Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all!

I'll leave you with a cool Thai Christmas tree which I snapped myself in the mean streets of Bangkok (aka the shopping district). Made from recycled CDs it's a striking sight that fuses the traditional with the contemporary, like many things in Bangkok/Thailand.

(The click through link is broken so to see a large version of the pic click here)

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Customer service, Thai style

Last week, whilst in a rush to get to my bus on time, I left the house without any cash in my wallet. No problem, headed to the cash point with my card...


Crap, next nearest cash machine is 15 minutes away and my bus is due any minute, they come every 30 mins...I'm in trouble!

I headed over to the ubuquity that is SevenEleven, surely I can get cash-back here?


Crap, I'm going to clock in late...again...not good.

But wait...what's this?

The young chap behind the till is offering to give me a lift to the other cash point and back?

My lucky stars.

He was my lifesaver, I never forget to flash him a big smile when I see him around. I'm sure many other farangs (foreigners) have experienced situations like this in which Thais have gone out of there way to help Jonny Foreigner. Thanks to all of you!

Somehow I can't see this scenario playing out in London, where everyone keeps their heads down and their iPods loud on the tube. It's a cultural thing, Bangkok is a big city yet it doesn't live by the same rules.

New Year's resolution 

I: be friendly friendlier in the morning and exchange smiles and pleasantries like my fellow commuters

II: learn Thai morning pleasantries and work on that smile

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Economist...again

Hot on the heels of its recent insight into the Thai monarchy, this week's issue has a concise overview of the current political situation here in Thailand.

Recommended reading for any latercomers looking to get up to speed.

It's available here online.

No reports of the issue being banned.

New foreign minister supported aiport closures

Closing off a week which saw new Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva appointed was the announcement that former diplomat Kasit Piromya would be his foreign minister.

Although on paper Kasit fits the bill as a distinguished diplomat with experience in Germany, USA and Japan, he publically endorsed the PAD's airport closures which saw an estimated 240,000 tourists stuck in Thailand, the country's tourist reputation suffer damage (named as one of the world's 30 most dangerous places), imports and exports severly restricted and the population fiercely divided.

As foreign minister Kasit will play a big part in restoring overseas confidence in Thailand's to remedy the effects the closures had tourism, trade and investment and imports/exports. These are crucial to the well-being of Thailand's economy is tipped to struggle next year.

But how can those overseas trust a man who came out in praise of the PAD's protest and chaos despite the effects on foreign nations and investors?

I can't be alone in thinking his recent history brings conflicting bagagge to the table.

UPDATE: other blogs (Bangkok Pundit and Thailand Jumped the Shark) reporting Kasit called PAD airport closures "a lot of fun"

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Christmas in Thailand

I've frequently needed to remind myself that we are in Christmas time. It's all very different in Thailand. The fact that I am not going to be at 'home' (in England) is also a major reason seasonal festivities are at the back of my mind.

I hear and read the antics of people at home at Xmas parties, and their plans for New Year, yet the good weather here (akin to the English summer), lack of Christmas marketing drive and (thankfully) my lack of English radio at work have left me in a relatively Christmas free zone.

You can find evidence of Christmas (Kissmass in Thai), like the elephants absurdly sporting Santa hats, but there is no public holiday and few exchange presents. In one class I teach just one kid out of forty had a tree at home. Instead Thailand celebrates the New Year, which is a little confusing as it has its own New Year which falls in April and is a major landmark.

Don't get me wrong, I do miss British Christmas and I wish I was visiting my family and friends with The Good Lady and The Little One as originally planned, but I have a job at a Thai school, flights are so expensive and I am yet to start on the bureaucratic joys to enable my son to hold a British passport.

It's not all bad here...

- Christmas shopping is done, posted and delivered
- weather set to be good (28-31 degrees over next 5 days)
- food here is good as ever
- there is a public holiday over New Year
- Xmas day falls on a Thursday, which is my day off
- family and few friends are set to visit here in 2009

What ever happens this year will beat last year when I spent most of Christmas week in bed with a fever. Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

New Thai PM appointed

After months of tension a new PM has been appointed, but the unrest looks set to continue.

