A trip to one of Thailand's best kept secrets
About four months ago, I wrote a blog about my first ever visit to Chantaburi province but we were left with little time to explore the area, save for a small stretch of the coastline. However, we loved what we saw. We promised ourselves we would return on our own - just the two of us, the car and the open road - at the very first opportunity.
My 18 months of trying to become a Twitter God
Wow! Phil's writing a social media blog. I never envisaged writing about a topic I have never felt qualified enough to comment on - but having been active on Twitter for about eighteen months now, here are ten things that I've learned (in no particular order) about one of the world's most popular social media platforms
Young, good-looking teachers don't always have the upper hand you know
If you're not a handsome, beautiful-looking teacher, you may want to look away now. The latest Twitter craze among Asian academic students is to share photos of their gorgeous new English teacher on-line and show the world how lucky they are.
My past four years of Thai study and how I have motivated myself
Many thanks to all the people who gave me positive feedback on part one of ‘My Struggles with the Thai Language'. It seems that a lot of other Thai learners out there have gone through similar experiences to mine. They hit what I call ‘the ceiling' and realized that it would take a tremendous effort to take their spoken Thai onto the next level.
For 15 years, my spoken Thai didn't get any better at all.
For the first five years here, I would say my Thai improved steadily. Both my vocabulary range and my speaking confidence increased and my listening comprehension improved a lot. I never felt the need to take any formal Thai lessons. The Bangkok streets were my classroom
It's clean and it's green. Please don't miss it.
The only time I'd ever been to Chantaburi Province was over twenty years ago, when an Indian friend (a gemstone dealer by profession) took me down there to see one of the famous open-air gemstone markets. And although it was an interesting experience at the time, walking around on a muddy scrap of land, gawping at gemstone stalls, was still the only image that came to mind whenever Chantaburi was mentioned to me - until last weekend of course, when I came away with a completely different point of view.
A mini-break in Khao Yai with money no object. Yeah, right.
I promised myself a no-expense-spared holiday in Khao Yai National Park. Money was to be no object. But then you remember your working class roots.
Some of the things I've learned from life
The website of the Guardian UK newspaper runs a regular series called ‘This Much I Know'. Each week, a well-known person - perhaps a movie star or politician - gets into the hot seat and shares their thoughts on what they've learned in life. It's a selection of random musings and single-paragraph viewpoints that are nearly always fascinating to read.
The invitation card has landed
Oh no, my wife has just come home and plonked an envelope on my work-desk. It's not a bank statement and it's not junk mail (I only wish it was) One glance at the familiar scented, pink envelope tells me all I need to know. It's an invitation to a Thai wedding. And there's no way I'm getting out of it.
Some companies get it right but many get it oh so wrong.
Live in Thailand for any length of time and you come to accept that customer service is either poor or just below average. That's why you want to literally jump for joy when a company really gets it right.
Are they earning 25% of what foreign teachers earn?
Often when I'm chatting with a relatively long-term foreign teacher, the conversation will turn to money and the topic of teacher salaries. And usually the person will remark that the average teacher salary in Thailand hasn't increased for the past ten years.
Here's the full list
I guess they are just observations on life as a foreigner in Thailand. They've given some people a laugh and many folks seem to have identified with a few of them. It's all just a bit of fun.
When getting out and about in Bangkok just isn't worth it
Many years ago, I was browsing one of those Bangkok ex-pat forums and there was an interesting thread on the topic of ‘the downsides of living in Bangkok'. One of the forum members - a middle-aged wife of a business expat - chipped in with the following contribution (and for some reason I have never forgotten it)
Nowadays we definitely have too much information at our disposal
I'm convinced that we are beginning to live in an age where there is simply too much information available to us. Far too much of that information is contradictory and confusing - and when you sit down in front of your computer screen to do a few hours of ‘research' on whatever topic takes your fancy, you end up further back than when you started.
What did the Google stats tell us?
Now that 2012 is drawing to a close, I thought it might be fun to look back over the past 12 months and find out which ajarn.com blog was read or viewed the most number of times. Actually, any excuse to analyze Google stats and you can count me in. So let's have a drum roll please.....for the ajarn.com top ten blogs.
How do Bangkok neighborhoods differ?
