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  • Living in Thailand Blog September 2006

 

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Living In Thailand Blog

Thursday 28th September 2006

Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok - Click for larger image In order to extend my stay in Chiang Rai for as long as possible (and to save sitting on a bus for two days) I flew back today and became one of the first passengers to use the new Bangkok airport, or Suvarnabhumi as it is called. It only opened officially today.

It's huge and took an age to taxi in from the runway to the terminal. Much of the development is still a construction site but it is being built in phases and with Phase 1 complete it is now open for business.

Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok - Click for larger image Many people will feel nostalgic about saying goodbye to Don Muang. To most people who have fond memories of Thailand, their first glimpse of Thailand was probably Don Muang. It has a smell which is impossible to describe, and which isn't exactly pleasant, but it just brings back so many good memories.

My flights into and out of Suvarnabhumi were both delayed and there appeared to be a few teething problems but no doubt it will be functioning efficiently in no time.

Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok - Click for larger image The name is sure to cause lots of problems for non-Thai speaking farangs and is another wonderful example of the completely hopeless transliteration system. Soo-wun-na-poom, I would humbly suggest, is a better transliteration.

Thai words sometimes have vowels or consonants at the end that are completely redundant and serve no purpose. Sometimes these redundant letters have a symbol above them to indicate they are redundant and serve no purpose but sometimes they don't.

There is no 'V' sound in Thai and Thais normally pronounce v's as w's when trying to speak English. It is therefore a complete mystery to me why gets tranliterated to 'V' instead of 'W' (but it is also a complete mystery why gets tranliterated to 'K' and not 'G').

But I digress. If you stick to Soo-wun-na-poom and try to forget Suvarnabhumi, the Thais might actually understand what you mean.

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Sunday 24th September 2006

(Retrospective blog entry entered Friday 29th September)

Thai dancing, Chiang Rai - Click for larger image I have fallen in love yet again in Thailand but this time not with one of the Kingdom's beautiful females. Why it has taken me so long to get to Chiang Rai, I just don't know. I started getting interested in Thailand in the early 80's and bought my first guide book in 1981 or 1982.

Even way back then, Chiang Rai interested me (even if that interest was - to say the least - superficial, based on a comment in my guide book that the city was home to Thailand's most beautiful women).

Hilltribe guide, Chiang Rai - Click for larger image During my trip I didn't actually see any stunning women but the reason for that is because stunning women from north and north-east Thailand soon go elsewhere to seek their fortune. What I did find was the most stunning natural scenery and some of the friendliest people I have ever met in Thailand.

And not one sex tourist because, basically, Chiang Rai has no sex industry to speak of. There are no hookers on the streets, no huge ab op nuat (bath and massage) brothels and I didn't see one ridiculous, comical farang/Thai couple walking hand-in-hand until I got back to the new Bangkok airport and passed by the gate where the Phuket flight was departing from.

My first day in Chiang Rai was spent as a tourist but my second was spent doing some fairly serious research with regard to making a permanent move there some time in the future.

I have hundreds of photos and lots to say about this gorgeous northern city and will be creating a new page for this site soon.

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Friday 22nd September 2006

(Retrospective blog entry entered Friday 29th September)

Tank in Bangkok after the military coup - Click for larger image I feel almost embarrassed about even thinking of cancelling my trip. Bangkok is the same as usual apart from the fact there is a military presence on the streets. After doing what I need to do, I go along to see the tanks at Government House.

There is almost a carnival atmosphere. In their hearts, the Thais know what Thaksin was up to and they also know that the person they love most has been very closely involved with recent events. That is all they need to know to be reassured that it is the right thing for Thailand despite criticism from ignorant outsiders who do not understand Thailand.

Lots of people arrive to take photos and give food, drinks and flowers to the soldiers.

Just how long will it be before I am involved in a serious - or even fatal - road accident in Thailand?

The last time I was in Bangkok a couple of months ago I thought my number was up when I got into a taxi that was being driven by an imbecile from Isaan who had somehow managed to rent a taxi for the day but didn't know where anything was in Bangkok.

Soldier in Bangkok after the military coup - Click for larger image As he tried to get me to my hotel he made a wrong turning and ended up on the airport expressway. Once he realised his mistake he just came to a grinding halt in the far right-hand side lane with large trucks behind blaring their horns and tried to exit by cutting across seven lanes of extremely fast-moving traffic.

I was only saved by the traffic cop who arrested him and waved down another taxi for me but it was a terrifying experience.

This morning I got another taxi to Mo Chit bus station where I wanted to catch a bus to Sukhothai. Driving through Bangkok is always the same. Cars are either stationary in traffic jams or going as fast as they possibly can when the traffic is flowing. The objective with Thai drivers is always to drive as fast as possible.

On many Bangkok roads there are three lanes but the right-hand lane is often blocked with cars wanting to turn right and the left lane has lots of parked and slow-moving vehicles. The Thais change lanes to get around these obstacles often without looking in their mirrors.

Tank in Bangkok after the military coup - Click for larger image As we were driving along in the right-hand lane, there was a small Toyota saloon about 70 yards in front of us. It was just about to overtake a pickup truck and as it drew level the pickup truck pulled out, without looking, smashing into the Toyota.

It was what happened next that really shocked me though. The collision flipped the Toyota on to its side and, with the drivers side on the road, it slid across the road to the opposite carriageway towards a large group of motorcycles waiting at a set of red traffic lights.

I had never seen anything like this in my life and I was but one car away from being involved myself. It felt like watching a TV drama or movie but this is everyday life on the roads of Bangkok. Instinctively I reached for my camera but within two seconds we were gone and on our way to the bus station.

I think the driver was very fortunate in that the traffic on the other side of the road was stationary. Had the lights been green and the traffic flowing, it could have been very nasty for him or her indeed.

Soldier in Bangkok after the military coup - Click for larger image The thing about driving in Thailand is that it doesn't matter how carefully you drive. I have seen the aftermath of many accidents in Thailand but this was only the second one I have actually seen happen and in both cases the victim was doing nothing wrong.

Even though driving is none too clever in the provinces, Bangkok is particularly scary. When you combine Thai driving techniques with the sheer volume of cars on the road in Bangkok it makes for one very dangerous situation.

For as long as I can remember my tolerance for Bangkok has been about four days before I have to escape the lunacy. It is now about one day though ... if that. Every time I visit, there are more 'lifestyle' shopping malls being built and the city just keeps moving further and further away from the Thailand I love.

While living in Thailand, it is impossible to avoid Bangkok at times but these days I just go whenever I have to go and spend as little time there as possible. Some people love living there apparently but for me personally life in Bangkok would be intolerable - that's if I managed to live long enough in the first place with the lunacy on the roads.

The first stop on this trip is the ancient capital of Sukhothai. I won't write any details here but will add more Sukhothai elsewhere later on.

