A Photo Essay: Children in Thailand, The Harsh Reality Of Growing Up Poor
All over the country, particularly in areas where foreign visitors venture, Thai children from poor families are put out to work to make money. It is playing the sympathy card or the cute card as children perform tasks, or work at times that really should be the exclusive domain of adults.
No photos of Thailand warm the heart more than those of happy, smiling Thai children. Unfortunately the photos that follow are not all of children at their happiest, but of children tasked with helping their family make ends meet.
Out front of a famous nightlife complex, this young girl appeared to be helping her mother operating a stall. It's nice the way that Thai children help their parents, but it's hardly the place for a youngster. Just 2 metres aware is an open front bar, loud music, foreign men and Thai women worse for wear and more than a few characters. Fortunately for this girl and others like her, things are not nearly as colourful during the day as they are after nightfall. But frankly at any time of the day, it's just not the place for a child.
The saddest sight of all is extremely young children – so young that they haven't even started walking – put out on the streets of the capital to beg. Their minders are usually nearby, but in the case of these two kids on the landing of steps at a BTS station, they were nowhere to be seen.
This young contortionist performs most nights on Pattaya's Walking Street. Her guardian (father?) is beside her, instructing her on what to do next. A bucket is placed in front of them and passersby are encouraged to be generous. I understand that this young girl's talent and the show she performs can make a fortune for her family but does it have to be at night, on the streets of a major nightlife – read: prostitution – area?!
This youngster was selling what I often call "good luck flowers", or puang-ma-lai in Thai, at an intersection on the main north / south road that runs through Khon Kaen. The shot was snapped through the driver's side window where she pleaded with me to buy. The sad face wasn't for show and after failing to get my 20 baht – I don't believe in the protective powers of the puang-ma-lai although they do smell nice – I felt a tinge of guilt sitting in air-conditioned comfort as the little one approached other drivers with the same disconsolate look in her eyes. It's a tough life when a family feels it necessary to put one so young out into the danger of a busy intersection and oppressive heat of Thailand's midday sun.
A fixture on Pattaya's streets for years, this woman recognises me even at a distance. I don't need to point the camera in her direction, nor even have it on me, for her to curse me and start waving her hands around while screeching. Fortunately she has yet to remove her shoes and throw them at me – a big insult in Thailand – as one of her sisters did in Bangkok. She often sits in the gutter on the eastern side of Second Road and has to be one of the busiest mothers around – I don't recall her ever having the same baby on any 2 given days, strongly suggesting that the babies she cradles are not hers but borrowed.
These two happy kids were playing in the side sois off Walking Street during the day time, running around and having a whale of a time. I got the feeling that their parents or guardians were working nearby, possibly at one of the construction sites. Their parents might not earn a lot and providing for the kids would be tough on labourers' pay packets, but don't those joyful smiles bring warmth to your heart?
Shot on Sukhumvit Road close to the Nana NTS, the even-numbered soi side is a favourite for many beggars and you see mothers out with a child until late, and sometimes with a puppy or two. On the odd occasion that I have wandered through this part of town after bars have closed, most have gone home – which suggests to me that not too long after 2 AM, they are collected by their minders.
Almost as sad a sight as the toddlers barely a year old begging on the steps of the skytrain stations are the youngsters forced to sell flowers, victims of highly questionable parenting. Out until the bars close or presumably when they have sold all their flowers, you have to wonder if they even get the chance to go to school. A taxi driver once summed up the young flowers best, "The parents of these children are shameful. What they do to their kids is something no parent can ever be proud of."
This charming little one was a big draw for the som tum lady and I found myself wondering if placing such a cute child on the som tum stand could perhaps be a marketing ploy. Nah, that's unlikely. Thais adore kids and can't help but dote on them and this little one captured the attention of all passing by. For customers ordering som tum, the kid was a magnet. It simply was not possible for them to order anything without fondling the little one and dousing her with sweet words.
Whenever I see young women from Isaan loitering with children in their care in certain questionable neighbourhoods, I scratch my head and wonder. And Pattaya's Beach Road certainly qualifies as a questionable neighbourhood. Don't they have anyone to look after the babies? Do they really have to take them everywhere they go? These women were being awfully friendly with strangers passing by and consistently inquired as to where each man was going. Babes with babies on Beach Road is not entirely unusual.
