Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Holes of Thai Roads

These are the things that make your wheel break away nicely in unpredictable direction. Road repair takes forever in Thailand and so, when driving on un-chartered roads you never been before, always watch out for the holes. Drive slow, or let the car behind take over and follow his pace at a distance. He could be more familiar then your irritatingly slow car. Watch him closely and if he goes airborne, brake hard. One fine day, I finally understood why their existence. I saw cows drinking from these water filled holes after the rain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Naga Fireballs

From various sources on the internet:

The Naga fireballs are a phenomenon seen in the Mekong river - in Thailand (Nong Khai province and Isan) and in Laos - in which glowing balls rise from depths. The balls are reddish in colour and about the size of an egg; they rise a couple of hundred meters before disappearing. The number of fireballs is variable, being reported at between tens and thousands per night.

The fireballs have been seen for centuries and are most often reported around the night of Wan Awk Pansa - the end of the Buddhist rains retreat - in October, although displays have also been reported in March, April, May, June and September. It is speculated by Scientist that during particular periods of the year, the full moon will cause methane to be released from the sediments in the river. This rising methane gas upon emerging out form the water then ignites when mixed with the atmosphere resulting in the fireballs witnessed by the public. Mythological beliefs interpret these fireballs as steps for the Buddha to descend from the heavens.

Hmmmm .. very intriguing. I think this October on a full moon night, I will fart in the swimming pool in an attempt to replicate the phenomenon. I want to see if my fart turns into fireball or not. If not I will just make a lot of farting gaseous balls and maybe, just maybe, a passing owl will descend (fall dead) from the sky.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Internet Services in Thailand

Whatever you do, don’t sign up with TOT. TOT is the mafia of telecommunications. They dominate the country with their sub standard and more then expensive Internet services. I would love to have gone with True, faster lines at cheaper price. But unfortunately, their lines do not reach the area which I stayed. This is not like Singapore, wherever you stay you have a choice of all providers, thanks to the first-class nationwide infrastructure superior in all ways to that of backwards Thailand.

The killer tear in your balls is when you pay your bills late. There is simply no way in which you can re-activate your services except to visit their elusive and difficult to locate main offices. If only this was True, their branches would be all over Bangkok and you could just walk in and clear you issues. TOT is as hard as a stubborn piece of shit hardened in the sun. They cannot re-activate your line, or to have your late payment invoiced in the next upcoming bill. They simply cut your lines and say “no-pay-no-line-sorry-na-ka”. As busy businessmen traveling lots and mostly not home to pay your bills on time, TOT kills you.

And so we have the avenue to go to their web, TOT e-Services they so proudly painted all over their homepage. Then the frustration begins, when the English locale you had chosen keeps switching back to the gibberish Thai characters. I cannot read Thai. And so when you try to pay your unpaid bills online, you will then learn the stubborn hard shit rules applies. The bill is shown, but the payment cannot be made, because you are late! Why in the world did they call it e-Services when it is filled with such a considerable piece of inconvenience? I tell you why. Because it is TOT.

And so I though out of the box, and tried to use their Request-For-Invoice service, hoping the bills will be reset and a new bill sent, so that I can go to the ATM and make the payments. The web site then switched to Thai, and when I clicked on English I was presented with scripting errors. For the love of Buddha, you are a leader in telecommunications and IT, and yet you have crap programmers that never check the web services thoroughly. I tell you why again. Because it is TOT.

TOT, go screw yourselves in the ass the whole lot of you, customer services and all.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hot Springs Beach Resort

I was in paradise, The Hot Spring Resort in Phang Nga. A lesser known paradise north of Phuket but still, stunning beaches and tranquility. The Tsunami of 2004 had devastated her, but she was quickly rebuilt and restored to her former glory. It was not easy to get to this heaven as she was nested deep within the unknown roads of Phang Nga. A destination popular with the Asian crowd I was told, as she was mostly promoted in countries like Japan, Taiwan and China. The Thai holiday makers were scarce in this hidden jewel of idyllic serenity. It is the only resort that has her own natural hot springs, a destination to break stress and detune your busy life to the pace of slow waters gently flowing as run offs by the side of the emerald pool.