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Wednesday 20th September 2006

Before I went to bed last night I checked a couple of Internet news sites and was most interested to see on The Nation web site a story about coup speculation in Thailand based on the fact that there has been lots of movement of army divisions this week. It was just speculation though and nothing had actually happened so I hit the sack.

This morning I was awoken fairly early by a call from my brother in Singapore asking me what was going on in Thailand. I was a bit puzzled until he told me that the coup had taken place. Tanks had taken to the streets of Bangkok with soldiers seizing government buildings and TV stations. Thaksin is currently in the US.

My reaction was that this had been inevitable for a long time. Ever since the current political crisis started, the Thais have tried not to mention the word 'coup'. They desperately want to be part of the modern world with a real democratic system and resorting to old ways would appear to be a backward step.

However, the problem for Thailand is that after Thaksin came to power, any chance of real democracy was completely destroyed because he bought the democratic process. He saw an opportunity to tap into the largest section of the electorate, which also happens to be the poorest, and got them into his pocket.

Politicians in the past had done very little for this section of Thai society. Thaksin introduced various legitimate populist schemes (Bt30 health care, village funds, etc.) which benefited them and of course there was no let up with the more traditional Thai political practice of vote-buying at election time.

With a majority voting base secured, he then went about raping the country for his own benefit knowing that if he was criticised at any time he could justify his actions by saying that 19 million people voted for him and that he had a mandate from those voters.

If things got really tough - as they did after the Temasek deal - he knew he could just call an election, get voted back in again and then declare he couldn't possibly have been doing anything wrong because he was the people's choice as the country's democratically elected leader. In a nutshell, that is the Thaksin version of 'democracy'.

To increase his power further he gagged the media and infiltrated the checks and balances mechanisms that had been put in place as a result of the 1997 Constitution. He was still aware that certain people remained in the way of his final plan for complete dictatorship and wanted to get rid of them. It seems though that his final undoing was trying to remove a powerful military figure close to the King, namely General Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

General Sonthi - the coup leader - is a Muslim and I wonder whether the continued violence in the south that resulted in more bombs and more deaths in Hat Yai last Saturday was another catalyst for this move? There is absolutely no doubt that Thaksin's presence has been a major factor in the escalation of violence in the south.

There has been political turmoil in Thailand for a long time with the last election being declared null and void. Another election was planned for October. All the time though, I was thinking to myself, what has changed? The answer is nothing.

The rural poor in the north and north-east who will always vote for Thaksin know he is a crook but at least he has done something for them whereas in the past nothing has been done for them. If next month's election had just gone ahead as planned then Thaksin would have been assured another victory.

It would then have been a case of going back to exactly the same situation from which all the problems started in the first place.

The Thais are a clever and pragmatic race though and shouldn't be underestimated. To outsiders who don't know the first thing about Thai politics this will probably look bad. Thaksin is a master of image and presentation and will explain pitifully how he was a good guy and how he fought for democracy but how other people in Thailand destroyed that process. It's not true; the reverse is true.

There are some other factors involved besides the destruction of the democratic process - related to Thaksin's ultimate aspirations - but they are of an extremely sensitive nature to the Thais and I don't wish to discuss them here.

Thaksin is the worst thing ever to have happened to Thai politics and one way or the other, he had to go. It's a shame it had to happen this way but in the end there was no alternative because he arrogantly refused to walk away from politics.

As opposition Senator Mechai Viravaidya was quoted as saying on the BBC news site, "I'm delighted he's gone. It would have been great if he had resigned voluntarily, but apparently he was too stubborn. But at least it's better than an assassination."

Yes, an unsuccessful assassination attempt occurred last month and, had Thaksin continued his stubbornness, more attempts would probably have followed. What will happen to him now is unclear. I can't imagine him being in a hurry to come back to Thailand. He is in the States but he is currently separated from his family. His wife is in Singapore and it is unclear where his children are.

His political life is obviously over but where he bases himself in future is anyone's guess. There is no doubt that since the Temasek deal he has been busy moving his vast assets offshore, fearful that when he was eventually caught for his wrongdoings Thailand would freeze them if they were still in the country. You can be assured that his huge wealth is still intact but he no longer has any political power.

Tanks in the streets of Bangkok can't look good to the outside world but this is a good thing. As far as I am aware, the election will still go ahead next month and with Thaksin out of the way, democracy finally has a chance to get going in Thailand again.

Reading through a few reactions from foreign leaders, it amazes me how completely ignorant they are regarding the political situation in Thailand. In typically diplomatic language they have 'expressed concern' and called for a 'return to democratic order'.

How on earth can you return to something that didn't exist in the first place? This is what really irritates me about stupid politicians and pride of place has to go to Condoleezza Rice who flies around the world as America's ambassador to 'democracy' speaking constantly out of her backside.

Whatever your definition of democracy may be, what was in place under Thaksin was not democracy so it might just be better to stop using this overused word.

On a personal note, I have less than 24 hours to think about what to do concerning my flight to Bangkok tomorrow morning. It is all paid for but I'm not sure what to expect when I get there. These are interesting days in Thailand.

So, after airing a few of my own neutral viewpoints, what is the situation on the streets? I spent all this morning on-line but ventured out early in the afternoon to find things extremely quiet. This probably had more to do with the torrential rain though.

The only excitement was one of the royal princesses being driven by in a convoy of police vehicles and big Mercedes saloons. She is in town this week to present the new graduates with their degrees.

Banks, government offices and even some private businesses are closed. The AIS office (part of Thaksin's Shin Corp empire before he flogged it to Singapore) is firmly shuttered up. I got a call from work this morning telling me not to come in, which rather suits me today as I have a lot to do.

Life is going on normally. The Thais I have spoken to are happy about the situation but this is the deep south where people generally despise Thaksin. Another Thaksin legacy is having effectively divided the country.

The political map for the entire southern region is Democrat but it makes no difference because, as I said above, Thaksin has the majority of the electorate in his pocket and he has stayed in power that way regardless of what the southerners think.

The south is a relatively wealthy region with lots of natural resources and tourism. Southern Thais are generally better educated and they can see right through Thaksin. They are not desperately poor so they aren't going to vote for him if offered Bt200 which is not the case in other areas of the country.

With martial law imposed that means a curfew and I was told that no one can go outside after 9pm. I am very rarely out after then anyway. I am not a barfly and at 9pm I am normally in my room working on my computer.

My trip to Bangkok tomorrow is still undecided but my decision is gradually swaying towards going ahead with it. I don't think that what has happened has really surprised many Thais. The Thais have their own way of doing things which every Thai person understands, of course.

The culture is one of staying calm (jai yen) and non-confrontation. I hear that the capital is fairly calm and that is how I expect to find it.

My guess about the election next month was wrong. General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has said that he will name a new Prime Minister in two weeks and that an election will be held in a year's time once a new Constitution has been drawn up.