Thailand's bar maidens enter the industry for any of a number of reasons. Many claim that they (were forced to) do so as they could not make enough money elsewhere to be able to look after and raise their children. It's noble and even I have to admit it's hard to argue against a woman sacrificing herself for her children. The sad reality is that women who choose to work the bar can – and often do – do very well, yet only small amounts make it upcountry towards supporting their children (and other family members). In so many cases it seems that the minimum amount goes upcountry, with the standard amount many girls sending their family a measly 5,000 baht a month. It's hard not to cringe when these women claim they are working for their kids, yet they are seen pilfering their 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 baht per month away on alcohol consumption around the clock, multiple mobile phones, drugs or maybe even a lay-about boyfriend.
In and around areas popular with foreigners, particularly foreign tourists, you often see the worst of Thailand, and children seen begging and working in these areas are hardly the best, nor even representative, of the country. Thankfully there are only a relatively small number of Thai children put out to work on the street. Most Thai children are pampered, the centre of attention and brought up with much love. They are encouraged to embrace their culture and its traditions, as seen with these children in a public park in Isaan who were decked out in traditional Thai silk dresses performing exquisite Thai dance.
*When* was this photo taken?
Last week's photo of Soi Cowboy was taken in early 2002, before the soi started to undergo its transformation from something of a backwater to what became the most popular nightlife area for foreigners. With a little deduction one could get pretty close to working out when the photo was taken. Searching the archives in this column would reveal that The Dollhouse whose sign shined out over the soi, opened in 2001. The soi started undergoing major transformation around 2004 / 2005 so the photo could not have been taken later than that. So when was the photo in Siam Square above taken?! All you have to do is tell me the year the photo was taken. The first person to email me with the correct year wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the fish and chips restaurant. The second person correct wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express. Duke's is conveniently located in the Emporium shopping centre in central Bangkok.
Terms and conditions: The Duke's Express voucher MUST be redeemed by June 2012. The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. Prizes are only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week! If you wish to claim a prize, you must state a preference for the prize you prefer, or list the prizes you would like in order of preference – failure to do so results in the prize going to the next person to get the photo right.
FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Bangkok, city of good health!
You have got to stop slagging the town as an unhealthy place to live. You have :
– cheap, lean meats and veggies at your disposal.
– great fitness facilities packed with hot chicks everywhere.
– lots of sun which boosts vitamin D production.
– warmth and humidity which is generally good for joints and avoiding injury lifting weights etc.
– hot chicks everywhere which boosts your testosterone level which makes you a better athlete.
– a martial culture with some of the best cardio / anaerobic fitness systems ever i.e. Muay Thai.
– bountiful options for other Asian martial arts – grappling, kung fu, JKD etc.
Price and availability.
In this week's editorial, Staying Faithful in the Land of Temptations, you tackle the thorny issue of infidelity. It seems to me there is a parallel between this and alcohol consumption, with the key factors being price and availability. Where alcohol is cheap i.e. sold by supermarkets at or below cost price as a loss leader and readily available i.e. through the liberalisation of licensing laws allowing alcohol to be sold 24/7 then alcohol consumption increases. In the same way, if you compare the availability and cost of procuring attractive women for sexual gratification in the West to Thailand, then perhaps it is unsurprising that rates of marital infidelity for Westerners residing in the Land of Temptations are higher. A further consideration is that expats wishing to live and work in Thailand may have a greater than average pre-disposition towards seeking out extra-marital relationships.
Foreigners in Thailand.
Great column this week on infidelity among foreigners in Thailand. I think you answered the question totally, or as totally as a question like that can be answered, with each of your theories. It is a combination of kid in the candy store and those in the west who avoid temptation often conveniently forget that they are never tempted, or at least not as strongly as men in Thailand are. Alcoholism too plays a role, as you alluded to in reference to all sorts of bad behaviour, including getting behind a car's wheel drunk.
Have you got what it takes?
So you think you've got what it takes to be a successful expat, and what's more a happy one to boot? What are the ingredients, natural attributes, disposition, education, personality traits, required sacrifices, mental framework and attitude which makes you think you are any different and can stand out from the crowd? Statistically the odds are totally against you, for every one that succeeds 30, 40 perhaps even more fail. Asia ain't no nanny state. You are on your own completely as soon as you set foot on these shores. Welcome translates as when are you leaving, and Hello as can you give us your money. When someone smiles it doesn't mean what you think it does and when someone speaks it can have little or no relevance to what they are actually thinking. It's the law of the jungle. Do you really think you can cut the mustard?
The power of the internet.
I think that because of the Internet word gets around very quickly about any talent and it's quickly snapped up. I was in a small bar last night and a guy came in and said to the mamasan within 5 seconds, "I want Elsa". He was new to the bar and had obviously seen her photos on the net.
Boracay, the Phuket of the Philippines?