UK-born, Eton/Oxford educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, of the Democrat party, won a tightly fought contest 235 to 198 (votes from the parliamentary house not an open democratic vote).

His appointment is a massive victory for the middle-classes and PAD protesters who had feared the further influence of Thaksin Shinawatra. Although in exile Shinawatra sent a pre-recorded message to a pre-election PPP party (rivals to the Democrats) rally. Part of the message included a plea for the PM vote to be made by elected officials with no outside influence, such as the army who was responsible for ousting Shinawatra in a coup in 2006.

In reaction to the appointment of Abhisit red shirted PPP/Thaksin supporters took to the streets of Bangkok in protest, with violence and casualties reported.

Politics in Thailand is entering a new era, the new appointment will considerably more stability. However it remains to be seen whether the Red (pro-Thaksin) and Yellow (PAD, anti-Thaksin) rivalry will cool into a political one, as situation voiced in last week's banned Economist article.

Given the growing hatred, the issues at stake and the aggressive/extreme tactics adopted by the PAD, it seems unlikely that the Red corner will take this set-back lying down.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The saga of The Economist

[More than little slow to the punch here but...] Last week's edition of The Economist was banned in Thailand after it lead with a story entitled 'Right Royal Mess'.

The article looks at the Thai royal family's role in politics, laying a significant proportion of blame for the country's current malaise with King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The article gives insight into the king's uneasy relationship with ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the uncertain future of the monarchy beyond Bhumibol's reign, the current 'red vs yellow' political split and media censorship - criticism of the monarchy is forbidden, so the press is effectively self-regulated on the issue.

Despite rumours of an outright ban, The Economist did not circulate the issue "out of consideration" to its local distributor which would have"risked breaching Thai laws" (see article).

The irony writing about press-restrictions, and then being governed by said restrictions is not lost on me. I'd like to think that The Economist did all it could to distribute the issue, out or principle, but the reality looks to be down to money and the negative effects of distributing.

The article is well worth a read and can be done so in full, online here.

Just to clarify, normal service has resumed and the print publication is available again, including a letter from Thailand's Foreign Minister.

However the storm following the article is still raging with a number of newspapers, particularly The Nation, responding to issues raised , with expat bloggers taking these articles to task.

This is Thailand and life goes on the same regardless of The Economist or the valid issues raised.

As they say here mai pen rai (it doesn't matter).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Germans start new temple trend shocker

Ayutthaya, Thailand - Two German tourists were caught in the act and fined Bt500 (S$21) each for having sex inside an ancient temple in this central province Monday.

The couple were found by an official of National Historical Park of Ayutthaya having sex on a wall of the Srisanphet Temple at 12:30 pm.

They stopped when the park official, Phaithoon Puengthong, blew his whistle while running toward them.

The couple were handed over to police and were fined Bt500 (S$21) each before being released.

Source AsianOne Travel

That's right, no hoax, although I am sad to report the story hasn't received the widespread coverage it undoubtedly deserves.

My thoughts...

Firstly, I'm pleased to read that "they stopped when the park official, Phaithoon Puengthong, blew his whistle while running toward them" but assumed that was a given (and therefore not worthy of reporting) in the circumstances.

Secondly, many are talking about the fine of 500 bhat each, a little over £15 in total, as it is hardly a deterrent and almost advertises the potential for sex in a temple at a fixed price.

Recent news suggested that 1,200 Germans had cancelled Thai holidays (see article in Bangkok Post): can you picture the additional reporting?

Temples across Thailand are praying (honk) new flights can be laid on as they seek to claim a slice of the 1,200,000 baht (est £18,000) that is expected to be generated from temple-sex fines from the holidaymakers.

In a country where salaries and cost of living is far lower than Europe, European money is worth more and, most importantly, tourists are less reluctant to spend. I suspect that there are some temples in Thailand would be glad of the money in return for Farang misdemeanours.

Technology Comes Home To Roost

At last the geek within me is whole again.

I'm not one for spending vast sums of money, on account of my thrifty blood, but the recent (and much needed) purchase of a laptop was met with more than my usual sense of hereditary post-purchase guilt.

The guilt was typically unnecessary as I genuinely need the means to work on the go (get me) so (in freelance terms) a laptop means more time spent on work which produces better quality of work and in turn more theory, at least. Having a child has increased the, already sizeable, weight of analysis behind my spending, not even a chocolate bar can escape my meticulous and often unreasonable scrutiny.

Despite my thrift, one technology purchase bred another and we got a wireless router. This Thai household is entering technology's 21st century, albeit after a very protracted installation process from yours truly - is anything more frustrating to set-up?

So, at last, internet access in the garden with the glorious weather...not rubbing it in too much, London.

For the record the laptop is an Acer Aspire 2930Z as pictured above.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Phone You've Been Waiting For?

It's pay as you go (PAYG), only available on one network (O2) and will set you back a cool £342.50 for the basic (8GB) handset or £391.45 for the top of the range (16GB) model.

Apparently it's the phone we've all been waiting for.

Yes folks, Apple's iPhone is now available on a pay as you go tariff, and it includes the surprisingly generous offer of unlimited web browsing and Wi-Fi for 12 months (subject to fair usage).

I'm impressed but the data offer but the handset cost is outrageous considering the UK market offer subsidised handsets (with contracts), many of which do a good job of surfing the web, playing music, with a better camera and physical screen (jury is still out as to whether a touch-screen is preferred by Joe Public).

Click here for the Apple store page, and here for O2 T&C.

The Ambiguity Of Surveying

Moneysupermarket has claimed that less than 25% of British consumers with an internet-enabled handset "actually make(s) use of mobile internet services".

What an incredibly ambigous survey!

How do you define whether someone is actually making use a service, it's 100% contextual and based upon the person finding it useful. For someone that might mean access to Facebook (which can be done easily on most handsets), for others usage of mapping software (good user experience dependent on handset & network) or simply getting football scores (easy for everyone, even just WAP).

- Yes, the ownership of smartphones and feature-rich phone is rising.
- Yes, the average consumer is yet to realise the full potential of their handset.
- Yes, there is a problem with the transparency of billing as customers have difficulty quantifing mobile internet services, particularly compared to calls/texts.

- BUT, this survey is misleading to say that people are struggling to use new services despite all the hype and investment. In fact, I would say the opposite is true and people are finding new ways to use their phones everyday. Innovative new phones, more marketing than ever before and increased interest in technology in the media are behind the increase (alas I have no stats to back me up here).

They say you can prove anything with stats but I do wonder where they got the data for this one.

Faking It In Myanmar

This BBC story on fake goods today made me smile fresh from returning from a adminstrative trip to Burma, aka Myanmar, for my work permit. Bear with me whilst I explain...

Once you pass through the border check-point to the other side (of the road) you are greeted with the standard fanfare of taxi drivers, tour guides and generally dodgey folk that frequent red hot tourist areas.

After brushing off the tour guides ("I'm here an hour purely for visa administration purposes and they have my passport so no temple trip please") we headed down to the market, me in anticipation of some authentic Burmese culture and the missus complaining about the potential for authentic Burmese culture (the two countries aren't exactly too pally, but more on that later).

The market was quite frankly an incredibly depressing place. The fact that it was visited by tourists who are killing time in between updating their visa makes the place somewhat souless, like a pub that exists within a train station but on a whole new level. The markets were literally crammed with beggars and fake goods: phones, watches, games consoles, cigerettes, clothes, bags, anything you can imagine.

Being a bit of a geek I couldn't resits perusing the 'Sumsung' devices, and tested a fake Omnia and an incredibly fake iPhone. My favourite item was most definitely the Super Poly 64 Station billed "The Amazing Game Machine", so already setting pretty high expectations.

So how does the market fare in relation to the sound advice on fake goods issued from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)?

- "Buy from a reputable or regulated site"

Definitely a failure on this count, no Ian Beale style market inspector present

- "If purchasing from outside the UK or a new website research the site, check all the facts before you buy"

Not entirely sure how you can 'check all the facts' as many shopkeeps no speaky English, and I doubt they have all the facts to hand for the Super Poly 64 Station, alas.

- "When a deal looks to good to be true it often is"

When are items are blindingly fake they often go from being acutely undesireable to incredibly collectable. I'd love to have bought a 'Sumsung' but I frankly doubt it would work properly and didn't want to waste my money.

Fake goods in the UK are almost as easy to spot as those at Myanmar market so I have little sympathy for those who purchase them and keep the industry going.

And they may even fund Terrorism (note the capitalisation for addition emphasis)...that's final nail in the coffin then and is sure to make Mummy think twice about buying Little Johnny that fake DS, it's ok that might be faulty, combustable and dangerous but if it funds terrorism then it's definitely off the Xmas list.
Do we need to use terrorism as scaremongery for everything in life? I'd like to see the statistics that link the two together...not likely as they have only said it "could" fund terrorism.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Now that's an awful lotta people

This article from The Nation today...

"Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said the number of stranded tourists have risen to 240,000."

In true Match Of The Day (MOTD) style, that's 240,000 (two hundred and forty thousand).

UPDATE: it's been confirmed that the PAD has ceased its occupation of Government House in Bangkok, it is believed to be mobilising all supporters to concerntrate on its efforts to gather at either Don Muang or Suvarnabhumi airports.

Full story

Thailand: world's top 20 most dangerous places?

The Telegraph has included Thailand in an article on "20 places which are among the most dangerous places to visit on Earth" [what a poorly written phrase], full entry for Thailand below.

Major political demonstrations and a temporary state of emergency have affected both of Bangkok’s airports. The area around Government House and nearby Ratchadamnoen “Nok” Road, including the area around Metropolitan Police headquarters and Parliament should be avoided. Fighting also broke out last month on the Cambodian border at Preah Vihear and tensions remain high. Civil unrest and frequent attacks continue in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla – the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to these areas.

So Thailand apparently enjoys a peer group which includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi, The Congo, Zimbabwe, Lebanon...I could go on...

Thailand is no where near comparable to these places, the article is incredibly misleading. I am fully against the PAD but there is no immediate danger to tourists, assuming none try to tackle the situation directly. The problem, read 'danger', lies in the uncertainty behind the airport closes - it could be open tomorrow, or could stay closed for 2008...nobody knows.

The situation is now a stalemate between the Prime Minister, who cannot be seen to give in to the demands of the mob, and a (minority) mob that truly has nothing to lose and is hell-bent one thing alone - forcing the PM to resign.

With my Western hat on it seems impossible that this will go on any longer, but I'm quickly learning that Thailand is a law unto itself. Stranded tourists are finding ways to get out and get home but in defusing the situation it may become sustainable and longterm, causing Thailand to suffer massively (BoT has predicted a 40% drop in tourism should the airports now open until next year).

With the armed forces and police refusing to move in (the protestors are made up of families, with many women and children - see here for more) the immediate future is unclear but the damage to Thailand's tourism reputation continues to show no sign of abating.

Hat tip to The BANGKOK BUGLE for the article and taking the obvious headline.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Did you know?

I've been here for 7 weeks and 2 days now (not the only 'did you know') and have been absorbing like a pasty, foreign looking sponge with extra large bags round its eyes from lack of sleep.
  • Thais are expected to wear a yellow shirt to work on Mondays, and pink on Tuesdays in honour of the King

  • In Thailand a can of bottle of drink is cheaper than a chocolate bar

  • Thais buses operate are nationalised, privatised and private (more to come on this soon)

  • It is considered rude to consume a drink without a straw, all shops will give you one even if you only buy a carton of milk

  • The (anti-government group) PAD, currently responsible for the closure of Bangkok's major airport, the emergency relocation of Thailand's government and the estimated loss of a million jobs, has its own national television channel. As you can imagine it is fairly propaganda heavy, and certainly not English language.

  • I have not had a hot/warm shower for 7 weeks and 2 days (not one hot water molecule!)

Friday, 28 November 2008

Begining To Count The Cost Of The Crisis

A story in FT Asia this morning has begun to put a price on the PAD action this week, bearing in mind also that it is still ongoing.

"One minister has estimated that it could cost the country $2.8bn in lost revenue, a further blow to an economy already reeling from the fallout from the global economic crisis."

As I mentioned on Wednesday this situation has the potential to become extremely catastrophic from the country tourism industry, which is already struggling.

The first major story of tourists cancelling trips has been reporting as The Bangkok Post reports that "German package-holiday companies cancelled holiday departures on Thursday for 1,200 Germans because Suvarnabhumi international airport remains occupied".

The country and its tourism industry is praying the situation can be remedied swiftly and peacefully.

UPDATE: Bank of Thailand has conservatively predicted that foreign tourist arrivals are likely to fall by 3.5 million (40%) next year if the closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport and current political crisis drags on until the year-end. Courtesy of Bangkok Post.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Woolies woe

I'm going to be the one squillionth person to say how sad I am to hear that Wollies has entered administration.

I hope it's still around in current form when I am back in the UK so I can at least relive my childhood pick'n'mix memories with The Little One, a little for myself too - rude not to.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Bangkok Airport chaos

The latest acts of rioting from the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) has caused chaos in Bangkok forcing the closure of the city's main airport, Suvarnabhumi, and cancellation of all outgoing flights and severe limitations on incoming planes.

The chaos all began when a group of PAD protestors baracaded the motorway turn off the Suvarnabumi airport. Quickly the scene became congested with PAD suppoters and rioters arriving in masses, TV cameras showed scenes of vandalism and violence as PAD supporters ran amok smashing property, burning cars, hijacking a public bus and threatening media and passers by.

In light of the global recession, the timing of the airport closure could not have been worse as Thailand's tourist communtiy is already suffering from inflated air travel prices. Its reputation as a holiday destination has been dented by the continuing political instabilities, including a recent baracade, and temporary closure, of the British Embassy in Bangkok. Tourists will now undoubtedly question whether a trip to Thailand is worth the increasingly costly investment with this latest bout of instability.

It's belived that the PAD has staged this latest exhibition of protest in an attempt to force a coup before the country's King's birthday on 5 December. Political coups are not new to this land, September 2006 saw the Army storm Government House and the state-run Channel 11, in a move that saw former Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra flee to the UK.

Further reading at Bangkok Post.

Update: I'll further explain the PAD and it's position in Thailand's political horizon soon

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Monks have business cards

Did a spot of shameless tourist-esque sightseeing yesterday at a temple less than half an hour from the house.

It was a very beautiful and spiritual place, I can't help but always feel a bit of a fraud in such places where other farangs are snapping away with camera, videos and speaking loudly (usually with North American accents).

Perhaps it was my to be my day after all as having had holy water flicked on to me on entering (as is traditional) I was brave enough to be a real tourist and get a photo with one of the monks. Luck or fate then that that I happened to be close to one who spoke fluent English, was in a very senior position and who, until recently, had been based in Wimbledon...minutes from my old stomping ground in Southfields!

He gave me his business card - YES! monks have business cards these days - see below for my pic with Phramaha (Monk) Watana.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


With only one double period of teaching today I planned to kick back and indulge in some geekery once I had finished planning my lessons for this week.

Ok, lesson plans done and I've come up against a painful barrier - the pedestrian speed Internet here at the school.

I've been used to whizzing about at technology firms, now it's down to a snail's place as I try to load four webpages at a time (this being one of them). I literally have time to have a cuppa for every page load.

Thailand equivilent of Spain's 'manana' is 'mai pen rai', which means don't worry about. True to this no-one is concerned about the Internet speed, it's what they are used to after all.

The technoogy industry has talked of tiered Internet usages packages, particularly in North America with file sharers congesting networks. The idea being that it is not fair for some people to overuse their 'fair share' of the web for heavy bandwidth activities, like P2P file sharing. So, much like flying in a plane, a gold member would have the best possible Internet expierence (and web priority), and the equilivent of bronze would be a slow experience.

Based on today's frustrations, I'll be happy to pay high for my Internet as it is an integral part of what I do these days.

Right, rant off, time for another cuppa while this post loads.

Oh, and this is all within IE 5 - most frustrating.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Loy Krathong In Saraburi

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to take part in Loy Krathong, which is the annual celebration of water, and rivers, in Thailand.

As well as celebrating the river, which was of course played a critical role in civilisation before the advent of mass transport, the festival is a personally spiritual experience. Thais build rafts from leaves which are adorned with flowers, candles and (sometimes) money, they are then released into the river to give good luck to the sender.

This makes for some incredibly beautiful pictures (see here, here and here) but the most spectacular sight has to be the floating Khom, which are set off to lighten the soul's load and cast away bad memories.

It is a truly beautiful scene to see a river sparkling with candle-ladden rafts, fireworks, traditional dancing and floating Khoms.

The Interview

- "So you can speak French?"

- "Yes, I c..."

- "Have you taught before?"

- "Well...not really as a teacher per se, but I have done some..."

- "Would you like to teach a class and be assessed?"

- "I would yes...yes...when would you like to arrange this for?"

- "Great, I'll bring them in now."


An hour later I am taken to the President of the school board for a 'discussion' accompanied by The Missus, the head of the school's foreign language department, a fluent-English speaking teacher, the Vice-President of the board and the head of administration.

Through translation the President looked over my resume, looked at my university certificate and asked me exactly the same questions about my experience, and then all of a sudden...

- "What kind of salary are you expecting? You will be working 4 days a week here."

- "Well, I can be flexible...[after a long pause, prompting looks from my audience and an awkward, trying-to-be-private glance at The Better Half] about X,000 baht per month."
[a standard amount for other jobs I had seen advertised in the area]

My request is translated into Thai for the President. He is now looking me straight into the eye, then up and down. He doesn't appear to like me much, plus I'm not wearing a tie - bugger.

President converses with the English-speaking teacher.

- "You say you can be flexible, this salary is quite expensive...can you go lower?"

Another awkward glance at The Missus, begin to lose cool...I don't really know how much to take off. Head for a round number near by.

- "Well...I...I could go to Y,000 baht. Would that work for you." [followed by positive glances from The Other Half]

The teacher translates my latest offer to the President, who takes another chance to look at me somewhat disdainfully...

- "Ok, we will have to wait", I am told, "please come with me and wait outside"

We head towards the door, on the way I stop to bow and give my thanks to the President.

- "You WAIT for me" I am told in no uncertain terms.


We wait for 30 minutes or so before the Vice President is called into the Presidents office. He comes back to us somewhat despondent telling me that, although most of the others are in favour of hiring me, the President feels I am too expensive. He has already phone 3/4 other teachers he knows who can do the job for less.

The VP and English-speaking teacher, who are the only two now accompanying myself and The Good Lady, speak in Thai before both heading back into the President's office.

No less than 15 minutes later they reemerge telling me I will find out if I've got the job on Friday. The school phoned the next morning to confirm I got the position.

It seems the last French teacher made such a poor impression that many of the students and staff question whether she even spoke the language.

The upshot is that they've decided to take their chances on this unproven teacher (with great potential) I have a work-permit being processed, a decent salary until February and one less working day (albeit a Thursday not a Friday).

This is not to dismiss the selection process I underwent, because believe me I was assessed (twice in the end) so I haven't just come fresh off the streets, it is more to show the culture of employment and hierarchy that exists in this country.

In my short-ish career to date I've generally done well at interviews, but this process really threw me, particularly the 'name your price' game. Bartering generally takes place after an interview, and in a more descreet manner with time for contemplation and conferring where necessary.

I've already taught one of my three classes, but will begin my new job tomorrow in Lopburi, a town famous for its population of street-roaming monkeys.

Wish me luck in avoiding banana skins...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Community Sports Centres

A couple of weeks ago I discovered the local sports complex.

Well, not strictly true as The Missus had told me there was a local gym, which was free to use. As a result, I had quite limited expectations for "the gym".

On arrival it is clear to see that we are not talking about a gym here - it's a sports village, and mostly importantly, it's free to use.

The centre boasts a range of sporting facilities including:

- 4 gyms, that I find so far
- basketball courts
- swimming pool (with grand stand for spectators)
- futsol pitches
- grass football pitches
- a sports hall (for volleyball, bandminton others)
- two running tracks
- a full-size football pitch with two large spectator stands and scoreboard
- a number of areas for Thai sports, including a Boule-like game and one sport which is a cross between volleyball and football keepy-upies.

The centre is pretty dilapidated and in need of a general clean, for example the seats in the stadium as used by the birds living above, and the stadium's running track is no longer the quality gravel it once was.

The centre does not fully open until 3pm (closing at 8pm each day) everyday, including weekends.

Most towns have similarly spectacular facilities, although the state of each of them does seem to vary somewhat. It's incredibly sad to see what are great facilities in a state of (somewhat) decline. That said, they get an exceptional amount of use, so it's another case of 'mai pen rai' (don't worry about it).

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bricks And Water

We're currently in the rainy season in Thailand, making everyone vulnerable to sudden torrents of rain at anytime of the day or night. This makes me think twice before leaving the house in my tourist best clothes, some form of protection from a potential downfall is advised.

With many Thai houses being semi-open plan, by which I mean that livings rooms, hall ways and communal areas tend to have only two walls to ensure the flow of air to keep the house cool, rain can cause quite a din unless you're in the sanctity of four walls usually a bedroom). For example, watching TV, having a conversation across a room and even just trying to think become much harder.

Spare a thought then for the new neighbours.

Well, I say neighbours but they are quite unconventional having moved into the guard tower at the housing development next door - a family of 7, I estimate.

The father of the family got a job guarding the entrance to the development (which is hardly a criminal hotbed) and has decided to move his family into the brick cabin 'office' and then build a makeshift house around it using any materials available.

The result is a semi-shanty/brick house for the family, which is apparently an upgrade on their last home. I have no idea how they wash/shower and their kitchen is in the 'garden' aka surrounding glass, the 'house' seems incredibly susceptible to the elements.

No-one seems to mind the new arrivals but for me it is a sad tale of the poverty and sheer desperation that is here for all to see in Thailand. In this relatively affluent neighbour a shanty house is home to a family of 3 generations - it find it hard to believe that it is a safe and clean place to live but they seem happy.

The poverty here is literally next door and it does make you think.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Free Wheelin'

Got my self some independence, my own set of wheels...oh yeah...

Most Thais ride scooters around as they are easy and cheap to run, sadly for me they are relatively expensive to buy, as a foreigner I would also need to pay for a license conversion. Bikes are far easier and require no petrol or license fee - plus a good form of exercise.

So my independence has come at the cost of 1,700 baht, a little over £30, from good old Tesco Lotus - a regular haunt of mine as I buy more stuff.

I know part of being responsible, and a father, is when you choose functionality over extravagent. It seems like I've already arrived (some may say my journey wasn't a long one).

That's right, the sporty model with a suspension, race tyres, a light chassis, cool colour, water bottle and all the trimmings came in at almost three times the price (4,500 baht) so I opted for the family saloon equivalent with a seat/cargo rack on the back and space for a basket at the front.

It does have 5 gears though...ROCK N ROLL

Thailand: did you know?

A few observations from Thailand, in no particular order:

1. Television channels can show dead corpses, traumatic hospital bed scenes and extreme amounts of blood, yet cleavage is pixelated.

2. Muslims in Thailand eat pork. Not every Muslim, of course, but the family over the road certainly consumes its fair share.

3. Sticking with pork, confusingly it is called 'mou' (pronounced moo). And no...I know what you're thinking and beef isn't 'oink'.

4. Thailand has Family Fortunes (there goes my big franchise plan), it's quite a cult show too.

5. SevenEleven is massive in Thailand, and rather confusing it is open 24/7 (TwentyFourSeven). You'll find a branch on practically every road/corner.

6. Tesco Lotus is THE place to shop in Thailand. The local store (of hypermarket proportions) sells everything from cooking oil, fruit and veg and TVs to bikes, phones, beds, gym equipment, clothes and a whole lot more.

7. Pork scratchings are a popular Thai delicacy. The local market is a good place to get amazing quality scratchings, 'no kap mou'. See this photo I stole from someone else for a sample (and note there is no joke about my expat itch for this treat being scratched).

That's all for now, folks.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Annoying Neighbour

Neighbours, and random people, always stop us when we are out talking The Little One for a ride in the buggy. Most of them say he is adorable, and once they hear me speak a couple of native words they launch into an 1,000 mile an hour chat which goes straight through me (I know understand that they say we're very much alike). This attention has made him something of a celebrity baby in these parts. Something I'm which is nice to see, within reason.

Just recently a neighbour came round to visit The Little One a few days after he left the hospital, accompanied by her 2 month pregnant daughter.

On arrival she asked the father-in-law, how much we spend on the buggy and how much was the cot? FIL explained that the buggy was a present from England, and I had bought the cot for around 3,000 baht, £50 (thanks, Tesco Lotus!).

The neighbour immediately responded saying that she would spend that kind of money on quality food and milk for her incoming grandson, and not purchase such an expensive and extravagant cot and buggy as they are clearly not necessary. She questioned whether we had considered this when we first purchased these "luxury items".

She then proceeded to spend the whole afternoon giving The Missus the what-for for every aspect of motherhood. Telling her even to overrule the Doctor's orders, to refrin from hot drinks as her blood is very thin and it could lead to problems - but, of course, the neighbour knows best!
My God, this women was so annoying, and so obviously trying to get one over on the farang neighbour. Most have welcomed me as a positive addition to the community (particularly given my learning of Thai) but I'm acutely aware there are some who will convict me of a lack of culture/class, say I am an unwanted Westerner or will just act plain jealous.

And all this comes before I've had the chance to unleash my sensational football skills!

Babies & F1

Reflecting on looking after The Little One helped me produce 5 reasons why caring for a baby is just like Formula 1.
  • Babies are like drivers - you want to find one? Look for the gaggle of doting women, some of whom will be holding parasols to keep the sun away.

  • Like babies, drivers are pampered so that they every need is covered.

  • Babies, like drivers, let everyone in the vicinity know when they is just the slightest thing wrong with their set-up. Then it's all hands to the pump with a dedicated personal assistant.

  • Feed time is just like refueling an F1 car. Car/baby put in position, refuel agent added and off he/she/it goes

  • Nappy changing time is just like a pit stop. Baby/car put into a stationary position (handbrake engaged) and the old clothes are removed to be replaced but a new clean set and off he/she/it goes.

Lewis Hamilton would be more than happy to own this speedster, it's the fastest thing on the block here...and certainly the only one with suspension!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Luk Kreungs

Luk kreung (half Thai) babies are doted on by Thai society. The majority of the country's celebrities are half-Western (for exampke), and they are a fascination to the people with their mixture of Eastern and Western looks and personas. For marketing people they fuse a dream combination which offers a Western influence (which is still seen as being cooler) and yet relate to 'everyday' Thais.

Now Nong Ling ('Little Monkey', aka The Little One) had scarcely been in the world for a few hours and already there were a queue of people who had heard a Farang (foreign) baby was being born, and they wanted to check him out.

This is the excitement, which includes me being stopped around the hospital and asked (in Thai) how the baby is getting on.

It went so far that, whilst we were in the market before he was born, random people would come up to The Missus and ask how it was all going and when they could see him.

People truly are excited to see him in this town and long may that continue.