Meanwhile, Thaksin has fled to London (which gives me yet another reason not to go back to the place of my birth). One of his daughters studies in the UK and he is a good friend with another crook, Mohamed Al-Fayed. 'Birds of a feather flock together', as they say. Or was the saying, 'Thick as thieves'?

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Tuesday 19th September 2006

This blog is set to go quiet for a while because I am about to do some travelling. My first stop will be Bangkok and then I will head north but I have no firm plans. I don't liked fixed itineraries when I travel in Thailand.

The way I like to travel here is with the minimum of luggage and the freedom to go wherever the mood takes me. I won't be taking any guide books and I won't be pre-booking any accommodation. I will take some camera gear and a small bag with clothes and personal effects. That's it.

I love this time of year for travelling in Thailand. The weather is cool even if it does rain at times. There aren't many tourists around - which is good in itself - but it also means that finding accommodation is never a problem and there are often bargain 'low season' prices to be had.

My only real objective is to visit places I haven't been to before and there are no shortage of them north of Bangkok. I may get as far as Chiang Rai but I just don't know.

Last week I said I would write a little about how certain Buddhist concepts have helped me to achieve a happier life.

Thais sometimes ask me what religion I am. I answer that I was stamped up as Christian when I was born, purely because of where I was born - and I had no say in the matter, but my thinking as an adult is much more along Buddhist lines.

Without wishing to offend Christians, it was a Thai King who summed up perfectly how I feel about Christianity. King Mongkut (Rama IV) once said to a missionary friend, "What you teach us to do is admirable, but what you teach us to believe is foolish."

Buddhism is a complex subject and people can spend a lifetime studying it. I don't know much and I don't even know if my interpretation of certain teachings is accurate. However, this doesn't really matter if what we learn helps us to make more sense of life and we are happier as a result.

There are three main concepts I will talk about - impermanence, non-attachment and grasping. Let's start with impermanence.

There is nothing mystical about Buddhist teachings. What Buddhism says is logical and based on the truths of existence. If we accept these truths then we set more realistic expectations in life. A great deal of unhappiness comes as a result of having unrealistic expectations so if we manage these expectations more sensibly we will be happier.

We - as mortal beings - will not be here forever. Our own lives and the lives of people we are close to are impermanent. But it's not just death I am referring to. Nothing about our lives is permanent. Nothing about the way we are will remain the same.

The good health and the abilities we may have are not permanent. Our states of mind will change, as will the states of mind of people we know. What we think is important now maybe wasn't important in the past and maybe won't be important in the future. My values in life are certainly completely different now to what they were 15 years ago.

We and everything and everyone around us are in a constant state of flux. Accept this and get on with things as they are now without expecting anything to remain the same.

I have been asked at times how long I will stay in Thailand and the answer is I just don't know. I am very happy in Thailand now but maybe that will change next year? Maybe my way of thinking will change or maybe something will happen that makes it undesirable for me to stay in Thailand.

You will see beautiful lotus flowers left at Buddhist temples but go back a few days later and you will see that they have withered and died. This is a reminder of the impermanence of everything in life.

Non-attachment is linked to impermanence. If nothing is permanent then why get attached? We probably all know someone who went into a deep, long-lasting depression after the death of a person close to them or possibly we know someone who was badly affected after a relationship break up.

Had the person accepted impermanence and not got so attached, they would not feel the way they do. There is no guarantee in life that relationships and the lives of other people will last forever. On the contrary, all we can be sure of is that they won't.

However, being detached does not mean being cold and distant. One of the best analogies I read was the experience of staying in a very nice hotel room.

While we are there we enjoy the experience but we know that it won't last forever and we are not devastated when we have to check out. We accept all along that it isn't permanent so we don't get attached and we are not sad when we leave but we enjoyed the experience while it lasted.

Have you ever been on a wonderful vacation and then gone back to the same place to try to recreate the experience only to find it was nothing like the original? This is what happens when we get attached to states of mind. We may feel euphoric about somewhere or someone at a certain time but places, people, states of mind and everything else are impermanent.

The third concept is grasping. If you want to make someone unhappy just keep making them want things out of their reach. They will never be fully satisfied with what they have. They will feel brief periods of satisfaction after getting what they want but within no time they will want something else and will feel dissatisfied again until they get it.

In Buddhist terms, grasping is the cause of all suffering and the only way to stop the suffering is by the cessation of grasping.

In the modern world our minds have been trained to want material things by a constant barrage of very clever psychological advertising. We can very easily reach the point where it seems almost impossible to be able to live happily without a certain something.

These material things have nothing at all to do with making us truly happy but we are led to believe they will. Think what it was you were lusting after last year or five years ago. When you got it did it make you happy, and for how long did it make you happy before you wanted something else? What are you lusting for now? Whatever it is, you won't want it soon after getting it and you will want something else soon after. This cycle is endless.

To overcome these powerful external forces I have done two things. Firstly, I have tried to become very self-aware about what I actually want in life to make me happy - not what other people tell me I want. Secondly, I do my best to avoid those external sources.

I haven't had a TV for about a year and I don't buy glossy 'lifestyle' magazines. The supplements in the Sunday papers in England are terrible for this kind of thing. Even now, when I venture into a car showroom or an electronics store, I start to feel those powerful forces at work but I know that the nice car, the satellite navigation system, and the widescreen LCD TV with a home cinema sound system will just put me straight back on to the wheel of consumerism that never stops spinning.

Something I have been blessed with, I guess, is a non-addictive personality, together with will power. I'm actually very good at not wanting things but even so, I am still affected at times by those powerful forces. It must be almost impossible for people who lack will power and I feel very sorry for them.

My earlier life was all about wanting and accumulating material things whereas now I try not to want material things. Obviously, I need certain items to live and I also get pleasure from other non-essential material items but I am the one in control now, not the manufacturers or advertisers.

Knowledge is the main thing I crave these days but that is free most of the time. I want to do a good job for my employer and I want to help my students. I haven't lost my desire in life but the things I desire now don't just constitute a list of material items.

Well, that was it. My journey of self-awareness and lifestyle change is at least 10 years old now and it would be easy to talk about that journey at length but I wanted to try to encapsulate a few key points fairly briefly.

What I love about Buddhism is how much sense it makes. Technology has changed and what we grasp for now is different to what people grasped for thousands of years ago but human nature hasn't changed. The truths of life remain the same and what Buddha taught is as relevant today as it ever was.

As I said above, it may be that my interpretations are off the mark due to the fact I haven't studied Buddhism in any great depth but that is irrelevant. The simple interpretations I have made have enabled me to completely change the way I think and it has improved the level of happiness and contentment in my life. Anything that does that can't be a bad thing.

Living in Thailand helps me to live the way I want to in many ways. The majority of people are relatively poor and do not constantly want material things. They are happy though and they make me happy. The poor people of Thailand accept their lives and do not constantly grasp for lifestyles and possessions that are out of their reach.