I've been thinking about the five different neighborhoods I have lived in during my twenty-odd years in Bangkok. Which ones did I enjoy? Were there any neighborhoods that I particularly hated? What were the advantages and disadvantages of each community that I spent time in? Perhaps it would be interesting to draw some comparisons.
One middle-aged man, one mid-life crisis
I’ve never been one for New Year resolutions but I started the year 2012 by deciding to make two major changes in my life – one was to get physically fit (or certainly fitter than I am now) and the other was to considerably improve my spoken Thai. I must confess that it took me until well into April to implement the first part of my plan, but I’ve done it - I’ve finally joined a gym.
Thailand - the home of all things that bite, sting, crawl, creep or scurry.
There are many dangers awaiting the new arrival in Thailand, but never underestimate what might be under the roof or under the floorboards.
Bangkok has a sparkling new shopping mall - and it's well worth a visit!
If you're based in Bangkok and you enjoy a bit of window shopping, you could do a lot worse than spend a few hours browsing around the capital's newest and most talked about shopping mall - Terminal 21 - located on the corner of Sukhumwit 19, where If memory serves me correct, a Volvo dealership used to stand.
If it's going to flood, then for pete's sake get it over with
Seriously, hasn't this been the most unbelievably stressful time for everyone concerned? At the time of writing, those of us in Eastern Bangkok, have now been waiting the best part of two months to find out whether or not our homes are going to be inundated with filthy dirty floodwater. And we're still waiting.
What happens when your pet fish become part of the family.
Sometimes I'm reminded what a great country Thailand is to live in, especially when I encounter a level of customer service that I would never imagine possible.
A long weekend in Khao Takiab and Hua Hin
For Bangkokians looking for a few days away at a beach resort but not wishing to mess around with airport departure lounges or long train journeys, the choice generally comes down to either Pattaya or Hua Hin. Both resorts are easily reached in a few hours by car so it's a case of flip a coin, plonk an armful of clothes in the trunk and off you go.
From airless studio apartments to dingy guest houses
I was thinking the other day about how many different styles of accommodation or housing I have lived in during my years in Bangkok - rented houses, tiny studio apartments, dodgy neighborhoods - I didn't realize there were so many. So in chronological order, here are the places that have provided a roof over my head at some stage.
Just when you think you know most things about Thai culture
Having lived in Thailand more than twenty years, one likes to think themselves as au fait with most aspects of Thai culture, and then some innocuous situation develops and you're left wondering if you truly know the first thing about Thai culture at all.
The joys of international travel with a Thai partner
Despite the fact my wife already has three Schengen visas and three UK visas in her passport from past visits, applying for a visa to visit a new country is always stressful.
Who can you complain to in Thailand when you've been truly wronged?
This is a country where I'm convinced you have to let many incidents go and chalk them up to experience. Pursuing things ‘legally' and going down what you feel are the appropriate channels will just lead to frustration and despair. This is Thailand. It's a lawless land.
How difficult is the foreign teacher dating game?
In a country brimming with physically attractive people, why shouldn't a foreign teacher seek a loving, happy relationship with one of their own kind?
How was Thailand's favorite beach resort holding up?
“Gone up-market” is always a risky expression to use where Pattaya is concerned, but that’s genuinely how I felt about area around the beach road and the sea-front. Gone were many of the tatty beer-bars I remember from yesteryear and in their place was an assortment of pricey Indian restaurants, air-conditioned shopping malls and a selection of swanky hotels.
Does Chiang Mai offer the perfect place to live and work? Well, live anyway
I'll put my hands up and admit I've been somewhat unkind to Chiang Mai in past blogs. On past visits, I've usually had the job of playing tour guide to my ageing parents and a couple of their friends. It's never easy to move a group of elderly folk around a sizeable Asian city without having every tout and unofficial tour operator descending on you from miles around
My ham and cheese toastie days are over
I've touched the hem of Kai's garment. Or at least the handle of his wok.
Roll on June 11th.....I think
Larger companies in Bangkok are fully aware that work is going to be severely disrupted during world cup month. Employees who normally work well past their allotted finishing time will be racing each other to the elevator to get back home for the early evening fixtures.
Have you noticed how much more we have to pay for things?
I’m not coming at these price differentials from the angle of an expert economist. I’m just an average Joe consumer who looks at the prices on menus and clothes tags and wonders what’s wrong with this picture.
