Fast Track Thailand
“I am an Internet dating addict; it has been 12 months since my last log in to a dating site…”
…Is what I should be writing about today because for the past 5 years that is exactly what I became an expert at doing, and not only did it take me around the world both virtually and physically to over 17 countries at a cost of circa £20,000 resulting in fruitful encounters with women of many languages, cultures, colours and creeds, it was ultimately what brought me to the shores of Thailand.
But alas no, this is not what I am going to write about today because I don’t have enough time in the day at the moment to do this interesting experience in my life justice, but what I am going to write about is what happened after my internet dating experiences brought me to the shores of Thailand and more importantly the fast track experience I have encountered since getting here.
So why did I decide to call this submission ‘Fast Track Thailand?’ Well basically, it came from someone who has been living here for four years who happened to turn around one day during a very boring grammar lesson on our TEFL training course, to tell me that this was the programme he thought I was on. Well… after a minute or two of looking down at the word TEFL on our headed note pads and trying to see how it could have meant “fast track Thailand”, he went on to explain that in just the short few months that I had been here, I had managed to do and learn all that it took him to do and learn in his 4 years… and so I decided to adopt it.
I have been here for a mere 8 months now, a relatively short period of time I know, but as you will see, I have managed to fit a hell of a lot into that period and to be honest I do sometimes catch myself wondering that if I am on the fast track programme into Thailand, then does it also mean that I will be on the fast track out too… probably!
So why should you read what I have to say and what is so peculiar about my experience that you may consider it fast track, well if you read the following as a bit of a summary then it may give you some idea, bearing in mind as you read this how short a period of time I have been here, and if anyone wants the detail behind the summary then you can always write and ask for it. You may particularly find the bits about the marriage, dowry, and creative mortgage for housing in Thailand with your little darling especially useful or certainly I hope it sparks you to think a little more creatively. Anyway, onwards and upwards we go…
Coming to Thailand
Funnily enough, a ‘sweet’ Thai girl that I met on one of my many Internet dates in 2003 somewhere in the UK first introduced me to Stick's site as a way to try and explain to me the reasons behind the dowry. At the time she was on the Internet looking for potential mates (actually it was a husband she was after) in order to rescue her from a bad decision (meaning a man she was engaged to in England) before she had to marry him or come back to Thailand… and needless to say after a few dates with her, for reasons that probably don’t need explaining, I took the decision that I wasn’t going to be her saviour and did a sharp exit left.
Incidentally, she ended up marrying the (in her words) ‘the fat, beer drinking slob who bets on horses all day and gives her no money’ because she obviously had no other choice, and I sometimes wonder if she is still married to him or indeed happy for that matter.
The one thing this encounter in England did leave me with, was the mark that, “if all girls are this sweet and nice in Thailand then I am off there on my next holiday” and I have to say this, that despite her seeking out a man to rescue her in the most devious of ways that the internet can offer, she was actually really a sweet lady, and it was because of meeting her that I decided to end up on the shores of Thailand one year later.
It is also worth mentioning that at this point in my life, I had never ever been to or even considered Thailand as a place to visit because quite frankly, Thailand in my mind consisted of Gary Glitter types, sex fiends, debauchery and very bad jails where you can disappear if you get caught on the wrong side of the lines, and a BBC newscast on the British embassy here showing girls desperate for visas and men who had been drugged days before and left on the streets with no money or passport didn’t help either. Even reading many submissions on Stick's site around 2003 onwards as to how it was living here had me believing that the streets were lined with scantly clad women enticing you left right and centre from the moment you got into the taxi which quite frankly had me worried and was just not my scene.
It was around July 2004 when I decided that the time was right to embark on a journey to these shores. An Internet date to Malaysia and Sarawak the previous year didn’t go down too well but keen to keep the British upper lip stiffer still, I decided to route out on the Internet the best that Thailand had to offer. Once I had established my usual rapport which by now had become a bit of a no fail script with several lovelies, I decided to come to Thailand to see them… it is worth pointing out that it is always best when internet dating to make it ‘several’ dates with several girls because no matter how you do it, you will always encounter the moose factor and believe me, it’s a long way to come only to find that the girl of your dreams in reality has bucked teeth and can eat apples through the other side of a tennis racket – and I have met some like this and worse via the Internet in my time… including a Latino one who had Dennis Healy eyebrows, an eye that revolved around in her head of it’s own free will whilst also breaking in new dentures for a race horse. With that one I managed to escape by going into the public toilets near Horse Guards Parade and Saint James Park in London and climbing out of the window at the back and it was only after I had managed to do a furlong or two of my own away from her immediate vicinity that my phone tingled with the ever so polite message of “that wasn’t very nice now was it – You Bastard!”
Anyway, the Thai Internet dating was entirely successful either, and having failed to fall in love with some of the Internet becomes reality basket cases over here who were either far too temperamental for me and who had obvious ‘issues’ or had recently discovered junk food and were storing it in their hips and arses like hamsters, so I ventured down to Phuket instead for a quick half of Guinness and beach life, and woe and behold and much to my better judgement (because I had read Stickman extensively before I arrived and thought I knew what I was doing), I got enticed into a bar by a sweet lady and much to my dismay… I fell in love (lust?) with her instead… but then again don’t we all fall for this old trick on our first visit?
Somehow I managed to make lots of new Thai friends as well during this trip (and it's important to stress here that these were Thai friends away from the bar scene and believe me, doing this turned out to be very important to my fast track into Thailand experience later on…)
After sitting on a rock for 2 hours some time during this week, watching the sea and putting my ‘life and career are not going anywhere’ into perspective, I left the shores of Thailand, went home and within 5 months sold my house, all my furniture, my lovely sports car… quit my very well paid job and cashed in my life in Blighty… promptly coming back to Thailand via Indonesia and the Philippines (well I had more Internet dates that needed fulfilling first… oh and while I’m at it, if the movie “Mad Max” appealed to you then go to Manila and experience it for real!)
