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  • Living in Thailand Blog October 2010


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Living In Thailand Blog



Sunday 31st October 2010

Discarded rubbish  - Click for larger image The big topic in Thailand at the moment is flooding and the government and local municipalities have put a lot of money and effort into improving the situation. My local municipality has done a lot of work, including building a huge canal to try to contain the flood waters.

For this to be effective, the water needs to be channelled away from residential areas to the canal. Underneath, and/or next to, all roads and sois in Thailand are storm drains for this purpose.

Due to the problems flooding causes you would think that it would be in people's own best interest to make sure that the storm drains where they live were kept as clear as possible.

Discarded rubbish  - Click for larger image But if you thought that, you would be wrong. This is Thailand.

What do Thais use the storm drains for? They use them as convenient places to dump rubbish. These photos were all taken recently (some yesterday) near to my house. The rubbish in the photos is still there and I have no doubts it will remain there.

The general household rubbish and the armchair you can see are just examples of the small stuff.

The local authorities are preparing for a flood in the next few days and one of the things they are doing is trying to clear the storm drains. Yesterday, workers from the local municipality were going around in a JCB lifting the big stuff from the storm drains that was too heavy to lift by hand. They were using the JCB to remove discarded items such as mattresses and beds.

Discarded rubbish  - Click for larger image A Thai friend who has lived in the States for many years was back in Thailand for a vacation recently and he came down to visit from Bangkok for a few days. I picked him up at the airport and one of the very first comments he made was about all the rubbish strewn everywhere.

People were picnicking on the grass verges at the airport and there was rubbish all over the grass. That's how it is everywhere. Thais think nothing of throwing rubbish wherever it suits them. They appear to see nothing wrong with this, and no one ever says anything.

Discarded mattress  - Click for larger image One of the workers I got in to do some work at my house had a bucket full of rubbish after he had finished. Without blinking an eye he just threw it on the piece of waste ground where someone else had dumped the chair in the photo above. I was lost for words.

Most foreigners would be appalled at what goes on but in Thailand this is what goes on all the time.

What makes it even worse is that the rubbish collection service is actually very good. There is none of the nonsense like there is in the UK with rubbish collectors refusing to take certain things.

Bangkok clean zone  - Click for larger image On the streets are big blue bins and whatever you put in, or next to, the bins gets taken away. There is absolutely no need to discard litter all over the place. It looks terrible, it causes health problems, and it exacerbates flooding problems.

The biggest joke, of course, is that while the locals are dumping their old furniture, mattresses and household rubbish on the streets and in the storm drains, the clever Thais have worked out where foreign tourists go and designated these as special zones where foreigners will get fined Bt2,000 for accidentally dropping a used bus ticket.

Amazing Thailand.

More bad news for Brits who enjoy trips to Thailand and elsewhere abroad. In adition to the lowest pound-to-Baht exchange rate for many years, air taxes are just about to rise by 55%.

I saw an article recently: British Isles 'worst place to live in Europe'

I foresaw this a long time ago and decided to get out. I'm glad I did, but my main sources of income and my investments are in the UK so I still suffer.

For many years the country was run with an incompetence that was almost unimaginable. I know the recent UK government announcements have been unpopular with some people but I really can't see that there is any other way to get the economy back on track.

I'm actually quite optimistic about the UK. The country has a lot of bright, hard-working people. I think there will be a good recovery in 2011, and I also think that 2012 - with the London Olympics - will be a boom year.

At the same time, I can't really work out why the Thai economy is apparently thriving, and why the Baht is so strong. I keep reading that investors are pumping lots of money into the economy and that is why the Baht is strong. Why are they doing this?

The country has seen lots of political turmoil in recent years and I believe the worst is yet to come. If you understand anything about Thailand, you will know why. Exports and tourism are vital parts of the economy but both must be suffering as a result of the strong Baht.

My neighbour was back again for another short-term lone and all the Thais I know buy anything of any value on credit. The household debt in Thailand must be huge.

On the other hand, I'm not aware that Thailand as a country has borrowed huge amounts, as some Western countries have. Agriculture is a big part of the country and eating never goes out of fashion, so it's not all bad.

None of us have crystal balls and, based on the most recent financial crisis, the so-called experts have no more idea what will happen with the economy than the average man on the street.

I am hedging my bets that the UK economy will look a look better in two years' time, and that there will be some corrections to the Thai economy. With this in mind, I will try to delay making any large transfers for at least a couple of years.

If I'm wrong, I will lose out. It's a gamble and no different really to being in a casino.

A good school friend of mine has been working in the London financial markets for many years. I asked him for investment advice some years ago and - being completely honest - he told me I might as well put my money on a horse running in the 3:30 at Aintree.

He was responsible for managing and investing the money of rich people, but that was his honest view.

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Saturday 30th October 2010

The big Hat Yai in 2000  - Click for larger image This photo (of a photo) - click for a bigger image - is of the Hat Yai flood in 2000. It was really bad and people died as a result of drowning and electrocution.

It affected a huge area and the water level reached the second storey of many buildings.

This photo was taken on Supasarnrangsan Road and someone has added a caption in Thai that translates to "Supasarn River Resort". The scenes on TV of Ayuthaya at the moment look similar, with roads turned into rivers.

I may have to eat some of my words about the current flooding problems in Thailand.

I have a very negative view of the media because of the way they sensationalise, distort and manipulate every piece of news. I think they need to be brought to task, however, the floods this year are certainly a lot worse than usual.

Despite all the improvements to the local flood defences in recent years, Hat Yai is now on flood alert with heavy rain forecast for the first few days of November.

A friend mentioned that he had seen the emergency services preparing boats. That's not a good sign. I now live in the area that was worst hit by the last bad flood five years ago.

It's difficult to explain how I feel. I've spent the last three months working on the house I'm now living in. This has involved a lot of time and money and the prospect of seeing the ground floor under several feet of dirty flood water is not a good one.

But what can you do? We have already started making contingency plans. We will stock up on food this weekend and take some stuff upstairs. If flooding looks imminent, my wife's brothers will help get the heavy stuff upstairs.

You can't prevent or avoid flooding - all you can do is try to limit the damage.

I'm also not sure what the authorities can do. I am told that because of all the problems further north, the ground water level is now very high. If it rains heavily the ground can't absorb any more water.

The rain here is phenomenal; I've never seen rain like it. Ten years ago there was a really bad flood and it reached the second story of buildings over a wide area. When that amount of water falls from the sky there isn't much anyone can do, apart from perhaps building an ark.

As I write, it has started raining again. It's light at the moment but as it gets heavier the more I get concerned.

More later.

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Wednesday 27th October 2010

I've been busy again. The new school term has started and I've also been having computer problems with a brand new computer that I bought last week. The first one didn't work straight out of the box. The second one had an intermittent problem and after trying everything I could, I decided to take it back today. I am hoping for third time lucky. It's been frustrating and also very time-consuming.