The joys of filling in customer feedback forms
Should that be ‘supervision’ or ‘supervisor’? Was I supposed to rate the actual restaurant supervisor? Was I evaluating those that do the supervising as opposed to those who are supervised? Forget it. It doesn’t matter. It makes no sense whatsoever
A look at some of those business sidelines destined for failure
You may well be a teacher who lives to stand in front of a whiteboard. You may be up half the night compiling lesson plans. But the world loves a teacher who is also something of an entrepreneurial optimist.
When one man's tropical paradise becomes everybody else's
I can vividly recall all the fuss and palaver that surrounded my first trip to Thailand all those years ago. My Aunt Jean – not, it must be said, the brightest bulb in the marquee – called me on the phone as I was packing a suitcase and reminded me to take a few bars of soap.
I've stumbled upon one of Bangkok's darkest secrets
Are you like me, one of those weary sky-train passengers, looking at those gleaming new BTS stations and wondering simply, when?
We all love a good moan now and again don't we?
Here’s a list of my own things that drive me crazy about living in Bangkok. Hopefully some of them you’ve never even thought about.
My ISP's customer service guide to dealing with irate customers
After calling a well-known ISP's customer service number for the fifth time in a week, I was beginning to see a pattern develop with the responses.
All hail to the mighty photocopier
Just as bad as the schools who dabble in the lower end of the photocopier market are the institutes who insist on keeping the same machine year after year - even when the repairmen are drawing lots and praying they're not the ones to get your call-out.
Things I hate about flying
Do those responsible for devising the prices of food at airports actually ever go out in the real world and see what normal people pay for everyday things? Because listen - were you to leave the relative safety and comfort of the airport complex, you would see that no one in the real world pays five dollars for a tuna sandwich wrapped in cellophane.
It's a tale of casinos, seasickness and egg tarts
Hong Kong has its amazing Chinese Food and Macau has its glittery casinos. As a two-center holiday break, you couldn't wish for a better combination.
How one feathered friend can ruin your life
Our home is being terrorized by a parrot. No, really. We were awakened one sunny morning in August by an ear-piercing squawk, and life hasn't been quite the same since.
Thais and e-mailing
I have one customer – God bless her – who checks her email between 8.30 and 8.45am every morning. If you send her an e-mail at 8.46, she won’t actually read it until the following business day. Send it at 8.46 on a Friday and she’ll deal with it after the weekend. Then how long it takes her to respond is anyone’s guess.
Pedestrian perils in the big mango
The whole footpath and re-paving conundrum is rather like Thailand in a microcosm. It's a kind of 'organised chaos' - the begrudging acceptance of second-class results with little or no regard for the end user. All I'm saying is surely there's someone somewhere in the this kingdom who knows how to lay a proper footpath.
reflections on a trip back to the UK
England really does seem so expensive to me now. OK you expect to pay more for goods than you would in Thailand but this time I really noticed it. I paid almost twelve pounds for four standard-size single-cone ice creams in the village of Henley-in-Arden. It’s three pounds plus for a decent sandwich in Pret-A-Manger (almost five pounds if you have a bottled fruit smoothie to go with it) but for a sheer jaw-dropping, wallet emptying experience, how about five pounds for a large cappuccino and a muffin in Starbucks?
The eight kinds of Bangkok taxi driver
Get those rosary beads out mind because if there's one big advantage to being picked up by the tear-arse it's that he’ll get you to that meeting on Sathorn Road in lightning quick time. It may involve running a red light or two and knocking over an old man at the Asoke intersection, but you’ll not miss a minute of that meeting. One way systems? Bus lanes? Let other motorists worry about them. I mean, it's not as if the tear-arse's personal details are actually held by anyone.
The end of the mom and pop shop
There was an interesting letter in the Bangkok Post last week. I couldn’t work out whether the writer was personally bemoaning the demise of the friendly neighborhood Mom and Pop shop (I didn’t read it that carefully) but he made the point that it isn’t the supermarket giant that is killing the Mom and Pop trade, but the 7-11 convenience stores, which seem to sprout up on every street corner in Bangkok these days.
40 things I miss about life in England
Just off the top of my head - and I suppose I could have thought of a lot more - but here are forty things I miss about life back in the old country.
the Thai world of misleading advertising
If I could give out an award for the worst offender, then let’s engrave the name of Swensens ice-cream parlours on the trophy right now. The vast gulf between the photographs on the menu and the stark reality of what gets delivered to your table is almost beyond words. That’s not to say Swensens ice-cream products are not enjoyable; they’re just always a huge disappointment.