My general observation is that ordinary people are a lot happier here than they are in the England and relatively speaking, they are a lot poorer financially. I find in Thailand that I do not grasp for things the way I used to when I was in England.

I was unhappy in England and I think that one of the reasons people constantly want material things is because they are trying to find happiness but the god of consumerism is a false prophet. This is not what the advertisers will have you believe but it is true.

One thing I am very aware of (and this is a big problem for me) is my own attachment to Thailand. So much of my happiness comes from living in Thailand but nothing is permanent. It's something I need to learn how to deal with. In Buddhist terms, someone who sees the truth completely is an enlightened being which is something I will never attain in my lifetime but at least my mind is more at peace than it was a few years ago.

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Monday 18th September 2006

What a laugh. I've just been scanning through the forums at Thaivisa.com about the new immigration regulations. There is nothing sinister about these regulations at all. They won't affect genuine tourists and they won't affect foreigners living in Thailand who have approached living in Thailand properly.

The only people who will be affected are those who are too bone idle to get off their bar stools and apply for an appropriate visa or those who have run from their home countries and want to live cheaply and invisibly in Thailand while carrying on working or running businesses illegally.

Anyone over 50 can apply for a retirement visa; those married to Thais can apply for a non-O visa; and those working or running businesses should already have the correct paperwork including a non-B visa. Why would anyone in any of these categories be living in the country on 30 day stamps?

Some of the forum comments are hilarious. I like the ones from people who can't spell 'definitely' and couldn't explain the use of the present perfect tense if their lives depended on it who are suggesting the education system in Thailand would collapse if they weren't around to 'teach' English (illegally, of course).

Other bums are suggesting that the rent they pay for cheap apartments in Pattaya is what holds the Thai economy together; the same ones who then complain they don't have the necessary funds to apply for a retirement visa. If they don't have the funds then where does their money to live on come from? They couldn't possibly be working illegally in Thailand, could they?

There are the usual comments from ignorant people that the Thais are stupid for not wanting them (according to this type of ignorant farang the Thais are always stupid) and that it will be Thailand's loss whereas the country they go to after Thailand will be the winner. However, I really don't think Thailand will be losing out by getting shot of some farang dross.

My situation, potentially, is about the worst you can get as far as the new regulations are concerned. I have the funds to live in Thailand but I do not have a Thai spouse or any Thai dependents; I am not a diplomat or a missionary; and I am too young for a retirement visa.

So what did I do? Before I came to Thailand I spent 1,000 USD on a TEFL course learning how to teach English so that I could make a contribution to Thai society. After arriving in Thailand I found a teaching job (the easy part) and then spent a great deal of my own time, effort and money getting a non-B visa and a work permit (the difficult part).

My employer didn't request that I do this and didn't insist on me having the correct paperwork before employing me but I knew it was the right thing to do. Everyone working in Thailand knows this but because the Thais have been so lax up until now it has been less hassle for people just to do a border run every 30 days and stay in the country that way.

This is the best news I have heard in ages. My only concern is that with next month's election coming up, there might be a degree of political rhetoric involved. I hope not and I hope that the regulations are strictly enforced as soon as they come into play.

I wonder how long these changes have been in the pipeline? What is interesting is that the overstay fine went up from Bt200 to Bt500 earlier this year. The new regulations may be enough to tempt some dodgy characters into not bothering with immigration at all and just staying in the country illegally but they will really end up in a mess when they eventually get caught.

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Sunday 17th September 2006

This morning I took a look around the areas of Hat Yai affected by last night's terrorist activity. I am told that four people died: two Thai girls working at a massage parlour and two male tourists - a Canadian and a Malaysian.

I feel sad but I also feel angry. The majority of Thais are from poor backgrounds and they make huge sacrifices in order to support their families. Most of the massage girls in town come from the other end of the country and many have left children behind being looked after by their parents.

The lives they lead away from home aren't particularly pleasant. They work long hours every day with very few days off and they don't get paid much. A lot of what they do get paid gets sent home. They keep their expenses to a minimum which means staying in accommodation which isn't exactly the plushest available and they spend little money on themselves.

When you talk to them though they don't have chips on their shoulders. They understand how life is in Thailand and just get on with it. Last night's bombs will have a devastating effect on the Malaysian tourist industry in Hat Yai and earnings for many people involved in the industry will plummet.

Once again, the terrorists have achieved nothing positive for themselves but have just caused suffering for innocent people - many of whom in Hat Yai are Muslim.

It's a sad world that we live in. I have added a page to my Hat Yai site with further comments and photos.

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Saturday 16th September 2006

Ever since I arrived in Thailand (and for a long time before that) there have been constant rumours of an immigration clampdown but nothing ever happens. It is a well known fact that many foreigners stay in the country permanently on 30 day visa-exemption social visit stamps. Some have lived that way in Thailand for several years and many people work.

They go to the border every 30 days for a new stamp and that's it. The immigration people don't ask any questions if someone's passport is full of 30 day stamps; they just put in another stamp.

The 30 day social visit stamp is really only meant for holidaymakers (to save them the hassle of getting a visa) and applies to citizens of 41 countries. However, it has been abused by people who want to live the easy life in Thailand but can't be bothered to do things properly.

If they want to work they just work without getting an appropriate visa and a work permit. They don't pay tax and no one checks up on them. Some Thai employers actually advise foreign teachers to do this in order to avoid having to do any paperwork.

I have always liked to do things properly and when I began working in Thailand I went about getting the correct visa and a work permit. There was a huge amount of paperwork, personal expense and running around involved. I was pleased when I eventually got my working documents in order but there were times when I wondered why I bothered.

In addition to giving me some peace of mind, I only have to leave the country every 90 days with a non-B visa and there are some other benefits of having a work permit. However, there have been a few times when I felt that other farangs took me for a bit of a mug and were laughing behind my back for doing all this 'unnecessary' legwork.

Well guys, who's the mug now? After October 1st 2006, foreigners coming into Thailand on a 30 day social visit will only be able to extend their stay two times by leaving and re-entering the country. As the Americans might say, it's three strikes and you're out. 90 days is now the longest anyone will be able to stay without getting some kind of a visa.

Obviously, people will be asking lots of questions about the rules. After three 30-day stamps, for example, will you be able to get another three if you leave the country for a certain amount of time before returning? And if so, how long do you have to be out of the country? If I hear any details I will post them here but no doubt the Thailand Internet forums will be going crazy right now.

This is going to be kind of interesting for the people who have made permanent homes in Thailand (and who have bought vehicles and other assets) but who are only staying in the country on continuous 30 day social visit stamps. They will be panicking right now and I expect a number of quick marriages will take place in the coming months in the hope of getting non-O visas.

I think the authorities will be wise to this though and the Nation report where I read this specifically mentioned foreigners getting married to Thai women - "for reasons other than love."

