Readers' Submissions

Things I Miss From The West

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • August 10th, 2006
  • 16 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By BKKSW

I’m on my third year in Thailand, two years 1999 – 2001 and here for good (?) since last October. I was lucky to find myself in a position of retirement and enough interesting jobs involving travel around the region to keep me busy and even though I’m only in my mid-40’s, here I am. I really enjoy living in Asia and despite my regular moaning and groaning in my submissions I wouldn’t be anywhere else except perhaps a different part of Asia. We live well, eat well, travel often, and want for very little. Both my wife and I are young enough where our health isn’t an issue (and hopefully won’t be for many years) and we can still enjoy all the fun traveling and visiting of places. Yet, not more than a few days go by when I don’t find myself wishing I had access to something from the west and for those of you thinking of expatriating to Thailand, I thought you might find the things I miss the most useful information. Actually the list is rather long so I’ll only be hitting a handful of things but such is life.

First and foremost I miss Caesar. Caesar is my pet parrot, a 3 year old African Grey who is my best friend. A dog would have been easier but we decided rather than bring our wolf (yep, a real one) over to eat soi dogs that he’d be happier with some good friends who own a big plot of land in the mountains. While I miss looking at him and his occasional companionship, wolves are not dogs and remain a bit aloof relationship wise. My parrot on the other hand would either be riding on the wolf’s back or my shoulder full of good advice and opinions for the day. I’m pretty sure he knows more English than 99% of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis and more Thai than I know. No problem with his R’s and L’s either. We’re pretty even when it comes to Korean and Japanese though. The problem with birds as you’ve probably guessed is bird flu. Thailand in its quest to please the world has enacted import restrictions on all birds including pet exotics that are eased occasionally when the political climate allows and that means about once a year for a 2-3 week period. So we call the agriculture department every week to check on the ban and last month were given the happy news the import ban was lifted for a while and we could bring him UNLESS he was originating from California! Why California? No answer, but it was clearly written in the directive. As luck would have it my cousin who is bird sitting my feathered friend lives in California so now we’re making arrangements for my son in Hawaii to take him on for the minimum six months and if you’ve been reading the newspapers lately you’d probably have correctly guessed that the window has closed for now. We can only hope it opens again once the six month stay in Hawaii is complete. In the meantime him being my best friend and all and knowing how he likes Thai women I picked him up a friend. We found an African Grey breeder (highly irresponsible as he sells them before weaning so they can be killed by people who have no idea how to hand feed them), sexed the bird for a female, and took home a pin feathered piece of tail for my best friend. She’ll be of legal age by the time he arrives. Caesar is the Raptor looking guy and the other is the baby (she’s pretty hot eh?).

DIET PEPSI! I don’t have many vices, I hardly ever drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, no coffee or tea.. but I do enjoy way too many Diet Pepsis to get my hourly caffeine fix. The last time I was here any place had Diet Pepsi but now they don’t. You have normal Pepsi and “Pepsi Max” which is full of the unhealthy kind of artificial sweetener and NO CAFFEINE so what the hell good is it? I hate Diet Coke and every other diet drink known to man so I’m stuck sucking down enough regular Pepsi and the sugar it contains to more than fill my daily recommended calorie intake without eating solid foods. I know I need to make the major effort to change to another beverage of choice and that was hammered home today by my return visit to the dentist for the first of three visits necessary for my new root canal. A little thing but a little thing that is having a bigger affect on my life than I’d care to confess. I’ve modified my diet to forego all kinds of food, pay huge prices at Villa market for decent meat and veggies, but this Diet Pepsi thing is going to be the death of me. Perhaps I should start drinking again and just fill the fridge with beer and not Pepsi.

ACCESS TO USA CONSUMER ELECTRONIC GOODS including computers, computer parts, camera equipment, and the such. In years past I used to look forward to our ship porting in Hong Kong or Singapore and the cheap prices for stereos and cameras but not anymore. The USA now has the cheapest prices on consumer goods of all types of any place in the world I know. All you need to do to verify this is watch the Europeans getting off their flights at JFK and not going to their hotel, not going to eat, but catching a taxi to the nearest camera store with thick wads of cash so they can get all the neat gear they’ve been dreaming about since their last visit at the downtown NY camera stores. It’s just not the prices but the selection of goods. Bringing up www.mwave.com and ordering a new computer part at rock bottom prices and two days later Fedex is knocking on the door with it. I get by now (and probably save lots of money on stuff I don’t need) by only getting these kinds of things on my visits to the states or when my son comes here to visit I might have some stuff shipped to him in advance to bring with him. Singapore is still a good bet for some things if you watch the prices like point and shoot cameras and the such, but while you might save a few bucks you’re just as likely to spend a few more too depending what you need. This extends to bed linens (a set of decent King size sheets here in Bangkok can set you back about 10,000 baht), clothes (real brands), cosmetics like after shave and things like that. Singapore has great duty free stores in their airport (180 of them) where you can get all sorts of cosmetics even cheaper than the states and there used to be a duty free store near the airport back when I was here before that was “secret” where locals would go to get the latest perfumes and after shaves and cosmetics at half the price of the local malls but it seems they’ve shut the place down or relocated it to someplace else. I used to dream of young pretty women and wake up smiling, but now I dream of a shopping trip in Costco and going through the isles filling up a big basket full of cheaply priced great stuff..

BOOKS, DVDs, CDs, and other reading material. A paperback will set you back 685 baht at Asia books if they have it <You mean a large size paperback. The small size is usually only 350 – 395 bahtStick>. Most often they only have the newest releases, the good news though is that you can email them a list and they deliver at no charge. I used to go to Blockbuster and rent new release DVDs and I’ve yet to find a good source for that here.. Sure, I can buy crappy quality pirated copies at a number of places, but not the good ones that will take advantage of my 50” DLP HDTV and surround sound system. I was using Itunes to purchase my music even though they were low bandwidth ACC files and not the full bandwidth normal music CDs not even mentioning yet SuperAudio CD’s.. however once I realized Itunes software won’t allow you to convert the music to Mp3 format (so I can make Mp3 CD’s to play in my car or on my home stereo) then I realized it was a rip off and stopped buying from them. I’ve been meaning to check out Napster and some other on-line services but it seems they’ll all using some form of restrictions. When I get some time I’ll check them out in-depth though and see if there’s something I can live with. It’s not like any bands are out there making music I actually enjoy anymore.. but if I want to buy the SuperAudio CD of Robert Johnson's greatest hits I have it sent to my son who brings it with my other “supplies.” Hell, I was reduced to asking my son's mom, my ex-wife, to go shopping for the type of underwear only she (and my current wife) knows I like wearing so he can bring them too.

WESTERN SIZE COUCHES / sofas are very hard to find. Most Asian furniture is some really weird art deco styled nightmare of either square cubes of neon colored pieces you assemble into the shape you need or some tiny little couch that in no way holds my almost six foot tall body. Fortunately we brought over in our shipment a few couches and as one is getting on in years we went looking for quality couches/sofas and have yet to find anything suitable. We did find a decent sized Italian leather piece we could live with but for baht 120k we passed. We’ll probably have to live with finding a good shop to make new cushions and recover what we have. I need a new coffee table and end tables to match and all I have is a choice of tiny little fragile pieces or big giant jungle style pieces. We’ll have to think more on this.. there are the fancy rosewood Chinese style handmade furniture shops and you can get fantastic deals compared to what the stuff costs in the west but first you have to like the style. We don’t much care for it. Maybe teak. We shipped over a bunch of stuff but to save weight we sold a lot of the heavy stuff and now I realize I should have paid to ship some of the pieces like my six foot tall three foot wide safe. I would feel a lot better putting my professional equipment in a safe while we’re out but instead had to settle for some clever alternatives. If you’re moving here for good carefully consider each and every household item you think you’ll be able to buy new here. Much of it you can’t.

TELEVISION PROGRAMMING AND REAL BROADBAND is very slow to come to Thailand. The last time I was here it was dial-up only and I sure was glad to see “broadband” being offered this time around. There’s a catch. The 1mb standard service offered in most condos and apartments isn’t. It’s more like 400-600kbps download and 120-200kbps upload. To add insult to injury there are 3mbps lines available but you have to be real lucky to live in a place where it’s available and while I see it on the list of choices I don’t know of anywhere personally where it is actually available. And if it is you can bet it’s not not a full 3mbps.. I had a true 5mbps line in the US and it was great and because my profession often has be transferring GIGABYTES of files several times a week this really hurts. And there’s still a catch to the 1mb lines.. That rate is only “guaranteed” (stop laughing) within Thailand. When accessing USA or European sites the transfer rate goes way down especially during the peak times of the day. For grins if you live in Thailand bring up www.dslrreports.com and try their speed tests from their servers in the states. In this case the truth really hurts. In order for me to get my work out I often either stay up late at night and do transfers when Thailand is sleeping and the rate is faster (more than double the day time speed) or batch it if I have the time and hope it goes through while I sleep. Thailand needs to get with the program with the internet for sure. Television programming isn’t much better. First off it’s a very pricey baht 2,200 a month for their top service with a digital box and while I can’t complain about the quality, you’re only getting standard definition programming and not very much of it. Nothing current except CNN and the BBC and a grand total of maybe 20 English speaking channels with anything interesting. To make matters worse they censor the hell out of the HBO/Showtime shows and even used the pixilation trick to mask out Dale Dribble smoking on the adult cartoon “King of the Hill.” No swearing, no nudity, no drug use, no smoking, unless it’s on the Thai channels are the midnight BARE show on CHIC modeling channel. I’ve heard rumors of Fox news being available in parts of Thailand but have yet to find it, it’s always nice to hear both sides of issues.. I’ve checked into sat systems but as we’re not in the footprint of any USA sats that’s hopeless though I think some Eurosats are available but I’m not familiar enough to know which Euro channels carry USA prime time programming. To “get by” I have a very nice friend who I purchased a new DVD recorder for with a timer and built in HDD and he records the types of shows I like and once a month drops DVD’s with 8 hours of programming each in the mail as a type of care package. Forget about the radio.. One FM channel that I know of in Bangkok and it’s busy trying to keep every taste happy so you’ll never turn it on when something you like is playing.. and no talk radio either. If only we could get satellite radio over here…

MISC things like civilized banking, on-line bill paying, and the like I’m getting there with. I can now bring up my on-line banking site in the states, transfer my funds to Bangkok Bank in three days for a $3USD fee (no surcharges or rate points), and then when I get a local bill I can bring up Bangkok Bank’s on-line site and pay the bill. So far I haven’t found anything I can’t pay on-line except the condo’s water bill but as I can walk downstairs and pay without leaving the building I can live with it. I can even pay my landlord with a transfer to his account that only costs baht 20. So.. no more going to the mall, or 7 Eleven, or the bank or any of the other pay points to do my monthly bill paying.. which can really take up some time. Instead when I receive a bill in the mail I just pay on-line in a minute or two. And no more big ATM withdrawals with big fees and costly charges, just direct transfers between my banks. It seems like such a small thing but this is really a time saver in Thailand. I’ve even learned how to log on to the movie theatre website and pay for and reserve the tickets in the VIP section of the theatre, print out the ticket on my laser printer, and not have to wait in line. 220 baht a ticket for the new shows in the VIP section is very nice and the internet service convenient.

All pretty boring stuff eh? All convenience and “nice to have” stuff.. but I’ve talked to people who have moved here and left after only a short time because they expected to have everything they had before and couldn’t adjust to the differences. Now.. if I was in the states and wrote a submission called “Things I miss about Thailand” I assure you the list would be a lot longer. A friend asked me two months ago if I could have two wishes in Thailand to make my life better what would they be? At the time I said a good Japanese food place that delivers (I hate going out in the traffic during peak rush hours if I can avoid it) and Taco Bell coming to Thailand with “El-delivery” like “McDelivery” has.. Last month the Oishi Japanese fast food chain (with delivery) came to town and I can get Pork Katsudon, an order of Gyoza and Miso soup delivered for 158 baht and while they’re still experiencing growing pains with the food quality consistency it’s a pretty big, filling, tasty and healthy meal for 158 baht.. Does that mean next month Taco Bell is coming to Bangkok? Please? And hey, I thought wishes came in sets of three? My third wish would be DishNetwork putting a geostat above Thailand with 300 channels and internet access..

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

For me, the things I miss are the peace and quiet. That is something that really is hard to find in Bangkok. OK, you might find a building or two that are quiet, but I like to be able to walk around a whole neighbourhood, where it is peaceful and quiet…that might exist here, but I have yet to find it – and even if I did, it would be too hot to enjoy!