Tuesday 24th November 2015
This is rather concerning, given the recent events in Paris.
IS activities in Malaysia spark security alert
One theory I read last week was that Paris was targeted as a result of the French 'joie de vivre' because this is what IS hates the most.
French 'joie de vivre' made it the target, says ambassador
Over the years I have heard many comparisons between Thailand and France. The land mass and population sizes are roughly the same, and the Thais and the French have a similar outlook in life. Life isn't taken too seriously and it is there to be enjoyed. Thai and French farmers even protest in a similar manner when they have a grievance with the government.
It is no secret what ingredients attract many visitors to Thailand, but the alcohol, prostitution and general hedonism is something that goes against all Muslim principles, especially those of hardline extremists.
The following is a quote from the book 'Conflict And Terrorism In Southern Thailand':
One of the thrusts of the economic development packages that the Thai government vigorously pushed was the tourism and entertainment industry that would attract foreign tourists and much needed revenue. Bangkok perceived that tourism would be the major catalyst in the economic transformation of the region. This would create new job opportunities and consequently lessen the deprivation and induce equality. However, the southern Muslims shunned the tourism and entertainment sector, considering them to be infidel and against Koranic precepts.
Therefore, the fact that other regions of Thailand are prospering through something that Muslims are morally opposed to must create a degree of resentment with some people.
The majority of Thai Muslims are very moderate and generally nice people. My first girlfriend was Muslim, although you wouldn't know it from looking at her, and the neighbour who gives us most help with the children is Muslim. Likewise, you wouldn't know she is Muslim apart from when her mother visits and she puts a veil on.
As for the people behind the massacre in Paris, I think that most right-minded people would agree with Andrew Neil's verdict.
Andrew Neil's message to those who attacked Paris
Obviously, I hope that problems don't escalate in the south.
I've had a couple of good experiences this week and I like to balance things up because it's a lot easier to write about the bad things in Thailand. The first was at the Post Office.
I sent a rather large picture frame to my brother in Phuket. The original plan was to put it in the car at Christmas, but there isn't enough room for both the frame and the kids. Leaving the kids at home would upset the wife, so I had to look at an alternative method of getting it there.
Sending an item this large and heavy in the UK would cost a fortune. My first pleasant surprise was that the postage was only Bt500. Also, the staff in the Post Office were really helpful and went out of their way to help when there was no obligation on their part to do so.
One guy did all the measuring and paperwork for me and then another member of staff appeared who wanted to know what I was sending. When I explained he, was concerned that my packaging wasn't adequate and said that he would add a wooden frame free of charge. The service I received was way beyond the call of duty. Top marks to the Thai postal service.
Secondly, I was pleased with the air-conditioning technicians who did some work at my house today. I've had problems in the past with theft and on another occasion a guy spent a lot of time looking around the house instead of doing his work as though he was planning to break in later. Today, they cleaned and serviced five units and replaced an old LG unit that has never been much good. They were very thorough and I felt that I could trust them. Every unit in the house is now a Mitsubushi inverter model.
Whenever I have asked Thais what the best A/C brand is the same answer always comes back - Mitsubushi. Inverter models have advantages over non-inverter models, but I don't think that everyone understands how they work. My Swiss friend who spends part of the year here told me that inverter models can blow out warm air, as well as cold, so they can be used to heat houses in northern Thailand when it gets cold. This is completely wrong.
Regular air conditioners either run at full speed or not at all to maintain a constant temperature. Apart from being noisy when they run, this isn't a very comfortable or efficient method of working. It also stresses the internal components. If you only ever ran your car engine at full speed it would fail a lot sooner than an engine that was run moderately.
Inverter air conditioners run all the time, but when the correct air temperature is reached they slow down and run very slowly. On the quiet setting, the Mitsubushi models are so quiet that I often forget they are on.
The other huge benefit with inverter air conditioners is that because they operate more efficiently they use less electricity. The energy savings can be as much as 50%. The initial cost is higher, but the benfits and long term savings make them worth while.