I think this is great news. As I have said repeatedly, there is far too much white trash in Thailand but because of lax immigration laws the Thais can do nothing to keep them out. Now they can and hopefully this will mean the exit of many undesirable foreigners from the country. It's good news for Thailand but probably bad news for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

My phone has been busy this evening after the news of bomb blasts in Hat Yai. Since the beginning of this current round of insurgency - which started in January 2004 - Hat Yai has only been affected once so far. However, being so near to the three affected provinces, and being such an important commercial centre, it was always going to be a prime target.

The Nation reports that five people were killed and over 50 were injured. I will probably take a look tomorrow morning to see the extent of the damage.

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Tuesday 12th September 2006

This phase of happiness that I am currently experiencing just keeps going on and on. I always used to feel happy when I visited Thailand for vacations but after coming here to live I never expected to recapture the carefree kind of happiness that is normally only experienced by people on vacation.

There are a few differences, mind you. For starters, I have no return air ticket to the Land of Misery as I always had as a tourist and no depressing job to go back to. Secondly, when I used to visit as a tourist I wasn't able to chat to ordinary Thai people or walk into an all Thai restaurant, scan the menu written in Thai and order in Thai.

The main difference though is the kind of happiness, which is coming from within, and isn't just a result of having escaped from the Land of Misery for a few weeks.

This is a far cry from just a few short years ago when I was at an all-time low in my life. A defining moment (and there have been a few) came as I was leaving work one evening. I had somehow managed to get myself into a job I hated and my personal life was also a disaster - as it had been for some time.

I hated work and couldn't wait to go home but there was nothing to go home for so I used to walk over one of the Thames footbridges and wander around London for a while before going home. I was still lonely and unhappy but being in a busy, vibrant city there always seemed to be a chance that something might change. (It never did though.)

On this particular evening as I walked back to Holborn station I saw a young, homeless couple sitting in a shop doorway with a blanket pulled over their knees. They had nothing, apart from each other, but as they hugged in the doorway the look on their faces was one of extreme contentment.

As I started the journey back to my detached house in the suburbs with a sports car parked in the garage and plenty of money in the bank I was suddenly overcome with loneliness again and would quite readily have swapped places with the young homeless lad. Clearly, my life had gone very wrong at some stage.

One of my next work assignments had me living away from home during the week for a long time in a depressing English provincial town. The work was different but I still hated it and consequently I was still unhappy. One of the symptoms of being unhappy is not having any energy and this only makes things worse because you just don't have the energy to fight the unhappiness and it is easy to go into a downward spiral.

Certain people I was working with did their best to make the situation worse and they did a good job. I had no time for petty people playing silly corporate games but they were unavoidable. At this time there were also some external factors affecting me.

It was 1999 and the hype about 2000 was driving me crazy. Despite just being a day on the calendar, New Year's Eve - apparently - was going to be the biggest event of our lifetimes. However, because of the way I felt, I didn't want anything to do with it but it was also something that was difficult to avoid towards the end of 1999.

My 40th birthday was due to fall in 2000 also and I wasn't ready for that either. People tend to reflect on the big birthdays but I didn't have many good things to reflect on and didn't want the attention of any kind of a celebration.

Possibly my lowest point was when I started to fall for a pretty, young girl at work but in the UK - unlike Thailand - older men have no chance with girls who are 15 or so years younger than them so it was just more rejection and another reason to feel unhappy.

Every cloud has a silver lining though - as they say - and had I not felt so unhappy, I probably wouldn't have changed my life the way I did. Had I not become so unhappy that at times I cried with grief and self-pity, I would probably have still been living a mediocre life of quiet desperation with money in the bank but constantly daydreaming of being in Thailand. It is often true that before things can get better they first have to get a lot worse.

As I said above, the contentment I am feeling at the moment is coming from within and it has a lot to do with what I learnt from being unhappy and how I have taught myself to think differently now compared to how I used to think.

I have taken some Buddhist teachings, given them my own interpretation and then applied them to my own life. I am still convinced that for many Westerners, Buddhism is about shaving your head, wearing an orange robe and shaking a tambourine while marching through Leicester Square chanting Hari Krishna.

If so, that is unfortunate. It's a wonderful philosophy based on a complete understanding of the human condition and what is interesting is that the human condition has hardly changed in thousands of years. Quotes from ancient Greece and ancient Rome concerning the nature of people are just as appropriate now as they were thousands of years ago because people don't change.

Later (maybe tomorrow if I have time) I will write about how I have interpreted certain aspects of Buddhist teachings - namely impermanence, non-attachment and the cessation of grasping - to my own life; how these things have helped me; and how living in Thailand makes it possible to lead the life I want to lead.

I am not a student of Buddhism and I do not pretend to be an expert; I am not - far from it. Some people spend whole lifetimes learning about Buddhism. I do not claim to know all the answers to life but there are a few simple truths that can make us feel more contented if we believe in them strongly enough.

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Monday 11th September 2006

There are certain days that will never be forgotten in history and this is now one of them. Five years ago I was working on behalf of IBM at the Ford Motor Company when news started filtering in of the events that had taken place in New York.

Ford is in a real mess now but their demise was quite apparent even then. Personally speaking, it was probably the unhappiest time of my life. The factory in Basildon was a depressing edifice and Basildon has to rate as one of the most depressing places in the UK. The people I was working with didn't make life any better either.

Every day I had to deal with petty people trying to work their way up the corporate ladder by playing corporate games and creating non-work. Instead of letting me take seven days to do a job properly, they were happier if I spent five days planning how to do a quick and nasty job which I could do in two days.

That was cheaper on paper - even though my salary remained exactly the same - and it got the project manager some brownie points for 'saving' money. It is the same kind of corporate nonsense that goes on in big companies all the time and after 19 years I decided it was time to get out.

It was during my time at Ford that I requested a separation package from IBM, a decision that was extremely difficult for me. I'm sure that many people thought I had lost my marbles and one of my greatest fears was waking up one morning and realising I had made an enormous mistake. Of course, after making the decision there wouldn't be any going back.

Well, after more than four years I have absolutely no regrets. Not only is going back a proverbial nightmare but fairly recently I had three actual nightmares in one week which were all connected with having to go back to my old life in England.

Because of the connections I have with England still, I will have to go back some time but when I do it will only be to do whatever is necessary before returning to Thailand as soon as possible. From being at the unhappiest point of my life four years ago, I am currently happier than I have ever been.

The people who know me back in the UK probably have their own ideas about what I get up to here but a few might be a little surprised at how much time I spend on my computer. I work far harder for nothing than I ever did at IBM for a big salary.

What I have always known is that I am definitely not a lazy person but I have to be motivated. To be motivated I have to enjoy what I am doing and think that it is worthwhile. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case during my final four or five years at IBM.