Since I've been teaching high school girls I have noticed the same behaviour with all of them. Throughout their education up until M5, school is just somewhere to have fun; it's a big game.

However, there is a sudden dramatic change once they get to M6 - the final year. The pressure is suddenly on, and besides the pressure of school exams and university entrance tests, they have to start making important decisions for the first time in their lives.

Thai kids are not as independent as Western kids and generally they aren't as confident or grown up. I found out recently that it is normal for Thai kids to sleep with their parents. One kid I was told about still sleeps with his parents at the age of 13. This might help to explain why Thais hate being alone: because they never experience being by themselves or taking care of themselves.

They are all very close to their families, especially their parents, and more especially their mothers. This bond is very tight. Thai parents also worry excessively about their offspring and Thais always insist that anywhere away from home is dangerous. Thais have completely irrational fears, but basically anything unfamiliar to them is regarded as being dangerous and is to be avoided.

I can sense that some students want to study in Bangkok because the universities are better - and because it will probably be quite good fun - but they don't have much self-confidence, and they also face tremendous pressure from their parents who want them to study locally so that they can stay at home.

Last year there were lots of tears in class with the M6 girls, and there were more today. I feel sorry for them because they are great kids, but then again, at some stage in their lives they have to face growing up.

As a teacher I feel really sad when I lose my M6 students each year. Also, as a teacher I continually try to drum into the younger students that their time at school will pass very quickly and that they can't leave everything until the last year.

Based on their behaviour and general attitude up until M5, this message obviously isn't getting through. This is human nature and, if I am honest, I was no better when I was a teenager. In fact, I was a lot worse. It's a difficult stage of life.

I think I will abandon the lesson I had planned with my M6 students tomorrow and instead talk about making important decisions in life. They probably have no idea that I am only teaching them in Thailand as a result of making the toughest decision of my life.

The decision to quit my job, rent my house, sell my car and completely abandon my old life in order to move to Thailand wasn't taken lightly, and it certainly wasn't easy. It caused me a lot of grief and mental anguish at the time. But now I have absolutely no regrets.

It's always easier taking the easy path in life. We can all continue the way we are by avoiding making important decisions, but that strategy may not always result in a very fulfilling life.

One of my favourite sayings is Henry David Thoreau's, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." With regard to making difficult decisions in life, avoiding leading a life of quiet desperation is the only incentive I need.

Pay teachers better for smarter kids, advises Unesco director

The junior Thai teachers at my school are paid Bt8,000 a month. My wife has been teaching there for about five years and earns a massive Bt8,500 a month. I didn't marry her for her money.

I've heard lots of farang teachers in Thailand complaining about their salaries but they have it easy compared to Thai teachers. And it's not just money.

I've just enjoyed a break of about five weeks while the school was closed for the mid-year break. The Thai teachers at the school got just one week off because they had lots of grading to do. I also work a lot less hours during term time than the Thai teachers.

They are often asked to work after school and at weekends. They don't get paid any extra for this, and they can't say no.

All Thai teachers need to be educated to at least Bachelor's degree level, and those teaching older students need to have a Master's degree.

Every Thai teacher I know does as much private teaching in their own time as possible - just to supplement their meagre salaries. After they finish work in the evening they teach at home, and many also spend the weekends teaching privately.

A country's prosperity depends on the ability of its citizens; and thus its education system is extremely important. Generally, Thai teachers are rewarded poorly for the important role they perform in society.

By the same token, if foreign teachers in Thailand feel a need to complain about their wages, perhaps they should first find out what Thai teachers are earning.

If you want to earn lots of money as a TEFL teacher, go to somewhere like Japan, Korea, or the Middle East. Teaching in Thailand is a lifestyle choice; foreigners don't go to teach in Thailand to earn lots of money.

Compared to other countries, a foreign teacher's salary is low in Thailand but so is the cost of living. The average teacher's salary is enough to live fairly comfortably on, though not extravagantly.

One of the problems in Thailand is that teaching English seems to be regarded as something of a commodity. A few places I know of have lost contracts in recent years because another company has come in and undercut them on price.

The impression I get sometimes is that Thais believe any foreigner is just as capable of teaching English as any other foreigner. They therefore just choose the cheapest option. Of course, that view is wrong and looking purely at the bottom line can be (and often is) a false economy.

Another problem is that many Thais (especially in a university environment) are absolutely obsessed with paper qualifications. They will want to see CVs and all they are looking for is paper qualifications.

No matter how good and effective someone might actually be at teaching, in Thailand the person who is better qualified on paper will always get the job.

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Monday 25th October 2010

Once again this morning, the news channels in Thailand are covering only one story. The flood waters have been working their way south down the Chaophraya River and now Bangkok is on alert.

Apparently, flooding will start to occur in Bangkok if the river level rises another 70 or 80 centimetres. Sandbags are being used to supplement the existing flood defences.

Should you be worried if you are planning a trip to Thailand?

Most of the tourist resorts are in the south and so far the south remains unaffected. In fact, it has been drier than usual recently but I suspect that will change soon.

News channels operate 24 hours these days and they need to report something. What happens with any big story is that they focus on the worst aspects and blow everything completely out of proportion.

If they have nothing to report, it's a big problem for them. When there is any kind of natural disaster it's good news for them and they report it to death. Just a few years ago, I doubt that anyone in other countries would know about flooding in Thailand but now any story such as this is immediately global news.

Sukothai in 2006  - Click for larger image I know this sounds cynical but my cynicism comes from experience.

Just before I went off to Sukothai and Chiang Rai a few years ago there were also lots of news reports about flooding in the north. It looked so bad from the TV reports that when I told Thais where I was going they thought I was crazy.

In Sukothai the river was pretty high and there were sandbags in place along the river walls (see photo). As I was leaving Sukothai, the bus went through a small flooded area. The flooding wasn't too bad and not many houses were affected.

That was it. The sensationalised TV news reports had given the impression that the flooding was of biblical proportions but I saw almost nothing.

If you have booked fixed accommodation in Thailand and the place you plan to stay at is currently under water, that could be a problem. If not - and you are free to travel around and stay anywhere - I can't see it being a problem.

Many places in Thailand are currently experiencing severe problems with flooding - I'm not saying that isn't the case - but plenty of places aren't. Of course, you won't see any of the unaffected places on the TV news reports.

No one worries about Bird Flu these days but at the height of the scare a few years ago people were actually cancelling their trips to Thailand because of the supposed threat to humans from the disease. It was never a problem but people were terrified purely because of the way the media were reporting it.

At the time I wrote to the BBC complaining about their ridiculous sensationalism. Compared to road deaths in Thailand, or certain other diseases, the number of deaths from Bird Flu was always so small as to be almost insignificant.

They replied saying they had 'expert' proof that the risk of a global Bird Flu pandemic was very real and that their reporting was justified. Yeah, sure. As I seem to remember, an 'ex' is a has-been and a 'spurt' is a drip under pressure. Then, all of a sudden, the reporting stopped and now we don't hear anything. Funny that.

