Friday, 27 March 2009

You won’t find it at home: the Thai deodorant stone

As with the inaugural YWFIAH feature (the electric mosquito bat) the latest "only in Thailand” product is the answer to a major problem for ex-pats – sweat.

Most Thais have a remarkable tolerance to hot weather, unlike us farang. While Thais can be seen about town sporting jeans, trainers and even, jackets or long sleeves, JF will rarely ventureout in more than a vest, shorts and, the obligatory, flip-flops.

The problem here is work attire, which sadly differs from the three-piece above. Long trousers and shirts are a sure recipe to get the sweat glands pumping and patches rearing their ugly heads left, right and centre. Deeply unpleasant and not a look anyone is going for.

Of course, most Thais still sweat but they have a secret weapon that they’ve been using for years in their battle against BO...

I present the Thai deodorant stone, a solution which, like the best of things here in Thailand, is almost magical with its powers.

[My trusty roll-on]

The stone is 100% natural, made by crystallising potassium sulphate and mineral salts found in Thai mineral. The ingredients are crystallised over a period of months before being hand cut and smoothed into a stone-like shape.

The deodorant works by inhibiting bacteria growth on the body, rather than masking it like Western solutions. Unscented, the stone leaves an invisible layer of protection to prevent odour-causing bacteria from forming, leaving the wearer without buckets of sweat and feeling clean.

It has been said to be anything from 3-5 times as effective as conventional deodorant, and is available at a snip of the price.

The deodorant is available as a roll-on or, for those seeking a little more tradition, there are also the pure stones. The deodorant is applied to wet skin after a bath or shower, before drying. To use on dry skin, the roll-on/stone is simply made wet before application.

And that’s it.

It really works.

Personally, I love it. It beats anything else I’ve ever used.

A quick search shows word has got out and the product are shipped and sold all over the world using the internet. Although available across the world, most outlets describe the product as originating from Thailand. So, yes, technically you can get it at home but it is a Thai invention so I’ve ruled it eligible for a YWFIAH feature.

I wonder, am I the only expat going Thai-style with my personal hygiene or do others use this staggeringly effective product?

Price: Ranging from 10 baht (stones) to 60 baht (roll-on)

Available: Markets are the best place to look. Not stocked in Tesco Lotus or Big C.

**UPDATED** Was in Tesco Lotus t'other day and it seems you can buy them there after all. Not sure about Big C.

[The more traditional stone, still effective. Excuse the mess in the bathroom.]

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

A week is a long time in the blogosphere

Ahoy there. Remember me?

So it's been more than a week since my last post. I'd normally be ashamed to have gone so long without an update but I have extenuating circumstances.

- my brother stopped over for a week during the Asia leg of his 'Escape From Blighty' world tour extravaganza (the ugly looking but nicely written blog "with a map" is waiting for you here)

- a healthy amount of client work has been on my plate

- I 'enjoyed' three-and-a-bit days of agony and pain courtesy of a urine infection

- Wi-Fi router was mistakenly reset. Result: a return to (frustratingly slow) wired internet and JF wracking his brains to recall the set-up procedure

I'm can report all is well now. 

I've just completed the course of medication, am close to 100% again, tomorrow will be a work-free day (by choice) to spend with the family and the Wi-Fi has returned after I finally worked it out.

On the guest front, my brother is in Bangkok "scoping the place out" returning on Saturday, the same day that my parents arrive in Thailand. I haven't seen them since they became grandparents almost 6 months ago so it will be fantastic to have them here for a fortnight

Therefore normal service at JF will be resumed only temporarily. 

I'm no once-a-day blogger (respect to those that are and keep it interesting, like Mike) so my updates will be assured I've plenty of material for when I'm back.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Being talk of the town

Anyone who has spent time living in Thailand will testify that Thai people are inquisitive by nature. When it comes to foreigners, they just love to stare. Be that when out shopping, when in a restaurant or even passing by driving a motorcycle.

The further one ventures from Bangkok, the stronger the urge of curiosity is in Thais. Of course, a large city like Bangkok has many foreigners living and working or travelling through it so the novelty value of each farang lessens.

Where I reside, we are about an hour or so by bus from The Big Smoke that is BKK. Here, foreigners are less likely to be found. This make us an interesting spot for the locals, particularly when we are with a baby that is half-English, half-Thai (luk kreung). Suddenly, this foreigner is particularly interesting.

Some of the most typical comments include:

  •           What is he doing here outside of Bangkok?
  •           If that’s his baby, that must be his wife/girlfriend...
  •           I wonder how they met? (my story isn’t quite that of the ‘usual’ Anglo-Thai relationship)

Most of the time I find Thais to be very friendly, many will come over and ask about the baby, me, and other things – I guess for them it puts my appearance into some context, not just a strange pale faced, foreigner walking about town. I love stopping to speak to friendly locals but am beginning to find the constant stares, whispers and giggles of those too shy to over and speak to us a little tiresome. Being the kind of guy I am, once in a while I will wave over or go over and say hello, just to see the reactions. Most of the time I am greeted with a wave or ‘sawadee’ back, but some will be embarrassed and look for cover.

