Many friends from my little corner of Farangland, particularly those guys who have never visited Thailand, are incredulous at the fact that I choose to live in Thailand. Their perceptions of the country are somewhat askew from reality, and they consider me a little eccentric for voluntarily abandoning what they consider a perfectly adequate existence in the West, to live in a country that they simply can’t fathom has anything over their so called corner of paradise. So why do I do it? Why do we do it? Why does a Westerner choose to live in Thailand? Having thought about it, I have isolated perhaps the five main reasons why I choose to live in Thailand. They are not in any particular order.
The people. Where else do people smile so often? Where else do people laugh and joke and try to have fun ALL OF THE TIME. Where else is serious discussion so often shirked? The Thai people and their happy go lucky attitude have an infectious effect on all around them. The thought of living in the West with its staid, comparatively conservative, serious ways becomes a nightmare for the adjusted expat who has decided that he wants to stay in Thailand indefinitely. Yeah, some Thai people can be a right pain in the ass to deal with, but on the whole it is the Thai people that are the country's biggest attraction.
The food. Fresh, healthy and varied, it was Thai food that first put Thailand on a then still young Stickman's map. Planning my first trip to Thailand, I can remember making lists of all of the different food that I wanted to try, and realising that it would be impossible to eat that much in the short time that I had. Not only is the local food fantastic, you can easily find excellent farang food in this city too. In fact there is a great variety of food from all over the world. And Thailand must be one of the world's biggest producers of tropical fruit which is incredibly good and readily available in markets and on street corners everywhere!. Eating truly is an under-rated activity, and with the variety and quality of food available in Bangkok, it is easy to see why Thais have an obsession with food.
The ease with which you can get things done. Now this may surprise some people, but so many things in Thailand are actually very easy to get done. Take for example buying medicine. In the West this is a hell of an ordeal, and if you know what you need, you can just buy them over the counter, no problem at all. (This is not to say that one should become an internet quack, searching the net to diagnose one's problem, research the treatment and self-prescribe.) Again, of a medical nature, seeing a specialist in a hospital. No mucking around at all, and none of these waiting lists that many of us in the West would have to endure. And don't forget that as a foreigner, you have a certain amount of leeway which allows you to do more than the vast majority of the locals. Need some minor work done on your car? Drive it in to a garage and they will likely do it right there and then, while you wait. Computer needs repair? They'll do it there and then too. Want an appointment to see someone important, really important? You'd be amazed how much the colour of your skin and the size of your nose significantly increase your chances, even if you really are a nobody. Admittedly, there are certain things in Thailand where all sorts of red tape can obstruct and frustrate, but for so many every day issues, getting them done is very easy, and in my opinion, far easier than in the West.
The girls. No, I'm not talking about the working girls. Thai girls are extremely pleasant on the eye and it is a pleasure to just walk the streets and see so many incredibly beautiful, elegant, feminine ladies. If there is a city anywhere on this planet with more beautiful women than Bangkok, then I have yet to hear about it. Seeing so many beautiful women really does brighten your day, and knowing that if you make a real effort, are presentable and speak the language (though this is not absolutely necessary), these gorgeous, heavenly creatures really are very, very approachable.
The costs. It is so easy to forget, especially if you have lived in country for a while, but Thailand is in many ways, RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP. A 20 km taxi ride for 120 baht. A two hour massage for 200 baht. Fantastic food at quite frankly, next to nothing. Exotic fruits at 10 baht a portion. Pretty much anything with a high labour component is cheap and with so many items being made locally, if one is to buy "Thai made", one could live a VERY cheap lifestyle. Transport, food and accommodation, the three essential things are so much cheaper here than the West. Having said all of this, some neighbouring countries are cheaper still – but the quality may not be as good.
Hell, reading back through all of this, why does anyone return to the West after a stint in Thailand?
Where is this pic?
A real give away, is this the easiest yet?
Last week's pic of the street vendor was taken in the alley that leads down to a slum community, between the World Trade Centre and the Sean Saeb Canal. No-one got the pic right. Not hanging out in the slums, I guess?
They're dingdong, all of them!
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that of all of the Caucasians resident in the kingdom, Brits make up the largest group. Why is it then, that it seems that the Americans – and not the Brits – make up the largest numbers in what I would term "professional expat positions"?!
