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Hi there, 30/4/14

My blog here seems suddenly both a wee bitty obsolete and also invalid. After 8 and a half years in Thailand, I decided to change things up one more time and start again. There were a number of reasons for this, but the simplest way to put it is that I fell all over in love again with an old flame. The timing was right , so I decided to up sticks and move to Germany. I'm slowly settling in to a life and lifestyle that is diametrically opposite to the one I enjoyed in Thailand. The bright lights of BKK is a wonderful place to go as a younger man, but as you get a little older they seem to illuminate less and cast more shadows over life. Some folk in their mid 40's resign or consign  themselves to the batchelor life and go into a slow nosedive of superficial relationships, über-lazy lifestyles and varying degrees of hedonism and overindulgence. Others marry into their particular version of Thai  family life and fit snuggly in, or (as is the majority of cases it seems) constantly struggle to weave and renovate the "East meets West" threads into some kind of cheerful pattern. Some even manage a kind of user friendly workable non-marriage relationship compromise than will be relatively hassle free as long as the money keeps flowing in the direction of their partners family.  Others still, like me, leave Thailand for other places and new experiences free of the trepidation and self doubt that can unexpectedly settle in with the male menopause without warning.  My lifestyle in BKK is what most folk in the West dream of: free-spirited  sunny, simple, a few good friends,great food, relatively cheap and palm lined beaches a couple of hours away. But we all have different needs, and if they remain unfulfilled for long enough, then that kind of life suddenly appears empty and ultimately pointless. Somebody once wrote 'you gotta go to come back." Life in the West will certainly take a large degree of readjusting to. I'm already noticing a few things here and there which irritate me , but then there are many things in BKK that irritated me too. I do enjoy the relative peace and silence here. We went for a walk in the woods the other day ending with a sunset meal outside a little pub/restaurant . The baby gurgled and cavorted on the lawn, the birds twittered, the breeze did that light hiss thingy through the trees. I sucked in the clear cooling air and watched the tulips shutting up shop for the day and remembered just how much I loved (and missed) Spring. I'm going to be moving from this rural idyll to Nürnberg in the coming months, a nice sized city with a lovely old town. Tiny by BKK standards I hope I'll be able to find enough work here to have a nice and quiet life. I know it isn't going to be easy, but it seems nothing in my life has ever been. It remains to be seen what I do abut my blog. Whilst a life BKK is distant, alien,  and exotic to most, it's unlikely that my German chronicles are going to be of much interest to anyone. Also, as I am technically not a batchelor anymore, I'm not at really at liberty to relate pictures, experiences and opinions about  a family life that is now shared. My revelations in my blog have got me into hot water once or twice in the past, and frankly I don't need the hassle or worry about upsetting the sensibilities of others for the sake of a small readership. With this in mind I will most likely be revamping the whole site over the coming months. In keeping with the nature of a blog I'll probably espouse a bit about life as a Central European. I may also post up a few Englishy teaching stuff (see also www.englishpowercamps.com) and perhaps some of my other writing as some of you say kind words about it sometimes.  Given that my days are VERY VERY full with all kinds of stuff I'd never even considered I imagine my blog will most likely become patchy, monthly or summit like that. To all my readers and RSS feeders I'd like to thank-you for keeping up with the Bangkok Shocks site for the last 8 years. I hope you'll still have the time or interest to stop by once in a while. xxx

 

 

 

 

Hi there, (12/1/14)

"Our tragedy today is a general and physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it……the basest of all things is to be afraid, leaving no room for old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephermeral and doomed".

William Faulkner said this during his Nobel prize acceptance speech in 1950. 64 years later, everyone it seems in the information age is laboring under more conceptual fear than ever before. We pander and mollycoddle to the faceless bureaucrats who seek to bind us in a morass of politically correct and minority driven causes. All of it masquerading and presented in some kind of holy crusade.

Like the breezy bluster of changing shapes across a cornfield, some yellow shirts have suddenly  morphed their colour to peaceful white and staged a pretty little candle lit city centre sit in to promote peace and unity in an ever darkening political climate. Bangkok tomorrow goes into serious shutdown. 22 major crossroads and to be barricaded, the disruption will be widespread and almost total. Tanks and heavy artillery has been moved into the city limits under the guise of doing something for national  Children's day (yeah riiiiiight). Drive by random shootings into the stalwarts long since camped at Democracy Monument was the order of the day last night. As shots ring out, surely do deaths follow. Like great ocean currents the hot and cold streams are merging far out somewhere in an as yet undetermined place to start their wary circle. They are two prizefighters knowing that defeat means the end of their eggshell  ideologies. These twin helixes are inextricably bound by the shared DNA of Nationhood,  zealous political ideology, and fear. Yet nothing else is truly at stake here. Certainly not democracy despite what they'd fervently have you believe.

As my colleague sits and pours over the domestic financial meltdown and the online gloomy forecasts of a giant global crash in 2014 he too succumbs to the fear.

As I sit here too planning and crafting the next chapter and major upheaval in my life, I too feel the icy cold breath of fear, worry, indecision, and prevarication on the nape of my neck. These are the true 4 horsemen of the new  apocalypse . They seek to paralyse the masses into a turgid and strangled stationary point from which any progress towards personal self actualisation is effectively cut off. Like the gradually more desparate nagging need of a pee in the midst of a massive open air rock concert, the ultimate salvation comes at the price of a long claw and pull your way out with little hope of ever returning to the spot you vacated.

Of course why would we want to return? The fact is that most people are inherently resistance to change, especially the ones old enough to realize what they have achieved, and just what they might be giving up. We all like to think of our lives as being, in some aspect or other , on a constant upward trajectory. Nobody likes to admit they are stagnating and stifled in a thought swamp of their own making. We all need regular release from at least some these mental bonds we tie ourselves up with, yet few folk have the wherewithal or the mental tools to cut them all, to effectively set themselves adrift. Those who do are more often than not, admired and pitied in equal amounts by many of their peers who view such wholesale bond cutting as a form of suicide.

 Back in 1933, Franklin D Rooseveld in his inaugural speech said: 'You have nothing to fear but fear itself". He was directly referring of course to the aftermath of the chronically catastrophic fiscal policies that led to the depression.  But this was also a rallying call for people to be the masters of their own destiny, to make their own decisions irrespective of others,  to move forward towards personal enlightenment in whatever form that might take. 

 Such sentiments cannot be reared in captivity. Thailand, land of conformity, and strict social structures, where money squawks and bullshit is bought has it far harder than most. I wish them well in the coming hours, days, weeks ,and  months, I really do. When , however they start about rewriting the constitution for the nth time. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if it begins with something like : " We the Sheeple…….…"

 

Hi there, (5/1/14)

And a very Happy New Year to you all. My very best wishes to all my readers and subscribers . I wish you all that you might wish for yourselves, with a cautionary note: Careful what you wish for because you might just get it.

In the light of the general stuff and nonsense out there in the streets of Bangkok, I found myself recently in conversation with someone as to what democracy actually is and what it means.  It goes way beyond the simple platitudes of self-determination and freedom of speech.

Thailand, to the best of my understanding, has never really been a democracy. Sure , They pose, posture , make the right shapes and appease the dubious stare of a watching world that their citizens live free and under a democratic umbrella. But the diameter of this spotlight leaves a nation thrown in dark and mysterious contrast.

  The Western world has seen with its own eyes the trials and pitfalls of an over-inflated sense of jingoism. You only need to look at the track record of the early 20th century to see what evil primrose paths over inflated nationalist sentiment can bring you down: devastating wars, zealous promotion of  Eugenics, Holocaust, devastating putsches, and  ultimately,  economic collapse

The thousands of self styled "I love my country", types,  these educated upper- middle classes taking to the streets here bedecked in myriad forms and trinkets  all bearing the the national flag , chirruping frantically on a plastic whistle certainly don't get it. They originally marched for the dissolution of parliament and called for fresh elections. Specifically, to exorcise the shadow of puppet master Shinatwa Taksin once and for all. The moment parliament was duly dissolved and all laws it had passed made void, and  February 6th speedily earmarked for voting, the moveable feast that is these self proclaimed protectors of civil freedoms ,  mobbed the election registration office to prevent any  would be MP's from officially registering their nominations. In what sane world is that anything close to being representative of any kind of true democracy?

Not that these folk would see it any other way. What could be more terrifying to the well do do Bangkokians with their strictly adhered to caste system and societal values, than to have hordes of the great red illiterate unwashed come sweeping down from the provinces with 500 baht sponsor money in their pockets, a reformists' twinkle in their eye, and the promise of sticking up 2 fingers up at the establishment.

In the past, I haven't been unsympathetic towards the reds, despite the fact that many of them are little more than hired mercenaries witlessly carrying out the political mechanations and various agendas of a certain strata of super rich under the traditional battle cry of "egalitiee and  fraternitee" .  But looking at it from a neutral point of view , it all just appears to be bollocks.

When you take into account the new trade union unrest and shootings by the soldiers deployed on the streets of Penom Penh in neighbouring Cambodia, you can suddenly feel a change in the air. In the still of the forest, the crack of a twig resounds like a pistol shot.

I've been here just long enough to have experienced a military coup, albeit one of the gentler ones of recent times. I'm starting to get the feeling that we'll see the army take on a more proactive role than they have up to now if things worsen.

And worsen they will. Starting today, the yellows are hell bent on a further programme of disruptions and protests that will step up their interference in the day to day running of the city till months end. On the 13th the Reds are planning a counter March. Up to now the two sides have chosen different parts of town , but the yellows plans are so widespread and ambitious that I fear proper clashes are just around the corner.

The election has been cancelled. The Thai baht has spiraled from 40-53 Baht to the pound in 6 short weeks. The stock market graphs are marked appalling red colours. To say global confidence in Thailand is down would be a bit of an understatement.

The manufacturing powerhouse that is South East Asia is undergoing all manner of upheavals. Trade union standoffs and random shootings are going hand in hand with peaceful and not so peaceful calls for political reform. Carefully ordered caste systems and structures are being bolstered and proofed from the approaching political hurricane: The super rich hang tenuously on to power, moving their pawns around the nations gameboard with a slow deliberateness borne out of years of experience,  manipulation and suppression. The colour and brand of traditional pseudo- religious and monarchical institutions is being ruthlessly exploited in the name of nationalism.

This isn't North Korea, they won't be throwing Uncle Somsak to the dogs just yet…. Nope, as long as he is ambulant, they'll pop a whistle in his mouth, put a bottle of water in his hand, and tell him the free food stall is three kilometers down that road…just follow the others mate!

 

Hi there, (15/12/13)

In all likelyhood this is going to be my last blog of 2014. I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all family, friends, and acquaintances all the very best for 2014.

Next year it seems is the year of the Horse, the Wood Horse to be precise. It seems I'll have to wait until 2029 for the year of the Fire Horse, (my birth year back in '66) to be repeated.

Anyway, a horse by any other name. It seems that deeply superstitious Chinese (or at least Thai Chinese) folk are quite unsettled if they are born in the year of this sign. Apparently you're not supposed to undertake any great life upheavals during this year, open any new businesses , make new investments, or actively persue major  changing  decisions or  events  as back luck will befall you. A farang fella I know has spent the last year wearing either red socks or underwear to ward off the potential of any bad spirits during his "Snake Year".  Whilst I'm not averse to red underwear or socks, I very much doubt I'm be confining myself to this colour scheme come my birthday in January.

Not that I'm thumbing my nose at the spirits, but I'm not about to attribute any good or bad luck that might befall me down to the year of my birth. There's a lot of this superstitious malarkey out east. Every house has a "spirit house" in the garden, usually positioned pinpointedly by a visiting monk whose palm has been crossed with ,er, shampoo and toothpaste. Don't ever attempt to move one of these vermin feeders without the explicit blessing of a holy one, or you'll bring the wreath of your ancestors (and house occupants) down upon you.

Thai's are TERRIFIED of ghosts. In fact they're terrified at the concept of ghosts.  And yet , they have a love/hate relationship. Whilst being scared , they also seem attracted to them. Some even claim to have a" Loog Kraw" as a guardian angel. Strangely, a loog kraw is the spirit of a baby that has died in an embryonic state no larger than your little finger….most odd.

I watched slightly bemused as last Thursday and Friday  the demonstrators swapped flowers and photo opportunities with the policemen who , 24 hours earlier had gassed them with tear gas, soaked them with purple tinged pepper spray watercannons, and fired off both live rounds and rubbet bullets into their midst.  4 dead folk later, a round of toothless arrest warrants, and a resounding claim to have defrocked Yingluck Taksin of pole position in this or any future parliament and it seems, we are nearing square one again.  Not so far off, the storm clouds of political ferment are embarking on their slow churning maelstrom patterns once more as the political air pressure drops. The razor wire is back up at the Metro police HQ, the riot police in full gear were spotted at dawn this morning standing in neat rows like some futuristic Clone Army waiting for the activation signal.

  Whether yellow or red, a mob is a mob. Whether for "democracy" or the " status quo" , the endless amplified shrieking of clockwork zealots will once more resound around the streets of Bangkok, their frantic garbled messages crashing off high rises and government complexes into an intelligible bassy morass, the shrill whistles of the sheeple punctuating every dramatic pause.  I wonder what  Nuremberg of the 1930's would have been like if everyone had been issued with a plastic referees whistle.

It's not my fight, not my problem. I've been asked a few times lately to proffer an opinion by those more motivated by, and invested in the issue . But I believe more firmly now than ever, ( especially as people are dying) that domestic politics should be firmly outwith the purview of foreign nationals, regardless how long they've lived here.  In Thailand you will always be a stranger in a strange land, you will never be assimilated. You will also never truly understand the Thai attitude and psyche unless you're born into it. To label the current climate as a class war, the rich against the poor, the good against the evil, the intelligent against the dumb, the incorruptible against the corruptible , is to show just how simplistic and dumbly western you are. There are wheels within wheels, schemes within schemes, layers and layers and layers to this particular onion.  The only thing any of this is demonstrating is that societal development is not keeping pace with economic development in this part of the world regardless of what the Bangkok intelligencia might say.

"So here it Christmas…and what have you done….." as Lennon said.

I wish you all A Merry and peaceful Christmas and a bright and shiny New Year.

Hi there, (24/11/13)

Life in South East Asia is constantly filled with 'eh?" moments.

I was riding on motorcycle taxi just last night. It was for only about 500 or so meters and yet the air was filled with so many wonderful and not so wonderful scents. It was quite overwhelming. Firstly there were the inevitable smells of grill, soups, fried garlic and barbeque as I zipped past the legions of street seller carts. Then the lovely scent from a bushy wall of Jasmine as I passed by the newly built condo with its manicured entrance . A little further on, the burnt ochre smell of diesel fumes from a coughing spitting Songthaew as it huffed and puffed its way up the street, laden down with a swathe of blue t shirted construction workers, floppy from the days toil, their faces still swathed in knotted tribal cloths. Closer to home I passed by the sleek neo -minimalist outdoor eateries for the well heeled/HISO Thais. Beautiful stork thin girls came gaggling out of a black BMW jeep, the breeze catching at their wispy clothes and carrying their expensive perfumes, pomades, and body sprays in a similar cacophony of flamboyant scents straight to my nostrils. On the next corner the bin men were hard at work hefting and emptying the incongruous looking over-filled giant rattan baskets into the truck. Their contents a foetid stink of rotting vegetation and spoiled foods.

 Finally, just as I neared my destination, the local coconut juice man, his flatbed atumble with a mini-quarry of the succulent  green orbs, the pavement below a random respository of  sliced cuts off  and awash with coconut juice and ice run off was packing up for the night.  

All of this in a 40 second journey.

Life here doesn't drift idly by, it assaults you with strange and random sights and smells every single day. At dawn yesterday morning on my way to work, just below the skytrain steps at Ari I watched a little boy and a little girl in a grubby flower patterned summer dress, both no older than 5 years old mind you , working in harmony with a practiced seriousness and solemnity as they slowly fit the iron rod frames of their  parents flower stall together.  They did it with such precision and deliberateness that I knew it to be their daily routine..

I reminded often by how cheap life it here by such sights. I'm also reminded as to how the people live with such dignity in the face of a myriad of social injustice. Generosity of spirit and kindness to strangers is also something I will treasure form my time here. Take for example my watch. I have a very expensive fancy Seiko divers watch. It's an automatic and the wheely weight inside must have come unscrewed. So I took my 'rattle" into the finest mall in BKK (for obvious reasons I didn't want to use the local 'battery replacement" watch guy). The lady at the Seiko counter said she could send it away to Japan and I could wait a month. She also pointed out a rather fancy watch repair counter nearby. Bear in mind this watch department was the size of half a football pitch. They were displaying timepieces that cost the price of a new car.  So I went to the counter to get a prognosis. Within 5 minutes my watch was fixed and handed back to me.

"How much ?' I asked.

"No charge" said the lady.

"Are you sure?" I asked

"Maybe you can come back again and use our service next time you need a repair." She smiled.

Whilst I knew I couldn't press any money into their hands, and that it may be some kind of store policy. I gingerly left 200 baht on the counter and said 'Well maybe then I can buy you two some lunch today.'

She looked surreptitiously from left and right and smiled with a nod.  The repairman at the desk behind her beamed.

I can't help wondering what would've happened had I gone to ANY  watch repair counter in the west.  A three week wait and a significant bill regardless of the 5 minute job it took to fix it.

These little ad hoc moments of surprise and unpredictability is something about Thailand I'm going to miss. The West seems so preoccupied in molly coddling,  Political correctness,  in extorting the maximum amount of cash from its citizens, in extreme "jobs worth" health and safety measures, in surveilling controlling, and directing its citizenry, deftly manipulating the various media streams making them arbiters of fashionable fads, the latest celebrities and the newest crusade. Moral outrage doesn't seem to come from a general sense of morals from the populace any more, but rather from a media feeding frenzy that stokes the fires of self righteous indignity and spreads the insidious contagion of populist 'Cause Celibrees" like wildfire.

I'm not saying that I'm immune to the contagion. But I think after having spent a third of my adult life away from the country of my birth I'm perhaps a little more analytical and dubious of fervent bandwagons. More often than not they're really just banging backfiring clown cars underneath.  I think I've become more definitely set against any kind of organized religion than ever before. Morality, kindness, generosity of spirit, and harmonious co-existence seems to have very little to do with them.

Though to be fair Buddhism in its gentlest form seems a very fair and non suppressive framework on which to navigate through life. You don't see any drunken chavs drunkenly squaring up to each other here or the constant potential of ugly and vicious violence emerging from every unlit city centre alley.

You gotta be thankful for that….

Hi there, (20/10/13)

You see them flitting around everywhere, their once day glo orange waistcoats soiled with the stains and soot of many hundreds of hours spent in clouds of exhaust fumes.

I am of course talking about motorcycle taxi doods.

Before I expound and stereotype uncontrollably, let me pass on a few words of wisdom to the virgin taxi bike passenger borne out of 8 years (last week) of life here.

1)   Never go on a major dual carriageway if it at all can be avoided. Buzzing about helmetless in fast traffic on a narrow little 2 stroke hairdryer is zero fun  Get a taxi. Seriously.

2)   If your driver is about 18 years old and screeches up wearing a helmet adorned with comedy cable tie "deedlyboppers" through the upper vents like some sort of alien bug parody, don't climb on.

3)   If you driver wears a mobile phone on a lanyard round his neck…don't get on.

4)   If your driver is a tiny wee woman on a large unwieldy scooter that is too big for her, don't get on unless you are comfortable wobbling in unison .

5)   If it's really pissing down, choose one of the scooters with wider wheels. If it is a longer journey, don't bother riding with your umbrella up, it'll take 2 hands to hold it at 30 km hour.

6)   If the passenger handhold is missing, don't get on unless you're prepared to get filthy hands from holding the underside of the rear mudguard…and don't even think about holding on to the driver's waist.

7)   Only ever expect to be given or offered a helmet when you're in a busy part of town where the police are out supplementing their low wages with a bit of highway robbery. Then you will be obliged to wear it, but don't be surprised when it has all the protective qualities of an IKEA kitchen collander. Don't forget you will have the very unsexy  'helmet hair" afterwards.

8)   If you're on an unfamiliar journey, check out the price first, especially in tourist areas, they are all wags and unchecked just love to take the piss.

9)   Bear in mind that almost all taxi cycle ranks are strictly run by a local police/mafia cartel so don't ever EVER get in any kind of fight with them. You will be set upon by the day-glo masses, and many of them carry sharp objects specifically designed to pierce you.

10)               If you're a girl, don't ever ride sidesaddle unless you know how to do it. Most taxi guys won't accept a foreigner riding in this manner anyway.

11)                Many Motorcycle taxi guys, not unlike the rock basking serpents of the Galapagos  love to sun themselves and siesta on makeshift raised wooden pallets just after the lunchtime rush. Do not wake them, or disturb them eating.

12)               The same goes for disturbing a game of dice, coin tossing, or any other (c)overt display of public gambling.

13)               If you wave for one, catch his eye, and suddenly another swoops in to steal the fare, stick with the original one- you don't need the grief..let them battle it out with their curiously long pinky fingernails later.

14)               If the basket in front has empty M140 bottles in it, most likely he's been either drinking, partying, or working all night, and he's now  taking an industrial amount of domestic  'Red Bull" to counteract fatigue or drunkenness… yep, you guessed it ..don't get on.

15)               Flip flops and vests are for the beach not the city. Bear in mind, falling off with next to no clothes on even at 10 km an hour is going to leave you scratched raw. If you insist on travelling in shorts, careful on the dismount, the number of folk burning just above their ankle on the exhaust pipe is a well documented holiday tattoo/souvenir.

16)               Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the wrong lane heading towards oncoming traffic and ducking in at the last minute….you do actually get used to it….eventually. And no, closing your eyes doesn't really help.

17)               Finally, if for any other reason you don't like the guy, get scared shitless, or realize he patently hasn't got a clue where he is going as he's asking every person he pulls up beside, just get him to stop and pay him off. There are plenty other day-glo fish in the city sea ready and willing to weave you, serenade you, and terrify you, to your desired destination for the price of a grubby fingerless neoprene biker glove palmed with silver.

I'm making a concentrated effort to focus on cultural issues in this weeks blog.  The last couple haven't exactly been upbeat, but then again we haven't exactly been having a very good time of it of late.

I continue to play tennis 3 times a week or so. I'm relatively fit and healthy though admittedly mentally completely drawn and drained with all manner of assorted, and most certainly "surplus to requirements ", bullshit. I am nearing my line in the sand. Physical exercise is excellent for getting rid of work related stress. There really is nothing like clubbing the fuck out of fuzzy little yellow balls in the "fresh " air after a 10 hour working day, crammed with teaching and managerial duties.  

 

That of course was last night. Tonight's remedial treatment is chicken wings, too much beer and a few games of pool.

 

Bet I'm in bed by 10! :)

 

Hi there, (6/10/13)

Actually that National speaking competition I judged last week wasn't so bad. The participants were quite good and really put their best foot forward. I was impressed at how many of them stood up and made their speeches in the negative concerning the subject : "Thailand's readiness for ASEAN fact or fiction". It was refreshing to hear young folk finally get away from all the usual Kinder, Kuche, Kirche type speeches and try and be more critical of the state.  It also didn't hurt that I was well compensated for my time at the judges desk. I felt a bit bad about that considering my colleagues had done a lot of graft up country in the regional heats for no money…so I took them out for beer and dinner to assuage my very slight pangs of guilt. Seems they'd had a bit of a shit day in the office with folk pulling last minute sickies anyway. Beer was most definitely called for.

