Living In Thailand Blog
Wednesday 31st October 2007
If you're about to arrive in Thailand for a vacation, bring an umbrella because it's wet. Very wet, in fact. As I sit here typing, there is torrential rain outside and it has been raining heavily for several hours non-stop.
The wet weather is affecting the whole country but has only reached the deep south fairly recently. As far as tourist destinations go, Phuket is wet and Samui is very wet. The historical city of Ayuthaya has also been badly affected.
If it persists, I will be interested to see how the new flood prevention measures where I live hold up. Last year's wet season was actually quite dry but there was a flood in 2005. Since that time, however, a couple of large klongs have been built.
Water management has always been a favourite subject of the King and, on his advice, Thailand has instigated a system known as monkey cheeks (gam-ling in Thai) whereby excess water is diverted into reservoirs in the same way as monkeys store water in their cheeks.
My heart sinks every time I hear of yet another foreigner in Thailand arrested for sex crimes, especially when so many support themselves financially in Thailand by purporting to be English teachers. It's a great advert for the English teaching profession.
On the other hand, it's encouraging to see that Interpol and various country-based technology related crime units are working together to trace and catch the perverts.
A recent news story said that the names and photographs of 50 Western paedophiles were about to be released to the Thai public. In addition to Christopher Paul Neil who was arrested last week, four more have already been arrested.
They were all arrested in the same province. Three more men on the list who are currently on the run were also last seen in that same province.
Competition is hotting up for the posthumous stupid farang of the week award with France now challenging the United States (see blog entry for 22nd October below). And we're not even into the high season yet.
Why is it that when these stories appear, the location in Thailand is always the same?
Monday 29th October 2007
A couple of days ago, someone arrived on the page I wrote about Thai girls after searching for why Thai girls like to lie. As a tourist and newbie expat in Thailand, being lied to was an ongoing problem but now it seldom affects me.
I don't think the amount of lying has decreased but the difference now is that I know when people are lying and - in most cases - why they are doing it. Normally, Thais who lie to foreigners only do so because they think the foreigners don't know the facts (and most times, they are correct).
One reason Thais lie is to save face if they don't know something. It used to happen when I asked directions but the person didn't know the answer. Instead of telling me they didn't know, which would be considered a loss of face, they would just make up something and send me off on a wild goose chase.
Near where I live, there is a new building going up and it looks like a small apartment building. I asked one of the workmen (in Thai) if it was an apartment building. "No," he told me, "It's a house." I asked if he was sure and he told me yes.
I walked past again a couple of days ago and it is looking even more like an apartment building these days. I asked another workman if it is an apartment building. "Yes," he told me.
Saving face is one reason but another reason is for financial gain. It is a well-known fact in Thailand that all foreigners are richer than all Thais so certain Thais feel no compunction about lying to foreigners to charge them more.
The trouble though, is that if you don't know the facts, you can't be sure whether you are being lied to or not. I know the area I live in very well and I know what things should cost. I therefore know immediately, for example, when a tuk-tuk driver is lying to me.
While walking around a fairly seedy area of town a month or two ago, a brothel owner tried to interest me in one of his girls. He thought I was a tourist. The girl, to put it kindly, was not the best looking Thai prostitute I have ever seen.
He wanted Bt2,000 but even if he'd paid me Bt2,000 to have sex with this particular girl, the answer would still have been no. If I had wanted the services of a prostitute I could have gone somewhere where there are far better looking girls for half the price but he didn't know that I knew the local area.
As I walked away, he basically told me I could pay what I liked. The answer was still no but it illustrates the point that when dealing with farangs many Thais will lie first just to see if they can get away with a ridiculous price.
His next line - that at 7:55pm his brothel business was about to close in five minutes - was another lie.
While on another walk around town recently, a guy came running after me in the street and once he had got his breath back, stuck a laminated card in my face.
Written in English was something about collecting money for a charity. Perhaps he thought I was a gullible tourist and perhaps he thought that having the card laminated somehow made it look authentic but the hundreds of photocopy shops you see in Thailand all have laminating machines and it is easy to get anything laminated in Thailand.
If he was genuinely collecting for a charity, why wasn't he standing on the street asking everyone to contribute? Why did he just make a point of running out after farangs he saw walking past? It was obviously a scam so I walked off. What I should also have done was report him to the police.
This is an aspect of Thailand I had almost forgotten about but for foreigners not familiar with the country it can be a big problem. What makes it worse of course is that the liars and cheats make a point of going to places in Thailand where there are lots of gullible tourists because they are easy prey.
However, once you get away from the tourist areas; once you become familiar with Thailand, Thai culture and Thai prices; and after you learn some of the language, it's a problem that disappears very quickly.
Even so, I'm not completely immune. Whenever I travel to areas of Thailand that I'm not familiar with, I find myself once more at the mercy of the cheats and liars. In those situations I make a point of asking locals what prices should be before I go anywhere or do anything.
The one place in Thailand where I find it is impossible not to be ripped off and lied to is Phuket. It doesn't matter if I don't like a tuk-tuk fare quote on the basis it is five times what it should be and I refuse to pay. The driver doesn't care. He knows that in five minutes time there will be some fresh tourists come along who will simply hand over the money without any fuss.
This year I was hoping to avoid Bangkok and Phuket which are both places I go to only when I have to. I've managed to avoid Bangkok so far but I got a call a couple of days ago inviting me to a family gathering that will occur in Phuket next month.
I am already dreading going there but I can't really get out of it. On my list of places to avoid in Thailand, Phuket is number two after Pattaya.
I don't dislike Bangkok but it's just too manic and the constant chaos, traffic jams and pollution start to drive me crazy after a few days. There are loads of interesting things to do and see there, great restaurants, good shopping, etc., but it does my head in. I am also not keen on the creeping process of Westernisation that has afflicted the city in the last 20 years.
Sunday 28th October 2007
While having dinner this evening, a young girl of about 20 eating with her mother and sister at the next table let out a huge, rasping belch. I didn't mean to do it quite as obviously as I did, but I span around partly in horror and partly in disbelief to locate the source. The three of them burst out laughing.
I didn't know what to say so asked her if the food was tasty. "Aroi mai krup?" She said it was.
Later on, they tried to start a conversation and the proud belcher apologised but it had already rather spoilt my dinner.
A couple of weeks ago - also while out eating my evening meal - a girl of about the same age as the girl this evening was sitting directly in front of me at another table with her boyfriend.
She obviously had something up her nose that was troubling her and, using her finger, fought for about 10 minutes to remove the offending object - checking her finger each time it appeared from her nose to see if she had been successful. This was all going on while I was trying to enjoy my put tai noodles.
These are the kind of cultural differences you have to get used to in Thailand. Don't, whatever you do, point your foot at someone but it's not a problem to belch and ream out your nose in public while other people are eating.
I found a good web site recently - john place online . com
The author's views on life are very close to my own; hence the reason I am living in Thailand now and not chained to a desk somewhere in England, while simultaneously paying out huge amounts of money in council tax and fares each month just for the privilege of living in my own house and travelling to work each day.