A gate has been erected between Bill's Bar and the hotel next door in Clinton Plaza. No traffic, foot or otherwise, can get into Clinton from that end. Workers were seen earlier in the week measuring up for a similar gate to be erected across the entrance near the Monica Beer Bar thus cutting off all traffic to the back of Clinton if and when said gate is installed. I have since heard that the gate on the other side has been finished, making access to Dollhouse a hell of lot more difficult!
All electricity has been cut off to Clinton Plaza from the main supply by the new owners although they did not know about a secondary, plentiful supply which remains! The new owners have failed to cut that off as it is not in the name of the previous owners, the bank or the building! All water supply was cut off Wednesday morning by the new owners – but was reconnected by 4 PM in the afternoon. Apparently, this was done for two reasons. The new water authority failed to serve notice on the title holder of the meter and reports were put in to the police station by some tenants indicating the new owners had 'hindered business without reason or notice'. The latter may also serve to reconnect the main electricity supply removal of the gate and the prohibition of any further 'extensive' building work. Time will tell.
The latest rumour has it fresh off the grapevine that the Riches Group agent at Clinton is on commission for each tenant that he gets to leave prior to the expected demolition and build start date in 4 or 5 months time, hence all the current aggravations. For those that do not leave there is an amount put aside to buy them out, believed to be a whopping 30 plus million baht!
For some reason the police have got involved as brokers and have been going door to door asking the individual bars how much they want to move. Word is that the Dollhouse have asked for 5 million which sounds entirely reasonably, although I am not privy to how much time is remaining on their contract.
All of this Clinton Plaza news applies to the remaining gogos and beer bars but not the four establishments on the main road (Family Mart, Meeting House, Deli France and The Living Room). They have a separate case and their landlord has an arbitration hearing called by the new owners on September 18.
The Living Room is now the coolest place in town as they have finally fixed and serviced their air-con after getting permission from the new owners to do so.
A typical hazy, blurred, Bangkok sunset.
A case of som num na for a local expat who recently came into a windfall. Quite literally homeless for a few months, a local expat's luck changed when he came into a windfall of money. Having had a lean spell for quite some time, this Australian expat decided it was time to make up for lost time. He drank himself silly, and did his very best for Australian / Thai relations, bedding "at least two girls a day, every day, for the last month", and sinking a minimum of 10 beers, each and every day. However, it seems that such a lifestyle does catch up with you and the fellow now finds himself under the strictest instructions from the doc to stay in bed for a week. His problem? Inflamed testicles, presumably from too much sexercise!
I notice a recent issue of TV Pool Mag had the words "GROGEOUS STAR" on the cover. Hmmm, there really must be a market for a native English speaker, perhaps someone fed up with English teaching, to do proof-reading commercially. And there was the ad in The Nation on Wednesday for the Austin Powers movie that starred Kevin Spacecy. And then there was the front page of the Bangkok Post. There must be a demand for proof-readers. (And no, I would not be suitable for it because you know how many errors I make in this column!)
I am not usually one to comment on what is in the news in Thailand, but there have been two high profile items in the news in the last two days where I feel comment is relevant. The first is the issue of the rector at Ramkhaemhaeng University who was quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying that "students cheating in exams is a trivial matter". I asked a friend who studied at Ramkhaemhaeng about this. Is cheating common and if caught, what is the punishment? Her response was that in just about every exam that she sat – and that is a hell of a lot of exams – someone was caught cheating! According to her, the punishment is far more severe than the article implied. Students caught cheating get a fail grade in EVERY paper sat that semester and they are not allowed to re-enroll for the next two semesters. This seems fairly serious to me. The other article worth commenting on is the case of the Pattaya bank heist where the robbers were allegedly Russians. That the accused are farangs, will no doubt be highlighted in the Thai press and can only contribute towards negative feeling from the Thai public towards us farang, irrespective of nationality. And with Thailand's occasional knee-jerk reactions to such situations, it really only needs one high profile case for ALL farangs to suddenly find visa regulations a little tougher, bank accounts more difficult to open, or some other regulation change imposed, all by something that really has little or no relevance to the regulation change. I maintain that a surge in farang crime in Thailand would be a very bad thing for farangs resident in the Kingdom. The effect on the average tourist would however, be negligible.
