In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog January 22nd, 2011

Compositional Balance / Hua Hin, Squid Row / Asus Rampage III Gene, Micro-ATX Motherboard Review

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Feature Photograph Hua Hin, Squid Row Asus Rampage III Gene Micro-ATX Motherboard Review Photography News of Interest

Readers Submissions Readers Questions A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review I nfocus Blog, The Culture of CorruptionT


Feature Photograph *menu

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F8 1/500th 95mm ISO 100

First, none of these pictures are great. This week I’m just using them as examples. These images were captured near Hua Hin and are very typical of what you’ll see along Thailand’s coastal regions. Thai fishing boats have always caught my interest because of their old time build construction and bright bold colors. They make for interesting photographs.

The Feature Photo above is a solid composition. As you look through the viewfinder you look straight out over as many boats as possible in the scene with two interesting boats in the foreground. You’re looking beyond the main subjects. Basically the scene feels balanced and you’re getting a lot out of it.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F8 1/400th 130mm ISO 100

Nine out of ten times the above scene will be captured instead. The natural inclination is to center the most prominent boat in the scene and not think much past the main subject. The Feature Photo is different in that we’re also thinking of the boats beyond the main subject, and the landforms as well. The difference between the two images equaled three footsteps and a 30 degree pivot. Not much effort, but a drastic difference in composition.

Do you tend to center all your subjects? You’ll read a lot about the “rule of thirds” and I’ve talked about it in the past, and other rules, but really composition isn’t so much about rules as it is about ‘feel’, a sort of balance you achieve when you take a few extra moments and think beyond the main subject.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mM F2.8L IS @F8 1/320th 200mm ISO 100

As with the centered picture above, where you can’t just simply place a subject in the center and call it a composition, you just can’t place a subject over to the side and call it one either. Neither of these really work. One is too centered, the other too far to the side creating a feeling of unbalance. A vast empty space to the left of the main subject, leaving the main subject feeling crowded.

The Feature Photo above is balanced. If I’d have had a wider lens on the camera I would have added a bit of space to the side of both the foreground boats, but that’s nitpicking. When your subject is prominent, AND you take into account (and balance) what’s behind your main subjects, then your composition will be the better for it.

Hua Hin, Squid Row *menu

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/80th 70mm ISO 125

While visiting a friend in Hua Hin recently we decided to head out to the lesser populated and toured areas to see if we could find an area of interest to photograph. We settled on a small area immediately outside the city where squid is fished, processed, and sold. As we entered the area scenes like this smacked us in the face. What would normally be beautiful natural areas were instead neglected dump sites for garbage of all kinds.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 70mm ISO 200

Everywhere you looked you saw the rancid squalor of decomposing garbage and the stench was terrible. Flies and other insects were buzzing around happy to partake in this kings buffet of soiled disposable diapers, medical waste, and unidentified but most likely toxic liquids in containers of all shapes and sizes. Less than a half kilometer (verified by my GPS) from the front door of one of Hua Hin’s most upscale resorts. I really hope they don’t allow their guests to swim in the ocean.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/50th 24mm ISO 100

This area is a type of natural inlet where the squid fishing boats are moored. A canopy type structure runs the entire length. It’s apparent the boat captains pay rent for their space.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 70mm ISO 250

Net mending is a full time job and can be seen almost everywhere. Stacks of these nets await repair as elderly workers squat on small plastic stoops or directly on cold wet cement. Anyone familiar with the fishing industry will recognize these types of nets as efficient, but not very “species specific”, or in other words there is a lot of collateral damage.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 60mm ISO 160

More nets, more net mending, and a high-end condo looms in the background. No one hear appears well off, their boats and motorsai’s being the only trappings of wealth visible.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 55mm ISO 500

This lady is preparing foods made from the local catch. Have you ever wondered how long fresh squid can set out in the sun and still be considered fresh enough to eat?

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 70mm ISO 400

More nets, more net menders. You’ll notice even working fishing vessels fly pennants and their national flags. The Thai flag is displayed with pride all over this area.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 70mm ISO 125

More flags, more nets, it’s like they could be the theme of the location. You’re free to walk along the walkways, under the canopies, and take a look around, but cameras are frowned on and people quickly turn their heads to avoid being photographed. This rarely happens in Thailand unless..