It was the mob season and so we read that many tourists had cancelled their travel plans Most of the hotels in this region and others suffered a huge dip in business. To me, it meant having the whole resort almost to ourselves. A normally packed weekend with only 4 bookings. A normally packed season with less then 10% occupancy rate. How else was I able to take those pictures with so little people in it? The normal buffet breakfast had to be turned a la cart style. The restaurant by the beach was closed for economic reasons. It was peace to our benefit. I see it as a small stroke of luck. The loud chats and proud talks of Chinamen were absent.

Almost all resorts in Thailand will exhibit their own special spa courses. The experiences vary and I would call them a good con for most. These so-called spas normally can be interpreted as ultra expensive massages fifteen times the price of a good two hour rub in the normal massage parlous of Bangkok, at a quarter of the expected skill set. But here, I finally found the difference. We had thirty minutes to ourselves in the hot therapeutic pool, bits and pieces of aromatic drifty bits in the water. With our energy sapped out by the warmth and our spirit drowsed down into a lethargic cloud of drowsy soul, we laid on the massage beds and enjoyed one and half hours of exceptional rubs, twist and squeezes. It was poles apart form the con type spas I had in the other so called resorts. You just gotta try it. The sleep on the night of the spa felt like I had never slept in years. The morning after the energy I had was fresh like the first rays of sun. Superb.

The jetty that led to the promised beach was there. The beach that was supposed to be was not. The jetty ended abruptly and so we asked. The season had been strange after the tsunami years. The storms had been odd. They washed the sands away overnight, the beach that once was had gone. But on some good seasons the sands accumulate, and the promised beach was there. A grand wedding party was recently held, the newly weds walked the sands that were present. The owner had wanted to show me the photos just to convince me there really was a beach.

It was a bad season, it was bad business. It was Thais killing their own business which was yet another trait of never thinking of consequences. As you work with Thais you will know by majority count that they have the inherent attribute of short foresight. This season the mannerism exhibited on a grand scale. This is why we have mostly foreigners filling critical positions in most companies. We try our best to pass down the proficiency of envision. I am teaching, they are learning, but however most are not. It was a great holiday nevertheless.

Full photo set at cllim.com under Phang Nga Sep 2008.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

TT Money Thai to Singapore

Yet another case I will write about on one of the numerous extra pointless manners in which foreigners like us are exclusively handled in Thailand. In this modern era where customer satisfaction is priority of all practices, banks in Thailand had taken that extra step back just to make matters more challenging for us. I had been occasionally transferring my money to Singapore just so as to pay my card bills. Reason being it is almost impossible for foreigners to enjoy the privilege of credit cards issued in this cumbersome Kingdom. I can live with that.

Just then, as I just tried to do the TT, in addition to showing my passport, I was asked to show my employment letter, my work permit and my pay slip! The volcano in me erupted and I fired away to demand an explanation. Banker informed me that this is a new regulation for Thailand is in fear that we foreigners are transferring the Kingdom’s money out disrupting the economy. We need to proof we are drawing legal salary and it is this legal salary that we are transferring out. Hello! Does my face looks square and is my sir name Shinawatra?? I explained that the target account is in my own name. It is my own money for my own use. It was a fruitless argument as the buffalo rules must be adhered to.

Great! Life in Thailand has now up a notch in ludicrousity. Remember to have all those document guys, the next time you want to TT. I almost wanted to shout in Hokkien very loud: K.N.N.B.C.C.B.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Eating in Phuket, I found Rawai

So where do we eat in Phuket? As tourist, we stay in Patong we eat in Patong. We stay in Kata, we eat in Kata. And all those eatery almost always have their prices blown out of proportion for they are tuned to the pockets of the farangs. Could we then really get the local food there? No. All the restaurants had been made up-scaled and even the Thai food are just that little bit adjusted to the taste of the farangs.