I’m by no means the only farang in town, but I am certainly the only farang living on our road. Most are families with more than one generation, I suspect most houses have been owned by their occupants for many, many years. For these families, I am, and have been, a novelty since I arrived in October last year.

There are some locals who I’ve got to know, like and become friendly with but any given day, should I venture to the front of the house, near the road, I’ll see cars slowly down to look at the farang, motorbike drivers turning almost  180 degrees to grab a peak of me. It still makes me chuckle – seriously, I am really worth a look?!

One of the consequences of my new found fame is that we, The Missus, The Little One and I, have been the subject of much gossip in town.

As I mentioned earlier, Thai people I bump into in town will often come and ask us questions in order to understand how, why and what I am doing here. We’ve found that neighbours who do not know anything about me, and perhaps have a chip on their shoulder, will start gossip within the local neighbourhood. So, what have they said of the town’s adopted farang...

On my arrival: “They (me and The Missus) were forced to move to Thailand as his parents did not approve of him having a child with a Thai girl”

Following the visit of a (female) family friend: “His girlfriend from England came out to Thailand to track him down and find out what is going on” [the irony being that the visitor was my brother’s ex-girlfriend]

After we bought a cot for the son: “They spend too much money on the baby’s bed and now can’t afford to buy him good quality milk.” [as mentioned previously]

One neighbour after seeing some nice quality baby clothes (from England) hanging on the line: “They spent too much money on clothes and now can’t afford to buy their baby good quality milk” [no response necessary!]

This all makes us laugh – the idea that people can come up with these, frankly nonsensical tales of the tallest variety just to fill idle gossip time. Ninety nine per cent of the community know these rumours are utter rubbish and we find them out because, at some point in the chain, a family friend will find and react, like us, with laughter before communicating the tale back to a member of the family.

Personally, I’m looking forward to what the story-tellers-in-chief can come up with when my brother stops buy (tomorrow) for 10 days as part of his travels in Asia and my parents arrive for a fortnight’s holiday at the end of the month. Let’s hope they get creative!

This is quite a rambling rant, which comes after I just heard the comedy tale of my 'ex' from England hunting me down in Thailand, but the moral of the story is that foreigners living in Thailand, particularly with a Thai partner, will have difficulty leading a quiet life. That comes with good parts and negatives.

I’d love to hear other people’s stories about being ‘the only farang in the village’, their adventures according to the gossipers and any other tales that relate to this topic.

Look forward to your comments!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

My double life revealed

Time to come clean, I’m living a double life which has got a little crazy of late.

I’ve been living a’s been heart has been pulled from all directions...I really didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to talk to...

Yes, that’s right, you guessed right...I’ve got two jobs. What else could it be?!

[I'll leave you to judge which half is Jekyll and which is Hyde]

After leaving my post as French teacher at a regional government school, I’ve agreed to teach at a reputable, local primary school. When I say ‘local’ I mean my commute is down to a 5 minute cycle from 1 hour plus on the buses.

The kids at the school are quite something. I’ve had the privilege of guest teaching them, as part of my interview assessment, and it is quite reasonable to say that the 9 year old class understood and spoke more English than the most senior class in my previous school, a typical Thai government school.

I’ll be teaching Pattyom 1, aka grade 1, students aged 6-7 which is a very different challenge to teaching disinterested 16-18 year olds to speak French – and, above all, it’s one I’m relishing greatly.

Against this day job is my ambition, like many “long-timers” I’ve met in Thailand, move away from teaching into a more career oriented profession. That isn’t to say I dislike teaching or am not committed to my new job, but is has always been an experience rather than a full-time career move.

So my dark secret is my pursuit of a career as a freelance writer here in Thailand, drawing on, and developing, my previous experience in London working with some ground-breaking brands and inspiring individuals.

Initially my writing commitments are in addition to teaching but the aim is to go full time come the end of my contract at the school next February.

So while most teachers will spend the break travelling, returning home or chilling, I have been rushing about ensuring my first assignments impress suitability –not that I'm complaining mind. As before, I won’t jinx it by revealing too much info yet.

Right, must go, two 15 hour plus days on ‘business’ have been separated by just 5 hours of shut-eye – results: increased panda eyes and more than a little sleep deprivation.

**If you are curious, SMSisthenewblack is a blog I contribute to

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Embassy left Brit to rot in prison

Travellers to Thailand may return home nursing the pain of sunburn, excessive drinking, jet-lag, less in the bank, a local scam or perhaps an illness picked up from the 12 hour plane journey. We’ve all been there.