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/40th 43mm ISO 160

This is a commercial ‘motorsai park’ where owners pay to have someone watch their bikes while out on the boats fishing. While one boat is out at sea, another quickly takes it’s mooring and an entirely different family/crew is now occupying the same space, so safe storage of the motorsai’s is essential.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/80th 70mm ISO 100

This is a view with the sea in the background, with the inlet snaking inland to the docks. This area is protected from rough seas and storms to a great extent, during times of really bad weather it will be crammed full of fishing vessels hoping to escape the worst of the storms.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/40th 35mm ISO 250

Visitors and tourists are welcomed. Mostly you’ll find only Thai visitors and tourists interested in scoring great deals on squid snacks of all types.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/40th 45mm ISO 1250

Other types of seafood are available as well.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/40th 48mm ISO 160

At this vendor you can get fresh fish on ice, clams, and a small variety of dry goods. Mostly vendors of this type are supporting the boats and crews and not visitors.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/80th 70mm ISO 250

Like every other working industry in Thailand you’ll find young mothers and children working side by side with their husbands and fathers. What you don’t see are schools, libraries, or any hope for the children to improve their lot in life.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 70mm ISO 160

More nets, more boats, and another net mender. A constant and necessary full time job. You’ll notice the superstructures of the boats are built and maintained right along the lines of simple Thai homes.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 59mm ISO 500

Squid cakes anyone? Cooked right over an open burning barrel of unknown origin. Tasty!

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/40th 32mm ISO 250

Here these men are loading fresh squid into baskets and ensuring they’re a certain weight before carrying them to the rear of the structure. The man in the white shirt ‘trickles’ squid into the basket until it reaches the exact desired weight.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/60th 68mm ISO 800

This restaurant is located more near the entrance to squid row. The lady entices with tasty seafood treats. Her young granddaughter not more than 14 works alongside preparing for the days customers.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F14 1/160th 58mm ISO 100

Not more than 50 meters from the boats, along the shores of the inlet, you’ll find scores of drying racks where the squid is laid out on wire mesh racks and left in the sun to dry. Something I couldn’t figure out was where are the birds? Normally this amount of fresh squid would draw entire flocks of birds. Where are they? I looked around trying to discover the secret and failed. If anyone knows this answer please email me. I’m curious.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F8 1/320th 70mm ISO 100

These two men load racks from a cart attached to their motorsai on to raised platforms to start the sun drying process.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F8 1/500th 70mm ISO 100

Not far away fishing vessels not actively in the process of fishing, off-loading, or maintenance are moored in the open inlet.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F8 1/640th 70mm ISO 100

This is a close up of the squid on drying racks. Something I noticed. The autofocus on your camera will have a hard time with squid. AF systems depend on sharp lines of contrast to focus correctly, and sharp lines and contrast are severely lacking in blob like squids. You’ll need to manual focus to get clear sharp images.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F8 1/500th 43mm ISO 100

As they dry they shrink. When first laid out the squid are either touching or slightly overlapping. As they dry lots of room appears to all sides.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F9 1/200th 70mm ISO 100

Here the larger squid are hung from strings and flayed out with sticks to dry to a certain size and shape.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F8 1/250th 68mm ISO 250

This closer view shows are the wood sticks are used to keep the squid flayed precisely as desired.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F8 1/40th 70mm ISO 100

Squid anyone? This vendor sits sorting his squid but doesn’t miss an opportunity to make a sale.

There is a lot of activity, commerce, and life happening on squid row. The area isn’t very large, yet it’s teeming with activity. It’s always interesting to see how these things are done and it doesn’t take much more than a free afternoon and a desire to stray away from the luxuries of the local beaches and resorts and take a peek inside the lives of working Thai’s. Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.

Asus Rampage III Gene, Micro-ATX Motherboard Review *menu

Introduction

I select my equipment based on specific need and I’m not brand loyal. When I select a piece of equipment I look first at what I’m trying to accomplish, and then review the market for the item best suited to my needs. Once I find it, I thoroughly investigate this product to ensure its value, reliability, and performance are all the best possible before making my purchase.

This time I was building a small form factor PC which I’ll soon review. I wanted a small highly portable case, as much performance for image processing as possible, and I had a list of desirable features such as USB 3.0 compatibility, SATA III/6gbs support, a large number of USB ports, 1366 CPU socket, and 6 RAM slots. This required the motherboard be at the largest, a Micro-ATX (244mmx244mm (9.6×9.6 inches)) model. You’ll notice I wasn’t asking for much.. ;o)

I could find only three motherboards offering the 1366 CPU socket, and only one offering all of my requirements. The Asus Rampage III Gene. After researching and confirming the board performed as advertised and enjoyed a great reputation for reliability, compatibility, and customer support the choice was easy. I placed it on order.

