really understand why because it seemed as if the flood defences had coped quite well.

What I wasn't aware of then was that the torrential rain that had been falling from the sky had also been filling up a huge reservoir nearby. Apparently, the reservoir had become so full that it was in danger of bursting a dam and so a decision was taken to release the water.

It was the huge amount of water they released that did the damage. Water management in Thailand can be difficult. Enough water has to be retained to supply the needs of the local population, but there should also be enough capacity to cope with heavy rainfall. If the reservoirs are too full when a big storm comes in there are problems.

The Thai Meteorological Department has issued an advisory until 23rd November. It's difficult to predict if there will be flooding, and if so, how bad.

The HatYaiCityClimate website has weather maps, storm tracking radar charts, and webcams at different locations so that people can see how full the various canals are. It's all in Thai, but you can get a pretty good idea without being able to read Thai.

In June of this year I was contacted by Bradley Cox, a documentary maker. He had been commissioned to make a documentary about flood problems in Hat Yai and Thungsong. You can watch it here on Youtube:

Urban Flood Disaster - Lessons from Hat Yai and Thungsong

He was under the impression that Thungsong was an example of good flood management and Hat Yai was the opposite. After watching the film I at least applaud the honesty of the interviewees.

Hat Yai has been overdeveloped in recent years and much of the construction (buildings and roads) has blocked natural flood plains. There is no real city planning and the development is all a bit haphazard.

There was a big flood in 2000 and after that five canals were built to take water away to Songkhla Lake. However, the flood in 2010 was even bigger than the one in 2000. One interviewee says that each year there is also more rainfall.

The point is also made that politics can't be allowed to get in the way. Whenever there is a local election the politicians always say they will fix the flood problems. However, once elected nothing happens. As the person in the film says, all they are interested in is getting elected for years and they will promise anything and everything at election time. Not honouring election pledges seems to be quite normal practice among Thai politicians.

I have no confidence that the problems will be fixed. I was one of the fortunate ones who could move to a house in an area that doesn't flood. Many Thais don't have this option and they have to live with the constant annual threat of flooding.

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Tuesday 19th November 2013

My wife's home-made bagels - Click for larger image My wife just made another small batch of bagels and this time I took a photo. They are as good, or better, than any bagels I have ever eaten.

Until recently I would never have considered making bagels at home. I was introduced to this breakfast treat in Toronto many years ago.

When I lived in the UK, bagels weren't widely available, but there were a few Jewish bakers in the Whitechapel/Aldgate area of London around Middlesex Street and Brick Lane where I used to work. I would go to buy salt beef sandwiches for my lunch and also buy bagels to take home.

There used to be a big Jewish community in East London, but I think they all moved to north London. That area of East London now has a big Bangladeshi community, which is great for curries but not so great for bagels. Blooms restaurant in Whitechapel closed in 1996, unfortunately.

Jewish food is delicious. It must be great living in somewhere like New York City with so many fantastic Jewish delicatessens to choose from.

Living in a land where rice is the staple, rather than bread and potatoes, eating habits are quite different. I've never had an issue with Thai food for lunch or dinner, but breakfast has always been a big problem. I need to eat Western style breakfast food in the morning and simply can't stomach Thai food first thing.

Earlier this year I took a couple of friends to Thale Noi in Phattalung province. It's a beautiful place and very undeveloped, but consequently there is no Western food on offer. I ate one tiny cake for breakfast and then felt ill for the rest of the day. Some Thai breakfast food makes me feel quite queasy.

There's a kind of rice porridge eaten by Thais for breakfast that is called joke. It is sometimes translated as 'gruel' or 'rice gruel' and this description certainly doesn't help. It looks just like the kind of gruel I imagine was eaten in Victorian workhouses when Dickens was writing about Oliver Twist.

At Thale Noi they couldn't even give me toast because there was no bread. My request for some toast was treated as if I had just asked for quails' eggs and fresh caviar. Bread? Here? Are you crazy? In fact, with the fish and bird life available at Thale Noi, quails' eggs and fresh caviar are probably easier to find than bread.

Depending where you live in Thailand depends on what kind of breakfast food is available. I daresay that in Phuket, Pattaya, Bangkok, Samui and Chiang Mai you can probably get most things because there are so many resident farangs.

Outside of those places there is a lot less. I can buy sliced bread easily and there are a few places that bake quite good fresh bread. The bagels that I mentioned previously are available in one branch of TOPS. They are only available very occasionally and thus I can't buy them at will.

I'm lucky that I have a wife who likes to bake and when I bought my house one of my priorities was installing a Western style kitchen with an oven. Ovens are a very rare item in Thai kitchens.

When the only local options are rice gruel or sticky rice, which I also can't stand, freshly made toasted bagels with cream cheese and salmon are a little piece of heaven.

I now need to get the wife experimenting with Eggs Benedict, which is another of my occasional breakfast favourites. If she can make bagels as well as she does, I'm sure that English muffins won't be a problem.

Incidentally, TOPS charge Bt40 for their bagels. The ingredients to make a batch of six cost about the same.