Here’s a tip, firstly, on tour, must rent car. No car, no real holiday. We drove around the island, found this Rawai beach (southern tip of Phuket). Been to Phuket so many times and never knew this beach existed. Affordable looking eating joints were a plenty overlooking the sea. I knew it was local when I saw Thais on every table. Thais naturally are Thais and knows where to spend their money. They will not usually eat in restaurants targeting farangs. One of the strange highlights of Rawai was that, on most tables, I saw there were a farang or two, eating in the company of a number of “sexy” girls. I guess that’s where Phuket “girlfriends” brings tourist “boyfriends” to when asked for “bring me some place local, I hungry” after the night of “I love you honey, sick at home my mommy, give me some money”.

The food was really local I could tell, as I found out that their Tom Yam soup really tasted very different from that in Bangkok. They put in a different kind of spice, and all the taste I was so used to for the regular dishes I ordered, just tasted that slightly different. Whatever you order, don’t go for the Seabass (Pla Kapong), it tasted muddy. I assumed they do not have sea farmed Seabass and instead catch them from the local mangroves. It was the worst fish I ever ate in years.

And whatever different spices the southern kingdom used, it made me able to kill the nearby dog just by farting. It is interesting to note, Thailand is so big, food in each region have their own localized flavors, name of dish the same. Kill radius of fart differs.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What u can get for SGD$ 3.2 Million

Two of these in one big plot of land (outside Bangkok). One for your brother and one for yourself.

Your very own resort style outdoor dining area by the pond.

Your very own little bridge across your personal pond.

And a whole assortment of water features.

Thailand, where a Singaporean’s dream comes true. Ofcoz.. its not mine. But imagine if you have a 4 million property in Singapore, one of those small properties in an upscale district. Sell all out, bring your money here and you could build your own castle.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thai No Speak English

Yet another frustrating day almost vomiting blood just interacting in simple conversation with an insurance based car workshop. Called up the workshop and they asked what insurance company am I covered under. Naturally not being able to read the Thai company name, I answered the company name in English. They say no they don’t deal with me because they do not cover this company that I spoke. And so frustratingly we argued over the phone till I had to be physically there to show them my insurance slip and the imbeciles then recognized my claim.

And so the following day after I sent in my car, they called me and requested me to fax the driving license to them. And so I asked in Thai who to “attention” to, with the word attention in English as I do not know that word in Thai. The other end kept quite.. and repeated the fax number. After I asked them two more times who to attention to, they cut my line.

Yes, Thailand, no speaking English. And if they don’t understand you, instead of trying to understand, they cut your line and hope to leave you to another operator to handle you on your already furious state. The daily frustrations we foreigners encounter till tear balls point. No matter it be talking about getting that cable for your home, the bill payments for your mobile, the ordering of KFC even, we tear our crouch each time we try to hold a simple conversation with the Thais. We tried our best picked up their language, they tried their best to just cut us off.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Traffic Lights of Thailand

Again another example of – it is assumed that all foreigners have some extraordinary abilities to somehow read Thai. What the sign says? Turn left on green? Wait for green to turn left? Cannot turn left? The turn left light is on the floor? What??? Something quite sure is, turn left blur blur and pay the police. The police will tell you the answer.

Ok.. I share.. signs like these means, wait for green to turn left. If this sign is not present, I think you can turn left without waiting. Or, turn left right center u-turn anyway at any junction you want, traffic rules don’t really exist here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Swarm Bangkok

It was unruly. The traffic all built up causing a massive jam. It took forever for me to make that u-turn. It was just 10 am on a Sunday morning but already the traffic was crazy. It was abnormal. People came by the thousands, the walkways all crammed up. It was utter disorder. People who are tried sat on the floor, everywhere. Shouting, loud talking, turmoil, confusion, madness. Mob.. demonstration on the streets, anti-government movements?

No. it was The13th Discovery Thailand & Discovery World 2008. Yah… and Bangkok was supposed to be in disarray. Bangkok was supposed to be dangerous, all tourism business affected as reported in the news. But the crowds were still snapping up the good offers in the so many luxurious resorts across the Kingdom. Who’s missing out? Only the foreigners.

