Living In Thailand Blog
Monday 31st October 2011
Finally, some good news and common sense. This should have happened many years ago, but better late than never. Kudos to Yingluck.
"The Yingluck government will seek to spend a staggering Bt900 billion on national recovery from the still unfolding flood disaster and on long-term flood prevention. Under the "New Thailand" plan, the country will see the complete overhaul of its water-management system."
It's a lot of money, but floods cause enormous damage to the economy and the expenditure is easily justified. Apart from the money, having to live with the threat of flooding every year - as many Thais do - is extremely stressful.
I know. I experienced a big flood last year and this year hasn't been much fun either, despite there being no flooding so far.
Nearer to where I live, I've heard more good news and common sense. The flood last year was caused by the release of water from a huge dam in the next district after it became dangerously full. My neighbour told me that the authorities have had the sense to empty the dam this year before the heavy rains arrive.
Also, there may be some substance to the rumour I keep hearing about someone using threats to keep a sluice gate closed that should have been opened last year. Yesterday, I heard the same thing from another source.
Flood water from Hat Yai empties into Songkhla Lake via a series of canals. A lot of work was carried out on Klong U-Tapao a few years ago. It's big and carries a lot of water.
The problem last year, so I am told, occurred in Bang Klam district which lies in between Hat Yai and Songkhla Lake. My source told me that soldiers will be on hand this year just in case anyone decides they aren't going to allow the gate to be opened.
I have enormous sympathy for the people who have suffered as a result of flooding this year. I know what it's like, and their experience has been far worse than mine was last year.
The good news is that something is finally being done. It's unfortunate that it took a huge flood to finally get the politicians off their backsides, but at least there is a plan now.
Just a footnote to say that the threat of flooding in the south isn't over yet. The heavy rain that was forecast arrived a couple of days ago and we have had quite a lot of rain, especially overnight.
Every big flood that has occurred in Hat Yai has occurred during the month of November so we have a way to go yet before everyone can rest for another year.
I hate heavy traffic and crowded places. Big shopping centres in Thailand get very crowded and so we do our regular food shopping on a Monday morning when everything is quiet. This morning was very different.
The traffic was the same as a Friday afternoon and the carpark at Tesco Lotus was already full at 10am. It's been quite a wet weekend and I suspect this has panicked the locals further into believing that everything will be flooded soon. The panic-buying is therefore continuing.
At first glance, Tesco appears to be well stocked but certain items are missing. We can't get the brand of baby milk or laundry detergent that we normally use. There are no boxes of tissues at all. All that is available are the single-ply toilet rolls that Thais use as tissues. These are completely useless. Tesco have run out of their branded plastic carrier bags and are using plain plastic bags with no marking.
It's all very irrational, but most Thais don't think rationally. The rain we are getting at the moment is what I would class as normal (or maybe less than normal) rainfall for this time of year. In tropical countries it is always very wet at certain times of the year.
As I wrote above, the local authorities do seem to have learned a few lessons from last year and from what I hear, everything is in much better shape than last year. In addition, the rainfall is a lot less than last year.
The current behaviour is being driven by the emotion of what happened here last year and what is happening at the moment further north. Other factors are gossip based on fortune-teller predictions and unfounded rumours based on nothing.
This panic-buying is going to do some strange things to the economy. I suspect that many large retailers have probably had a record month during October. On the other hand, with everyone thinking only about flooding and survival I would imagine that other sectors have performed quite badly.
Now that people have stockpiled so much food, they won't need to buy further supplies for at least a couple of months. The retailers may have done well in October but they probably won't do so well for the next couple of months.
What would help tremendously is better communication from the local authorities. Everything I hear is unofficial and you never know how much truth any piece of information contains.
Weather is highly unpredictable and no one can be sure about what will happen but some accurate official information from the local authorities on what they have done, and their current outlook, would be very welcome.
It would stop a lot of the rumour-mongering and calm a lot of people down.
Here's a nice quote. It's deadly accurate.
"One of my secretaries once told me long ago that Thais are not known for being good planners but they are fabulous at coping."
This is what I have always found. Whereas Westerners tend to concentrate on preventing problems in the first place, the Thai way seems to be to let problems happen and then deal with them. Thus, as the quote says, they have become very adept at dealing with adversity, no matter how serious the problem.
I was always taught that prevention is better than cure. The Thai way therefore contradicts my way of thinking and I find it strange. The Thai way of thinking in general is so different to how I think that I find a lot of things about living in Thailand strange. Still, at least it's not boring.
I didn't realise until the flooding that about 40% of the world's hard disk drives are made in Thailand. With production likely to go down to 15% while the facilities are recovering this will probably affect a lot of people.
Saturday 29th October 2011
Thais enjoy living on the edge of chaos and if you live in Thailand you get used to the general level of craziness. Sometimes it drives you nuts, but it can also be the reason why trips to Thailand are so enjoyable.
When I think about my hometown in the UK, it is boring compared to here. There's a constant energy and it means that life is rarely dull. However, there are occasions when the level of craziness exceeds what is normal even for Thailand. This is one such time.
The south of Thailand, at least where I am, is experiencing a panic-buying frenzy at the moment. I didn't quite realise what was happening until speaking with someone today.
When Thais prepare themselves for the usual round of flooding, they buy enough provisions to last the duration of the flood. Floods in the south don't tend to last very long and they might buy enough stuff to last 7-10 days.
It's very different this time.
The floods in Bangkok and the central region have started to result in lots of shortages of various items. I mentioned this previously. Thais are not expecting Bangkok and the central region to be back to normal until the end of the year.