Although I'm a regular Bangkok visitor, I've never had the (mis)fortune of visiting Phuket, and Pattaya has never really interested me enough as a place worth visiting. My Filipina girl and I found a beach (shack) restaurant advertising all you can eat lobster buffet for 300 pesos. We sat on rickety plastic chairs at a table on a gorgeous beach just after sundown and indulged in a hearty meal (nothing to write home about, though). We were then presented with a 6,000 peso bill! On asking, we were told that the buffet was 300 pesos PLUS 300 pesos for every gram of lobster! As luck would have it I had enough cash on me to cover the expense. Even if I had not, it wouldn't have been a problem getting to an ATM on the heavily commercialised tourist rip off that Boracay has become. It was once a virgin island not so long ago. Now they even have Starbucks. I decided cut my losses, pay and leave quietly as the Filipinos have a more dangerous and violent streak compared to the Thais. On our way out we double checked the sign which still said 300 pesos all you can eat lobster buffet…
The worst of Bangkok.
I was walking down Sukhumvit Road at about 5 PM on Sunday when I saw what I thought was a police raid on a DVD seller. As I had my camera hanging in reach, I popped off a shot. Then I realised the uniformed guy was a security guard stocking up on gay porn. He picked lots of titles, and the seller put them in a bag. Then I noticed a stack of covers on the front left corner of the table were child porn. Kids about 10 or 12. The security guard cycled off and the seller went away, presumably to collect the actual discs. I popped another shot of the location of the unattended table and when I became aware of being scrutinised, I took off. Further down Sukhumvit a guy tried to steal my camera from its bag. Luckily it was a Lowepro bag and the main pocket isn't under the main flap. The would-be thief shot off through the traffic. Unbelievable that this stuff is on the table in full view. It's dangerous to photograph these guys.
Thai Chinese from Bangkok are putting a lot of investment into Udon and buying land. The price of land has pretty much doubled in the last 5 years. The area opposite the Charoensri Shopping Centre has been cleared and a massive new shopping complex will soon be built there. One of the biggest reasons for the investment and the reason that Udon seems to have overtaken Khon Kaen and Korat is that the Chinese are going to build a high speed rail link through Laos and into China. This will impact on Udon with Chinese exports, increased tourism, as well as new factories and manufacturing facilities. Who knows what Udon will look like in 5 – 10 years time?
The small boat outside Cowboy bar in Soi Cowboy this week complete with paddles was not a precaution in case the soi flooded but symbolic. A notice attached in Thai encourages donations to go to those whose lives have been affected by the flooding. Call me a cynic, but Soi Cowboy is not the place I would choose to make such a donation.
Since changing hands a month or so back, DC 10 in Nana Plaza has reduced the prices for some drinks. Chang Beer is available at 100 baht all night, every night and other beers are 120 baht. Standard spirits are 130 baht making DC 10 one of the most reasonable spots for drinks prices in the plaza.
After School bar in Soi Cowboy does not impose minimum quotas on barfines or lady drinks that the girls must meet. With less pressure for the ladies to perform, it seems that more are willing to work in the venue and that they are a little happier in their work. It's not full of beauties, but the attitudes are good.
Two once-popular popular Bangkok venues seem to have taken their place in Bangkok bar history. The Bank, the high-end venue run by an American which I profiled a couple of years back, has been leveled and Larry's Dive, a long-running American bar and grill on soi 22, also seems to be no longer.
Black Pagoda in Patpong's sax night – that is SAX night and not sex night – can be enjoyed every Friday from 11 PM until closing time. San Miguel goes for 110 all night long and Jack is two for one after midnight until you can drink no more, or officialdom pays the venue a visit and tells you that you're a naughty boy for still being out and it's time to go home!
It seems like only a few weeks ago that I predicted a crackdown on those existing in Thailand on tourist visa after tourist visa, year after year and guess what, that is exactly what has happened! Reports are coming in that Thai embassies and consulates in neighbouring countries are not giving away tourist visas like candy as they used to. Anyone applying for a tourist visa at a Thai embassy or consulate in a neighbouring country with one in their passport already will face a lot of questions and may not be issued with one. The most popular visa run firms here in Bangkok who seem to have connections cannot get tourist visas for those who have just finished a stay in Thailand on the same type of visa. Probably the best known such firm, Jack Golf, is currently telling people that they only provide a border run service and cannot actually assist with the procurement of visas. Even visa agents in Phnom Penh, which until very recently was considered a soft touch, report that the embassy have got tough on anyone who is obviously residing in Thailand on back to back tourist visas. It has been said that this crackdown has come about due to the inordinate number of foreigners living in Thailand on tourist visas. The scapegoats seem to be, somewhat surprisingly, Filipinos who are working in Thailand in increasing numbers. What seems to have people concerned is that this is in fact not a crackdown, but a permanent tightening up in policy at the latest Thai embassy in the region to be known as a soft touch. Several years ago things got hard at the consulate in Penang which was for a long time the most popular place to get a new visa. Vientiane followed with the Thai embassy there cracking down and declining applications by those who already had a number of tourist visas in their passport. Phnom Penh has seen a surge in applications for tourist visas from those who don't appear to be bona fide tourists and they too have cracked down. The Phnom Penh embassy now asks applicants who seem to exist in Thailand year after year on such visas to provide details of their condo rental contract and Thai bank account. Some people may have inadvertently incriminated themselves by furnishing said documents, the latter of which could very likely show deposits into their account which prove that they are employed!