Finally got back to Thailand after a month of popping the cherries of several 30 year old virgins around Asia (that’s another point I want to make, you will be amazed how many ladies in their late 20’s and 30’s in Asia who are still virgins and on the Internet looking for good guys to pop their cherries – I kid you not!), anyway, when I arrived back on the shores of Phuket, the first thing I did was secure some good digs and the second thing was to buy a new motorbike which turned out to be real scary for all road users considering I hadn’t ridden one before in my life, but you cannot be in Phuket long term without owning one now can you? Anyway, after a few days, I was rescued by my rather discerning Thai friends who wanted to save my life and who took it upon themselves to teach me how to ride a motorbike properly.
It was also during this time that a particular and very lovely lady who worked as the receptionist at my hotel, took it upon herself to confide in me some home truths about the ‘sweet’ bar lady that I had fallen for and with whom I was with in Phuket. She told me that she decided to help me (because she recognised that I was a decent guy) after hearing my particular lady bragging to the security guard about some Australian guy she was also seeing who had just paid her 1 million baht. Needless to say I was furious and a little gutted because I had quit life in the UK to be back in Thailand to try and make something of it with this girl as well as pursue another lifestyle of course and so with a bit of cunning and investigative work and lots of help from my Thai friends, we all went out of our way to catch this particular lady up to mischief and we did it in such a way that I managed to not only get back the 5 baht gold that had I given her, but also about 30,000 baht as well…. Well as you can imagine there were tears and tantrums all round from her but hilarious for me especially as I came out richer and wiser for the experience. She was particularly furious about how I knew so much about the Australian guy but I wasn’t prepared to let her know how I knew. Anyway, apparently Mr silly sod from Oz had given her the 1 million baht to rebuild her mum’s house, which goes to show that there is one born every minute!
Funny enough, they both turned up to my wedding later on (totally uninvited of course) I managed to chat to Mr silly sod from Oz – but more on this later.
In the meantime, the lovely receptionist at the hotel got a nice present from me (1 baht gold) as a thank you and in return she took it upon herself to console my broken heart and to become my girlfriend for a while and we started seeing each other which was a nice outcome for me.
Getting trained to do the only thing we can do here
It was during this time, that I went on to do my TEFL training at Patong Language School in Phuket, which was where I met my new friend from Chiang Mai who provided me with the title for this submission. To be honest, I never really envisaged becoming a teacher in Thailand but as the job market here is full of ageism, racism, sexism and nationalism, I thought it best I give myself some training as a backstop should I need it to help fund things and to maintain the status quo for a longer stay and besides it is always useful to have several skills up your sleeve and learning the nuances of my own language also appealed and so off I went to get trained. I will tell you more of my views on being a teacher in Thailand later but they pretty much mirror all that Stick says in his excellent column on teaching in Thailand.
As for the course, well the best part of the course was by far a German teacher called Stefan who was brilliant at teaching methodology and drill cycles. Part of his training was also for us to create our own Alien language and teach it to the rest of the class with the result being that we had to get the class talking after 50 minutes with our own Alien language. This proved to be very hard work and had you sweating, but it became a very good language teaching point on what it was like to try and learn and teach a new language that no-one in the class was familiar with. The rest of the course, particularly the grammar lessons were a bit lack lustre and the 10 hours compulsory Thai classes were also useful too if only to show you what it felt like to be a language student. If I had to retrospectively knock the course, it would be to criticise the lack of large classroom training that let’s face it, most of us end up doing and more experience of how to manage classes of 30 plus would have been useful. Having said that, the teaching for small classes which is ideal for language training was excellent, and if you are looking to do your TEFL then attending this course comes highly recommended if only to experience the joys of learning methodology with Stefan who most certainly keeps you on your toes.
Good Thai girls
Sometime later during my stay in Phuket, my Thai friends invited me to a ‘let’s go and have a look how bad Khow Lak got hit by the Tsunmai’ trip and I managed to meet some lovely nurses from Phuket Hospital on that mini adventure. These in their own right not only went on to become and remain good friends to this day, they also introduced me to a family who had a lovely daughter working for a major company in Bangkok who they wanted me to meet as they knew by now that I was marriage minded. Needless to day suspicions where heightened somewhat as I suspected another attempt at ‘fleece the farang’ was coming on but as you will see she actually turned out to be a real gem of a find.
Anyway, I was given a photo of this lovely Thai girl and a brief history on who she was and that’s all I had to go on. A bit of a blind date really but as my curiosity was pricked and because it made a change to blind Internet dating I allowed myself to go along with it. So within a few days I was taken to meet an aunty and an uncle (he was from London and so was checking me out with a western eye) and after a day with them and receiving their approval a meeting was arranged in Bangkok to meet what I thought was going to be this Thai lady, and as I was on my way to Chiang Mai anyway via Bangkok, the meeting didn’t put me out of my way and so I agreed.
Within a few days, I found myself being picked up at the airport by a Thai English speaking, very intelligent and friendly uncle and taken to his large house. When I arrived, I was surprised that instead of the Thai lady I had expected to see, I was met by a room full of family elders (uncles, aunties, parents and two generations of grannies) and after several rounds of munching on their hospitality and fielding lots of questions, I guess I was silently given their approval because from the next room emerged the lovely Thai lady I was finally ‘allowed’ to meet who had been listening in to my question and answer session. To be honest you would think I was being groomed to meet a member of royalty the way things were going but as I later found out, all they were all doing was protecting this sweet and innocent Thai lady.
So after I had received her family's approval and obviously hers too, we were allowed to go on a date but even then we were only allowed to go with a chaperone which either consisted of an uncle and aunty or some cousin where ever we went together. I am sure I saw this kind of dating once in ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ but wasn’t that based in the 1960’s? Anyway, truth be told I did not initially find her ‘that’ attractive on first sight, but then again I am a fussy bugger. It was not because she is ugly or fat or anything, in fact far from it, and I will qualify this by saying she is one of those lovely office girls you see on the sky train each day sort of girl, but it was simply that she was ‘not my type’ and after 38 years on this planet I sort of know what my type is and after many world trips on Internet dates I still hadn’t found her… but one thing I do know after travelling the world meeting so many ladies is that I do recognise a good one when I see one and that is what made me warm to her along with her blinder of a personality, great sense of humour, positive outlook on life and quiet temperament that I allowed myself to get swept up in it all and so became her boyfriend.