On a weekend in Singapore we can only have a good ridiculously expensive five or so resorts to spend a good night away from home. I… bored like f forever. On a weekend in Thailand, I have more then EIGHT HUNDRED resorts that I can choose to drive to and spend a good cheap night away from home. I… holiday forever.

Ridiculous jam early in the morning 10 am, people all loaded to spend their money.

Worst inside where it was extremely crowded.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Yellow Color Red Color

This is funny…. from The Nation newspapers, 3rd Sept 2008.

As more protesters poured into Government House, where music continued to play and defiant speakers continued to address vociferous crowds, the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej Tuesday morning seemed to have serious effects on only one person - himself.

So, the chaos had been on going for several days. In Thailand, there seems to be a color for everything. Now, anti-government protesters wear yellow, and the pro-government wears red. Guess it would not be a good time to be in your yellow or red outfits. Then how? Paint your face half yellow half red like the football fans. Wear half yellow or half red shirts, or shirts with both yellow and red horizontal stripes. Red underwear and yellow shoes. Bra left side yellow and right side red. Oh yeah and walk the streets to exhibit your neutral thoughts. Either way, either color or multi color, you still did be hit by a brick, set on fire or whacked by sticks. It seems this situation is for the disgruntled Thais to release their stress through violence. When I watched the news and saw the beatings, I simply cannot understand how the crowd decipher the guy in black was on which side. They just whacked and whacked and whacked some more.

Violent behavior, chaos and such, my Malaysian customers on long term work stint had taken their emergency trip back home. Scared again by the reports, but live still goes on for the rest of the country. The violence is localized but the imagination drove the fear. In my office, no one really seems to be worried by the situation. In the shopping center where I eat, everyone is still smiling. And so, why worry?

The union here is powerful, the utilities sector decided to go on “organized leave”. They tend to cut the power and the water, to pressure the prime minister to quit. They seemed tuned to the anti side, and show they will when needed. In retrospect I looked, our NTUC taxi drivers. Disgruntled unhappy and such, their long political talks when you ride. They complained for decades and action none. Such is life in Singapore for such is the way it has to be. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s the way it is enforced to be.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous?

Thailand is the only country where the prime ministers have uncanny facial similarities to characters from Nickelodeon and what not. Thaksin, one look and you think of SpongeBob. Next you would expect his associates to look like Patrick. Lucky, no one had a face like a star. And so Thaksin was overthrown by the military coup and there was no one for a while. And then Thai elected a new prime minister. If for some reason this new Samak were to be in a farm holding a huge steel fork, I bet he look like something out from Journey to the West. Best still if a monk happen to be nearby.

Thailand in Chaos? The news you saw on CNN and papers, oh yes, the mob wants to over throw the prime minister, the police engaged the mob. Injuries and bloodshed a few when the police tried to control the crowd. And then the mob blamed the police for using violence. And so the mob moved in on the police headquarters and demanded the policemen who injured the crowd. All hell broke loose because the mob not happy, the mob grew in size and sprouted up in the other provinces. Then someone with a big idea decided to position the mobs on the runway, forced themselves into the airports they did. They wanted to hit the landing aeroplane's wheel with their face. So Krabi, Hat Yai and Phuket airports closed. Yes, it was true… it was so chaotic, it was a mess. There were the opposing parties, and then the supporting parties. Let them mingle move them close to each other. Let them pacify neutralize or equalize by violence, so the police would not be blamed for causing more injuries. Watch the show from the side lah, then pick up the aftermath without a sweat.

With all the news reported of violence, everyone is in danger. Oh really? So strange that people were still going to pubs, disco and clubs. We all still live everyday as it is. It was the month’s end, salary was out. Thais were still getting drunk on the past weekend, still going for their pop-pop sessions, still going for the karaoke. Chaos? Oh really?

In the tiny Singapore lives we live, we have never encountered a mob. And so we thought the mob equals to the country breaking down. And really it is not so. The news shows and focus, to show only what they wanted to show. If the camera was to turn a 180, you will get to see the traffic still going on slow, the peddlers still are selling and the karaoke girls still are working. The restaurants will all still pack, the holiday resorts on weekends will still full.