Showing posts with label The View from Thailand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The View from Thailand. Show all posts

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The View from Thailand: 5

The View from Thailand

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Canadian Sisters Dead in Thailand

A horrible way to die: two Canadian sisters have been found dead in a hotel room on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. The early indications are that they might have been poisoned. Speculation will run wild as this comes three years after two other tourists were found dead on the same island, only a short distance from where these two young Quebec women met their tragic end.

In Bangkok Filth: The Freaks, Frauds and Failures of the Expat Community, I explore the mysterious and horrible way that far too many expats and tourists die while in Thailand. An excerpt from "Suicide Solution":

The country’s most respected forensic pathologist made a public comment a few years ago regarding the number of “mysterious deaths” that occur in the Kingdom every year. She ranked the number at approximately 1000. These are deaths that are unexplained and largely go uninvestigated by Thai police.
So, on top of the high number of murder victims, there are 1000 deaths deemed completely unworthy of looking  into. Perhaps due to the social status of the departed or the possible murderer. Or maybe the mind-numbing heat plays such havoc with corpses that things go beyond the solvable stage a lot faster than in other parts of the world.
While not the freest press in the world, this news does get reported. But somehow it doesn't resonate outside the country as much as it should. That image doesn't jibe with the experience most people have had while vacationing here. The winsome, ever-smiling Thais with a rich and varied culture are just so darned nice in the short, hazy doses of a two-week vacation. And of course, most Thais are genuinely decent people. Still...
Bangkok Filth: The Freaks, Frauds and Failures of the Expat Community in Thailand

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Renting an Apartment in Bangkok: Advice for Expats

Bangkok is probably one of the easiest places for expats to find apartments to rent. From concrete boxes in the 5000 baht per month range, all the way up to 25, 000 baht and above for serviced, luxury apartments, there is something for every budget and requirement.

This is not a comprehensive guide on how to rent an apartment in Bangkok, nor does it include everything to look out for. Rather, it discusses only one aspect of renting an apartment in Bangkok: the available internet options at an apartment that you may be interested in renting.

Find Out About Available Internet Options

When talking to a potential landlord in Bangkok you can ask one question that will tell you a great deal about the place: If I move in here, can I arrange an internet connection directly with one of the internet service providers in Bangkok (namely True, TOT or 3bb)?

If the answer is no, I strongly advise you not to rent there. Here's why.

If you are unable to arrange an internet connection directly with a service provider, the only probable option is for you to buy a monthly internet card from the apartment building. They will have set up an arrangement through a third party organization. And while that third party no doubt has a deal with one of the major internet providers for the actual internet service, the quality of the wireless connection (and it will only be wireless) will be poor. Sure, you may get some periods where the connection is OK. But at peak periods when everyone in the building is online, the connection will slow to a crawl.

In addition, when the down times occur, you will receive no help from the apartment building. You will be told to phone the third party provider. And guess what they will say? "Try again later."

Not only that, but in all likelihood, you will not be able to access many sites that may be of interest to you, such as torrent sites. The torrent sites as well as the software needed to download the files from the torrents, will be blocked because they are a drag on bandwidth. If you spend a great deal of time online, this could become a very frustrating experience for you.

Finally, when only the in-house internet option is available, it is often an indication of the kind of building in which you could be living. Some apartments in Bangkok are poorly designed and/or attract a certain kind of resident for whatever reason.

Avoid Apartments that Double as Hotels

This could result in low occupancy rates and as a way to make up for this, the building may almost operate as a hotel, with people being able to rent for a few nights, weeks, or months at a time. In this case, the in-house internet option serves those people well. But it also means that the feel of the place will not be as pleasant as it could be for those who want to sign year-long leases. It will also probably mean more noise, because short-timers just don't care nor do they have any sense of the apartment being their home.

It is important to note that some buildings will allow you to set up a connection directly with one of the internet providers as well as having the option of buying an internet card to use with the in-house connection. Fair enough. The monthly card may suit some people. But if that is the only option, steer clear!

I urge you to ask numerous times about this so there is no possibility for the landlord or building owner to later say that he misunderstood. A shameless crook may simply say that, in fact, the connection is with one of the major service providers. The key is that you are able to set-up the connection with them directly, and then pay them directly, and interact with them directly regarding any service issues.

Good luck in your hunt for an apartment in Bangkok!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thailand: The Freedom Not to Tip in Restaurants

empty serving tray
One thing I've always loathed about the restaurant experience in Canada is the tacit requirement that you must leave a tip. The often contrived back and forth that takes place table-side creates a palpable sense that a calculation is going on in the minds of both  server and patron about what will be an appropriate gratuity.

This over-riding consideration hangs over many a meal, but especially those which feature bad food, bad service, or both. You can feel the contempt-filled challenge from a sneering waiter or waitress that says, "Just dare not to leave a reasonable tip."

Is it possible to simply not leave a tip? It depends on the restaurant. Many now include a service charge on the bill, which can be convenient to a degree but on the other hand, it limits your choices. Even with the service charge included, some people still add a "little extra" on top of that. A worrying trend for tight-fisted individuals and those who only leave a tip (and sometimes a sizable one) if it is warranted.