For this reason, they are stockpiling food and other things to last them for three months instead of 7-10 days. The person I was speaking with today had bought 150kg of rice and 36 bottles of cooking oil.
With so many things in short supply, coupled with people panicking and buying so much, the supermarket shelves are emptying very quickly.
This news panicked my wife and therefore we had to go out today to buy more stuff. What is of most concern to us is things for the baby. The brand of milk powder she has is in very short supply and it is becoming increasingly hard to find.
We now have about 400 disposable nappies in the house and we are on the lookout for tissues and washing detergent, which we have been told are also in short supply.
At lunch today I could only buy small cups of fruit juice because the large cups have run out and they couldn't get any more.
If you're planning a trip to Thailand in the near future, the place you visit may not be affected by flooding but you will probably experience some problems as a result of the flooding elsewhere. Lots of items are becoming difficult to get hold of and some things are impossible to get, or in very scarce supply.
If the locals are right, it doesn't seem as if the situation will return to any degree of normality until the new year.
If things get really desperate, one option we have in the south is to drive over the border to Malaysia. The border is only an hour away and there are supermarkets quite close to the border. At the moment, however, we are managing and this isn't necessary.
I had to tell one of my wife's friends to shut up today. She visits fairly regularly to see the baby. Today she was telling the baby, "Naam ja tuam, naam ja tuam." (It's going to flood, it's going to flood.)
I know the baby can't understand but I personally am sick to the back teeth of Thais always being so pessimistic and continually gossiping and spreading rumours of doom and disaster when nobody knows for sure that there will be flooding.
We've had very little rain so far, the flood defences should be in pretty good shape, there are no bad storms approaching, and thus there's a good chance that there won't be any problems this year.
For about a month now all I have heard from the locals is that there will be massive flooding soon, and these unfounded rumours will continue until the current rainy season has finished.
I had some free time today but instead of being able to go out and do fun things, I had to do more shopping trips as a result of problems caused by flooding.
I am so fed up with the situation here that if I was still a single man in Thailand I would probably leave for a couple of months now and come back next year. As it is, I can't.
It's not doing my peace of mind any good at all. I can't do much about all the silly gossip outside but from now on such talk is banned in my house. I think I will make a sign and attach it to the front door.
With a million people making an exodus from Bangkok and seeking temporary accommodation, some landlords have been jacking up apartment rents.
It might sound a bit heartless but don't the laws of supply and demand allow for this? If you let rooms in Wimbledon the rental rates are going to be a lot higher for two weeks of the year. Apparently a few Thai landlords have been fined.
How about fining everywhere in Thailand that charges foreigners more than Thais for exactly the same thing? At many places foreigners are charged ten times more than Thais.
How about writing all the pricing information at these places in English instead of hiding what is happening from the 99.99% of foreigners who can't read Thai by writing the Thai pricing information using Thai script and Thai numerals?
This sign says (in Thai) - Children Bt10, Adults Bt20. If you're reading this blog, then you won't need me to explain what the English part says.
Foreigners in Thailand aren't expected to be able to read Thai. The vast majority can't, and just cough up the money. Whenever I meet a situation like this I end up getting in a big argument because I can read what the Thai part of the sign says and I think it is a disgraceful practice.
This smacks of the double standards and discrimination against foreigners that exists in Thailand. If Thais are overcharged everyone is up in arms, the newspapers are writing about it, and fines are being handed out. Foreigners are consistently overcharged in Thailand by huge amounts but nothing ever happens. Mai bpen rai.
Japanese and Dutch experts are currently helping the Thai authorities with their water management problems. The US Navy is helping to survey the capital.
Thousands of English-speaking foreigners are working as teachers in Thailand teaching young Thais the most important life skill of all. Thousands of migrant workers from places like Burma provide cheap labour for Thai businesses but they get a very unfair deal.
Thais will happily use foreign skills and foreign labour when it suits them but for the rest of the time foreigners can be discriminated against and ripped off without any feeling of guilt at all.
Friday 28th October 2011
The big Hat Yai flood last year occurred directly as a result of the water in large dams located in outlying areas being released.
During the last part of October there had been torrential rain which fell continuously for several days. However, the town's flood defences held up exceptionally well. I was impressed.
On the evening of 1st November 2010 the rain suddenly stopped and there had still been no flooding. I went to bed at around 11pm with an enormous sense of relief, feeling that we had escaped a major flood after all.
At around 1am, while I was sleeping, my wife received a phone call from her brother and went to look downstairs. I was awoken with the words, "naam maa lair-o" (the water has come).
I wasn't sure what to expect; maybe an inch or two of water? I was shocked. There was almost a metre and it was rising. It peaked at two metres. This raised lots of questions in my mind.
After so much torrential rain over several days which didn't cause a flood, why did such a huge flood occur in such a short space of time? There was no water at 11am but just two hours later the water level had reached a metre. I was confused, but later on I found out about water being released from the dams.
I have always been reluctant to say too much because I have never had access to all the facts. However, this is something I have often thought about. Why were the dams allowed to reach full capacity and why was all the water released at once, knowing that to do so would cause inevitable large-scale flooding in a major provincial city? Could the water management of the dams not have been handled better?
I am not accusing anyone of doing anything wrong because I don't have access to all the facts, but I would really like to know a little more about the sequence of events that led up to that night, and what led to the decision to release all the water.
With regard to the current flooding in Bangkok and the central region, the Asian Correspondent has some interesting articles on the same subject.
Like me, the author doesn't have full access to all the facts. There is speculation and his article raises questions.
It has been a terrible year for many Thais but on the positive side, the events this year could mean the start of a new era of some very serious water management in Thailand. I hope so because the country needs it.