The area in the middle of the small block of restaurants next to Suhkumvit soi 12 that was known as the Price Leader complex is now a place to park your backside, not your car. What was once a car park has been converted into an outdoor seating area that should be popular once the rains stop. Ah, getting a seat at the original branch of Sunrise won't be such a problem on Fridays and Saturdays any more! If you used to park your car there, the Sheraton Grande is a good alternative nearby and getting your parking ticket stamped costs nothing more than a smile.
Some smaller bars have been putting in a real effort to make / keep customers happy. Many bars are sporting new faces with girls new to the industry. Naughty boy friends tell me that some even need not just guidance but instructions, which might appeal to some but sounds like a nightmare to me.
The opening of the new branch of Bourbon Street, Bangkok's iconic American bar and grill is not far away, but the original branch remains open. If you haven't visited recently, swing by and check it out before it closes. And if you happen to be there on a Tuesday night for the Mexican buffet, listen out for someone moaning and groaning about the ++ surcharges in a Kiwi accent!
A beer might be much of a muchness wherever you go, but the fancier your drinks, the more a bar's staff gets a chance to show their wares. Tilac has been known to mix a potent Long Island Iced Tea, my favourite cocktail. But for me the best Long Island Iced Tea is at, strangely enough, Secrets in Pattaya, which does a ripper. Either that or Larry has asked them to make a particularly potent mix so he can get me to make a total ass of myself.
One of the curiosities of car ownership in Thailand is the way new cars come with a set of temporary red registration plates. These are in fact dealer plates and they only allow the car to be driven during the hours of daylight within the province the dealer operates. Many foreigners don't realise this and besides, when you get a new car you just want to drive and it and enjoy it without such crazy restrictions. There is often a delay getting the standard black and white registration plates. A friend of a friend bought a Ford Fiesta and when he drove up to see his ex-Mrs. in Khon Kaen he was stopped by the ever studious boys in brown. Not missing a beat, they informed him that the car had been fitted with false registration plates. The police showed him exactly what they meant – real number plates are embossed whereas his weren't. They fined him 400 baht and told him that he should go back to the dealership and get it sorted out pronto. He contacted the dealership and was told to bring the ticket in and they would reimburse the 400 baht. He requested a set of genuine plates or an alternative set of (legal) wheels to drive while he waits for some legal red plates or preferably, the white plates. He got neither! This has been going on for weeks and finally the dealership has said that legal red plates would be fitted next week, that is a staggering 2 months after he took possession of the car! These red plates mean that now he can legally drive his new car during daylight hours only and only in the province he bought it! No compensation nor even an apology has been offered! The system is obviously flawed, but from all accounts the dealership's service is total crap too. Now perhaps you see why I sold my car!
A bizarre trend has appeared in expat circles with a noticeable increase in foreigners getting busted for robberies! Robbing banks and robbing gold shops! There have been reports in the mainstream media recently and a couple of links to news articles appear in this week's news round up further down. Absolute madness – the penalties are steep!
The coverage the German vagrant Michael received has heightened the profile of foreigners living on the streets and I have since heard of other foreigners living it rough, although Michael seems to be the most extreme case. The fellow here seems to be in a bad way and is frequently seen in and around Sukhumvit soi 11. Could he be the next Michael?
It used to be that the Department of Labour required a medical certificate to process *new* work permit applications. They now require them for renewals too. The best private hospitals in Bangkok can charge up to 2,000 baht and take a couple of hours of your time. You can save time and money by getting your work permit medical certificate for just 150 baht, or 100 baht for registered patients – and have it done in 5 minutes! This rate is offered until the end of the year at Medconsultasia.com .
Speaking of working in Thailand, a British-owned company in Sukhumvit soi 1 has 3 openings for foreigners that come with a work permit. They are looking for a Personal Assistant to CEO, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. If you are interested, please send your resume with a formal photo attached to : email@example.com.
