I realize this has absolutely nothing to do with teaching, but for those of you who are teaching and/or living in Thailand, I've been meaning to ask: have you ever tried out any Thai-branded electronics? I'm a tried-and-true gadget freak, and I've gotta say, once I got past my snobbery for brands I know and trust (largely due to being a starting-out teacher, aka broke), I'm impressed.
So, in the realm of living in Thailand, here's your friendly consumer guide to gizmos for the month. Naturally, no matter the country of branding, most gizmos and/or their parts originate from China in some form. Every time I hear someone bragging about their latest toy, I grin as I recall the line from the Russian cosmonaut in the 1998 film Armageddon: "American components, Russian components... all made in Taiwan!" Even so, I must admit, there are good brands and bad brands, no matter where the parts are made.
That's what has surprised me so much of the brands in Thailand. When I moved here, with the intention to stay, I was in need of some basic appliances (rice cooker, kettle, iron), gizmos (a mobile phone, laptop), and eventually toys (speakers, espresso maker). How very American of me to say 'do I really need any of these things?' No, but hey, I'm an admitted electronics addict, so that's that.
Research is key
Generally, when I'm looking to make a purchase of something of relative value, I'll research it first... read reviews online, ask around, etc. The problems I faced when moving to Thailand were that I'd never heard of most of the brands here, and most (if any) reviews I found were written in Thai. Although I enjoy the comic effect of trying to Google Translate webpages, it's not exactly what I would call helpful. Sure, there are brands I recognize here, but generally the brands I used in the US are at least the same price as they are there or more in Thailand, a problem if your income is in baht and you're on a budget.
So, I had to go against my need-an-opinion feelings, buy something, and hope for the best. In my experience, brands that have less-than-professional packaging tend to be cheaper and often less reliable. This doesn't seem to be the case in Thailand, though, judging only by the packaging. Some of them are what I consider hilarious. I'm talking to you, AJ brand - you know, the one with the random smiling old man pointing to the product on the box. I still smile when I see AJ.
Built to last
Having had many of these electronics I mentioned earlier for a year or more, I've been pleasantly surprised. Sure, a kettle is basically a kettle, same goes for a rice cooker (my most versatile appliance, I may add), microwave, or refrigerator. I didn't expect to have any problems out of them, and for the smaller appliances, about 300-400 baht each is a very fair price for something so trustworthy.
I was a bit wary of the items that I'd never used by brands I'd never heard of (some of which may actually be Chinese or otherwise) that I eventually bought... namely, a circular convection oven (MyHome brand, on sale at Tesco for 899 baht) and an induction stovetop cooker (AJ brand, Tesco, 899 baht). Both, once I figured out how to use them, have worked flawlessly well past their warranty periods. Although, if you're bored and needing some amusement, you should try reading the "English" bits of their user manuals. Priceless.
More expensive items worried me a bit too. Namely, a "real" espresso maker. Is this a bit much for a person on a budget? Absolutely. But anyone who knows me knows that prior to my coffee, I'm not exactly a bundle of sunshine in the morning. In the States, I had a DeLonghi machine... nothing fancy by any means, but a nice, Italian branded, trustworthy caffeine juicer. Well, mostly trustworthy... it did tend to clog from time to time, but nothing serious. Here in Thailand, the same (or similar) machine was WAY out of my tax bracket, so I started looking at two Thai brands: Otto and Zebra. I eventually settled on the Zebra (3,990 baht for a 16-bar espresso machine, The Mall Ngamwongwan) based solely on its looks and hoped for the best.
For the record, I can be a bit of a coffee snob (I won't touch instant coffee or even drip coffee unless absolutely necessary), but I'm totally taken by the Thai-branded Zebra machine. It actually works better than my DeLonghi machine did in the States! In well over a year, I have yet to have a single problem with it, and have since gone on to buy Zebra-branded cookware (wok, knives) that have been equally great. I've since heard similar praise of the Otto brand from friends.
Try the Thai brands
Another example: mobile phones. I'm a notorious klutz when it comes to keeping up with or not breaking phones, especially in the event that I have a night out. Finally, after having lost a few midrange Sony and Samsung phones (far overpriced in Thailand, in my humble opinion), I decided to give an iMobile a try. It was something like 2,300 baht at Tesco, took dual-SIM cards, and-best of all-had an antenna to watch TV. How cool is that. Sure, it was certainly not the fastest thing out there, and the screen left a lot to be desired, but for the price I paid for it, I was highly surprised.
The same can be said of the slightly upgraded subsequent versions I went through afterwards (there were a few). The last iMobile I bought (i-Style i-7, Big C, 3,990 baht) was genuinely better all-around than the Samsung Galaxy Ace I bought at twice the price (TG Fone, 8,400 baht). Granted, now that I'm settled I upgraded to a high-end Sony, but I'm still amazed by the value of the Thai branded iMobiles that blatantly copy the Apple "i" and get away with it.
Sure, it may seem silly to drone on about brands of electronics, but for anyone living in Thailand on a budget, it's silly to pay twice the price for a brand you know versus the Thai equivalent that works as well or better. My next potential purchase on a rainy day may be a second coffee machine (don't judge)-one of those single-serve coffee/espresso machines similar to the Philips Senseo I love from Germany and the States. The choices are Nespresso Dolce Gusto (a brand I know and trust) and the Bangkok-based Cafecaps.