The article 'Are you an American Zombie?' draws exactly the same conclusions I reached some years ago.
"We work at jobs we hate so we can buy things we do not need," is one of the truths about life I realised a long time ago but I still see an awful lot of people living their lives that way. It's worth a read.
With regard to anyone considering making a move to Thailand (especially single men), another one of the articles on this site is very relevant.
Myth #7 - A Life of Leisure Leads to Happiness
I have known this for a very long time. The worst thing you could possibly do to me is take away my work, take away my computer, and put me on the most beautiful beach in Thailand with nothing meaningful to do. I start to get bored on beaches and islands within about 45 minutes.
Doing nothing - or doing meaningless things without any real purpose - can be hell on earth for people who are normally active and busy. If you are planning to come to Thailand to do nothing, make sure this is really what you want, otherwise think about what you can do.
Things to do in Thailand for single men leads quite nicely into the next myth.
Myth #4 - Promiscuous Sex Makes Men Happy
This is a particularly relevant myth for Thailand, a country where it is possible to have paid sex with a different girl each and every time. Thai prostitutes, like all prostitutes, have a remarkable ability to detach their minds and souls during the act of sex.
Until you've been with a girl who lies there playing games on her mobile phone while you think you are doing things that should be sending her to heaven, it is difficult to describe. And then, as soon as you leave, the next punter arrives. It can leave you with a very cold and empty feeling.
The kind of sexual adventure involving many different girls that so many men think they want is really not what it is cracked up to be. It's a lesson that everyone needs to learn for themselves though.
Just as I wouldn't expect a teenage boy fascinated with cars to believe me when I say that owning a Porsche won't necessarily make him happy, nor do I expect foreign men with no experience of Thailand to believe what I say about life in Thailand. Some lessons in life we just have to learn for ourselves.
Anyway, if you have started losing a little direction in life and feel that you need to make some changes, this site is well worth checking out.
Saturday 27th October 2007
After much thought, I can only conclude that one (or more) of the following must be true:
- I live in completely the wrong area of Thailand
- I walk around in a trance with my eyes closed
- I am repulsively hideous to Thai girls
- I have a serious personal hygiene problem
- I am very stupid
In a piece wittily titled 'Cute Thai girls are like London buses. Why?' someone who goes by the name of Poomjai concludes that the average expat farang in Thailand has access to a 'never-ending stream of hot Thai girls'.
He also makes the point that these are not 'cute bar girls from the northeast' but 'respectable, well educated Thai girls from good families and with good jobs, who prefer to stick to Thai tradition and culture.'
What he doesn't make clear though - and it's a critical point to his argument - is his definition of 'having access to'. Sure, I find it extremely easy meeting and talking to respectable Thai girls. Occasionally, they even give me their phone number.
Does that count as 'having access' to them? If that's his definition, then I agree, but 'having access' to girls means something slightly different where I come from.
According to Poomjai, "... a lot of decent Thai girls seem to want to date farang men," which makes life in Thailand for farang males, "... like being in Toys r Us where you can pick any toy you want and the shelves get stacked with new toys every day."
Oh dear, Khum Poomjai, how utterly wrong you are. Allow me to describe the situation as I see it.
Firstly, there are lots of prostitutes in Thailand. Some look like stereotypical prostitutes and work in bars. Some don't look like prostitutes at all. They look (and act) like very nice girls and don't work in bars, but perhaps they cruise upmarket shopping malls in Bangkok or Phuket looking for single male farangs as their modus operandi.
Regardless of appearance, their interest in farangs is exactly the same - it is purely for money. They may offer short term sex for money or they may be interested in a long term relationship in order to obtain a degree of financial security for themselves and their families.
With some Thai girls now, they are not poor and they can easily afford the basics in life but they want money from farang men for the luxury items that so many Thais lust after in these materialistic times.
So, what about the 'respectable, well educated Thai girls from good families and with good jobs, who prefer to stick to Thai tradition and culture' that Poomjai talks about? What is their relationship with farangs?
I know lots of Thai girls who fall into this category. In my experience, they are friendly and considerate and because they don't generally associate with farangs there is a bit of a novelty value attached if they know a farang.
They are very easy to talk to and some flirt quite openly, but in a safe way. But that's it. With the good girls I know, there is absolutely no suggestion of sex and even being alone with me in certain situations is not good for their reputation because of the way Thais think.
Thai girl + single male farang = prostitute
A serious relationship would not be impossible but it would take a very long time to prove myself and I know that one slip would jeopardise everything. Once you get involved with a good Thai girl, there is absolutely no messing around otherwise the relationship will end very quickly. And they are superb detectives.
While Poomjai and others perpetuate these myths I just waste my breath talking about Thai girls. The best advice is not to listen to anyone. Just come to Thailand and find out for yourself. However, don't draw any conclusions too soon.
When the 'perfect' girl just happens to bump into you at Siam Paragon - quite by accident - and it is love at first sight for both of you, the temptation might be to say I am wrong but just wait another year until you really know the truth about her.
I suspect that many such meetings are not quite the coincidence they appear to be at the time. These girls are very, very good at what they do and what makes them so successful is the ability to appear to be the exact opposite of what they really are.
As a farang male living in Thailand, it's a good life and I have no complaints. However, the situation is not quite what a lot of men think it is. There are endless opportunities to engage in paid-for sex and there are opportunities to form serious monogamous relationships with respectable Thai girls.
One of the sayings I have in life is, "You can have anything but you can't have everything," and it is a very appropriate saying for expat men living here. If you want to marry a good Thai girl you can, or your life can be an endless round of short assignations with prostitutes. You can have either but not both.
But to suggest that farang men have access to an endless supply of respectable Thai girls (if the definition of 'have access to' is how I define it) is just ridiculous.
Thursday 25th October 2007
A kind reader sent me an e-mail today about this blog. Feedback helps me to understand what subjects people are interested in related to Thailand and also gives me some encouragement that my efforts aren't entirely wasted.
Please feel free to criticise if you think I'm being out of line - which I know I am at times.
In my determination to get to grips with the language (and for some other reasons) I have kind of cut myself off from the farang world.
Being forced to speak and read Thai in most situations I encounter has been a good way of learning Thai but I have few outlets to let off steam (I don't even have a cat to kick). I therefore tend to let off steam through this blog which isn't always a good thing.
It is never my intention to cause offense but I realise that some of the topics I write about are sensitive. I feel very strongly about certain things in Thailand but that is only because I do actually care about this country and the people in it.
Above all, I want what I write here to be an honest account of my life in Thailand and it wouldn't be honest if I only chose 'safe ground' in my writing. There are plenty of boring guide books out there in the shops if you want safe ground but this medium is an opportunity to be a lot more direct and honest.
Just one thing to note, though, and that is I respond better to constructive criticism and measured argument than abuse.
The gentlemen who wrote mentioned he was going to have some dental work done in Bangkok. I was actually in the dentist chair again last week for a regular check up so thought I would give a quick review of the dental profession in Thailand and my own dental history.