This is the worst time of year for hanging washing out. It never quite seems to get dry before the next shower. As a consequence it starts getting that unmistakeably foosty smell. I've got damp clothes on coat hanger all over the house in a bid to actually get them dry before they go in the wardrobe. Its been grey and heavily overcast here for almost a week. It's that dreich gunmetal grey overcast fallen sky all around that turns the normally 3D colourful cityscapes flat and featureless. Strangely enough the only times the sun came out last week was when I was playing tennis.

My back has been twinging a little all week when I lie flat actually. I need to take things a little easier at tennis. I keep forgetting I've 4000 quids worth of titanium bio metal scaffolding in my back. All this twisting and jumping around must be a bit of a strain on my spine. I hope to God I haven't loosened any of the screws ,bolts , grommits , or medi- flanges, I really don't think I could go through another year of reknitting and repairing my main back muscle if it gets sliced open. It was as painful as the operation itself.

The inevitable floods have started up country. It's currently unclear how far they are likely to come down this year. One would like to think that safety protocols and run off measures are in place after the mismanagement and fiasco of the flooding 2 years ago. But then again this is Thailand, who knows how much has actually been done. If the rain keeps up at the current levels I'm sure the usual spots will see their rivers rise. I just hope it doesn't cause the turmoil and hardship of 2011.

I've been taking on more work lately. It seems that I'm doing more and more private tuition. I'm been doing voice and presentation coaching for a rich young heiress to the Mama noodle fortune. She's quite active in the University speech and international debating circuit. This thing is, in order to be truly competitive she needs to lose a lot of her thick oriental Asian accent. This involves her doing a lot of speechwork and me correcting her. It's almost like a scene out of "My Fair Lady".  For some reason she's really into the British accent which is a further challenge as most of her non asian accent is made up of a hybrid  US/Australian drawl as she's spent time in both countries.

Starting next week I'll also be coaching a police colonel twice a week. It's always good to have a contact in the fuzz). She's (yes a woman) is one of the main  players in Thailand's anti-drugs taskforce. She's off overseas to Israel in a couple of months for an extended sojourn with her opposite numbers over there. She's needing an intensive program of English conversation practice so she's up to speed..... I expect I'll be spending a lot of time discussing the wild and weird world of narcotics trafficking. There's doubtless going to be more conversations about  drugs than you can sniff at…. In truth I'm not really sure how to go about preparing for such a course. It might just all boil down to a concentrated solution, sorry , conversation practice. I'm not even altogether sure if this twice weekly lesson is best conducted over a refreshing coke in the neutral territory of a coffee shop. Either way,  I'm hoping to inject a bit of humour and fun into the proceedings and try to weed out any errors. I'm certainly hoping I don't put her nose out of joint by doing so as I can be quite a pusher….. Bottom line is, I'm ecstatic at the thought of getting 20 quid a pop.

 Meth-inks overall it'll be a worthwhile exercise and I'm sure she'll be leaving the country on a high.  If she performs well over there, she might even come back a heroine. If it turns out she doesn't like the crack, she may well of course, tell me to stick it in my pipe and smoke it. The grass after all, is always greener….

Hi there, (26/9/13)

ASEAN is the word on most Thais lips just now. We're just over 15 months away from the SE Asian equivalent of the Common Market. As Thais brace themselves for the enormity of the changes ahead, I perceive more than just a little concern behind the scenes.

The thing is as the borders go down, effectively making passportless travelling between members states (only ID required), I'm expecting we'll see a massive migratory, locus like workforce move from member state to member state rather like the Eastern Europeans did almost a decade ago. Thailand currently enjoys a vibrant economy in relatively rude health (at least compared to its immediate neighbours) and the first industries up for grabs are ancilliary health workers, construction , and logistics.

Its quite obvious that right up there amongst its most important needs is a populace able to function well in the ASEAN elected language- English.  Numerous hiso well to do Theoriticians and big hair lady professors from prestigious educational establishments are getting their "talking Head" soundbites in the media, stressing the need for research, more research, and a concentrated universal push to get the populace up to par.

Thing is, nobody actually appears to be DOING anything much….

The reverse in fact, our resident office Thai work permit/immigration  member of staff is scurrying around to try and get teacher applications done as her "contacts" at the ministry of employment and immigration are telling her from next year the rules are changing and it'll be far harder for a non Asean person to get a work permit and leave to stay a year.

For your average Joe English teacher it's getting pretty tough out there. The freelance corporate guys are going from famine to feat and back again. The regular school teachers are starting their annual game of hopscotch  around the state schools trying to find the best deal, more and more of which seem reticent to employ directly choosing instead an agency to do all the work permit stuff. This of course affects the final salary the teachers get.

I think the minimum you really need to earn here nowadays and enjoy a modicum of quality of life would be in the 35-40,000 baht mark and salaries haven't risen at all much in tandem with inflation over the last decade.

Bangkok it seems was the most visited city in 2012. 15 million folk came here. I think in general prices rose accordingly. It's really not the cheapest option to live and stay now. Don't get me wrong, taxes and utilities are still miniscule compared to the west, but its perhaps not a place to move to and try and save for a few years. Unless you've been around a while, you know someone, or have developed contacts in officialdom, the city can be a very hard place indeed. And you really don't want to be living without some kind of health insurance here, especially if you're mad enough to be riding around on a motorbike in the wet season.

I'm off to judge the bi-annual national Thai speaking competition in a fancy hotel all day Saturday. A most odd environment:  Part English Speaking Union, part British Council, Part ministry of Education and undoubtedly  completely and fully bloated with a quivering sense of entitlement and superiority that only seasoned international debaters , mega rich wannabe philanthropists, and incongruous super elite social climbers can instill.

The young competitors themselves however are a good lot. It takes a lot of balls to try and win this competition. These people represent the cream of the English speaking youth in Thailand. Those not coerced to do it by their parents or their school really do try and give it their best shot.  I hope that there are a few who'll take a few chances and say something shocking, surprising or controversial. Though I suspect as usual we'll be given rehash after rehash of what these bright young things think we the old folks want to hear: Kinder, Kuchen, Kirche…the value of society and religion…a mini treatise on how wonderful Thailand is, regardless of what the topic of the speech is.

How I yearn for a few cage rattlers, a couple of irreverent jokes and a sarcastic statement or two.

Trouble is such vital aspects of speech making are so far out of the conformity box here, that most young folk would be afraid to unleash them (even if they knew how to do so) for fear of establishment reprisals.

After all there was that actress a few years back who got thrown out of the Thai actors guild, kicked out of university and publically vilified because of a risque dress she wore to a premiere….

Nuff said.

Hi there, (1/9/13)

I guess by now I've more than likely lost my scant readership. There are many factors in this;

Firstly, I try my best to write honestly and frankly. This has often come at a cost. If you are completely 100% open and honest other people or things may get dragged into the limelight that would otherwise stay in the shadows. This is particularly true of my work. It's been over a year since we were rebranded into the rattley old  chuckwagon that is Go Global. Not that Go International  With English was a Bullet train by comparison, but by and large we were ignored to a point and  left to instigate our own ultimately succesful protocols and systems through a series of trials, failures, and beta tests.  Now we find ourselves constantly being pushed around overseeing a series of frankly ever more ludricrous initiatives, every system we ever brought in has been warped or diminished into an administrational  clusterfuck. I've stood my ground on more than a few occasions and that has brought little respite in the onslaught. We've taken more duties and responsibilities on to cover the shortfall, nepotism, miscommunication, or just plain incompetence of others. This in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day people's hearts are in the right place, just not their bodies or their brains for any sustained period of time in order to complete core tasks over the week when we're student free.  What is bad ,is an endemic adherence to ignoring almost every suggestion we make. Some of us took the transition for GI to GG worse than others. Some have left for pastures new. Others find their role comprehensively reorganized. You takes your money you takes your choice. I've discovered that I'm probably now more of an administrator than a teacher. With a little more training on the budget side of things, I'm certain I could run a school of 2000 students well and effectively. So when I look at dwindling numbers and obvious trends happening in our school with nothing really being done to remedy it from a marketing /promotional point of view, I can't help but feel partly  responsible. But I'm not in any shape or form involved in where the money goes.

My personal life is also something I'd dearly love to talk more about. But I'm reliably informed that my blog is being very closely monitored by a most undoubtedly very unpleasant and malevolent individual overseas. Anything I might share with you dear readers may end up as ammunition in a protracted and messy series of court dates. …

 But if you are reading this "Obernull" I'd like the opportunity to say "Fuck you" in as many different ways I can, and strongly suggest  you stop playing the big "holier-than-thou  Christian for the local congregation  and take some time out to actually REALLY try being one for a change. You are the most self deluded, selfish, nasty piece of work I've probably ever heard of, and I've met some real knobends in my time. But as the bible says:

"So shall ye reap what ye sow"

I for one sure hope so. They'll be a special place reserved for you dickhead.

 

Anyway.  Back to BKK.  I went to a Thai-Catholic-Chinese vigil/wake one evening last week. The open coffin (which I didn't go and look in) was at the back of a plastic roofed gazebo in the grounds of a big church. There were more flowers, garlands and wreaths there than a mafia Don's funeral. (I don't think I've ever see a wreath sent from a bank before). Needless to say this dude was stratospherically rich. 5 nights in a row the great, not so great, and poor congregated for a 30 minute prayer service . The format was vaguely Catholiccy (from what I remember of the few masses I've been to)  but the tunes were pure Chinese in melody. All in all an interesting experience, hopefully not one I'll have to repeat again for a while.

The rainy season has made dents in my tennis routine. I'm still trying to get out a minimum of twice a week. If I don't, I see a marked deterioration in my fitness levels very very quickly.  I think I've got enough tennis buddies strewn around to fit in around my schedule. I'm starting to get much more consistant. I even beat a hard hitting Californian dude half my age last week. I was chuffed.

Remember I got a broken guitar fixed by a master luthier a couple of years back?  Well, last week I took 2 guitars round to his workshop. Both needed very minor alterations, fiddly, but important. Despite his workshop being now much larger with twice as many apprentices, Mr Wiroon greeted me himself and set about fixing my stuff.  He dressed the frets reground the saddles,  lowered the action,  lemon oiled the fretboards , cleaned and polished both guitars them AND restrung them both with new strings. An hour of his time basically. And when it came to pay, he only wanted money for the new strings. You could have knocked me down with a feather! He just wouldn't take any more money. He was stunned I only paid 80 quid for my latest acquisition a heavily abalone inlayed, solid rosewood  "parlour" type guitar. He felt it should be at least 4-5 times more expensive. I did buy it off in response to an online ad from a dodgy Irishman on a skytrain platform. The silicon bag from the factory was still inside, it could have been nicked!  

 Anyway, During this hour I watched the other luthier's work and got to play with some of the beautiful and stunning $1500+ guitars they had recently made for the Singapore guitar show. I wish I was better with my hands. I smelled the woody air and looked around that workshop at the lovely woods they were shaping and buffing. I admired the grain and the finish on the guitars (as well as the tone). And wished I could do the same. But my scant few years in woodwork class showed me all had all the Artisan skills of a Quickfit Tyrefitter.

Actually it was to "In the grip of a tyrefitters hand" by Budgie among other tunes that I had a massage last week. It had to be loud through my ipod as the ambient music in the massage place is excruciatingly kack. This whole trend of turning old hits into light elevator music bossanova style with  a cool chick breathlessly singing the lyrics has got to stop.  Nirvana, and The Who were never meant to be listened in this manner, so just don't do it ok?

The 'Tyrefitter" is question was a wrinkly old Isan lady by the name of Jai (Heart). I asked her at the start to go a little harder and not give me the cutesy cutesy tourist treatment. Everytime I grunted, gasped, mewed and whelped in pain she chuckled delightedly and just went on bearing her weight onto her kness as she ground into my instep. She did this time with her elbows that still brings tears to my eyes when I think of it. But you know what? I walked out of there with a happy, loose bouncy step. Just the perfect remedy to tight lactic acid drenched muscles from 3 days of tennis.  Getting a thai massage was something I only tended to do when I had visitors here, but at 5 quid (incl tip) for an hours "workout" , it really is one of the great things about living here. I'll be going again soon for sure.

Hi there, (22/6/13)

It's a simple truth that the human condition is as full of self-delusion as it is of contradictions. Perhaps the perceived wisdom that people allegedly garner as they get older is merely a journey down the road towards a plainer and simply more truthful perception of the lives they, and others close to them, lead.

This self delusion can take many different forms. Some people are "told" at some point in their lives that they can sing. This seemingly gives them Carte Blanche in their future lives to sporadically torture unfortunate souls at almost every karaoke machine equipped bar they encounter. Others are lauded for their beauty or their fashion sense which consequently may often compel them into a life fashion slavery and one-upmanship. A vanity driven life where habitually seeking their image in every single reflective surface they can find becomes the norm.

Others are told once too often what a great teacher they are.

This seems to form a spongy semi sound proofed regenerative bubble of complacency around them , that once popped, immediately seeks to reform itself with the anger and frenzy of a spider repairing a broken web. In a previous life I was a tourist officer. There was no scope or innovation in that job, certainly not what I was doing. Now I'm a teacher I really enjoy the unpredictability of it all. Whilst I suffer from odd bouts of complacency and lack of innovation, I am fully aware you can only really get better by trying new things out, or doing things in a different way, or by being prepared to deviate from your plan as opposed to sticking slavishly to the plan.

Take for example my moonlighting last week. I went back to the Department of Irrigation again to do day 1 of their "Presentation on Irrigation for ASEAN" course. Ostensibly, this was to be a warm up day, my remit: to get them fluffed up in an English mind frame for the 4 days of presentation training that followed. All of them without exception had not spoken English in the past year. But what made this course different from the last was that cameras and computers were hurredly installed in there and that my course was to be streamed in real time all the provincial headquarters (Where apparently up to 5000 people could log in if they wanted. At this bombshell ( I had no idea this was planned) I started to rethink my teaching session ( I had additional materials with me) in order to maximize the benefit to those who might log in. Thank God for Mr Ipad! I've converted so many power points into Mac keynotes that I can introduce a variety of English language points and activities just by blabbering and sweeping my finger across my iPhone. Naturally anyone watching remotely would have benefitted more from having a customised pack of activity materials and handouts in their provincial offices with which to join in. But at least they could garner from the intro part of each session just what I was teaching and trying to do. I can't help wondering if this might be the future of teaching...a modern day open university ( remember them ? BBC 2 droning on scientific incomprehensibilities from midnight to 3 am) where a teacher teaches a classroom and other students join in armed with their dedicated learning pack.. Real time activity based learning in tandem.

One thing is for sure. My writing and board work is so sloppy, slanted and generally ad hoc that at least, from a professional point of view, the keynotes really look the part.

I was out with my two Aussie buddies for a long overdue eat and drink. It seems like a month since we were last out and about, setting the world to rights. Indeed so engrossed were we, and esconced in such a variety of topics and conversations, that  the time just flew by. Erring on the side of caution I, and Leigh decided to duck out at 10.30 leaving Chris to wander off into the night on some undisclosed and doubtless scurrilous assignation. I fully expect him to refute the above remark with the usual lack of success next time we meet.

Actually it was the first time I've had alcohol in a week. I'm playing so much tennis nowadays my favourite drink has become orange juice and lemon flavoured fizzy water over ice…Goodness me, a health kick!!  I am enjoying playing, even if my body cramps up, and, awash with lactic acid, feels alien to me most nights  when I'm lying in bed. I only have to think of how terribly incapacitated I was once was with my back injury, and the subsequent operation and long recuperation period,  to feel grateful at still being able to lead a physically active life. Despite my size and weight, I'm getting round the court pretty well and playing with a steadily improving technique. The overcast skies of pre-rainy season are dropping are few degrees off the ambient temperatures and I'm mostly winning… Yay.

It seems no matter how I try, my interactions with the fairer sex over the plethora of modern Instant Messaging media seem to more often than not end up badly. I am in no doubt that sentences uttered face to face have nothing like the impact of sentences or sentiments written down. Add to this the time lag between posts, (where you might be responding to a sentence written minutes ago, yet appear to be responding inappropriately to your IM partners latest statements as they pop up together) and you're very quickly on the road of simultaneously over-thinking things, whilst misinterpreting your partners return statements. Take for example a simple sentence beginning with the likes of "I sometimes wonder, when I'm feeling blue……" In a written format this is very likely to be taken as deadly earnest, as being the whole truth, whilst simultaneously being falsely taken aboard in entirely the wrong spirit, rather than considered as the casual mind burps of the rambling rookie IM writer. Had I spoken the same sentence with a insouciant smile on my face, rolling my eyes to the heavens for effect, the most likely outcome would have been a casual and laughed off dismissal of my musings. Unfortunately , IM with a sterility inbuilt by lines of text, and the  additional incomprehensibilites often borne by time lag, or the unfortunate  and more often than not, inappropriate use of emoticons, can just put you further down a well of terminal miscommunication. The thing is, I never seem to learn.

Somebody once told me that IM was there for fun chats, trivial talk, and one line jokes, and that using it as any kind of seriously forum for sharing thoughts and discussions was to actually breach some unwritten rule of Internet etiquette. Maybe this person was talking about chat rooms, somewhere I never, ever go as it happens.

 Still, I feel there is still something in this concept. From here on in I am intending to "haud ma wheesht" (hold my tongue) and save my unbidden wonderings, worries, thoughts, and general ramblings for my blog. I shall use the myriad IM systems for what they were originally intended. No more extended paragraphs, musings, or concepts.

It's really just safer innit?

Hi there, (16/6/13)

It's been almost 3 years since I last wore red, or much yellow for that matter. Even though part of me knows, that as a foreigner, I am unlikely to be pigeonholed or scrutinized as to my Thai political leanings, part of me is still wary.

So just as I pulled on a red t shirt on my last day off, I learnt that a redshirt peasant army was back in town to briefly occupy and remember the fallen of 2010. Oh well,  it looks like red is going to be off the menu again for some time. Shame really.

We're into the humid factor part of the year. There are a lot of long grey days where the cloud cover is low and a there's dark pall in the office. But it doesn't make it very much cooler really. Our office air con has been on the fritz again, as I write there is the lone sentry of an industrial fan at my back, yet the temperature reads 30 degrees which is about as cool as we can get it after 8 hours. Bit annoying really , boiling in a shirt and tie trying to pin down the casually placed and  intermittantly billowing papers as the fan sweeps through its incessant parabola. The rain when it comes, is the usual violent downpour followed by rapid steamy evaporation. Thus far it hasn't forced the cancellation of any of my precious tennis matches, but it really is only a matter of time.

I've really enjoyed the benefits of restringing my racquets and the standard of tennis of late has definitely gone a notch up. I'm really enjoying it.

Which is just as well, because I've been a bit of a hermit otherwise. I'm hardly going out and socializing lately. Though that said, I did have a lovely time at my little 3 year old friends Alyssa's birthday the other night.  I'm not sure if this late of get up and go is general ennui or that I simply don't run in sociable circles anymore. I'm aware its all down to me, my choice, but I can't quite figure out my motivation, or lack of it.

In the land of no seasons I've doing a bit of a Spring clearout  myself. Just because I've been lucky enough to have a spare bedroom with a double wardrobe in it, doesn't mean I have to fill it up with crap. My colleague Claire told me about some sort of 6 months rule. If you haven't worn it in 6 months, get rid of it. I felt this was a little too radical for my tastes. I choose rule 1b: If you're too fat to get into it, and unlikely to ever really get into again (whether it has additionally "shrunk" or not) get rid of it. If it is faded, worn, stained, beholed, or missing a button that fell off and you put it somewhere intending an eventual repair, but can no longer remember where, get rid of it. If in wearing something you are patently attempting some kind of misguided effort to take years off your life, get rid of it. You're mutton now boy, not lamb.  OK, whilst I'm not ready to wear checked shirts of varying colours of beige, or do my shoe shopping with the primary motive of being "sensible", there has to be a balance struck.

Actually I'm not even really getting rid of it. I put it in a box by the bin and the maid comes along and takes everything away. It is either being taken to a temple for general populace recycling, or she's rapidly becoming  the most popular lady in her "Moo Baan" as the booty is shared amongst the friends and family of the neighbourhood:-

 Well, as least with all the big fat guys anyway!

Hi there, (2/6/13)

Nature abhors a vacuum.

So it seems, does power transition.

There's a push-me pull-you aspect to my life just now. I'm not convinced about the direction certain things are going in, and often it appears that certain meetings seem to be little more than personal agenda manipulating. All over Thailand there are influential people out there, despite their years of experience in education and their significant acadmic achievements that have absolutely no clue at all about the EFL industry, yet fervently believe they do. It's a terrible shame really. Dissenters and nay sayers to this academia glitterati are surplus to current requirements, as is any kind of proper western style R&D followed by structured consultation.  Instead we see ill considered, off the cuff initiatives put in place with a handful of scattered pixie dust to ensure that all present are subjugated under a willful thrall. I  often see a glazed look of almost religious zealotry in the eyes of such folk. A terrible shame really. Worst of all is if I , by default ,find myself party to such attitudes.  At some point I may have to even publically attest and agree to such sentiments, sentiments I patently do not share, in an open forum. In EFL teaching terms its like being a turnkey at Bergen Belsen.

'I was just following orders".

Still, if there's one thing a life in Thailand gives you, it's a thick skin. Whilst it's always sad to see once proud institutions morph into an ugly lopsided snaggle toothed hydra (See the Scottish Tourist board for example) I've realized before it's too late, that investing the same level of previous emotional commitment to places like that without the ability to implement the right and proper changes, is an  ultimately pointless and damaging exercise. For myself I will still work to implement a plethora of schemes, I will still ensure, that from my end at least, the teachers we employ are still producing and providing the best possible learning experience. What I won't do, is get upset or unnecessarily  heartbroken or be filled with "Sehnsucht" at the ultimate demise.

I spent some time this week researching into the complicated world of tennis strings. Its been over 6 months since I bought those 2 matching professional racquets and lately I've been noticing that one of them suddenly seemed to play funny. I'm not quite sure how to describe this phenomenon other than it doesn't feel quite right. A bit of online research seems to indicate that you should change strings a year as per how often a week you play. I've been playing 3 times a week lately.

So I decided to get them both changed with a single 1 pound of pressure difference between them so that they are to all intents and purposes "matched". This led to a whole read up on the debate of how you should string them. High tension means less power more control. Low tension higher power, less control. A few years ago the trend was to have them wound up tighter than ducks arse under water (as Fred's mam says). But now slack is the thing.

I decided to go somewhere in the middle. At the lower end of the racquet tension specifications. Next up was the question of what strings where. Even more precise mains and crosses . (warp and weft if you like). There are so many string types of hybrid this and poly Kevlar that, as well as natural gut (twice the price of all the others, still the best you can get, yet apt to breakage). I opted for a mix of kevlar mono and nylon multi-filament that was a "best seller" that promised durability and minimal tension loss (apparently the moment you clobber a ball the newly strung racquets go down about 2 pounds in tension). Monday I get to try it out. I have a feeling I'll be walloping balls all over the shop. At 25 quid each to restring (including materials) it does represent a bit of an investment, but then  I look at it like I really want to steadily improve my game. The biggest obstacle to that is using balls that are long "dead" and racquets that are not properly or regularly maintained. After all ,any guitarist will tell you that even a decent set of strings won't give you that concert ringing clarity after more than 3 or 4 hours play.