A new website has been launched which might interest middle-aged males in Thailand. ThaiProstate.com is a non-profit site set up by Kevin Mack who lives in Chiang Mai. Kevin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2011 as a result of a routine medical check-up. Faced with such a traumatic surprise, Kevin found it quite difficult to collect information relating to prostate disease in Thailand such as options on where to get treatment, the type of treatment options available, treatment costs and most of all to connect with other expats who have been through similar. There are plenty of commercial websites offering medical services and medical tourism but that was not what he was after. At ThaiProstate.com you can find unbiased information about things men don't normally like to talk about such as urinary and prostate problems. You can find info about what does what and why, and when it doesn't work properly what the problem could be and what you should do about it. The site started last month and will continue to grow with more information from users around Thailand as more people become involved. Kevin is dedicated to making this project work and is keen to spread the word to expats all over Thailand.
Rain continues to fall and parts of the country are suffering terrible flooding. The worst flooding is in the central plains with Ayutthaya hit particularly hard. While flooding has been reported in some outlying suburbs of the capital, the central parts of Bangkok are fine and apart from sandbags positioned outside a handful of shopping centres as well as outside a number of bars in Cowboy – an absolute eye sore – there's no real evidence of any effects from the rain downtown. The rains have kept punters home and seen a drop in bar takings which some bar managers and owners see as an omen of things to come with, predicting the worst high season ever to come – as they do at this time of year, every year, with the reliability of a Swiss watch. People might be hurting financially in some parts of the world and Thailand might not be the bargain it once was, but those who like the Thailand experience will be back. High season should be just fine.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, "When you go to a movie you must have a 'suspension of disbelief' but when you go to Thailand you must have a 'suspension of logic'!"
Reader's story of the week is a fictional work from James Newman titled, "Birthday Girl".
An Aussie is caught stealing an engagement ring that he was going to use to propose to his Pattaya girl!
A Brit is facing 25 years in jail after being caught robbing a bank in Chiang Mai!
Authorities in Phuket fear what tuktuk gangs will do and as such have failed to launch affordable transport services.
CNNGo looks at the ongoing problems in Phuket and how or even if they can be fixed.
This is one of the best collections of Thailand flood photos I have seen.
Time magazine also had some nice photos of the flooding in Thailand this week.
From The New York Times, experts blame human activity for turning an unusually heavy monsoon season into a disaster.
Ask Sunbelt Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: I am 45 years old and have been planning on leaving the sinking ship that is the UK to start a new chapter in my life in the Land of Smiles. I resigned from my job last Summer, took time to sell my flat and tidy up my affairs. I recently completed a TEFL certificate here in Birmingham. I believe in doing things right and I am now ready to embark on a new career as a teacher in Thailand. I have since been informed that I may not be able to get a work permit to teach because I never went to university and don't have a degree. Going to university at this stage in my life is not an option. I could not go that long without an income. Am I able to teach legally in Thailand (this is important to me) and get a work permit in the absence of a university education? If I cannot, are there any jobs I can do without a degree? What are my options? I have many years experience as a supervisor with the Royal Mail.
Sunbelt Legal responds:
While technically is it not legally required to have a university degree in order to obtain a teaching work permit, the fact of the matter is that it is becoming increasingly difficult. The school would have to vouch for you and state that they needed you specifically and then it may or may not be approved by the Teachers Council of Thailand (TCT). The types of educational jobs that would hire a person with no degree would be very low paying with high hours and it is believed that the ability to obtain a teaching work permit without a university degree will be phased out. These schools are more in the rural areas. As for other jobs, it should not be a problem at this time, but like the ocean tide changes, so do the interpretations of the laws. Nothing is black and white but we can talk in general terms, in 95% of cases, a person with no degree would still get a work permit on jobs other than educational.
At the end of last week's column I requested feedback on the new format of the photo competition. About 60% of respondents said that they preferred the previous format and felt that the new format asking which year the photo was taken was either too difficult or was about chance and not skill. This bemused me because I personally don't see any "skill" if you know where somewhere is. You either know or you don't. With asking for a year, there are many clues that can be found in photos so there is some degree of skill, but I digress. What was interesting was that amongst those who *regularly* compete, about 2/3 like the new format. With this in mind, I will continue to run the new format for a few more weeks and then some time before Christmas I will revert back to the old format. Many thanks to those who responded and to everyone who sends general feedback about this column. Yes, I DO listen to what you say and if enough people suggest something new, and it happens to be a fit with the column and it won't be too difficult to implement, I will see what I can do.
Your Bangkok commentator,