Elephant’s Leg


THE EXCESS BAGGAGE OF SHOPPING IN THAILAND
This turtle died after eating a plastic bag

This turtle died after eating a plastic bag

Forget everything you learned in your Lonely Planet phrasebook about how to greet people or how to buy two train tickets to Chiang Mai.

Probably the most common Thai phrases I use is “mai ao thung” (I don’t want a bag). I say this almost every time I buy something in a shop in Thailand. If I do need bags, I frequently repackage them so that my goods fit in one or two, rather than three, four or even five, and give back the superfluous extras.

They are handed out with everything. I don’t need a plastic bag for a bottle of water or a packet of tissues. I obviously don’t need one for an ice-cream. I absolutely don’t need one for a four-pack of paracetamol. (All real examples).

And even when they are necessary, they are over-used. A single bag is not going to split open if you buy two 1.5-litre bottles of water, so it doesn’t need to be double-bagged. And what’s with these chain stores’ insistence on separating items based on category? That sealed bottle of ketchup is not going to spoil my sealed packet of ballpoint pens. Don’t give me two bags for them! Why does alcohol go in one bag, and soft drinks in another? Furthermore, I don’t need four plastic straws for those four beers, and I certainly don’t need a straw for my large bottle of water. Continue reading



BALI HAIS AND LOWS – 5 DAYS IN INDONESIA’S TOURIST HAVEN
Balinese Hindu architecture

Balinese Hindu architecture

Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.

My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading



10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS
Nice tan!

Nice tan!

Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…

10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS

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KO LANTA – NATURAL BEAUTY RUINED BY UGLY PEOPLE

Island-hopping fun in Ko Lanta

If it’s the people that make a place, then Ko Lanta’s beauty is merely superficial.

An Andaman Sea island district in Krabi province, inevitably it boasts clean, warm sea water, miles of beaches, countless palm trees and a laidback atmosphere that attracts many visitors.

However, such assets lose their allure once a visitor experiences human failings on Lanta that range from merely unprofessional through to dangerous and even criminal.

I love Krabi. In fact, I’d probably rank it my favourite Thai province outside of Bangkok. So I will doubtless return, although I’ll lose no sleep if I never set foot on Lanta again after a shambolic final day which involved worry, danger, frustration, anger and eventually the police.

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RUNGSAN AND THE REWARD FOR HONESTY

Rungsan and Jamie

“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to  Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown,  around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel.  Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.

There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.

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THE THAI SMILE: LOST IN BANGKOK, FOUND IN KO SICHANG

Ko Sichang offers Thai countryside atmosphere and attitudes by the sea

Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.

For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.

Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.

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A SPRITELY WAY TO GET LOST IN TRANSLATION

The Lord did there confound the ordering of Sprite of all the earth

I’m learning Thai, but my abilities remain limited, so I’d never criticise a Thai person’s attempts at English.

Still, brand names are the same in both languages, and even allowing for phonetic differences, there’s no way you can get them so spectacularly and repeatedly wrong as in the conversation below, unless there’s something spectacularly wrong with the listener. Is there?

I was at the drinks stand of a Bangkok food court. The vendor stood in front of a double glass door fridge. I appraised his wares, and the lingual fun began.

The conversation was a mix of my limited Thai and his limited English, but for simplicity’s sake I have transcribed it in English only. But even allowing for language differences, there’s no way such a simple transaction should have been anywhere near as protracted. Sprite is Sprite, whether in English or Thai, written or spoken.

Me: Sprite, please.

Him: Bottled water?

Me: No, Sprite, please.

(He reaches for a bottle of Minute Maid orange juice.)

Me: No, Sprite.

Him: No have.

Me: Yes, you have (pointing at the Sprite in the fridge).

(He reaches for the orange juice again.)

Me: No, down.

(He reaches two shelves down, passes the Sprite, and goes for the bottled water again.)

Me: No, up.

(He reaches two shelves up and goes for the orange juice again.)

Me: No!

(He looks at me as if I’m stupid.)

Me: Sprite. Suh-prite? Spuh-rite?

(He continues to just look at me.)

Me: There! (Pointing again).

(He reluctantly opens the fridge again and we begin to repeat the up-down routine.)

Me: No, up. No, down. Right. Right. No, go right! Yes! That one!

Him: (Looking at me like I’m really stupid) Oh, you want Sprite.

Me: *Sigh*

(Note: As Thai for “bottled water” is “nam plao” and “orange juice” is “nam som”, there’s no possibly way he could have confused either with “Sprite”, whether in sound or appearance!)



CATCHING UP: LEARNING THAI

thaiscriptI picked up bits and pieces of Thai simply by virtue of living here and going about my daily business, but it wasn’t until January that I started formal classes. I’d struggled to find one that was both affordable and fit into my timetable. However after a few months of searching, I found one almost opposite where I live! For a set annual fee, I can have unlimited lessons and can schedule them as I see fit. I try to go three times a week, but always manage at least once.

I realise I may not be here forever, and that Thai is irrelevant elsewhere, but of course it is valuable within the country. I haven’t reached a great standard but definitely certain aspects of my life are now easier, and I can read Thai script, which is great for monolingual signs and menus.

If anybody is interested in learning Thai, I recommend the school I attend for both price, convenience and format – the classes are informal and fun and conducted by Thais who are fluent in English. It also offers Japanese, Chinese and English classes. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a website, but the contact details are as follows:

Cambridge Language Centre, 8 Phahon Yothin Road Soi 29, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900. Tel 02 513 4137



CATCHING UP: PROFESSIONAL LIFE
Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post

The first item on the agenda is to fill in the gaps between September 2008 and September 2009, before I will start writing about more timely stuff, as and when it happens. I will be concise, because 12 months is a long time to chronicle, and will perhaps return to certain points in more detail at a later date.

I work for the Bangkok Post, the leading English-language newspaper in Thailand. I edit the stories, which are mostly written by Thai reporters. They write in English, to varying standards, but require native speakers to polish their work to native quality. It’s essentially the same role as a sub-editor on any newspaper back home, but with the added task of dealing with non-native English. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s difficult, but it’s a rewarding job with nice hours on a publication that has a good reputation and a nationwide readership. In that regard, it’s the best job I’ve had so far.

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