Again, the media need to report news 24 hours a day and they will take any story they can to fill air time. The industry is also very competitive and sensational stories get more readers and viewers. Stories are sensationalised to the extreme and proverbial mountains made from proverbial molehills.

My main source of news is the BBC Internet News Site. I'm not sure why because as an organisation they are more guilty than many others when it comes to sensationalising news stories.

For a publicly funded organisation that has a mandate to be impartial, in reality the BBC isn't really much better than Fox News or The Sun.

Ever since Jonathan Head was forced to leave Thailand, I would take anything the BBC reports about Thailand with a large pinch of salt.

Jonathan Head understood Thailand and Southeast Asia. Some of the correspondents the BBC has sent to Thailand since he left would make good Blue Peter presenters, but as far as being foreign correspondents they are a bit of a joke.

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Sunday 24th October 2010

The neighbour who asked to borrow some money a few days ago knocked on the door this morning to return the money. She originally told me she would return it tomorrow so I wasn't expecting to see her today.

She was extremely humble and grateful. As a result I was filled with pity looking at her holding her young child. I almost told her not to worry about giving the money back. Anyway, I took it and told her that if she had another problem she could ask me for help.

I've just filled in all the forms to start collecting my occupational pension later this year. It will be a lot of money and it isn't money that I need because I already have other incomes that are quite sufficient for my needs.

My wife and I are very fortunate. We buy almost whatever we want and I've just given instructions to one of her brothers to look out for a car for me.

Two of her brothers are in the car business and they make frequent trips to Bangkok where used cars are cheaper than in the provinces. Now that he knows the kind of car I'm after, he will look for one in the right condition at the right price.

We have frequent conversations about what to spend our money on, yet there are people living a few yards away who are forced to request loans of Bt500 just so they can eat. Life really isn't fair, and when you live in a developing country, such as Thailand, there are reminders of this every day.

Some of the nicest, and most generous, Thais I have met have been poor Thais. In contrast, some of the nastiest Thais I have met have been wealthy, but greedy, ones.

Of all the sins, greed is probably the worst. Greedy people will never be satisfied with what they have - no matter how much they have, and they will stop at nothing to get more. Really greedy people who already have more than enough money than they can ever spend will risk destroying their own lives in the pursuit of acquiring even more.

When thinking of examples of this, a certain Thai ex-Prime Minister comes to mind.

As a foreigner in Thailand, I am a lot softer towards Thais who are down on their luck than Thais tend to be. I told my wife what had happened with the neighbour but she didn't exhibit the same type of pity that I felt.

She has given me instructions that I can make further small loans but nothing exceeding Bt1,000. She told me that what often happens in these cases is that the loans keep getting increased.

Then, when there is quite a lot of money involved, the repayments will stop. I trust her judgment and I accept that it is OK to help but that there must be limits.

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Saturday 23rd October 2010

Food is enormously important to Thais. An obvious statement - food is important to everyone - but to Thais it is a lot more than just sustenance. Thais are very sociable and at every social gathering food is the central subject.

One of my favourite Thai dishes is ga-prao gai. It's a simple dish made from minced chicken (gai) and holy basil (ga-prao). It is served with rice and often comes with a fried egg (kai daaw).

I eat ga-prao gai all the time and never get bored with it. Depending on the cook, the taste can vary significantly. It can be heavenly, or it can be quite bland. I memorise the places that make the tastiest versions.

I was delighted to discover recently that my new wife makes probably the tastiest ga-prao gai I have ever eaten. The ironic thing is that she doesn't eat it herself because she doesn't like the smell of holy basil.

When she was a young girl living at home, her mother and older sisters taught her to cook. This is quite normal for Thai girls and it is the way that most learn to cook.

I just read an article about foreigners cooking Thai food, and some comments in the article struck a chord.

Thais generally have a very low estimation of foreigners whenever it comes to anything Thai. I once read something by a Thai saying that it was impossible for foreigners to understand the relationship between the Thai people and the Thai monarchy.

Impossible to understand? Why? Are we all that incapable? Thais are extremely patriotic and anything to do with their country is held very dearly. A mere foreigner - any foreigner, no matter how well that person knows Thailand, so it seems - is incapable of understanding anything about Thailand, simply because that person isn't Thai.

This includes foreigners who have spent most of their lifetimes studying the way of life, the language and the culture of Thailand.

Can foreign chefs conquer Thai cuisine?

From the article:

"David Thompson won a Michelin star for his Thai restaurant in London, called Nahm. Now he's opened a branch in Bangkok under the same name. So far so good.

But Mr Thompson attracted a volley of nationalist outrage after he was quoted as saying he was on a mission to revive Thai cuisine.

His words were interpreted by some writers as an arrogant affront. How dare a foreigner presume to understand the true nature of Thai cooking?

The fact that Mr Thompson speaks and reads Thai and has studied Thai cuisine for years was, apparently, no defence."

These few sentences sum it up perfectly, especially the last one. This foreigner has studied the language and culture, and has obviously gone to great lengths to understand the subject of Thai cuisine, but due to the simple fact that he isn't Thai, Thais are disgusted that he presumes to know anything about Thai food.

It isn't just food. This attitude exists among all Thais regarding everything related to Thailand. Foreigners in Thailand are tolerated and generally treated quite well, but as far as Thais are concerned any foreigner will always be inferior to any Thai regarding any matter related to Thailand.

Is it cheap to live in Thailand?

This is a simple question, but like many things in Thailand there is never one, simple answer. There will be a different answer for everyone.

The increase in wealth in the country - and particularly the distribution of wealth - is anything but equitable. Rich Thais continue to get richer but a huge part of the population live just above the poverty level.

This has created a kind of unofficial dual economy. It is possible to live very cheaply due to the fact there are so many poor people in Thailand, but for those with money to spend there are no limits.

Basic accommodation can be found very cheaply. If you looked hard enough you could probably find a room for Bt1,000 a month. Additional charges on top of the rent would be very low. But have you seen how many Thais live?

I certainly wouldn't like to live the same way as a poor Thai, and I suspect that would be the case for most foreigners. It's possible to do so, but not a very attractive proposition.

Food is something else that can be bought very cheaply. My local neighbourhood is full of street vendors selling cheap Thai food. As well as being cheap, it's quite tasty and healthy. However, it gets boring eating this kind of food all the time.

Most things made in Thailand tend to be cheap, but as a general rule of thumb anything imported from abroad is normally very expensive because of high import duties and luxury tax.

Now that I have facilities to cook I've been cooking some Western food. I've needed to buy certain ingredients that come from abroad. Even basic things that would cost very little in the UK cost a small fortune in Thailand because they have been imported.

Many foreigners experience Thailand for the first time at a beach resort and if they return to the country to live, they want to live in the same place. The farang love affair with Phuket has turned Phuket into the most expensive place in Thailand and to live a Western lifestyle in Phuket isn't at all cheap.