I stayed in Bangkok for a few more days and as I had already planned to go to Chiang Mai, I said my farewells to all and went to the airport for a break and to think things over as A) I was still meant to be seeing the helpful receptionist in Phuket, and B) I could see that this new Thai lady was looking for a serious commitment, which after such a short period of time together made me feel that it might be too much too quick.
So off to the airport I trotted and what do I find when I get there, this lovely Thai lady and her family all waiting to see me off on to the plane… now that for me was a very unexpected and lovely thing to do and totally caught me off guard. So we all said bye again and agreed that I would be back in two weeks on my way back to Phuket for a get together.
Thai Driving Tests
Chiang Mai was great albeit a little over crowded with white western faces for my liking, and I stayed over at a friend’s house and just chilled out for 2 weeks. While I was there I decided to take my motorbike test because the Phuket police were making me nervous with a ‘let’s target any white faces on a motorbike to contribute for the policeman’s ball fundraising events’ and the last thing I needed was to get caught without the correct licence. I had my UK car driving licence and nothing else so you can imagine why I was nervous about being stopped.
So off I went to get things arranged. If you are not sure of the process, you first have to get your admin and documents together (well this is Thailand and they do love their paperwork and rubber stamps) which involves a trip to get several strips of passport photos, a medical cert to say you are breathing – they took one look at me and said “ok you look fine! – Here’s your certificate”, then you have to go to Immigration to confirm your address and give them multiple copies of bits of paper and photos and then you get them to rubber stamp some documents and then and only then with all this in hand can you go off to the vehicle licence centre.
In the vehicle licence centre, I asked for both a car licence and a bike licence and so was subject to two processes. As an accomplished car driver already, the car one was no problem. All I had to do was an emergency stop test where you have to beat the green amber and red traffic lights before they hit the red light by stamping your right foot onto a rigged up brake peddle. This is followed by a visual perception test using some string and three blocks of wood where you have to align the wood in a straight line which was no big deal and you can tell you have them aligned because the Thai lady gives a look of delight when you are near the mark or an encouraging nod or flick of the eyes when you are not, and then you do a colour-blind test. IF you pass this and I would be surprised if anyone ever did fail it, you are then given a pass and after a short wait of about 1 hour you get your car licence. <Quite different from Bangkok where the process is entirely different and involves a practical test – Stick>
Now the motorbike test was a little different. You have to sit both a written test on Thai driving rules and do a practical test. I went to the writing test area and as you get there, all along the walls you will see diagrams of driving signs, road markings and other useful stuff to know when driving around Thailand. Unfortunately it is all in Thai so you have to make your best guess on what most of the signs mean based on your own driving experiences back in the west. I knocked on the testing centre door but they were in the middle of a test and so I was asked to come back later (well actually they said “Jaak Bpai laew”) which wasn’t the politest send off I ever had, but “go away” I did.
I came back later as requested and this time I was allowed to register my papers and was then told in very broken English “you, come back, in afternoon, test farang when quiet, ok?” which basically meant I had to sit around for yet 2 more hours. Before I departed, I tried to get from them any kind of instructions or driving rules written in English to read but all I got was “Arai na? Mai Roo and Mai Khow Jai” so I shrugged my shoulders and wondered off muttering a little “Mai pen rai” to myself.
Whilst I was waiting, I saw many Thais leaving the written test room either very happy or very upset indeed. It is worth pointing out here that the written test consists of only 20 questions and you must get 15 correct to pass. Considering how much help the Thais get to cram outside the room before going in, I find it very surprising that they fail… but then again should I be surprised?
That afternoon I came back and was told to sit down. At this point they produced an English driving manual and told me that I had 15 minutes to read and digest it. A little unfair I thought but hey, I have a good mind and education so I can do this… and so I sat down and did the test. To be honest 15 of the questions were relatively easy and were common sense to anyone who is an experienced driver, however the last 5 questions where a little harder. For example, one of the ones I can remember was something like this:
Q.13) what is the correct distance you can park from the kerb when parking your car?”
Answers: 2cm, 5cm, 10cm, 15cm
Now my available answers may not be accurate to what was in the test but it does give you an idea to the silliness of the question. But as I read it, all I could think of was “How the fuck do I know, isn’t the answer as close as you can get it without obstructing other cars and pedestrians?”
Now let’s stop here for a moment and look at the practicality of this question and how to apply it in reality. You can just imagine now the police walking around with little tape measures checking the distance from the kerb and saying “oooh 2cm… tut tut tut! Don’t you know it should be 5cm? That’s a fine for you guvnor!” – actually perhaps this is a little money making scam the Thai police have yet to tune into, they could make a fortune because looking at the average Thai parking skills you can be sure that none of them even park within the distances that where even suggested in the test as possible answers!
Another one which I ‘know’ I got right, was something to do with driving a vehicle with a red number plate in that you cannot drive it between the hours of dusk and dawn or something to that effect. I guess the new motorbike drivers (of which I was one) with their new vehicles and red number plates in Phuket weaving back home from the bars half skinned didn’t know that they were actually driving illegally.
And the other questions were of similar questionable quality and usefulness when out there driving in reality. Anyway, I completed the test and handed the test paper in to the nice ladies at the front desk and although I was 98% sure I had passed because I was confident about the first 15 questions, I still had to wait for confirmation. Thinking I would hear a resounding, “well done you have passed” from the ladies, I actually was a little deflated when all they did was place a tick in a box and initial it on my form and hand it back to me. I had no idea if I had passed or failed. Fortunately I had a Thai English dictionary with me and looked up the Thai words where the tick was and what a relief, I had passed with a scrape of 15 out of 20!
They then send you on your way to the practical driving test area where both cars and bikes are tested together. Here you turn up on your bike and do the most comprehensive skills driving test ever. – NOT!
First you drive along a small narrow beam, which is laid out along the floor and is raised up by about 2 inches from the floor and is about 5 inches wide, and all you have to do is make sure you don’t drive off the side of the beam. Let’s be clear here, a bus wouldn’t be able to drive off the side of this beam!