Spare a thought or three then for Simon Burrowes, a 42 year old Brit, who’s working holiday to Thailand has cost him his rented flat in London, 21 days in Thai prison, all of the money he possess and a charge of “insulting immigration officers” which may take up 12 months to process.

Burrowes was checking at immigration checking-in before his flight home when officials, suspicious of his passport, held and questioned him for an hour before contacting the British embassy in Bangkok for authentication of his passport and travelling documents.

To his horror, Burrowes was told by embassy staff that his passport could not be located on the system and, as it was a Friday the embassy was closing early and would look into the matter after the weekend. Unable to pay the £2,000 bail, Burrowes then spent the weekend in prison.

The following Monday his passport has confirmed as legitimate by the British embassy. Issued in Australia, it seems the passport had eluded officials who were unable to find a record of it – quite a shocking and damning fact in this day and age. Even once he was confirmed as a legal British citizen, Burrowes was not free to leave as he learnt, for the first time, that he was to remain be charged “insulting immigration officers”. As he could not yet afford bail, he remained in prison.

His charge related to a verbal between Burrowes and Thai immigration officials when he was initially held at the airport. Burrowes claims officially said his flight would not leave without their say-so, yet it did. He alleges that he asked them to stop treating him like a fucking idiot, the officials claim he called them fucking idiots and hence the charges were brought.

His case not due in court until April and with only one sitting a month Burrowes is likely to remain in limbo for anything up to year. One physical place he will not remain is jail as the bail money was finally met after the Brit had languished in prison for 21 days.

All in all a pretty disgraceful chain of events.

Thai-based journalist Andrew Drummond broke the story in a number of national newspapers and his blog.

Interestingly Drummond has a follow-up post which raises questions about the actions of embassy officials who did not deem Burrowes’ case worthy of  the “systems in place [which] provide consular assistance in emergency cases 24 hours a day 7 days a week”.

It is quite shocking that the embassy could leave one of its citizens hanging so precariously whilst officials go about adding an extra few hours to their weekends. Perhaps worse is the embassy’s claim, in an email to Drummond, that “the issue was resolved within three working days”.

Even now, when it is clear to all and sundry that this poor man suffered at the hands of his embassy, the officials release such pre-prepared and on message responses which are insensitive to the situation. The embassy needs to issue a response and acknowledge the mistakes made, rather than trying to sweep this under the carpet.

Then there is the issue of race, Burrowes is a black male of Guyanese background, here’s a snippet from Drummond’s blog...

“And then Simon is black. I can’t help feel that he is right when he says: ‘In Thailand there is no perception of a black Englishman’.

So when the British Embassy could not immediately find his passport record and told Thai police, it does not take much imagination to know how Simon Burrowes would be treated. (’Like a West African drugs dealer’) When he was beaten with a leather strap outside the court there were witnesses. But those witnesses would be foolish probably to take the matter further.  In any case he believes he was hit because the officer was ‘in the rhythm’ so to speak. He is big but he was handcuffed and could hardly defend himself.

When I spoke to him here was little malice about it in his voice. He was just gobsmacked and thought the officer in question was just showing off.

When the story from the black people’s London newspaper ‘Voice’ was picked up by the local, singularly pro-active, Phuketwan website, Thai Immigration police immediately closed ranks. Simon was ‘abusive and aggressive’.  He was ‘not the sort of tourist we want’.  ‘He posed naked for his passport picture’. What sort of person would do that?’.

All baloney of course.  Simon laughed about his passport: “Yes. To somebody else I probably look like a black thug,” he told me.  Of course he was not naked in his passport picture. If he was the picture would have been in Thai Rath a long time ago.  It was a head and shoulders picture. His collar bone was exposed!

And how many of us are unhappy with our passport photos?

So there you have it. Face saving all round. No need to dwell on the criticism of the British Embassy. But it could have been more muted if they had handled it differently. But time and time again they seem to score own goals when dealing with the media.  And this case was no exception.

The responses of the embassy, with its cover-up and lack of 24/7 emergency support for Burrowes, and the swift, fierce actions of the Thai police suggest that the embassy may have told Thai authorities that Burrowes was travelling on false papers.

This has been denied by authorities, however in the meantime Simon Burrowes remains in Thailand awaiting further developments. We can only home that common sense prevails and he is allowed to return home.

As the father of a Anglo-Thai child whose first passport will not be issued from London, this example worries me for the future. The embassy should be held to account but it has already failed to go public and acknowledge the (multiple) mistakes made. Changes must be made internally. A good start would be working all day on Fridays, they must owe a few by now.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

You won’t find it at home: the electric mosquito bat

In a country full of mosquitoes one requires measures to avoid being covered in itchy, red marks courtesy of this pesky insect.

Oils, creams, sprays, candles, sheets, plug-in repellents etc can be used as preventative measures, but what about tackling the problem head on?