Dentistry in Britain during the 1960's and 1970's - while I was growing up - was the stuff of nightmares for young kids. To be honest, I was terrified whenever I had to go, and with each visit all the dentist ever seemed to do was fill perfectly good teeth with lots of amalgam.
Because of so many bad experiences, I stopped going for many years after I left school. However, there came a time when I started to suffer from hyper-sensitive teeth so I knew something had to be done. I was also keen to ensure that my natural teeth would last a lifetime.
When I first started going back to the dentist again, my teeth were so sensitive that I would almost jump out of the chair every time the dentist did something.
I found a dentist who I had confidence in and after several years of work, things started to settle down a little. It was a private practice though, he was the lead partner, and treatment wasn't cheap.
After being in Thailand for six months or so, I realised I was due a check up so went to the local dental hospital. When the dentist checked, I noticed the old sensitivity problems again and the dentist highlighted about five or six problems.
She put together a plan and I went back soon after to let them begin work. Right from the start I started to gain favourable impressions of Thai dentists and my feelings haven't changed since then. The work they have done has been excellent - and a fraction of the price it would have cost me in England.
I was actually a little shocked that some of the work carried out by the expensive dentist in England was quite shoddy. One filling in particular had been so badly done that the dentist took a photo of it, presumably as an example of shoddy British workmanship to show her colleagues.
At all times they have tried to preserve as much of the tooth structure as possible without doing any unnecessary work. I've had a root canal treatment and some fillings done. My teeth are probably as good now as they have ever been and I do not suffer from sensitivity any longer.
Some years ago, my UK dentist removed an upper molar after many years of problems. Apparently, the amalgam filling that had been done when I was a kid had caused the tooth to crack and it was beyond repair. When he extracted it, it came out in three separate parts.
It is my only missing tooth. The gap doesn't show when I smile and it doesn't cause any problems but I have been having some thoughts about getting a titanium implant fitted. These are very expensive in the UK and the USA but quite reasonable in Thailand.
Most of the cost is for the implant itself which comes from abroad and is made of an expensive material. Labour is very cheap here though and I was quoted around Bt30,000.
Last week I had a very old filling replaced and another one needs doing. Even amalgam fillings don't last forever and need replacing eventually. The check up and filling cost just Bt250.
Anyone could be unlucky and find a bad Thai dentist but all my experiences have been very positive. What is also kind of interesting is that the profession seems to be dominated by females - at least it is where I am. In four years, I have only ever been treated by one man.
A few of them have been real stunners too! If only it had been this way when I was a kid then I may not have suffered as I did.
Here's today's quiz. "How long would it take a drunken 38 year-old man to swim from Pattaya to Australia?"
In addition to everything else they are cracking down on, Thai immigration might also want to start conducting mental health checks on farangs before letting them in the country. I won't repeat the details but you can read the story here:
Another good source for stories about mentally unbalanced farangs in Thailand (as well as mentally unbalanced Thais) is this site:
There's never a dull or boring moment in Pattaya but the kind of excitement that exists there is the kind that I can quite happily live without.
Perhaps it's because I'm just a dull and boring person? All I know is that it's not for me. Horses for courses, as they say ...
Tuesday 23rd October 2007
Today is a national holiday in Thailand to commemorate King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who died on this day in 1910. He holds a very special place in the hearts of the Thai people and his image can be seen everywhere in the country.
There is a permanent monument to him in the local park and I went along at lunchtime to take a look and pay my respects. Apparently, large throngs of people were there early this morning but I went after the crowds had gone.
The photo above gives a few clues as to why he is still loved so much by the Thai people. It was during King Chulalongkorn's reign that the system of corvée (a kind of slavery) was abolished, represented in the photo by the man with a broken chain around his wrist.
You should also be able to make out pictures of a telephone, post box, and train. King Rama V, during his reign, was responsible for modernising the infrastructure in Thailand and the system of government, bringing things more into line with Western countries.
I can't remember whether it was King Rama V or King Rama IV who was responsible for introducing the Western customs of sitting on chairs, rather than the floor, and eating with cutlery, rather than with fingers.
Just as the letters 'd' and 'b' may be slightly confusing for a person seeing the English alphabet for the very first time, there are some Thai characters that share similar physical characteristics in the way they are written.
The more familiar you become with written Thai, the less of a problem this is and what you will notice very quickly is that some letters are extremely common while others don't appear that often.
There may be 44 consonants but only a fairly small subset are used for the majority of everyday words.
น and ม are maybe similar in the same way that the English letters 'b' and 'd' are similar but these two characters are so common (you see them all the time) that very soon they become easy to distinguish.
The first (Nor Noo) is an 'N' sound in English and the second (Mor Maa) an 'M' sound. The sound of each is the same whether they come at the beginning or end of a syllable.
The characters ค and ด are another example. The first (Kor Kwaay) is a 'K' sound in English, and the second (Dor Dek) a 'D' sound if it comes at the beginning of a syllable or a 'T' sound at the end of a syllable.
The Thai characters ฌ and ณ give my memory more of a problem because they aren't all that common and subsequently I don't see them that often.
The first (Chor Chur) is a 'CH' sound at the beginning of a syllable (this character isn't used at the end of a syllable). The second (Nor Nane) is an 'N' sound at the beginning and the end of a syllable.
I find that mnemonics are useful for this kind of thing. The two loops at the bottom of the first character are close together. This sounds a bit dumb but if you think of the two loops as a pair of glasses whose wearer is staring at a piece of cheese, you now have an association with the character and the sound 'CH'.
To a new learner, the character ญ might also look similar to the characters above but there is a distinct mark underneath that sets it apart from the previous two. Yor Ying, as it is called in Thai, makes a 'Y' sound at the beginning of a syllable and an 'N' sound at the end.
The character ย (Yor Yuk) is more commonly used for words that begin with a 'Y' sound but this character retains the 'Y' sound when used at the end of a syllable.
Monday 22nd October 2007
The stupid farang of the week award goes to 58 year-old Mr Ronald Kipu of the United States, whose award - as is often the case - will be given posthumously.
After arriving in Pattaya yesterday afternoon, Mr Kipu popped three generic Viagra tablets before attempting to pop a rented Pattaya bar girl (read prostitute). A few short hours later, he was dead.
A quick Internet search tells me that no more than one 100mg Kamagra tablet should be taken in any 24 hour period. What was he thinking by taking three? If the bar girl was that unattractive, why didn't he just choose a better looking one?
The fact that he needed tablets to maintain an erection in the first place tells me his physical health couldn't have been that great and the fact he took three makes me doubt his mental health.
I have to admit though, it's not a bad way to go; certainly better than being hit by a pickup truck, drowning in a cave, or jumping from a tall building.
He's not the first farang in Thailand to have died while on the job with a Thai prostitute. Poor fitness levels, a weak heart, erectile dysfunction medication, alcohol, and vigorous sex after a long period of abstinence can be a lethal combination.
I guess it must also be quite traumatic for the girl involved - not the fact the farang suddenly stops pumping away and his head slumps over her shoulder - but that he dies before paying.
