Living In Thailand Blog
Friday 12th September 2008
I am starting to feel as if this site has run its course. From a personal point of view, I am ready to move on to do some different things with my life and, in a more general sense, it seems that the on-line world has reached saturation point with Thailand-based blogs and web sites.
When I started this site almost five years ago there wasn't much else around, and what there was dealt mostly with bar girls and go-go bars. You'd think that only so much could be written about those subjects but to some, apparently, they are an endless and eternal source of fascination.
The advent of contextual advertising has resulted in thousands more sites and I have never really enjoyed being part of the crowd.
After I first visited Thailand in 1987, I was fascinated by the mysterious, enigmatic, mysterious country I saw. Could anywhere really be as perfect and harmonious as Thailand appeared on the surface?
After spending more vacation time in the country, I knew I would never find out the answer to that question as a tourist. I therefore took the first opportunity I had to live and work in Thailand. Even then, the country did not give up its secrets easily but after a few years I began to see Thailand for what it is.
It's certainly not a bad place but the point I have made many times is that nothing in Thailand is quite what it seems at first; and there are aspects of the country I would never have had any idea about as an awe-struck, wide-eyed tourist.
As I write, my own immediate future is - as yet - undecided. Thailand will hopefully feature somewhere but at the moment I'm not sure how much. This uncertainty is another factor that makes it difficult to continue writing.
Thailand itself is also at a major crossroads. The political machinations we have all seen in recent years are just the tip of the iceberg and, IMHO, the problems experienced in the last few years are nothing compared to what is yet to come.
I need to add a word of thanks to the regular readers who have chosen to stop by since I started doing this. It's appreciated that you thought I had something worth saying, and a special thank you to those who took the time write.
To the single men out there, I will pass on the gentle advice given to me by James Higbie, author of 'Thai Reference Grammar - The Structure of Spoken Thai', when he sent an e-mail some time ago.
"Watch out, though, and don't hand over your life savings to any Thai woman too fast!"
Some very sound advice from James there. I managed to keep my life savings out of the hands of a Thai woman but wasn't so lucky when I got involved with the devious bandits who control the world's stock markets.
On the subject of advice, you could do worse than buy a copy of James's excellent book. The way to really learn about Thailand is not by spending all day reading what other farangs write on their web sites.
The only way is to get to grips with the basics of the language and find out for yourself using the good, old-fashioned way that existed before the Internet came along. Get out there, meet and speak with Thais. Apart from some good Thai language resources, the only other reference you might need is Niels Mulder's 'Inside Thai Society'.
This slim tome that has been around for a long time now will, if read carefully and repeatedly, tell you more about Thai behaviour and thinking than the combined witterings of every single current web site in existence.
It is not the easiest book to read, and it assumes a fair amount of existing knowledge of Thailand, but it is very rewarding. I have returned to this book again and again, and with each year I have spent in the country the clearer Mulder's observations have become.
Tuesday 9th September 2008
One of the greatest human experiments ever to be conducted in Thailand is set to take place in southern Thailand later this week. The local municipality of Hat Yai has proposed having a 'Car Free Day'. I can't wait to see what will happen.
Not having a car in Thailand is no problem at all because there are so many cheap and abundant public transport options available. I don't have a car and I manage just fine. I also spend very little on public transport. But I'm not Thai.
In Thailand, perceived status is absolutely everything and a car is the ultimate status symbol. Thais love to show off and those who have cars wouldn't be seen dead in a tuk-tuk.
A farang I met was telling me how he had been talked into buying a truck by his Thai wife and adopted daughters. In the end they wore him down and he bought one.
Shortly afterwards, one of his daughters told him she had a desperate need to pick up something from her school and wanted him to take her in the truck. What he realised after this emergency mission had ended was that she had no need to go at all but just wanted her friends to see her in the new truck.
I know Thais whose only reason for going to work in the morning is so they can own a car. They work every hour of overtime possible and do part-time jobs outside of their main job just so they can afford to make payments and buy gas to run a car. Their car is their life, and their life is their car.
And now someone is actually proposing that they leave their beloved vehicles at home for one day. Shock horror. As I said, I can't wait to see what happens.
Once again, the Thais fix a problem in their own inimitable style. In the past few years there have been major conflicts of interest with certain politicians involving billions of baht yet nothing happened. Things happened eventually but not until many years later.
With Samak refusing to step down, a coup would have been the traditional Thai method of getting rid of him but everyone is bored with coups and it doesn't look very good to the international community. The Thais have therefore got rid of him on a conflict of interest charge for hosting (and getting paid for) a TV cookery show.
His salary for hosting this show was reported to be Bt80,000 a month. It's not a bad salary for Thailand but compared to what previous politicians were siphoning off dishonestly, it's a tiny drop in the ocean. It was also honest work and by appearing on TV he obviously wasn't trying to hide his earnings from the tax man or anyone else.
I'm certainly not a fan of Samak's, and I don't believe he is the right person to be running the country, but this is a little far-fetched even for Thailand.
Sunday 7th September 2008
No one would admit to wanting to live in a prison but many people build lives for themselves in which they are incarcerated, and from which they cannot escape. The cause, in Buddhist terms, is referred to as attachment. We attach ourselves to dwellings, hobbies, possessions, work, people, and many other things.
This attachment is so strong that letting go becomes impossible. For some people, finding a few weeks - or even a few days - to break away from their routine lives is impossible, let alone breaking away permanently.