I fully expect some balls to fly over the fence tomorrow!

 

Hi there, (26/5/13)

I was talking to a mate a couple of days ago about future paths and plans. It seems one of the by products of a post mid life crisis life is that you suddenly (many folk for the first time in their lives) start seeing things with a longer term perspective than before. I've always envied those folk (like both my brothers) who found mental peace in having a vocation to do a certain career. They never struggled through their mid 20's and 30's trying to find a job with that was the right fit. They followed the path that appeared before them with forthright dedication , faith and love. I wasn't so lucky. I never felt that way about the jobs I did in those 2 decades of my life. Shortish term views seemed the best I could come up with. God knows I tried. I slavishly tethered myself to a job I eventually grew to hate. I prioritized myself in life terms by consolidating a relationship by buying a big apartment together in the not unrealistic expectation that one day I would marry and have a family.

None of that came to pass. I think I've barreled through most of life's crossroads running red lights and only ever noticing the possibilities of life path changes from the perspective of a rear view mirror. Too far down the road to u-turn, too scared to brake.

So my friend was talking about looking for a house for him and his Thai girlfriend of 3 three years to move into. They're both too old to have kids and are looking for a house so they can look after some feral cats they've adopted. He's just about to go into university lecturing, she's a police admin officer who has just decided to carry on her sponsored studies by doing a masters for 2 more years.

After that however, she wants to move back down in the far south to her large family of brothers and sisters in Nakhon si Tammarat  and build a house in her vacant plot of land next to theirs.

My friend wasn't very enthusiastic at the thought. He's spent many years here in the ex-pat community of the British club. He's very socially active and very sporty, committee this, committee that, functions a go go.  He adores being part of the whole scene. It seems to define him now he's spent the last 6 years reinventing himself.  He's in a bit of a quandry about long term plans. It's obvious he loves this woman and is as committed to her as any farang I've seen here.

I told him you can't build your life around friends and that surely all that really counts , all that really matters, is the relationship between two people that spans the years.  Someone to grow old with, someone to have a family with, even if that family consists of a man, a woman, and 2 cats.

 I went on to present a picture to him ten years hence where a 57 year old man is standing sweating outside a 7/11 at 7 pm at night, an open can of cheap Leo beer inside a plastic bag in his hand. We've all seen them. The flotsam and Jetsam ex-pat English teachers.  Late 50's, washed up on the shore of low wage threadbaredness, just a touch above abject mediocrity and a smidgeon below full blown alcoholism. Their meager monthly salary judiciously eeked out  with a frugality borne of a bitter feast and famine experience, Every few months a minor windfall allowing them the luxury of paying for the indifferent sexual ministrations of a girl old enough to be their granddaughter. A sad and pathetic existence indeed.

I wasn't necessarily saying that men like us would end up like that. I was however presenting an instantly recognizable and ubiquitous Bangkok image of what might possibly happen if certain long term plans, goals and intentions weren't actively being made now. I know we've both far too much pride and wherewithal to let that kind of tragedy happen to us. But we both know of numerous people that kind of life has descended upon. Relationships, good relationships, lasting ,loving, honest relationships, are very very hard to find in this town. The big question is how much you actually value, or need a relationship. Some people carry so many wounds and baggage from the past they're simply not prepared to be vulnerable again. Others find solace in academia or in some time consuming hobby or obsession. Others just try to keep busy to stop the wolf of loneliness howling at the door of their mind. Others, of a more practical bent, still commit to a relationship, not in their minds or their hearts, but for the pure multi-purpose functionality of a "her indoors".

 " It's love Jim but not as we know it."

So I asked him again If he intended to eventually move down south. Again his answer was vague and wishy washy. I suggested that if he never had the intention of going down south, why move in together only to create a far greater heartbreak two years further down the line? There is little doubt she'll be dissuaded from eventually returning home permanently that much is clear. Whilst he agreed with my analysis, it seems he's happy to go with the flow and let this particular stream let him drift and meander on until the grade 5 rapids arrive.

I don't think any of us can sit wedged in a rubber tyre on the river of life and let the currents,  eddys and flows push us twirling lazily downstream in a series of random zigzags any more. Not without a life vest and paddle anyways.

Hi there, (19/5/13)

There's teaching and there's teaching. Often the purpose maybe to explain and set up activities and stand back as the students do the graft. On times, since as this past weekend, there are large scale school events with 100+ kids every 45 minutes passing through needing controlling and teaching. I have to say such larger scale evetns are very very tiring. Keeping up the momentum and enthusiasm as you conduct and repeat the activities is pretty exhausting. There isn't any "down time" from the flow from teaching adrenalin. As I sit here and write this at the tail end of such a hectic weekend, I feel absolutely knackered.

Knackered in a good way of course .  Whether or not our Grammar fun day quizzes and activities over the weekend garnered any more customers remains to be seen. But we (the management team) delivered exactly what we were supposed to, and the kids mostly went away happy and with a spring in their step . Large scale school events such as these are thankfully still quite rare, though I do foresee a little more of them happening now we have an "assembly hall" of sorts on the 19th floor. It has however ,strengthened my resolve to never again partake in English holidays camps, or any activities involving large numbers of children for days at a time.

Been a good week this week overall. I've played 4 games of tennis in 7 days and am slowly starting to feel a certain level of fitness emerging. I'm still a little podgy and my tennis sessions are often punctuated with eats and beer with buddies, but I feel able to scamper round a court for a couple of hours playing singles in 33+ degrees heat .  Don't get me wrong, I'd far rather play in considerably cooler temperatures. The fact that I can only play one full set in the 10 am sun as opposed to 2 sets in the evening.

Everyone is complaining about the temperatures this year. Thais included. I think some folk are starting to get genuinely discomforted by it. There are times even here, where a trusty fan just inches from the side of the bed still doesn't quite hack it.

The Red shirts are out in large numbers today. It seems they're going to the spot in BKK they occupied for 7 weeks in 2010 to commemorate their fallen buddies and their "brutal demise". Personally I find myself at odds with their sensibilities despite agreeing with the general leanings of their political orientation. Those poor Thai peasant folk from up country have been alternately bought and  manipulated time and time again, yet few of them have the eyes to see it. It's like looking back  at 70's  footage of some British Leyland car workers strike  where the workforce has walked out cos the tea lady was summarily dismissed: There's some shouty shop steward geezer in a checked shirt with long hair and sideburns  bleating endless pseudomarxist polemic into the camera .  You vaguely remember the strikes, the power cuts, the piled rubbish, the inconvenience, yet never remember whether the cause was worthy or not.

Either accept things the way they are or accept the mantle of  responsibility for changing them I suppose.  The fire for idealism and societal change burns lower in my soul nowadays. I'm been trampled by police horses and crushed in fierce dogma fueled melees in my time. Fact is that so little of it seems important to me nowadays. This apathy is without doubt also due to the fact that this is not my country and I don't feel it is appropriate to get involved in any way. Period.

Ironically it seems that where I might make a difference, namely voting in next years Scottish independence referendum, I shall be excluded. No votes by proxy for Scots in absentia from the motherland it seems. I can understand the reasons though. Like the Irish , there are more of us Scots living abroad than in our own country. Absence has a tendency to make the heart grow fonder and the attendant jingoism to grow and take a firmer root in the fertile soils of abroad.  

Hi there, (10/5/13)

Rosacea is 'A chronic inflammatory skin condition which principally affects the face". The ruddy visual effects are unfortunately not dissimilar to the  complexion of hardened long term alcoholics,  (which it is often apparently mistaken for)

It mainly affects people of northern hemisphere caucasian skin complexions and 1 in every 20 Americans. It is also thought to be 30-40 % hereditary though the relevant gene sequence is as yet undiscovered.

It is also triggered by many things: stress, dairy products, extremes of temperature, sunlight, humidity, vigourous exercise, high blood pressure..Get the picture?

Once it sets in, it is hard to shake. I've been an on and off sufferer for the last 2 years or so, but lately I gotta say it is starting to get me down a bit. I'm sure compared to more extreme cases I've seen on google images, the random yet persistant outbreaks of red patches,  acne and blotches on my face are relatively mild. As a teenager I was spared the rash of acne that affected so many others. You can imagine suddenly suffering in my middle age has left me feeling suddenly self conscious and a little shy of strangers or of standing up in public. Not really great for a man in the teaching profession. I've been trying a number of unctions and creams at night, but I gotta admit my vigorous tennis regime, a hot sweaty polluted climate, stress,  and ever present sunlight (though I put on block every morning as a matter of habit) are all most certainly contributing factors here. Rosacea seems to be a kind of inflammatory rupture and dilation of the tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin. There is no cure, only management apparently.

So I'm onto phase 2 . anti biotic big blast for a week. Then more creams (not oil based or steroidal in nature), then a shot at homeopathic remedies , after that  a dermatologists visit, then possibly laser treatment. We'll see how it goes. I'm writing this so any other sufferers like me might know what to suddenly do about this sudden change in their visual appearance.  It's especially tough when it can look like you're the world's biggest alkie.

That said, I'm trying to not let it affect my life too much. There's no way I can take the advice to avoid vigourous exercise. I love my tennis too much , especially as I'm now starting to see small but definite improvements in my game.  I will look for triggers in my diet. I'll start with cutting out sugar and take it from there .

I was done in Pattaya over the last holiday weekend. We were celebrating a few joint birthdays. It was a fun time , the usual pleasant stay in the Peace Resort and sunset swims followed by the triple vodka and oranges before a night out on the town. A change is good as a rest and I certainly enjoyed staring at the big blue sea. The town itself is as ghastly as ever, full of ghastly bars and ghastly folk, (present company excepted) but nevertheless a pleasant change.

I've only been back 2 weeks and amidst the chaotic changes of work and personnel, I feel myself strangely displaced and  find I'm missing Europe and a certain person very very much indeed.

Hi there, (26/4/13)

Getting out of Bangkok for an extended period of time is almost always good for the soul. Listening to an absence of noise, feeling the breeze blustering in your ears, and yes, even watching horizontal rain sweep incessantly out of the East has a most cathartic effect.

For those not in the know, I spent my annual big holiday in Germany and Scotland. My main destination this time round was the Oberpfalz region in northeastern Bavaria. I think it was the first time I'd ever spent any time in this part of the world. I really quite liked it. The rolling hills and extensive pine forests gave it a kind of Scandinavian feel. The town I was staying in wasn't the prettiest of places, but then again no place looks at its best in the last weeks of winter. The people seemed really genuinely friendly though, (that kind of friendly you get when random people you meet out walking say hello as they pass). The town did have an olde worlde medieval hilltop centre and I'm reliably informed it positively bustles with pavement cafes and beer gardens in Summer.

The season was just turning into Spring as I was there, (lovely to be able to mark the seasons once more)from a bleak snowy 4 degrees on my arrival, to a sultry 27 degrees on my departure. My days were spent doing odd jobs around the place, working in the garden, and generally helping out. The trees blossomed, the tulips sprouted, and the birds chattered their territorial calls and mating songs. It was all really pleasant and good. I'm not really quite at liberty yet to talk about my host as there are a number of impending important court dates over the next few months and I know this site is being constantly monitored for any possible way of evil manipulation and lie spreading. I almost peed myself with laughter when the "topless" picture of me between scuba dives in a peeled down wetsuit that is in my gallery pages on this site was apparently reported to the local church community as "porn". Haha so ridiculous!! Let's just say my host was kind and gracious and I enjoyed every moment of my stay in the attic guestroom (except for the lack of curtains and the dawns light early wakes haha).

It was also great to see how my folks hadn't appeared to age at all in the year I hadn't seen them. They are still as bright as a button and mum and dad really pushed the boat out for me during my whole stay. It's amazing my mum can still manage to cook for such a large throng of people even if she does start the preparations three days in advance. We had a lovely family Sunday with stories and laughter. I'm blessed to have such a cool family, especially in this day and age when such little stock seems to be placed upon family bonds and values.   I was even inspired to go and buy cod liver oil capsules when I got back (Omega 3- the secret to keeping your marbles apparently).

So now it's back to sweltering Bangkok and an office with a rickety air con. It was 37 degrees when I got in this morning. People are now patiently waiting for the start, some start, any start to the rainy season.  The weather is likely to stay in the soaring high 30's and lower 40's till June. Till then I'd best be taking at least a litre of water with me per every hour of tennis I intend to play. It's a little hard trying to get back into the groove of things. A number of projects are apparently in the offing and I think I'll have to start looking into some extra evening corporate work for a little while. But before then there's a mini double birthday roadtrip to the coast with the guys at the tail end of next weekend as it is the May Day holiday here and one of the few official weekends off. Cold beers by the Peace resort pool? Why the Hell not?

 

Hi there, (29/3/13)

Listening in to young  foreigners ,expat or otherwise,  seems to annoy me nowadays. Young folk seem to express the most incredibly rude and arrogant attitudes because presumably think that people around can't understand them. I sometimes wonder if I say similar untoward things without thinking. When you're a foreigner in such a strange country it's probably easier to buck any social trends and conventions.  I have my moments and bugbears for sure. For example:  taxi drivers who take fares and haven't the foggiest clue of the destination  after insisting (in response to my Thai questions) that they do- drives me really bonkers!! Especially if it is somewhere I don't know myself. We're not talking about missing a sidestreet or a junction here…Sometimes they can go vast distances in entirely the wrong direction before my spidey sense of something going awry kicks in.

But it's more of a certain type arrogance of the young that irks me. So many folk I hear who are "passing through" for a month or 6 seem to genuinely have this belief that the world owes them a living. 5 years ago, rookie teachers would bite our hand off for the chance of part time teaching at this school. Nowadays many applicants seem to regard part time work as digging heavily into their holiday/down time and at 14 pounds an hour it's not really worth it! They'll not come in for one three hour class. If you give 'em 2 they'll consider it. Their time is endless and eminently fritterable.

Yet I'm the one who doesn't have the time now. My gratitude for a steady income is directly proportional to my age.   I need to remind myself that it is the era of others now. Generations are hard to measure, where they begin, where they end. Are they defined by eras of music, by decades of popular fashion and  culture, or simple by a gap of a certain number of years between births?   There are 18 year old who have no idea who Kurt Cobain was, and he was a youth icon/hero to a whole different thinking generation to me. At 47 I'm technically easily old enough to be a granddad, and perhaps that's where I fit in the generation structure:2 steps before "Generation X" and bamboozled by what generations to come. Recently I've been reading about this "Bitcoin" on BBC, an invisible online internet generated currency created by a "pseudonymous" Japanese guy, that is now apparently worth serious real money.  I've googled it and wikied it, and read about it, and still CANNOT understand remotely how it works. Each sentence is so stuffed with a glossary of "new" internet terms I can't make out a single thing. It's like thumbing through a 2nd year thermodynamics university course book.

Whilst still lying to myself that I'm young at heart, a teenager in my mind,  I have become old and stilted and despite my best efforts, suddenly  vaguely resentful of the way certain types of younger people perceive and vocally and asininely talk about their lives. When did that happen I wonder? I feel like I was not quite made for this Brave New World anymore- that it has turned on its axis, somehow passing me by in a stop motion staggered series of snapshot moments that I manage to retain in my mind's eye,  a  flickering set of magic lantern frames that encapsulate who I was and perhaps who I have become. There's no choice in these frames, they appear in a random ( and more often than not,  unwelcome) serial profusion that thwarts any attempt to make any great sense of them. Sometimes a single image or two is squeezed out, other times it's an uncontrollable avalanche precipitated by some déjà-vu like minor events or interaction. Bottom line is, when you're living alone at 47 you seem to reflect on those issues and others a helluva lot more- perhaps because you have the so called "luxury " doing so.  People are always harping on to me about how the grass is always greener. That may well be so- but from my perspective the grass is green and the high tundra rolls inexorably out of sight in a long journey of relentlessly undulating plains. I'm living in a mental Mongolia haha!

Time for a holiday methinks……

Hi there, (22/3/13)

Today I will be mostly hob-nobbing with anonymous straight laced mid and big wigs from the ministry of Education some of whom have  been gently chided and coerced into attending an impromptu speaking competition.

It's a free lunch and a change from my usual routine. I originally accepted to do it so that I could put the school in a good light and perspective as far as officialdom is concerned. We still need a few bits and pieces from them as rules have changed in terms of what hoops the school need to jump through to be named as such. It's nice to volunteer sometimes, as long as you don't get sucked into something long term that's been palmed off to you. Which, on the face of it, is what this appears to be . I'm officially a timekeeper today. I have to give the young speakers a piece of paper with the topic on it and time them prepping for 5 minutes. I don't think I'll even be in the room where the final speeches are going on. I daresay I'll be able to abscond shortly after the final!

It's funny when you find farangs and officialdom in the same function suite. As farangs we have no great concept of the numerous imperceptible strata and social protocols that permeate every single interaction . Thai folk can scan a room when they walk in and instantly have a feel as to how they should behave, who to be deferential to, who to treat as an equal, who to be downright subservient to. This is not always just about age, it's about education level, job title, government officialdom and , finally, last, but not least, class. Farangs on the other hand, generally tend not to give a monkey's, in particular, about class. It isn't in our social makeup (especially the Scots) to be deferential to anyone. As a result we, (well, me actually) can often inadvertently put our foot in it. An example?: Well, when I figured out as the only single farang guy on the office outing last December, I casually asked our illustrious sponsor to book me a single room and I'd pay the supplement. To Westerners this would seem to be a reasonable and sensible request, but this was apparently a little insulting to his generosity. As a result I ended up sharing a double bed with a 21 year old acne ridden part time (male) librarian. He's a very nice guy, but not an ideal situation for a middle aged foreigner who's technically his boss. Thais think NOTHING of bunking up in large numbers in the same room. It's part of their Meerkat-like family group mentality. They really don't understand western concepts of privacy. So I will try my best to not say anything that could be misinterpreted by the Hoi Polloi today even if it makes perfect sense to my western mind. It's something I've strived to be more aware of since I got here, and also something I've resigned myself to never really fully grasping. Westerners, however well they speak the language, or however well they think they understand the nuances of social interaction, are likely never to truly grasp the overall concept. Yul Bryner did a good job in showing this social gulf in "The king and I" LOL!..(A movie still banned here by the way).

Update: I'm just back from , ahem. Judging the final of the Thailand young speaker competition. I've never seen so many high level dignitaries in the same place. Even the seating highlighted the status of each. In the front row were the wide ,slanted upholstered chairs with side tables and refreshments, then three tows of faux carved Chippendale chairs for all the blazered members of the ESU (English speaking union), then the judges tables and spectators on those standard covered-with-a-white-tablecloth- material metal backed hotel function suite chairs for the rest of the plebs. The competition itself was of a better standard than I was expecting, but what I found really bizarre, (as technically I was a reserve judge whose major function was to sort out the timings of the impromptu speaking 3 way tiebreaker at the end) was being hauled onstage at the close to stand behind the Deputy Prime Minister (minister of Education) and a major member of the Royal family for a photoshoot.  Very very odd.  Then I had to sign something was given an envelope with 1000 Baht in it (presumably for my assistance). At 6pm when we left The pub was a short walk across the park from the hotel and happy hour was on…It seemed churlish not to share my winnings…

I'm still playing tennis three times a week. I gotta say the heat and humidity is pretty brutal now we're in high Summer . I'm easily drinking a litre of water an hour as I play. I'm sweating out at least that amount. I'm wondering if this has anything to do with the rash outbreak on my face.  I'm slathered up with all sorts of creams and unctions before I go to bed at night. I must look a right state. Fortunately I'm not conducting ipad facetime conversations so late at night cos if they saw me people would laugh their asses off!

9 more days to go. Off to Wintry Europe soon . YAY!

Hi there, (15/3/13)

It's that time of year again where venturing into the open in Bangkok is rather like standing in front of the open door of a stone pizza oven. Temperatures don't so much as soar here, they just rise imperceptibly upwards till they reach a point where all the old hands start suddenly saying "it's blooming hot" as one. This of course makes a game of tennis devilishly uncomfortable. I'm playing 3 times a week just now, easily sweating out the litre of water I drink every time. It's madness. You really can't stay on court for much more than an hour before the onset heat exhaustion and fatigue sets in. 5 years back I could play up to three sets of singles. Now I'm lucky to manage one and a half. There's no getting round it, middle age is here (and of course a major back operation- they said I'd never play again!!). Still I'm sure all this sweating is getting lots of nasty toxins out of my system , and, unlike my unfortunate northern European brothers, I don't have to sit in a hot pine box till I'm puce in colour ,  go outside, roll in a snow drift , and finally  be subjected to a light thrashing with fir branches……  And That suits me just fine!

My holiday is two weeks away and I'm more than eager to get out of here. I'm desperately looking forward to a lack of metropolis noise and a lack of people. You know these horror movies where hapless humans are pulled screaming into an amorphous flailing mass of zombies and swallowed from view? Well  that's what it feels like sometimes here. Being tall and being able to look over the heads of all these folk, the enormity of human volume snaking like soldier ants into the distance can sometimes strike you. Perhaps it's true what they say about having to be born into a city environment to truly be able to effectively assimilate city living. Certainly, with all the schools slowly staggering towards their 2 month plus school holidays, the city centre streets are awash with off duty school kids gangling around with nothing particular to do, except of course, to walk in lines of 3 or 4 making getting past nigh on impossible….

Quite frequently ,I get a message on facebook from some long lost acquaintance. The theme is invariably the same: My niece, granddaughter, neighbour's kid, cousin, etc etc is coming to Thailand……

They're not asking much of me generally, the just worry that after giving this young impressionable kid (always female) their blessing to fly 5000 miles halfway round the world 'Where they've never heard of Jesus" (to coin a US  family member of a colleague), that something bad is likely to happen. I usually give them my number "for emergencies". In truth I do have a spare room and could let these young impoverished backpackers stay. But if I were to do so, then I would be in some way responsible for their wellbeing. I really have no desire to wait up till the mega early hours for one or more drunken lassies to come back from shaking their booty at some club in backpackerland. I may have become some sort of grumpy old curmudgeon in this respect, but nowadays I only want people to stay with me that I actually know. I used to have some kind of reputation for many years that friends of friends, especially from abroad could call upon and stay. In the past I often put up people as a favour to others. A kind of pre couchsurfing setup if you like. To the best of my memory I never once took the opportunity of a return favour. I must stress to all that have visited me in the past and all my young family members that have not yet come here that my door is always open and my spare room always available.  I'm just not doing the putting up teenager friends of friends/acquaintances anymore. My telephone number in case if emergencies will suffice I'm sure.  To all you aunts and mothers (blokes never seem to worry) I assure you that Thailand is very very safe compared to the likes of Russia or Latin America. My only 2 pieces of advice to all you cheap charlie backpackers out there are 1) you should really avoid doing drugs here as the dealers and police are often in cahoots and a certain percentage of customers tend to get dobbed in , especially when on an island cos the dealers tell the police which guest house you're in!!. The penalties are harsh (if you don't know how to bribe your way out) and highly likely to ruin your holiday. 2) Don't accept food or drink from any strangers (male or female) on long distance bus journeys, more often than not you'll be drugged and gently, thoroughly and efficiently mugged of every last item of value.  Of course you'll get scammed for a bob or two over a taxi journey or a tuktuk or a bar bill, but that kind of activity is global fare game where tourists are concerned.