I missed out on the golden years of the 60's and 70's but had some wonderful times in the 80's and early 90's when IBM was still the world's best company to work for. When I left in 2002 it was awful. Not only was IBM in a bad way, but the whole industry was still suffering from the shock of the Internet bubble bursting and the World Trade Centre attacks had wrecked the global ecomomy.

The economy has recovered now but from all accounts life at Big Blue is no fun any more and it seems that the glory days will never fully return. Not only are there the usual corporate games players to contend with but, in the area of services work now, everyone has to compete with cheap labour in India. I am so glad I got out when I did.

Like many hobbies, messing around with computers is great fun until you start doing it for a living. This weekend though, the fun was rather taken out of my computer work.

I have been spending a lot of time on this site recently adding and fixing stuff. I like things to be right and on Saturday I found and downloaded a Mozilla Firefox HTML validator extension. When I tested some of my pages the validator threw up quite a few errors.

They weren't serious errors but I decided to fix them in order to get my code running clean so that these smalls problems wouldn't mask serious errors. I spent all of yesterday and a big part of this morning fixing problems and everything was looking good.

I must be getting lax though because I didn't do any cross browser checking; just doing my checking on Firefox which is a great browser. On the spur of the moment today I did a quick check on Internet Explorer and found that the formatting was all over the place. It then took me several more hours to put these right.

The HTML validator complained about missing Doctype statements and then about unused <P> tags because they aren't required before certain elements such as tables and lists. This made sense so I took them out.

However, Internet Explorer seems to use these to know when to stop formatting. The result of removing them on IE was to completely screw up my page formatting. I didn't want to put the code back to how it was because the HTML validator would complain again so I inserted <DIV> tags to let IE know not to format beyong them.

I had already uploaded the code that looked bad in IE so was in a hurry to get it fixed. I haven't had a chance to take a good look yet but most likely Microsoft isn't complying to industry standards - as usual.

Since switching to Firefox and getting used to it I hate using Internet Explorer but my stats tell me that around 90% of visitors still use IE so it is important the site looks OK in IE. I apologise if a page you viewed is formatted badly.

They should all be fixed now but if something doesn't look right I would appreciate some feedback by using the 'Contact' button above.

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Friday 8th September 2006

I had to write an unscheduled lesson plan today as a result of a discussion with two of my students yesterday. They want me to teach them how to deal with obnoxious farangs who come into the hospital.

When I designed their course I thought about all the normal interactions that occur between patients and hospital staff but completely overlooked the fact that occasionally morons walk through the doors.

As an English teacher, this subject was new to me so we talked for a while about what goes on. What prompted the discussion was a Russian couple who had come into the hospital on Thursday. The wife is wheelchair bound and had a toothache. The husband wheeled her in demanding to see a doctor.

There were none available but he wouldn't take no for an answer and caused a big scene. My students also told me about an Israeli guy who appears fairly regularly. He is studying Buddhism apparently and stays in a local temple for free.

Thai monks get free dental treatment but he is neither Thai, nor a monk. However, because of his temple connection he seems to think he is entitled to free dental treatment in Thailand and demands that the hospital treat him for free.

At first I was a little shocked that this kind of thing goes on in a building that is normally so calm and orderly but I didn't have to think back very far to remember how confrontational some farangs can be.

What you have to bear in mind is that a major factor impeding the progress of my students is they get very little practice speaking English because so few farang patients visit the hospital. The estimate is only two or three a week; yet despite this low volume there are still a number of incidents involving stroppy farangs who shout and scream if they can't get their own way.

The non-confrontational aspect of Thai culture is wonderful and this is just one more reason why I dread the day when I will have to go back to the UK where confrontation is regarded almost as some kind of a sport.

For family entertainment these days, TV production companies lock up groups of volatile, confrontational people in a house with lots of cameras where they are then provoked to provide confrontational scenes while millions of voyeurs view this sickening behaviour for fun.

Confrontations almost used to make me physically ill in England. I would get to the point where I could hardly speak coherently but for many people there is nothing they enjoy more. TV soap operas such as Eastenders just make the situation worse by presenting confrontations as entertainment and giving the illusion that confrontation between people is a normal way of life.

The more I adapt to the culture in Thailand the more I don't want to leave. People have respect here. There is respect for family, respect for old people, respect for the three cornerstones of nation, religion, king. There is respect for public places and property. I don't think I have ever seen a piece of graffiti where I live.

It starts young. Respect is drummed into very young children who are taught to wai to strangers and to greet them politely. Parents will check to see if the child has done this. "Sawat dii reu yang?" Children in Thailand are not brought up as if they are the centre of the universe.

As individuals, the Thais understand that they are each a part of a very hierarchical society and they are very aware of their position in that hierarchy. They respect others higher up the hierarchy and expect the same themselves. It doesn't always seem to be a very fair or just society but it works.

Some Western cultures have lost this respect and the results are now quite apparent in the yobbish behaviour that is so common in society now - especially in the UK. There are many reasons.

So-called political correctness is a major cause. We are all born different and trying to deny this with PC behaviour is ridiculous. In addition, the women's liberation movement has been a major factor with the breakdown of the family unit - trying to pretend that men and women are the same.

The American notion of anyone being able to achieve anything has given generations of people unrealistic expectations in life. It has also made them greedy.

I was horrified to read recently that a role model for many young girls now is ... wait for it ... Victoria Beckham.

The reasons cited being that she has a 'gorgeous' husband, spends her life shopping and wears designer clothes. Wow, what a fulfilling life that must be. Young girls also aspire to be her because, as they see it, she came from nothing and they come from nothing so they can do the same. Yeah, sure.

Another wonderful thing about Thailand is how genuinely happy and contented people are who do the most mundane jobs and who earn next to nothing. The lady who does my photocopying at work is a lovely person, as are the girls who cut up the fresh fruit I eat after my lunch.

Day after day after day they just cut fruit or make copies but they are happy. The reason is that their heads haven't been filled with stupid ideas, they know their place in society and they just accept and get on with the life they were born into.

There are two sure ways of making someone unhappy. The first is to give them absolutely everything they want. Being rich is not the answer to happiness and being able to buy whatever you want won't make you happy. Why do you think so many rich people spend lots of their time and money involved with charity?

The second way to make people unhappy is to set their expectations too high, thus making them desire things they can never get. Western society is very, very good at this.

Most Thais lead very happy and contented lives. The downside is that many underachieve but it is probably a small price to pay. Rather than trying to emulate Western society, the Thais should be packaging up their culture and way of life and selling it to the West before Western society collapses altogether as is bound to happen in the UK fairly soon.

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Thursday 7th September 2006

There has been a lot of rain during the last few days and the temperature has dropped. The thermometer in my room which usually shows a constant 28° Celsius is registering 25°. What is maybe a little worrying is that I felt cold when I got out of the shower this evening.