You might be asking why the 1366 CPU socket when there’s a plethora of Micro-ATX motherboards out there with the 1156 socket which takes the lower prices i3/i5/i7 CPU’s? This is easy. The 1366 boards are designed to support Intels most powerful processors including the upcoming i9 series. These boards have a significantly greater PCIe channel depth which basically means you can transfer more information at a time, faster, over a 1366 socket motherboard than an 1156 socket motherboard. This becomes very important if you’ll be running powerful video cards, PCIe SSD’s, and/or accessing USB3.0 devices at the same time. Simply put they can handle more data at once, and are more future proof.

Asus Rampage III Gene

This motherboard is a high-end motherboard built for gamers and over clockers and carries their “Republic of Gamers” (ROG) moniker. This means the board is chock full of quality and features which are also beneficial to run of the mill users. Like imaging professionals.

This board features Intels x58 chipset, SLI/Crossfire support, USB 3.0 support, SATA III/6gbps support, and a host of features which support over clocking which I’ll explain below. It also hosts the SupremeFX X-fi 2 build in audio which is very important to home theater enthusiasts. This audio supports the latest DTS, THX, and other leading audio formats.

For a full list of specifications, drivers, downloads, and more see here.

Over Clocking Features

ROG Connect

This is a rear panel access port which allows you to connect your computer to another computer, such as a laptop, bring up the ROG connect program, and tweak your PC’s performance in real time similar to the way a car tuner can now connect their PC to a F1 car to adjust the cars computer system. You just connect the cable between the two PC’s, bring up the ROG connect Software, and push the ROG connect button to initiate the link.

Probelt

This is simply a row of very convenient test points where you can measure eight sets of detection points for the proper voltages. Instead of trying to find these points on a regular motherboard, on this one they’re organized and laid out for easy access.

CPU Level Up

This is basically a one touch over clocking access feature which you can operate with ease. No need to enter numbers or parameters to over clock. I’m not sold on it’s usefulness, but it’s an included feature.

Go Button

This is simple a set of motherboard mounted operating switches like you’d find on a computer case. Start, reset, off. This allows you to mount the Asus Rampage III Gene in a testing rig without a case and more easily adjust over clocking.

There are more, special jumpers, measuring points, over voltage capabilities, and included supporting software. Enough to please even the most diehard over clocking enthusiasts.

Installation

Micro-ATX boards are 244mm x 244mm, are 9.6 inches square. Small. When placing them in small enclosures the layout and access to ports becomes much more important than with larger boards.

As you can see there are two PCIe x16 slots which enables mounting two video cards in SLI or Crossfire configuration. There are six RAM memory slots enabling up to a total of 24gb of RAM. The back panel hosts 7 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a firewire 1394 port, ROG connect port, LAN port, PS/S connector, and a full host of audio connections including an optical SPDIF port.

SATA ports are along one side of the board where the main 20 pin ATX power connector is located. Internal SATA, 1394, and Audio connectors are along another side of the board where the “Go buttons” are located. There are a total of 4 fan connectors which can control the CPU, case, and other fans by temperature, CPU load, or manually.

The 1366 CPU socket is located with plenty of room and mounting points/holes for even the largest CPU coolers. Be careful when ordering your RAM though, if your RAM includes higher heatsinks it might interfere with your choice of CPU coolers.

Every component in a small footprint sized workstation must be selected with care to ensure proper function and fit. This is critical in this size platform compared to a full size ATX platform. You just can’t order standard parts and assume they’ll fit. You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time researching and selecting the best possible parts for your system.

Overall installation went as expected. If I had any complaints it would be to put the x4 PCIe slot currently located between the two x16 PCIe slots somewhere more useful. Once you mount any decent video card, it will cover this slot making it unusable. Same with the PCI legacy slot located next to the second x16 PCIe slot. Of course on this size motherboard there is no other location. We just have to put up with it and choose our components with more care than usual.

Performance

I’m not the type to carefully test one motherboard against the other running different benchmarks. I just don’t find that amount of time productively spent for our purposes here.