On the whiteboard directly in front of my office desk I've stuck a single poem. It's been there for years moving as I've moved around the office. It's Assisi by Norman McCaig. Without doubt my all time favourite poem: A wonderful three stanza comment on hypocracy, perhaps even a small dig at the church and organized religion too. As I hear about the new pope calling himself Francis, popping back to the hotel to personally pack his bags and settle his bill, insisting on boarding the cardinal bus instead of his own popemobile, I immediately thought of the poem. How nice it would be if a religious leader of genuine humility and purity of spirit could take on the reins/chains of power and remain uncorrupted, if only for even a little while. There's a worldful of people crying out for a true role model. I count myself amongst them and I'm not even religious.

Hi there, (2/3/13)

A friend wrote to me yesterday from Bremen in Germany. We hadn't had any contact for 7 years so it was nice to hear from him when he turned up on facebook. When I mentioned that I'd been living in Bangkok for seven and a half years he suggested,  "It must be nice to escape the rat race.'

I found that a quite odd assumption. I lived in Glasgow  for 15 years with an AREA population of barely 1 million, now I live in Bangkok CITY with a population of 9.3 million. Which one is the bigger rat race then?

Folk back in Europe have a bit of a tendency to believe that just because you go somewhere warm and sunny you've effectively escaped all the trials and tribulations of a hum drum life in that cold and dark land of your birth. This ain't necessarily so….  So the cost of living is significantly less, yet the average life span is considerably lower.  Taxation (even for those who pay what they're supposed to) is laughable compared to the swinging and scything of monthly deductions from your UK pay packet, yet you can't own land or a house (except by setting up a shelf company) and condos don't really represent value for money in comparison here. What passes for a reasonable monthly salary in Thailand wouldn't even reach the minimum wage requirements of the west. Savings and pension plans are pretty much non existent. In the age old tradition of the Eastern extended family setup, offspring are primarily put on earth to pass on your accrued wealth to and to provide you with all the required creature comforts, assistance  and possibly accommodation when you're old and infirm. I know of many married western men here who share their domiciles with at least one of their in-laws.  You might think this is a recipe for disaster, after all to the western mind it's really not an ideal situation. But actually it does appear to function quite well. Or then again, maybe the guys that settle down here and marry a Thai bride acknowledge this possibility in advance and  are fully resigned to the clear and present eventuality.

Then of course there's things like the environment. I believe the average age of a traffic cop in Beijing is something like 44 years old. The sheer amount of dirty, knackered polluting traffic here can , on occasion make it really quite hard going on the lungs, especially in the hottest months. One of the things I look forward to most of all when I come back to the west in sucking in cool fresh air. Another thing I think of when I consider what constitutes a rat race is noise pollution. Bangkok is in the top 5 noisiest cities in the world. The sheer amount of extraneous and unnecessary noise pumped into the environment is quite astounding. Years of playing loud electric guitar and going to rock concerts have left me inured to certain types of noise, but my brain gets really fried by over-amplified whinnying hostesses and promotional models screaming out moronic gameshow questions to accompany their naff wee giveaways. Honestly, I stick my fingers in my ears at least a couple of times a week as I walk past these impromptu street and mall setups. The irony is, it's so loud that practically nobody actually stops and listens. Like the 300 hundred or so visual adverts that bombard and accost our subconscious in an average single day with only a few getting through,  so are our ears are sealed up and plugged. Our awareness dulled to a stump.  You wouldn't believe how far I have to turn up my ipod volume just to override the background noise of the city.  Swaddled and inured to the booming fervent activity teeming all around me, I realize now the only predators left in rat city are made of metal and have engines and wheels.

The trouble is that being in the rat race, you're still a rat. It's all just a matter of  how big the run is.

Hi there, (23/2/13)

As many of you know, I'm heading off in a month to Germany and UK for a holiday. My first proper break for almost exactly a year .  By proper I mean not a few days out of town to go get a visa, or a short trip to the beach for 3 days. I mean a proper amount of weeks away….. So I'm feeling quite strangely desperate to get out of Bangkok this year. I think living in a heaving city this size is bound to have an effect on the average western psyche . There are of course still many aspects I enjoy here, but I'd really like to spend some time away somewhere sparsely populated. By sparse I mean not packed pavement thoroughfares lined with ubiquitous food sellers and daily sardine tin-like skytrains. Or even, (as I may have grumped about before) rows of students and schoolkids who have to meander in 4 deep wide rows in confined spaces with the gait and general demeanour  of the truly purposeless. There is a pervading lack or urgency in this city despite the huge volume of daily human traffic. I can't tell if this is a good or bad thing. It certainly contributes to a more laid back communal temperament which in turn means that people seemingly get on with each other better. But it doesn't half get to you when you've got something to do. We all need a sense of purpose in what we do. I think that if you don't try to keep mentally and physically active in some way you can slide down into a spiral of general torpidity and vacuous thinking very quickly. Add alcohol to the equation, and you've created the perfect environment for the "gone troppo" virus to thrive. This, rather like prostate cancer, seems to affect men mostly in their mid 40's to mid 50's. For some there is no cure. Where a healthy retirement income and membership to the British club or similar ex-pat association seems to take the edge off it, there are many follically challenged western men in their early 60's wearing shirt and ties and cheap shoes standing outside 7/11 stores drinking beer from a can of an early evening: The  cheap Eastpac knapsack on their backs a testament to their after work corporate teaching class…Which has just apparently ended.

A friend witnessed the violent death of a motorcycle taxi driver this week. The accident happened right in front of him as he was walking his dog. He told me all the awful harrowing and gruesome details. I'll spare you that, but needless to say some of the images have stayed with me all week. Apparently in Thailand, victims of violent deaths 'Dai Hong"  are cremated in a prayer stickered cardboard box  almost immediately, and a monk hastily dispatched to the scene of the death to assist any lingering spirits in vacating the premises forthwith.  None of this fannying around with flowers and funeral homes, long somber faces and rounds of coffees and pastries in a function suite. Quite efficient when you think about it, especially when I hear of folk getting insurance policies in the west just to pay for their death arrangements. Births, deaths, and marriages seem to be a licence to print money. Well, actually most everything is nowadays. I've already had one shock in 2013 on discovering a mandatory extra 5 years on my pension payments. I still can't help wondering if it'll ever actually pay out!!

Here's another thing I didn't know. If you were born in the last year of the snake, then this year of the snake is most inauspicious and seemingly very bad news for you. Apparently you shouldn't take on any new ventures or business as they are said to be cursed and beset with bad luck. As next year is the year of the Horse once more (my sign) I'd best have my intended ducks in a row before it starts, the way my luck  has been running lately it wouldn't do to push the karmic envelope.

The bi-weekly tennis continues . My new racquets are great and the outside temperatures are starting to soar. I'm still not very good, but I'm seeing very small signs of improvement in my game and my general level of fitness. I also discovered this week that whisky has 1/3 of the calories of beer.

Seems like a viable alternative to me!!

PS. Hello to my friend and all round good guy Leigh . I was out with him and Chris last week for a few.  He feels he's long overdue a mention on my blog! Since he and his wife Donna hosted that wonderful birthday for me a couple of weeks back it's a fair cop! Hi Leigh!!!

Hi there, (15/2/13)

With temperatures easily over 32 degrees most days, Winter, it would appear, is a distant memory. I had a go at a game of tennis on two consecutive days last week.  I gotta admit that singles is a bit of struggle after about 12 games. I felt the onset of blowing a gasket last Tuesday. I slipped gingerly into the pool afterwards and couldn't really move much from lying on the bed for the rest of the day. I remember now why I like playing doubles more, there's significantly less running so you can focus on playing the shot correctly rather than stumble and wheeze over to make an old mans swing at a passing ball.

If the truth be told, I could be doing with losing something in the range of 10 kilos of weight. I'm eating carrots, fruit and small nibbles most nights nowadays.  It doesn't seem to be making a blind bit of difference…I've even given up beer in the fridge for the last 6 weeks (perhaps the toughest thing of all). Like most self deluded amateur sportsmen, I have concluded that my game would significantly improve if I were to exchange my "pre-strung" " beginners recreational", (or so my net research tells me..boom boom!)  Prince racquet for something a little more upscale.  Well, it is 6 years old and has never even been restrung!! I'm in contact with a fellow selling a matched pair of really top notch second hand ones (have you seen the prices of new tennis racquets nowadays?!!). If Wilson "K Blades" are good enough for Venus and Serena they're good enough for me. In fact, if I start playing like a girl that'll be the reason eh? Still if I was gonna play like a girl, I don't think Serena would be a bad role model. Nope not at all . Hopefully I'll have them before my two matches next week. Since I've been on a winning streak for weeks I'm likely to be making a real mess of it first time out with a new "stick" (as cool dudes in Tennis chat rooms refer to them).

Oh God. Reading over this I hope I'm not going to become one of those dreadful tennis bores. You see them in every club the world over.  They walk around in matched and colour coded sportswear AND accessories right down to the brand and colour of their grip tape,  and on every part of their body where flesh would normally be displayed, a succession of stretchy support bandages, logoed toweling, and Velcro straps.  Worse still, they sit around drinking wine coolers talking about the advance technology which allows their racquets to hold supreme dominion over the entire universe…Think British Club, Think of carelessly rich ex-pats, chubby and ruddy faced,  full of the Empire spirit that "fought to keep China British!"

Fortunately my current "club" is a modest 2 concrete court (with filled in  surface potholes) in the middle of a massive  governmental tax department complex (complete with park). The "members" a loose collection of retirees and part time workers --and what a kind and generous bunch they are!

Mafia Don, man of the people and all around shady guy "Chuwit" is back poncing around trying to get the populace to vote his ticket for Bangkok mayor this year. As he owns half the brothels and massage parlours in town you'd think he'd have no end of dirty secrets upon which to draw alliances and propogate appropriate  political power plays. The trouble is, his PR persona is one of an eternally angry, droopy moustachioed guy who looks like he'd chib your baby outside city hall before kissing it. The voting public always likes a guy who looks like he'll get things done…but not necessarily with a baseball bat and a revolver.

Hi there, (08/2/13)

The owners of the building where I work (Chulalongkorn university ) have recently embarked on an ambitious project of redoing all the toilet facilities on every floor in my building. They are installing some pretty fancy porcellainware too. So it is quite surprising that the stuff is already leaking and water is pissing out of the newly finished bathrooms walls. I've heard so many stories of shoddy craftsmanship and jury rigging amongst the building tradesmen here I've lost count. It baffles me why folk don't take a pride in what they do.  Is it the conditions, the pay, or the lack of any kind of incentive that creates this attitude?

The local Bangkok elections are coming up soon. Hastily erected hoardings are being cable-tied to lampposts, wobbly loudhailers are being clamped onto car roofs and the streets are awash with the Doppler Effect of pre-recorded politikers pontificating their advocacy at max output on the mobile amplifier volume control. Honest folk, noble families, civil servants, and mafia hoods all vying for a slice of the electorate and a slice of the power. How lovely it all is, and how often! Puppetmasters  and puppets reel and dance with the practiced precision of a ritual Chinese Stork mating dance. Whoever wins, things are unlikely to change- the money will follow its "true" course through the well worn and landscaped contours, coffers and pockets of Thai society. The rich will wallow, the poor will struggle, and the usual sporadic magnanimous token gestures will be intermittently  strewn through the media  until the next time the loudhailers get mounted and the laws of Doppler reign the streets.

It's the Chinese New Year this weekend. The Dragon will be replaced by the snake- water snake to be precise. I wonder what sort of qualities a child born under this sign will be imbued with.

Hi there, (25/1/13)

Here in the land of no seasons it's often easy to forget the privilege of being able play tennis outdoors year round. Even if we did play somewhat "gash" this week, Jamie and I are starting to put together rallys and smacking the ball with a little better timing. Needless to say 2 sets in, tiredness and an overheated body  core usually affects the concentration required to get your feet and your timing correct. Thank goodness I have a swimming pool to fall into afterwards LOL.

I am really feeling the urge to get out of BKK for a prolonged period of time. The infamous "Bangkok shuffle" is starting to really get to me. I'm constantly being told to slow my walking pace down and not rush about when I'm out in the street. Personally I don't generally see anything wrong in having a sense of urgency in walking as I usually do: if only to get out of the heat and into a nice air-con environment as soon as possible. Apparently fast walkers live longer as they actually do a small bit of exercise in doing so. Sure I could amble and dawdle and walk so slowly but  my centre of gravity seems to change too making it almost impossible for me to walk in a straight line. My internal gyro has simply  never been comfortable with dawdling. The downside of course is all the frigging folk in your way. Thai folk are famous for never having a sense of urgency, yet this is compounded by a pathological urge to engage in sms tennis whilst doing so, further slowing down their , ahem, "progress" in the narrow city thoroughfares and pavements. I must admit to recently tripping up a schoolboy who, along with his chain of  similarly spacially dyslexic dawdling mates, blocked  an entire corridor 4 metres wide in a shopping centre. No matter what I tried, he kept randomly weaving left and right to close any passing opportunity.. so I clipped his ankle making him kick himself in the back of his left leg. He got out of my way pretty fast after that. More recently, another group of youths stood in a circle in a throughfare just a few metres from the exit ticket barriers at the skytrain thus allowing only one person at a time to get by -and passengers were streaming out of 5 barriers. The poor  unfortunate nearest the gap (wearing a bulky backpack schoolbag for f*** sake) got his backpack deliberately shoulder charged by me. He didn't quite go flying, but he did do a quite satisfying semi twirl.

Indeedy , Mr Mike is a big bully, picking on schoolkids to barge. I suppose they're an easy target in a city crammed to the gunwhales with spacial dyslexics. It's obvious I need a long break from this utter mass of humanity. I count my blessings every day I live in a leafy quarter and listen to birds chirping every morning instead of the dull drone of streaming traffic and the incessant peep peep whistles of officious Condo wardens and traffic cops.  

I heard a story the other day about a farang on a motorbike getting stopped by the cops in Silom. It's the usual thing they do, charging a couple of quid on the spot for obvious and not so obvious traffic transgressions. Except this time the cop reached over and took every note out of the guys wallet..over 100 quid!! Blatant thievery, is that was things have degenerated to here? Even the traditionally conning and scamming of  Honkys has been traditionally done slightly tongue in cheek. Not this time, and not down there in Silom..They're a hard hitting bunch of law enforcement representatives down there…doubtless the fact that Pat Pong night bazaar and tart market is also located in Silom has something to do with this. On another flummoxing note there was a car park altercation between a thirtysomething "A" list thai movie start and his best friend (who was trying to mediate between the star and his recent ex- girlfriend). Anyhoo, the movie star got out a gun and shot his best friend in the head in front of the crowd killing him. He then fled the scene. When the police phoned him later and requested he  come down to the station to assist with police enquiries , he told them  he was busy and would be 'available for an interview next month". That should buy him the time he needs to get all the gun residue off his skin and clothes eh? Hardly a month seems to go by where some person of rank, wealth, or extreme privilege does something so awful, so criminal, so against the pale of decent societal existence and yet swans off in some fluffy cloud , exonerated in murky circumstances of dubious legality . You wanna talk  dystopian elitest societies? look no further….

Hi there, (25/1/13)

First off, Thanks to all of you out there in virtual land and in real time who made my birthday such a fab and memorable one (not that last years' wasn't memorable-just for all the wrong reasons). If it's one thing that facebook does well, it reminds you of peoples birthdays. The cynics amongst you might say something like:  " Some of these friends don't communicate with you all year and then say happy birthday." Personally I don't see anything wrong with that. The fact that people take even 5 seconds out of their hectic skimming and scanning browsing  lives to notice your birthday and then feel compelled to  fire off a brief message means that even for the merest instant, they are thinking of you, or remembering you warmly and want to wish you well. There's so much social network site bashing going on, people moaning about invasion of their privacy etc etc, that few stop to think about those times when these sites are the source of smiles all day. I had endless pings all day from the most unexpected of sources and by the days end I felt quite humble. Living so far away, so cut off from all the social circles and action that used to punctuate my life, you can't sometimes avoid feeling a certain sense of disassociation, like your looking back at your life through the wrong end of a set of binoculars. Good cosmic vibes in the form of a line of electronically created text is a perfect remedy.

I've started playing tennis again at last. I've even dragged my colleague Jamie out. He's pretty good actually. I have a feeling that we're going to be getting some good rallying  games together in future, especially if we keep getting enough folk out for doubles. Singles is fine and well, but in 30+ degrees centigrade temperatures , you really can't do very much more than 1.5 sets. We played just short of 2 sets last Tuesday.

Thailand is heaving with tourists this year. After the consecutive years of riots and the flooding the tourists, especially Russians, are back in their droves. It's quite surprising how much busier they make an already packed city feel. They're so easy to spot in their various inappropriate city dress everywhere haha. I also read that up to 100,000 Chinese folk visit the city over Chinese New Year too..Who can blame them?- it' chanking cold up there…I think it's February this year but it seems they're starting to show up already . It's a good thing the powers that be kind of unmothballed the old city airport at Don Muang . For all its shiny new futuristic appearance,  Suvarnibhumi airport simply can't handle the unexpected level of traffic. Neither can the skytrains for that matter. The morning commute can be a bit of a bind nowadays, especially if you're unlucky enough to be pressed up against a smelly hairy tourist in a muscle shirt with a steadfast aversion to deodorant . It's the wee Thai office girls desparately clinging on to a vertical handrail who find themselves nestled under the guys armpits (cos he can reach the overhead handrail) that I feel most sorry for.

I'm readily anticipating my trip back to Europe this year. 2012 has been quite a mentally tough and stressful year in ways that I can't quite put my finger on. If it's one thing I need to think about changing about my attitude, it's about being less resistant to change.  It's an undeniable fact of the modern age that we live in uncertain times. I don't want to be like Chief Vitalstatistix and always worry about the sky falling on my head. We all go through changes and phases both mentally and physically, as well as personally and professionally in a far more ad hoc way than we used to.  I think in some way you need to embrace the chaos and the challenge rather than fear it. If you're always worried about making the wrong choices you'll be static and left wondering ... If I was an investment banker earning thousands of pounds a month, trapped in a debt well of mortgage, taxes , and family commitments I might be slightly reticent to face new challenges. But I earn far less than what would be minimum wage in the UK and I'm completely debt free and unbeholden to any institution . To some this would be an enviable position to be in, to others , finding themselves in such a relatively rootless existence at 47 would be frightfully fraught. I've spent enough time on this island "between worlds" to identify and consider the green patches of grass on both sides. Both patches appear to be surrounded by ragged scrubland, permafrost and tundra (but hey,  life ain't perfect) and yet the landscape is nevertheless quite pleasing.  One thing is for certain I'm pretty sure my current job isn't one that will provide much in the way of job security .

I do hope however, I haven't karmically blackened my fate by engaging in a rather macabre bet. My mate Chris at dinner last week suggest we all make up a 500 baht 10 name " death list" of famous folk we expect to cark it in 2013  "Double points for December deaths"  he gleefully pointed out…

 

 

Hi there (18/1/13).

As you can readily see, I seem to have taken a sabbatical off writing my blog. Reading back on my previous entries I can see it was on the way...

Happy New Year to all those I haven't got around to wishing it to. I ope that 2013 promises to be a better year for us all that 2012 was.

On a personal note, I've been very unsettled for all sorts of reasons. I finally only just got my work permit and visa last week after a 6 month wait. So I'm legal again till November.I've also become involve in a small side business . I have a 5% share in an establishment in the industry in which I find myself working. Sorry to still sound vague, but I want to make sure that there is no clash of interests with my 9-5 job. thankfully, thus far there aren't. But you never know how and when the shit might hit the fan.

Next week sees my 47th birthday roll around. Sigh. The wild impetuous boy of my past is slowly drifting away from my psyche. I still feel young inside, like a teenager, but not so much anymore. Growing old is never a graceful process, its fraught with sadness, self doubt, U-turns  and prevarication.  Next week it'll have been a year since that dramatic  wine bar night when I finally threw in the towel on a doomed relationship. I've remained single by choice since, but there is a certain someone far off on the event horizon that will challenge me to rip it up and really start it all over again, but  that's unlikely to be in 2013.

I've booked a Europe bound flight for Spring and I'm really looking forward to seeing my family. Don't know if Glasgow will be on the cards this time round though...   

Hi there, (23/9/12)

Seems like I can't seem to get it together to write my blog on time of late. I guess after 7 years of solid weekly blogging, I might just be running out of things to say about life in Thailand. Ironically I can't seem to change the title of the home page from "Tales of a newbie" either  as I'm not really much of a newbie any more. Whilst I'm not ready to throw the towel in and harp on endlessly about getting old like one of my colleagues, I do feel a little bit "long in the tooth" nowadays haha.  There doesn't appear to me much that surprises me out here now…Though I did like the one about the son of the " Red Bull " drink  magnate dragging a motorcycle cop to his death under a Ferrari for 300 metres, then rushing home, parking up,  and trying to get the family chauffeur to take the wrap. You just KNOW the guys gonna get off with a fine or something. But a bit of an outraged public outcry once in a while is great to see. This rigid class structure has seen a litany of criminal acts go completely unpunished over the years- in the spirit of a new Thailand, you'd like to think the book would be chucked at some wealthy someone sometime. Though historically,  it was possible to have house servants "do time" on your behalf if you were found guilty.

 I think my years spent in Thailand has taught me more patience and tolerance than a lifetime of public sector work in Glasgow ever would.

Last week I went to Myanmar for three days to sort out a new visa. I'd never been to Yangon or Myanmar and didn't really know what to expect. It was the last of the countries in SE Asia I hadn't visited. I'd always baulked up to now as deep inside I really had a problem giving the regime any of my hard earned dollars (though in truth, time will tell if true democracy has a foothold there). There are a few choice photos on my facebook page if you're keen to see snippets of everyday life there.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I found the Myanmar people very pleasant and gracious.  I didn't really know what to expect. I thought the "Indian/Bangladeshie" influence might make folk  pushy and grabby like they are elsewhere. Instead I found them very polite and unassuming. It was a bit strange feeling so Caucasian and "noticed"  around the backstreets of Yangon.  People didn't quite look at me as if I had 2 heads, but they were often trying to catch my eye and give me a smile. I found myself saying "hello" and grinning a lot as I walked on by. Certainly there was none of the frowning or mistrusting glances that as a traveler in the poorer parts of the world you might garner. It was interesting to walk around the "barrios" of Yangon and see the melting pot of ethnicities. People literally were all different colours. James and I even saw someone you could describe as being purple in colour. As we walked from street block to street block from 27th street to 19th street (the side streets were numbered) so could definitely see just by looking down them if it was an Indian, an Asian, an Chinese etc etc part of town. The lines were very  clearly drawn from block to block.  I wondered if all these ethnicities traditionally get on with each other as they appear to function in everyday life. It's no wonder really that their English was in general, pretty good. It is probably the only way they can mutually communicate. James told me that Myanmar folk don't like being called Burmese as the Burmese are one tribe of people that exist in a country with 135 recognised distinct ethnicities at the last count!