There are a few more drawbacks. Parts and servicing are more expensive and the external compressor units contain electronics, which regular air conditioners don't. I have had some problems with common house lizards (
jingjoks) entering the units and getting fried on the circuit boards. This means that the board has to be replaced and they are quite expensive.
However, weighing up all the pros and cons I still think that inverter units are a better option.
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Monday 23rd November 2015
There is a big culture of celebrity in Thailand and Thais worship the actors who appear in their atrocious TV soap operas. One of the well known male
daa-raa (superstars) is currently in a critical condition in Bangkok's Ramathibodi hospital having contracted dengue haemorrhagic fever and this is causing a lot of consternation among Thais, including my wife. She was saying last night that he might not pull through.
TV actor 'Por' has infected left foot amputated
When I used to visit Thailand as a tourist I would trot along to my local surgery before I went to make sure that all my vaccinations were up to date and I would always get a course of malaria tablets. These made me feel nauseous, but I figured it was better than contracting malaria.
Since I started to live in Thailand I have never been worried about malaria because in most parts of Thailand it isn't a problem. I only think it's a problem in certain border regions. People sometimes visit my website because they want to know about the risk of malaria in Thailand. When Europeans and Americans think about mosquito-borne diseases in the tropics they only ever seem to think about malaria and the places they are likely to visit in Thailand don't have a malaria risk.
Dengue fever, on the other hand, is endemic and it is still a big problem in many parts of Thailand, especially urban areas. There is no vaccination and no real treatment. The treatment is palliative and just relieves the symptoms. Incidentally, the reports I have read about the development of a vaccine indicate that Thailand is a leading player in the field.
I know people here who have contracted it and they have all recovered. However, it isn't particularly pleasant and in some cases it can be fatal. The disease used to be known as breakbone fever because of the joint pain it caused.
It is transmitted by
Aedes mosquitoes, which have a different appearance to regular mosquitoes. They have stripes that can be seen quite clearly. They are active during the daytime, as opposed to regular mosquitoes which aren't normally seen during the daytime. They are also quite aggressive (I have been chased by stripy mosquitoes) and they home in on young children. When my children are playing outside I am very careful to ensure that they don't get bitten by stripy mosquitoes.
Large posters have been displayed locally highlighting the risk of dengue fever and telling people to empty water containers outside so that the mosquitoes can't breed. The disease is also a big problem in Singapore and the authorities there take it very seriously. If your home is inspected and found to have places where mosquitoes can breed you will be fined. Of course, the Thais are a lot more complacent, as they are with everything.
The final part of the poster says that if we don't kill the mosquitoes' offspring, then they will kill our offspring. Visitors to Thailand need to be aware of the real risks of mosquito-borne diseases and foreign countries offering healthcare advice to their citizens need to start updating their advice.
Unless you plan to visit an area that is known to have a malaria risk don't be too worried about malaria, but be very careful about contracting dengue fever and take all the normal precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes, especially stripy ones.
Regarding the Thai actor, apparently he stayed at home for a couple of days at first thinking it was just a fever. He was then admitted to a private hospital, but after his condition deteriorated he went to one of the top public hospitals in Thailand. Ramathibodi is where I take my daughter twice a year. I want her to see the best doctor in Thailand for her condition and that is where he works.
If you feel unwell after returning home from the tropics see a doctor quickly and inform them of your travels. Unless they know where you have been they won't suspect tropical diseases and won't do the necessary blood tests. This isn't necessary if you live in Thailand. In the past when my children have had fevers one of the first things the doctors do here is check for dengue because it is a big problem in this area.
Por's story also illustrates some of the differences between the public and private hospitals in Thailand. I was back at the local public hospital yesterday with my son, who sees a doctor every month about his asthma. The hospital is a mass of humanity and gives the appearance of being a zoo, but for serious problems the best doctors and facilities are at the best public hospitals, particular those connected with the top universities in Thailand.