After that, you go past a junction with a NO ENTRY sign with the obvious test being that you don’t go into a road with a NO ENTRY on it. You keep going to the next junction and take a right, go to the end of this short road and stop at the STOP sign… actually I was very happy there was a stop sign because one of the idiots taking their car driving test went past at mach 2 as I reached the junction I was meant to stop at and lord knows what I would have done had the STOP sign not been there to help me.
After your compulsory stop, you then turn right and weave your way through some cones and this is followed by some bumps in the road, which you have to drive through without putting your foot down on the floor… Personally having watched the previous rider attempt this at 1 mph and who almost fell off three times, I just razzed up the throttle and didn’t even feel the bumps as I went hurtling through. And that is the test! It was so easy I almost laughed. So back to the admin office you tootle with your newfound confidence and 1 more hour later you get your motorbike licence.
So now you know what to expect should you feel the need to do you test and to be honest you should have no excuse for not becoming a legal driver in Thailand and let's face it, better being legal than having one of these so called 10 year international licences which I have heard you can obtain. By the way, you should also note, the policeman's ball fund contribution you make to the police tends to be slightly lower if you have a Thai driving licence in your wallet and it also forms a convenient ID should it be necessary too. The cost of obtaining these licences was not too expensive either, about 300 baht for each one.
Two weeks later, I found myself back in Bangkok on my way back to Phuket. I had managed to arrange several interviews for teaching, after which I was offered a job teaching Intensive English classes at a large government school. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for as a green horn teacher but more on that later.
A Thai wedding looms
I met back up with my now very sweet lady in Bangkok and was taken to yet another family meeting who all wanted to know how we felt about each other and what my intentions where. Suddenly the whole thing was getting serious and for those of you out there who want to understand the seriousness of this first family meeting as her boyfriend, then I suggest you obtain a copy of the book “Thailand Fever” and read about it. Basically I was being asked if I was going to ask her to marry me! And so I asked for a period of time to consider it, as I needed to get back to Phuket and I needed to put some distance between this family pressure and me…
The date now was around the 10th of May and the new school term was due to start very soon and I had about three days to leg it back to Phuket, get packed, get back to Bangkok, secure a Condo and sell my motorbike, but rather than just say goodbye and get on my way, my new lovely had other ideas and was not letting me off the hook that easy. Much to my surprise she proclaimed that she was coming with me to help me pack and get ready to return and so off to Phuket together we went. At first I thought great, time alone without a chaperone, maybe I could get a chance to circle her inside track, unfortunately it was not to be because when we arrived in Phuket, we were met by her second cousin twice removed and her boyfriend who then insisted on chaperoning us everywhere we went (obviously under orders from the family)… just what was it with this chaperone stuff? Anyway, it actually turned out to be a great trip and three days later we returned to Bangkok.
As for the motorbike in Phuket, well I did consider keeping my bike but I didn’t fancy the idea of riding around the mad streets of Bangkok so I sold it to one of my friends for a good price with the promise that when ever I am back in Phuket I can borrow my bike for the time I am there. I also managed to get a nice and very secure apartment not far from my new school and so I was all ready and set to teach – well almost, I had no material, no curriculum and no idea what I was going to do… but hey I am a qualified and trained TEFL teacher with 20 years blue chip experience behind me, I am a professional, I should be ok shouldn’t I? Errr! – More on that later!
As for the nice receptionist in Phuket, well I simply took time out for several minutes and said thanks, kissed her goodbye and went on my way. A little cold I know but with my new lovely around the corner in the 7/11 I had no time for heartstrings and apologies. Sometimes it is better all round to just walk away. She was such a nice girl too and probably deserved better than that, especially considering the help she gave me during the bar girl episode. Mai Pen Rai.
Not long after getting back, we are unpacking my things in the new apartment, when we get a call… it was my lovely Thai girl's aunty. Do you want to know what the first question she had for me was? It was “Is the 4th of June ok for an engagement party?” Yikes! Things were moving far too quickly but a quick look and a nod with the lovely lady and we both said, “ok yes”. I must admit I had several doubts during the following days and the 3 or so weeks left running to the 4th of June but with the school starting soon and everything else I basically had to do, I had no real time to reflect on where things where going at such a great speed.
Now this is the bizarre bit. Somewhere and somehow along the way, the conversations turned from just an engagement party to a full blown wedding and that one really had me jellified at the knees but for some bizarre reason which I have still yet to fathom, I just let myself get carried away with it all because her family got involved, her friends got involved and before I knew it, I could not allow myself to see this lovely Thai lady getting extremely upset if I curtailed things and run away. How could I do this to her? She was such an innocent and lovely Thai lady!
I guess it is worth pointing out at this juncture just how innocent she was. She had never had a ‘real’ boyfriend before she had met me, apart from a few Thai teenage dates because she had concentrated on getting a degree and working hard to earn a good position at her company, which I guess was why we were chaperoned everywhere. At first you could have taken that part of the story with a pinch of salt but the more I learnt about her, the more I see and hear from so many different people how sweet and innocent she actually was and is. She is 28 years old by the way.
The dreaded bride price
Then came the inevitable dowry discussions ‘over the phone’. Her aunty became the intermediary for my now pseudo fiancés wife’s family and I stood my own ground because, hey let’s face it, I have a stack of money in the bank, I know how to invest and take care of my money and I was a contract negotiator for 10 years… so do your worst love!
The negotiations started at 10 baht gold, 300,000 Baht sinsod, an engagement ring, wedding rings, plus a request to pay off my future wife’s education fees (about 150k baht) and pay for the wedding costs – i.e. flowers, dresses etc…
My initial thoughts were “Hmmmmm!, ok, she is a good clean and proper Thai lady, so asking for the top end of the normal price was probably reasonable. Will she wear 10 baht gold, probably not as she would either have a neck like Mike Tyson for wearing such heavy gold around her neck or look like Mr-T from the A team with so much of it. As for the education, this is her family’s obligation and the wedding costs should come from the Sinsot paid. I am ok with the wedding rings and engagement ring, as I would normally do this anyway. So the real crux was, the sinsot price, the wedding costs and the gold”
So with these thoughts in my mind, I bounced back with the following:
10 baht gold (work out to be 88,000 baht), which I accept as an investment in my wife to be for which should things fail between us, then she can cash it in to her hearts content and I figured that as it is in our new family unit (meaning our future home) that I could control it. – This was agreed!