However, I do expect and demand top performance especially at premium prices. For $229 USD’s (Newegg.com) this board is quite the bargain already when compared to it’s big brother the Asus Rampage III Extreme, a full size ATX motherboard which runs north of $365 USD’s for basically the same exact quality, level of features, and performance. The full size version does offer some little used features which I won’t get into, because I don’t consider them important enough to consider.

After three weeks of thoroughly testing the board, over clocking for the fun of it, trying different CPU’s (i7-920, i7-930, and i7-950), different RAM modules (1066 OCZ RAM, and Kingston 2002 Hyper-X RAM), an ultra-fast PCIe SSD (OCZ Revodrive I reviewed previously ), a Crucial C300 SSD I reviewed here, several video cards including the ATI Radeon 5970 andthe 5770’s I reviewed here , and two Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid drives I reviewed here, I can say with utmost confidence this board performs flawlessly and with no noticeable speed deficits compared to the other full size motherboards I have on hand. In short I threw everything I had at it, and it worked perfectly with everything.

Summary

There’s not much to say here. The Asus Rampage III Gene is your ONLY choice if you require the most modern up to date Micro-ATX form factor with the very latest features. It’s a bonus it’s also a top quality board with a host of advanced over clocking features and related support. And it’s super Asus provides some of the best customer support in the business including a full 3 year warranty.

As I’ve mentioned, you’ll need to select each component carefully with the physical fit in mind. And you’ll need to build carefully and route your cables perfectly or you’ll end up with a real mess inside such a small case. However, properly done the result is a work of art!

I have absolutely no issues giving the Asus Rampage III Gene my highest recommendation. I’m sure I’ll be using it frequently when building custom workstations for clients.

Photography News of Interest *menu

Is this you? A New Yorker who writes and directs comedy videos found your roll of film in central park and was quite impressed with your black and white photography. He had the roll developed and the images are shown in the video at this link. Contact him, he’s eager to speak with you.

Sony’s E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens is tested here at SLR Gear. If you have this lens with your Sony NEX-5 you might be interested in the review, but you already know it’s a very decent performer.

Digital Photography Review posted this press release from Sony showing off Sony’s new 5” clip on LCD monitor. If you ask me it’s silly for anything but life video shooting but unfortunately no one asked me..

I found this review over on the Digital Outback where the Panasonic 100-300mm F4-5.6 lens for the Micro-4/3’s system cameras is being reviewed. This is a very unique lens for these cameras so if you’re in the market for one you’ll find this interesting.

AnAndTech reviews the new 30” Dell U3011 S-IPS monitor here. Their 24 (U2410) and 27 inch (U2710) models have proven to be popular with amateur photographers and I suspect this one will be as well. If you’re in the market give it a look.

Notebook Review introduces Lenovo’s latest super netbook the X120e, a logical evolution of their popular X100e.

PC World has put us on notice that Microsoft will soon be releasing Windows 7 SP1. Perhaps by the time you read this.

Police arrest a ‘suspicious’ man at the Miami airport for taking photographs of sensitive areas. Do you think they’ve finally got it right this time?

Readers Submissions *menu

Hi Steve,

Attached a few shots from Singapore zoo for your column. Let me know if you want me to resize them.

KVW




KVW –

I'm always happy to get readers submissions, but I must admit there is a special kind of satisfaction when a former workshop student sends in images such as these that show growth and realized potential. If anyone cares to thumb through past columns and look at your submissions they'll see a steady improvement over several years. And they'll notice even your latest images were captured with a consumer grade DSLR and lenses. Your capture techniques and post processing skills have truly grown. Workshops allow a student to learn in a matter of days, what an average hobbyist learns over the course of years.

Thank you

Steve

Hi Steve,

Here is a short submission for you.

Cheers,
Stick



Stick –

Nice! You really show New Zealand to be a beautiful country. I love the shots with trees. I'm a bit curious about an Australian Striptease in NZ but.. (insert sheep joke here).. ;o)

Steve

I suspect the readers submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they d like to share to please send them to me at: [email protected]

Readers Questions *menu

Steve

As can be seen in attached pictures there is a issue with the LCD screen on my camera. There is a stain, intrusion on/under the screen that is slowly growing larger. The camera does not have a screen protector film installed. Sony says it can be repaired under warrantee but they are unsure what caused it. Do you have/show any such condition on you NEX?

Following your advice again, I purchasedthe Samsung LED monitor that was reviewed a few months back .. It is a great addition to my picture editing tasks. Enjoy the New Years and stay safe.

