Saturday, 28 February 2009

Learning Thai - the long road starts here

The school holidays have come to Thailand which means I've finished my job and am officially off work until my new job starts in May/June. 

With more time on my hands there are a few things I'm keen to get cracking on:
  • Get a tan - enough of being pasty already. I came back from a week in Italy dark brown last yer, 4 months in Thailand have yielded precious little - there' is always something more important to do which stops the sunbathing).
  • Take on short-term work. Many teachers are not paid during the holidays the more seasoned will take holiday classes but I have a few non-teaching options to keep the bank manager happy.
  • Learn more Thai!! Im in a tricky situation with the language, I've learnt the basics and I can get around fine but I want more so I'm going to tackle written Thai - the holy grail. I feel ashamed of foreigners who no effort to speak the language, I'm totally the opposite.
In the long run this method is the most practical way of learning Thai as it allows the learner to become self-sufficient, in so far as I will be able to read words and pick up their meaning without needing them translated into Roman script. Suddenly the signs

I'm not alone in my aim, many expats try to learn to write in Thai but few actually stick with it and see it through to any kind of fluency. 

So why's that then?

It's no easy task, there is an entire alphabet to acquaint oneself with - that's 44 new consenants, 32 new vowels and a number of pronounciations which do not exist in the English language. The words bear no resemblance to anything English, in fact they may sound similar to words which have no relation. For example, the word "mei" is used in many sentances, often as the first word, which would lead one to believe it means "me" when in fact it means "no" or "not" depending on the context.

Then there are the tones. Thai is a tonal language with 5 different tones - low, medium, high, rising, falling - it's tricky for foreigners and can lead to considerable confusion. Take for example the word for 'snow' (hi ma) if mispronounced it can mean 'dog's private parts'...yes I found out this one out myself!

So to get me started I have a couple of language books, a podcast series on my iPod, a range of useful websites and a Thai family to help iron out my creases. There is option of language schools or teachers but I live with native speakers and have a number of Thai friends so it I can be flexible to my schedule with The Little One (and save a wad of cash) by hitting the books and testing myself on the locals.

A thorooughly comprehensive article on the frustrations and joys of learning can be found at Phil's Thailand Travel Guide. Catherine's excellent Women Learning Thai blog is also recommended reading and does cater for men despite the title.

ฃอบคุณดรับ พบกันใหม่นะ

[thank you, see you later]

*This one Thai sentance was by far and away the most time consuming part of this post

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Get in!

Apologies for the truly self-indulgent post (if I can't do it here then where else?!) but after applying for two jobs I've just been offered both.

I'm over the moon as I had hoped to be offered one at best so to get both is a special. 

You'll find no man in Thailand more relieved than this one, my work permit is close to expiry and the current job ends this week so the risk of having to leave Thailand (The Missus and Little One) had begun to play on my mind. Many expats blitz their resume round or take the first job that bites but I took a risk in being very selective as I don't want a job I will hate.

The cherry on the top is that I can take them both on - each is very different, choosing one would've been a tough call.

I won't give any details away just yet as I don't want to jinx it, I've already found out how flimsy and frustrating a verbal agreement in Thailand can be.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Cometh the rain, cometh the wildlife

A change in the weather brought a day or so of rain and lightening to central Thailand last week. In stark contrast to the snow back in Blight we’ve enjoyed countless hot sticky days of late so much so that I had almost forgotten what rain is.

Days before the skys opened armies of knowing ants from the surrounding area fled their homes to avoid drowing before the downpour. Watching the lines of ants marching across the house is quite the sight, until they stop for a meal with a detour past my biscuit collection – that’ll teach me for being too lazy to move it back the cupboard.

With the changing weather the semi open-plan design of Thai houses makes them refuge for all sorts of creatures seeking refuge from the elements.

One visit to the kitchen in the middle of the night (as standard with The Little One) I felt something turning in shock to see a giant cockroach making fast progress up my leg.

Cue me running away to get a Big Shoe to exterminate the darn thing. Of course when I got back it was nowhere to be seen.

I was comparatively fortunate, the Missus’ sister got back from a late night in town to be greeted by a poisonous snake in the kitchen only to see it again next morning lying near a collection of jars.

I know have a few simple rules I follow when in the house at night:

  • Always switch on all of the lights
  • Never go barefooted
  • Fait du attention at all times – not  easy when you’ve just woken up at 2 am

The snake is no more after being spotted and 'desposed of' by someone-far-braver-than-me although I can proudly say I got rid of three (yes, three) cockroaches from the kitchen.

[No frogs were harmed in this story, or any others for that matter]

Now that the weather has returned to its usual stickiness so it is business as usual although I will point out that resident creatures include lizards, frogs, rats (in the garden thankfully), a family of birds nested in the roof and, from time to time, a gecko...a world away from my old place in Southfields.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Four months ago today

It's hard to believe that four months ago today I become a Dad with the arrival of my little man, Tobias, to be honest it feels longer!