News of floods in Thailand have gone around the world this year, especially as a result of Bangkok flooding. What many people living outside of Thailand are probably not aware of is that flooding is a problem somewhere in Thailand every single year.
Normally the affected provinces are upcountry and not very well known, and therefore not very newsworthy. Provincial flooding in Thailand might get a mention in the Thai news but the international media aren't interested.
Flooding is a huge problem in Thailand and it needs some huge solutions. As I said before, the most interesting thing for me will be to see what happens once this episode is all over and things have returned to normal.
If nothing is done, then who will be to blame when the next lot of flooding occurs?
Thursday 27th October 2011
More about flood-related diseases and problems from The Nation:
I'm finding life pretty miserable here at the moment. I wouldn't say that I am duly stressed, but neither do I feel at all relaxed. My general health hasn't been great and this has been exacerbated by a number of mouth ulcers that I've had recently.
I am working again and although this isn't stressful it uses up a lot of time that I would rather be spending doing other things.
The TV news is a 24 hour fest of doom and gloom. Just a short while ago the authorities seemed quite confident that Bangkok wouldn't flood. That situation has changed now. Not only have certain areas of Bangkok already flooded, but worse is forecast for tomorrow and Saturday.
Bangkok is huge and accounts for something like 43% of Thailand's GDP. It is quite well protected from flooding, with several roads having been built to also act as flood barriers. I think this latest disaster has taken a lot of people by surprise.
This is a huge test for the new PM. The Pheu Thai election campaign was based around several populist policies. Interestingly, one policy was to build a system of canals throughout the country to eradicate flooding. Other policies, such as the minimum Bt300 daily wage, may now be delayed further.
If anything, the weirdest situation is probably here in the south of Thailand where there is no flooding. There was a weather warning from 25th to 30th October but we have still had very little rain. Storms have come in, but then passed with very little rainfall.
The canals are very low or empty, there are no nasty storms approaching, and the green flags are still flying. I'm sure that under normal circumstances very few people would be unduly worried about flooding.
As we made our usual route to the supermarket on Monday there was a mountain of sand in the road. My wife wondered what was being built. I jokingly remarked that they were using it to fill sandbags.
I was jesting, but that was exactly what was happening. Tens of thousands of sandbags are being filled, maybe a lot more. I have seen a number of businesses with sandbags piled outside, and municipality workers were using sandbags to block a canal. When I asked why they were doing this, it was to stop flood water from going into the central business district.
This didn't make me feel any better. Flooding is an annual problem in Thailand and when floods occur, which they do often, the authorities who control the dams and sluice gates decide which areas will flood and which ones won't.
They will do their best here to save the central business and tourist area, but the area my house is in isn't important. There have been altercations in other parts of Thailand recently about the same issue. Obviously, people aren't going to be happy about their homes being flooded in order to try to keep somewhere else dry.
The following is from The New York Times. This article also attempts to explain why an unusually heavy monsoon season has now been turned into a disaster.
"In Ayutthaya, two groups of villagers are reported to have battled over a dike that protected one side and condemned the other. As the unlucky residents dug at the dike to send the water toward their neighbors, a gunfight broke out, wounding one of the villagers. In some places, according to news reports, troops have been deployed to protect the dikes."
For the full article, see:
An oft-repeated rumour here is that the big flood last year was caused by a sluice gate not being opened. The reason for it not being opened (so the rumour goes) was that a 'big person' (poo-yai) didn't want his house flooded and prevented officials opening the gate with the aid of a gun.
Thais settling arguments with guns doesn't surprise me in the least, but I find it difficult to believe that one person could be allowed to let the biggest city in southern Thailand flood, causing damage to the tune of tens of billions of Baht. However, the locals like a juicy piece of gossip.
I am still not aware of any scientific evidence that there will be more flooding here this year but Thais insist on spreading gloomy predictions. They predicted a flood in mid-October. That didn't happen so now they are saying November or December. They don't seem happy unless they are making gloomy predictions.
Without any solid evidence I don't know why they always want to be so insistent that a disaster will occur. They were predicting earthquakes and tsunamis last year (which came to nothing) and this year it is floods. What next? Pestilence and plagues of locusts?
My personal prediction is that the sport of predicting disasters in Thailand will reach an all time peak next year, being that it is 2012 and the end-date of the Mayan Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. I think next year will be another thoroughly miserable year until everyone wakes up on the morning of 22nd December and realises that we are all still here.
I try not to listen but it is impossible. No matter where I go all I hear are predictions of impending doom and disaster. To be honest, it's quite depressing. When you hear something so often you can start to doubt your own thinking, even if you know your own thoughts are a lot more rational.
My sanity is being maintained only by the fact that this will be our final rainy season living in an area prone to flooding. If I had to endure this kind of mental torture for three months every year for the rest of my days in Thailand I think I would end up being a basket case.
Just to add to our woes the insurgency threat is back. As I walked through the downtown area today I was wondering what all the soldiers were doing there. Now I know.
Happy days in the Land of Smiles.
If you've ever had a relaxing vacation in Thailand and thought it was one of the most relaxed places in the world, it's very different if you live here.
Monday 24th October 2011
You're never too far away from a snake in Thailand, even if you're not aware of their presence. They are shy animals and do their best to avoid humans. It's unusual to see them alive but quite often I see dead ones in the road.
They slither across the road and sometimes get squished by pickup trucks. There was a dead one just outside our house last week. It didn't look like a poisonous variety.