The fun is just about to begin.

Hat Yai braces for floods as heavy rains forecast

The rains have come late this year, but now they have arrived.

I've been re-reading Niels Mulder's 'Thai Images' recently and one section is devoted to some Thai literature. According to Mulder, who I respect as an author and an authority on Thailand, the national school curriculum paints a picture of Thailand that is completely imaginary. The image is of a utopian society that simply doesn't exist.

On the other hand, the image of Thailand presented by the press and Thai literature is gritty and realistic. In fact, Thai newspaper stories with their bloody and gory photos splashed all over the front pages are a little too gritty and realistic.

The books that Mulder covers are apparently well known to Thais and, to be honest, they are quite depressing. Murder, rape, cruelty, greed, cheating and deception are everyday activities for the subjects of the books.

In addition, each book mentions that the annual floods that people have to endure are just another hardship for people who already have a lot of hardship in their lives.

We have had very little rain so far this year, but a few weeks ago there was quite a heavy downpour for a couple of hours. I then saw my neighbour who told me that there had been knee-high flooding in one area. There has to be something seriously wrong when floods occur so easily, so quickly.

The good news, at least, is that Thais now understand what causes flooding:

Nakhon Ratchasima flooded due to rain, RID insists

Rain water needs somewhere to go and it has to be taken away faster than it arrives. In many places the water has nowhere to go. In Singapore there are huge storm drains running parallel to all roads to take the water away. Singapore gets a huge amount of rainfall, yet flooding is fairly rare.

My personal situation now is different. In our old rented house I would now be taking things upstairs, working out where to take our cars, and preparing to be flooded. Our new house is in an area that doesn't flood, but if flooding occurs there may be power cuts and it may be difficult buying food and water.

I guess that tomorrow we should probably buy some dry food, drinking water, candles and batteries. This is something that we and millions of Thais have to face every single year.

The news story I linked to has been updated. In the new version they talk about adopting a new weather forecasting system, as if this will cure everything. It's the same system used by the United States so it must be good.

It doesn't really matter whether people know one or two days in advance that their home is about to be flooded. They might have a bit more time to prepare, but the result is the same.

Municipality flood boat - Click for larger image Instead of new weather forecasting gadgets, how about just doing what is really necessary and improving the flood defence infrastructure? It won't be easy, it will take several years, and it will be expensive, but it has to be better than facing the threat of flooding every single year.

The big flood three years ago caused damage estimated at billions of Baht. Dealing with the after effects of flooding certainly isn't cheap and it results in massive amounts of lost time and lost earnings. Surely a huge infrastructure investment to prevent flooding will pay for itself in the long run.

Unlike some other countries, it isn't as if flooding in Thailand is an unusual phenomenon that occurs every 50 or 100 years. It happens every single year and it's quite predictable. Different parts of Thailand flood at different times of the year, but everyone knows when flooding in their area is most likely to occur.

We visited the local municipality recently. It's miles from any water, but they keep boats there solely for when it floods. Thais are very poor at predicting and preventing problems. Their attitude seems to be to let problems occur and then deal with the mess afterwards.

Many English proverbs have a similar Thai equivalent with the same meaning, however, I've never heard a Thai proverb that has the same meaning as "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This isn't the way that Thais think.

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Monday 18th November 2013

There is so much political tension in Thailand (once again) that even arch enemies are joining together to fight for the common cause.

From the Bangkok Post:

"I was amazed by the presence of hundreds of rival vocational students from various colleges who used to fight one another whenever they met at protests. This time they volunteered to serve as security guards. Their alumni also joined the protest in droves. These groups were decidedly absent during the yellow-shirt protests."

Full article:

Protests a costly lesson for Thaksin, PM

There is a big backlash going on against what is being called the 'Thaksin regime'. Every day, lecturers and students at my local university are working in the morning and then protesting in the afternoon. This kind of thing is taking place all over Thailand.

Power to the people, but will the political situation in Thailand ever get any better? I don't have a lot of confidence that it will.

With all different types of Thai cultural behaviour I am more interested in why it happens rather than the behaviour itself.

In the video documentary about vocational students that I gave a link to, the part that interested me most was the statement (by a Thai) that Thai vocational students engage in mindless violence because they suffer from inferiority complexes.

They are looked down upon by society, they receive sub-standard education, and they know that they have few prospects. The odds are stacked against them and they don't feel good about themselves. They engage in warfare with students from other colleges because winning battles against other students is the only thing that makes them feel better about themselves.

Every day I go to pick up my daughter from day care. It should be an easy, relaxed journey but every day it is like being on a race track. It's like go-cart racing where everyone's primary objective is to get ahead of the people in front of them.

Even when there is heavy traffic or if I am approaching red lights and have to stop, invariably there is a Thai behind me trying to overtake or undertake by whatever means possible. It's completely pointless and dangerous and I've been wondering why so many Thais drive that way.

Previously, I had simply put it down to the fact that 60% of Thai males never get past the mental age of 13. Now, I am wondering if this behaviour is also due to them having an inferiority complex. The Thai males who do it are always no-hopers at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

In the same way that the vocational students organise their own battles which they then try to win, it's as if a lot of Thai males regard every car journey as a race that they have to win in order to prove that they aren't inferior to anyone.