We wandered down many of these streets in the baking sun. Despite it being the rainy season, when the sun did come out it was very hot and humid.  I got a little sunburned as I forgot the pollution of BKK acts like a sunblock most of the time. Yangon doesn't have much in the way of pollution. In fact it also doesn't have ANY motorbikes in the city area. A taxi driver told me a few years back, some kind of wannabe motorcycle gang hounded the car of some senior government official who got so pissed off he banned motorcycle from the whole metropolitan area.   James and I probably covered an area of up to 3-4 miles from the city centre area and never saw a single one. It's amazing how much quieter and less polluted it seemed as a result.

The other striking thing about the capital was the amount of  incredible old colonial buildings. Sadly ,many of them are in a dilapidated state of repair and yet more standing empty. I really hope the government might be able to save them whilst it's still viable. Those cities in the west that didn't look to their architectural heritage back in the 60's and 70's , building in favour of the modern and the new still count the lost tourist revenue today. I can see once it has truly opened up and garnered substantial monies from tourism (and the huge amount of precious raw materials they haven't yet got the infrastructure to dig out) that Yangon and Myanmar may become a jewel in the crown of SE Asia. For a city of 5.6 million, I found it quite leafy and cosmopolitan in stature under the façade of a  3rd world developing country. The people of Myanmar deserve a better and fairer future. I'm hoping that the interested parties of the west don't go in and stripmine the place of its resources and its charms. Either way, it was great to see a little of it before it becomes a major tourist destination. With hundreds and hundreds of miles of untouched coastline and archipelago, it really won't be that long either. I believe the mountains in the north might even support a ski resort!!! I'd like to go back and explore a bit more someday. Mandalay is apparently very beautiful too with a far more temperate climate too.

Back in BKK we're in the midst of the rainy season. Actually, I'm started to wonder if this moniker shouldn't be changed to something more in keeping with the region. Call it what it is..Monsoon season. The rains that come almost daily now are huge , nightlong, incessant and are already causing citywide flashfloods and more serious flooding up north. Ironically whilst the city may be slightly more prepared for massive floods this year (ie people that can, and industrial estates have built walls round their properties) the excess water will be forced into smaller channels that will struggle to cope as a consequence. Sukothai and Ayyudyha are already affected, it remains to be seen just by how much. The next 4-6 weeks should tell us.

Seems like my band may be trotting out for another support gig to the Indie behemoths 'Bone Clone" in the next few weeks . I'm still waiting to hear what where and  when, but I wouldn't be surprised if its another Friday midnight-playing-to-a-small-boozed-up-crowd…I know it's only Rock and Roll but I like it.

Talking of which, Noel Gallacher really needs to work on his stage presence. But of a damp squib of a gig at the BITEC Arena last Thursday.

 



 

Hi there, (02/9/12)

Apologies once again for my lateness
in blogging . I've got a lot of things on the go just now.

I've been living here for close on 8 years and reckon I've generally got a handle on the place now. That's not to say you don't hear new stories or experience new things. I'm just unlikely to
be surprised by very much now.

However, there is one factor about living here that I experience almost every day yet never seem to get used to.

Thai cuisine, as we all know has a globally respected image. Thai restaurants in the west are often viewed as an up market alternative to the ubiquitous Indian or Chinese eateries. I've spent
years here eating all sorts of Thai food, and whilst I do tend to go for the same dozen or so dishes (depending on the particular place), I've certainly eaten enough oddities and provincial dishes to know what I like.

So why then, even now after all this time can I walk past some random stall selling street food and have my stomach literally turned by the smell of whatever is being prepared. Certain Thai foods/dishes smell so incredibly bad. I don't even know what they are, incapable of doing anything else other than holding my breath and scurrying by as quickly as I can.

Certain foods I have identified. I've never gotten used to what I can "Dead fish sauce". Basically fish rotted and fermented in giant vats and the lumpy bits strained out. A teaspoonful in a
dish is just about palatable, anything more gives me the dry boke. I can only describe it as that runny juice than might drip out of a binbag that's been the main receptacle for kitchen rubbish for 10 days in a blistering hot August.

When I have visitors, I always ask them if Bangkok smells. I remembered when I first got here a vague rotten smell pervading the air. This I finally identified not as open human waste sewer, but of decaying vegetable matter chucked down the storm drains. My visitors always assure me the smell is still evident, but I haven't noticed it for years now.

Whilst we're on this olifactory tract, I've also noticed that many of the large supermarkets don't cling film wrap their raw meats (except for steaks and prime cuts). You can literally step
up to a huge bin of chicken halves with a pair of plastic tongs and a placcy bag and drop in what you need. You might not notice it much in a traditional sawdust strewn butchers shop, but raw meat , open to the elements on this kind of industrial scale really does smell rather awful. 

Not that I'm about to turn veggie anytime soon , but even if I did have a proper kitchen in which to cook, I'd simply be unlikely to buy my meat in this manner. Asian folk have a definitively different palate to us westerners. They like fish heads, they like soup with clawed chicken feet bobbing around in it, they like to lace their sugar with ground chili peppers and sprinkle it atop pork noodle dishes and after dinner fruits. The amount of times I've been out to dinner and watch a
Thai girl wolf down crunch the gristle and cartilige off what I thought was a well picked drumstick I can't even count anymore!

 I find myself wondering what cooking-in-pot British things a visiting Thai person might smell and get the dry heave from. Thais really don't like the taste of lamb for sure and generally don't know that rabbit can be eaten. Pretty much anything else is edible. They're not ones for
wastage these Asians!!

I finally got my Myanmar visa backthis week. Actually collecting it was extremely easy and simple. I wassurprised to see a digital picture of me superimposed on it. Even Myanmar isgetting hi-tech nowadays. I'll be off in a week with James. All in its going tobe a bit of a costly exercise for the privilege of staying here another 3months..Somewhere around 500 quid . But I look on it as a chance to seesomewhere I haven't been before too. I'm sure three days in Yangon will be avery interesting experience. I do hope however my paperwork will be in placebefore another trip out of country becomes necessary.

Off to do a bit of freelance consultancy work tomorrow. I haven't actually agreed a fee for this in advance for this , but I do hope the person I'm going with bungs a bit of cash my way. It's kind of overdue for all the other stuff I've been doing for him these last few months. I'll give him a chance to make good tomorrow before I start playing
hardball. I think, I've had a tendency to sell myself and my services a bit short in the past. It's time to put my business head on…



Hi There (25/8/12)

I was surprised to  find out my reader base is a little bigger than I thought this week. I've always tried to be careful with what I say yet at the same time avoid the spectre of misinterpretation which is a fine line sometimes. Blog's aren't generally the places to name names and point fingers unless we're talking about public figures or media whores. So I was quite surprised how last week's blog seemed to be so well received. It's sad that venom and vitriol count for so
much in todays world.

Actually , as I've mentioned before, the art of the written blog is dying. Vlog's are apparently where its "at" nowadays :Video blogs where people with more than a large slice of self importance (and even larger cojones), peer into their laptop webcams, don their miked up headphones and espouse forth their philosophies (or comedies) clogging up the information highways and you tube servers with another 50 plus megabites of vacuous observation. At least I keep my ramblings on my own page and under 700 kilobytes a time. Blabbing away to camera in a freeflow stream of consciousness is likely to get me into trouble as I'm not hot at video editing and would probably put my foot firmly
in 'it". Better I stay away from vlogging…….

A friend living in China posted video footage this week on facebook under the title "I wanna stay young"…to this end he apparently bungee jumped off a static crane above a river
somewhere in the rural backwaters. I pondered this. Is bungee jumping somehow proof that you are still young at
heart? : The fact that you are prepared to risk having a detached retina or any other number of recognised bungee jumping related injuries in your 40s, or that
you think the thrill of fooling yourself into a briefest glimpse of the relative imminence of death will roll back the years? I'm not judging here, if it makes you happy why not? " Chacun a son gout." as the French say. The simple truth might appear to be we are what we become. When I first started here it
was easy to spot those for whom English teaching and the dream of a life in Thailand had not really worked out. You'd see these 50- somethings dabbing a hanky at their balding heads outside a 7/11 store whilst swigging from a barely
concealed can of Chang lager: Likely the final stop on the way home to an abusive ex-working girl wife and child in a drab and dusty domicile in a low rent area, the faint promise of a couple more cans in the fridge and EPL football on cable.

To us "young uns" back then these unfortunates we saw and heard first hand all the awful stories about were a cautionary tale, a warning that the house of cards on which you build your life here in Thailand may be easily rebuilt again and again, but your choice of design eventually remains the same: either because of your attitude, your inability to assimilate and learn from your mistakes, or perhaps an inherent misguided sense that you genuinely think you've got it all " sussed."

Thailand , for its part is not the "easy" option foreigners once portended it to be. Life has gotten relatively expensive in BKK now. People who come back after a few years away are genuinely surprised at the cost of living here and the creeping inflation. If you're in your mid to late 40's , an English teacher with the basic qualifications required, finding a halfway decent job in a halfway decent institution that will furnish you with a visa and work permit is getting very difficult. Ageism, it appears, it not restricted to the west, and whilst your enthusiasm and professionalism may win over any class you may teach, the
opportunities to actually get to appear in front of them  may dwindle when you're on the dusty educational backroads of the
itinerant freelancer.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Especially as at September's end I will find myself in the "no man's land" of transition. I'll be outside the invisible yet tangible safety umbrella of Thailand's "top" educational institution with 7 years of glistening and pristine work documentation and into the molasses quagmire of governmental instituted pending paperwork. This of course means a trip out of country to
effectively cut my final ties with my old visa and work permit just before they run out.

I've decided on a trip to somewhere I haven't been. So it'll be a short city break to Yangon in Myanmar , or Rangoon in Burma as you colonialists know it. I'm off to 'It ain't half hot mum territory". Ooh blimey!

In truth I know very little about the place. I don't really quite know what to expect, aside from ahem, "censor free journalism ", a new "democracy" and a recent bout of
extreme and relatively unreported anti Muslim racial violence.

So tomorrow its off to the Myanmar embassy for the tourist visa….another 2 day queuing process..sigh!

Normally I'd have liked a day or two outside Yangon, especially to that stunning temple complex in the north, but I just don't have the time this time round. Perhaps this mini sojourn is best viewed as a fact finding mission to see if I like the general "vibe".
My colleague James may join me. If this is the case, I'll likely be too hungover to want to travel far!

I get the feeling Myanmar is going to be galloping like a frothing amphetamine addled racehorse towards a
rickety new future as an "unspoilt" tourist destination

 I can't help wondering  just how long that will last. If I've learnt anything about life here in Asia is just how quickly things get developed and stripped of their charm.

Money talks, bullshit, and impoverished freelance teachers, walk.......

Hi There (7/8/12)

It's striking how much energy negative thoughts take out of you.
Being frustrated, bearing grudges, carrying any kind of ire is an incredibly
bad and unhealthy thing to do.
I've often used this blog as a cathartic tool in the past to
rant and generally espouse my thoughts, worries, and beliefs to anyone who'd
care to read.

For the first time in 7 years I find I'm a little reticent to do
so. There are always consequences…..

In fact, it might actually appear I'm (or I was) contractually
obliged to follow certain protocols regarding this. The essence of which is not
to bring the good name of the so called "Pillar of the Kingdom" into disrepute.
You gotta love these Ivory towers. My brother recently commented
on facebook just how switched on the private sector was after all his years
working elsewhere. The fact is , these ivory towers are yellowed with age,
cracking and Porous. They're weak, filled
with a surplus weak minded politickers and social climbers who strive to shift
blame and accountability in an ever downward spiral.

I'm sick of it to be honest.

Petty jealousies, two facedness , simple oneupwomanship ennui,
gross incompetence and some genuinely unfathomable long nursed general
resentment towards me and my team not only ensured the complete dismantlement
of an entire faculty, but also continues even now to perpetuate the most
monstrous of lies, skulduggery and character assassination I've ever experienced
in my life. I've only sought on my side to part company with my previous
employers in a spirit of professionalism, graciousness and cooperation. But it's
so hard to do so when you find yourself being undermined at every corner, even
when you're doing them a favour and seeing out commitments past your contracts
end.
It's hard to not tar everyone with the same brush. My view of
the elite educational establishments of Thailand has been somewhat diminished
as a result of recent events for sure.
At least I wont have to be involved with or preside over the
clusterfuck that is the ASEAN economic community when the migratory locust like
 workers come in 2014 and take bread from Thai mouths, money
from Thai households. In terms of English language ability (English will be the
official language of this loose cabal of countries) Thailand is so far behind
it's not funny. There is a HUGE disparity in the relative wealth (for SE Asia)
and the general English language ability. I had originally hoped to be part of an
elite team or program to spearhead advancements in this direction: To focus on
industries in Thailand that were vulnerable (ie the jobs that were first up and
clearly earmarked for an influx of foreign workers) . I had hoped with our level
of expertise and our huge amount of existing curricula, materials and resources
that we'd be the dudes to take the politicians mandates and make it a reality.
But educational establishments don't work like that here. They
have pure research based policy units that spend valuable time and resources
trying to work out stupid things like what questions they should be asking of
industry in the first place. Nobody DOES anything, they just pass issues around
and around in elite little groups of associate professors and indentured or
tenured civil servants until the responsibility finally sticks somewhere….

…..and sticks, and sticks, till there's a film of dust and
cobwebs all over it.

If I told you the number of full on courses and curricula I've
been involved in putting together that were never actually delivered, you'd
shake your head in disbelief. In short I'm tired of pointless exercises.
Which is why it's nice to stumble into the stark daylight of
English teaching in the private sector.
Of course it's not all onions and gravy. There are naturally
different challenges and obligations to be dealt with. But at least they are
clear, and they are within my operational remit.
It's just a shame my nerves , my patience, my optimism, and my
generosity of spirit has taken such a hiding lately. Until I'm finally away
from pre arranged obligation and the flummoxing spite and unpleasantness of
certain folk, I'm going to be feeling
like this for another fortnight.

Perhaps a last minute dart throw at a map to decide which
country I should go to in order to restart my work permit and visa
documentation might be the tonic I need.
The finalists are: Burma, Hong Kong, Manila, Candy,Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and
Perth.

Whatdya think?





 

Hi There (7/8/12)

Sometimes when I sit down to write my blog, the white page stares back at me and the little voice in my head questions me as to whether or not I have anything valid to say.

I'd hate to disappoint my tiny yet strangely devoted band of regular readers. So I shall soldier on espousing on things that occur to me in my usual stream of conscious
manner.

 

Which brings me to "Curiosity", no not the state of mind that is perilous to felines, rather the incredible feat that NASA perpetrated this week . It's pure sci-fi stuff
really; a sky crane firing retro rockets , coming with 25metres of the ground and dropping a one ton souped up Morris Minor on the surface of an alien planet. Now I know conspiracy theorists out there will suggest this is, in
reality, all taking place in the outback of Australia, not too far away (globally speaking) from Coober Pety. Just, 
ahem, like the 1976 Viking probe
apparently did. Choosing to believe mankind actually achieved a Mars landing on
this scale fills me with wonder, and also a dollop of sadness.

My learned and loquacious Ozzie mate Chris the sports journo is very fond of using the expression Dystopia when discussing his vision of the future. The dictionary describes it as:

A society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

It goes on to talk about dystopian societies in literature such
as 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, or Soylent Green. All deliberately monikered "science fiction" novels.

 But it occurred to me, given the current incongruous juxtaposition of the global celebration of human
endeavour (the Olympic Games, Curiosity mission) and the depths Human
Inhumanity and moral depravity (Syria, Aghanistan, religious fundamentalism
that allows the stoning of unwed lovers to death), that this "Dystopian age" is actually upon us.


 I'm not a conspiracy theorist: I don't care if a Rothchild bank is at the centre of every global financial institution, I don't care if the Illuminati are meeting in country
houses all over the globe, rolling up their collective trouser legs and worshipping pyramids: Or that we are even systematically being tested upon and
sold for medical experiments by the inhabitants of the Vega system: or even if the Mayan 5thage of Man ends on December 23rd….but I do care when I see women and children massacred in their masses and lying rotting in the
oppresive August sun in Damascan streets because no one can venture out into the snipers scope to retrieve them. What sort of people have we become? What
sort of people are we trying to be. Are we ever actually going to get better at
living in this much vaunted and deeply yearned for global harmony malarkey?


Answers on a postcard…..

They found a bag of grenades at Mo Chit bus station on Monday night apparently. It appears that everytime someone brings ordinance into the city they either accidently leave it abandoned somewhere or rig it up incorrectly and do
themselves a mischief.

 Bangkok does seem to attract a right bunch of Charlies!



 



      

Hi there, (26/7/12)

Little blue stickers have appeared on things all over the office. Half a dozen minions are swarming around with clipboards verifying and re-verifying the serial numbers that are on everything.

The university is pulling out its stuff as Go inter has now passed into history.

Not that most of it is worth much. Many of the fixtures and fittings will be gifted and donated away to any number of needy and worthy causes. I hope no one tries to sit on my desk though , it looks like the termites have been munching on its innards for some time now.

I've had to be quite brutal at chucking out my old teaching materials. I can't count the hours I've spent carefully cutting up cards for gameboards and the like. I bought some laminating plastic and kept back the best stuff, put I've still chucked a hundredweight of paper and card..and still have 5 boxes!!

I hope I get a wee cupboard of sorts in whatever little corner I might find myself in the future.. Failing that, I'll be doing quite a few trips home with a very heavy rucksack.

It's fair to say that , in general, Thai people are as fond of getting wet in the rain as cats. When the afternoon rains come, even if it is the tiniest bit of drizzly smirr, they will press up and cower against covered walkways and building entrances rather than walk out into it. Those who do, male and female alike automatically put their hand on or over their head to protect their "perfect" hair . I find it a most odd thing to do. Is there something about the rain here I'm not being told about?

Another strange ritual I've noticed for years here and keep meaning to mention is transferable hangbags. More often than not when you see a Thai couple out shopping, the male will almost invariably be carrying the females handbag. Not her shopping, her handbag. I can't tell if this is some overt symbol of superfluous chivalry, or if Thai guys are so effeminate they actually get a kick out of carrying their girlfriends Fendi, Mulberry, Coach, or whatever designer handbag. Personally I would never do it. Of course I would help carry shopping purchases and heavy bags, but I'm firmly of the belief that if the woman can't carry her own bloody handbag for whatever reason, then she should purchase one with a shoulder strap, or just buy a designer rucksack….

I can't help wondering what your average Glaswegian would make of a guy walking arm in arm with a woman down Buchanan Street idly swinging her handbag in his mitt. Laugh themselves silly I suppose.

I've got a couple of days off next week, (Buddhist holiday) it'll be nice for a bit of weekday time out after the stress of packing and moving offices. The stress is likely to increase over the weekend as we have effectively halved our office space . As long as I avoid the temptation of going out shopping after receiving a cheque for 6 months severance pay.

Woo-hoo!

Hi there, (20/7/12)

All credit to the Thai supreme court in coming up with a verdict that had both parties swaggering off claiming victory and the moral highground.

It would seem that streets will not be awash with a mob and afire with carefully orchestrated indignancy for the interim then….

This is a talent which Thai people often go unrecognized for. They will stand and posture and vocally represent their cause at the drop of a hat, but once done, will usually back down at the first opportunity to exit and save face.

You wouldn't think it when the media repeats endless footage of the scenes 2 years ago, but Thai people are really very peaceable , generous and sociable sorts.

A perfect example: 3 weeks ago I was out with 14 other guys at our annual fantasy football league dinner. A very pleasant dinner and award ceremony with 1000 baht notes and side bets made and settled all over the table. One mate (who'll remain anonymous) made his way alone to the skytrain station at 11pm. As he was about to go through the ticket barriers 2 ladyboy "hookers" cuddled him , slapped him on the bum and propositioned him…..

Actually they pickpocketed him…He's a very unlucky sort, my colleagues suspect he pissed off a band of gypsies in his youth.

Anyway, so there he was penniless, pissed off , and trying to report the crime, to whom I'm not exactly sure, but within earshot of bystanders…

Another 2 ladyboy hookers came up on overhearing his story and tried to press 500 Baht into his hands so he could get home. (he only needed 100 baht- 2 quid for a taxi.. 500 baht was more than the equivalent of a days wages for a shop worker here)

Nice huh? We all hear stories of legendary 'tarts with hearts" but it seems they do indeed still exist.

I found the story touching and heartwarming in the extreme. This particular area of town is thick with the sort of westerners most people would go out of their way to avoid. I can only imagine how quickly a sex worker would lose faith in human nature after being subjected to these sort of people on a daily basis. Maybe my pal spoke in Thai, perhaps that made a difference-who knows?…But a nice story anyway. 

So the flag is going down on Go Inter this Sunday afternoon. I and 4 other teachers will have the honour of teaching the last set of scheduled classes. It's going to be a bit of a strange one. I've spent 7 years of my life here, assimilated a whole new career and, in some ways completely reinvented myself. Of course the new school will continue on. On the face of it nothing much will have changed, indeed, in some ways they'll be much more scope for developing , innovating, and growing. But you can't help but feel a little twinge of sadness, especially as to the unfathomable reasons for closing down a going concern in the first place.

There's the inevitable "end of go inter" party in a pub on Sunday. Originally I thought of giving it a miss. I really want to avoid the sort of obstreperous and generally vituperative comments that were the catalyst to our giving up on Christmas parties a couple of years back.

But then I thought 'fuck it"!

There are a lot of ex-teachers, old faces, great people, fun loving people , wanting to come and raise a glass to what many have considered to be the best school in Bangkok these last 11 years. It would be churlish of me to miss out on a chat and a chinwag with these nice folks because of the potential agro from a few axe grinding terminally malcontented tossers. (that was a bit aggressive! -editor)

They'd do well to just ignore me this time round. I'm not really up for criticism from misinformed, delusional moaners of any kind just now . Everything is just a little chafed in my world at this precise moment, and I must confess that alcohol, me, and political correctness never seem to smoothly align in high stress situations. I'm unlikely to stick the head on anyone, but I pray nobody has a go at locking horns….

 Think I'll take a couple of bouncers with me…

Hi there, (13/7/12)

 Familiarity doesn't really breed contempt, it breeds complacency.

The thing about living in Thailand for so long is that you forget just how wonderful and crazily alien it is here . A simple walk in a crowded market street seen through the perspective of a visitor reminds me how gobsmacking I found everything when I first hit these shores. Sometimes it nice to remind ourselves it is no accident where we find ourselves to be. Too often I hear people talk of fate or karma to describe their personal circumstances. Whilst I believe there is always some small element of good luck or misfortune in everyone's lives, I don't accept the premise of it being the guiding force behind our lives. "You pays your money you takes your choice" as the man said. 

This isn't just true of your physical location , it's also true of what lies beneath. Maybe you really have to go there to come back. I've certainly seen some very hard truths flash before me recently. It's quite amazing really, the human ability to mentally compact, to repress so much of the stuff that made us what we are, only to have it surge up like some dredged slurry muddying the previously only slightly opaque waters of our minds. 

The problem is of course that the overwhelmed filter system of your mind gets clogged up with this sudden emotional deluge and you find you need to develop new perspectives to deal with it all. Well not so much , as accepting the ones you thought were long dead and redundant are actually more relevant than they'd ever been.