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Thursday 17th November 2015
The problem with some aspects of Thai culture is that they just go too far. Thais are famous for their '
mai bpen rai' (never mind) attitude to life and when used in the same way that a Westerner would use the phrase, "It's no use crying over spilt milk," it makes a lot of sense. There's obviously no point getting upset about something that has already happened, even though most of us have a tendency to do so.
However, the phrase is often used in situations in which a 'never mind' attitude will result in problems occurring and this doesn't make a lot of sense. This is when I get the feeling that '
mai bpen rai' is going too far.
Lesser known to many visiting foreigners is the Thai cultural trait of '
greng jai', but if you live in Thailand it is something that is impossible to avoid. Knowing about greng jai can help to explain a lot of Thai behaviour and, just like ' mai bpen rai', Thais have a tendency to take it a little too far.
When I arrived to live in Thailand I didn't know anything about '
greng jai'. I'd spent vacations in Thailand, but as a tourist you see and understand nothing about Thailand or the Thais. I bought a small phrase book when I started to learn the language and it included a section on ' jai' words. Jai means heart or mind, and almost every feeling in Thai is described using a ' jai' word.
The book described '
greng jai' as meaning considerate or kind, which isn't really accurate, and gave an example:
You are sitting in a non-smoking taxi. You do not care about this and smoke. The taxi driver does not say anything and lets you smoke.
Greng jai' is actually an extreme reluctance to impose on anyone, but it goes way beyond that. This reluctance to 'impose' will actually stop students from asking their teachers questions and it is the reason why it is pointless complaining to an underling about anything.
If you have a problem at your hotel and complain to the receptionist, she doesn't have the power or authority to do anything and she won't pass the complaint on to anyone higher in the management chain because of '
greng jai'. If you want some action taken it is necessary to bypass the people at the bottom and go directly to the top. I have done this on a few occasions and although I have got what I wanted, it doesn't go down well.
My phrase book's description of '
greng jai' wasn't very good, but the example was fine. On occasions I have been eating lunch in places plastered with 'No Smoking' signs. Despite this, people smoke with no concern for the signs or consideration for other people. I have even seen waitresses take over ashtrays for people smoking in non-smoking areas.
You can probably already see the contradiction here. If Thais were genuinely reluctant to impose on other people then they wouldn't smoke in non-smoking areas while other people were eating. The truth is that they don't care about other people. Their own personal interpretation of '
greng jai' is that they should be allowed to do whatever they wish and that other people shouldn't tell them otherwise.
You can drive like a lunatic in Thailand (many people do) and no one will say anything. They only thing you can't do is to say something to another person who is driving like a lunatic. If you do, you will suffer the consequences.
Lax law enforcement or, more often than not, no law enforcement seems to be another consequence of '
greng jai' being taken too far. Cops are only people doing a job and Thai cops are subject to extreme feelings of ' greng jai' just like all other Thais. I'm sure that the two things are connected.
For a lot of visitors to Thailand I think that these easy-going, do-as-you-please cultural traits are all part of the attraction, especially if they come from countries with a strong rule of law. However, if you live alongside people who have the attitude that they can do whatever they wish all the time it gets a little tiring.
The Loy Gratong festival is on Wednesday and it is customary for people to release floating lanterns that are illuminated inside with a live flame. These things sometimes crash into wooden buildings and start fires. They are also a hazard to aircraft. In other countries the lanterns would be banned, however, in Thailand this would be viewed as an imposition so it is easier just to cancel flights.
Flights cancelled over floating lantern safety worries
Similarly, the Chinese firecrackers that are banned in all civilised countries are still widely used in Thailand, especially during Chinese New Year. Even with things are a nuisance or, in some cases downright dangerous, the Thais still have this extreme reluctance to do anything.
It is no accident that Thailand's roads are the second most dangerous in the world. When you combine certain attitudes and aspects of Thai cultural behaviour it is no surprise at all.
Road rage incidents are becoming extremely common in Thailand. Not only are they becoming more frequent, but with more and more people using their mobile phones and dashcams to take videos they are being seen by a wider audience. Some are really nasty and violence is commonplace.