I will agree to pay 150,000 baht Sinsot in cash on the day of the wedding for which the cost of the wedding is to be deducted – This was agreed
I will agree to pay up to 1 million baht (ok readers don’t splutter! – hear me out) by cheque to be presented along with the 150,000 baht cash also on the day of the wedding. This 1 million will be a fake cheque and is to provide great face to the family for receiving such a large sum for their daughter.
Laughter followed by “Mutter mutter grumble mutter!” was the noise from the other end of the phone. They then came back with “Can you make the cheque for another 150,000 baht as we want this to be realistic” and “we would prefer the money to be real, as we have to pay her education fees off!”
“Damn and blast!” I thought so much for hoodwinking and saving face angle.
“OK” I agreed but this came with one very big proviso from me. I said: “I will pay 100,000 baht cash at the wedding which will include the cost of the wedding with 200,000 baht to be presented as a fake cheque at the wedding with an agreement that the payment of the 200,000 baht in real cash after the wedding will ONLY be provided if they can provide receipts, quotes and evidence of where they are intending to spend or have already spent the money”.
This obviously led to a bit of barter and debate between us and even my then pseudo fiancé got involved and much to my surprise was negotiating in my favour too as she obviously preferred me to continue rather than walk away from the whole thing and because of my future wife’s intervention everyone was suddenly in agreement to my proposal – what a boon!
Now before you all get carried away and slag me off for paying essentially what they asked for, then I urge you to think again and to look at my logic. The reasoning behind my thoughts were that I knew that there is no way in this world that her Thai family were going to provide sufficient receipts or quotes for anything that they were going to spend the money on and therefore I was pretty much on to a winner and this has proved to be true so far. Should they ever decide to pursue this and can provide what I asked for, then the value isn’t so inhibitive or bad that I wouldn’t mind paying it because they are really a lovely family. I have never been asked for a monthly payment to the family in all the time we have been together and when we discussed her parents maybe living with at some point in the future, I was informed that they ‘wouldn’t want to as they are happy were they are’ so despite my cynical view of things, I have so far been surprised all round by the experience.
As for how I got around the fake cheque bit, well what my wife to be did was to go to a popular bank and take out a genuine cheque for 250 baht. She then handed me the cheque and I then scanned it into the computer and using Photoshop along with a little creative editing, the numbers where changed into 250,000 baht. The hard bit was re-writing the Thai script to also read 250,000 baht and making the background colours of the cheque match. Once this was done to acceptable standards and for which anyone seeing the cheque agreed that it looked genuine enough, we then went and found some paper that was the closest we could get to the original cheque and printed it off. Bingo – job done and what a success that ruse turned out to be. I still have the cheque on my computer for artistic sake as a reminder. One thing you should remember if you do follow this route is that the cheque has two sides!
Finally the day arrived to get married and we did the whole Thai wedding thing which to be honest was an excellent and fun experience for me. My family couldn’t make it from Blighty because things had happened far too quickly for them to arrange anything but I was ok with that as it was one less thing for me to worry about. As for the wedding day itself, I won’t go into it too much here other than to mention three things that happened at the wedding.
After you have been blessed by the monks, you have your photos taken with family and friends and the groom is then whisked off to walk through the village in a big parade with people cheering, shouting and carrying the sinsot ahead for all to see. This was great fun. When you get to the house itself where your bride is sitting inside waiting for you, you have to go through what should be three gates but for me turned out to be six gates. The first gate was doing some balancing act on a wobbly rock covered with a banana leaf and for which two kids will wash and dry your feet. After this comes the other gates, which are all fielded by her friends, who either will ask questions of you or simply demand money before you are allowed to enter the house with each gate getting more expensive along the way. I only had enough cash in my pocket for three gates and so had to borrow some for the extra ones they had set for me. It is all in good fun and costs a little money but just make sure you have extra cash with you.
The 2nd thing was that on the big day, many of your honoured guests, family and friends will provide you with little envelopes containing money. I mistakenly thought that these little envelopes would go to the happy couple (meaning me and the missus) but noooo I was to be surprised at what actually happened. When the guests are all putting the string around your wrists and wishing you good luck! They will also hand you the envelope. Not too far away would be the Mum or the Aunty, collecting these envelopes from you because as I thought they were stopping you from being overloaded with the things. Little did I know at that time that neither the wife nor I would see these envelopes again, and apparently what happened was that the wife’s family take the money in these envelopes away to as a way to help pay for the wedding. Needless to say, I got a little miffed when I found out and demanded to know how much there was in the envelopes and to know where the money had gone as I was quite looking forward to opening them and getting some of my money back especially as we agreed that the 100,000 already laid out in cash as part of the sinsot was to be used for the wedding costs so where was this extra cash going? It wasn’t the money that bothered me but the principal of the matter. As it turned out, we had received just over 50,000 from those little envelopes and we never saw a bean of it. How glad I was that the fake cheque would never come to materialise because for me I saw this extra payment that had been made as an impromptu payment to the family that I never expected to happen. Apart from that, I didn’t receive any other shocks that day… well with the exception of one other. <It is generally accepted that the envelopes go to the people who pay for the wedding as it is a contribution to cover the cost of the wedding – Stick>
After the wedding we were walking around greeting guests and generally doing photo shoots when sat in amongst the tables where the ex bar girlfriend and Mr silly sod from OZ who had somehow managed to invite themselves to the wedding. Both the missus and I stood there like slack jawed yokels staring at them and I have a great photo of the wife looking at this lady with complete contempt on her face as she obviously saw her for what she was. Anyway, we said hello and they gave us an envelope, which contained 4,000 baht, obviously paid for by Mr silly sod from Oz and we just said a few pleasantries – as well as a thank you very much Guv! Later that morning, I tried to have a decent conversation with Mr silly sod away from the ears of the bar girl but she was a little edgy and desperately clung onto him when ever I was near. He actually turned out to be quite a nice chap. I did ask him a few leading questions for which his bar girl would generally answer and either he was playing it dumb or he obviously had no clue whatsoever as to who I actually was in relation to her and that only earlier that year his lovely whom he had invested so heavily in had been double dating and was also in bed with me.