Rickster



Hi Rick –

My NEX-5 doesn't have this issue.. but this is a common issue with all LCD's. There appears to be a separation (in progress) of the laminate between the actual LCD membrane and the protective glass cover. A screen protector would not have made any difference.

I'm not surprised Sony claimed to "not know what caused it" because if they told you it's almost an admission there's an issue with the manufacturing process. I say 'almost' because there are external factors which can cause this phenomenon. Most common would be leaving the camera in a hot glove box or car (I routinely leave mine in my car in Bangkok all the time without issues) where either direct sun or no ventilation allows the camera to stay within specified operating temperatures. A lesser cause would be unidentified chemicals (cleaners, etc) but this would be rare.

I'd go ahead and get it fixed under warranty and then take care not to let it get overheated. Try not to leave your cameras in a car unattended any more than you would the family dog.

If it is an issue with the manufacturing process we'll be hearing a lot more about this and Sony will issue a 'fix' to anyone experiencing the problem even outside of the normal warranty period. At least you'd expect them to as this is the standard industry practice.

Steve

Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review *menu


This week we had no workshops and no assignments. I've used this extra time to take a break in Hua Hin visiting with some friends and to continue trying to solve the last few issues we have with our User Galleries. The header/banner is now functioning 100% correctly in all browsers. If you experience any issues please let me know.

The User Gallery of the week is KVW's "Grand Palace" gallery. Nice pictures of the Grand Palace compound including the Emerald Buddha. Check them out.

Positive comments continue to pour in about our new look and much faster more interactive site. If you haven't already checked it out, visit www.bangkokimages.com to see my latest galleries, share your own galleries, participate in the forums, and scour our large repository of photography related articles . The "What's New" page continues to be very popular with almost daily updates and interesting content.

Infocus Blog, The Culture of Corruption *menu


Sometimes I’m openly and I think justifiably disappointed with the local Thai’s (read “Ugly Thai’s”) and/or local expatriates (read “Racism Among Expats”), but there are times when I feel the same great disappointment, but I really can’t apportion the responsibility directly to individuals. It’s more of a systemic responsibility through which each individual plays a part. Such is the case with Thailand’s Culture of Corruption. Sometimes the best we can do is understand the part each of us plays, and then if possible adjust our behavior to the benefit of the greater good.

For the purposes of this essay I’m going to define corruption as illegal activity. Yes, we know corruption might not necessarily be illegal, but when it’s not illegal it’s more a matter of personal judgment or moralizing and not the unified voice of society. If something is illegal it’s actionable. If we commit crimes we know we risk incarceration, and if someone hurts us through criminal behavior we can hope for justice.

No justice system is perfect, but in a democracy it’s the best we have. In an open and active responsible democracy, if something isn’t illegal but should be, we pass legislation making it illegal. If we don’t, then we must assume the majority of society doesn’t consider the behavior criminal. Put bluntly, if it’s illegal we care. We care because we can go to jail, or because someone who wrongs us can go to jail. Actionable. If it’s not illegal not enough people care to make it illegal, so like everything else it becomes a matter of personal judgment or moralizing. This is democracy.

In western countries we certainly have corruption. Many will be quick to point out the major corporations which have been charged with crimes, lobbyists who stepped over their respective countries legal boundaries, politicians who have been caught taking payouts, loan scandals, and the list goes on. If there is a way for people to cheat the system they’ll cheat the system. I call this “rising to your environment.” The way we restrict this environment to the smallest possible size is to actively investigate and prosecute criminal behaviors.

The ONLY reason we know of corruption in western countries is because our justice systems have investigated and actively prosecute. If we read in the news that someone was investigated but not prosecuted, we shrug our shoulders and rightly (more often than not) think this someone’s activities didn’t reach the legal bar for criminality. Or even possibly our laws need to be improved, and our elected representatives will soon fix the problem. Things are much different in Thailand.

In Thailand corruption is a lifestyle, a business essential, an ‘every mans’ issue most every citizen deals with more than occasionally. Their justice system is corrupt from the top down, from their highest courts to the lowest law enforcement officials. Their legislative and executive bodies are also corrupt. And by corrupt, I mean actual illegal activity. It is almost impossible to be a member of Thai society, either as a citizen or expat, and not be part of it. When something is this embedded on a national level, individuals feel powerless to effect change. Indeed, it would take a major political and social event (such as a revolution) to effect meaningful change in Thailand.