I like cats and there is a white cat near to where I live that always sits in exactly the same place. He does what cats do best, which is nothing. I normally stop to stroke him and rub his chin. He purrs contentedly so he must enjoy it.
After a few minutes, I go on my way and the cat goes back to doing nothing. It doesn't follow me or act strangely because the pleasant experience has ended. This is because the cat doesn't get attached to that good feeling, and when the good feeling stops it isn't a problem.
I've written this before, but a life free from attachment is like staying in a very plush hotel. We can enjoy the experience while we are there but because we know we are going to check out there is never any expectation that we will be there permanently. Therefore, when we leave it isn't a big deal because we didn't get attached.
Even when it comes to partners, I have seen couples who are obviously unhappy together but they refuse to separate because they have attachment, except it isn't a good kind of attachment.
People may have dreams but they are never able to break free from their attachments to realise their dreams. The best way I have ever heard this expressed is Henry David Thoreau's famous quote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This remains one of my favourite quotes.
It was attachment that almost kept me in England at a time when I was extremely unhappy with my life. The worst point by far was breaking some of the bonds but not being able to break them all. I quit my job (the hardest decision I have ever taken in my life) but then couldn't break free from my house and possessions. For a while I was stuck in a no-man's land and it was purgatory. When I did finally break free I felt an enormous sense of relief as if the burdens of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
What is strange though is that after having broken free once in my life, after being in Thailand for a while I started to suffer from attachment again. I found a comfortable place to stay, got a decent job, learnt to communicate, started to find my way around, and it felt good. I felt safe; I felt secure.
When I realised a short time ago that my teaching contract wouldn't be continued and that I would have problems remaining in Thailand, the thing that made everything far worse than it should have been was my attachment.
Another fundamental Buddhist belief is that of impermanence. Nothing is permanent; nothing ever stays the same. Therefore, what is the point of getting attached to jobs, people, dwellings, possessions, thoughts, ideas, states of mind, etc., when those things won't be there forever?
Getting attached doesn't make any sense but we all do it. Why do we do it?
I talked recently about how greed drives people. The other emotion that drives people is fear, and the basic human need for security. The unknown presents a lot of fear to us so by attaching ourselves to what we have - and what we know - it helps to eliminate that fear of the unknown.
We have invented sayings such as, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't," in order to justify having attachment. We will stay in less than ideal situations rather than taking a chance to find lives we really want by telling ourselves, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."
At a logical level it makes no sense at all but greed and fear operate at a very primal level in the brain, not a logical one. What goes on in our brains at that primal level is very powerful; it overrides all logic; and it is because of what is going on at that level in the brain that many foreign men end up in Thailand.
I am not being self-righteous here. I suffer from all the same weaknesses that other men suffer from: a sex drive, fear, and sometimes greed. However, by trying to understand what forces are at work it can sometimes help us overcome difficult circumstances, or help us with making difficult decisions.
Attachment is so difficult to break from away voluntarily that sometimes the only way is to have something forced upon you. It can seem like the end of the world when it happens but what is often the case is that these situations turn out for the best.
It is also something that is very easy to talk about but very difficult to put into practice. We can talk about cats and staying in hotels but when a lonely foreign man spends two weeks in Thailand with a lovely young girl and then has to return home, it is very likely he will have become very attached to those good feelings.
With regard to my current plight, I should also make the point that I do not feel I am being forced out of Thailand. I can return as a tourist but only for a limited period of time. There are other ways I can continue living permanently in Thailand but I have considered them all and I have decided to take a break in order to see a few other places.
It was my intention to do this before settling in Thailand five years ago but after I arrived I was once again captivated by the country and its people, and didn't want to leave. This happens to many foreigners who visit the Land of Smiles.
I was speaking to a Malaysian guy recently who visits Thailand often. He was telling me the things he likes about Thailand and what makes the country so special. He was right but I have reached the point now where I have started to take all the good things for granted and just focus on the bad stuff. It's not healthy.
I need a break so that I can put things back into perspective and, hopefully, recapture the magic that I always used to feel in Thailand.
I started off having quite a laugh this morning looking through Not The Nation, a satirical web site that pokes fun at the hypocrisy and double standards in Thailand. It follows in the true satirical tradition of such publications as Private Eye.
One spoof condo advertisement offers a windowless, asylum-like cell in which prospective owners can quarantine their Burmese maids. This ad could be used to advertise condos in Singapore, except that you would need to replace Burmese with Filipino.
A poll shows how rich Thais like to ostentatiously show off their wealth; a business article describes Unilever's new line of whitening products for the Thai market; and the editorial prompts Thais to consider, "Do I prefer my extrajudicial, constitution-violating actions to be the domain of the police or the army?"
No holds are barred and no one is spared. Parts of the site are actually a little too cruel to be humorous and as I read more I stopped laughing. Satire can be a very effective instrument for drawing people's attention to important issues but a lot of what goes on in Thailand is no laughing matter.
How much does image and appearance matter in Thailand?
One lesson I do with my students helps them with writing a CV and answering common job interview questions.
With the writing of their CVs I ask them to describe their personal qualities using suitable adjectives. The kind of words I am looking for are 'hard-working', 'enthusiastic', 'ambitious', 'conscientious', etc.
Every time I do this, one of the students always says 'attractive' as if this is relevant on a CV. The sad fact is that in Thailand it is. Go into any private hospital or slightly upmarket business in Thailand and it is obvious what the girls on the front desk were hired for. And it wasn't their stunning intellect.
Then again, who wants to be greeted by ugly girls? Perhaps the Thais have got this one right?
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