Yeah OK so I'm not making sense here at all really. There are good reasons for this. Let's say that I cannot censor who reads my blog, but rather I censor what I write.

I went down to Koh Samet last week and stayed at diamond beach. I was shocked to see how much it had been developed since my last trip there. Half of the beach is pretty much wall-to-wall boutique beachfront hotels and they're turning the harbour into a modernesque arrivals pier complete with a "Clash of the Titans" bronze 10 metre figure of a woman rising triumphantly up out the sea…..I get a feeling they're going for a new market. Hope to God it ain't the dreaded cruise ships!

There's more trouble brewing. There's a High Court announcement due today on whether or not the incumbent government should be disbanded for their numerous attempts at amending and manipulating the proceedings towards of a new constitution. Allegedly there are 500,000 red shirt insurgents poised to come back to BKK in a proverbial heartbeat and make a scene., cause a stramash, and be a pain in the arse.

  As my colleague Terry drolly said: 'It's riot season again!"

Oh Joy…...

Hi there, (6/7/12)

I think I'm going through another small phase of inwardly getting annoyed at people who wander, drift, dwam, and meander in my way.

Whilst its true to say my back has now fully recovered and I can once more do my usual power walk thingy if the mood takes me, I'm trying to slow down a bit. There is definitely a greater amount of fanniers and pfaffers on the street of late. You know, The usual complaints , people gathering socially at the top of the up escalators and directly outside lifts. It seems however, with the onset of the rainy season proper , they seem further encumbered and slowed down by umbrellas. It's certainly not much fun for me amongst these midgets, I'm constantly wary of getting my eyeball scratched. They almost always don't even see me until their brolly collides with my face!

When I utilize a brolly myself, I am acutely aware of some of the lower hanging errant , ahem, "overhead "power cables that have somehow slipped down on their bracket. I'm constantly worried about my brolly touching a live one in the streaming rain. Hmmm.

Whether or not it's a case of the old Bangkok shuffle, it's definitely time to consider a break from the hum drum and get some sand between my toes. This was especially apparent to me after a short trip, the first in 3 years or so, to Chinatown. I really can't work out why on Earth people would want to spend any amount of time there. I always get quite claustrophobic after quite a short time there.

I was down at Pat Pong night bazaar last night. Bangkoks original red light sector, it certainly has grown very tired and tawdry. Still, Le Bouchon French restaurant always makes the trip very much worth while. Best French cuisine I've ever had. I go there about once a year and it never disappoints. The 50cl carafe of house red I quaffed at 580 baht was a bargain too.

The least said about the rest of the place the better. It was nice to see the sex show touts somehow suddenly being pleasant and almost mildly deferential when I indicated to them in Thai I "wasn't interested and had seen it all before". Actually, I've never been to a ping pong /razor blade show. I've witnessed more exotic , ahem, "treats" than that in my time in Thailand, but best not mentioned here!! I can still see that poor ruffled feather canary in my minds eye…

I will say this though. The Thai band I saw ambitiously finishing their set with "Bohemian Rhapsody" was brilliant! You gotta have a lot of balls to try that one. Ironic really as the lead singer was a butch dressed ladyboy!!

They played it flawlessly with 5 part harmony's, twin guitar solos, the lot. No shortcuts, no sampling anywhere…Very impressive indeed!

The Go inter part of the school has a mere 2 weeks to run. There are all sorts of drilling and banging noise drifting down from the 20thfloor where go global renovations are in full swing.. Rumours of giant TV screens and computer projectors abound! I'd be happy if the place got a lick of paint haha!

I did my other freelance gig at the ministry last Monday . It went rather well and I've been asked back to do more courses for them at some point. I did tell them however I'd be doing it a bit more expensively in future. Thinking about it, If I'm freelancing and landing my own contracts, effectively cutting out the middlemen, I should be charging what external agencies usually do. Effectively twice my current hourly teaching rate . I suppose I could settle at 1000-1200 Baht an hour and still feel like it's worth it.

We're busy putting more stuff and gubbins together for this and that. I get the feeling that my working week is about to get quite a bit more teaching heavy in the next couple of months. I also feel a small trip to another country borne out of necessity coming up in my bones. It's been a while since I was down Singapore way. Better crack on with those nightclasses then;  it doesn't hurt to make a little more money now and again. Does it?

Hi there, (29/6/12)

A new first for me today . I was made redundant! At the tender age of 46 , I experienced what many many before me (and in considerably worse circumstances) have undergone. I received a very nice letter , hand signed no less, by the vice dean of the university telling me that downsizing and restructuring were the cause of the demise of my employment.

Ok, so it was no great shock actually. We knew from the time the powers that be were shutting down our Young Learners programme that the wicket of our employment was sticky. Sure there were sickly platitiudes and vague promises of a project here, or steely eyed statements of a brighter future there, but at the end of it all, when all the shit smelling hot air and beer fart guff had been expended, it was some poor lackey of the HR department sent over to "record delivery" of the letter. That was what perhaps irked me the most. Somebody, anybody from the faculty could have had the balls to break the not so surprising news and deliver my 'cards" to me directly.

OK so I've only put in 7 years of my life to ensuring the ongoing success of the YL project here, and hopefully, in some way, provided part of a better future for the kids who've come to spend their Saturdays learning here. Sure, the end of my employment hardly merits a gold watch or a vigourous ceremony of pomp and circumstance. It did deserve however, to be a little more dignified.  The idea that that someone who knows us by name, knows what we've done, how professional we've always striven to be, how much we've contributed to the good name of the university , would briefly pop up and say a few words of thanks and express the merest platitudes of regret. There's absolutely no way a Thai employee would be treated like this. I guess I didn't know how scary and unapproachable we foreigners seem to be! Or are certain folk more inclined to conduct themsleves like ostriches than I could ever have believed possible? (and yes I know they don't actually bury their heads in the sand…I just liked the image)

 Still, it's reallynot all doom and gloom. The good fight goes on. I'll continue here in the shiny new Phoenix school that has quickly arisen from the ashes of the old one for the next while at least. I have a renewed sense of purpose in delivering the best product we can. I'm quite a lot more optimistic about the future now. Things will get done in much quicker time. I foresee a time where I'll have autonomy to do a lot more "outside" in terms of sales, charity, and profile raising work without constantly having stand in front of the "heiddy" ,my cap in hand asking if we may do something. Private sector rools ya bass!

The other thing of course is that in terms of some farewell renumeration , the uni has held up its end of the bargain. I'll have substantial savings in the bank to tide me over most eventualities (except another major operation…knock on wood).

Busy weekend coming up- meeting the parents, running the school, doing observations and feedback, houseguest arriving, and then my second big freelance workshop at the RID. (irrigation dept). I'll be ready to fall off my perch by the end of the coming week I'm sure.

Who knows, perhaps I might even go down the beach for a couple of days at the end of next weekend…

 

 

Hi there, (15/6/12)

It's fair to say you know what sort of bar you're in when the alternative version of Smokies hit 'Living Next Door to Alice" is heartily and with much gusto belted out by punters and , ahem, hostesses alike.

"Alice Alice who the F*** is Alice!"

I've always refrained from writing about the seedier side of life in Bangkok. This is partly because a) it's been done to death by a million bloggers, the legendary "Stickman" being the king of them all. And b) whenever I'm back in Blighty and mention to an acquaintance where I live, I'm invariably , albeit in jokey pub terms, accused of being into anything from animal orgies to kiddies and ladyboys.

Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, seems to suffer from a very bad image in Europe. Western men who choose to live here often eyed with a lingering suspicion by their western based counterparts. And whilst I've greatly enjoyed the quite balanced and interesting series on Ladyboys coming out of the UK recently, I wonder what other folk back in the UK make of it. We're all guilty of stereotyping, it's what human almost subconsciously do to make sense of alien concepts or cultures. Sometimes its fraught with mean and ill spirited contempt, other times it's just plain assumption with a pinch of self satisfied fabrication borne out of sheer ignorance.

Naturally, many of the punters that come out here do little to lessen this image. These are the drunken "Living next door to Alice" hollering buffoons who annually scrimp and save every penny they earn for a two week stay in sexual Disneyland. After a few visits here, they invariably declare themselves experts on Thai life and culture, and then somehow decide that to Thai women at least, they are an utterly irresistible hunk of man, despite the fact they're overweight and wearing a muscle shirt and flip flops for their night on the town. (My turn to stereotype!)

These are the same dudes that go back and regale their ghoulishly venal married mortgage trapped mates in local pubs up and down the country with stories of degradation, sexual deviance, and mean acts of such impropriety that if they said they'd done them on a weekend in Prague or Amsterdam their friends would have turned away in embarrassment, tut tutted and shaken their heads in mild disgust as they supped their pints..

For all of us who actually live here, its fair to say we wish that this combined detritus of western society would choose the Philippines or Viet Nam for their next holiday.

I quite understand however, that if this vast throng of holidaymakers stayed away from the tart bars of the city, the bright lights of Pattaya , and the island resorts where they invariably continue the 'girlfriend experience" holiday, massive hardship would befall vast tracts of poor 'up country" families. Prostitution in all its myriad forms, however it may be viewed in the west, is a significant part of the economy here and money doesn't only talk, in developing countries it screams loudly and shrilly, its voice carrying loud and clear over the rocky river babble of the morally outraged…

So a little more respect, a little less buffoonery eh gents? You wouldn't want to get unexpectedly cornered and lamped by a skinny Thai bloke and his mates who turns out to be the brother and/or boyfriend now would you?

I started another corporate gig this week. Another bit of freelancing. Actually I'm setting up a lot of stuff for other teachers just now. It's a kind of mini consultancy. It's currently unclear whether I'll get a few extra bob bunged my way by way of a thank you, but I'm such to get a few pints off grateful teachers.

I didn't get round to tennis this week after all. I did half my roof terrace weeding instead. Best do it now as the rainy season turns all things green and planty into tropical interstellar overdrive. Hopefully on Monday, weather permitting…

I forgot to mention our gig a fortnight ago. It was ok..We played acceptably , but unfortunately were beset by technical problems that put me in a bad mood..To top it all, the pub was very very dark and had a discoball lit up by a red light. It was very difficult playing rhythm guitar with red dots swirling all over the fretboard!! Sometimes I had to turn my back to the , ahem, "crowd" to see what I was doing…AND I burst a string..sigh! didn't get home till 2am and an early start the next day.

Too old to rock 'n' roll, too young to die as Jethro Tull once put it.. LOL!

 

Hi there, 15/6/12)

With over 11,000 deaths per year, Thailand easily heads the world wide rankings motorcycle deaths.

Which begs the question: What on Earth do I keep find myself browsing the online used bike ads for? I believe there is a certain breed of North East Scotland men in their 40's that rush through their bike license and suddenly get the urge to dress in thick leather jumpsuits, buy bikes far too sporty and powerful for them, and proceed to go out and do themselves a mischief. You'll see them out in small groups on the back roads of Fife and Angus of a weekend from around mid April to October, their unfeasibly fat rear tyres the only drab feature on a gleaming superbike festooned with decals and after market assorted gubbins and add ons.

Not that there is ANY kind of open road here anyways..and if there was, it'd be pitted with potholes and covered in a fine mesh of shot sized grit and floury dust . After sand on a beach road , probably the yummiest surface to go round a corner at speed with your knee down haha!

Of course one rare small trip later in a tukuk out there in the open, away from a car's aircon cocoon that's when reality bites: Indeed a BKK reality check time: gouting black fumes , killer bus drivers, manic scooter weavers , relentless noise and oppressive heat soon puts paid to such idle daydreams of the open road. James was thinking of following us down to Pattaya a couple of weeks back on his bike (of course he didn't) and looking out at the traffic that accompanied us for the trip I really wondered if it was worth the stress of a three hour hell ride there and back for a saving of about 10 quid. Er, no. so let's put this brief obsession with getting a bike down to my north east Scotland genetic defect that's just kicked in at 46. Some chain of proteins and amino acids temporarily affecting my brain chemistry.

After some weeks of dithering and prevaricating, I bit the bullet and upgraded to an ipad 3. You may recall I bought the 1stone 2 years ago second hand and it has served me well and faithfully. However the constant ios upgrades have caused it to get antsy, become shy, and stuttering wobbly before crashing like a freshers week student female on her first real binge.. If computers could get Alzheimers then my ipad1 appears to have the onset. The clincher of course was the announcement this week by Apple that as of Autumn, the new IOS 6 operating system won't support original ipads. The single chip in there and the meagre RAM just "Cannae handle the powerrr captain" (as Scotty would say). I was naturally quite nervous about the switch- I had worries that I'd be spending hours and hours configuring and reconfiguring as all my settings would be nobbled. I needn't have worried, it all transferred beautifully...even back into the folders I had created and renamed..Impressive! You gotta hand it to these Apple blokes, they really know their stuff, and perhaps even more importantly, what us technophobic ignoramuses out there actually need!

I got stuck in to some freelancing this week for the governmental Royal Irrigation department. Sometimes I'm so glad not to really understand the hierarchical societal structure of Thailand and especially of everyday civil servants. Suffice to say half the delegates were shitting themselves. I was later told at least 3 tried to withdraw before it started. It became quickly apparent that once the Big Hair Lady had been in and delivered her 'Young Mr Grace" welcome speech next to some hastily found and prepared flowers, the delegates appeared ashen faced with the worry and the daunting prospect of a five day English presentation course. Indeed, one of them immediately apologized as he could only do the morning part as he had to leave in the afternoon to go and address the UN in New York!!! Precisely what a guy like that learnt from my one day English refresher course is unclear. However , my irreverent style of teaching soon had them smiling and up speaking and interacting with each other pretty well. I was shattered by the end of the 6 hours, but chuffed to get an email an hour later at home from the chief trainers saying how much they liked it , confirming my July course and bunging me an extra thousand Baht for doing it..result!! Probably only fair as it appears both teaching sessions are being videoed, edited and sent out to provincial governmental agricultural training and HR departments up and down Thailand for ASEAN training purposes. Doubt if there's any chance of me getting 'Residuals" like wot the actors get. Still I suppose it's a good advert for me and my teaching. Perhaps a new job might even come out of it. Makes me glad I never did take up that offer to do that porn film in Ban Chang all those years back!! You'd be surprised at some of the folk willing to do that sort of thing. Haha !

Now the rains have come the temperatures have mercifully dropped to around the 30 mark. Time to try and get some tennis in once more . Reckon it's time to get Bruce my old tennis partner back on court. I can see a long snaky timeline of decisions, jobs, tasks, obligations and work appearing out of the fata morgana like haze. It is my intention to really try to keep my Mondays sacred and free. It's too easy to take on too much here, especially in these uncertain times. We all need a day off don't we?

 

     

Hi there, (08/6/12)

Had a holiday weekend off last weekend and went to the beach. Apologies for my late posting but chilling out was infinitely more necessary than anything else at this particular juncture. Hopefully I may be in a better position to let you know whassup quite soon. For now I am compelled to remain stumm regarding my working life.

So the band is back on the , er, bandwagon . We'll be playing tonight (at midnight!) at a bar in soi 22. Last on the bill . Hopefully to a boozed up appreciative Friday night crowd!

Actually it was quite a surprise to find we could all still play pretty well together after an absence of about 18 months. We rattled through 15 of our easier songs. Everyone pretty much remembered the structure of the songs and got their chops and cues correct!! In the present circumstances it was a lot of fun to get in the studio and let rip for 3 hours. There's something very cathartic about playing in a band, especially this kind of music. With Jon's band calendar suddenly clearing up, we might get a few more months in of gigging before he heads off to the bright lights of Japan, or the walled foreigner compounds of some Arabian state…ah the filthy lucre!

I was wondering the other day what's actually keeping me here just now. I love Thailand, I love the lifestyle. But, especially given my recent bad news, I'm getting to wonder if that's enough. Is that all there is? I'm kinda yearning for something to make itself known to me (a relationship most likely) to somehow inject a sense of future, of potential, of possibility, or simply some good old fashioned true meaning, into what I'm doing with my life. Make no mistake here , my life is much fuller in this respect than being a Customer Service wage slave in Glasgow. Yet, this doesn't mean I'm waiting around for someone or something to show me the way. I'm fully aware you make your own happiness and, in many respects, your own luck too. A brilliant and wise friend of mine said yesterday that "if quantum mechanics were to be believed, we all create our own universe and attract what we are to where we are at."

So if I stay true to myself and remain the person I am, I will create a spiritual gravity well where good things and good people will come to me, bluebirds might sit on my shoulder and chirp, chipmunks will nestle in my cupped hands…..

OK OK, I've taken that a bit far. I can see the sense of it I suppose. I've never really given up on being that person. Though, as I was saying to her, I'm less likely to listen to my intuition nowadays- It's like a whiny semi incontinent old Labrador, constantly pawing at the front poor wanting outside for a wee. I'm not entirely sure sometimes if it isn't taking the piss (scuse the pun).

Another friend recently posted a great little sign on facebook. It went something like "Who cares if the glass is half full or half empty, there's still wine to be drunk!" A most enlightening perspective I thought- really quite Buddhist in its outlook!

Meanwhile back in Bangkok there was a slight skirmish over the weekend. This time it was, rather unusually, the Yellow shirted loyalists who took running at a bawdy red shirt mini-demo on the streets. By the looks of things, the local Thai stormtroopers have got the "marching forwards and backwards in formation" pretty much down pat. I think it was the best display of any kind of large scale cohesion I've witnessed here in the past 5 years. I can only assume this crack synchronised squad of 200 baton wielders was either: a) from the same village up north, or b) Somehow related to one another.… Goodness me: Sarcasm Michael tsk tsk!

Whilst we're on a wee rant here, I'd just like to say that I'm trying to be a bit greener. I reuse or go to the supermarket with a cloth bags. I keep a supply of canvas bags in a drawer at work..But I can't for the life of me understand why some folks think it's really cool to bring their mountain bikes on to the skytrain in the middle of rush hour. If you think about it, these bikes take up the space of about 4 people. I even recently got oil on my breeks. Not impressed. No wonder those dudes wear all the gear: fingerless gloves, mirrored lenses and crash helmets whilst standing. I'd be too embarrassed to catch anyone's eye either. The crash helmet is just an extra precaution in case they get thumped by someone, which can't be far away. I think everybody commuting is a little more stressed out with the city life as all the new skytrain stations have opened with little or no indication of extra carriages forthcoming…but seriously? If they can ban balloons on board trains and create bus lanes, then surely to God they can say no bikes on the train from 7-10am or 5-7pm. Eh no?

I'm off to freelance all day Monday at the Royal department of irrigation. Now they tell me I'm being videoed all day by their government training/HR department for "later dissemination". I'm not really bothered, I'm experienced enough now to get through that sort of thing. The only issue I may have is the size of the room. 20 folk in a small space takes a degree of careful, on the spot, decision making and management if you're wanting to have a truly effective and interactive teaching session. Hey it should be fun.

Famous last words?

 

Hi there, (25/5/12)

It was with some trepidation I opened my phone bill this month. I had, after all been to the UK. Within the first 24 hours I had received an SMS telling me about getting my internet connection shut down. Turns out I accrued about 100 quid in roaming charges for my rookie mistake.

However, all this paled into insignificance when I heard my pals news. He normally LOVES to be mentioned by name in this blog. I'm sure this time however, he'll appreciate my discretion…

It seems he was on a 4 day junket/meeting (at Disneyland Paris-yeah right!) a couple of months back. Before he left, he called AIS the service provider to activate a roaming package for his work phone. They didn't. He recently received a bill for, wait for it, 125,000 baht (2500 quid) ! Strewth it'd have been cheaper phoning the speaking clock in Australia from Paris for solid 4 days!! My pal felt that honesty was the best policy and immediately fessed up to his aghast accounts department. Calls were made, AIS assigned a case officer, and his company ended up paying half. So let that be a warning to you all. International roaming charges are the cybersea equivalent of vicious Somalian pirates!

The red shirts popped up again 100,000 strong for a city centre rally last Saturday. It was the 2 year anniversary of the stroming of the barricades. As usual, the political equivalent of fire and brimstone was being vituperously espoused from the platform. Those killed by security forces being remembered whilst similtaneously blessed by the head honchos: The ubiquitous first political steps of their canonization into martyrhood. Open threats followed to execute those found guilty come the day the red banner flies high… All this of course was generously interspersed with incongruous sexy coyote platform dancing to keep the masses happy.. Naturally there was also the big screen event: a live satellite link with ole squareface Taksin from the HQ "somewhere" on the Thai border urging everyone to adopt a fresh attitude of peace , cooperation and reconciliation…I guess he's still waiting for that diplomatic passport and/or amnesty then.

More troubled and difficult times ahead methinks. Whilst they may not be allowed to get entrenched in the city infrastructure like last time, the sheer scale and speed with which it happened took everyone by surprise.

Another big surprise. Bangkok leads cities of the world on active facebook users. I saw the stats today , a fanny hair short of 7,800,000 folk here are facebook users . Their servers must be cooking white hot. There are a number of reasons for this, but I'd say the mass of folk (especially girls) who like to play all those dinky twee facebook online games like Farmville and mafiawars every waking moment of their day are keeping the numbers so monstruously high.

And finally, bedecked in a skin tight gown of full length rubber and a swirly beehive, Lady Gaga minced into town at Don muang airport amidst the clamour and cries of the frantically devoted. The poor cow must have had some trouble getting out of that outfit once she'd stepped nto the pizza oven humidity and sweated a bit. I wonder if the outfit stayed in one piece. True to form, she'd barely arrived and it was off to see a ladyboy cabaret show. Seems she's already upset a certain strata of Thai society by tweeting she wants to buy a fake Rolex LOL. There's really nothing quite so preposterous as the fake outrage and jaw flapping of the upper class hypocritical set. People are actually quoted in the Bangkok press as intending to boycott the stadium concert because of this comment. It gives Thailand a "bad image" apparently. Fake Rolex watches? Here? Really? Well stone the crows! You'll be telling me I can pick up some fake Oakley sunglasses next!!! Seriously- get a life you utter wittering, bandwagonesque, knobends !

 

Hi there, (18/5/12)

It never fails to impress me how relatively clean the city's streets are kept. In most western countries the mere idea of a daily garbage collection would be utterly ludicrous, yet here it is almost always fastidiously done. There was a tropical downpour last night, but the trucks were still all out collecting and cleaning. You do get a bit of a sense of civic pride going on here as well, something that is severely lacking in many cities of the UK. Many small shop fronts and businesses put out plants and earthenware pots to pretty things up. Some even put up quaint little gable weave walls to demarcate their property. Of course this is not a universal thing. But it is nice to see, even if, as can often be the case in the smaller sub sois, you have to go off the pavement and onto to the road to get past. But when you see all the sorts of things they plant in the middle of pavements and walkways here, you realize you could never walk in a straight line even if the path ahead was clear. My stratagem is to walk tightrope style along the edge of the gutter. It allows for the easiest thoroughfare possible (and folks, scared of the wobbly giant tend move out your way haha!)

It does seem a shame however that this sense of city or civic pride doesn't really stretch to the rural and poorer parts of Thailand. I've said before that many unfamiliar with the layout of Thailand think its all really beautiful here with water lilies, lotus blossoms , and jasmine bushes on every corner here . Fact is, travelling out of BKK in every direction for an hour or two and all you'll see is flat rice or salt pan plains and heaps and heaps of land and air borne discarded flotsam and jetsam lining the sides of the roads.