They told me they were on their third attempt to secure her a travel visa to Oz but had so far been rejected each time but that now she had her name on the new house build he had paid for they were hoping for a third time lucky with the embassy. I did manage to throw in one last bombshell before I walked away by asking them IF the fact that she was still married to some German guy and that the stamp for Frankfurt in her passport had anything to do with the embassy rejections? At this question she went into quick fire defence mode saying that it wasn’t a problem, while his face screwed up as he tried to conjure up enough thought to figure out the implications of what I just actually said… it was obvious he had no idea. I often wonder if they are still together. We do have some lovely photos of all four of us together at the wedding. You have to chuckle!
Before I move on, I do have to emphasise how important the sinsot is to the whole wedding. You may love it or hate it but the face thing with the family is huge and plays such a major part at the wedding. Not only is the sinsot carried through the village for all to see, they then announce over a PA system for the entire village to hear exactly how much has been paid, both in terms of money and gold and you can be sure the old crows in the village will gossip about it. Almost every one I have spoken to about Thai weddings and particularly those who have refused to pay a sinsot have regretted the decision because it makes the difference of having a smooth transition into life with your in-laws as well as your wife or to having a frightful long term existence. If you are fearful and really set against sinsot, then do the fake cheque thing that I did. Hey you don’t even need to mention that it’s a fake one until after the wedding but it does buy you brownie points for just helping to give face to the family on such an important and public day.
Oh, I almost forgot. One of the funny quirks of a Thai wedding that you should also be aware of is that the legality and paperwork are completely two separate processes. So basically you can have a wedding ceremony where all the friends see you as a married couple but there is need really to follow it up and do it legally. Vice versa you can do the admin and legal part of the wedding and not bother with the ceremony… up to different circumstances. Now the key thing to latch onto here is to make this quirk in the Thai system work for you which is what I did. As you have read I have done the public ceremony and so as far as everyone is concerned we are married. However, I have not done the paperwork side of things because quite frankly it is in my advantage not to do it and unless I need to take my pseudo wife to England or do something together that involves us legally showing we are married then my view is to hold off as long as is required.
Ok I know the more romantic of you out there are saying that I should be more committed than that, but hey this is Thailand, we need to take any breaks we can because sure as hell they are shafting us at every chance they can get elsewhere right?
Now not doing the paperwork in my eyes has two benefits.
a) It keeps her indoors on her toes and to not bugger you about too much, and especially gives you both the breathing space to see if you are really right for each other. It also gives you especially the opportunity to see if her true colours begin to show which believe me they will over time, and;
b) It allows you to run off with no legal respite or responsibility per se towards your ex and further more you don’t have the stigma of being labelled a divorcee either!
You may get pressure from her as time rolls on to get it all legalised and you can be sure that Thai ladies can be insecure at times, but how you manage that is up to you. I guess if kids are involved or you plan to do the silly thing and take her back to your own country then I guess you have no choice, but personally I am holding off the paperwork side of things for as long as I can because let’s face it, I don’t really see why I need it right now but it will probably happen eventually. Anyway, that’s another thought and trick to keep up your sleeve should you need it when your time comes.
Getting a property in Thailand
I want a place to call my own! It’s a simple thing to want because I don’t think I will feel totally relaxed and feel that I am home and secure unless I get one and it’s nice to have a place to call your home. However, Thailand doesn’t like us visitors getting a piece of their land and so your choices are limited as to what you can do. I won’t repeat what is already out there on the Internet about what you can own etc… because there is excellent info out there already, see Holt Realty for example but I do want to let you know how I am approaching the finance side of things and to generally let you know what the market is like on our search.
The wife and I went looking around recently at all sorts of properties. We have looked at both new houses and condos in our search and the market price for a new build off the plan two-bed room 68 sq metre condo in central Bangkok located in say Chidlom is currently going for about 5.9 million baht and upwards, while a single apartment of 58 sq metres will cost you circa 4 million baht and upwards. This would be for a freehold. If you would prefer a 30-year leasehold property then you can pick one up generally for between 2 million and about 3.8 million baht, again in central Chidlom.
The only problem with a condo however is that you have no idea long term how things will pan out. If you take a look around at most condos in Bangkok you can see the different levels of deterioration that some of these places have fallen into and so it is a very risky thing to buy an apartment here as you have no real control on how they will be maintained over time and although you can have a beautifully decorated and maintained apartment behind your own door, I for one wouldn’t want to wade through a general cesspit in the foyer or corridors because everyone else has let the building go to rack and ruin. Another thing as the owner you don’t have control over is the hike in rises that could occur over time on the maintenance and upkeep fees you have to pay and although you may think it is a good idea saving rent over time in favour of owning an apartment, you still have these administrative running costs to contend with which you cannot control.
Also you have got to consider what state the 2nd hand property market is like in Thailand. Thais generally don’t like to buy 2nd hand and even less so when a foreigner has owned it. As such the market is not the fastest selling place for your investment and although prices around Bangkok are on the increase, you will probably find it hard long term to really make your investment provide a return, especially if its locked away in an apartment block that is deteriorating
After doing the maths, and working on the assumption that a nice two bed roomed apartment will cost you 15,000 baht each month to rent, your pay back would be about 27 years and that excludes any provision being made for possible interest rates on your savings and rent rises during the time of your ownership that would affect this, but I think you get the idea. So for me, buying a condo or apartment here is a big non starter as I am not sure I will get a return and even less sure I will be here for the next 30 years either so for now I am happy to keep renting. Besides if you get a shitty neighbour as a tenant, you can both complain to the management to resolve the issue or up your sticks and move elsewhere, something that is decidedly hard to do when you own the place. <I TOTALLY agree with your analysis and we think exactly the same on this one – Stick>
So that leaves a house. Well the prices and more property for your buck certainly makes a house more appealing. Your house will also generally be detached and you can in many ways lock yourself away from the neighbours if you want some peace and quiet and to generally keep your distance, but security is the biggest issue I have with owning a house because as a foreign face in the neighbourhood you are likely to be targeted for those robbers and thieves out there.