I note that the previously popular Soi Cowboy website is being transferred to a new operator. JT, who used to run it, simply doesn’t have the time to run it how he would like to. So, the site is being handed over to someone who already operates a Bangkok website, a guy who has a few opinions and is not shy to express them, and a guy whose URL features his internet name and the word Bangkok in the web address. Now, just who could that be?!
Following on from the piece in last week's column about photo stickers being overexposed, I have noticed a few wedding photos in my travels this week. Guess what? Yep, you got it! These photos tend to be overexposed as well, making the bride look fairer than she really is.
One would think that if one was going to go on a student exchange programme, one would do as much as possible to learn the language of the country that one was going to, before one left one's own country. In fact, I would have imagined that some degree of proficiency in the host country's language would have been a prerequisite to acceptance. I have observed two foreign students, both from English speaking countries who have been accepted into a prestigious Thai school. Neither arrived with any Thai under their belt and they are now struggling to learn the local lingo because all of their new friends are seizing the opportunity to practice and improve their English! One of these exchange students was seen with a Thai teacher, studying the colours in Thai, three months into the school term.
Not being a toe sucker myself, can anyone help this fellow out? My guess is that while it would be ok for him to such her toes, she won't be sucking on his in a hurry!
From now, right through until the end of February, many folks will find that they do not necessarily need to use air-con in their hotel room, and if staying at a cheaper hotel, may prefer a room that has just a fan. Many cheaper hotels give you the option of a fan or air-con room, and the price difference can be significant – as much as a few hundred baht. Hey, if you are not going to use the air-con, you may as well save the money! Anyway, a lot of places will try and steer you into a room with air-con, because they make more on it, the difference in cost between air-con and fan being far greater than the cost of the extra electricity that running the air-con will use – and that is if you even use it! So, if you are staying in a cheaper place, and would prefer a fan room, INSIST on it! Very few places are anywhere near full at this time of year.
There are many great things about working in Thailand. The workplace is often relaxed, Thai colleagues are always bringing you one kanom or another and no-one ever seems to break into a sweat. But there is one thing that I dislike, in fact one thing that I hate, and it is something that really does punish someone who is as forgetful as me. In a good number of Thai companies, the employer does NOT provide toilet paper in the company loo, and you have to bring your own. Forget it at your peril!
When in the Kingdom, remember to cross your legs when you sleep. From some online statistics, in 1998, 97 woman cut off their husband's / boyfriend's penis! No details were can be found about how many were re-attached – and how effective the re-attachment surgery may or may not have been. I wonder if a farang has ever had his tool attacked by a Thai women? I guess it must have happened. I have heard stories of many a threat made, that's for sure!
A friend was in Panthip Plaza this week and thought he would pick up a couple of these concealed video VCDs that are so easy to come by. This fellow, who I would describe as open-minded, was shocked at what he saw. One of the videos had a farang and a young girl, a girl whose age was indeterminable, but who he says was most certainly underage. At what point, he said it seemed the girl might be as young as ten. After three minutes, the CD was extracted from the computer and thrown into the bin. One really has to wonder what goes on in Thailand some times… While bars that try and treat their staff really well such as The Dollhouse get closed down for allowing a girl to be seen dancing nude – in an environment where people EXPECT to see nude dancing, at Panthip Plaza, where thousands and thousands of foreign tourists visit every day, one can buy video CDs of folks with obviously underage girls. But you can't complain, you just have to sit back and smile.
I dislike the "where is this column going paragraph" almost as much as I dislike "where is this relationship going discussions". But sometimes one is virtually forced to discuss what is happening, and where it is all going. Again, this is NOT a nightlife column. It is a column aiming at both expats resident in the kingdom, and travellers who chose Thailand as their regular holiday destinations. Nightlife will be discussed, but it is NOT the only aspect of life covered. It seems that the opening piece in last week's column upset a few people on a couple of message boards of which the over-riding theme of the message boards is commercial sex. I was preparing a response to various things written about this column on these message boards, when this email came in. What this reader emailed to me sums it all up very well:
The primary purpose is to create a belief where the guilt can be not just ignored but positively denied. What your article does is to hold up a mirror to many people's faces, and they attack in order to avoid having to take any kind of deep look into it. It's a cover-up job, and if it's done quickly enough, in a group bonding mode, and with sufficient ferocity then there can be a pretence that there was nothing to see. Massive self-justification with this kind of religious intensity invariably betrays a hidden fear that the criticism was actually pretty well rooted in fact.