I’ve often heard expatriates and visitors to the Kingdom alike say “I prefer the type of corruption in Thailand.” This must be in reference to the type of corruption in their own country? When I hear this I always ask “what types of corruption happen in your own country that aren’t also taking place in Thailand?”

I’ve yet to hear an accurate answer. Someone might ‘think’ their country has different or more corruption in certain areas, but this is usually because the person is more familiar with their own country and more up to date on the local news than they are with Thailand. Most expatriates in Thailand are retired and not actively engaged in the workforce and local and national politics. Most can’t watch the news in the Thai language and understand, so they depend on their wives or golf buddies for the ‘important’ news.

The bottom line is that every type of corruption present in our own countries, is present in Thailand, but probably on a larger scale (per capita) in Thailand. Heck, Thai MBA students (witnessed by myself in two different MBA programs in Thailand) really pay attention to methods of corruption in western countries in case they missed something. They’re looking for a new way to corrupt the same way western students look for innovation or that new business idea no one has yet thought of. A new “scheme” can make them rich.

To summarize: Corruption is illegal activity. Thailand’s Justice, Legislative, and Executive bodies are corrupt. Thai’s are corrupt in the same areas our own countries are corrupt. Thai’s are corrupt in many more ways western countries are not.

So, when someone says “I prefer the type of corruption in Thailand”, what they’re really saying is they’re benefitting from the type(s) of corruption in Thailand not present in their own countries. Fair enough. But let’s take a look at how “rising to your environment” plays out with these different types of corruption.

Let’s start with one of the most obvious. Road safety. I currently have a young Thai lady as a guest in my home who has recently spent three months in Australia. She voices ‘exactly’ what I’ve heard every other Thai lady voice on return from a western country. “In Australia they drive so nice, everyone obeys the rules, and it’s so much nicer and more safe to drive in Australia.” A bit obvious right? It should be.

Simply put, in the west we follow the rules of the road or face heavy fines and possible revocation of our driving privileges. In the west we’re held financially liable for our actions. It is in our own best interest to obey the rules of the road. Not only do we get safer more enjoyable roads, but we won’t be paying heavy fines, increased insurance premiums, or walking to work.

Thailand has rules of the road. Most of Thailand’s roads and laws are modeled exactly after those of western countries, even down to those annoying roundabouts from a country with the lowest death rate by car. Yet, we know most Thai drivers don’t follow the rules, many don’t have insurance or registered vehicles, and many are unlicensed. We know driving while intoxicated is a national past time. Google “highest traffic deaths per capita per country” and you’ll find several lists showing Thailand not even close to a western country, in the company of most third world countries, but not so bad as say Swaziland..

If Thailand has roads and laws modeled after the west, then why such a high traffic death rate, why do so many ignore the rules and make driving in Thailand organized chaos at best? It’s simple. Because they can. They can because law enforcement is corrupt at it’s very core radiating out to its lowest common denominator, the traffic cops.

Sure, it’s nice to pay just 100-200 baht if you get caught speeding or for some other traffic infraction. I’m on record as saying it’s “civilized.” I think this sort of thing is what most expatriates “prefer” over their own countries. At least until you stop and think about it.

If I could have the road safety and driving experience of my own country, in Thailand, and all I had to do is pay a reasonable fine for my infractions, I’d make that choice in a heartbeat. If I could count on professional law enforcement personnel not guided by corruption, in half a heartbeat. Because of corruption we’re giving up professional law enforcement personnel, road safety, and must live with a chaotic driving experience each time we’re on the road either as a driver or passenger. We risk our lives to a much higher degree each time we use the roads. Because of corruption. Is this really what you “prefer?” Still not convinced? Read on..

As expatriates we might ‘prefer’ to pay 100-200 baht fines to the corrupt police official because it’s convenient and cheap. We might even giggle to ourselves when paying the “fine” when we remember the heavy fine we’d have faced in our own countries, not to mention the thought of traffic school and increased insurance premiums. We giggle like school children because we feel like we’re getting away with something. What’s not to prefer? After all, it takes a bit of deeper thought to associate our 100 baht fines to the death and carnage of the Thai roadways.

We giggle because 100-200 baht is inconsequential to us. Nothing. We won’t think about it an hour later. To us. A bit self-serving? How much difference does 100-200 baht make to your average Thai? With the current minimum wage in Bangkok set at baht 206 per day, less in other areas, a single traffic infraction can mean an entire days pay. With the way most Thai’s live hand to mouth, it can literally mean the difference between having the money for supper that day, or money for the kids lunches the next day. The impact to the average Thai can be huge.