The real bargains in Thailand are in places which don't have many foreigners. Wherever there are lots of expats in Thailand, you will also find prices that are geared up for 'rich' foreigners.

Many foreign men are attracted to Thailand because of the easy availability of Thai girls. The girls might seem cheap on a two week vacation, but in the long term they can be expensive.

If you are thinking about moving to Thailand, the most important thing when planning your finances is to be completely honest with yourself.

There's no point basing your finances on renting a basic room in Nong Khai and eating kaaw niaow each day if really you know you won't be satisfied with anything less than a Western style condo in Phuket and the best Western food available.

Men generally like to play with toys and gadgets, and these are no cheaper in Thailand. For instance, cameras and computers tend to be more expensive than in the United States.

New cars that are made in Thailand are about the same price as elsewhere but there isn't much of a selection unless you are really into pickup trucks. Cars imported from abroad are ridiculously expensive, as are used cars.

To summarise, it is possible to get all the basics of life for a pittance but this will be an extremely boring and unsatisfactory existence for most foreigners. At the other end of the scale, you can rent buy or rent a Phuket villa or a penthouse apartment in Bangkok and live like a lord. This will require lots of money.

Somewhere in between is probably what most foreigners in Thailand aspire to. The more you can live like a local, the less you will spend. The more you try to replicate a Western lifestyle in Thailand, the more you will spend.

Some foreigners adapt to a true Thai lifestyle very easily but some find it impossible. Many foreigners in Thailand choose to live in places where there are lots of other people like them, and where they can find all the comforts of home.

This is when living in Thailand can start to get expensive.

What about actual figures?

Many Thais have a monthly income of Bt5,000 or less and they survive. I don't think it would be much fun for a foreigner living in Thailand on this amount but it would be possible.

Outside of Bangkok, I reckon that a minimum income of Bt30,000 per month is required for a semi-comfortable life without too many luxuries, and without doing much travelling. In Bangkok, I would say Bt40,000.

If you want more creature comforts, and want to travel around a little, double or treble these estimates. Staying in one place can be cheap but when you start travelling around it can start to get very expensive.

Bear in mind that there are other expenses to consider for foreigners living in Thailand, as opposed to Thais.

Any foreigner who wants to live in Thailand legally requires a visa, and a key part of the visa process is proving to Thai immigration that you have the financial means to live there. Visas cost money and, unless you are working, you need to have a certain amount of money in the bank for long term visas. The amounts are Bt400,000 for a marriage visa and Bt800,000 for a retirement visa.

From what I've read about some countries in Central America, it would be cheaper these days to get a similar lifestyle in somewhere like Panama compared to Thailand. Other Southeast Asian countries are also a lot cheaper than Thailand.

The good thing about Thailand is that everything is available. If you want to eat cheap food you can; but if you want fine dining that is also available. There is an excellent healthcare system and the general infrastructure is quite well developed.

Wherever you are, you will be able to get money from ATMs, find a decent hospital, and get access to broadband Internet. If living in Laos, for example, I have read that if you need urgent medical care then you need to get to Thailand.

I still believe that Thailand is a good place to live, despite rising costs. The good thing is that, unlike many developed countries, you have a choice. You can still live cheaply if you want - or if you need to, but provided you have the money you have access to pretty much anything you want.

The other important factor, of course, if your main income comes mainly from abroad is the exchange rate. The Baht is currently at a 13 year-high (the strongest it has been since the Asian financial crisis of 1997) and many Western currencies are weak.

The UK pound to Thai Baht exchange rate is currently a disaster, falling from around Bt76 to the pound a few years ago, to less than Bt47 at the time of writing this.

I am hoping that the UK government's recently announced austerity measures - and a few corrections to the Thai economy - will improve the rate.

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Friday 22nd October 2010

A sawng-thaew - Click for larger image Thailand has a fairly extensive public transportation system. Even without owning a vehicle, it is possible to go anywhere (from anywhere) without too much trouble. Just make sure that you allow plenty of time when you travel.

The problem with public transport in Thailand is that it isn't really 'public' as such, in the sense that it isn't operated purely as a public service. Motorbike taxis, tuk-tuks, taxis and sawng-thaews, etc, are privately run.

Most drivers tend to own their vehicles, with the exception of Bangkok taxi drivers who usually rent their taxis. Where I am located even the bus and minivan services are run by private companies, and I suspect it is the same in most places.

Of course, this is Thailand, and when private companies and individuals are running a business there is only one thing that is important. Profit. Nothing else.

What this means when travelling, is that drivers won't leave for anywhere unless their vehicles are full - or, at least, as full as possible.

My house is located on a sawng-thaew route. The route passes where I work and also lots of other useful places. It should be ideal ... but there is a major problem.

In case you don't know what a sawng-thaew is, it's a pickup truck that has been converted to carry passengers. The Thai word sawng means 'two' and the word thaew means 'row'. Most have two rows of bench seats in the back (although some have three), and there is a roof over the top to protect passengers from the elements.

Pattaya expats, of which there are many, call sawng-thaews 'Baht buses' for some unexplained reason. They are neither buses, nor do they cost one Baht. I have never seen or heard this expression outside of Internet forums regarding Pattaya.

They traverse fixed routes and the fares are also fixed. Sawng-thaews are one of the only forms of transport that I can use in Thailand without arguing about the fare before I travel.

I use the standard Lonely Planet transliteration, but 'song tell' would probably be better. I was talking to a Singaporean lady last week who couldn't pronounce the word properly based on the standard transliteration.

This is a common problem with standard transliteration systems (even Lonely Planet podcast presenters can't pronounce 'Thonburi' correctly); and this is why I detest standard transliteration systems. Just learn to read Thai because it makes life a lot easier.

The problem is that if I get on a sawng-thaew and there are only a few passengers, the driver will keep stopping in the hope of getting more passengers. He will stop at set places and just wait. Sometimes he might wait for 10 minutes.

Sometimes more passengers get on and sometimes they don't. This might happen three or four times on a single journey. For a journey that should take 10-15 minutes, it can sometimes take an hour.

As you can imagine, it can be very frustrating for passengers already on board but taking care of passengers isn't important in Thailand. The only thing of importance is getting as many passengers as possible in order to maximise the profit on each journey.

It is for this reason that I might be forced to buy a motorbike. I was looking around at electric bicycles but I'm not sure that an electric bike will be suitable for my needs.

Yesterday, I was near the bus station and a desperate looking Thai man ran up to me. In between gasps for breath, he asked if I wanted to go to Penang. I've quite enjoyed trips to Penang in the past but as I'd just popped out to a computer shop I decided that an impromptu trip to Penang wouldn't be a very good idea.

I have a wife at home to think about these days and she wouldn't have been very happy if I'd just popped out for half an hour and then returned two or three days later with souvenirs from Malaysia. I therefore declined his offer.

