Thursday, 30 July 2009

Stitched up like a good'un

I'm a right old moaner, at least that's how I appear to anyone brave enough to read this blog over the last month or so.

The problem with being busy is that, with limited time, I only write about things that have really stirred me. Inevitably this has lead to negative posts over positive posts so, before I start the next one (yup, you'd better believe there’s another), I'd like to just reassure myself, if no-one else, that I do enjoy living in Thailand, I'm not ready to go back to blighty yet and that brighter tales and stories are on their way very soon - just one more rant.

Ok, then.

Picture the scene, it’s Friday afternoon, another hard week is finished and I'm whizzing about the internet at work, well going as fast as I can at least, in the knowledge that I'll be off home for the weekend in just half an hour.

My thoughts are broken when two of the Thai staff come over to speak to me.

"So, your work permit," they say, straightening me to attention with their words, "we have a problem."

Ok, I think, its ok, my visa still has some time on it so everything is ok.

"You failed to inform the authorities at the employment office when you left your last job so you owe them a fine. "

“Come again,” I say “are you sure of this?”

"Absolutely, it's 500 baht for every day you've been working, so we're looking at 30,000 baht"

Good bye happy Friday.

I won't continue with the dialogue, it's getting a little tedious now, but, in a nutshell, they applied the final fastenings to a stitch-up.

How so?

All non-Thai nationals must be in possession of a valid visa to remain in the kingdom of Thailand.

For me, a working non-Thai living here, that is a working visa which requires a valid work-permit as accompaniment. As I left my previous job in March, I was required to inform the employment office which issued my work-permit of this fact, following which I would then have 7 days to complete the paperwork for a new job or leave the country until the paperwork was ready.

At the interview for my current job, and at regular intervals since, I reminded them that I had yet to inform the authorities of my job change, yet I’ve been assured everything is fine, on track and that there is plenty of time and I really shouldn’t worry – until Friday, that is.

So when, on Friday, they told me that they had advised me to visit the employment office on more than once occasion, it simply wasn’t true. It was incredibly unfair to blame me for not telling the authorities as they had continually advised me that this was not necessary.

Although I understand this is not England, in my country the situation would be handled far differently, in a much more professional manner. The conversation might have take place in a separate room where I’d be told that there was an issue with my visa, but it is being working on and they made a mistake but will back me up. Instead I had to endure blatant lies to my face and am left to sort things out myself.

As it happens, I’m fortune to be blessed with a partner who is incredibly bright and quick, not to mention a Thai national fluent in English. After speaking with the Missus we headed back where she devised a solution to the issue – if she can sort it out in less than an hour, I’m amazed that none of the staff – who deal with foreign work permits year on year – can.

Seasoned and bitter expats will tell you never to trust a Thai. I never go along with such comments but this situation gives the cynical view some foundation as they took the easy solution and blamed the problem on me, rather than taking a degree of the responsibility themselves.

So now I’m going through a painfully inconvenient work permit process, which includes leaving my nine month old son for half a week while I leave/re-enter the country, precisely the situation I've been looking to avoid since the off.

I think you’ll agree I have a fair point for a rant this time.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Raising children in Thailand

It's amazing how many emails I get asking for advice about moving to Thailand.

I don't do individual case studies and, even if I did, moving to a foreign country is not a decision to be made lightly, it can ony be made by the individual themself.

Assuming you want to be sociable and non-reclusive, the one thing a foreign arrival to Thailand needs is thick skin. If you plan of living away from towns with an established foreign population, such as of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket or even Udon Thani, then make that skin extra thick because you are gonna need it!

In towns with low numbers of foreigner you will be a novelty value. You'll quickly come to learn, and regularly hear, 'farang' - the Thai word for foreigner - and you can expect to be photoed, gossiped about and starred at every day.

Now factor in a child and multiply the levels of patience until they are almost off the scale.