Whenever I go to one of the local public hospitals I see large advertising hoardings for the hospital and the photos always show farang patients. It's as if the only endorsement worth having comes from foreigners. The mentality seems to be, "Foreigners come here to be treated so it must be a good hospital." Why not show Thai patients? Is this because of a national inferiority complex?

If a Thai is trying to sell a product that is manufactured abroad they always make a big thing about it being made abroad. I looked at a burglar alarm system last year and the guy told me how good it was because it was made in Australia.

There is a huge amount of nationalism in Thailand, but you never hear a Thai going on about how good something is because it was made in Thailand.

The cars that materialistic Thais covet most are all made abroad. Foreign goods are seen as superior and the best endorsement for a Thai service is if it is used by foreigners. Do these things result in feelings of inferiority?

This may also start to explain why the notion of losing face is such a problem in Thailand. Most foreigners know about this, and they also know that what constitutes losing face in Thailand wouldn't be a problem elsewhere.

Why do Thais suffer so much from so-called 'loss of face'? In all the books I've read about Thai cultural behaviour I have not come across one theory.

For starters it only really seems to be a problem with macho Thai males. I can't recall encountering a Thai female exhibiting weird behaviour because she lost face.

Is it because Thai males constantly try to present an image of themselves that isn't real in order to conceal an inferiority complex? They even do this with their vehicles. What is the point of bolting on three additional exhaust tailpipes to the back of their cars that don't do anything?

Do they want people to believe that their pickup trucks and Toyota Vios shopping cars are really Porsche Carreras in disguise? Everything in Thailand is about image over substance, including personal image and presentation.

If the mask they constantly wear to hide their inferiority is fragile and someone does or says something that exposes the real person beneath the mask, is this why the notorious 'loss of face' occurs? Do they react because someone starts to see them for what they really are?

Bangkok's taxis earn ranking for value though not safety

I would tend to agree with this survey. I can count the number of times I travelled by black taxi in London on one hand, simply because they are too expensive. Yes, all drivers have done 'The Knowledge' and know London's roads inside out. The taxis are safe and clean, but the fares are way too high.

Taxis in Singapore and Bangkok are a lot more affordable. Generally, the taxis in Singapore are quite safe except when a complete moron driving a Ferrari decides to run a set of red lights at very high speed.

Taxi drivers in Bangkok, the same as most Thai drivers, drive much too fast. Not all, but many. The fares are cheap, but I've had several white knuckle rides in Bangkok taxis.

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Sunday 17th November 2013

Today is the Loy Gratong festival in Thailand and it is something that any book on 'Thai culture' will mention. This is the superficial level of culture that is pretty meaningless. When people refer to 'culture shock' it isn't because Thais celebrate Loy Gratong and not Easter.

I was talking to a Thai girl who is planning to go to New Zealand to do a PhD. She told me about a friend who did the same thing. Her friend met and married a New Zealander while she was studying.

With government scholarships, the person awarded the scholarship has to return to Thailand to work in a government education establishment for a time period twice as long as the scholarship. If not, they have to pay the government a lot of money.

The girl and her new husband came back to Thailand so that she could work and repay her obligation to the government. After a couple of years her husband couldn't take any more of living in Thailand. He was getting desperate and had to leave.

They went back to New Zealand, but not before paying the government Bt4 million because the girl had not fulfilled her obligation. The girl who told me didn't elaborate on the problems he was having, but said that he was having problems with all aspects of living in Thailand. Living in Thailand, he felt like a fish out of water.

This kind of thing should never be underestimated and many of the books about 'Thai culture' won't prepare you very well for living in Thailand.

Many years ago, an old friend and colleague of mine got it into his head that he had to visit India. He knew that the experience would be a culture shock, and tried to prepare himself as best he could. He arrived in India and as soon as he exited the airport he said that he was overcome with an overwhelming stench in the air that he had been unable to prepare himself for.

There are many cultural differences in Thailand because Thais have completely different value and belief systems. The things that you personally hold near and dear may be regarded as completely unimportant by Thais, and vice-versa. When everyone around thinks and behaves differently to you and you have no one on your side it can be difficult to deal with.

This is probably why many foreigners who come to live in Thailand choose to live inside little expat bubbles. Living this way won't give you the real experience of living in Thailand, but it shields you to some extent from the culture shocks.

Examples are numerous, but one example of the value system is the importance given to family members. In Western countries a girl's allegiance switches to her husband and children after she marries. If you marry a Thai girl, it doesn't matter how much financial and emotional support you give her, you will always be less important than her family.

How powerful is the culture? With Thai-Chinese families, of which there are a high percentage in Thailand, the allegiance to family is even stronger.

As the following article illustrates, even the most powerful politician in the country who is responsible for every Thai in the country still puts her family first.

Culture is extremely powerful.

Yingluck must put nation first

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Blog entries 1st to 14th November 2013


Visit Thailand

Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia. used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand