Readers' Submissions

The Cheque’s In The Post and Other Tall Stories

  • Written by Union Hill
  • February 16th, 2007
  • 6 min read


If I win a bet, I expect to be paid. If I lose one, I pay up without question. Similarly in business, when I make a deal, I stand by it and I expect my business partners to do likewise. Fortunately for me, most of my business partners are Westerners and although disputes arise from time to time most of the people I do business with, by and large understand the concept of integrity and are for the most part, honourable and honest. Problems can be openly discussed and resolved in a logical and professional manner.

Don’t count on this being possible if you are in a business dispute with a Thai. I have learned to be very careful whenever I do business with Thais. Violence or threats of violence are the first tools a Thai reaches for when he finds himself in a business depute. The concepts of honour, integrity and professionalism are not widely recognized by the Thai business community. I believe these qualities may even be considered character flaws in Thailand.

This article is about fair play and the concept of integrity. Scarce commodities in Asia, God knows let alone specifically in Thailand. Sometimes it’s not always about the money.

Of course, sometimes it is.

Suppose you supply a product or service to a Thai company or individual and for some reason you do not collect payment on delivery. You have extended unsecured credit to this company or person and as sure as the Pope is Catholic, you will now have a problem recovering your money. The Thai receiver of your product or service will feel absolutely no moral obligation to pay you. His prevailing urge is probably to avoid paying altogether now that he has taken delivery of your product and you will have the devil’s own job getting your money retrospectively.

Should you be forced into taking legal action to recover a debt you can expect the process to take at least two years and even if you win the case, you can expect to be awarded only half of the amount owed to you.

Have you noticed how even the cashiers handing out the change on the skytrain make sure that you put your twenty baht note in the tray and let go of it before they slide over the two ten baht coins. They know full well that the average Thai commuter will snatch the coins without handing over the note if they thought for one moment they could possibly get away with it. To me, cheating seems to be as much a part of Thai culture as the wat and the wai. Of course, to the Thai this is not cheating at all. He’s just trying to get ahead, any way he can.

A year ago I lent a Thai friend five thousand dollars. His business had orders in the book but he had a cash flow problem that he assured me was temporary. He promised me he would repay the whole amount within 60 days. I lent the money as a favour to a friend who came to me for help. This was not a business transaction. One year on, I am still waiting to be repaid. I am still hopeful of recovering the money but of course our friendship is now tainted and will never be the same again. This however, does not seem to bother my ‘friend’ one bit. I guess he must have more friends than he needs.

With some people, winning is everything. You find these people everywhere, of course. But for some, there is the pleasure of taking part, the pleasure of just playing a game to the best of your ability, for fun. It’s always good to win but do you really need to cheat to win?

Recently I played in a golf tournament in Bangkok. I was the only farang in a field of about thirty. Like rugby, I consider golf to be a game for gentlemen played by gentlemen. Rugby and golf are two totally different sports I know, but both sports have rules and both sports are all the better (whether you are a player or a spectator) when the participants obey those rules. It is crystal clear to me why Thais don’t play rugby. If they did, the word ‘retribution’ would take on a new meaning. They would probably change the rules to allow for the carrying of knives and guns onto the field of play.

Anyway, back to the golf. There was never any danger that I was going to win this golf tournament but the behaviour of the other players was, in general, quite despicable. One of the worst aspects of this experience was the fact that the players were all supposedly respectable, middle class businessmen.

I played my round with three of these fine gentlemen. All of us, I guess were middle to high handicappers. I didn’t know any of these guys. The conversation during the round was quite limited although congenial and polite. Throughout the round, the caddies kept score.

I finished with a not particularly brilliant, total of ninety-three for the round which was about average for me and was representative of my handicap.

Once inside the clubhouse, everyone’s score was entered onto a large white chart and I was surprised to see that all three of my playing partners had entered scores in the low eighties. One in particular had declared a round of exactly eighty. This was all the more surprising because this chap had hit no less than seven of his tee shots into water. I had not been counting his stroke tally throughout the round but it was clear to me that the total he had marked on his card bore no resemblance to the number of strokes he had played on the course. I was not convinced that the other two had counted all of their strokes either. I looked on bemused as the three congratulated each other on a well played round and commiserated with me on my obvious bad luck.

Judging by the scores posted by most of the rest of the field, I clearly had no business playing in such illustrious company. This group would have given any Ryder Cup team a run for their money judging by the scores posted. The truth was, it was much more likely that everyone had cheated, except me.

There was nothing at stake here and I couldn’t really care less but you have to wonder how a friendly competition such as this, is viewed by a Thai. I was just grateful we weren’t playing cards! In this competition the winner was the guy who was prepared to cheat more than anyone else. Sporting ability played no part as far as I could tell.

A cynic might say that all this is quite representative of Thailand in general.

Union Hill

Stickman's thoughts:

It's all rather sad, isn't it. Sometimes I set up an activity in a classroom, often a game, which is designed to make students use language that they have just been taught. once they realise there is an opportunity to win they will default into Thai and do anything possible. Practicing English? What is that!