He was a minivan driver and when I looked I saw that he already had about six passengers. They were waiting to go but he wouldn't leave until he'd filled more seats. Sometimes this process can take ages and if you are waiting to go it can be really annoying. I've been in that position several times.

One of my passions is looking at value and belief systems in Thailand compared to the West. One thing that Westerners value very highly, but Thais don't, is time. Most Thais think nothing of wasting their own, or other people's, time. Again, it's a clash of cultures.

On the positive side, there are good things about the Thai perspective regarding time. The Singaporean lady I met was a tourist. She'd gone off to explore on her own and a Thai guy she met then gave her a private tour that lasted several hours.

This type of thing would be highly unlikely in the West because people are always busy; time is always an enemy; and we can't afford just to 'give' strangers several hours of our time. In Thailand, however, people have time.

Grumpy Westerners in Thailand, such as myself, can always find lots of things to moan about but it's all pros and cons. For every bad thing, there is normally a corresponding good thing.

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Thursday 21st October 2010

Following some comments I made about attitudes to mosquitos in developing countries, such as Thailand, there was another report from the BBC about malaria in India:

India malaria deaths hugely underestimated

As far as I am aware, malaria is only an issue in Thailand near some border areas. I believe that areas along the Thai/Burma are particularly bad.

The biggest threat from mosquitos in Southeast Asia appears to be dengue fever.

Thais tend to be painfully shy. There are cultural reasons for this. Firstly, I believe it is the way that children are brought up, and the way they are taught to behave towards to adults.

It's actually very refreshing coming from the West and meeting kids who respect their elders, but there is a noticeable lack of confidence with many. This becomes very apparent in the classroom.

Some of the workmen that have done jobs for me during the last couple of months have brought their young kids along. They're nice kids - as most Thai kids are - but trying to talk to them is impossible. If you try to talk to them, even in Thai, they simply turn away and try to hide. They won't answer, and if they do, it is with a barely audible whisper.

Also, with such a rigid hierarchical structure in Thai society, people are always aware of 'bigger' people (poo-yai) and I'm sure this creates feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence among the 'smaller' people. The result is shyness.

However, one area in which I've never noticed any degree of shyness is when it comes to asking for money. When I first arrived in Thailand, I was always being asked for money. Some people hardly knew me and some didn't know me at all, but that didn't stop them asking.

I've been living in my new house since the beginning of the month and one of the neighbours opposite came over as she saw me leaving the house this morning. It was the first time she had spoken to me.

She already has one daughter of about 20 months and she is pregnant with a second child. She started to describe a problem and then asked to borrow Bt300 to buy milk for her child. She said she would return the money on Monday evening. I gave it to her without having to think too much.

I went out with my wife and shortly after we got back she rang the doorbell. Bpom answered the door. It was the same woman asking to borrow more money. We had a quick discussion about what to do and then gave her more money.

To most foreigners, the amount of money involved is insignificant. However, to a poor Thai it could mean the difference between her child eating and going hungry.

I'm not sure whether she will return the money or not. In the past Thais have asked to 'borrow' money, but actually they have no intention of repaying the loan.

If she doesn't give the money back it won't make any difference to me. It could be a problem for her though if she needs to borrow more as I will have to think more carefully about whether to make additional loans.

The area I'm in now is quite mixed. There are a lot of new houses being built and obviously the people buying these have money. However, the area was quite poor formerly and there are still lots of Thais living in corrugated shacks who have barely enough money to survive.

Provided I have the means I will help anyone in need, but I don't wish to become the local bank and a source of interest-free loans for poor neighbours.

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Wednesday 20th October 2010

A reader who had been using my Learning to read Thai tutorials commented that a summary of the Thai consonants on one page would be useful. I didn't have time when he made the suggestion but I found time yesterday.

Thai Consonant Summary

If living in Thailand - or even just visiting once a year - there is nothing more important than improving your Thai language skills. Being able to speak and read a little makes a huge difference.

There is probably nothing that impresses Thais more than a foreigner being able to read Thai. They have all heard farangs speaking some Thai but they never expect a foreigner to be able to read.

Is learning to read basic Thai extremely difficult and time-consuming?

The answer - despite the obvious unfamiliarity initially with Thai script - is no. Of the many consonants, there are lots you will hardly ever see, and just a small subset that get used all the time.

Once you learn a few rules and get familiar with the commonly used letters you will be able to read basic information very quickly.

I still have plans to do more work to the existing tutorials and to add more.

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Tuesday 19th October 2010

Improvised flood transport in Hat Yai (2005) - Click for larger image The morning news bulletins here are dominated by flood stories at the moment. Many provinces in the central, north, and northeastern regions have been affected; with Korat experiencing its worst flooding for a long time.

Southern Thailand has so far been unaffected but I guess it will only be a question of time. The typhoon that has just struck the northern Philippines is supposedly the worst for 50 years, but we are told that it will head into China instead of towards Thailand.

Even so, with such a severe storm in the region I expect it will upset the general weather system and cause more rain than usual.

Flooding was (is) my biggest concern after moving from a second floor apartment room to a house. My house is only about three years old and has never been flooded. However, quite a bad flood affected this area five years ago and one of the neighbours living in an older house showed me a flood line in his front room that was about one meter high.

Not a typical Hat Yai street scene (2005) - Click for larger image I toured the affected area just after that flood occurred and took some photos: The 2005 Hat Yai flood

Several Thais - even one old woman - have told me that floods are sanook (a very loose translation of this word would be fun). This is another example of where my views differ significantly to those of the locals.

Flooding obviously causes major disruptions to normal life, and it creates health risks. I've also just spent several months and a lot of money trying to get this house right. The inside has been completely repainted and I've bought lots of new furniture.

The thought of the ground floor of the house being deluged with a meter of dirty flood water isn't something I regard as fun, but I'm not Thai. I'm just a boring farang with no sense of fun. The old lady who said flooding was fun asked me why I was worried because the house has two storeys.

Hat Yai flood, 1962 - Click for larger image Somehow, even having somewhere upstairs to be in the dry while everything downstairs was swimming around in flood water still wouldn't make me feel that good.

I renewed my medical insurance last month and while in the office I asked about house insurance. Of course, because there is a real risk of flooding the insurance company won't ensure against flooding. They are only interested in insuring against things that probably won't happen. They're not stupid.

I am resigned to it now. All of my really important stuff is upstairs. If the house floods it certainly won't be any fun (contrary to local opinion) - and it will cost me money - but it won't be a complete disaster.

Hat Yai flood, 2000 - Click for larger image The main architect of Thailand's flood defence systems is HM the King. The term coined for his solution is gam ling (monkey cheeks). Apparently, monkeys store water in their cheeks for when they need it.

The holding reservoirs in Thailand designed to store flood water, and then to use the water for irrigation, are referred to as monkey's cheeks.