Hot-head driver vs hot-head bikers
I think this also has to do with
greng jai attitudes and people expecting to be able to do whatever they want without being told otherwise. Road rage incidents occur when two people meet who want to do their own thing - a case of the immovable object and irresistible force. Neither will give way and the only reaction they are capable of is a violent one.
There was another violent incident last week involving a foreigner.
Cabbie attacks Aussie at Suvarnabhumi
What seems to have happened was that the foreigner left something in a taxi and as the taxi started to pull away he banged on the back. Unfortunately, it was a different taxi and the driver got upset.
What concerns me most about this story is the extent of the injuries sustained by the foreigner over a simple misunderstanding. He looks like quite a big guy, yet his head injuries needed medical treatment. I guess it's possible that the cabbie was an ex Thai boxer, but what is more likely is that he had a metal bar in his taxi ready for such incidents.
Video footage of a road rage incident a little while ago involving a Thai woman and a taxi driver showed the driver approaching her threateningly with an iron bar. How many Bangkok taxi drivers drive around with iron bars in their cabs? I suspect quite a few.
Speeding is a major problem on Thai roads and in most places there are no deterrents - no traffic police or speed cameras. A few years ago I was really pleased to see that speed cameras were going to be installed in Phuket and hoped that this would set a precedent for other provinces. Drivers would slow down and the revenue raised in fines could go towards other road safety initiatives.
However, it turns out that the cameras are only getting 10 drivers a day, which is ridiculous, and only about 30% pay the fine. If they don't pay the fine, no legal action is taken.
There are now moves to get a little tougher. It would also help if they adjusted the cameras to trigger at speeds less than 120kmh. That way, they may catch a few more speeding drivers than 10 a day.
Mobile units to tackle Phuket speed demons
My brother has a house in Phuket and goes to certain pubs and restaurants regularly. A few years ago the Thai wife of a foreign owner of a pub in Phuket died when the motorbike she was riding hit a stationary vehicle parked on the road. This kind of accident is quite common in Thailand.
Phuket teen dies in crash with parked truck
Many Thai motorcyclists don't look where they are going. I was trying to pull out from behind a parked truck yesterday and a guy on a bike was coming towards me while looking at something on the other side of the road. It is also common to see motorcyclists scrolling through their mobile phone messages while riding their bikes.
A large proportion don't bother wearing crash helmets and I often see them riding with one hand while carrying a baby, umbrella or birdcage. In general, there is a total disregard for traffic laws and safety.
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Thursday 12th November 2015
Lots of Malaysians and Singaporeans visit southern Thailand for quick breaks because it is nearby and prices are cheap, especially compared to Singapore, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the world.
They can get a cheap hotel room, eat cheap food, visit cheap massage shops and do some bargain hunting in the local markets and department stores. If they have any time left, some form of merit-making is a popular activity and some men have other activities in mind.
I also discovered a number of years ago that cheap cosmetic surgery is another big draw. Again, this is something that is significantly cheaper in Thailand and to cater for this demand Hat Yai is full of clinics. Some clinics just offer facial treatments and minor surgery, such as laser treatment or Botox injections.
Others offer more complicated surgery and there are some
fully fledged plastic surgeons who offer to do anything and everything, including complete sex change operations. Most seem fine. They take safety very seriously and the reports I have read by their patients have been very positive.
This trend is becoming more popular with Westerners and with prices increasing and economies deteriorating in Western countries, more and more
farangs are visiting Thailand for medical tourism. As I've mentioned many times, Thai doctors and dentists are generally excellent. Prices are very reasonable and some of the private hospitals are like five star hotels.
In addition to dentistry and normal medical procedures, visiting Thailand for cosmetic surgery is also becoming popular because of the big cost savings. Effectively, the money saved can pay for a free vacation. However, the industry is not entirely devoid of risk.