I've blogged about being talk of the town before, it doesn't overly bother me plus my life, Missus and Little One, is here in Thailand so I have to accept some things I don't like, so long as they are harmless.

However, lately I've seen a few things that have tested my patience and self-declared thick skin. They've also made me realise that, although I enjoy my life here in Thailand, it won't be a permanent stay as we have plans to head back to London 'at some point'.

I won't overly bore you with the details but one scene was played out during a visit to the hospital for the latest of Little One's scheduled vaccinations.

As a shy man at heart, I begrudgingly accept the stares when the three of us go to the local hospital - after all, there aren't many foreigners here in Saraburi, and fewer still with Anglo-Thai kids, particularly as cute as mine.

However, what is beyond my tolerance is a standing in the doorway to the private vaccination room to shamelessly gawp at my child receiving his injection. A combination of floods of baby tears (ask any parent about how it feels to watch your child cry), the lack of privacy and sheer outrage at this woman's actions saw my 'jai yen' (cool heart) combust and a volley of Thinglish expletives and hand gestures rain on this woman. I was so pumped that I was, literally, shaking with anger.

Even for Thai standards the behaviour was absolutely disgraceful and I spent a few days wondering whether this country is for me, 'how quickly can we fly home?'. I've since calmed down, just about.

The Missus and I have never been 100% sure on our future. We've always been interested in returning to London, it's all about the Little One and we're playing it by near now as we look at what we could do.

I've always felt a town where the attention, gossip and starring from locals is too much for many adult foreigners, is not an ideal place to raise a half English child to be normal. When even just a trip to the market produces such attention, it's hardly the environment to keep a young child balanced.

Then there are the schools. I could write a thesis on the subject but you'll have to make do with a new post at a later date - particularly given that, as I current work as a teacher, my comments will need to be carefully positioned.

So while I do love life here in Thailand - the food, language, weather and lifestyle - we aren't putting roots down here just yet. It's all about the Little Man.

I'd love to hear the views on some of these issues from other expats raising children in Thailand.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Premiership football comes home

Totally out of the blue, it seems the Thai Premier League is coming to Saraburi as Bangkok-based Osotsapa FC have agreed to move.

Moving franchises (or teams as we say in English) is something I'm ordinarily completely opposed to.

On this occasion, however, I will forget my ethics, and throw my weight behind the move, should it go through, because:
1. Saraburi is my hometown and, although we have 3rd tier side Saraburi FC, I've always said the town is big enough for a Premiership side.

2. There are so many teams in Bangkok, a move away will help the club develop a distinct identity and group of fans, rather than just being Just Another Bangkok Club.

3. Selfishly, this is my town which means I'll finally get the chance to watch top level football in Thailand.

4. They are a good side - currently sitting in 4th place, just 2 points from the summit. The team has also played in the AFC Cup (the Asian equivalent of the UEFA Cup).
Once the pitch and stadium are renovated (and I assume we're talking about this one) they'll be over.

Congrats Osotsapa Saraburi FC and welcome to the neighbourhood.

**I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this actually takes place, Thailand has a horrible habit of not delivering on its promises or announcements from time to time.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Unconfirmed second swine flu fatality in Saraburi

Strong rumours suggest Saraburi has had it's second swine flu death with another student from one of city's high school falling victim to the virus.

Despite strong rumours of a second fatality, the school/government/media is yet to acknowledge the first victim, a girl aged 11/12 from Saraburi Witthayakhom school.

The closed before the public holiday last week although local students suggested that this only occurred after senior students threatened to strike following outbreaks of swine flu across the school.

News of the second fatality reached me from city hospital workers from whom I received news of the first death - which, itself is now a locally acknowledged fact.

It would be nice to hear confirmation of the current situation, as both a local resident and father of a young child the situation continues to concern me.