There was a live one in my apartment carpark a few years ago, and I once saw one near Tesco Lotus in Hat Yai that was huge. The big one did look poisonous. There's a picture below if you can identify it for me.
I worked at the local university for about four years and it is located in a fairly natural setting with a range of hills just behind. There was a small stream near the main student refectory which I often used to peer into to see what the fish were doing.
As I gazed into the water one day, what looked like a huge king cobra swam past. It gave me quite a shock.
I've taught a number of university students over the years and one of my past students once did a survey near the local airport. Over a period of about a month she recorded the different types of fauna that she observed in a fairly small area.
There were cobras, king cobras, and other venomous species.
There's a hill in Songkhla main town that you can ascend with the assistance of a funicular railway and it is quite famous for its monkey colonies. I believe the monkeys there are long-tailed macaques and there are hundreds of them.
One vendor who sells food was telling me that they don't like dogs or king cobras. It would be very unusual to see a king cobra but they are around.
The flood last year flushed lots of snakes out of their holes and we saw lots swimming past. A few decided to swim into people's houses and needed to be dealt with.
The flooded areas in Thailand's central region have another problem at the moment. The flood water has allowed crocodiles to escape from farms and wildlife centres. Some have been quite large.
When Australia had bad floods last year, Australians had yet a different problem to deal with.
There are a huge number of rats in Thailand. I see rats every day and they are big. They are so big that cats and dogs keep well away.
There was a guy on Thai TV the other day talking about flood-related diseases and he talked about the dangers of Leptospirosis
When I was working at the university, a doctor working at the hospital in the same complex contracted Leptospirosis and almost died. It's very nasty.
Some people have been making Internet searches as to whether the mosquito population increases as a result of flooding. I didn't notice any dramatic increase after the big flood last year.
The only room in our house where mosquitoes can enter is at the front of the house where I keep the car. I have an electric mosquito zapping machine in there that I leave on overnight and each morning I use spray to deal with any mossies that the machine didn't get.
Sometimes there are just a few dead mosquitoes in the machine and a few flying around. However, there was one period where there seemed to be a plague. The machine was full every morning and there were still 100 to 150 live mosquitoes flying around.
The local municipality know when numbers increase and during these times they send people out in the morning to spray. At around 6am you hear what sounds like a chainsaw and if you look outside all you can see is a dense fog from the DDT or whatever it is they spray.
Saturday 22nd October 2011
The weather here in Songkhla province is almost perfect (perfect would be about five degrees cooler). This has been the driest start to a rainy season that I can remember in a long time. As far as I know, other parts of southern Thailand are also looking good at the moment.
It seems crazy that we have flood supplies sitting upstairs in the house but everyone was panicking a few weeks ago and a few people were insisting that there would be a huge flood in mid-October. They have now gone very quiet.
According to the BBC, the flooding in the central region will last for another six weeks:
As I said before, the disappearance of the water is just the beginning. Cleaning up and repairing or replacing damaged items takes a long time. There has been no flooding here but we haven't been completely unaffected.
I went shopping twice last week to find fresh vegetable shelves almost empty. Today I went to a Thai restaurant that cooks some Italian food and pizza was off the menu because they couldn't get any cheese.
Shops and restaurants are obviously having supply problems as a result of the problems further north.
After last year's bad flood here, almost all of our 7-Eleven stores closed due to flood damage. There was one left open and it had very little stock. I was told that the distribution centre is in Surat Thani and because of flooding in Surat it had affected the supply chain.
Hat Yai had the biggest flood in its history last year. This photo show's last year's water level as well as water levels from previous floods. I was wondering whether the municipality would do anything to improve the flood defences.
The town itself actually has a pretty good flood defence system but the problem last year came from outside.
There was torrential rainfall for several days, but no flooding. However, the rain had been filling up some very large reservoirs in outlying districts. The story I heard was that the reservoirs filled to a dangerous level and then the water needed to be released.
The town's flood defences coped well with several day's worth of heavy rainfall but when the reservoirs were emptied they couldn't cope and the town flooded in a matter of hours.
There has always been a system of warning flags in Thailand for floods. I heard about this last year but I had never seen a flag and didn't know where they were located.
The flags are now displayed more prominently, along with signs explaining what the different colour flags mean. Everything is in Thai. I guess the authorities assume that all foreigners in Thailand can read Thai, or that foreigners living in Thailand don't need to know this information.
- Green - water conditions normal, no problems
- Yellow - water level below banks, but by less than 1.5m - keep an eye on the news
- Red - flooding will occur within 6 to 30 hours - get ready, move your possessions and find a safe place
- Red with sirens - flooding will occur within 3 to 6 hours - get to a safe place immediately
We have green flags at the moment.
There is also quite a useful website (also in Thai) where you can see actual water levels in various places via webcams and you can also see a weather radar.
There's also a telephone hotline and radio station. Along with the flood supplies I mentioned previously, you should also have a battery operated radio and plenty of batteries.
I'm growing more confident that we will get through this rainy season without having to deal with two metres of disgusting flood water in the downstairs of the house again.
However, I am fully aware that the weather can change very quickly and that anything can happen. I am also fully aware (from last year's experience) that the flood defences cannot cope if the weather gets too extreme.
If you go to live in a foreign land where everything is very different compared to what you are used to, it would seem to make a lot of sense to listen to the locals. After all, nothing beats experience and local knowledge.
That is true to some extent in Thailand, but as I said recently you need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff because a lot of what you are told is utter nonsense.
The example I gave previously was about what Thais had told me about other parts of Thailand being dangerous. They repeat the same stupid gossip that someone has told them but there is no truth at all in what they say.