Since the bad flood of five years ago, a lot of work has been carried out on local flood defences. I am hoping that this work will be enough to prevent another meter-plus high flood.

I read the other day that the government has set aside a large amount of money for around another 190 monkey cheeks projects to be completed around the country.

There are times when weather conditions are so severe that floods can't be avoided, but no one should be subjected to regular annual flooding as is the case is some places now.

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Monday 18th October 2010

One of Thailand's many pharmacies - Click for larger image Attitudes to minor illnesses vary tremendously in Thailand to what I am used to back in my native England.

In the UK, most people just work through minor colds without bothering to do anything apart from maybe taking some over-the-counter medicine to relieve the symptoms. Minor ailments are a part of life and in most cases our bodies are equipped to deal with any unwelcome bacteria and viruses.

Most people don't bother seeing a doctor and, if they do, most doctors will offer advice while trying to avoid prescribing unnecessary drugs. On one occasion I got told off quite severely by a GP for wasting her time when I went to see her with a cold.

Not in Thailand.

As soon as you show any symptom of not being quite at full health you get nagged incessantly, with everyone asking if you have taken medicine or seen the doctor yet? If you say no they look at you as if you are an idiot.

I was suffering from an annoying dry cough recently. It didn't hurt but it was irritating. Of course, I got nagged about seeing a doctor or taking medicine, so eventually I gave in and went to a pharmacy last Wednesday.

There is no General Practitioner (GP) service as there is in the UK. There are pharmacies everywhere in Thailand and the pharmacists fulfil the primary care role, or Thais just go directly to a hospital.

Whenever you see a doctor or pharmacist in Thailand expect to be prescribed a lot of medicine. My brother tells me it is the same in Singapore.

UK doctors try to avoid over-prescribing medicine but Thais expect to be prescribed medicine whenever they see the doctor. If they don't get any medicine, they don't believe the doctor is doing his/her job properly.

I was given two types of drug plus some multi-vitamins.

The next evening while taking a shower I noticed that my face felt very strange. It was as if an insect had bitten me but I knew that wasn't the case. My face was numb, red, and quite swollen. The next morning I noticed a rash on my arms and upper body.

This couldn't have been a coincidence and I suspected a drug allergy - something I had never had before.

I stopped taking the medicine. I took it to one of the local private hospitals and explained what had happened. The doctor there diagnosed a drug allergy and gave me yet more drugs to treat the original problem plus the allergy.

There were warnings on two packets of the second lot of drugs about causing drowsiness. They knocked me out completely and I wasted two days in bed feeling like a zombie.

After two days I'd had enough of being completely inactive so stopped taking any more medicine. I'm sure that if I hadn't bothered doing anything in the first place the original cough would have gone by now. Instead, I've suffered unnecessary grief all because I got nagged into seeing a doctor.

My decision to stop taking the drugs wasn't received well, either. Again, I was looked at as if I was an idiot.

My suggestion to foreigners in Thailand would be to listen to your own body, and not to what Thais tell you. I think we all know when we are suffering from something that will pass on its own, and when we are suffering from something that requires medical help.

If you don't, then Thai advice will always be to see a doctor or pharmacist and then you will be prescribed loads of drugs. As in my case, you may find that the drugs actually make you feel worse than you did originally.

Thais are always very well meaning but most don't have much of a worldly view and many aren't very well educated. They don't seem to understand much about the body's natural defence systems or the concept of drug-resistance.

They have simple views on most things, and this includes illness. The Thai view is simple: Whenever you are ill, you see a doctor and take loads of drugs. However, this may not always be the best course of action.

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Sunday 17th October 2010

Crash helmets are for wimps - Click for larger image Despite having lived in Thailand for a number of years, attitudes to law (and also the way that the law is only half-heartedly enforced) continue to exasperate me.

It's not just Thais. Many farangs that come to live in Thailand quickly observe what the locals do, and then simply follow suit.

I like to use examples to back up the statements that I make, so here are a few. Let's start with a couple of farangs I know.

Firstly, one newly arrived farang was asking me about the procedure for owning a motorbike. I told him about getting a licence but he just went out and bought a bike without bothering with a licence. As in other countries, riding a vehicle in Thailand without a licence is illegal, but he certainly isn't the only person in Thailand guilty of this.

So what if the sign said no right turn?  And what are those double yellow lines for? - Click for larger image Secondly, in Thailand any vehicles that are imported from abroad are subject to lots of import duty. This is what makes imported cars in Thailand so expensive. However, it would appear that no import duty is paid on parts.

Another farang I know bought a large motorbike that came into the country from Japan in parts and was subsequently assembled in Thailand. Buying it this way was really cheap.

If he gets the bike registered to make it legal, he will need to pay tax. He doesn't want to pay tax, so he hasn't bothered getting it registered. He rides around with no licence plates and if he gets stopped he calls the guy he bought the bike from who has a friend who is a policeman.

So what if the sign said no right turn? - Click for larger image My wife often asks me to drive her motorbike. When this first happened I told her that I didn't have a motorbike licence. She told me that neither did she. She's been driving a motorbike for years but has never seen the need to get a licence. If she gets stopped she just pays a Bt500 fine or calls her brother who has connections with local policemen.

Where we live now isn't all that conveniently situated and I was thinking about buying a motorbike just to go to work and make short trips. I wouldn't feel comfortable about doing this without having a licence so I suggested to her that we both went to get licences.

She was horrified by the idea because she sees it as being unnecessary and a complete waste of time.

So what if the sign said no entry? - Click for larger image This, unfortunately, is a very typical attitude in Thailand. Laws are made by the government for good reason. Thais are fully aware of the laws but can't be bothered following them because they don't believe they are necessary, and there is almost no law enforcement.

Everwhere I go I see motorcyclists without crash helmets, drivers without seatbelts, drivers driving while using mobile phones, and blatant disregard for roadsigns and traffic lights.

Most of the time there isn't a problem. Thais have their own way of fixing problems - which usually involves having an influential contact somewhere who can fix problems - but the general level of lawlessness, and the utter contempt for well-intentioned laws, is still something that makes me uncomfortable here.

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Saturday 16th October 2010

Dengue warning sign in Singapore - Click for larger image Last month, a fellow teacher was struck down with dengue. He had noticed lots of mosquitos (my reference dictionary tells me the plural noun can be either mosquitos or mosquitoes) at the school where he worked, and he'd also noticed that the young kids he taught were covered in mosquito bites.

He made several requests for someone to spray insecticide but no one was interested and nothing was done. Apathy regarding this type of problem is rife in Thailand.

Then he got very sick and ended up in hospital. If he contracts dengue again and the disease develops into dengue haemorrhagic fever it could be fatal next time.

Last week I received a phone call from a nurse friend who works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the same hospital he went to. She was taking care of a foreign guy who was also suffering from dengue and was in a bad way. She wanted to know if I had any free time to visit him.