Getting out and about on the mighty Bangkok rivers
As both a non-swimmer and someone who listens to far too many stories of people falling into polluted Bangkok waters, I've made avoiding boat travel one of my missions in life. Perhaps it was time to conquer the fears that had built up inside me for so long.
How long you ever go Thailand before?
I think it's a terrific idea to send students out as part of a class project and get them comfortable with talking to foreigners. But why not ask questions worth asking?
spending Christmas in Thailand
I think teachers are divided into two camps at this time of year. Those who say 'bah humbug' and continue working as usual, and those who make a token effort to recreate the festive spirit in the comfort of their apartments - as difficult as that may be. Some might even be lucky enough to find the time and the money to escape to the beach for a few days. After years of treating December 25th as 'just another day' I now find myself with a house and a wife and I do everything possible to recreate some of the memories from those childhood Christmasses.
Looking for digs and the hell of the lower Sukhumwit
I'd been all over the internet in an attempt to compile a list of suitable locations. Some websites I even got redirected to three times. It's amazing how difficult it is to locate independent websites amid the jungle of real estate portals and listings of serviced apartments way over my budget. It's even more difficult to find somewhere that will rent for just a month.
A trip to New Zealand
Although there were many things I adored about New Zealand, I was glad to get back. You miss the 'cheekiness' of Thailand. You miss the 'lawlessness' and the twinkle in its eye - however much they get you down at times.
It's always nice to get out of Thailand for a short while
I like to get out of Thailand once a year. Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing I really don't know. Mini-breaks in Chiang Mai and Hua Hin are all well and good but they are still Thailand. The same heat and humidity. The same language barriers. The same dishes on every menu.
battling the Thai banking service
My first problem lies with banks who don't display their signage in English - which is most of them. I hate the sinking feeling of walking into a Thai bank and just not knowing where to go or who to ask for help. You find yourself just standing there with a look of helplessness and hoping one of the staff will stop shuffling papers for a moment and take pity on you.
It's annual health check-up time
There's nothing nicer than spending most of the day at a Thai hospital being poked and prodded by a selection of Thai doctors. No, really.
Let's hear it for the Thai provincial town
It doesn't matter whether you're in downtown Chonburi or in the centre of Ubon Ratchathani, you can always bank on seeing this list of twenty.
Finding salvation on Bangkok's MRT
I told the young man I would give God some very serious thought and implored him to keep up the good work. One powerful handshake later and he disappeared into the crowd of commuters to select another victim. However, I couldn't resist the temptation to stand and hover from a safe distance. 'Selling religion' in Thailand must be a dream at least in terms of grabbing someone who'll listen.
A short break in Thailand's second city
Chiang Mai is officially one of Asia's most comfortable cities to live in with its relatively clean air, an abundance of good restaurants and helpful friendly locals, but the way you are pestered by vehicle owners from the moment you land at the airport is not one of its more attractive features. Even a gentle stroll down one of Chiang Mai's main roads becomes an endurance test as you find yourself saying 'no thanks' to the tenth taxi driver in as many minutes.
Scouring the internet and guide-books for the ultimate travel experience.
All I need is a decent hotel for a few days and a plan on how to while away the dalight hours. Is that too much to ask?
A few comments on VIP visitors...and shopping for webcams
I ventured into the Seri Center shopping mall on Phattanakarn Road yesterday in search of a webcam, so I can wave at my mom on-line and she can actually watch me type out words instead of just reading them as they appear on the screen (isn't technology wonderful?) The Seri Center is possibly Bangkok's worst shopping mall experience.
If you can't get into the elevator there's always a Starbucks
I think the menu board refers to a large-sized coffee cup as 'tall' or 'grande' or something equally pretentious. I refuse to get drawn into using that strange 'Starbuckian' language. The words small, medium, and large have served us well for centuries and if I'm the last man defending them then so be it.
McDonalds cafes and MRT security
Don't ask me how these two got mixed up together either.
A place to eat and a place to visit
This week I went to the Ancient Village in Samut Prakarn and had a meal at the Great American Rib on Sukhumwit. You have no idea the kind of exciting life I lead.