There are a number of real dangers in Thailand but for many tourists the biggest danger they face is themselves. It starts at the airport. "Anything to check in, sir?" "Yes, one suitcase and my cerebral cortex."
Sunday 21st October 2007
I stopped buying newspapers a long time ago but some restaurants I eat at have copies lying around so I normally take a free browse.
Whenever I look at the Bangkok Post letters section (as I did today) there always seems to be an angry letter from a newbie farang complaining that other farangs have the audacity to complain about things in Thailand.
Their helpful advice is normally for those other farangs to go back to their own countries or just to shut up and concentrate on the positive aspects of Thailand. This reaction is perfectly understandable but allow me to put forward a theory why I think it happens.
The question I will begin with is why do foreigners come to live in Thailand in the first place? Is it because their lives were so wonderful back home?
No. They come to live in Thailand for various reasons but the thing most have in common is that their dull and depressing lives back home had become almost unbearable. It's a big move for anyone to make and the underlying reasons for doing so need to be quite powerful.
After they arrive in Thailand they find that every single experience in life is completely different. There is a sensory overload condition that lasts quite a long time. Every sight, sound, smell and taste is different and there are also plenty of opportunities to engage their sense of touch.
In a nutshell, it feels bloody marvellous. It's probably about as close as you can get to being a child again and you suddenly find that life is worthwhile living again.
Not only that but the Thais are a wonderful race of people. Everyone smiles; everyone is friendly; there is no confrontation; Thai children are well brought up, polite and respectful; the girls are beautiful. It seems perfect.
For single men (who probably make up the largest group of foreigners living in Thailand) it gets even better because suddenly they don't feel old, ugly and unwanted any more.
For many people, once they get a taste of Thailand all they can think about is how they can return to live there permanently. And when that time comes for them to finally realise their dream - to escape to their little piece of heaven on earth - it seems absolutely outrageous that other foreigners should dare to complain about anything.
They do the only thing that outraged, newbie farangs can do in Thailand. They pick up a pen and some writing paper and write to the Bangkok Post letters section. "Dear Sir, I have been in Thailand two months and I am disgusted to hear other farangs complaining about your beautiful country blah blah blah ...."
What would be interesting (providing they manage to stay the course) is to get the thoughts of these phantom letter writers after having lived in Thailand for five years or so. I wonder if they would still feel the same way?
I agree, Thailand is a fantastic place - it really is. I live here, don't I? However, the country has a number of problems and I don't see the point of burying my head in the sand in an attempt not to notice them.
Today's letter writer asks what does it matter that you can't walk on the pavements? Well, after four years of being forced to walk in the road because of blocked pavements when there is torrential rain falling from the heavens, it does gets a little tedious after a while.
You may also have noticed that roads aren't the safest places to be in Thailand with drunken pickup truck drivers racing around killing innocent people. I would therefore prefer to use the pavements.
Thailand has food hygiene problems and I have had four cases of food poisoning in the country. Whenever random checks are made, bacteria and foreign bodies are always found in street food. Just take a look at how food is handled and prepared.
I left my dinner a couple of nights ago because of a dead fly in the rice, I have left other food because of finding human hairs, and I have stopped going to one local restaurant because it has a serious rat-infestation problem.
The thing about these issues is that fixing them wouldn't make Thailand a worse place or turn it into a replica of the USA - which is what I think concerns foreigners living here. OK, we are in Thailand because we like it the way it is and we don't want it to become just like America or Europe but that's missing the point.
I would like to walk on pavements away from the rain and crazy drivers; I would like to be able to cross roads safely, I would like drivers of vehicles to have more respect for other people's lives, I would like more reassurance that the food I eat is prepared hygienically.
Fixing these issues would make Thailand a better place, not a worse one. Apathy is a big problem with the Thais which is why things never get done, or take ages to get done. As farangs in the country, we can also be apathetic or we can speak out and maybe get a few things improved for everyone. Maybe.
All I know is that if we join forces with the Thais, not complaining about anything, then you can guarantee that nothing will ever change for the better.
What may surprise some foreigners is that the Thais aren't quite as happy about things in Thailand as they appear on the surface. In private conversations they complain about exactly the same things as I do and surveys to measure the 'Happiness Index' in Thailand show that it continues to fall.
Thai and farang culture is very different. Farangs will speak out regarding things that are obviously wrong whereas Thais won't. Not saying anything (being culturally non-confrontational) makes for a peaceful environment on the surface but problems don't get fixed and resentments can simmer away for a long time before people finally explode.
Customer service in Thailand isn't generally very good but in countries where people aren't afraid to complain it is generally a lot better. There is a difference between continually whingeing about things and speaking up about real issues that need real fixes. Assuming the stance of an ostrich and writing crass letters to the Bangkok Post helps no one.
Saturday 20th October 2007
The search engine queries used to find this site tell me a lot about what people want to know about Thailand. Most (unfortunately) just confirm what I already know but others aren't so single-minded. Recently, someone wanted to know how to make a living in Thailand. It's a good question.
In general, my advice would be not to come to live in Thailand permanently unless you already have a sufficient regular income from abroad to survive. The term 'sufficient income to survive' means different things to different people, of course. For me, Bt30,000 a month would be the absolute minimum; Bt40,000 would be better; and Bt50,000+++ would be preferable. And that's only for my rather modest lifestyle.
It can be a tough country in which to survive and whereas it is a fantastic place when you have enough money, it is a bleak, depressing place if you don't.
The population of Thailand is over 60 million and there are an awful lot of very talented Thais. Most of them probably also speak Thai slightly better than you do. Forget about English being the international language of business and commerce.
In places like Singapore, that may be true. In Thailand, English is spoken only when it needs to be because there are foreigners involved. Thai is very much the language of business, commerce and everything else in Thailand and not being able to speak it puts you at a big disadvantage.
Thailand, like other Asian countries, has not bowed to 'equal opportunities' or any other 'politically correct' nonsense. Quite the opposite, in fact. Employment opportunities are what might be described as protectionist. If a Thai can earn a living doing something, why should Thailand deny that person the opportunity of work by letting a foreigner do it?
In 1979 (Thai year 2522) a Royal Decree was signed prohibiting foreigners from engaging in certain professions in Thailand.
Even if you know Thailand well and can speak the language, forget about the idea of being a tour guide because it's one of the professions on the list.
Foreigners do set up businesses in Thailand - and some are very successful - but I wouldn't say it is an easy thing to do. For a start, it needs to be the right kind of business. I am not a businessman but you would need to make sure you have access to the resources, raw materials and labour you need, and to the markets you need to sell in.
A certain amount of financial investment is required and you would probably need to employ a quota of locals. Proper accounts need to be submitted, taxes need to be paid, and the red tape is guaranteed to be a massive headache. It's achievable though, provided you have the business nous.
Even if a profession isn't on the banned list, if you are competing in a market with Thais they will have obvious advantages. Apart from the language advantage, I also suspect Thais will be willing to work longer hours for a lot less salary than most foreigners.
So, what service or product can you offer that is in demand in Thailand that Thais can't supply? For many people, the only possible option is teaching English. However, the situation now is a little different to how it was a year or two ago.