I read recently about these so called "Gyres" out in the Pacific ocean. Vast swirly type whirlpools where all the discarded and dumped plastic swishes around in kilometer square pools, trapped by the currents into a never ending spiral tumble. I think that there are places where this effect is visible on land.

I've been grabbing cloth bags or reusing placcy ones to go out grocery shopping for some time now. It's not quite second nature, but getting close to it. I wish the same could be said of my Asian counterparts. The thought really doesn't' occur to anyone over the age of 30 I'd say. On top of that, Thais , being generally scrupulously clean and tidy sorts, often wrap extra putting bags within bags for no apparent reason. This is especially true of supermarket packers when considering allowing cleaning products and/or health /beauty products in the same bag as provisions. God forbid your carton of toothpaste comes into contact with a banana!!!

I was given advice very early on in my time here about eating out. "Wherever possible", my friend said, "make sure it's a woman who takes your meal order." At first I thought this was some sort of sexist chauvinist sentiment, but it seems I have to admit my friend was 100% right. Especially lately, it seems EVERY time I order food from a guy its not right. Not just "I forgot the water" wrong, no an entirely different dish or an entrée I didn't order! Today I got a plate of roast duck instead of red pork and rice. I decided to keep it a) to inconvenience the twat when the other table complains, and b) I hadn't had duck for donkeys and it looked really good. It's not as if these guys don't have a paper and pen, or in some cases, a little electronic device and plastic pointer pen. They just seem incapable of getting it right. I haven't yet worked out why this should be the case. One thing's for sure, men in Thailand who choose to be employed in the lower end of the gastronomy industry tend not to be the sharpest knives in the drawer, if you get my drift.

The first of the rains that come at the end of the silly hot season tend to be a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand they do cool the ambient air temperature down a few degrees. But on the other hand the speed at which the soaked streets evaporate all this moisture effectively turns the humidity factor almost off the scale. You can practically feel this invisible steam settling on your skin and condensing. Freshly ironed shirts become wrinkly and creased, moisture clings to every nook, cranny, and indeed even crack it can wend its way into. Perhaps the greatest torture of all is office energy consumption policy. Whilst many big companies insist on an after hours English programme for their employees, they're also quite happy to allow the aircon to go off at 6pm office-wide leaving the hapless teacher and students dabbing away at their brows for an hour and a half. You'd be amazed how quickly it becomes hot after the units shut down. You can feel the temperature and humidity creep in with the stealth of a cat burglar on crutches.

YUM!

 

Hi there, (11/5/12)

I read recently that Bangkok was one of the top five loudest cities in the world. We often talk about light pollution, air pollution, water pollution, but how often do we really acknowledge the blight of noise pollution? Sure, when we're tucked up in bed and the unfortunately paper thin walls of a cheap build condo that clearly conduct the assorted goings on of adjacent apartments. Or perhaps when the local pack of mangy soi dogs take it upon themselves to vociferously challenge night interlopers into their hallowed territory for hours on end. Yeah ,when it disrupts our sleep, that's when we really acknowledge it.

I'm really lucky, I live in a very quiet part of town. A government complex at the end of the road is what my apartment looks on to. There is a distinct absence of dogs around me too. I guess then that's why perhaps I'm more sensitive to it: this daily cacophony that surrounds Siam square as I go back to relative silence. It's a weird sort of downtown cacophony here too. Not the traffic horns or engine noise you might expect. No, this noise is all human and amplified. Firstly, all of Siam square is wired up to some sort of university radio station, so loudspeakers on every corner interminably blast out widdly Asian love rock ballads 24/7. Then in the malls and markets every other shop is playing their own music, or guffing out shouted special offers. On top of that, outside the mini technology mall, there is a small plaza where trendy film, cable and second division tv crews meet. Here they produce an endless series of on the spot public and c-list celebrity interviews with dolled up pretties hostessing the proceedings, tottering around in high heels, their excruciating amplified voices talking over each other, belting out like whinnying war horses caught in a mortar barrage. Ironically, their efforts seem to be only broadcast directly to a giant screen a mere 20 metres away. Its all very narcisstic and pointless in some ways. Of course at the weekends there are also random pop bands and indie bands in the little park beside my building as well as 'happenings" on hastily erected ad sponsored stages and booths that fly up and down round here with the regularity of a tarts knickers. Other pretties (also amplified) hang obtrusively at major thoroughfares and walkaways with free samples of this and that causing more logjam turmoil to the noisy stramash . And to top it all off, the utterly ineffectual traffic guy blasting loud peeps astringently on his whistle to tell the cars to stop so we can cross on a zebra crossing!

 Even the skytrain has 2 tvs in every carriage blasting out assorted bollocks. It gets to a point where you simply have to choose your aural poison in the form of your own sounds. Better to block out the world with something you like than be sensorily damaged by the aural equivalent of an itinerant travelling showground. "Going like a fair" is an expression that springs irresistibly to mind. I heard that one of the , ahem, " interrogation techniques" used by the American forces on detainees in Guantanamo Bay, was to expose them for hours upon hours of Tellytubbies at extremely high volumes. I can really imagine the efficacy of that. At least I have the option of walking away from it. I remember thinking how quiet Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world, was when I visited. Thai folk it seems are prepared to put up with a HELL of a lot of noise ALL the time. If there is a noise protection squad I'm certain their pockets must be stuffed full of money to ensure a decibel report compliant with acceptable local government dictates (assuming any exist!)

 LOL.

 

Hi there, (4/5/12)

Everyone seems to be casting a beady eye up to the skies looking for rain in every grey wisp of cloud. It peaked 42 degrees this week, frigging brutal, especially in a shirt and tie and carrying a heavy teaching bag. It also didn't help I seemed to have brought home a nasty little virus (from the plane) which put me in my bed from Sunday night till Wednesday morning. Great!!

The political air in Bangkok is also quite leaden with expectation. The almost religious fervor that exiled PM Taksin garnered during his Songkran Thai-Laos border clambake has more than a few folk twitchy. It seems only a matter of time before he is issued with a re-instated diplomatic passport and granted immunity/amnesty from doing the 2 years for property fraud he (and the missus) were originally convicted for. If that should be the case, he'll doubtless waltz over the border with some kind of fanfare, a torchlit procession of red shirt acolytes in tow perhaps, and settle down somewhere comfortable to get on with pulling strings , switching switches, pushing levers, applying smoke, installing mirrors, and assuring everyone he's not really running anything. A good puppet master is always invisible.

It seems Suvarnabhumi airport a mere 5 years after its opening, is now running well over capacity. I've heard stories of 2 hour waits to get through the passport controls. Some of the cheap airlines like airasia, Bangkokair, Nokair and provincial operators are being threatened with the heave ho back out to Don Muang the old airport. Actually It makes a lot of sense. But what doesn't is that the planners that be didn't' built a 21stcentury airport with precisely this eventuality in mind. I met a Thai friend for lunch last week and she told me 'Thai people don't look into the past". Well with this development, and the now ongoing debacle of playing sardines in 3 carriage Skytrains it might seem to the casual observer that Thai folk don't look to far into the future either. If you think about it, it's very true to the Buddhist tenents of living 'in the now", but it aint half frustrating sometimes. A friend recently told me about this company board of directors his friend works for, that decided to shut down a successful wing of the business that was actually generating millions of baht of profit. 6 months later amidst the turmoil of a cash flow situation, this self same board wanted, nay demanded, to know what had happened to all the money. If you didn't laugh you'd cry. In business terms they used to call it "Myopia", I'd prefer to call it " vapid incompetence".

So another holiday weekend rolls upon us. The city will be partially evacuated by ragged hoardes of plastic bag wielding Thais seeking the beach wind refuge from the blistering heat. Glad I'm not trying to get anywhere by car tonight, the traffic jams will be horrendous in every direction. I plan to stake my place by the condo pool for a few hours every day, splish splash and read a bit, oh and try not to get too sunburnt. Tennis is most definitely off until the temperatures become a little more reasonable. Bruce and I discussed the possibility yesterday and we both concurred we'd last about 5 minutes out there!

No sense in pushing it now is there?

 

Hi there, (27/3/12)

'This is the hottest it's ever been". That's what the Thais say every year at this time, yet somehow this time, I believe them. Walking from an air con environment to the outside world is like standing in front of a stone Pizza oven , or walking by a blast furnace. It's really pretty fierce. Temperatures of 33 degrees outside at 10 pm at night are quite unusual. As it is, inside my apartment, the temperature in the non air con section is reading closer to 40! I'm glad I don't have any neighbors directly looking in as I'm not wearing much these days. Both the shower and the swimming pool are warmer than just tepid. I'm so glad I had the chance of taking in the cool airs of northern Europe for the last couple of weeks.

Yeah, it's been a while since I blogged. I had a brilliant time in Scotland. My friends and family were all so kind, and welcoming. Really good times. It was perhaps the first time I've been back to Scotland and not find myself hankering for "home" and Bangkok. It's good to view your homeland with a fresh eye. If I won the lottery, I'm certain I'd buy a "pied a terre" in Edinburgh's new town. In all my travels, I've yet to find a city that exceeds Edinburgh in overall attractiveness. It's just a shame that it's all so damnably expensive. My friends asked if I ever intended to come back permanently, to which I replied 'to do what?". It's clear there are pockets all over Scotland (Dundee?) where there are alarming levels of unemployment and signs of crushing poverty. Well, crushing by western terms as opposed to Asian ones. I can see there is an enormous uphill struggle going on behind the scenes to keep the income taxes down whilst ostensibly increasing the standard of life. I have to say I was mightily impressed by the free medicine prescriptions and the free education fees still offered by the Scottish authorities. The cynic might say these were hugely uneconomical measures put it place to assuage the populace into imminently voting for what would be eventual independence. I'd like to think it was borne out of more egalitarian values than that. Libertee , Fraternitee and all that.

Yep, I asked everyone: friends and family, even a stranger or two about the independence question. I was really surprised just how close it was and how divisive it will most likely be . When I see normally mellow family members arguing passionately and from entirely opposite poles I see how close this referendum will actually turn out , especially as the SNP appears to want to have it towards the end of their tenure on the date of the 700thanniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Talk about messing with folks emotions! Get it up ye ya English Bastards! LOL.

I find it slightly worrying that one of the main arguments for, apart from the eternal "It's our north Sea oil and gas!" cry, is the comparisons between Scotland and Scandinavian countries of similar population size that have seemingly succeeded in their relative "splendid" isolation.

Firstly guys, Denmark owns Greenland. And Norway and Sweden have such ridiculously high income and VAT taxes to fund their lifestyles. We in Scotland don't really produce very much, we have lost the faith of the world in our banking and financial institutions, and we're really kinda screwed with a welfare state that is, frankly too easy to take the piss from, or to manipulate in such a way as to make producing babies more lucrative than working.

There is also the question of how right wing everyone will turn. "Denmark for the Danes" as my uncle recently hailed with a clenched fist (albeit with a little smile) when I asked about the possibility of my getting dual citizenship. The recent political track record is there for all to see: Scandinavia has some of the most right wing values in the whole world. And I'm not just suggesting that because of the actions of a certain monster by name of Anders Brevik. I fear Scots, particularly the uneducated or SDL, (Scottish Defence League-yes apparently they now exist ,but thankfully just a mere handful) brainwashed, would follow a similar xenophobic route. This might effectively curb any and every attempt at emigration and racial integration.. Indeed I think we'd start seeing some kind of cerebral mental ghettoisation in the minds of many poor, disadvantaged, or embittered Scots, of these 3th generation ethnic families.

But that's by the by. What will be will be. It's still such a long way off in global terms:- there's still a thousand things that might happen before Scots ever get the chance to place a cross on that paper, or stamp the hanging chad, or do whatever is required to vote. Every direction you look it seems there's always someone bleating about the end of the world just now. Admittedly, on this site there is a clock counting down to the end of the Mayan Calendar and the 5thage of man. But as we've been told time and again by strangely coiffured historians and egg head archaeologists it doesn't mean the end of the world now does it?

 

Hi there, (30/3/12)

The last independent cinemas in Bangkok city centre are sadly, very soon, going the way of the Dodo.

I must confess I've never been to either the Lido or the Scala (great names of yesteryear huh?). It's not as if they ever put on arthouse movies, or tried to garner any kind niche audience. They always pretty much showed the same things as everybody else, though perhaps a little cheaper and, by all accounts, in a bit more of a fleabitten environment.

So anyone want to guess who owns the land and what they want to do with it?

Yes indeed! Chulalongkorn University owns ALL the land from Siam square to the river. A VAST swathe that covers at least a square mile of the commercial district of the city centre . And they indeed have plans …. After all, as Oxford and Cambridge rolled into one, they have a countrywide domestic reputation for excellence . So, plans huh?… Plans to develop the university infrastructure? New ultra modern hi tech equipped faculties ? A centre for research and international excellence ? New, much needed, cheap student residencies even ? Er, Nope, another shopping mall to join the 2 they've had erected near our office in the last 3 years.

I won't say anything else as I might appear to be criticizing my employers. You may want to draw your own conclusions here.

Real estate it seems, trumps all else every time….

 

" Well it's not exactly re-inventing the wheel is it?"

This is what a teacher once said to me when I remarked about the seemingly daunting task of designing and creating a new English course for a specific audience.

In a way he's correct, and in a way he's not. Some teachers find some kind of "formula" they deem to be successful, and then spend years and years and YEARS delivering it over and over again, never deviating, never getting better, often getting bored with themselves (and ultimately often blaming any failures on the attitude of their classes). Other teachers haphazardly go through the latest hot trends and incorporate "new " techniques wholeheartedly, often to the detriment of the basics of the teaching process. Others still, after having gained the international industry standard, the PGCE, go into whatever the educational setup is of a particular country in S.E. Asia , discover their qualification hasn't really prepared them for diddly squat. So they fire on in, and burn out exceedingly rapidly in the face of 50 strong boistrous classrooms. After that, more often than not, they get lazy and disillusioned and proceed to wing and blag their way through their teaching contract, riding the gravy train as long as they can.

It's fair to say that most of us, whatever jobs we do, we like to have some kind of "comfort zone. " OK maybe not soldiers or astronauts and a few other of the more esoteric professions, but most of us.

So I was quite surprised at myself when I started innovating and adopting a wee bit cutting edge technology in my classroom teaching.  There's nothing new about Powerpoints: The teacher sitting at a computer clicking his way through slides and lecturing. Up till now this has been a cumbersome process, carrying laptops to the venue, fiddling around with cables, and then having to sit static and click to go through the whole process. So you can imagine how great it was to simply put some Powerpoints on my ipad, link it up to a projector in 10 seconds flat, and then link my iphone wirelessly via Bluetooth to the ipad using the phone as a remote device. So now I can actually walk around the room, stand near the quieter students, look up the slides on my phone screen ,and, with a flick of my finger, up they pop on the big screen. Bloody marvelous.

The ramifications are huge. Not only does it have a certain "WOW" factor. It is also incredibly timesaving. The more time you spend with your back to the class writing on the board, the more actual teaching time is wasted. It makes explaining complicated games or activities so much easier too. A picture does indeed paint a thousand words. I think this week has seen an irrevocable change in how I will teach when given access to a projector. I'll be putting a lot of bits and pieces together in the coming months. No, I won't be going Powerpoint crazy cos that can easily get boring or too lecture like. But, using this remote technology as intros into monitoring "on the ground" activities, it'll prove an absolute marvel. YAY.

I'm about to fall off my perch with all the extras I've taken on these past 10 days. It's a shame I've so much to do on Monday to prepare to travel home. All things considered I'd rather stay in bed and sleep. At least I'll have a nice cheque waiting for me when I get back.

A propos, as I'm travelling back next Thursday , it's unlikely I'll be blogging this side of the Easter weekend. I hate to disappoint all my avid subscribers, but that is indeed the way the cookie doth crumble.

 

Hi there, (23/3/12)

All over the world in almost every train station, underground, airport, bus station,  well, pretty much anywhere, you'll see the ubiquitous warning signs/symbols communicating 'no smoking " , 'No food or drink", perhaps even in gobbing cultures like say, China, "No spitting".

How many of you hand on heart can say they've ever seen a "No Balloons" sign emblazoned everywhere? 

Fact is, for those with a keen eye, there are clearly posted 'no balloons" warnings prior to the ticket barriers in most Skytrain stations throughout Bangkok. ..Why? I hear you ask. I've asked myself this question too. Is it perhaps that Hydrogen is a cheaper option to helium in Thailand and these seemingly innocuous rubber bubbles have the propensity to go BADDABOOM like a mini Hindenburg at the merest hint of a vagrant spark? Or is perhaps that balloons in a cramped train compartment are a nuisance? Though admittedly no more of a nuisance than those backpacker idiots who refuse to take off their tight swollen " look-at-me-I'm-going-round-the-world" 80 litre backpacks when boarding from the airport link station at Phaya Thai and consequently send people behind them flying every time they turn to address one another. Or indeed are balloons more of a nuisance than those mirrorshaded, neoprene and Velcro fingerless gloved utter KNOBENDS who bring their mountain bikes on board during the weekday rush hour?

Balloons it seems, are public enemy number one on a Bangkok Skytrain. And now, relays are clicking, fibreoptics are a-humming, thumbs are feverishly BBing , the local Thai forums are positively awash with chatter concerning the much videophoned Skytrain incident last week…

It seems a farang computer technology teacher boarded a train festooned with balloons at Surasak with his male friend , his wife, and his daughter. He got off at Phrom Phrong and, so the story goes, went to a kids party. When he returned and tried to go back through the barrier with the self same balloons (including, by now, a rather fetching pink foil "flying camel" one), he was stopped by a guard and directed to the appropriate signage on the wall….

What happened next is unclear. The dude obviously argued the toss (instead of going in a taxi that probably would have cost the same money for all 4 of them) and ended getting smacked in the head by the guards telescopic baton. Videophones record the aftermath of this fracas as the man stubbornly and quite bullheadedly tries to force his way through the barrier, blood streaming down his face, kicking and booting the ever growing crowd of station personnel that turn up to dissuade him from using the service.

Of the pink foil camel, there is by now no sign, an innocent victim of the fracas…

Apparently the guy tried to get his freaked out friend and family up the stairs to the platform whilst being held back by this self same pal from kicking out at the gathering station staff. Also, apparently once upstairs, he found the train was halted indefinitely until he finally alighted and he and his straggling set of remaining pink balloons left the station.

 Thai opinion would appear to be quite weighted in favour of the farang. But to other long term farangs like me in Bangkok, we just can't quite take his side. Of course, nobody deserves a baton in the face over such a "crime", but there are 2 sides to every story. Time and time again I've seen farangs, especially men, succumb to a meltdown induced by a kind of Bangkok fever , usually around the year 5 mark. They almost always end up as loud disgruntled, unpleasant, opinionated malcontents, complaining about every facet of Thai life and culture to anyone who'll listen. These malcontents are often extremely embittered and sour sorts who, as it happens, more often than not, drink a lot too…To be studiously avoided at all costs.

I've seen men thrown in jail, lose their livelihood here , (and consequently their family) and be summarily deported over a minor fracas ensuing from an overdue 400 quid. I've seen malcontents busted from head of department or director of studies jobs because they ignored the chain of command and wrote their strongly worded missives "to improve things" directly to the Dean.

I'm not saying you should be a sheep. But for the love of , er, whoever, you gotta be aware of where you are living at all times. Station security guards have a very strong remit. If the sign says "No Balloons" then they can easily lose their job if they are seen to not follow orders. I'm certain whoever was on duty as Surasak station that day will be hauled over the coals for his part in allowing the initial journey. These guards are drilled and are often briefed publically on parade like soldiers. They have long hard days in the sun and the noise . In general, I think they do their jobs very well, if often perfunctorily. As I've said time and time again, things work differently in Southeast Asia and Bangkok. Don't be fooled by the shiny buildings, giant advert screens, and flashing neon lights, this place has about as much in common with a western capital city as an old Dodge City saloon bar has with a Monte Carlo Casino. The westerners who forget that and continually push their value systems on locals, no matter what, are invariably the ones who come croppers here.

I for one will be very surprised if this farang teacher retains his job when the new school year starts in May. He'll doubtlessly be quietly "let go", his contract not renewed due to alleged 'budgetary constraints". ..But you just know the school "Big Hair Ladies" won't tolerate any negative press garnered from the actions of any of their employees…This guy's viral video "donkey kicking" of public officials, whatever the provocation, should be sufficient to ensure his contract gets terminated….

 

So I mothballed the branch school at Sam Yan last weekend and am now back in the HQ hub seeing to things. It'll be nice to be back for the whole Saturday, especially as I only have one class on the weekend now. It'll give me more time to focus on the managing and training side of the job for a while. A welcome change really.

This weekend it'll be exactly 11 years since Go International started. I've been with them for 7 and managed for 6, so I guess I've played a significant in their "success" story. And yet all good things must come to an end apparently. We had a solitary monk in this morning to bless us and the premises, nothing like getting holy water flicked at you from 5 metres away by the business end of a broomstick.

Actually, we had a full set of 9 chanting monks exactly 1 year ago to mark our auspicious 10 th anniversary and bless us for future success.

Well that worked out well didn't it?

So it all starts with a new school round, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the old, a cram packed schedule of day and night teaching this week, assorted day to day gubbins, and two important meetings, will keep me running right through till 1stof April. I'm sure I'll be about ready to drop by the time I board a plane for Blighty.

Those of you who want to meet up whilst I'm about had best start getting in touch via fb or email so I can try and put a bit of a schedule together. I'm really not going to try and do as much as last year, so my time in the both city's will be limited.

I'm looking forward to some seasonal Spring weather, as every year at this time, it's getting silly hot here.

 

Hi there, (16/3/12)

Bangkok can often be viewed as a city that promises much and yet sometimes seems to offer so little.

Decent bands almost never include a gig here on their tour programme: there are practically no significant art exhibitions or month long cultural events beyond the meagre offerings of the likes of the Goethe Institute, Alliance Francais, AUA and the British Council. Even those often seem ever so slightly staid and elitist. Wouldn't it be great just once to have some anti establishmentenfant terribleartist come and shake the sensibilities of the populace, rather than rely on a visiting pianist "do" a bit of Brahms or Chopin for the politico Hiso glitterati.

Theatre is not much better. Yeah you can get to see a travelling production of the Lion King or perhaps Disney on Ice, even Mamma Mia, but how great would it have been if the Royal Shakespeare Company  had hopped on a plane from their recent Singapore gig and done a three night run here? Nope, they never do. I understand the need for making a profit, but surely to goodness if Thailand is going to get its act together for the impending ASEAN economic community they're going to have to open their hearts and minds on a whole new cultural level. Even if they don't fully understand it . That's how we learn.

This involves bringing it to the people.All the people- To everyone in whatever form: spoken, aural, visual. Yet for example The Ministry of Education on a whim has suddenly JUST decided to blow its training budget in one fell swoop: It is seeking to send/subsidise thousands of Thai English Teachers away abroad to foreign English speaking countries for their summer holidays. They go next month apparently. You can only imagine the chaos that is now ensuing. I can see in my minds eye the poor school administrator grasping sheaves of documents pushing eager teachers into line for their embassy visa interview. Nightmare.