You might be thinking “the average Thai can’t afford to drive so no worries.” Not necessarily true. Has anyone noticed that most police traffic traps target motorbikes? We all know the Thai police would never stop someone who didn’t do anything just for money.. The form of transportation the average Thai can afford? Even if the police are only extorting half as much from them as from the more well off car owners, it’s still a huge amount to these people. And corruption spreads like a spider web..

What happens when the average Thai on a motorsai doesn’t have the money to pay the corrupt police officer? They can either go the “legit route” and accept a ticket and end up paying much more which hurts them all the more, or they can accept any term(s) the nice man in brown offers. Such as what you say?

If you talk with and listen to the local Thai’s you’ll learn the police regularly demand sexual favors in lieu of fines, almost always from the younger girls. Or free services from their place of business, food from their food cart, haircuts from their shops, they’ll even accept personal items like clothing articles, phones as collateral, and even the lunch they were taking back home to eat. It’s a foothold of corruption into the local community at all levels.

When a law enforcement officer with the power to arrest and imprison you makes such demands, you’re often left with few choices. It creates an ‘environment’ which is terrible to live in. An environment of fear and oppression. An environment where your 16 year old daughter might have to face the choice of giving Sammy Somchai a bj or worse. Still not convinced? You still “prefer” the system here. Read on..

If you’re got this far in your thought and you’re still paying attention, you’ll have noticed those without the ability to easily pay these ‘fines’ are more brown, from a “lesser class”, or socially disadvantaged in some significant way. This is where corruption turns into racial and class discrimination. Right at the point where the required graft exceeds the average person’s ability to pay, and becomes a disproportionate burden on the individual based on race, class, or social background. There’s more.

As we know graft for traffic infractions is just the tip of the iceberg. Now comes the shaft.

The lowest common denominator. When the very people entrusted by the public to enforce our laws fairly and equally violate society so heavily, people notice. They become scared, bitter, angry, and they want revenge. They want a feeling of “fairness.” So they become corrupt. Building permit officials start requiring bribes, business license officials, any official with power over others wants their fair share and more. Soon, we have Thailand, where every facet of society has deeply embedded corruption at almost every level of the ‘every mans’ environment. In the west we don’t have this, we trust our police, we trust our city officials, we have laws which are enforced. When corruption happens its almost always above our pay grade, and not at the ‘every mans’ level. It’s not part of our environment.

In Thailand corruption permeates every level of government, business, and law enforcement entity. It’s a daily condition which unfairly skews the chances of personal and business success in the favor of those with the ability to pay. Those with different skin colors and those who belong to different classes. The rank and file, the poor, the ‘little people’.. Have you ever wondered why Thailand has such a dearth of middle class families when compared to the west? Now you know. But there’s more.

We’re all familiar with the Red Shirt vs.Yellow Shirt political discourse? A history of coups and new constitutions unparalleled anywhere else in the world? The deep south where a bombing, beheading, or some form of killing is an everyday occurrence? All attributable to racial and class discrimination brought on or made worse through corruption.

I began this essay by defining corruption as an ‘illegal activity’ and now we’ve come full circle as to why. In a democracy the rule of law, equally and fairly applied, is the bedrock and foundation of any successful country. Corruption is the mold, the stress cracks, the settling earth, corruption is what eats away at this foundation and ends up bringing down anything built on top of it. Corruption at the ‘every mans’ level is insidious and perhaps the most destructive force a country faces.

So what can we do as expatriates or visitors to the Kingdom? Not much I’m afraid. Sure, when faced with the choices I’ll still probably pay the 100-200 baht ‘fine’ to the nice men in brown. But I won’t do it with a smug look on my face and later tell my buddy I “prefer Thai corruption” because as you’ve read, that would make me look like an ass.

Instead I’ll continue to observe, to learn, and to improve my understanding of my host country. Who knows, maybe someday someone who can do something about it will ask for my opinion. You never know when you’ll get the chance to chat with an important professor, diplomat, head of state, exiled prince, disposed prime minister, or even the next King or Queen. It happens. I’ll be prepared with thoughts that don’t show me to be entirely self-serving. Thoughts that show I really do care about my host country. Because I do.

Until next time..