It used to be easy to stay in Thailand indefinitely and it was possible to work illegally with hardly any risk of being caught. That has all changed now. Although it may still be easy to work illegally with hardly any risk of being caught, it is now no longer easy to stay in the country indefinitely.
Also, my gut feeling is that the net will start to be drawn in regarding the English teaching profession in Thailand. I envisage two things happening. Firstly, I think the vetting procedures for teachers will start to get tougher, thus ensuring that teachers have the appropriate credentials to teach. Secondly, I think the Thai authorities will start doing more checks for illegal teachers.
And do you really want to teach English full time just to make enough money to survive? Many language institutes want teachers to work evenings and weekends. I do actually enjoy my work but two factors make it tolerable: 1) I don't rely on the money, and 2) I only work three days a week.
Another industry that employs a lot of foreigners is recreational scuba diving. There are some very good Thai divers but most dive shops seem to be foreign owned and the majority of instructors and divemasters are foreign.
If you love diving - and I think you really need to love it to do it as a job rather than as a leisure pursuit - there are plenty of opportunities. I don't think it's all it is cracked up to be though and farangs who have been in the job a few years start to look very jaded.
Some jobs are better than others. If you bag a job that only involves liveaboard trips to the Similans, good for you, but running endless open-water courses on Koh Tao has to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
With most jobs in Thailand, the wage you will earn will just be enough to live in Thailand. Don't expect to save much and don't expect your wages to go very far if planning to travel outside of Thailand to countries where the cost of living is higher.
As for the guys who decide to sell up back home and open a bar in Pattaya, I can't really offer any advice - apart from maybe scouting around a little first for suitable tall buildings to throw yourself from before it all goes horribly wrong and you lose all your money.
Whether you believe in global warming or not, it is undeniable that global weather systems certainly seem to have changed in recent years.
Last year, the weather forecasters predicted that this year would be very hot in Thailand. They were right. In the southern region, at least, it has been a horribly hot year and only in the past couple of weeks has enough rain arrived to cool things down.
Meanwhile, the temperature at Doi Inthanon mountain in the north of the country is around 10° Celsius at the moment and the temperature will continue falling until the middle of December. Lucky northerners.
Southern Thailand only has two seasons; there not being a recognised cool season. It's either hot and dry or hot and wet. On the plus side, I never have to bother with cold weather clothing. A light fleece that I brought with me from the UK hangs in my wardrobe where it has hung unused for four years.
On the negative side, I have never truly acclimatised and the continual heat drains me of energy. When the rains come and bring occasional cool breezes, I feel a sudden surge of energy. This is yet another reason why eventually I believe I will head north.
The northern and central regions are actually hotter than the south in the hot season but at least they have proper cool seasons for a few months each year.
Friday 19th October 2007
This year's vegetarian festival will end today. I was hoping to get some more photos of devotees performing strange rituals on their bodies but saw nothing this year. I wandered around several times but always managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This photo is from the same festival two years ago.
Everyone has been talking about gin jeh although not everyone switched to a vegetarian diet during the festival. From what I can make out, there are two benefits. The first is an internal body-cleansing process: a kind of detox thing. Secondly, there is merit to be made by saving some animals from the slaughterman's knife.
Merit making - tum-buun (ทำบุญ) - is a very important aspect of Thai culture and can be achieved in a variety of different ways.
I have been on a semi-vegetarian diet during the festival, eating regular food during the daytime and veggie food most evenings. I have been quite impressed with the vegetarian food I've eaten (apart from finding a dead fly in my rice last night).
Since living in Thailand, I've stopped eating pork. I have no religious reasons for not eating pork and I used to eat quite a lot of it back in England. What put me off was walking around fresh markets and seeing how pork is sold in Thailand.
I think it's just a temporary thing. I enjoyed a roast pork dinner in Singapore last year and I'm sure I will enjoy bacon sandwiches again on any future trips to England.
Beef is rare in this region of Thailand. I therefore eat mainly chicken, fish and seafood. The locals tell me that squid contains high levels of cholesterol but I don't eat a lot of it.
My diet is probably healthier now than it has ever been. I eat lots of fruit here because it is so abundant, cheap and tasty. I stopped drinking alcohol about the same time as I came to Thailand and I drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration but my downfall is drinking too much coffee which I guess I'm addicted to.
Be wary about giving your e-mail address to Thai friends. They mean well but the type of e-mails they send start to get a tad boring after a while. Typically, the e-mails begin with 10 screens of forwarding information containing hundreds of Hotmail addresses.
Once you get past this stuff there will normally be pictures of cute animals (dogs wearing clothes or cats with sunglasses, etc.), or a plea from the heart to forward the e-mail because each time you do so, 11 cents will be given to a sick child or something (the type of hoax as described at Snopes.com).
Yesterday morning's e-mail had pictures of a 'Hello Kitty' themed hotel in Japan where everything in the hotel is a piece of 'Hello Kitty' merchandise. Wonderful - I must visit. Thai girls love Hello Kitty.
Yesterday evening's e-mail was a plea to forward a chain e-mail in order to raise money for a Portuguese child who has been badly burned and whose parents can't afford the medical bills. The story about the child might be true but sadly the part about money being raised each time the e-mail is forwarded is a hoax.
Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't track chain e-mails and Bill Gates doesn't write out cheques for people who are stupid enough to forward them. The only thing this nonsense achieves is to slow down the Internet with garbage. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
I don't have a TV but most of the small restaurants I eat at in the evening have one. While eating dinner this evening, it was strangely disturbing watching the press conference following the arrest of Christopher Paul Neil.
With so much publicity following the release of his photo to the media, he was never going to remain at large for very long but even so, I was surprised at how quickly he was arrested. According to The Nation, a Pattaya ladyboy originally from Chaiyaphum named Oum, who was friendly with Neil, helped police track him down.
What I found disturbing was the almost arrogant swagger as he sat amidst Thai police wearing dark sunglasses. Here was a man not making any attempt to protest his innocence, but neither did he show any signs of remorse for what he has been doing to children for several years.
He knew his actions were sickening and he knew that eventually he would be caught. After his arrest, he simply looked like a man who had accepted his inevitable fate. Revulsion or pity? It's difficult to know how to react towards an individual who obviously has a serious mental illness.
Just prior to his arrest, an arrest warrant was made out by Thai police for crimes he committed while living in Thailand a few years ago. He may therefore be tried and sentenced in Thailand without being extradited to Canada. Wherever he ends up, he will spending a long time in jail and because of the particular crimes he committed he will be in constant danger from other prisoners.
Thursday 18th October 2007
I'd like this blog to get back into more positive territory rather than it just being a compilation of reports about dead tourists, crazy Thai drivers, paedophile English teachers, and the headaches involved when dealing with Thai bureaucracy.
On the basis that the best way to learn is to teach, I thought I would do another quick tutorial for those with an interest in learning how to read Thai. This follows on from stuff I did in March and May of this year.