Last year I was told with complete certainty that no flooding would occur. A month later we had the biggest flood in the town's history.
Last month I was told with complete certainty that a flood would occur halfway through October. Well, so far no flooding, the weather is gorgeous, and it is driest start to a rainy season that I can remember.
After arriving in Thailand, it didn't take long for me to see how dangerous motorbikes were. Since I have been here I have seen motorbike accidents almost every week. However, Thais tell me that motorbikes aren't dangerous.
I've always liked cats. My parents had cats before they had me and I grew up with cats. I've met loads of great cats in Thailand and have spoken to their owners, only to return a little later and find out that the cat is no longer alive.
Thailand isn't a great place for cats. Mostly, they get killed on the roads but others I have met have died as a result of dog bites or from eating rat poison.
When we moved to this house last year it was the first opportunity I'd had to own cats again so we went out a got a couple. They are now part of the family.
Because I had met so many cats in Thailand who had perished, it was an obvious decision that our two would be house cats. They don't go out because if they did I don't think they would last very long.
Thais visiting the house find this most strange and tell me that it isn't dangerous for cats to go outside. Our cleaning lady likes cats and told us the same thing. She's a lovely lady and takes care of our two when we go away.
About three weeks ago she got a cat of her own and was telling us how clever it is about going outside. A few days ago it got hit by a car and after two operations it is still in quite a serious condition. To me, this was totally predictable.
What I can't make out is why something that is so predictable to me is such a mystery to the locals?
If you move to Thailand listen to what the locals say because they can be a valuable source of information. However, follow the Buddhist path and don't believe anything you hear or read unless it agrees with what your logic and common sense says.
For some reason, Thais will sometimes tell you things that are completely untrue. They're not deliberately lying or trying to deceive you. That kind of thing happens in Thailand (especially where there are large concentrations of tourists), but what I am trying to explain is different.
They hear something; they believe what they hear; and then they repeat what they heard. What is missing is the bit in the middle about using experience and common sense to try to figure out if what they heard was true.
Friday 21st October 2011
Regarding floods in Thailand, The Nation says:
"Previous governments are to be dammed for neglecting the overall picture of water management - including how the national irrigation system works"
I know it's pedantic, but shouldn't the water have been dammed and the previous governments damned?
Wednesday 19th October 2011
Some things in life seem so obvious that it is easy to assume that everyone else thinks the same way. That might be the case in some parts of the world but never in Thailand. Thais think very differently.
If you're planning to live in Thailand this is something you need to be aware of. On the surface, Thailand appears much the same as anywhere else but it isn't. The other thing you need to be aware of is that Thais always stick together.
Regardless of whether you have a Thai girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, or husband, don't expect them to side with you if you have a difference of opinion with a Thai.
I popped into a small restaurant yesterday just after 12am for a drink and bite to eat. I was unable to order anything because the staff had gone out to lunch. It was lunchtime so the staff had gone to eat. From the Thai perspective this is completely normal and reasonable.
This wasn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. A few weeks ago it happened while I was with my wife.
I made a sarcastic comment to her and, not for the first time, she got defensive. "Well, the staff have to eat too," she informed me.
Yes, I know the staff have to eat too but if you are running a restaurant then you should make sure that your staff are present at busy times to serve customers, such as lunchtimes.
We spent almost a whole day at a local public hospital recently trying to get a card for our daughter so that she gets free health care. We did this before but the card expired after six months and we had to do everything again.
Dealing with Thai bureaucracy is no fun. The public hospitals deal with thousands of patients every day and you have to wait for ages. We were shunted from one department to another and every time we had to get in line and wait.
After waiting all day, we got to the final hurdle where we told to return the following month. Another day wasted.
Despite so many people waiting for service, as soon as the clock struck noon all the hospital staff left their desks and walked out. Nothing happened for over an hour until they started to return from lunch.
Of course they are entitled to a lunch break but you might have thought they would have their lunch in two shifts so that they could serve patients. This isn't how it works in public hospitals or any administrative building in Thailand that is classed as government.
Private companies operating in Thailand are a lot better in this respect but government employees work to a strict schedule and this means that nothing happens between noon and 1pm.
My wife has seven older siblings and they all have children. She has several nieces and nephews. Her nieces and nephews use ballpoint pens and other drawing implements to write and draw over the walls and furniture of their respective homes.
My wife seems to think that this is simply a part of growing up, and that it is perfectly natural behaviour. She told me that we will have to get used to this soon with our child.
Mmm, I don't think so. Had I done this when I was a child my backside would have been pretty sore, and my daughter will find that her backside will be sore if she tries the same thing.
I've noticed some big differences with bringing up kids here compared to how I was brought up. Most of the time Thai children are allowed to do whatever they want to do. This is particularly the case with boys, who have special privileges in Thai society.
There are young boys living next door and in the house opposite. They play together in the street and I have noticed that they urinate all over the place when they play, wherever they want. They do it in plant pots or up against their houses.
I have made comments to the parents and also to my wife but the response is always laughter and a reply telling me they are boys. Apparently, if you are a Thai male in Thailand, you can do whatever you want.
I asked if it was OK for young girls to pee all over the place as they were playing and was told no. Thai females are expected to behave one way but anything goes for boys. There's a big difference in the behaviour of the sexes.
Many years ago I worked at an all-boys school here. I managed to last a month before walking out. It was impossible to do anything because the students did what they wanted. There was no discipline at all. On the other hand, working at an all-girls school is easy.
The boys' school actually had a separate discipline department but the staff there weren't interested in doing their job. The general feeling I got was that Thai boys are always allowed to do what they want and no one tells them otherwise.