You cannot however own the land on a house you purchase which makes the decision to purchase a property a little harder to do.
You could always invest in a property by buying it in the wife’s or girlfriend's name (and many people do) by handing her a stack of cash, but are you prepared to want or expect to lose that money if things go sour between you? I sure as hell am not but there are ways to protect yourself of course and you could always arrange a leasing agreement between you and the missus, just make sure you have a clause that gets you your money back should she sell the house. Personally, I feel it is still all a little fraught and being as risk adverse as I am it is something I am not totally comfortable with.
Another option is that you can take out a mortgage. Until recently this was a difficult if not virtually impossible thing to do but now this is getting easier and more available for us foreigners in Thailand, especially for new builds. If you are getting a new build, most of them will give you an application for finance and if you fail to secure the finance then they will give you your deposit back (or at least that’s what I was told by the several I visited).
Now the level of deposit they expect from you as the foreigner to secure the mortgage is a different thing. If I were a Thai applying for the same house, they would give me a 90% mortgage but as a foreigner they tended more towards asking me for a 50% or more deposit although some reluctantly agreed to allow me a 30% down payment provided I got it as a joint mortgage with the wife. So I got thinking about the whole thing and decided that if we can obtain a house with a mortgage why on earth am I even thinking of buying a house with my money or indeed with my name attached to it? I cannot own the land or the property so why am I even getting involved in the process? My wife can do it herself and I will just be the silent guy in the background instead.
So moving forward, we have decided that I will take a step back from the whole thing and to just let my wife get the mortgage on her own merits. She earns a fairly decent salary on her own and her boss has already agreed to confirm by letter that she earns what ever figure we say she earns and if I top up her bank account for the sake of showing the bank she earns around 40-50k baht each month then she should be ok in getting a mortgage. I will happily pay the 10% down payment, as it is not so big on a house worth say 4 million baht and the rest will come from her in the form of a mortgage. The cool thing about this approach is that should things fail between us long term then the only obligation on me is that I will have lost my original deposit on the house and I can just run away without worrying about selling the house or having a mortgage obligation as it's in her name, which is a far better position to be in than throwing 4 million baht away instead, and even then I could get my original deposit protected should she sell the house… and so this is the approach we are going for and in the meantime, my funds are sitting in an offshore account earning tax free interest and giving me a nice little fall back position should I ever decide to return home one day and believe me the way things are back home I will need every pound I can get.
Thai School Life
I never in a million years dreamed of becoming a language teacher in Thailand and I especially never thought I would end up in or be prepared to teach at a Thai government school, yet this is the one place that I did end up.
The school I ended up working in itself when you first arrive looks clean and orderly enough and as it is a huge school with a Thai education government rating as well as being called after one of the nicknames of King Rama, you would think it would have good standing… and in some ways it does, it just unfortunately manifests itself like a Miss World contestant in that it has a glamorous image but no real substance beneath the sheen.
Working at the school is both fun and demanding but it can also be very frustrating too. In our first week alone, 5 new teachers arrived to be told that there was no curriculum, no guidance sheets as to what the kids will learn and even no timetables and yet we were expected to come in and run off teaching English classes… we didn’t even know where we were meant to be let alone know what we were meant to teach and this fracas lasted all week until someone in the school got their act together and provided us with a timetable. It was a further six weeks before we were given any kind of curriculum and so up until that point we were just simply doing our own language teaching based on what we thought was best.
The other down side of government school life is that the classes are simply too big. My intensives are large at 44 kids and these are motivated kids who want to learn English. The rest of the school has class sizes of 55 kids and I would say that only about 40% of these kids want to learn English. The rest just see it as a chance to do other homework, to chat to their friends or to sleep. To be honest, there is just no way on this earth that you can teach English to classes of this size and although they are meant to be conversation and English activity classes (which by the way are interpreted by the kids as “Teacher – play game” classes), you find that most of the kids vocabulary and grammar is so poor that conversation classes tend to be limited.
The foreign English teachers have all asked if they can be allowed to teach grammar to the kids but the Thai English teachers have refused to allow us, simply stating that it is their job to do. I have sat a couple of times in Thai led English classes and I am appalled at the way they teach and the poor standard of English they use when they teach English. Although I agree that Thai teachers should teach English to the lower students before being handed across to us, one does have to question the ability of these teachers to teach English in the first place. To compound the problem further, the Thai teachers never tell us what they are teaching the kids and so when we come into teach conversation classes, which should support the grammar lessons in that target language, we are always onto a non-starter because we don’t know what they have been learning.
I may be new to teaching languages in Thailand, but it doesn’t mean I suddenly stop being a professional, a keen observer of people and that my management and technical abilities gained over the past 20 years suddenly disappear overnight but the way the Thai management treat you and behave towards you sometimes, you would think that this is exactly what has happened and it can get very frustrating to say the least, especially when you know you are smarter than the average Thai teacher who is looking down their nostrils at you.
It may be worth pointing out here that I hold three ‘real’ degrees consisting of a Bachelors degree, a Masters and a Doctorate, which were all gained from top UK universities. This in itself does not make me a good teacher in its own right, but add into the mix that I also have 20 years blue chip company working experience, a professional attitude and a hard working mentality to do my best at all times then it does move me in the right direction to becoming a good teacher. The way the Thai government school system works however does often find me butting my head on the walls in sheer disbelief sometimes at what the school is attempting to do.
To be honest, most (although not all) of the English teachers at the school just want to come in and do a good job. We always complete our lesson guides and plans on time, and always have an idea on what we want to teach and try and make it as fun as possible for us and the kids but there is so much power play and politics going on at the school, where you are always the last to know what’s going on and where the system judges you ‘superficially’ on how you present yourself rather than the job you actually do or on whether the kids like you or not, that it means you really have to adapt your style and approach to things and it is a system that totally contradicts your TEFL training.
Even when you think you have it sussed, the Thai management or the old cronies in the office or the head of English (who is useless in the position through seniority and not his English or management ability) will throw a spanner in the works by going out of their way to score cheap points against all of the western English teachers and simply buggering us around. One example of this is happening right now where the school is closed for the holidays in October. We were all led to believe, no even told by the head of English, that we had a holiday break and so we all rightly scampered off out of the door on the last day to have a break and do some travelling. I went off to Indonesia and another teacher went off to Hong Kong. Now being the professionals we all try to be, we had already completed our lesson plans for the next term so as to allow ourselves a stress free holiday. Even the end of term exam results and school reports where complete and I even allowed myself the luxury of developing an English newssheet as well as an intensive English tournament for the school as a new idea for the new term. Was this good enough? Not a bloody chance!
When I got back, I had a very stern messages from the Vice Director on my phone telling me to get back to school because the head of English wanted us all to sign in each day and work on the computers doing lesson plans for the next semester. I checked with the other English teacher and this was news to them so we contacted our agency to see what the hell was going on. But they were as unhelpful as ever and I still have doubts that the agency actually provides any value to the school other than to provide shit teachers once in a while when someone is sick.
The news was we still had to curtail our holiday and come in to the school. To make it worse it turned out that we were the only teachers who have had to come in during this time. You don’t see any of the Thai teachers kicking around the school and personally I think it bloody stinks and that they are taking the piss. The problem is that they have said that if we don’t come in they will refuse to pay us for October and although this doesn’t present a major problem for me, some of the other teachers are desperate for the money.
So what we are doing, well I for one am writing this submission and I know the other teachers are surfing the Internet looking for new jobs as they are not too impressed… because we honestly have nothing to do here, and that’s how bloody stupid it can get working at a Thai government school.
To make things worse, the school lost two teachers before the October break. One was a nice enough chap but was an avid sex tourist and was working as a teacher to fund his extra curricular activities. The worst thing is he told us that some of the kids in Matayom 5 and 6 were to be found at some of the places he frequented which sends chills down the spine just thinking about it. Needless to say the better teachers of us who heard him proclaim this distanced ourselves immediately from this and we just don’t want to know. He quit school to pursue other things more akin to his abilities. The other teacher was sacked because he was always in the face of the Thai teachers and they simply got fed up with him.
The sad thing is, most of the kids at the school are great and we want to remain at the school for them, but if the school continues to treat the better and more professional of us with such obvious disdain then it may end up with none of the more professional and better teachers at all remaining or certainly the school may end up with extremely crap ones coming in to replace us. The thing is, the school has seen 7 teachers come and go in the time I have been there and these teachers where all pretty awful in one way or another. One of these teachers came in with a strategy of teaching English classes in “Thai” feeling that he was on to a sure winner… needless to say he lasted only 10 days because all the Thai teachers where questioning why he was teaching Thai and not English in his classes.
I can never understand the mentality of the school. We have found that they have never had a teacher stay more than 1 year… I wonder why? But you have to ask, where the consistency is for teaching the kids, if the school keeps changing the teachers. Surely keeping good teachers who the kids can grow with is better than having a teacher lottery every year. Typical Thai mentality that, no idea for long term planning, no wonder the kids don’t always show a desire to improve their English because they know that each year or term their teacher will be different so why bother building up any decent rapport!
Will I remain in teaching long term? I have no idea. I do love teaching the kids and it’s because of them that I am still working at the school as I want to do the best I can for them but the government school system certainly does push me sometimes and you really do have to take a very ‘mai pen rai’ approach to it. Before I decide to leave the industry however I will try and give it my best and I think it is too early for me to throw in the towel just yet. I have recently been looking at some language schools whilst on my visit to Indonesia to see if I should go that way instead. The problem I see with language schools is that you can’t always control what level or age of students you will be teaching. Personally I don’t want to teach kids under the age of 12 but most language schools will expect you to teach kids as young as six and that is really not my cup of tea, but different strokes for different folks I guess.
I am also currently looking out towards the international schools as well as the universities although the universities tend to pay low salaries here for some strange reason. I am also looking out towards Japan for potential teaching jobs too but could I be jumping from the frying pan into the fire? I have as yet no idea and will just grit my teeth and see out this year at the school first before deciding what to do next.
One thing does make me wonder though, and that is, if Thailand and the teaching industry is so desperate for good quality and professionally minded teachers, why are they making it so difficult for them to want to remain here by being so bloody minded and difficult towards us… certainly makes you roll your eyes.
Will I leave Thailand in the long run and will my fast track in be my fast track out too? I like to think that I am here to stay and I am certainly doing my best to keep it that way but sometimes life here does drive you crazy and I will try to remain tenacious and keep at it. Bangkok is certainly developing into a major metropolis and is a fun place to live and people are obviously investing here and unless there is another Asian crash then I can only see it getting better here in Bangkok.
If I do decide to fast track it out of here, then the one country that does have the ability to entice me away from Thailand is Indonesia. I know most people consider Indonesia to be far more dangerous than Thailand, but having been there three times now, and apart from Jakarta, which is a complete dump and perhaps Bali for that matter because of the bomb risks there, I would recommend places like Bandung, Surabaya and Malang which are certainly pleasant places to go to. It is also amusing to note that considering Thailand is ‘meant’ to be the land of smiles, I would actually say that with the exception of Jakarta, the Indonesians are far more friendlier and warmer than the Thais and the biggest risk in my view in having a life in Indonesia is from having nothing to do at the weekends rather than through anything else. You could always meet a nice Indonesian girl too, who in my opinion tend to be just as sweet as the Thais although be aware the immigration rules in Indonesia along with its religious bias and views on mixed children in marriage is far more onerous than it is in Thailand and I think it is that which turns people off Indonesia more than anything else.
So wherever your fast track Thai experience takes you, just remember one thing, when a Thai asks you “If you like Thai people and Thailand” which they invariably will ask, you could always answer with the following:
Truely Wonderful Amazing Thailand, Super!
It is a Country of Unified Nationalist Thais, Super!
Or in other words, TWATS and CUNTS to you and me.
Enjoyable reading and I could relate to almost everything that you said.