In the past there have been a few high profile reports of young girls - both Thai and foreign - dying in cosmetic surgery clinics. Money is a major obsession in Thailand and some Thais will stop at nothing to increase their wealth. Some doctors, although being medically trained, open cosmetic surgery clinics when they aren't actually qualified to perform this type of surgery.
The cost of being 'pretty' in Thailand
Today, the Bangkok Post reported another incident of cosmetic surgery going wrong. The girl didn't die, but she has been left with a deformed face and some very ugly breasts.
'Pretty' pins breast ills on illegal clinic
Another sad aspect in Thailand is the obsession with physical beauty. Companies wishing to promote a product will hire girls referred to as 'pretties'. To me this always sounds like the Wicked Witch Of The West who says in a cackling voice, "Come here my little pretty." I see them in department stores and at other venues quite often.
A 'pretty' promoting motorbikes
The girls are hired purely for their looks and stand their spouting out promotional blurb concerning products about which they know nothing. They have no other assets apart from their looks, and once their looks start to fade they find that they can no longer find work. In order to try to prolong their beauty for as long as possible they visit cosmetic surgeries.
The Thai girl who died having cosmetic surgery was a pretty and the girl in this latest story was also a pretty, except that after spending Bt100,000 and experiencing lots of health problems she is now no longer pretty.
Thais are big followers of Facebook and my wife will often show me 'before' and 'after' photos of a girl who has had cosmetic surgery that went well. Among Thais, cosmetic surgeons in Korea have a good reputation.
I admit that the results are sometimes quite startling, but when it goes wrong it can go very wrong or even result in death. Also, girls don't seem to realise that not all men like football-sized breasts. I really hate the look and feel of breast implants and have given my wife strict warnings never to undergo surgery.
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Wednesday 11th November 2015
We probably all know that travelling to Syria at the moment isn't a very good idea, but which countries are safe to visit and which aren't?
The following map gives a few clues, but a few things also surprised me.
Mapped: Where in the world is safe for Britons?
The whole of South Africa is safe to visit? It's a beautiful country, but avoiding becoming a victim of crime was at the very top of my agenda when I visited in 2000. The white South Africans who I spoke to gave me some very different advice. Only parts of Colombia are dangerous? The whole of Brazil is perfectly safe to visit? Even before I got hooked on Thailand I developed a fascination with Rio de Janeiro and was desperate to go. However, I was put off by the many reports of crime.
Parts of Thailand aren't safe, but the whole of the UK is? For 12 years I have lived in one of the southern Thai provinces that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises not going to (Songkhla). I've never had any problems and feel perfectly safe. The locals would think it outrageous that another country is telling its citizens that it is dangerous here. I've also spoken to lots of people who live in one of the three provinces that are reputed to be the most dangerous parts of Thailand (Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat) and they tell me it isn't that much of a problem.
FCO Foreign Travel Advice - Thailand
On the other hand, there are inner city areas in London and the provincial areas of the UK where I would never dream of going because they are so dangerous. The same would apply to other Western countries, such as the USA.
As I have stated many times, the biggest danger to life and limb in Thailand is dangerous driving. You can be killed by a drunk and/or wreckless driver anywhere and the risk is just as high in the areas that are deemed safe as it is in so-called dangerous areas. Even Thai police in Phuket aren't safe from drunken drivers.
I wouldn't disregard the FCO advice complete because insurgent activity does kill innocent people occasionally and the violence is indiscriminate. When an explosive device is just left in a parked motorbike and detonated later the insurgents don't care who they kill.
However, don't be overly concerned, and remember to keep the risks in perspective. Lots of foreign visitors to Thailand return home in boxes and body bags each year, but many die in road accidents or by drowning. The currents around Thailand are strong and some people think that the perfect way to relax is by going swimming while drunk or high on drugs.
A young Canadian teacher was killed in Hat Yai on Saturday 16th September 2006 after insurgents had set off an explosive device in a motorbike, but relatively very few foreigners die this way in Thailand.
The aftermath of some insurgent activity in 2006
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Blog entries 1st to 10th November 2015