Yes, meet the electric bat, in my opinion of one of the greatest inventions of the modern world.

Similar in size to a tennis or badminton racquet, the bat packs a punch with a push button activated electric charge on the racquet strings. They charge from mains and run for hours in between recharges.

Yes folks, this is an end to worrying whether you are covered with enough cream, no panicking that ‘one of them got through the net’ or ‘is waiting inside’...the invention prevents mosquitoes effectively and, let’s face it, it beats the alternative solution of swinging hands and arms and hoping for the best.

It ain’t half fun too. Think of all those times you been an unsuspecting dinner for a clan of mosquitoes. Take aim, push the button...take revenge.

On a serious note, I’m not sure how I would survive without this. Making sure The Little One is not ravaged by mosquitoes is essential and we regularly hunt every nook and cranny of the room for mozzies and other insects lurking with intent.

There's not a soul alive with love for the mosquito

So there you have the mosquito bat, every Thai household should have one along with a plug-in, noise-emitting repellent. Equally, if you’re holidaying or travelling through Thailand I recommend one up in conjunction with repellents and anti-insect burner, small enough to travel and sure to reduce the bites.

Price: 50-100 baht (£1.00-2.00)

Available: Tesco Lotus and most retail outlets across Thailand

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Man City end Thai links

Manchester City Football Club has officially announced the closure of its operations in Thailand according to Reuters.

This announcement has been inevitable ever since former owner, ex-Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, curiously nicknamed Frank by City fans, sold the club to a Middle Eastern consortium in September 2008.

Thaksin ambitious plans to paint Thailand, and Asia, blue included partnerships with clubs in Thailand, South Africa, Switzerland, Australia, China and Russia, the purchase of 3 Thai international players, plans for academies of excellence in Thailand and other major Asian countries and mass merchandising across the Asian region. 

The announcement below last week has officially ended all of these initiatives and the club of today is vastly different (read considerably more wealthy) than at any time in its history.

"We saw no point in carrying on after the Shinawatra family sold its share. City still has fans here but there's not a lot of interest anymore."

What ever people say about Thaksin, his track record in the world of business suggests he is a shrewd entrepreneur capable of growing companies and businesses in huge brands. His failure at Manchester City is due to two major points.

1) Problems in Thailand - his position at the club became increasingly untenable when the Thai Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption from his time as Prime Minister. The freezing of his assets in Thailand caused a major panic at the club as it had spend beyond its means reliant on Thaksin's wealth, this led to its sale.

2) Football is unlike the world of business - football is littered with successful businessmen who failed as chairmen or financial backers. He saw Manchester City as a brand which could become synonymous with Asia, Thailand in particular, however, swapping a team is different to changing a consumers habits. The brand loyalty of a football team is hugely different to that of a car, clothing or food - these consumer goods follow consumer/marketing theories in a way sport does not.

Popularity outside of a club's country is reliant upon success. With the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool out-performing City for years, the majority of Thais were unlikely to be swayed overnight simply because of a club's chairman and the presence of 3 fellow countrymen in the reserve team (all of whom were loaned out in Switzerland). Sure some new fans would be attracted but those most likely to continually spend on merchandise are the football crazy and most of these already have a team and are unlikely to change in the short-term.

I moved to Thailand in October  so I cannot speak about the success of Thaksin's initiatives but I can say that I have never seen more Liverpool fans anywhere!

The main football team of Thailand is definitely Liverpool, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all close behind. I suspect this is similar across Asia, and Thaksin's 1o months at Manchester City have come to nothing. 

It's been speculated that Thaksin used Man City as a political pawn in Thailand or that it was a legitimate way of securing his wealth in Britain and helping set up home in the UK. These may all be true but from a football point of view, it is a miracle that the saga has passed with Manchester City is in a better position than before. A chairman with a non-footballing interests in a club is a recipe for disaster.

Thaksin was either lucky to find his Zillionaire buyer in the Middle East or, as an experienced businessman, he is incredibly well connected - like most arguments around the affairs of the man, with little fact available opinion will be strongly divided.

UPDATE: interestingly Man City's Thai website comes out top with on Google Thailand search - will the site be maintained regularly in light of City's withdrawl?

Man City's departure from Thailand is not the end for Premiership teams in the country. Arsenal is linked to Thai Premier Division side BEC and the club runs a Thai version of its website. As a Gooner this is yet another incentive for me to learn Thai...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Blogroll at last

I've finally got to posting my blogroll, well two for Thai blogs (with a couple of honourary Asian additions) and a ROW category.

This is a blog about life in Thailand so I've deliberate aimed most of my hat-tips at fellow Thai blogs. From my work in England I know of many other non-Thailand bloggers, a selection of whom feature under ROW.

If you'd like your blog to be added please get in touch, I'm always looking to expand my reading list.