I've written a lot about the appalling driving standards here and most problems are a result of male drivers doing whatever they want to do without any consideration for other road users.
Traffic police aren't interested, so the drivers can do what they want. If, as another driver, you do or say anything when they do wrong, they go absolutely crazy. They hate other people telling them what they can and can't do, even when they do things that are obviously very wrong.
The role of teaching children what is right and what is wrong in Thailand seems to be left to the schools. Where I was brought up, a lot more came from parents.
It's not as anarchic as maybe I make out, but there are big differences compared to the West and there are big differences here between boys and girls.
Monday 17th October 2011
Three questions keep coming up in searches:
- Why does Thailand always flood so badly?
Thailand has a tropical climate and the monsoons bring in enormous amounts of rain. This region is also subject to cyclones and tropical storms that also bring enormous amounts of rain. During certain times of the year it is hot and dry, but at other times it is extremely wet. Some years are wetter than others depending on monsoon, storm and La Niña conditions. This has been the case since time immemorial.
The reason Thailand experiences regular flooding is simply because the infrastructure to deal with so much rain doesn't exist in many parts of the country. Where infrastructure does exist, it can sometimes deal with 'normal' rain levels but not with excessive levels as a result of bad storms or exceptionally heavy monsoon rains.
Singapore experiences enormous amounts of rain too, but it doesn't flood all the time. The Singaporeans have built huge storm drains everywhere, and the infrastructure to deal with tropical rain is a lot more efficient.
Why hasn't the infrastructure been built in Thailand? Some people will tell you it is because Thailand is a poor country. I disagree and have my own views but I don't wish to go into them here. The infrastructure does exist in central Bangkok.
- Why does the water take so long to subside?
It doesn't always. After the big flood in Hat Yai last year, the water - which was over two metres in some places - had all gone after about four days.
The water needs to get out to sea. In peninsula Thailand the sea is never very far away. The current flooding is affecting the central region and the sea is a lot further away. Last year, Ayuthaya was under water for several months and the same is happening this year with affected provinces in the central region.
- When will the rain/floods/problems end?
I guess that some people have trips arranged to Thailand and want to know when everything will be back to normal. This is difficult to predict. The places that are badly affected now will probably take another month to get dry.
If a big tropical storm suddenly comes in from China through Vietnam and into Thailand, as they sometimes do, the problems could be prolonged. The weather in this region is highly unpredictable.
Once the water has receded, that is only the start of the recovery. After our big flood last year it took several weeks to clean everything. Everyone had thrown their flood-destroyed possessions on to the street and it was a major operation to get rid of all the garbage.
Many businesses were affected very badly. Some closed altogether and others took several months to reopen. It wasn't until seven or eight months later that things started to feel normal again. Flooding is a very serious issue.
Sunday 16th October 2011
I'm tired of thinking about floods, I'm tired of writing about floods, I'm tired of hearing naam tuam everywhere I go in Thailand, and I'm tired of locals telling me that there will absolutely, definitely be more flooding in the south this year when they have no hard evidence to back up their claims.
We have flood supplies sitting in the upstairs of the house, yet we are currently experiencing one of the most pleasant spells of weather I can remember in a very long time. It's warm but not too hot, and even though there was a brief shower yesterday it's been dry with no nasty storms approaching.
The flood supplies were bought as a result of several severe naggings from my wife. The rainy season still has a long way to go and anything could happen in the next couple of months. If we get flooded and I had refused to buy supplies because I thought it was unnecessary, then I would probably be a single man again by New Year. That's something I don't really wish to happen.
Flooding - or rather the fear of flooding - affects us year-round. When we moved to this rented house last year I had planned to install a big flat-screen TV and a home theatre system downstairs. I was just about to buy these items when the flood hit.
My plans were quickly abandoned and now everything downstairs is temporary, with no permanent fixtures, so that it can be moved upstairs in the event of a flood. This is no way to live at all.
The house has quite a lot of space but because of the fear of flooding we don't utilise it very well at all. The main bedroom has become our bedroom, our daughter's bedroom, and also my office. There is far too much in this room and the other bedroom, and far too little downstairs but the risk with having more downstairs is that it will be destroyed in a flood.
Having experienced a bad flood myself last year, I feel desperately sorry for the people in the central region who are suffering badly at the moment. At the same time, I really hope that some serious action will finally be taken by the politicians because this is a crazy way to live. Lots of Thais are affected by flooding every year.
A girl teaching English in Thailand was quoted on the BBC news site yesterday. She said that some people had lost everything and she expected to see people crying in the street. That wasn't the case, and that's exactly what I have discovered living in Thailand.
Thais are so used to flooding that they just carry on as best they can without making a fuss. It's good in some ways, but if they did make more of a fuss then more action might have been taken in the past. If the authorities can protect central Bangkok from severe flooding, they can do a lot more for the rest of the country if they wanted to.
The flooding has been really bad this year and even if action had been taken there would still probably have been a degree of flooding but I suspect it wouldn't have been quite as severe.
Most of our neighbours are fairly poor but they are good people. Being poor is certainly no crime, but the behaviour of some poor Thais is really bad. There is a kind of mentality among some poor Thais that says, "No one is interested in us, so we aren't interested in anyone else and we will do what we want." They have appalling manners and no consideration for other people.
We have one bad family in the neighbourhood and they happen to be Muslim. I have nothing at all against Muslims - my first Thai girlfriend was Muslim and we are still very close. There are good and bad Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. Religion or race doesn't matter to me.