There are a few signs that you've been in Thailand too long. One is not batting an eyelid when you are eating out at a restaurant and a huge rat runs under the table. Another is feeling cold when the temperature is 25°. How will I ever survive in the UK when I need to go back at some stage in the future?

The recent change of weather has given me my third cold of the year. It's not a full blown cold but my throat is painful and my whole body aches. I am able to go about my normal life but feeling like this doesn't make life very pleasant. I seem to be very vulnerable to cold viruses in Thailand.

Part of the problem is that viruses, bacteria and other nasty micro-organisms thrive in warm climates. The other problem for me personally is that, coming from a different part of the world with different bugs, I don't think my body has had a chance yet to build up sufficient resistance to the bugs here.

This evening I called in to see the girl with the broken heart at the convenience store next door whose name is Bel. You can read about her story on the Thailand Girls page here in a section I have titled 'Crafty Eddie, the Danish love rat'.

Crafty Eddie, the lying farang from Denmark who is responsible for getting her into the horrible mess she is currently in, formally ended their relationship by text message today. That was brave. Despite supposedly wanting to marry her a short time ago he has requested (for no good reason) that she never contact him again but we do know that other Thai girls are involved.

She is inconsolable. She hasn't eaten for days, isn't sleeping properly and cries almost constantly. I once got myself into a similar state so I know what she's going through and I know that nothing and nobody can help. The only cure is time.

When I think back to when I felt the same way it is difficult now to understand why because the girl I was upset over was no good. Hopefully, Bel will come to her senses soon and see Eddie for what he really is. I have to admit though that I am a little concerned about her at the moment.

When Thai girls fall in love they fall badly. I think the problem for many of the good ones is due to the fact they live such conservative lives that they never experience the pain of heartbreak which is a normal part of growing up for most of us.

It's not pleasant for anyone but normally, by the time our hearts have been broken a few times, we become emotionally stronger and can deal with broken relationships a lot better. When good Thai girls eventually fall for a man and he does a dirty on them they just don't know how to cope. Bel is 31 and this was her first ever boyfriend.

Suicides are not unheard of among Thai girls with broken hearts. I think she will be OK but the wet eyes and look of utter emotional pain on her face tonight does give me cause for concern. I will continue to keep tabs on her and do what I can to cheer her up but at the moment that is an almost impossible task.

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Wednesday 6th September 2006

The BBC news site ran an interesting article today on the ever-growing number of UK men coming to Thailand each year to find wives.

"They (men) are drawn by the prospect of a short and easy courtship with much younger and often strikingly attractive women. The (Thai) women seem drawn to the agency by a desire for financial stability and what they believe is a more caring attitude among Western men."

Yes, that just about sums it up. The article mentions the potential pitfalls of language and culture, etc, and goes on to warn of the ultimate danger that befell Toby Charnaud, whose gambling addicted Thai wife ordered a contract killing on him. (He is not the first farang to have suffered that particular fate in Thailand, I should add, and he won't be the last.)

I understand completely why British men are looking towards Southeast Asia. Here's another quote from the article:

"There's this 'lad' culture with the ladies in UK these days. I don't want to be messed about any more. What I'm looking for is how it used to be in Britain in the 40s and 50s, where the family unit supported each other."

Yep - I agree. As I said, I understand why but what I don't understand is how most of them set about it. I know this is the MTv age of instant gratification but some things in life just can't be hurried and one of them is finding a suitable partner to spend the rest of your days with.

I am strongly of the opinion that men need to spend a serious amount of time (minimum six months but preferably a year or more) in Thailand if they want to find a Thai wife. They should learn about the language and immerse themselves in the culture before making a commitment as serious as marriage.

I can't stress this enough and I reiterate that when I say culture I am not referring to superficial behaviour such as wai'ing instead of shaking hands and not touching people's head. What I am referring to is a completely different value system. If you don't believe or accept this then your chances of having a successful relationship with a Thai woman will be greatly reduced.

Sure, a lot of the girls look great in the photos and their on-line profiles written in English sound good but that is hardly the right way to find a wife. Never mind, when it all goes wrong you will be able to find camaraderie and shoulders to cry on with the other men whose relationships with Thai women have all gone wrong. There is no shortage of web sites around dealing with that subject matter.

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Tuesday 5th September 2006

The death of Steve Irwin yesterday has affected me quite badly. I had never met him and, to be honest, wasn't a huge fan. In fact, he used to irritate me a little with his constant wide-eyed look of amazement and wonderment.

But his shows always fascinated me and (in the days when I had a TV) finding Steve Irwin on the box always stopped my channel surfing.

Without doubt, he was a genuine person who did a lot of good for wildlife conservation by making millions of people aware of nature using his unique skills and showmanship. His death has affected me more than the deaths of a few people I have known quite well. It feels almost the same as when Princess Diana died.

Certain people just seem to have so much energy for life, they give the impression of being almost invincible. Of course, no one is. We are all mortal, and death, as they say, is the only thing we can be certain of in this life apart from taxes.

When someone so full of life is suddenly killed by a tragic accident it is a shocking reminder of our own mortality.

Some years ago, I went to the Bodyworlds exhibition that was being held in London. It was surrounded by controversy but the exhibition was also a reminder to me of just how fragile we are. Being able to see how delicate certain vital organs in our bodies are and thinking that all it takes is for one of them to go wrong and we die made me think about my own life and how it might suddenly be taken away one day.

There was a time in my young life when no one I knew had ever died. In my early teenage years, my first grandparent died, followed by the others. As is always the case, the older we get the more we experience the deaths of people we know.

Since moving to Thailand though, I have never seen and heard about as much death as I have here. The first time I ever saw cadavers was in Thailand at the university where I work during Science Week last year, and on my recent visit to the Sririraj Hospital museum in Bangkok there were lots more dead bodies.

Death in Thailand doesn't have the same taboos surrounding it as in the West. I would actually go as far as to say that the Thais have a macabre fascination with death. The display of cadavers at the aforementioned Science Week is the most popular exhibit by far and results in queues of schoolchildren several hundred meters long.

On the same day as Steve Irwin's death I received an e-mail from a Thai friend containing lots of images. This isn't unusual and the pictures she sends me normally are of very beautiful naked or semi-naked Asian girls (don't ask me why she sends this kind of stuff because I don't know and she is a very respectable girl).

I was expecting more of the same but the pictures this time were of an autopsy. They turned my stomach and are far too gruesome to post here. The autopsy is being performed on a large woman. In one photo the doctor has removed the top of her skull, exposing her brain and in the others she has been cut down the middle with all her innards exposed.

These photos are doing the rounds on the Internet and the e-mail addresses I saw were almost 100% Thai. Quite frankly, I could have done without looking at the photos but, as I said, the Thais seem to have this strange fascination with death.

One of the things that is so shocking about death is its finality. Had Steve Irwin suffered horrific, paralysing injuries (similar to Christopher Reeve some years ago), but still been alive, it would have been awful for him but not a fraction as shocking for the public that knew him. There is nothing as final as death.