In the meantime, I'll continue wearing the mask to work and will consider renaming this blog to reflect my obsession with the swine-flu situation in my town.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Saraburi's swine flu cover-up

Since I blogged the rumours of a first swine flu fatality last Saturday I've my (and the missus's) eyes and ears glued to new sources. Yet for all our listening there has been no announcement of the death, which remains a rumour.

Today, however, a number of school students and more hospital workers further verified the rumours of the death by confirming the victim was a mattyom (senior year) one (12/13 years old) girl.

The students also revealed that their school, Saraburi Witthayakhom, has told its members to stop spreading the news as there has been no death. This despite the fact that many of the girl's classmates know the family and are aware of her death.

Rumours today suggest that the school suspended its lessons last week only because senior classes went on strike, concerned at outbreaks of swine flu in numerous classes. Hardly the picture painted when the press reported the closure.

Saraburi may just be another town in Thailand but the implications of this cover-up are widereaching. If other towns are also holding back information then you can forget the official figures in the daily press as we have no idea what the real picture is.

In the meantime, I've given up waiting for confirmation of last week's fatality in Saraburi - sometimes you just have to accept this is how Thailand works.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

H1N1 officially arrives

Story from the Post.
In Saraburi province, Saraburi Witthayakhom school has suspended classes until July 9 after two students tested positive for H1N1 and three students developed flu-like symptoms.

The two students with flu picked it up after returning from tuition schools in Bangkok, while the three students with flu-like symptoms fell ill after they went to a weekend concert by the Korean boy band Dong Bang Shin Ki, at Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani.
On top of this, I spoke to a senior figure at the local hospital in Saraburi who claimed the town had its first H1N1 fatality today. This has, however, yet to be reported anywhere that I can see, so the number of fatalities in Thailand remains at 7.

My contact assures me that there have been a number of active cases in Saraburi but today is the first time the province has been named an infected zone.

With Thailand currently on holiday until Thursday for the start of the Buddhist retreat, the family and I will be spending the time off cautiously laying low. With an 8 month old in the house, it really isn't worth the risk.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Thai foreign policy 101

I don't often hat-tip to other blogs but I just had to post a link to Thailand Jumped The Shark for this post.

If you are not aware of it, the blog is an insightful Thai politics blog which, alongside stalwarts Bangkok Pundit and New Mandala, decontructs the hype and spin of the media to show exactly what is happening in Thai politics.

The particular post I want to highlight is a break down of a recent Bangkok Post article comparings the foreign policies of current PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and Thanksin Shinawatra.

The blog post cuts the Post article to pieces and is an excellent read for anyone wishing to learn about Prime Minister Abhisit.

The blog itself is highly recommended - stick it in your RSS feed.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Swine flu strikes...sort of

A recurring toe injury surfaced from an active few days early this week, so yesterday I dropped into the local hospital to end my misery.

Despite suffering extreme pain with every step I take, almost on arrival at the hospital, the Missus and I performed an immediate about-turn and headed straight back home. We stopped in at our regular private hospital and, as before, we swiftly headed for the exit moments after our arrival.

What was responsible for these two wasted journey and my continued discomfort today?

Swine flu.

Well, technically not swine flu itself but more the hysteria around it.

Each hospital and surgery we visited or drove past, was rammed wall-to-wall with patients sniffing, sneezing and coughing themselves into a frenzy.

Coincidentally, we are experiencing a mini 'outbreak' of The Cough right now which, combined with fear of swine flu, is overwhelming hospitals and keeping me 'off sport' for the immediate future.

For those who don't know, Thai people are major hypochondriacs. Just the slightest hint of the sniffles gets them reaching for a nasal inhaler and using it every 15 seconds throughout the day. And then there are the flu masks, the copious numbers of children off school.

The Thai nasal inhaler is a major accessory as important as the mobile phone or wallet [credit]

Perhaps I'm just being cynical (and bitter as my foot continues to trouble me) but the Thai attitude to health makes me smile. Perhaps its the comparison with home where gunpoint is often the only method to get a man to visit a doctor.