Don't get me wrong...I don't take the decision not to leave a tip lightly. When you walk into a restaurant in countries where the tipping custom exists, you are entering into a kind of agreement that obliges you to tip. The difference between myself and most non-thinking tippers, is that I expect the restaurant and serving personnel to uphold their end of the bargain. If they don't, I won't tip, or I will leave such a meager offering that it is clear what I think of their establishment.

And with that action, I have essentially severed my relationship with the restaurant. I won't be going back, especially if it is a smaller place. The tipping instinct is so ingrained that the decision not to tip in a small restaurant marks you for the foreseeable future. Return and you will potentially face even worse service. Or something altogether more sinister.

Not leaving a tip can create a very uncomfortable situation. And while it will usually last for only a very few minutes before you slip out the side entrance never to return, a confrontation is possible. It hasn't happened to me but I have spoken to people who have been berated in the parking lot by serving personnel who feel they have not been given a sufficiently large tip.

How Did it Come to This?

How did things get to a place where this culture of tipping is enforced so effortlessly? Where so many people dutifully leave the required percentage without stopping to consider whether or not it is warranted?

First, tipping is not really about helping out the hard-done by, poorly paid waiting staff (though it does that as well while also subsidizing restaurant owners for the crap wages they pay—yes, we get it about razor thin margins on food). It is mainly about appearances. The restaurant experience provides the opportunity for people to show off their knowledge and class.

Leaving a big tip announces to all that you are a good, decent person, and one who doesn't have to worry about money. This is a powerful regulating force that ensures the vast majority of people tip. (And even if others in your dinner party aren't aware of the size of tip you left, you can still boost your self-image and make servers think you are quite all right.)

Second, a sneering, sullen attitude amongst many servers has developed over the last decade or so. This is partly the result of the sense of entitlement created by the tipping culture (of course, this kind of behaviour will exist only where management at any given restaurant tolerates it).

But it's also part of the general zeitgeist that says politeness equals weakness and being a disinterested, tattooed, sneering punk is somehow "kewl." Strangely enough, it seems that accepting such an attitude from servers and not making an issue of it is seen as cool as well.

Perhaps it's somewhat down to the proliferation of gonzo food writers like Anthony Bourdain. Maybe their tales of "authentic" individuals and undiscovered artists toiling away in kitchens and dining rooms have convinced many that it's hip to accept bad service from junkies, alcoholics and various other edgy people who don't waste time on things like politeness and professionalism.

Alan Richman recently ripped the proliferation of terrible service in his restaurant review column in GQ. But the bad service he received still wasn't enough to convince him not to leave a tip.

No Strong Tipping Culture in Thailand

But the requirement to tip does not exist in every country. Thailand is a case in point. Eat out at a decent restaurant and you will feel no pressure to tip at the end of the night although you well might leave something regardless.

Of course, crap service is just as prevalent in restaurants in Thailand as it is in Canada (perhaps more so). But the fact that there is not the insistence on leaving a tip in Thailand makes the crap service more acceptable. You feel comfortable not leaving a tip.

Will Things Change?

The tipping culture is here to stay in numerous countries. But some people like to entertain the notion that voting with your wallet and not tipping when you receive bad service could result in positive changes. But because many others will unthinkingly vomit forth the required surcharge regardless of what service they receive, not tipping is unlikely to have an effect at a particular restaurant.

In this way, Thailand and countries with a long tradition of tipping are the same: tipping or not tipping in Thailand will have little or no impact on the service level at a restaurant. Few servers (with the exception of those who work at restaurants frequented by tourists) in Thailand will attach a reason to why someone did or did not leave a tip.

Free from the pressure, you just may find yourself tipping as much or more often than in countries where it has become an involuntary response to dining out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The View from Thailand: 4

The View from Thailand 4

A few days after I began my first teaching job in Thailand, the Singaporean owner of the school sat down with all the teachers and gave us his philosophy on education.

He said, "Just keep children happy. Doesn't matter what you do or what you teach them. If children happy, parents happy, and keep pay tuition. No problem!"

I quit less than a week later.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The View from Thailand: 3

The View from Thailand 3

Snakehead (หัวงู) (hua ngoo): a term Thais use to refer to older men who have much younger girlfriends or wives. Apparently the term applies to both Thais and foreigners. However, in a culture where May-December relationships are much more common than in western countries, the term seems most often to be used when describing foreigners.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The View from Thailand: 2

The View from Thailand: 2

Davie, a bricklayer from Portsmouth, decided to give EFL teaching in Thailand a go.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The View from Thailand: 1

The View from Thailand1

A certain strangeness about things in Thailand can make life interesting for the expat.

For example, obesity is an epidemic in western countries. But it has arrived in Thailand as well.

Sadly, obese little butterballs are everywhere. Like in the west, soda is one of the main culprits.

But one element of the growing obesity problem in Thailand leaves many expats shaking their heads.

Often, advertisements for soda and other fat-inducing products feature fat children.

Either a collective and stunning lack of self-awareness, or a refreshing honesty.