Just after we first moved to this house a woman from the family in question arrived on our doorstep and gave me a sob story about not having enough money to buy her child milk. She said she had a cashflow problem, but would repay me later. I was taken in completely and quickly put my hand in my pocket.
It was only a small amount and she did indeed pay the money back. I thought that was the end of the story but she appeared again very shortly afterwards asking for another loan. I gave her more money but my wife didn't like what was happening and told me to limit the amount of money I loaned her.
This happened a few times until the loan got to Bt500 Baht. She then didn't pay me back. She would promise to pay on a certain day but on that day she would set a new date. Eventually she told me she wasn't go to pay the money back. I now just ignore her.
We found out later that she's a professional beggar and we have seen her in various busy places begging for money. The other neighbours are fully aware of what she does and when we got to know them better they warned us about her. They estimate that on some days she can earn Bt2,000 by begging. She obviously has no incentive to work and she shows no sign of having any guilty conscience about what she does.
She has a child of about three. A few days ago a young lad of about 10 arrived at their house. My wife was sitting outside our house with the baby observing what was happening.
The woman forced the young boy to take her child on a motorbike ride. His feet didn't reach the ground and he was reluctant to do so but the woman insisted. Her young kid was also afraid. He went off and when he came back she started praising him for being so clever, "Geng, geng."
There is a problem with many young kids from poor backgrounds here. Basically, they are out of control. The police show no interest in their dangerous driving and there is no parental control. Worse than that, as shown in this case, the parents actually encourage the kids to do wrong.
Today, a load of relatives or friends turned up at the house and made a lot of noise. At one point I went out on to our balcony to water the plants. There is a piece of empty ground just opposite our house where somebody will eventually build a house. As I looked out, I saw one of the relatives throwing a load of empty plastic bottles on to this piece of ground. There is a waste bin just a few yards away.
Previously, I have seen other members of the family discarding their household waste in the same spot.
When Thais see something like this that is obviously wrong they very rarely say anything. They don't like interfering with what other people are doing (greng jai), and also they are afraid of repercussions. As a farang, even if I wanted to keep my mouth closed in these situations I find that I can't.
Without thinking I just started shouting at him in Thai about what he had just done and told him to pick up the bottles. He obviously lost some face and although he heard me he wouldn't look at me. He told one of the young kids to pick up the bottles.
Most Westerners would be shocked at how some Thais think nothing of discarding rubbish wherever they find it convenient. The neighbourhood where I live resembles a huge rubbish tip because of this type of inconsiderate behaviour.
There are lots of waste bins located on the streets and the local municipality (tessabaan) operate a regular rubbish collection service. It would be so easy to keep the neighbourhood tidy if people were just a little more considerate and didn't insist on acting like peasants.
As much as I can't understand why some Thais think it is acceptable to discard rubbish where they don't live, I can't understand the Thais who discard rubbish right outside their own front doors.
I concede that with certain aspects of Thai behaviour there will always be things that I will never understand, no matter how long I live in Thailand.
After living in Thailand for a while you start to see certain similar personality types and it is fairly easy to start to pigeonhole people. The different personality types start to develop at a very young age.
This evening I had to go to the local copy shop. There was one young girl who was getting a copy of Aesop's 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf'. I've used this with my own students. She was a Pratom 6 student so she was about 12.
She was typical of so many students I have met. Most Thai students are painfully shy and they have no confidence speaking English even if they've been learning English for several years. If you speak in English they won't answer and therefore you need to speak in Thai.
She understood my questions but was overcome with shyness and lack of self-confidence because she was talking with a farang. She answered each question as briefly as possible and it wasn't possible to have a conversation with her.
There were some questions about Aesop's fable on her sheet, which I tried to help her with, but she had no interest in speaking with me because she was terrified as a result of shyness.
The strict social hierarchy is constantly reinforced in Thailand. My wife is desperately trying to teach our seven-month old daughter to wai so that she can greet 'superior' elders.
In future, she will be taught to address anyone older as pee and show deference. She will be addressed as nong by older people who often do so with an air of superiority.
This general respect for older people is to be encouraged but it tends to knock the confidence out of many young Thais. They defer to so many people that they end up lacking any self-confidence.
As far as my daughter's upbringing is concerned, she has two parents who think very differently. Her mother may want her to act one way but my ideas are very different. I don't want her to be rude or arrogant but I also don't want excessive shyness or lack of self-confidence to impede her development.
I have always considered that with a mixed race child the best thing you can do is take the best aspects from each culture and combine them, while ignoring the unappealing parts of the two cultures.
There was another young girl in the shop who had the body of a 19 year-old but the face of a 13 year-old. She wasn't getting copies. As Thais say, 'I play Internet'. She was probably messaging several farangs at the same time asking them to send money.
By the way she was dressed and strutting around I figured she was the type of girl who obviously intended using assets other than her brain to get what she wanted in life.
I asked her age (14). Her friend saw me speaking with her and told me the girl was going to Phuket to meet and marry a farang. This was all done in jest with lots of laughter but she was very representative of the type of Thai girl that does go to Phuket purely to meet farangs.
Many Thais believe that all farangs are rich and that the only way to win life's lottery is to find and marry one. Phuket is associated with farangs - some Thais refer to it as amphoe farang - and so if a girl wants to meet farangs it is an obvious place to go.
Unfortunately for farangs who go to Phuket to meet Thai girls, the Thai girls who go to Phuket to meet farangs aren't always the best. In fact, most of the time they are some of the worst, and their only motive is money.
The best advice I can give foreign men looking to find good girls in Thailand is to avoid the tourist resorts, and especially the bar girls. Simply move to a normal part of Thailand, live a normal life, and meet normal girls. My preference has always been for nurses and teachers and I ended up marrying a teacher. You will have far fewer bad experiences.