Of course, to Buddhists it isn't quite as final as it is to those with god-based religious beliefs. Death is just one element of the 'birth-death-rebirth' cycle of Samsara.

In some ways it is good not to feel so distraught about something that is inevitable but I have to admit that the Thai attitude to death is something that I just can't get to grips with. It has shocked me at times to see how nonchalantly people have reacted to the deaths of close family members.

What also shocks me is how little is done to protect and preserve life in Thailand. So many things here are just fatal accidents waiting to happen. I know I go on far too much about the way the Thais drive but when I see the reckless way in which many teenage boys ride their motorbikes without any form of head protection, many are headed for certain death.

But it's not only on the roads. If personal injury litigation ever reaches Thailand there won't be enough lawyers in the world to cope. There are huge holes in the pavements everywhere, building sites that offer no protection to the public and live electricity cables hanging around. The list goes on.

And that's just the accidental stuff. As I have pointed out before, Thailand has the third highest rate in the world of homicide by firearm after Colombia and South Africa. Open a Thai newspaper any day of the week and you are likely to be confronted with the grisly image of a murder victim.

Yes, death is shocking but if you have plans to live in Thailand it is something you will need to adjust to because you will be seeing and hearing a lot more about it once you move.

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Monday 4th September 2006

In many ways I am too sensitive a person to live in Thailand. On the face of it, I lead a life that many 40-something, single men leading lives of quiet desperation in Europe and North America can only dream of.

I do not lead an extravagant life but what is very satisfying is that I can do whatever I want. I work part-time for a variety of positive reasons and not because I have to in order to earn money. My job is just about perfect and my actual classroom time is just six hours a week.

The rest of the time I do the things I enjoy doing; things that I would never have had the time to do if I was still living and working in England.

Many people do not have either the time or the money to do what they want to do. I have both. I'm not rich by Western standards but I am by Thai standards because the cost of living is far lower than in Europe.

This allows me to enjoy pleasurable activities that were once prohibitively expensive. Outside of Southeast Asia (Thailand and the Philippines) I have only ever had two massages. Both were vacation treats: one in Cape Town and the other in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They were both expensive, especially the one in the US.

In Thailand I don't even consider the cost of a massage because it is almost meaningless. If I feel like one, I just go. The only time I think about the cost is if I decide to go to one of the more upmarket spas in town.

Yesterday, my body was aching and I felt like a massage. I decided to go to one of the cheap places but I always go to these places with a degree of trepidation because the girls can have very bad attitudes.

I understand that it's not a great job at the bottom end of the market. They get some disgusting looking customers and earn only Bt100 for two hours work. However, I don't like it when they put the A/C on to its maximum setting, switch on the TV and mindlessly knead parts of my body while watching Thai soap operas.

The quality of the massage depends entirely on the girl, not the establishment, and so picking the right girl is very important but it's hit-and-miss. On a couple of occasions I have got it horribly wrong and ended up getting dressed and walking out before the end of the session.

My experience yesterday couldn't have been any more different. I chose a very shy girl who had no outward signs of having a bad attitude. She was very pretty and quite dark skinned which elicited a few, "Farang chawp dum dum," comments from the other girls but it was her demeanour and not her looks that made the decision for me.

In the little massage room there was none of the usual nonsense with the TV or air-conditioning. I got changed into the pyjama bottom things they provide while she went off to get me a cup of green tea.

When she came back I started to chat with her. She told me she was 19 with several brothers and sisters. Her parents work in the rice fields (tum naa); an answer that has become very common when asking massage girls this question. She had been working in the massage shop for just a month.

It rather threw me when she told me where she came from. Every massage girl I have asked the question to has come from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or somewhere in Isaan. She came from Sukhothai which is an answer I had never heard before.

As the massage proceeded it became evident that she was extremely different to every other massage girl working in a cheap massage place I had ever met. Her speech and mannerisms were very polite. The massage was gentle, firm and effective.

I was also struck with how pretty she was close up with the fine bone structure, high cheek bones and perfect skin that so many Thai girls have. She had very long, silky hair tied in a ponytail that she sometimes wore to the front over one shoulder.

She concentrated 100% on what she was doing and it turned into one of the most enjoyable massage sessions I have ever had - including those at upmarket and expensive (for Thailand) spas.

Knowing she would only get Bt100 from the Bt200 charge, I gave her a Bt300 tip. She deserved every Baht and it was well worth it but she was a little overwhelmed and gave me a very deep wai. By Western standards it is a piffling amount but it is probably more than she earns most days and certainly more than her parents will earn in a day in the rice fields.

I made sure to get her mobile number so I can check to make sure she is available in future when I fancy some pampering.

So far then, everything sounds great. I was happy with the great massage and she was happy with getting a bigger than usual tip. So what's the problem and why did I start off by saying that I was too sensitive for Thailand?

The problem is that she is young enough to be my daughter and if I had a sweet, well-mannered daughter like that I would treat her like a little princess. My life would probably revolve around her and I would do everything I could to make her life as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.

Her father probably feels the same way but he can't afford to take care of her the way he wants to. While he works in the rice fields he has let his precious daughter go off to Hat Yai to work in a cheap massage place.

My friend, Aor, is currently training to be a massage therapist at the Banyan Tree resort in Phuket. She is a highly respectable girl and where she works is highly respectable. Massages there cost around Bt4,000 and the staff have lots of protection.

The girl yesterday isn't so fortunate. She works in a place where massages cost Bt200 and thousands of seedy Malaysians arrive in town every week to take advantage of the low prices. She doesn't have any choice about her customers.

If a disgusting creature walks in, chooses her and says he wants the massage in his hotel room, then she will have to go. She isn't under any obligation to perform sexual services but some men will put her under a lot of pressure and some may even force themselves on her. Working in this type of place is very different to working at somewhere like the Banyan Tree.

Ordinarily, I don't really suffer from a need to 'rescue' Thai girls. Girls going into the sex or cheap massage trades know what they are getting into and although they will earn a lot more money compared with more conventional work, they have the choice.

I just felt that with this girl, there was something very wrong. It just wasn't the type of a place where a girl like this should be working and I had a strong desire to remove her from what I considered an undesirable and inappropriate situation.

As I left to go home after the massage - and not for the first time in Thailand - I had lots of mixed emotions. My body felt good and meeting such a sweet girl had lifted my spirits but, at the same time, I was made aware again of how unfair life is for so many poor Thais and I felt immensely sorry for her and other young girls like her.

She will survive. They always do and Thais from poor backgrounds don't have high expectations in life so they don't think their own situation is as bad as people from outside do who have a completely different set of expectations about life.

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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. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.

If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.

I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand

 

 

Cities

Beaches

Mountains & Hilltribes

Islands

Interesting

 

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