I've been learning lots about the Thai psyche in my time here. I can clearly see some of the fundamental challenges that lie before them as their borders get flung open in 2015. If you've never been conquered or colonized its very easy to have a strong streak of underlying xenophobia in the makeup of your national identity. The British have it. We call it the "Bulldog spirit". Extremists like the English Defence League capitalize on it. Right wing political factions manipulate it, Americans justify war with it, Argentinians claim real estate with it. Jingoism is soo last century. It should have died right there along with the handlebar moustachioed officers who "went over the top" blowing their little tin whistles, service revolvers in hand, way back in 1918.

Of course the chasm between the people of Bangkok and the rural dwellers is massive. Class divides are as clearly marked as they are insidiously patrolled and maintained. We've seen the face of this underlying class war only very recently. It's endemic, only last weekend I chatted with the son of one of my colleagues. He's a very nice little boy, gentle, bright and kind of spirit. Yet suddenly he blurts out something very negative about someone in his class based on the colour of their skin. He certainly was never ever taught this in his home environment. Nope, like every other child in the city, his peers and a populace obsessed with skin whitening products and social status have drilled and brainwashed him into making an automatic mental connection between people of dark skin, their class and origin, and their propensity to sneak thief at the first opportunity.

I can see why his dad is very eager to get him into a decent high school here. Not as easy as it sounds. Backhanders, entrance exams, and character references are order of the day. And funnily enough, just like job applications for adults here, the application form includes a section on the education and work history of your parents. Presumably, if you marry a poor country lass from up north who only ever had a primary school education this will actually count against your child when he or she applies for a decent secondary school…even if he/she aces the entrance exam.

Yeah Bangkok has a ways to go before it can take its place amongst the cosmopolitan cities of the East. Fancy buildings, world class shopping and cuisine do not a cosmopolitan city make.

 Again, It depends what actually floats your boat I suppose: You can shop, eat, drink, dance, and screw till you drop. At a price of course.. But beyond that, there's actually very little to do. Especially if you live here . I think of all the gigs, exhibitions, performances, and events I used to go to in Glasgow, a city 1/20thof the size of here. The irony is there's no lack of venues, it's just that they're all underutilized or geared to profit making. Perhaps in part it's to do with the private/public funding partnerships that get things built round here. Everything has to make a profit. I'm sure there is a successful formula for non profit based cultural exchanges and events I've often wondered why the ministry of Tourism and Sport isn't 2 separate entities. On the face of it they seem to have radically different objectives.

Another thing about living here as a single man of 46 is how difficult it is to meet decent women . You won't find them in bars. You're on a hiding to nothing there. You can't go chatting people up in supermarkets, (I was never that bold anyway). You might find them online (but again that's quite unlikely). There all sorts of undesirables out there in cyberspace online mixed in with a large dollop of flaky waffy sorts who don't even know why they signed up other than they like the attention.

I miss being in a relationship. I'm probably a better person when I'm sharing my life. Not so introverted, not so preoccupied with the human condition. I seem to have too much time on my hands alone at home letting my mind wander on to the plains of sadness, this high plain tundra that rolls and stretches on featureless for as far as the mind's eye can see. I need to be careful and often remind myself not to get lost in this mental wilderness. I actively fight against it and hatch new initiatives, plan new ways to shrug off the feelings. ..

And yet like a well made boomerang thought lost, these sad thoughts keep flying back and walloping me in the back of my head when I least expect them.

Somebody suggested I might go to church. There are loads of good girls there apparently. Somehow I feel this might mean too much of a knee jerk reaction in the opposite direction. It's not a "good girl" I'm looking for in that sense of the word. It's a normal one with all the passion and the flaws too, someone I can wholly and completely co-exist with inrelativeharmony. Anyways, I've always been secretly terrified of wholesomeness.

A final observation on the subject of "love": Nobody was more surprised than I when I started checking out star signs amongst the scant information on the individual dating website profiles. I used to smile inwardly when I overheard obvious first date couples talking star signs. Now I find I'm actively researching possible profiles using star signs as a major criteria too. My internet research has led me to believe that as an Aquarius man I should firstly be looking at Librans, Geminis and other Aquarians. These cyberspace astrology oracles are also quick to offer up ifs and buts and general warnings on each coupling, but over the score that's apparently the direction in which I should be heading.

Signs to avoid like the plague: Cancer, Leo, and Capricorn.

Unless of course you amateur astrologers out there know different…...

And no, I'm not waiting until Saturn or Mars is in assention, or that a retrograding Venus bodes well.

I really don't think I have the time. Look what happened to the Mayans…LOL

 

Hi there, (09/3/12)

There's an ATM machine 1 minute's walk from where I usually overnight in Pattaya . As it is directly outside a supermarket, there is also a very large and well stocked tourist pamphlet display at least 2x1 metres holding at least 60 different flyers….

Every single one was in Russian!

Yeah I know, I'd previously mentioned that Pattaya had become "Little Odessa", but after an absence of 2 years of holidaying there, I was genuinely stunned at the sheer scale of it. It's like any and every other visiting nationality suddenly doesn't exist in the local business owner eyes. Menus in Russian, souvenir shops festooned with Cyrillic script, huge signs, assorted shop buntings and advertisement hoardings only in Russian…. A sudden parallel universe? Weird central!!!

Funnily enough, the Peace Resort where we stayed seemed to have a majority of Germans and Dutch. This was in some way quite comforting, especially when you took in to account that at an average age of 47, the three of us were the youngest there by about 2 decades!! Haha. It's hard not to look at these pot bellied 70 something old men with skin the colour of off licence brown paper bags with an overabundance of facial hair and ponder your old age. One thing I can here and now definitively say is that I'll never be investing in a pair of ridiculously skimpy Speedo swimming briefs ever ever again. EVEN if , by dint of some unlikely near terminal case of cholera or typhoid, I ever manage to get remotely slim again… ;). Goodness only knows the others laughed at my hoody tank top (I use it for daytime tennis and polside only -honest!).

Yes indeed, slightly podgy middle aged men have a number of choices to make during the receeding hairline years of transition. You can dress in the trends and brands of a teenager and look plain stupid: you can get stuck in a time warp and wear the trends and brands of your youth, but that's perhaps even uncooler: You can go the checked shirt, olive and khaki chinos with loafers "city adventurer" route and look vaguely generic (possibly like me); or you can just not give a toss, wear all manner of bead necklaces and charity bracelets, shave off all your body hair and walk around in nothing sturdier than some ancient stained t shirt, frayed shorts, a pair of battered Nike trainers. Pattaya , perhaps more than any other place in Thailand, is full of these "Gone Troppo" semi-retirees…they are easy to spot: They're the ones who have beer with their full English breakfast, sit alone in darkened theme pubs intently reading the latest English newspapers cover to cover. They generally seem to strive to fritter their long pensionable days away in some offhand way, until the welcome distraction of the barfly nights. Personally, without a doubt one of the unexpected joys of a trip down there is to read the local English newspapers and tourism periodicals just for the problem pages and, ahem, "poetry" corners that such individuals contribute to dull the pangs of boredom…indeed,  Too much time on your hands with nothing to do but drink and pointlessly fritter must slowly stultify, a creeping malaise that settles unnoticed upon your psyche, growing tumor like, a calcifying mental stalactite silently and inexorably taking over your consciousness, until one day, you suddenly find it difficult to remember what day it actually is amidst the suddenly colourless days of stark equatorial sunshine. Gone "troppo" indeed!

I'm not in a hurry to get old, but time seems in an ever accelerating hurry to get me old.

Despite my observations above, I enjoyed my 2 nights there. Yeah sure, I ate too much, drank too much, slept too little. But it was lovely to feel the hot sea breeze ruffle your hair as you walked along the seafront boulevard of an afternoon. It's become quite an upmarket place really, (despite the ever present sex tourism facilities down the side streets). The beach front was awash with new build hotels, modernist attempts at architecture, and plush eateries and bistros shoulder to shoulder. All in all a far cry from the Pattaya I first visited almost 7 years ago. I'm aware I'm still a newbie in comparison to most of my colleagues, but I like to think I still managed to get here at the very tail end of what many long term ex pats might describe as a "golden era". Even in 7 short years, the world has become a much smaller place. The sheer level of investment in the tourism infrastructure is staggering. I managed to see a little bit of the Vietnam war era of Thailand and Bangkok back then . Indeed ,some of it is still here and there in pockets if you know where to look. But mostly it has been sanitized, homogenized, and packaged into some kind of parody of what Thai people might think we foreign visitors actually want. I can see the writing on the wall for places like Pattaya or Patpong Market in Bangkok....irresistible forces meeting not so immovable objects. You can't stand in the way of progress, there are far too many influential and powerful people here with an obvious and financially based, vested interest in the future.

Whilst it is not often readily reported, Dengue fever is really quite rife in Bangkok. Unlike Malaria, there are no medicines you can effectively take to avoid it. The mega hot weather following the recent floods have most certainly led to a general rise in mosquito numbers. And this year in particular they're really quite aggressive. It's the day flying/biting ones that carry Dengue fever apparently. A good friend of mine finally admitted himself to hospital after days of bad fever. Known locally as the 'Bonebreaker" fever Dengue is apparently a pretty damn unpleasant experience . What I didn't previously know is that his blood is being regularly monitored with a view to a possible blood transfusion! He's apparently still on the critical list on that front. AND he's being regularly x-rayed for signs of internal bleeding… Poor sod! like I said nasty business this Dengue fever.

More work seems to be piling up in front of me this month. Its feast and famine sometimes in teaching. But it was nice to get an offer from out of the blue to do some work on my days off.

It'll be a bit sad this week as I start mothballing the school that I've been running across the other side of campus these last few years. Next Saturday sees the end of this particular round of classes and operations will be concentrated at the HQ in Siam Square.

Still , we've all got to move forward these days don't we?

 "Innovate or Die" the new Battle cry!

BOO-YAH!

 

Hi there, (02/3/12)

In case I had somehow forgotten it by the tone of my recent blogs. I had a good lesson this week in reminding me how generally sweet, kind, humble and plain nice, your average honest hard working Thai person is.

I was asked to go up to Kasetsart University this week and deliver a Business English speaking course to some civil servants from the Rice Department of Thailand.

It turns out they'd come from all over to participate in the 5 day intensive course:From Loei in the far north, to Nakhon si Tammarat in the south. From Kanchanaburi in the West, to Chantiburi in the east.

What struck me about this class, apart from their impeccable manners and friendliness towards me and to one another, was simply their enthusiasm to participate. I sometimes find myself frustrated at my inability to ignite the spark of interest and learning amongst a certain one of my weekend Teen classes. Yet here I am doing many of the same kind of activities to a joyous, willing group of Civil servants who are really applying themselves and seemingly getting so much out of the learning process in terms of confidence and using the tools to express themselves . Of course much of this has to do with the idea that as most probably life long civil servants in the field of rice production, supply, research and storage, they are probably gagging for something new to turn up in their jobs. A junket out of town so to speak .

The course was up at Kasetsart University in the north. I'd never been there before and it was a bit of an eye opener. "Kaset" in Thai means agriculture, so this university has a lot of government agricultural institutions and agencies amidst this enormous walled campus. The place was huge. Almost a self contained town within the city . I don't ever recall ever seeing a campus quite like it. I think it might be quite a nice place to study: very roomy, peaceful, quite leafy with lots of shady spots with tables under trees adorned with hanging vines, and lots of nice sport facilities dotted around. You could putt putt round on a scooter from class to class and really enjoy your time there I reckon.

 Actually, as it happens, I've just been asked by an old contact to do a 6 hour refresher English course to a group of similar agricultural Civil servants. They need a spit and polish before embarking on a presentation course on their particular specialty for ASEAN. Designing and delivering such a course on one of my days off would be really fantastic. I hope it comes off…

Everyone is starting to complain about the heat now It's getting pretty damn hot. I made an interesting discovery this week. It's actually better to be outside in the baking heat, than be inside a room with faulty air-con at this time of year. It's so warm outside, the humidity factor is actually very low. Inside the faulty air con classrooms, it is incredibly muggy as they just process around the same damp air. I've been chugging down at least a litre of water every three hours whilst teaching this week. I get home before sundown and immediately go for a jump in the pool. Trouble is, the pool is like bathwater and it's really hard to feel properly refreshed if you start to do lots of lengths. Personally I like my swimming water a teensy bit on the fresh side. I know I know, I shouldn't bitch or complain…Those of you standing in the freezing sleet and cutting wind of a European Winter would probably give your eye teeth for a day of tropical heat and a sparkly shimmery pool to dive into! LOL.

I tried my hand at night tennis this week with Lee and his mate Ben. It's really quite difficult. Despite the halogen lights and the flourescent yellow balls, it's very hard to see the ball when it comes fizzing off the green hard court. But it was mercifully cooler than playing at 10am with Bruce. In fact, I've had to buy a light speedo hoody tanktop thingy to cover my head and neck whilst playing. A baseball cap just didn't cover the back of my neck well enough (hence the almost sunstroke incident a week or 2 ago). Despite my rather odd look on court, (yes I wear a bandanna too!), it works really well. And, as it happens, many of the locals are currently scarfing themselves up in very a similar way LOL! In fact I just saw another speedo hoody on an online sale site and bought it too. It'd be great to play twice a week.

I'm finally getting out of town for a couple of nights next week. I'm really looking forward to a chill out with a good book by the resort pool over the day and a few beers out and about with the guys of an evening. Can't wait. I'm also slowly getting plans together for returning to Scotland. It looks like I'll be in Glasgow 6,7,8, of April. So I'm ready to start arranging meet ups, and crash out opportunities for those of you in a position to offer, though I know many of you might be preoccupied with Easter weekend. 

I'm still getting daily "interest" for all manner of desperados, wolves in sheep's clothing, jobbing hookers, chancers, and of course assorted semi-jailbait on that dating website I was mentioning last week. I'm just about ready to shut it off. I'm sure for some lonely hearts out there it's the screening answer to all their fears, insecurities, and assorted social ineptitudes, but I really don't want to talk or chat with ANY of those who would talk with me. Above all, it remains a mystery why someone 800 km away would think that I'd be interested. Thank goodness I used a junk email account as I'm getting heaps and heaps of "interest" enquiries from these sad souls every day. Who'd have thought finding love was so difficult? No indeed, I shall just have to widen my social circle in order to participate in the dating game on my terms.

Not much news or keen observations on Bangkok or Thailand this week I'm afraid. I've been too busy to stop and ponder things in their cosmic context. But for a while, just for a while, peace appears to reign in the city and there is a sense of balance. Perhaps this is in readiness for the Holy Macha Bucha day next week.

I hope the usual holy day alcohol sale ban doesn't stretch to the beach resort I'm going to…J

  

Hi there, (24/2/12)

"O would some power giftie gie us, tae see ourselves as others see us" (To a Louse by Robert Burns).

There's this, ahem, zebra crossing quite near where I work. No lights or anything, an occasional guard from the nearby mall stands in attendance, unnecessarily (and very shrilly) abusing his standard issue pea whistle with random precision. He waves the traffic through until he deems enough people are waiting patiently before stepping out and letting forth a peep allowing people to cross. A Thai "lollipop man" without the lollipop if you like.

He's not always there however, especially in the mornings. So it's all a bit of a free for all as to whom actually has right of way upon these black and white stripes. Personally I tend to step out, (not directly in front of anything moving rapidly mind) in a perhaps slightly forceful manner whilst warily watching the traffic. It is after all technically a zebra crossing innit? There surely has to be some acknowledgement from even the most impatient spacially challenged "Chelsea tractor" driving big hair lady on the phone surely?

This is where a farang like myself continues to make the same mistake over and over in Thailand. You cannot, repeat cannot, transplant pretty much any standards, protocols, logical safety measures, international traffic rules and the suchlike,to a culture like this. They neither truly get it, nor are most Thais likely to even genuinely see the need for it. So what if a man stringing up a new power cable overhead walks tightrope from post to post on the other cables "monkey bridge" style without any harness? So what if condo painters shimmy up and down buildings on stringy knotted bosuns chairs looking not dissimilar to a jury rigged garden swing? Which is why 13,260 people died of road related deaths in 2010 . It's not just the motorists, it's the pedestrians who arbitrarily decide to cross major expressways and dual carriageways cos they simply can't be arsed walking an extra hundred metres to the footbridge.

Which is why I was quite mystified about the behavior of a British council employee from the office downstairs a couple of weeks back. He crossed this zebra crossing nearby (probably presuming the taxi was gonna stop) and when it did finally squeal to halt a fannyhair away from hitting him, the farang proceeded to pull the taxi driver out of the cab and start thumping him.

Anywhere else, and I mean anywhere else in Bangkok, this would have resulted in a blink-of-the- eye instant lynchmob posse of Thai men forming and beating the shit out of the westerner. I've seen it happen. You never, ever, lay hands on a local here no matter what the provocation. To do so is to open yourself up to a world of shit on so many different levels…and that includes the bureaucratic aftermath on your release from hospital…

Which got me back to thinking about this farang . Had he been so stupefied into the cultural superiority brainwashing that is the British Council abroad that he thought he could do this with complete impunity? Surely a bit of a glare and a gesture to the black and white shapes on the road might have sufficed? Dickhead behavior like that from our ex-pat peers here puts us all in a bad light. I can accept I will always be on an outsider here, but that can still make for a comfortable and fulfilling existence. There may be challenging etiquette ahead, especially if my role may possibly integrate me further into the university structure. But I will always make the correct deferential tones when and if it is required…..

William Boyd in my favourite book of all time, The New Confessions once wrote:

 "The last thing you ever learn about yourself is your effect on other people."

It's a variation on the theme above, yet it has far more personal overtones. Finding myself newly reacquainted with singledom I'm chagrined to discover myself somehow scrabbling around trying clarify a number of things on this topic. Like any human being, some lives I've touched, some I've entertained, some I've marred, some I've annoyed, some I've hurt, some I've improved. The list goes on. I'm struggling to find value in the things I do, the person I am, and yet so little appears presently apparent.

This isn't some sort of introspective deathbed confession. It's more about trying to be honest with yourself . Like I mentioned, I've taken a good look into an online dating site. I'm sure some people go into this specifically with the intention of being gratified by the attention they might garner from online suitors. The reality is that there is a legion of desperately sad, lonely, ageing, hopelessly lost women out there dangling their hook in the vast cybersea waiting for a bite. If your mental image of yourself is of a bright, charming, kind, vibrant twentysomething, the sort of enquiries you might garner comes as a bit of a shock to your real 46 year old persona. Thank you Nan divorcee farmer in Nong Khai with 2 kids and a addiction to beetlenut, but I'll pass. As for you 19 year old widow Amy, factory worker in Khonkaen with a one year old child and a primary school diploma, but I don't think I'll be visiting soon.

Then of course there are the scammers, the hookers, the passport hunters, the ladyboys posing as women, the gold digging partygirls, and of course ,the egotists.

 In this lovelorn Cybersea, these are the souls that make up the teeming shoals that run deep, far out in the ocean in dangerous predator patrolled waters, so very far away from solid ground. ..And most importantly, far away from hope.

This is not a place I'd choose to be for long. But then again, I have more choice than they and believe I don't necessarily need "love" to define myself as a valuable human being at this point in my life.

At least that's what I'm telling myself. :-)

  

 

Hi there, (16/2/12)

So a wee slice of terrorism hit the sunny streets of Sukumvit 71 this week. In what was probably the worst trained and prepared terrorist cell of modern times, one escaped to Malaysia, one was apprehended at the airport, and one managed to blow his legs off amidst what can only be described as farce like incompetence.!

So what happened?

A bomb blew up in an apartment. Presumably whilst the three were in the manufacturing phase . They panicked, grabbed what they could, and rushed out into the street. At this point, one of them tried to hail a taxi. When it didn't stop , he simply lobbed a bomb at it and blew it up (driver escaped unhurt). Two then fled off. The third , on seeing a running policeman bearing down on him, threw a third bomb , which bounced back off a tree in front of him and effectively detonated beside him, blowing his legs off (one of which landed in a schoolyard!).

So why are Iranian nationals hanging around a peaceable city like Bangkok to wreak their idiosyncratic brand of terror? Support for the three 3 Muslim provinces in the south fighting their own war for independence? Nope. They are apparently looking for some random Israelis to individually take out in revenge for something or other. It seems that Thailand is a wee bitty lax on the border security front. To their partial credit, the authorities did warn that terrorist activities were a threat the capital a couple of weeks ago. In fact it seems they had even identified the suspects. But another case of mistaken identity a couple of weeks ago perhaps stayed their hand .

Thailand really doesn't deserve all this constant negative press. It is having a major effect on the economy. Foreign investment has dropped 11% ….no wonder really. Firstly the coup three years back, then the Yellow shirts shut the airport down over Christmas. After that the Red Shirts ground the city centre to a halt for 8 weeks ending in awful bloodshed the following spring. And our course we finished off with devastating floods that wrecked homes and industry in the City environs for hundreds of square kilometers. In fact, the shelves are still out of certain products. Pattaya has turned into New Odessa. Signage is now mostly in Thai and Russian. Apparently TAT (Tourist Authority Thailand) is subsidizing flights from Moscow with free accommodation. Apparently you can get 10 nights and a flight for $300 US! From what I hear, a lot of the old businesses are going bust or seeking cheaper premises. I was never a fan of the place. It was always just a place to catch the sea air and get out of town for a couple of nights nearby. But I gotta admit it holds even less appeal if it now inundated with loads of Russkis. As holidaymakers they are just like the by now famous German tourists of the 70's. Rude, arrogant, argumentative, boozed up , and with a predeliction for violence. Maybe its worth the extra hour to go to Hua Hin.

So the spectre of terrorism rears its head in Bangkok once more. I sympathise with those powers trying to keep one step ahead of it. Thailand has hundreds and hundreds of miles of borders with many different countries, not all of whom it gets along with . There are hundreds of unofficial border crossings, little more than a telegraph pole across the road through which many migrant workers might pass though and return home at night every day without papers. I've even crossed in and out of Burma travelling in a Songthaew from Mae Salong to Tha Thon with little more than a cursory check. It's difficult. Very difficult. I just hope this doesn't end in a knee jerk reaction which will affect all us long term stayers. I have been seeing a lot more police checking people on the street of late…

 

Oscar Wilde once defined a cynic as someone who "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing".

The more I think about this, the more I find it hard to put a value on things in my life. Does this, as a consequence, make me a cynic? I vaguely recall being preoccupied as a student on exactly the same subject many years back when I read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

Perhaps my perceived lack of value of things is because I don't have the things that people in my age demographic seem to put the greatest value on. My life is rich in some ways compared to others and yet in other ways I feel quite poor. 

I've taken a look into online dating sites. Not that I think I'm nearly ready to throw myself back into all the craziness and nonsense of dating and getting to know someone afresh. Especially with all the expectations that long term lonely hearts might have. No I just wanted an idea what was out there. I run in very very small social circles, my chances of meeting someone new and suitable by way of introduction are getting smaller and smaller as I get older. I like to think I'm being pragmatic.

The prognosis ? It's not looking to good….I have a very good friend who is happily in love with someone he met in this manner over 2 years ago. I have another very good friend who grooms them via IM, uses an alias, and pretends to live in Singapore infrequently breezing in for some casual sex with one of his stable of lovelorn hopefuls. He might say I was dong him a disservice in my description of his activities.

But that may be only because I don't appear to know the value of things anymore.J