Before I got married I had to make the obligatory trip to meet the parents. My wife's parents live in a typical rural Thai house in Ranong province very near to Phang-Nga province. They have about 12 rai of land on which they grow fruit and oil palm trees.

The house is completely open and, as you might expect, it is swarming with mosquitos. I was horrified but this is how they live and they think it is perfectly normal. I spent the night under a tent frame covered with mosquito netting but a mosquito still managed to get inside to bite me. The Thais just regard mosquito bites as being natural and don't bother with netting or repellents.

Singapore is the only developed country in Southeast Asia - Click for larger image The wife has several older brothers and sisters, and they all live exactly the same way. She visited one sister last week and came home itching all over from mosquito bites.

Before the merit-making ceremony last week we dropped in at her brother's place. I sat down for five minutes and got bitten. The house is alive with mosquitos. When they sense people they appear from their hiding places, bite you, and then go back to where they were hiding.

When I first started working on the house I live in now, it was swarming with mosquitos. There wasn't a single mosquito screen and therefore nothing to stop them getting in.

Each time I arrived to do some work the first thing I did was to go round with some spray and kill about 20-30 mosquitos. The first tradesman I got in was one to fix this problem. I got him to make screens for all the windows and doors, and also for the air bricks.

After all the screens were fitted I continued to deal with mosquitos already inside the house and after a day or two the house was mosquito-free.

You can't keep them out all the time. They wait on the doors and as soon as a door opens they fly in, but at least the problem is manageable now whereas before it wasn't.

I made a comment to my wife that Thais must like mosquitos. She denied this but told me that Thais simply regard a house full of mosquitos as normal. I certainly don't regard it as 'normal' and as I have shown her, you can quite easily fix the problem.

After taking the measures I've taken to keep my house mosquito-free, I still find it mildly irritating that Thais visiting the house seem to find it impossible to shut mosquito screens. Whenever Thais are in the house - be they tradesmen or my wife's relatives - the screens and doors are always left wide open.

Even if mosquitos aren't dangerous, their bites are bloody irritating. If they are carrying dengue or malaria, these diseases can kill. Why then are Thais so apathetic about dealing with them?

An everyday sight in Singapore but unfortunately not in Thailand - Click for larger image In Singapore, residential areas are sprayed every day. The local authorities spray here too, but only about twice a year. It's not enough.

My wife's brother gave me a lift a couple of days ago and as soon as I got in the car I noticed a mosquito flying around. As I focused on it ready to splat it between my hands I realised it had black and white stripes.

These stripy mosquitos - sometimes called tiger mosquitos - are the Aedes variety that carry dengue. They bite during the daytime, they are aggressive, and dengue is dangerous.

Referring to what I wrote about previously, getting rid of (or at least controlling) insects that could potentially kill would be a high priority in a Western society. It would be high in the Western value system. In Thailand though, many Thais just live with mosquitos because they believe it is 'normal' and because getting rid of them doesn't appear to be particularly important.

Of course, mosquitos are living creatures and it could be argued that the life of a mosquito is no less valuable than that of any other sentient being, including humans.

In Buddhism it is a sin to take the life of any living creature and I still sometimes hear disapproving words when I swat a mosquito, especially if it is on an auspicious day or at an auspicious place, such as a temple.

Based on the amount of disease they spread, and the number of human deaths they cause, mosquitos are statistically the most dangerous animal known to man. I therefore have no compunction about killing them and I don't see my opposing views on mosquitos and animals in general as being hypocritical.

I hope that one day they will be eradicated completely. I think the only way to do this is genetically; by passing on a gene when they bite people and animals which then modifies their reproduction system so that they can no longer reproduce.

If ever I hear news that mosquitos have been eradicated I will not feel the same way as I do when I hear of the extinction of another species.

I had just finished writing this when I saw the following on the BBC News Site:

Deadly disease major threat to global public health (The number of cases of a deadly parasitic disease - dengue fever - has more than doubled in the last decade, according to the World Health Organization.)

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Friday 15th October 2010

Bad karma - Click for larger image When I first arrived in Thailand I thought that after living in the country for a number of years I would assimilate - and that I would be assimilated - naturally. That hasn't happened, and it won't happen.

As a foreigner in Thailand, no matter how much you speak Thai or understand the country, you will always just be another farang as far as Thais are concerned. At the same time, the more I understand how Thais think and behave, the more I realise how different I am to them and that I will never be the same.

The result is a kind of amiable stand-off. Nowadays I just get on with my life, while the Thais get on with their lives. There is understanding and cooperation, but not a lot of mutual interest.

As a newbie in Thailand I tried to get involved with everything that was going on locally. While doing this, I noticed that long-term expats went about their own business treating locals as if they were invisible. I didn't like this at all.

But now everything has changed. I've been e-mailing a girl recently who arrived in Thailand a short time ago. She is busy trying to get involved with everything that is going on locally while I can no longer be bothered.

It's not a big problem, but it's not how I initially imagined that things would work out. I will try to explain.

Bad karma - Click for larger image All societies are defined by the things they believe are important (a value system) and the set of principles and ideas they hold to be true, and which they use as a template for living their lives (a belief system).

In European, Australian and North American societies there might be some small differences but the value and belief systems are very similar.

The same cannot be said of Asia. When you start to get closely involved with Thais you begin to realise that many things they think are important, you don't, and vice-versa. There are many examples and if living in Thailand you encounter them every day.

I found the whole Thai wedding experience to be quite frustrating because so many things made no sense at all. However, I was helpless to do anything. Certain procedures and ceremonies seemed dumb to me but they were extremely important to my wife and her family. After the wedding my tongue was immensely sore from being forced to bite it so often.

Thais are generally regarded as Buddhists but the belief system practiced by the majority of Thais is animist. It's a belief system that pre-dates Buddhism by a long way - and Buddhism goes back more than 2,500 years. In the 21st century most Thais still follow a belief system that was probably in existence when woolly mammoths roamed the earth.

To truly assimilate, it would first be necessary to discard your own value and belief systems, and then to adopt Thais ones. Of course, most of us can't do this.

Many new expats go to great lengths to try to 'fit in' but it isn't until living in Thailand for some time that they realise true assimilation is an impossible task.

As I said, it's not a bad thing. It's easy to live very harmoniously alongside Thais as long as you accept that many things will seem strange, and that you will also appear strange, because they have their own value and belief systems, and you have yours.

The particular brand of Buddhism that I observe the majority of Thais practising bears no relationship to the Buddhism I have read about in books, even books by such noted Thai authors as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.

There is a lot of greed, craving and desire for material things - and especially money - in Thailand. There is also lots of attachment to material things and to people, emotions and states of mind. As a result there is a lot of mental anguish and suffering, which is exactly what Buddhism says will happen.

Thai schools teach Buddhism and occasionally I might hear something along the lines of true Buddhist thinking, but mostly I hear just one thing.


Tum-buun is the Thai expression for merit-making and for the vast majority of the population it would seem as if the entire Buddhist teaching has been distilled into this one activity.