I still vividly recall waking up in the hospital the next morning, 19 October, to be greeted by an enormous grey hair protruding from my dark brown fringe. It looked me straight in the eye and screamed WELCOME TO PARENTHOOD SIR! Not seen any more greys since then although in time they will come, no doubt.

I'm so proud of my son and the Missus and I just can't picture life without him. So I couldn't let this landmark slide without posting a cute photo of the man of the moment, could I?

Passing the four month mark is also the perfect time for me to discuss my experiences of Thai culture and the differences of life here compared to the UK. 

Just living here alone is hugely different let alone bring up a child as you can see from this great post from Canadian expat Lana on her blog, Serrated Edges

Lana gives gives an excellent overview of some of the key differencing in parenting Thai-style versus the more traditional Western way, including: transport safety, skin tones, the role of grandparents and the reaction of the community to her brood. 

Look out for a soon-to-come post from me on the subject.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Trains, planes and automobiles

It's been a funny a week which has seen me add another two methods of transport to list which already includes tuk-tuk, bus, taxi, motorbike taxi and, of course, plane amongst others.

First off, I got behind the wheel of a car in Thailand for the first time when I borrowed FIL's pick-up to get to work and back for an interview.

Like the UK, Thailand drives on the left-side so there were no major issues of acclimbatising. That said there are a few major differences from the kind of driving I am used to:
  1. Thai's drive aggressively - no sign of caution as in the UK, here if they want to change lane, undertake or cut you up they'll just do it.
  2. Lots of motorcyclists - who drive as if they own the road, weaving in and out of traffic and dominating lanes. In the city centre they practically had their own lane, quite different to London.
  3. Honking - Thai's use the horn much more than in the UK. At home it is primarily to vent fury on other drivers whereas Thais are a little more constructive and also use it to alert fellow road-users, e.g. making the motorcyclist your are overtaking aware of you or approaching a blind-corner.
This way just a wee run-out for me as I I'm determined to get my Thai driving license in the near future (now that I have the required work-permit book).

In other transport-related news this week I caught the train today. What an interesting experience, particularly when compared to London.

The train was late, common for the UK, yet the tannoy announcement was not greeting with a chorus of cynical rants from the public. How refreshing for me, someone who admits he finds the reaction reaction of London's commuting public more irritating that the inconvenience of a late running service.

What about the cost then?

Well, no arms and legs were sacrificed for this journey, between the two of us a return trip was 18 baht (around the price of a small bottle of Coke). The missus got on free, like all Thais, and the alien, yours truly, paid 9 baht (circa 20p) per leg.


The train itself was not quite as comfortable as London trains or tubes and, true to the nature of Thailand, vendors walked up and down the train selling a range of food and drinks to the commuters. Unlike British trains the goods were without a hefty mark-up, although I would question the freshness of the cooked meat on offer...

I enjoyed the train and I will use it again in the future. The journey wasn't the most direct or speedy so I would recommend alternative options for travelling on a tight deadline.

I need to build on these by finally getting to grips with the motorcycle, so far I've preferred my bike (healthier and easier) but I definitely miss having my own form of transport out here.

I will post the photos I took once they are uploaded...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

What next?

My contract teaching French at the school runs out at the end of February meaning I have less three weeks left here.

I have politely declined a return as an English teacher and won't be staying at the school in any capacity, the main reason being the hour plus journey each way. No tears though, I was an interim solution whilst they look for a native Thai teacher, as is standard in schools here.

I have neglected my poor 'lil blog of late but will make up for it with a post on my experiences at the school and thoughts on teaching in Thailand.

As for my next move, I have a few exciting 'opportunities in the pipeline' but don't want to jinx anything but giving any information away just yet.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Case of British swinger illustrates Thai justice

The Bangkok Post has reported that a British man who ran a business arranging swinger parties in Thailand has been arrested by police.

The 54 year old man, Christian Arthur Richards, was arrested at the scene of one such party on Thursday. Police also held six Thais and 16 foreigners found with Richards in a Bangkok hotel.

Richards ran a website to arrange and advertise the parties which cost 3,000 baht (circa £60) per person. It is thought that he arranged at least 100 parties in Bangkok and notorious party/sleaze resort Pattaya.

Richard's punishment is interesting part of the story, the police are suggesting he will face either "a 10 year jail term or a fine of up to 20,000 baht".

Ten years sounds incredibly harsh, for a victimless crime and with no prostitutes were involved. Wouldn't it be ironic if a professional sex party organiser had to spent 10 years eating porridge and taking showers in a Thai slammer?

Back to reality, this is Thailand and a fine will most likely be sufficient and, as is often the case, the fine is hardly a deterrent.

Given that his parties typically attracted 20-25 'guests', the fine is less than a typical event's earnings (20,000 equates to less than 7 paying customers). As a veteran of more than 100 parties, 20,000 should be well within his reaches rendering the fine is a truly pitiful slap on the wrists.

Welcome to Thai justice where money is king and (some) crimes far darker and more sinister than this can be settled with no great punishment or deterrent for future offenders.