While walking around, I try to read everything I see (and while living in Thailand there is no shortage of reading material). Some words are very easy, some not so, but I am making steady progress and my reading speed is gradually improving. Since arriving in Thailand to live, making a conscious effort to learn how to read was the best thing I ever did.
It opens up a whole new world and impresses the locals like nothing else. The literacy rate in Thailand is very high but Thais don't consider their own written language to be easy to learn. They never expect farangs to be able to read Thai and in most cases that assumption is correct.
I still find it hard to understand how so many people are perfectly content to be illiterate while living in Thailand, especially as basic written Thai isn't that difficult to learn.
In my earlier blog entries, I looked at a few signs where people were advertising rooms and houses to sell or rent. The sign here is slightly different. On March 24th I described how the Thai word for room is written. In this sign, there is another word after the word for room.
The word is พัก
The first consonant is one of three characters in Thai that makes a 'P' sound. The character above it (mai-hun-aa-gaat) is, for all intents and purposes, a vowel but it never appears in lists of Thai vowels. I don't know why this is but will endeavour to find out.
It makes an 'u' sound, as in 'cut' but most transliteration systems turn it into an 'a' so you get 'cat' instead. I disagree but I disagree with lots of things in common transliteration systems.
The final character ก makes a hard 'g' sound at the start of a syllable (as in 'gun' or 'gate') but an unaspirated 'k' sound at the end of the syllable.
The Thai word pronounced puk is the verb 'to stay', as in to stay somewhere temporarily. "Khun puk yoo tee nai?" is Thai for, "Where are you staying?" For long term stays you might want to look at a room that is advertised to rent but for short stays, a hong-puk would be OK.
As far as the tones are concerned, we already learnt that the Thai word hong, for room, has a falling tone. The word puk has no tone mark. The initial consonant is low class and it ends with a 'k' sound so it is a dead syllable. It has a short vowel. The tone rules therefore make it a high tone.
One of the problems I have with Thai sometimes is recognising consonant clusters and I wasn't sure whether the consonants that make 'F' and 'L' sounds in this word were a consonant cluster or separate consonants. As it turns out, they are a consonant cluster.
However, as far as I can make out, this consonant cluster is only used in Thai for words that have been 'borrowed' from English (flyweight, fluke, fluorescent). It doesn't appear to be a standard Thai consonant cluster.
Separating syllables in Thai isn't always easy and because of the use of implied vowels, words can sound very different if you get it wrong. At first, I thought this word was something like fair-lot but that is wrong.
ฟ is an 'F' sound in English and ล is an 'L' sound. They form the cluster 'FL'. The vowel used in this word (which is written before the consonant or consonant cluster) is an 'air' sound but with a breathy 'H' and not a rolled 'R'.
The final consonant is pronounced as a 'T' when it comes at the end of a syllable but 'DT' if it appears at the beginning of a syllable.
It's actually a 'borrowed' British English word that has been transliterated into Thai - 'flat' - but the Thai pronunciation is longer (flairt). In actual fact, Thais would probably add an implied vowel sound and turn it into two syllables, thus fuh-lairt.
This word is unusual. I hear the American English words 'apartment' and 'condo' a lot in Thailand but this is the first time I have come across the British English word 'flat'.
The rest of the sign is straightforward even though the handwriting isn't very clear.
กลาง glaang means 'central' as in paak glaang for the central region of Thailand or paa-saa glaang for the central Thai dialect.
เมือง meu-ung is city. What the sign is saying is that the flat for sale is in the centre of town.
Wednesday 17th October 2007
For a while now, there have been small cameras on the counters at Thai immigration. As you enter and leave the country, the official takes your photo as part of the normal immigration process.
The latest photo of Christopher Paul Neil (as he was entering Thailand) looks as if it was taken with one of these cameras, in which case it has provided a vital clue in the hunt to find him. Well done Thailand for taking this initiative.
With yet another story of a paedophile teaching English in Asia, I don't even want to think about what some of the people who know me back in the UK might be thinking.
This is another reason why I tend to avoid foreigners in Thailand. I realise of course that only a tiny minority are child abusers but there are a lot of foreigners whose primary reason for being in Thailand is sex and I don't particularly want to associate with them either.
I am always suspicious when meeting foreigners who have been in Thailand for several years, yet who seem ignorant about many things around them. The biggest giveaway is a lack of ability with the language. If someone has managed to learn, on average, about five words of Thai a year and can't read or write anything, what have they been doing?
Language ability is one clue and where they choose to live in Thailand is another. I have to be careful about what I say at times. Living in a certain area of Thailand doesn't make a person bad but it is an indisputable fact that men living and visiting Thailand with primarily a sex agenda do tend to cluster in a small number of well-known locations.
'Manhunt on for Canadian' from The Nation.
Unusually for me, I spoke with a young German guy living here yesterday. Like many other foreigners in Thailand, he is teaching English illegally without a non-B visa or work permit but he seemed a decent enough person. He told me that non-native speakers of English have a hard time getting work permits to teach English.
This is understandable, I suppose, but what the Thais don't seem to realise is that many Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians speak far better English than a lot of young people in Britain these days. It's a rather sad reflection on the state of British society.
He was telling me about a Brit he knew who has now been deported. The British guy attempted to buy marijuana on the street from someone who turned out to be an undercover cop. He was arrested, kept in the local jail for a month, deported and blacklisted. He will never be allowed back in the country again. Why are some people so dumb?
Tuesday 16th October 2007
I keep getting angry at things. Perhaps I ought to attend anger management classes? I've deleted what I wrote earlier while I was in a bit of a rage. Instead, I will ask a simple question. How should civilised societies deal with men like Christopher Paul Neil?
My break from work ended abruptly today with a phone call this morning telling me to get my butt into the office. As they started paying me again this week, they kind of expect me to work. The instructions given to me yesterday to begin next week were wrong.
I have been thinking a lot recently about teaching techniques. Although most of my students probably consider learning English to be a good thing, not all of them are suitably motivated to put in the required effort to learn.
For me, it would be the same as my boss hiring someone to teach me Chinese. With one-sixth of the world's population being Chinese, and China being the world's fastest growing economy, I might think it was a good idea but I can't really see the need and I'm not that motivated to learn.
What would motivate and encourage me to learn? I doubt that in-depth descriptions of Chinese grammar would do the trick. If someone could make learning Chinese appear easy and make me think it was something I could achieve, I would be encouraged.
This is something I will be thinking more about in the coming weeks.
Iss and I went with our cameras to a local Chinese temple this evening. My plan was to start teaching her about SLR photography with the new Nikon D40 I bought her recently. For about 10 or 15 minutes, the light was really good.
There is nothing more important for photography than light and probably the most important lesson to know is when the light is right. It's something that comes instinctively though and is difficult to teach. Just as knowing lots about grammar does not help someone to speak a foreign language well, knowing lots about the technical details of a camera does not make good photos.
The Chinese vegetarian festival is still in progress and will finish on Friday. At the temple this evening was lots of free vegetarian food and it was very tasty. I made a Bt100 donation to the temple in return for a free dinner for two.
I was the only farang there, which isn't unusual for provincial Thailand. Most foreigners only go to a handful of places. It's nice because I always get singled out for special treatment. At the vegetarian festival last year I was filmed by a local TV news crew and appeared on TV.
In certain parts of Thailand you are just another farang among thousands of others, there to be ripped off by greedy Thais, but where foreigners are rare you are something special. It's a personal choice but I know where I'd rather be.
All societies have bad apples - with Thailand being no exception - but the overwhelming majority of Thais are exceptionally kind people. I was reminded of this fact this evening as people were being so kind while dishing out free food on my plate.
Good people are thought highly of, and good acts are always commented on. Once your ears are tuned in, you will hear the terms "khon dee" and "jai dee" a lot. At the root of the culture lie strong ethical and moral values. Not everyone adheres but the vast majority of Thais are good people.
As usual, it is only ever a small minority that spoil things for everyone else; people such as Christopher Paul Neil.
Monday 15th October 2007
I have another week off work. I thought that today was supposed to be the day I started teaching again but when I arrived, I found out it is the day that everyone starts to think about what will happen when I start teaching again.
It's turning into a long break - which is good - but I only feel worse that I cancelled my travel plans. I am beginning to think now that despite overspending last month, and despite all the problems with immigration, I should just have gone ahead with my original plans and gone up to Chiang Rai for a week.
I stumbled into an interesting session today at the university involving a large group of undergraduates. They are on a three day course being taught how to think. This might sound strange to Westerners but Thais are not always the best thinkers.
They are just as intelligent as other people but in the past have tended to be a little hampered by the education system and Thai culture. From what I have observed in Thai classrooms, communication is one-way only. The teacher speaks and the students listen.
This is often done using a microphone and on one occasion I saw a teacher delivering a lesson like this without even having eye contact with the students. She sat in a little 'box' in the corner of the classroom, out of view, while blasting out her lesson through a loudspeaker which sat on top of the enclosure she had fenced herself off in.
There is also a lot of rote learning. Teachers are accorded great respect in Thailand and because of the culture, students will not generally ask questions or challenge anything the teacher says. The respect that is shown is good but, sadly, it doesn't do much for the thinking process.
However, it's really good to see this weakness has been recognised and that steps are being taken to fix it.
The lecturer today was a very senior figure at the university. He's also a really nice guy who speaks fluent English and who always stops to chat if he sees me. He lived in the UK for several years and his son is studying there to be a doctor.
He used to be the faculty Dean and he helped to design the layout of the combined faculty and hospital when it was built. Being such a senior figure, I don't think he is obliged to teach undergraduates but when you watch him in action you can see that he is passionate about imparting his vast knowledge and experience to young people.
As a teacher, you have the opportunity to influence (and hopefully improve) the lives of many people. It can be a powerful - and very satisfying - feeling. Teachers in Thailand may have a lot of respect but if they are doing their job properly, it is well deserved because of the important role they play in society. Teaching is, and should be, an honourable profession.
It is therefore a desperate shame that so many foreigners in the past have given foreign teachers in Thailand such a bad name. I've coached PhD. students in Thailand and helped some extremely bright Master's degree students to reach their goals. I should feel proud but the stigma attached to English teaching in Thailand makes me feel almost ashamed to admit what I do at times.
Foreign English teachers are sometimes talked about as if they are the bottom of the farang feeding chain in Thailand. This might apply to some but not all.
This morning I heard that one of my students had her handbag snatched by two boys on a motorbike last Saturday. It happened very close to where Iss experienced the same thing a few years ago. Fortunately for Iss, a man came to her rescue, and she managed to hold on to her bag.
My student wasn't as fortunate. They got her mobile phone, a couple of thousand Baht, and all her credit and ATM cards. With these incidents it is not so much the money (although when Iss was attacked she had Bt20,000 on her) but the hassle of getting ID, ATM and SIM cards replaced.
She went to the police station but was told there is nothing the police can do. In other parts of the world where there are CCTV cameras absolutely everywhere, there's a chance that the police might have something to go on but there are no cameras in this part of Thailand. She told me these incidents happen every day.
The perpetrators are normally two young boys on a motorbike and the one riding pillion does the bag snatching. Being brave types, they only ever target small Thai females. Never men or 200lb farang girls backpacking around the country.
A little later, while having lunch, I saw two cops arresting a young lad for shoplifting. The amusing part was watching them take him back to the police station. The cops weren't the slimmest of Thai men and even though the Kawasaki they were on was slightly bigger than the Honda Dream type bikes you see in Thailand, I was amazed that they managed to squeeze the lad between them as all three headed back to the station.
I will say it again that I don't regard violent crime as being a big problem in Thailand. There are incidents, of course, but I would be far more worried about being the victim of a violent assault going out in the evening in my home town in England.
On the other hand, there is a lot of petty theft.
Sunday 14th October 2007
According to the provincial governor, Winai Phopradit, there were signs posted in Thai and English not to enter the cave during heavy rains but the group may have entered when it wasn't raining.
In April this year, 37 people (all Thai nationals, I think) were killed by flash floods at waterfalls in Trang province. It pays to exercise caution during the rainy season. There can be clear skies one minute and torrential downpours the next.
With more tourist deaths in Thailand, it raises the question once again, "Just how safe is Thailand for tourists?" I took a look at the travel advice information posted by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
The first thing I noticed (because it's right at the top of the page) is that I live in one of the four provinces that the FCO advises against travelling to! However, for the record, I don't feel threatened at all by the southern insurgency. Thai drivers, yes; terrorists, no.
The rest was pretty much what I expected. The media (especially the BBC) love to create a panic about Bird Flu but the risk of contracting it - or any other exotic virus - is minimal. Incidentally, elephant riding is listed as a dangerous activity in Thailand and has been the cause of several serious accidents, apparently.
No surprises at all with the fact that most deaths occur as a result of road accidents. According to the FCO, during 2006 more than 850,000 Brits visited Thailand and there were over 250 deaths, "mostly from road accidents or related to drink/drugs."
Any time you venture out on to Thailand's roads, you are at risk. If you are stupid enough to get wasted on booze and/or drugs and then jump on a motorbike, or go for a swim in the sea where there are strong undercurrents, you deserve all you get.
Harsh words, I know, but sadly the truth. It's a great feeling being in Thailand as a tourist; the feeling can be almost euphoric, but don't let the euphoria cloud your better judgment.
Saturday 13th October 2007
If you like vegetarian food, it's great, but if not it can be a problem.
With so much veggie food being sold at the festival, several small restaurants take the opportunity to close for a few days and many of the ones that remain open convert to vegetarian only menus.
This is the fourth year I have attended and not a lot changes from year to year. Over this weekend, there will be the spectacle of religious devotees walking around with bicycle frames and garden power tools inserted through their cheeks, while others slash their tongues with razor blades.
The Thai people at the festival last night were just fantastic. All the food vendors and visitors I spoke to were exceptionally friendly and there were big smiles all round. It was a very pleasant atmosphere, and very welcome after my three visits to immigration this week.
I was reminded of Niels Mulder's analysis so, once again, delved into his 'Inside Thai Society' book. This is the one book that anyone with a genuine interest in Thai society must read. Parts of it are quite old now but it remains uncannily accurate.
In a very hierarchical society, there is lots of emphasis on rank, status and power. From Mulder, "... the policeman in uniform may smoke and be arrogant but, as a representative of power, he should not show intimacy and preferably refrain from smiling..."
Anyway, I want to put the whole episode behind me now and not think about it again until I have to.
I mentioned the price of imported luxury cars recently. At Siam Paragon in Bangkok last year I was shocked at how expensive the new Porsche Caymans on display were. While browsing through a copy of the Bangkok Post at lunch today, I saw a short article about Porsche Cayennes.
"The cheapest (and rather sluggish) V6 Cayenne already costs Bt9.9m and Bt12m for the V8 Cayenne S. The Cayenne Turbo goes for at least Bt15m."
I then looked up recommended retail prices in the UK for these three Porsche models. The prices quoted in the Post didn't mention options or transmission type but these prices are good enough for the point I am trying to make.
The UK prices for the same three models in question are, respectively, £37,450; £46,960; £75,000. Therefore, at current exchange rates, the UK prices in Baht are roughly Bt2.4m; Bt3m; Bt4.8m as compared to the Thai prices of Bt9.9m; Bt12m; Bt15m.
As you can see, there is a massive difference. Poor Thais. Yes, a lot of Thais are extremely poor but there is an enormous wealth gap in the country and the Thais you see running around in expensive German cars are definitely not short of a Baht or two.
I've read a little about Buddhadasa Bhikkhu but I didn't know anything about Phra Panyanandha Bhikkhu who died this week. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu was his mentor and he seemed to have the same views. There was a well written account on The Nation web site in which The Nation has another go at the Jatukham Ramathep craze.
A lot of moralising takes place in Thailand and there is frequent social comment regarding the decline in values in both society and religion. Spaghetti-strap tops, coyote girls, prostitution, and the decline of Buddhism are just some of the targets.
The Nation launched a blistering attack against errant and corrupt monks. A picture of religious decay.
What I find interesting is that the ultra-conservative views held by middle-class, educated Thais are in complete contrast to the perceptions of Thailand that most tourists have, based on what they observe when they visit the country. It's a really strange contradiction.
It would probably be fair to say that I am not Thaksin Shinawatra's greatest admirer. What a fascinating character he is though, and the soap opera that is Thaksin just continues to go from strength to strength.
In his own words, all he ever wanted to do in life was help the poor people of Thailand. It must therefore be hell for him having to sit in the MCFC boardroom so far away from the poor people he loves so much sipping champagne with Sven while discussing how much laundered cash is available for the January transfer window.
Having simply ignored arrest warrants in Thailand for corruption charges, Thai prosecutors are now on their way to the UK seeking to extradite him. As the story unfolds it just gets better and better. I am riveted. Thai lawyers seek Thaksin return.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day on a pickup truck. I can't remember the exact words but it was along the lines that you can escape the law but not the law of karma. It was very apt for Thailand where man-made laws are easily and often flouted.
There is no escape from karma though and although Khun Thaksin's various offshore bank accounts may be showing huge surpluses, his karma account is seriously overdrawn.
Friday 12th October 2007
For the third time this week, I went back to immigration this morning to do my 90 day reporting.
After being told by one of the immigration officials on Tuesday that he won't sign anything for foreigners unless they can speak Thai, I spoke Thai.
This is not as impressive as it might sound. After a polite greeting and being asked what I wanted, the Thai for "90 days," was enough for them to understand what I was there for.
I was in and out in under 10 minutes. There were no problems at all. For a long time I never had any problems doing my 90 day reporting but last time I did and I thought I might have more problems this time because of the problems last time. I didn't write about this when it happened but I will explain what happened now. First, some background.
The 90 day reporting procedure is perfectly reasonable. Thailand isn't bothered with tourists who will only be in the country a maximum of 90 days but anyone staying longer is regarded as being resident.
With anyone who is actually residing in the country, it is only fair that should the authorities wish to contact them (or arrest them) they know where to find them. Thailand no longer wants people living in the country who are outside the system. The 90 day reporting process links a foreigner's immigration details with their present address in Thailand.
When you begin the process there is a form that your landlord needs to sign; assuming that you stay in rented accommodation. This is to verify that the information provided is accurate and not something you have made up.
After that, the 'alien' - as we are referred to by Thai immigration - has to report every 90 days using a different form to state that the situation hasn't changed. If you move, by the way, you are obliged to let immigration know about the move within 24 hours otherwise they can fine you a set amount for each day you don't tell them.
So far, so good. I followed this procedure up until three months ago with absolutely no problems whatsoever.
In July, my reporting date coincided with a trip I had to make to Singapore to attend a wedding. I knew that if I reported late after returning from my trip they could fine me, so I went in about a week early before my trip. Unfortunately, I dealt with the guy who always makes life difficult.
The normal process is that you complete the forms, give them a copy of certain pages in your passport, and they tear a slip off one of the forms with your next reporting date written on it. He wouldn't do this on the basis that I was just about to leave the country so therefore I wouldn't be spending 90 days in Thailand.
This may sound reasonable but because Thai immigration at the border only ever stamp 90 days into your passport when you enter the country (whether you have a one year visa, or not), I NEVER spend more than 90 consecutive days in Thailand.
Ever since I started getting non-immigration visas, I have always left the country just short of 90 days and then re-entered for another 90 day stamp. This raised the question that although I was living in Thailand permanently, I never actually stayed for more than 90 days at a time. So why report?
He gave me the other forms that are used when you start the process which need to be filled in by my landlord and told me to return after I got back from Singapore. I then needed to hassle my landlord again to do all the paperwork after he had already done it some time ago.
The immigration guy then said I needed to do this every time I came into the country and also that I needed to provide a copy of my rental contract each time. Unbelievable. I'm sure my landlord would have been thrilled. This just didn't sound right at all but you can never argue so I left with more steam coming from my ears.
When I went back this morning (after having left the country again recently), I dealt with another guy and he gave me the regular forms which I can complete by myself without having to bother my landlord to do unnecessary paperwork. So, apparently - contrary to what I was told last time - everything seems to have gone back to how it was before.
With Thai rules and regulations, there isn't generally a problem with the principle but there is never any consistency. The trouble is that certain laws aren't enforced (traffic laws), new rules are made up by certain individuals ("We won't sign anything unless you can speak Thai") and other rules are interpreted differently by different individuals.
It is possible to go into the same government department on the same day but speak with two different people and be told two completely different things.
I dug out something recently regarding the police check requirement that was concerning me before my visa application. As it turned out, when I went to the Singapore Embassy it wasn't even required. According to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is optional. Therefore, depending which Embassy or Consulate you go to, you may or may not require it.
I can't understand how something as important as this can be optional but there you go. And even within the same Embassy or Consulate there may be different requirements depending on which official you deal with. Dealing with Thai bureaucracy is little more than a lottery.
I now have approximately a seven week break from the bureaucrats before I make another attempt at getting a visa extension. What joy.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand