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.