There is only a limited welfare system. The government does provide a degree of assistance but the Thais aren't crazy enough to make it more attractive for people not to work than to work by handing out unemployment benefits to all and sundry.
Unlike the UK, if you don't work in Thailand and have no other sources of income you go hungry. For this reason there is a very low unemployment rate.
One thing you notice as a result is a surplus of workers in many places, especially retail. When you go into a department store to buy something it isn't unusual to see six sales assistants at each till.
Every petrol (gas) station I have ever been to has had what the Americans refer to as full service. Each pump has its own attendant and I have never operated a pump myself in Thailand. I seem to remember as a kid in the 60's that this sometimes happened in the UK, but I started driving in 1978 and I never had anyone fill my tank.
When I worked in the States I remember that some gas stations had a full service option but gas at these pumps was more expensive. You could choose. When I rented a car and drove along the Garden Route in South Africa in 2000, it was all full service. However, I guess that most places in the world aren't.
On my recent trip to Phuket I experienced something for the very first time in my life. I stopped for petrol and wanted to check my tyre pressure. It was a large petrol station but they had no facility for customers to check their own tyres.
The petrol pump assistant wheeled out a portable canister of compressed air and proceeded to check my tyres. As I said, this was a first for me.
Sometimes the service in Thailand is terrible and sometimes it exceeds all expectations.
Most people love Thai food. It's quite expensive abroad and when tourists visit Thailand they understandably want to eat authentic Thai food. A big bonus in Thailand is that the food is cheap as well as being tasty.
I was the same and ate Thai food almost exclusively for a long time. I developed quite an obsession with ga-prao gai, which is chicken stir-fried with holy basil leaves. My Thai friends found it highly amusing that I would always eat the same dish for lunch.
However, we all need variety and even though there are some things I crave from England - real pie and mash, and real fish and chips from a real English chippie - I couldn't eat these things three times a day every day of the year.
It's exactly the same with Thai food and I reached saturation point a while back. This is one of the reasons my food bills have gone up recently.
TOPS stock a great selection of imported food but because it has been imported it is about twice the price of where it came from. There isn't one decent Indian restaurant where I live in Thailand but with the Patak's sauces that TOPS stock I have made a few good Indian curries recently. Heaven.
I also managed to make a good chili-con-carne using a kit bought for TOPS. My culinary skills are extremely lacking and making anything usually relies on buying some form of a kit where all I do is add meat.
My wife, fortunately, is a lot handier in the kitchen. She has been buying cookery books recently, including one on how to make Western food, and she has put together some really excellent meals.
I don't know what Thais have against ovens. It could be the time it takes for things to cook. Most Thai food is stir-fried and it only takes a matter of minutes to prepare. When I explain to my wife that a joint of meat requires several hours in the oven she looks horrified.
We went to a restaurant recently where roast chicken was offered and it tasted great. My brother also prepared a roast dinner in Phuket a few weeks ago. Roasted meat is so much more succulent because it retains all the juices.
I will have an oven installed in the new house but for the time being we have to rely on a small counter-top grill/oven if we want to roast anything. It can only handle small items but it does a pretty good job.
For variety of food you can't beat Bangkok or the main tourist resorts. In these places you can get almost anything. Chiang Mai is also good and even in Chiang Rai I was able to savour an authentic Middle East kebab.
Hat Yai is a fairly big town with lots of tourists but they are mostly ethnic Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore. If food isn't Thai, it is normally Chinese and there isn't a great variety of Western food.
Thais also get fed up eating Thai food all the time and in recent years there has been something of a Japanese food craze. When I first arrived there was one branch of Fuji and a couple of small, independent Japanese food restaurants. Now, there are three branches of Fuji and dozens of small independent places.
I can see the attraction of living in a very rural area of Thailand but in these places there will be even less choice. In deepest Isaan, you're going to have a problem if you don't like sticky rice, som-tum, bplaa-raa (extremely strong smelling fermented fish sauce), and grilled chicken.
If you are planning to move to Thailand and trying to decide where to live, there are many things to think about. Food is one of them.
As we drove to Phuket at the beginning of this month through Phattalung, Trang, Krabi and Phang Nga we went through some really pretty areas and I thought they would be attractive places to live.
However, we have spent a lot of time at the local hospital since our daughter was born. It's a public hospital and it also happens to be the biggest and best-equipped hospital in southern Thailand. It has been quite a struggle at times and we only live 20 minutes away. Living miles away in a remote area would have made life very difficult.
Variety of food, shopping in general, medical care, and flooding are other considerations. Also, if you need to work, you need to live somewhere where work is available.
Back to food, and we used to have three branches of TOPS which were all located in the basements of department stores. They were all wiped out in the 2010 flood and didn't open until seven months later. One still hasn't reopened and I'm not sure it will ever reopen.
I rely on TOPS enormously for food and with the flood taking away all my good food you can start to see why I get very sensitive about flooding in Thailand. It is not a good subject for me.
I've had a great break from work these last few weeks. I managed to visit my brother in Phuket, get a lot done around the house, and write some stuff here. It's been fun.
A little while ago I thought that working two days a week and having a five day break was about right. The arrival of our daughter changed all that. The fact of the matter is that now I don't have any time to work if I want to do all the things that I want to do.
Sadly, I am about to return to work and I have an obligation to work for about another five months. After that I plan to stop.
This means that I will not have the time to do some of the things that I want to do, such as making updates here. I will try but as from now updates are likely to be infrequent.
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.
Booking.com 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 Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com 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