The Thai form of merit-making is very procedural and I'm really not keen on it. It reminds me of so-called Christians who lead very un-Christian lives but then go to church to sing a few hymns in the belief that this absolves all their sins.

Twelve abandoned pups - Click for larger image Last Friday was a big merit-making day in Thailand and I got dragged along to the temple with my wife and her family. It's the usual thing where they keep wai-ing to everyone and everything, and handing money over to the temple.

Everyone also brought rice to donate and there was so much rice (which is symbolic in Thailand) that I'm sure a lot got wasted.

While the Thais were doing their thing, I wandered around the temple grounds and found 12 new-born pups that had been dumped at the temple - as often happens in Thailand.

They were really cute, and from the yelping sounds they were making (with no mum to feed them) they were obviously hungry. My wife loves dogs and so we went off to buy some special formula milk for pups.

To truly see how cute they were, click on the thumbnail image to get a larger photo in a pop-up window.

Milk for the pups - Click for larger image We fed them one can of milk and gave the rest to a young novice monk at the temple to feed them later. Thais don't believe in sterilising animals. Cats and dogs breed unchecked and they just wander the streets or get dumped at temples all over the country.

It's sad, and actually it's quite cruel, but that's not how Thais see it. Again, this is another example of how the Thai belief system differs to most Western ones.

I left the temple feeling that what we had done was actually much more in line with the true meaning of merit-making than the procedural merit-making performed by most Thais.

Yesterday, I passed a Thai/Chinese temple. Outside were the usual birds in cages that could be released for a payment of money as an act of merit-making. The birds are usually small song birds but I was struck by the sight of two much larger blue-tailed bee-eaters in a small cage barely larger than their bodies.

Releasing caged birds - Click for larger image They were beautiful birds but they looked immensely unhappy being held captive. I asked the woman where they were caught and she told me that she had bought them. She wanted Bt100 to release them.

I feel very strongly about this subject. What we have is someone first causing animals to suffer, and then accepting money to stop the suffering. It's just not right. Let me make an analogy.

Supposing I was to deliberately inflict pain on a child in the street, while at the same time giving people the opportunity to give me money so that I would stop. By making me stop they would supposedly receive merit. But where does that leave me ... or the people putting wild birds in small cages?

Releasing caged birds in Bangkok - Click for larger image There are already enough problems in the world for people to help with, and thus gain merit, without the need to create problems just to give people an artificial way of making merit.

The Thai belief system can seem very strange at times to Westerners, but remember that Western belief systems also appear very strange to Thais. On the surface we all look very similar but if you are thinking about moving to Thailand to live, keep in mind that Thais think very, very differently to Westerners.

This is why Internet forums about living in Thailand stay so active, and why expats in Thailand never stop talking about Thai behaviour - no matter how long they have lived there. People from Western countries that go to live in other Western countries don't exhibit the same behaviour.

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Thursday 14th October 2010

Those who procrastinate meet only with failure - Click for larger image 2010 was the year that my life changed forever.

I'd lived a bachelor's life for a long time in the UK and I continued to do so after I arrived in Thailand. Despite what some male tourists may think, a bachelor lifestyle in Thailand isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The opportunities for paid encounters with working girls are limitless, but that kind of lifestyle is emotionally barren and very unfulfilling on any kind of level other than a purely physical one for very brief periods of time. Believe me.

I am approaching 50, and I decided that I may as well get married. As the sign in the photo above says, "Those who procrastinate meet only with failure." I am still in good enough shape that I can attract fairly young and attractive Thai girls, but that may not be the case in five or ten years' time.

By this I mean a proper relationship, and not one of the many sham Thai/farang relationships you see in Thailand where an Isaan girl marries a much older foreign man just so that she has a financial provider for herself and her extended family.

At the end of 2008 I met a girl who I was determined to marry. She had a Thai boyfriend but the relationship didn't sound very good. She didn't see him very often; he had been unfaithful in the past; he was hot-tempered and they always argued; he was immature; and her mother didn't like him.

Throughout 2009 I did everything I could to try to convince her to marry me, but despite what she told me about her boyfriend she wouldn't leave him. She played a very clever game. She liked the attention from me, which I think raised her self-esteem; she encouraged me and told me to wait a little longer; but deep down she knew she would never leave him.

I had booked a ticket down to Singapore on Boxing Day and I saw her the day before I went - Christmas Day. I made one last effort but from her response I knew it was futile.

Meanwhile, another girl had been chasing me but I wasn't very interested because my thoughts were elsewhere. In Singapore I decided to stop wasting my time chasing the girl who wasn't interested in me, but instead to see the other one.

The new wife - Click for larger image When I returned to Thailand we began to see each other. My life changed for good one day in June. She disappeared into the bathroom and then called me over while holding up a small stick. It was a pregnancy testing kit and the test was positive.

This wasn't a complete surprise to me because we hadn't been taking any precautions. She certainly hadn't been deceptive at all in getting pregnant (as had happened to me previously in Thailand). Although we hadn't formally sat down and decided to have a child, I think this is what we both wanted.

After this, my life went completely out of control for several months. It had already been busy for a while and I had to stop writing here.

Thais are very narrow-minded about certain things and a wedding needed to be planned. That involved a lot of time, effort and money.

My rented room was too small for the both of us and it was certainly too small for three. I started looking around for a house to rent but it was really difficult finding somewhere suitable.

Eventually we found somewhere but it had been badly neglected and needed a huge amount of work. As soon as the wedding was over I got to work on the house. That required even more time, effort and money than the wedding.

While all this was going on I was still working full-time. For several months I didn't have a single minute of free time. Something had to give and unfortunately it was this web site - along with travel and photography. I didn't particularly enjoy giving up all the things I enjoy doing but sometimes in life these things can't be avoided.

At the beginning of October I got a break from work for the mid-year holiday. We moved into the house, which by then was in a liveable state, while I continued to work on it.

The important things have been done now and the jobs that need doing aren't essential. It feels good. After several months of not having a spare minute I now have some time to myself again.

For the last few days I've been doing some work on this web site and I'm looking forward to doing some more.

The baby is expected in March but I don't want to be one of these 'modern fathers' and let the child take over my life. My wife is a very traditional Thai girl and sees her role as taking care of the child. I will be supportive but I want my own life too.

I've missed a lot of things and I've missed writing here. I hope to write some more blog entries soon. Since I stopped writing here, I've also received quite a few positive e-mails regarding my 'Learning to read Thai tutorials'. I want to improve the existing tutorials and add more.

I apologise for not being completely honest about my reasons for stopping earlier this year. It got to a point where I couldn't cope with everything that was being thrown at me and I just needed to stop what I was doing here as soon as possible.

In many ways this is a shame because the experience of getting married in Thailand and the subsequent house renovation has given me a deeper insight into the way Thais think and operate. I also have plans to write about these two experiences.

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Visit Thailand

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

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

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

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand