An Auspicious Day
This is page 13 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 12, Page 11, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).
It was the third song that did it. 69 years old, turning seventy in June this year; don't expect too much Dan, he isn't going to sound like he does on the CDs, he just can't. But despite the traumas of the last couple of days we really had to go and see Tom Jones on his first return to Bangkok for 27 years. The song was the theme from Thunderball, one of my favourite Tom Jones songs, and, by all reports, the one in which he fainted during the first recording session after hitting that last note. Was he just going to miss the note all together, or get the backing singers to do it, or maybe just sing the first couple of verses and go on into something else. The answer came from Ploy who I looked at just after the song finished. 'Wow' she said, 'Amazing'. Exactly, I thought. It got even better after that although for me the later funkier stuff wasn't my thing but try telling that to the hundreds of knicker waving women at the front. Ploy got up and danced to Sex bomb and Tang Mo, Ploy's daughter, watched it all with some sense of bemusement but I think she enjoyed it. Old people behaving badly I told her, one of the perks of being our age.
But we nearly didn't get there or at least I didn't and if I hadn't had gone I don't think Ploy would have. Holly, our adopted dog with the gammy leg and almost certainly gammy brain, had been testing us (me) to the limit. No more liver for her, she has moved on. Already treating the Pedigree dried food with disdain it seemed the only food she was willing to eat was what we were eating and even then she would have a bit, Ploy and I would look at each other, and then in a magnanimous acknowledgment of her condition we would concede our meal to her, which she would then lick and leave. So we went on the offensive and refused to give her anything other than the liver and dried food. So she didn't eat, or drink. We did not give in but for some reason, despite this fasting, she still needed to crap in the middle of the night, (but never during the day). The walks were now reluctant drags so we both thought, bugger it. In a more conciliatory mood we thought the puppies may be due but she has played that card too many times now and I was now sure she was just an over-mammaried dog.
I was knackered and annoyed at the same time and the thought of going into Bangkok, picking up Mo, going through a concert to hear the faded voice of a septuagenarian, going back into Bangkok to drop Mo off and then driving back to Saraburi at two in the morning, as it would be by then, did not appeal - at all! I woke early again, Holly was her now usual agitated self but the concert was Ploy's birthday treat, (her birthday was Monday), and I know she wanted to go. Can we leave her twelve hours, I mooted? What's the worst that could happen, Ploy asked. Well, she could learn how to use matches I suggested. Or she could fix the TV so it only showed that channel with the Thai soaps. There were probably worse things but I couldn't think of any at that time. But Ploy played her final card, we could go to the Emporium and have lunch at the nice restaurant there. Hmm, that is a nice restaurant I must admit. They did fusion food and very well too. It has been a while since I ate any good Western style food. So at 11a.m. we left for Bangkok, shutting some doors but allowing Holly some freedom to wander. Lots of water, the liver and the dried food were placed tantalisingly in bowls and learning from our restaurant experiences we also dressed the liver with a small herb salad with walnut oil dressing.
The lunch was all I had hoped but the three glasses of wine were a mistake - not at the time mind, but later when the lack of sleep and wine combined. We wandered around the Emporium and bought a few Western things in the supermarket there like ham and Weetabix (although not the real Weetabix but close enough) and some pate. We picked up Mo and made our way to Arena near the old airport. The traffic was bad so by the time we got there it was door opening time, I got a (Singha) beer, all they had as they part sponsored it and when we sat down it was Mo that mentioned she was coming straight back with us to Prabhat so we didn't have to go into Bangkok again. I felt my whole body unwind and relax, I got another beer and I settled down to enjoy Tom, as it were. Although I had to go past our house and on to Prabhat with Ploy and Mo so I could keep slapping Ploy to keep her awake, (a joy I was too tired to fully appreciate), we made it home. Holly was at the door to greet us as usual but only because she had nowhere to hide. Her bedroom had been pulled apart, cardboard boxes shredded, papers and clothes torn, it looked like a tornado had hit the house. She had crapped twice, been sick once and pee'd twice in select areas of the house. We finally got to bed at 1.30a.m. although there was still a lingering smell. Holly was back in the second bedroom having received a severe scolding from Ploy and a promise to drown all her puppies from me, before she gave birth.
At 2a.m. I woke to the sound of Holly whining and scraping at our door to get out. I let her out and then closed the door and went back to bed. At 2.30a.m. I woke to the sound of Holly whining and scraping at the door. Ploy went downstairs while I prepared her final bath. She ran upstairs and hid in the corner of the bedroom where she lay silently. Drown her in the morning Ploy said, I need to sleep. At 3.a.m. I woke to the sound of Holly whining. I went into her room and there on the floor was her first puppy which she was looking at with a look of surprise and curiosity. I went and got Ploy because this is a woman's job I figured, you don't see many men midwifes do you. Ploy looked at the puppy with a look of surprise and curiosity. Holly was licking it but not doing much else. I picked it up. It was dead. We didn't know how long ago it was born but the sack was still around it so I don't know if it was still born or just failed to start breathing. I tried to revive it by slapping it against the wall but to no avail. I took it away from Holly who then pelted downstairs and hid in our dirty linen basket. We went and fetched her, undressed her of our dirty clothes, when she ran back upstairs into the the bedroom which looked like a scene from a Death Wish movie. We pulled the worst of the blankets from under her and let her lay on some fresh ones and, while Ploy comforted this clearly very frightened dog, I went and got the iodine and the dental floss and the newspapers and the scissors. Half an hour went by and all was quiet apart from Holly's panting. Ploy, who looked like death warmed up used her large eyes expression to be allowed back to bed. I had read it could be an hour or more before each one so it was going to be a long night.
The second one came soon after. Holly who seemed to have an inkling what to do but not the wherewithal to do it was into compulsive licking mode. I cut the sack and the umbilical, thought bugger the the iodine and the dental floss and tried to get the puppy to breathe. It whimpered and started kicking out. I put her on a teat which appeared to have no milk coming out. Sod it! Try another one. Nothing. Our Dolly Parton endowed dog is all show. Finally I found one that produced a dribble and the puppy starting sucking so Holly knocked her off with her aggressive licking. I went and got Ploy so she could share in my exhilaration. She walked zombie like into the room but responded well but holding Holly so the pup could feed.
It went quiet again so Ploy went back to bed. I went to bed myself at 8.30.a.m. How many? Ploy asked. Four I said, three were still born. Ploy got up to look and I watched on considering a career in midwifery might have just opened up before me. Ok the umbilical cords could have been cut and tied off with a little more flourish and only just over 50% survived but all in all not bad. Holly did all she could to stop the pups feeding by rolling on top of them so Ploy held her whilst I attached them to the teats. One was whining continuously, obviously from her mother's side. Two mostly white, two mostly black, all girls. (I didn't check but it would have been strange if the dead ones had been all boys - Holly sent here from some feminist hell to help bitches take over the world, and I thought the Thatcher years were were behind us).
Between the whining of Holly and the yelping of her starved pups I got no sleep the rest of the day, which was Ploy's birthday of course. We had planned to go out for a meal with Mo and us which we still managed but Mo also was tired from both the concert, possible trepidation over her impending two month trip to China which starts Thursday, and the continuing saga of the mismatched couple where Mo is playing piggy in the middle. But we still had a nice meal together, Ploy took Mo home, (to her father), and I went into the house to stop Holly turning it into a war zone again. She was stood clueless in the middle of her room, her puppies scattered wildly around whimpering. I had to force her to lay down and with one hand holding her down I slowly fetched each pup and brought them to feed which they all did as if they hadn't eaten for a day, which they probably hadn't. Ploy came home as I was filling up the death bath again although through lack of sleep I was now thinking this wasn't the death she should enjoy - it was not painful enough. I told Ploy that she had to go, I can't be a mother to her pups which I was clearly going to have to be as she was useless. Give her to one of those of people that wanted a puppy I said, just tell them this was the first born so is a little bigger.
We reached an agreement. If she keeps us up all night again in the morning we sell her as food in the market. I woke once, at 1.a.m. She was sat in the middle of the room, again puppies dispersed all over whimpering. I forced her out the room, gathered the pups, rearranged her blanket and let her back in as she was crying loudly by this point. Glad to see her offspring again after all of a minute she promptly came and sat on one of them. I forced her to lay down, and I mean force, and again brought the puppies to feed. I stayed there until they had all had their fill, did a little research on dog recipes and then went back to bed. Ploy woke at 3.a.m and got up but I mostly slept through the rest of the night. By morning all was quiet and when I looked in on her she was laying out asleep, the puppies feeding by her side. At last, the instinct gene had kicked in. I sat with her a while but she seemed much more relaxed although obviously exhausted. She drank some water and had eaten some of the food Ploy made for her the night before, beef mince in a tomato sauce with a mustard demi glaze and steamed vegetables with a hint of cumin followed by a grapefruit sorbet.
Ploy woke whilst I was trawling through my e-mails of two days and Holly had a brief toilet break which was literally a run onto the grass opposite and a run straight back upstairs. This time she lay down by her pups nuzzling them and allowing them proper access to her feeding stop. Just two more days of my life with Ploy, but a birthday she will not forget quickly, the memory of a great concert, and for me, new found knowledge on how to cook dog which may yet come in handy.
I don't know where the days go. It is ten days since I wrote in this diary yet I can't think what I have been doing. Of course working on my orders, (which I have finally have got on top of), tending our increasingly vibrant garden and playing the expectant father to our celebrity dog, (well locally to the children anyway). I have recited the story of the boy who cried wolf to her but every night we say to ourselves, this is it, and every night so far it hasn't been. It has occurred that we might just have the Dolly Parton of Dalmatians and her recently improved, (and still fussy), diet has just increased her underbelly cleavage even more but Ploy is still convinced she is pregnant. Further evidence for my theory comes from her new penchant for lying on her back and displaying her wares to anyone who wants to see them. Well endowed celebrities do this but pregnant ones do not, (Demi Moore aside)- I rest my case.
Pregnant or not we have started to impose some rules like stopping her sleeping in our bedroom where she used to wake at 2a.m. every night and tongue massage her attributes for a hour or so, something Ploy never seemed to hear. And we have tried to get her into a routine over eating too so that she becomes somewhat more regular in her toilet habits and doesn't require a 3a.m. trip outside, something else that Ploy doesn't seem to hear. I do have the feeling though that control is slowly being wrested from us.
Holly has broken down the barriers to a number of the locals, especially the children, who now have a reason to come and talk to the strange local foreigner. Our dog has actually highlighted the increasing sense of community I feel here, whether red shirt or yellow shirt or indifferent everyone just wants peace here and wants to continue with their lives.
Our neighbours are from Isaan, the agricultural centre of Thailand. The house was bought for the parents by the grown up children who regularly visit. The jungle of a garden has slowly been replaced by their own small farm growing everything from Thai basil to lime leaves to Thai aubergines. For us it is our local supermarket when we find ourselves short of something. The lady of the house also makes some Isaan food which she exchanges for goods with our local shop, a model of industry that puts my efforts with SingMai to shame. We also have another small corner shop which is where I buy my beer as they stock beer Archa, my favourite tipple. The man that runs this shop has a day job, but then opens his store when gets home and keeps it open until late. Always courteous and even though my order is always 'two bottles of Archa and 10 baht of ice please' we go through the ritual of me asking in my best Thai and he calculating the bill on his calculator, showing me the amount, and then he proudly saying it in his very best English. And always the service comes with a smile. I am never sure how these shops make money, but they are a throwback to my youth where the corner shop sold everything from my weekly comic to HP sauce to get well card for a sister in law as well as being the local meeting place. Here you can buy everything from gas to every imaginably (and some best not imagined) packet snack to an adjustable spanner.
Just down the road from the corner shop, past the air conditioning man, past the house with large, distinctly strange, statue of Pinocchio and Master Antonio, past the chap who runs the coach company and by evening can be usually be found washing his elaborately decorated coach, past the lady with her som tam stall who always calls out to ask where I am going which I always answer with 'to eat at the restaurant' to which she asks, 'where is Ploy' and I answer 'shopping, I am alone today', to which she answers 'pood Thai gaeng' (he speaks Thai well), even though it is my only Thai and our conversation is always the same; is our local restaurant run by a one armed lady called Lek. She lost her arm in a factory accident (for which she got 5000 baht compensation) when she was just sixteen but undaunted she now runs the local eatery and watching her chop the vegetables one handed is an amazing sight. Her husband, who we rarely see other than in passing as he is always running in and out with the take aways, still takes time to say hello and ask how I am in English, the only English he knows. If I go and eat there alone, and it does do some wonderful food, they always make extra efforts to make me feel comfortable, like bringing a fan to the table to keep the mosquitoes at bay: I think he appreciates I am a mosquito magnet and am useful in keeping the mosquitoes away from the other customers. (Although the salads spiciness is directly proportional to how annoyed she is with her husband. Once she and her husband had a real barny and he walked out on her and went to Bangkok. I made the mistake of ordering the pork salad - yum moo manao; whilst she and Ploy chatted I single handedly worked my way through this dish which had already burnt a hole through the plate and was half way through the table by the time I finished. When they finally stopped talking and turned to look at me they must have wondered why my hair was standing on end and I was foaming at the mouth).
Of course every community has to have the organiser - in this case a retired army man who walks around his claimed serfdom with an unmistakable air of arrogance: his house has a large faded photo of him in army uniform taped to the fence least we should be in any doubt as to his superiority over us. His wife runs a small restaurant in their porch but most people will not eat there as they have invariably had a run in with him at some point. As the self appointed manager of the estate he recently found himself in possession of a table tennis table which was intended to be for the children's playground but which he decided was a personal gift from the government even though he doesn't play. Some of the parents found out and he has since been forced to let others use it but he still keeps control by only letting the children play in his garden instead of putting it up for all to use. Ploy has had many run-ins with him and I am under strict instructions not to return his 'sawadee khap' as he has been telling anyone who wishes to listen than I am a battered husband and how unlucky I was to marry such a cruel and heartless woman, something I tell people all the time anyway.
This community is the community of my childhood in Liphook, then a small village in the UK. Yes everyone knew everyone else's business but the gossip wasn't usually malicious and there was a sense of common purpose, of pride, of belonging, that is completely absent in the UK now. Surprisingly perhaps, there was still some sense of it in Canada, although was also a sense that it was only in isolated pockets. We did have great neighbours in Singapore but we had standup rows with the people above us. It is often said that Thailand is behind the West in so many areas but I have yet to find any facet of living here I would trade for the 'superior' Western modernism. Thailand gives a better sense of perspective on life, to what is important.
Holly arrived with all the enthusiasm I used to muster for a trip to hairdressers with my Dad, 'to have my hair trained', as if it was some separate entity like Brucie's hairpiece. She lay in the driveway with her tail firmly between her legs, something I rather wished she had done before as Ploy announced with false surprise, 'she's pregnant'. And even lying down it was rather apparent that our new dog was with puppy. As I was later to read, Dalmatians are known for having a large litter but there was no going back now as Ploy recited the journey here with Holly shaking convulsively in her lap (as a friend drove our car home) and how Holly's na song san factor had risen yet again quite appreciably.
Holly showed some reluctance to come into the house which was probably a good thing as three years of countryside dirt was ingrained in her coat. We let her lie there and get used to us while we also sat outside and had a coffee. Eventually as her inquisitiveness got the better of her she got up and started to wander around and she seemed quite willing to let us stroke her although she retained a little timidity, as did I as I inspected my hand for creepy crawlies. It was pointless asking Ploy when Holly gave so freely of herself as no-one would know but by the look of her there was not much time to go before we became a mummy and daddy. The friend left, which Holly viewed indifferently having obviously already decided we were the people she should pander to, and we went in the house leaving the door open so the mosquitoes could have a party with us tonight. To say nothing of whatever was living on our dog. It was at this point that I noticed the gammy leg that had been duly reported, she was missing a paw on one her back legs but it seemed to do little to prevent her getting around. She eventually came in and immediately, I think, welcomed the coolness of the house.
Fast forward to that evening. Armed with some flea and tick shampoo we dragged her into the bathroom and scrubbed and scrubbed which, with some reluctance, she seemed to accept. It took the two of us thirty minutes to get the worst of the dirt and grime off her coat and we let our newly white(ish) dog out into the garden to shake off the excess; well she almost made it to the garden. Ploy then spent the evening pulling ticks off her in what was to become a ritual while I tried to find something she might eat. Ploy had bought some dried food for her but all of sudden our Holly, who had survived for three years eating who knows what, had suddenly become Albert Roux. The dried food was rejected and only when I opened the tins of beef, (the chicken was also rejected), did she eat something. By now she seemed quite happy in the house and while we watched a DVD she lay quietly in the corner watching us. We made a bed for her with some blankets in the corner of the room but she seemed happy enough to lie where she was so we went to bed.
When I came down in the morning she greeting me enthusiastically at the bottom of the stairs. I let her out but she wouldn't do what she had to do until I took her across the road to the grass fields which was much appreciated, (by me). I put a lead on her not knowing if she would run away but she was very uncomfortable with it and often refused to walk with it on, not so surprising given her history. I opened another tin for her on our return thinking she must be hungry but she refused to eat, by now she had perfectly refined the turn your nose up look, so I left her and went to work in the workshop. She followed me into my workshop and lie beside me until Ploy got up when she tried to con Ploy into giving her foie gras with truffle oil with a rocket and pine nut salad or whatever it was she wanted. Ploy asked if this food was from last night. No way I said, it was fresh this morning, so Ploy told the dog in no uncertain terms that she was to eat that before she got anything else. Ten minutes later my dominatrix wife gave her some treats she had bought which clearly did pass our dog's quality threshold.
I spent some of the morning reading about dog pregnancy which was depressing to say the least. After I filtered through the 'my dog is pregnant, what do I do' questions and then next ten or twenty immediate answers which were always,' serve you right you bastard you should have had your dog spayed and people like you should be spayed also' it seems that Holly was already showing signs of expectancy or whelping as I had now learnt it was called. By the next day she had fulfilled all of the requirements and became officially due; she had already found her way to our bedroom which is usually the coolest room in the house, especially if we have had the air conditioning on during the night, and we often leave the curtains closed during the day to keep it cool. We were now finding her laying half underneath our bed which apparently is sign number one. Now although newly fussy with her food, she had stopped eating altogether and was occasionally being sick - signs two and three. She was showing a real affection and need for our company and started sleeping throughout the day - signs four and five. That was yesterday and we thought we were in for a long night. I had sent Ploy out to buy dental floss and iodine (for the umbilical cord) and find some newspapers (we don't bother with a paper here) and towels but all of us slept though the night, Holly now ensconced in a corner of our bedroom. We took her to see a vet and he sagely declared her pregnant which considering her teats were dragging on the floor by now was not the enlightened wisdom he clearly thought it was. He demonstrated how to centrifuge, (judging by his actions), the puppy after it is born so it starts breathing and the fluid in its mouth is ejected and how to cut the sack and tie the umbilical cord and sent us on our way with some revolting smelling tube of vitamins which have not passed the Holly food quality test, (or indeed could possibly pass anyone's test); a waste of 200 baht. One thing that has passed Holly's palate is liver, but only freshly cooked beef liver so Ploy went to the morning market and brought home 3kg of the stuff which Holly eats in 1kg sittings. This and yogurt which we accidentally discovered she likes while I was
Last week Ploy went to see a fortune teller in Bangkok, a harmless thing usually apart from the 300 baht it costs which would otherwise buy a case of Archa beer. But I don't lecture her about it and she gets this need sometimes. She came back with the usual 'remarkable' stories about how this woman told her this and that which there is 'no way she could have known about'. She did tell Ploy I was a genius so you have to give this woman some credence but she also said, going into Margerie Proops mode, that Ploy should go to a temple for three days and live as a monk to help Tang Mo and her new step mother 'bond'. Yes, you've guessed which three days that is haven't you! So at 2.p.m. this afternoon, armed with her new white Buddhist robes and a toothbrush, Ploy has left for the girl's temple, (I had no idea there was such a thing but Ploy refused to take my camera), leaving me with five SingMai orders to complete and a heavily pregnant and increasingly confused and irritable Dalmatian with a gammy leg. To give her her due she did ask the neighbours for the emergency number for Thailand (1669 apparently) although I have no idea how they would react to my fractured Thai trying to explain that I have dog with a gammy leg giving a breech birth puppy stuck up its whatsit and what should I do. And to show Ploy's guilt she also bought me a bottle of wine for each day she is away, and if I can get the smell of liver out of my nostrils you can be sure that will be gone by the time she returns.
Why Can't We all Just Get Along
I don't 'do' politics. To paraphrase Santayana, I haven't enough respect for the human race to care whether it destroys itself or not.
This Friday there will be a mass rally in Bangkok that will attempt, by stifling the capital, to bring down the government. It is possible they will be able to do so as the present government has a tenuous majority and if some politicians should jump ship thinking their bread may be better buttered on the other side, (from which they came anyway), then another election will have to be called and if the election pans out the same as previous ones, the opposition will win, (which of course will now have some previous government personnel in its ranks). Then, the story goes, the new constitution will be repealed, the exiled prime minister, Thaksin, will be pardoned and will assume his rightful role as the lord of all he surveys. Just to be clear about this, this is the same man that last week was found guilty of, yes you guessed it, corruption, and some of his ill-gotten gains were clawed back. He is also, of course, in exile because he was also sentenced to 2 years in jail for..; oh, you got there before me. Now these charges could have been trumped up by the government and the sentence may have been political and perhaps not actually fair, but if that is so then we we are looking at the highest judges in the land also being guilty of corruption; possible but disheartening if it were to be so.
The red shirts, as the pro-Thaksin supporters call themselves, claim they are doing all of this in the name of democracy. Be careful what you wish for. I have a deep suspicion democracy is not the panacea we are told it is, and as with religion, many appalling things have been done in its name. Thaksin is a clever man but clearly a vindictive one. A 'good' man would accept, with great disappointment no doubt, what has happened to him personally, assuming he was not guilty, and feel sorry for his country, but what he is doing now by stirring up, and possibly funding, these protests shows to me that he is not a great man. People may die this weekend, in the name of democracy, but actually to only further his deep felt personal resentment. Whatever the rights and wrongs of where we are now and how we have got here, do we really want the present prime minister replaced by one who, despite the lip service he offers, is happy to let innocent people die so that he may get back to power. It is not about money, he has a few billions to play with anyway, it is not about his family as he was happy to divorce his wife for political expediency, it is about his vendetta. Is he the right man to lead Thailand - I doubt it. And the fact that these people are willing to die to bring him back to power, shows the hold he has over them and for me questions the ability of these people to reason.
The red shirts draw for support on the poorer regions of Thailand and it is claimed that Thaksin was the first person to actually address the problems of this region through his policies such as the the 30 baht health care scheme and the loans to the farmers. The cynic gene in me immediately lights up when I hear of such things. These people were bought. Thaksin was an outsider and could not expect support from the traditional Thai middle classes. So he looked elsewhere and he built up an invincible position through the support of the poorer regions. And how to get the support of these people, not by arguing some elaborate economic policy but by putting money in their pockets, and as there is a token objection to absolutely blatant bribery during elections he found another means. Any election in which he stands will be won by him and overwhelmingly. If the red shirts dropped him and ran on the basis of change for democracy they would probably not get the support. Thaksin needs them but they need him. Am I right to be cynical or was this man really trying to address the problems of the poor. I think his current actions now in supporting the red-shirts shows exactly what his motives were; the man is a megalomaniac.
So here we are. Any election that has any pretence to one man one vote will return the opposition parties and Thaksin will be back in a flash. The monarchists and old establishment who supposedly support the current government will not like that, another possible coup will ensue, the new government gets thrown out, another dummy government gets 'elected' and so we go around.
Before anyone should accuse me of just being anti-Thaksin and pro the present government I do think the current government missed a trick, and by doing so may actually reveal something equally unpleasant about themselves. If Thaksin can buy the support of the poor so could have they. Most governments in the west play the, ''vote for me and I'll do everything the current government does but better' card. As they don't actually have any ideas of their own and originality and radicalism is not a vote winner anyway, it is all about doing the same things but apparently better. So why didn't the current government take up Thaksin's mantle and put in place measures to improve the lot of the poor. Assuming they are supported by the monarchy, is that not what the current king and the princess are so loved for in this country; the stories of king going 'under cover' as it were to visit the poorer people and understand their problems are everywhere. So why does the government not help these people? The conclusion is an unsettling one; they really don't care.
Ill education is a good means to manipulate people, keep them ignorant and they are much more likely to do as you bid. Giving free and quality education to these people surely would be a vote winner. In time it might actually give a true democracy where the people of the country vote, not according to their racial or religious prejudices or because of some backhanded bribe, but because they believe it is better for the country.
True altruism will probably never happen, but educated people are usually able to assess the facts and maybe take a small short term personal hit for a longer term benefit. They are also able to sort out the bullshit from the reality and are able to better research and sift the real facts from a variety of sources. True democracy as it is not currently observed anywhere on this planet. As it is, democracy in the West would only be valid if certain parts of the electorate were prevented from voting, like Sun newspaper readers in the UK or anyone who supports Sarah Palin in the US or anyone who is a creationist or anyone who watches American Idol. Only then could we be sure that the people that voted were sane and have a higher likelihood of having a few neurons still firing.
But for Thailand it seems we are likely to continue going round the roundabout. If there is one thing that could be learnt from all of this, it is the little influence that the government actually has on the running of the country. They have an apparent leadership role but through all of this turmoil the country continues on, continues to sell its rice, to build its Toyotas, to drill its oil and to welcome its holiday makers, (assuming the airport is open). Of course Toyota may choose not to build a new plant here in the future or some holiday makers may choose Indonesia or Vietnam next time but through all this unrest things actually largely continue on.
Which if anything, just shows how unimportant all this really is. It certainly is not worth dying for.
A Dog is not just for Christmas
We have come close before. Not long after we met we found we had a mutual love of dogs, and not those namby pampy rats that yelp incessantly and don't bark properly and, like small Welsh people, are disproportionately aggressive for their size; no we mean proper dogs, capable of hauling a plough across a sodden field. We also have a mutual distrust of cat lovers, wondering why people would want such a selfish and arrogant animal for a pet, unless it is to wonder at their ability to lick their own balls, an attribute that, if I had ever mastered it, may have removed my need for the companionship of the opposite sex.
When Ploy was working in Thailand she actually acquired a dog, from a friend, but she soon realised she was unable to take care of it properly as she was out all day so she gave it back to the friend. That quality in Ploy endeared her to me even more as Thai people seem to think dogs are on this planet to endure all of their worries; they live a life of sanuk whilst the poor dog bears all the worries of the world on its mange infested back.
In Singapore there wasn't really a chance to own one in our apartment, Ploy was away a lot and I was at work all day and they were prohibited anyway but high rise apartments are no place for a dog. In Canada we got close enough, actually visiting someone who had huskies up for sale but we decided that this huge exuberant dog would be too much for Ploy to handle - it was too much for me, and in any case we had two pseudo pets with our neighbour's dogs. Any fun in owning a dog in Canada is somewhat tempered by having to walk it at 6a.m. in 3 ft of snow and a -30degC wind chill.
Once in Thailand we promised ourselves that once we had settled we would get one. A restaurant we frequent had puppies and we offered to take one once we cleared out the rooms in the house but someone else beat us to it before the cleaning had even started. What has cemented the deal this time is the house opposite that has a delightful frisky puppy that the owner leaves alone all day. Ploy has started feeding it scraps which naturally has endeared it to her and now the owner leaves the gate unlocked so I find the dog more here than there. So a friend of a friend has unwillingly adopted this three year old Dalmatian with a gammy leg and today Ploy goes and takes it off his hands and we become the owners of our first pet.
I have yet to see the dog as a write this but I am assured it is 'na song saan' or pitiful (น่าสงสาร) which immediately puts it at the top of any Ploy list. Boy or girl I ask; 'Girl'. Name? 'It doesn't have one, you choose'. Has it had injections? Stupid question. Does it have fleas? Another stupid question, (note to self, buy a box of hydrocortisone cream). What's wrong with its leg? 'No idea, but it's one of its back ones'. I think they need all of them, I suggest, but I don't push it as I remember Ploy getting me to leave work to watch some poor dog on TV wheeling itself around after having both its back legs amputated: I should be grateful we at least have a 3.5 legged dog as the other one clearly wins in the na song saan stakes. Does it have rabies? 'I don't think so: what's rabies'. It's not important; is it pregnant? 'I don't think so but we could...'. I stop her; does it bite? 'No, no so far'. Is it friendly? 'No, it is na song saan and just lies down all the time looking unhappy'. So, all the boxes ticked then. We have a flea infested, pregnant, aggressive, sociopathic, rabid Dalmatian with a gammy leg as a pet.
Before the dog is picked up I have asked Ploy to buy some dog shampoo and a flea collar and a lead and dog food and some tidbits so it might actually stay in the house, (assuming it isn't all of the above), instead of us frantically chasing it down the road before the local mafia soi dogs adopt it as their bitch of the day, and to find out the cost of those rabies stomach injections.
At the moment I have the honour of naming her although by the time I get home it will probably already have been named something like Chok Dee, (โชคดี - lucky) , the ironic name of every dog in this neighbourhood. I like the name Holly, I always have. And it is also my little victory for having to learn all those tones and for Thais putting 'ng' at the beginning of some of their words. 'What's your dog's name' they will ask. Holly, I say. 'Horry?' No, Holly. And so it goes on. And I laugh, and laugh.
But, until Ploy returns, I have started some light reading.
Just one week after the wedding there is already talk of the happy couple separating as friction between Tang Mo and the new wife has heightened the tensions between the family and the husband. The girl seems rather immature but strong willed, but no match for Mo, whilst Mo's father is caught between two warring women. We went out for a meal, (less the new wife), on Friday on a day on which my computer succumbed to a virus for the first time in I don't know how long. This malignant thing disables all the virus scanners so you can't remove it by conventional means. It was also clever enough to stop you Googling for a solution. However, using Window's safe mode and a command prompt I managed to run a DOS routine which disabled it enough to let SpyBot remove it. There is one corrupted file as result of all of this but it doesn't seem to affect anything other my PC maintenance software which won't install anymore, but then that program which manages my firewall let the bugger in in the first place so serve it right. Anyway, Friday evening I wasn't in the best of moods and it wasn't helped as Ploy and her ex-husband started shouting at each other whilst Mo was in tears. That is one restaurant we won't be able to go back to! Mo is now staying at an aunt's house as her school term has finished and the new wife is staying in Saraburi in her old apartment. Our very own Thai soap opera and it's free.
So Saturday afternoon I seemed to have repaired the PC sufficiently although it is only after using it in anger today, (Sunday), that it is regaining my trust in it. It has highlighted the need to have a computer backup and not just data backup. So when we get paid for our last invoice we will invest in another computer and I will probably network them so we have a common file and program database.
Sunday is actually turning out to be quite a good day. Another order is almost complete which means I am totally on top of the orders for the first time in what seems like years. We have two more orders to fulfill after that and then I hope to get to work on my own projects which will include our own range of audio amplifiers and CD players and a video camera for astronomical use.
My office desk looks out upon our garden and we have recently been spending a bit more time on it. Being a corner plot we have a nice size garden which we had covered in plastic and pebbles to give it a look of a Japanese garden but with the purpose of not coming back to a jungle when we were living abroad. There are little islands for the plants, three of which have grown to such a size that they shade most of the garden making it a very pleasant place to sit. It is a real pleasure to look out at the garden; a reminder of just how removed I am from the UK. We just get used to the chatter of the jing joks (small lizards - จิ้งจก) as they run around the house and we smile at the call of the dtuk gae (gecko -
Viruses and family arguments aside I really do feel at home here. I wish I could find more time to learn Thai but I think that will come. Work means by the evening time I am happy to just eat and sleep but once I get on top of the orders I hope to find a tutor which will force me to learn properly and get into a routine, as Ploy does with her Chinese lessons, (although so far her teacher has cancelled lessons because of sickness, a family emergency and a car accident so there isn't much routine to it at the moment, and next week we are in Singapore so that will be two more lessons missed). At the heart of this is the low cost of living; there is a real security to knowing that the house and car are paid for and if necessary we can reduce our outgoings to just a couple of thousand baht a month if need be. Of course there is always some spoilsport expat that will point out that the
house is not actually mine and can never be and if something were to happen between Ploy and me I would have to leave the country. But that is not true as having my own company, (yes I know, I can't own that 100% either), and my current age, (which belies my youthful appearance I tell myself), gives me two options for visas and I have every intention of applying for permanent residency as soon as I am able, (in three years time). Having had to jump through hoops to get permanent residency and work permits and visas in three other countries Thailand rates in the middle for degree of difficulty being much easier (and cheaper) than Canada but not so easy as Singapore. The UK is a special case as I am British but in any case has become a lot more difficult (and expensive) since we got ILR for Ploy. Some of the rules here do seem a little strange, but only strange compared with the West. It really is necessary to change your mindset here to feel at home. Ploy told me off the other day at the supermarket when I calculated the price of something in Canadian dollars. She reminded me that I had told her on more than one occasion that comparing prices for things in different currencies is unhelpful as you don't take into account cost of living in each country. So when in Thailand we compare the prices of items in baht between different markets but we don't compare them to the prices for the same thing in St. Jacob's market in Canada. By the same token it is not helpful to compare the way things are done here with how they are done in the UK, for example. They are different here, probably for a reason, (and I accept that reason can seem very hidden sometimes), but if we changed all those rules to those of the UK, well we wouldn't be in Thailand would we. You can't pick and choose the good bits like our garden without accepting that the banks here seem to deliberately deter your custom in amazingly inventive ways. There are more chattering jing joks than there are sullen bank tellers so on balance life is good. And my view out onto the garden reminds me of that every day.
Just three months after Ploy's daughter, Tang Mo, was born Ploy was kicked out of the house, (where she was treated as little more than than a sex slave/maid it appears), and was reduced over the coming years to getting glimpses of Tang Mo through the school fence or the occasional supervised visit. This changed once Ploy met and married me, the 'rich' farang,which improved Ploy's status no end in that family's eyes. Tang Mo was eventually 'allowed' to stay with us in Singapore and from then on Ploy has been allowed freedom to see Tang Mo whenever she wanted and as Tang Mo has now turned eighteen, it is not really something they can stop anyway, especially as Mo is a very independent and free thinking girl.
But what goes around, comes around. As Ploy was never officially married anyway her ex-husband found another 'wife' who actually had the gaul to up and leave him and over the last few years he has been alone. I have met him a few times and, without knowing his past, would think of him as a rather severe but straightforward and decent man. Ploy has slowly mellowed towards him as her life's fortune has since gone past his, in the sense of being happy and fulfilled. Ploy, I think, came to realise that he is actually a weak man completely manipulated by his sister and the rest of his family and some of the hatred she had for him has now dissipated, (she told me not long after we met that if she had had the money she would have paid to have him killed). Ploy also knows that Tang Mo likes him - he is her father after all and the one that has looked after her all these years, or at least been there anyway - and he now pays for her to attend a very expensive international school in Bangkok and accedes to her every demand for books or i-pods or summer school trips to China.
So this Saturday it is perhaps surprising that we are invited guests at his wedding. The reason, well he is about my age but is marrying a girl of just 24 - a nurse - and the family have deemed her a harlet and money grabber and unsuitable for a member of their family to be involved with, let alone marry. In fact exactly the situation Ploy found herself in all that time ago, except he seemed to have thought much the same then by all accounts. And are we going to the wedding? You bettcha! In fact we have even been courted in some ways and seem to be being treated as confidants. But then we know what it is like to marry against the advice of friends, (we had no family to act as unwelcome sages), and I must admit I have never seen him so happy, (not that there wasn't room for improvement in that area). Also Mo has not exactly approved of the wedding or even the relationship but after some wise counsel from me, (an oxymoron where I am usually concerned), she has accepted it on the basis that if her father is happy then she is happy - she doesn't have to like the girl anyway. Of course we have doubts of our own but as Ploy put it when asked by the the family to intercede, (now there is an about turn), she has popcorn in one hand and a coke in the other and she is just here to watch the show. And it promises to be quite a show as during the meal they took us out to I couldn't help but notice he has a new tattoo on his arm and I was sure I caught them carving an arrowed heart on our table.
The wedding started at 7a.m. which meant a 5.30a.m. start for us but as is usual when I have to wake up early I sleep intermittently and finally got up at 3.a.m. to read my e-mails and try and do some work, not helped by the heavy shower we had, our first rain for what seems like weeks. Ploy has another of her 'team building' camp outings tonight so we have to get back early for her to join this so she gets her 'points' for her course. I am fairly sure she gets more points for sitting in a tent overnight than she does for the chemistry she was studying but it is just one night and she, surprisingly, is more prepared to just accept it than I would be. I spent disproportionate amounts of time avoiding the compulsory team building events the various companies I worked for deemed essential to a happy working environment. But I digress.
We arrived the customary fifteen minutes late and parked in the semi-full car park of a restaurant. Already the bride and groom, resplendent in cream were knelt before one of the nine monks, reverentially bowed. The guests were scattered around and Ploy found a seat next to some other women - please don't ask for names or relationships but all were related in someway to the groom mostly. There was coffee, cake and rice soup available and I availed myself of a quite decent black coffee. Ploy was chatting away and I interrupted her to ask if I could take photos of the ceremony. I found out later I hardly needed to ask as cameras were produced everywhere and millions of photos must have been taken during the day. In turn the couple knelt before each monk and something was said, probably about the recent wonderful cricket match between India and South Africa. They then returned to the 'head' monk who mixed a sort of chalky paint in little bowl which he then proceeded to splodge on each of their foreheads.
They then rose and prepared a bowl of food for each monk; some rice, some sauce for the rice and some bananas. The monks then left. After that there was a general sort of milling about, I had another coffee and another ten thousand photos were taken of bride and groom with various people. The bowls and fruit and flowers were then taken by the ladies present across to the restaurant whilst the bride's family stayed behind at the pagoda. The bowls were laid out on a makeshift carpet and we waited for the auspicious time of 9a.m. (as in everything nine being especially lucky). It was at this time that Tang Mo arrived who was a noticeable absentee until this point. I had actually wondered if she was going to come and her demeanour was not so good on arrival but quickly she became the Mo we all love and tolerate. I didn't have a watch but close to the auspicious time, (in fact earlier than that but food beckoned), the bride's family called to the groom's family which, without fluent Thai I took to be something along the lines of 'she's horny and waiting but you have gotta pay and pay big time'. This was answered in turn with, 'you can wait you blood sucking bastards - we have the money so we choose when we come'; (my Thai is a little hesitant but I think that was the gist).
More photos and then the flowers and fruit were picked up and and the group approached the pagoda with the brides' mother waiting at the foot of the stairs. What followed was a bit of a free for all, but it seemed as if the bride's family bought their way up the stairs with envelopes of money until finally the groom was allowed into the little room that I had previously noted and thought was there for us to watch them conjugate their marriage, African style. Apparently not. More photos ensued and then there was lot of hanging around whilst a little area was set up for the key moment of presenting the dowry. The money had been hidden amongst the flowers and fruit and the bride's family then had to 'look' for the hidden money and the ring. Once 'discovered' the money was then paraded for all to see and then collected in a bag which one relative swung over her shoulder with some exclamation about how heavy it was.
Next the couple retired into the conjugation room where each in turn was invited to pour a little water over the hands of the bride and groom whilst wishing them good luck, many babies, freedom from gonorrhea and that sort of thing. More photos. And then the room was rearranged again and the happy couple sat of the floor this time with close family sat on chairs whilst the couple poured tea for them and provided small gifts for the relatives. And then the main event - the food. Various courses of fair quality food were provided in quick succession whilst people flitted between tables and a new wave of guests arrived. The groom - maybe the bride, I missed that as I was sitting outside - and importantly Mo gave a speech. Mo spoke of how she hoped that, without a mother at home for a lot of her life, she hoped that slowly this girl could become that person. Mo already looked like a little lady this day instead of the girl I knew before, (albeit a bit of new born giraffe on her heeled shoes), but with that speech she became a woman. Mo then had to leave, first for the dentist, then to Bangkok for Chinese lessons and then for Sunday morning English lessons before her end of term exams. So Ploy and I also left - and the very good Wolf Blass Shiraz had also mysteriously been emptied anyway - for Ploy to quickly go home, change and shoot off for her overnight camp.
No doubt over the coming days I will learn more about all the sub text - the groom's sister loudly speaking on the telephone about how she didn't like the bride and the bride's father who looked like his dog had died that morning and who also wore an unlucky black jacket - but for now it was an experience and a pleasurable and interesting one and I for one wish them them the best in their future lives. They will need it given the message that this young attendee paraded.
More photos of the wedding can be found here.
Apart from my humdrum day to day routine of working on SingMai orders, eating and drinking beer, little of note has been happening. Yesterday I had to break off from work to yet again try to teach the morons they employ in the Thai banks how to do a telegraphic transfer - more ammunition for Ploy to get us to move to Bangkok where they 'will be more familiar with these things'. The only things I have to write about are sample rate converters, Bayer filter converters and NICAM encoders which is probably even enough to put off my solitary stalwart reader, a Mjr. Beverly Misanthrope (retired), of Podington Bedfordshire, (who only happened upon this site by following a search link to 'habitual alcoholism including syphilis').
However we have booked a trip to Singapore next month - for me to visit some potential customers and for both of us to have a holiday and meet old friends. It will be my first trip back for about two years apart from transiting at the airport a couple of times and for Ploy even longer save for a two day trip to get our police clearance certificates for our (failed) Canada permanent residency application. It could be an expensive trip as I gather the new casino is now open.
Ploy took me for a massage yesterday; I had just finished a troublesome order and Ploy thought it would be a good way to get rid of the stress that has been building up. A phone call or two and a place at one of the local hotels was recommended so off we went. Ploy ordered the two hour massage for me and then sat down in front of the TV; she had no intention of having one herself as 'it hurts too much'. It started off gently enough with a nice footbath but it wasn't long before my body was being convulsed as my masseur's knuckles plunged deep into my flacid muscles. She then stopped and asked if it was OK if another masseur took over. It was obviously fun to watch this farang in such agony and they were going to pass this joy around. After another ten minutes of kidney-stone intensity pain, and so far only my left leg had been tortured, I was asked if perhaps I wanted to change to the oil massage as that is more gentle. Oh yes I enthusiastically replied, even if it is used engine oil I will go for that. 'Will your wife mind' she queried. 'I don't think so' I answered, wondering how she intended to offer a body massage when there was only a partially drawn curtain between us and rest of the parlour; this is legitimate I thought. Well it did turn out to be above board although she did spend a disproportionate amount of time massaging my arse; and later Ploy came to chat to me which was a strangely disquieting experience having her chatting about her motorcycle tours to me whilst a quite attactive girl massaged my naked butt.
As Chinese New Year is upon us Ploy has been out and about buying ducks and chickens and paper money and 'gold bars' and sweets and joss sticks to offer to Buddha and her deceased parents. The market in Prabhat that she decided she needed to go to to buy these things opens at, even for me, the ungodly hour of 2.a.m so that is the time Ploy set the alarm for last night. After seeing Ploy off I read my e-mails for a hour or so before going to back to bed only to woken again by her returning at 5.a.m. Ploy is now sound asleep and I am awake trying to work through a sleepy daze with strict instructions to wake her at 9a.m. so she can start preparing everything.
It was not long after I first met Ploy that Chinese New Year occurred and for the first time for some years Ploy was able to afford to go out and buy some things for her parents offerings. A little brazier was set up on the walkway outside her Bangkok apartment and after cooking the ducks and chickens and pork these and various fruits and a glass of whisky for her father were ceremoniously laid out in front of her parent's sepia photographs; (as non whisky drinkers I think we might still have this bottle somewhere: I wasn't able to change it to wine or beer as that 'is not what my father liked'). Then the brazier was lit and paper shirts, (so her father has something new to wear), and paper money (including $1M notes) were burnt. After a while Ploy went inside, ("too hot"), and left me to burn the rest of this huge pile of paper in 36degC heat - we were certainly a major contributor to the increase in global warming that year. I hope this year will be a more subdued affair as it has been unseasonably warm recently. My contribution this year has been to relocate Ploy's shrine to a new auspicious spot in my workshop and to give all her Buddhas a good wash and polish but I expect I will be called on again later. Attempts to replace this makeshift Dexion structure with something a little more fitting of our house's ambience have so far failed. I just hope we get to eat some of this food at some point.
As for Ploy's latest plans to offer escorted motorcycle tours and to help with the promotion of a new friend's hotel and resort, well that news will have to wait in case we have another slow news week.
Sifting through the various Thai ex-pat forums you would be forgiven for just locking your doors and hiding under the bedsheets. Apparently Thais resent foreigners, (presumably not spouses), and their sole purpose in life is to rip you off or make, at the very least, as many problems for you as they can in any inventive way they can.
So when our car was rammed from behind on Tuesday evening when we were just sitting in traffic in Saraburi town centre I hesitated for a while to get out because, well depending on the forum, I will either be beaten to pulp by a suddenly formed group of rabid Thais, I will be arrested and put in the Bangkok Hilton for the rest of my life and subjected to all sorts of unspeakable acts or I will be forced to pay medical bills for the idiot behind for him and his family for the rest of my life - and I wasn't even driving. It didn't happen that way. The idiot behind got out of his car and surveyed the minor damage, new bumpers for both of us and a couple of scratches on the paintwork although to be honest they were less noticeable on his car given the the slightly worn look it had. He was a young chap but spoke respectfully to Ploy and suggested at first that we just pay for each other's repairs. Normally I might have let this go but our repair was going to be more than his, if he bothered at all, and he did hit us after all. So Ploy called her insurers and in thirty minutes a young chap arrived to take details of both cars and take photos of the damage. he checked the insurance, registration and driver's license of both parties and then gave Ploy a piece of paper that means we can get our car repaired free of charge at any suitable garage that does insurance accident repairs. We parted with a wai and the young chap thanked Ploy for her understanding although we didn't actually concede anything. And the foreigner in all of this, well I got away scott free apart from being wai'd to a lot and getting valuable practice in for my butt clenching in case it was the Bangkok Hilton for me.
But one thing I never read about are the perverse Thai banks. We have been sent two cheques, both in Canadian dollars. They are not a lot, just the over-payment on our various insurances in Canada. We had another payment like that regarding the mortgage settlement but these people contacted me via e-mail and paid it into my remaining Canada account which I left open for just that purpose. But we decided that we would pay these cheques into our Bangkok Bank account. One cheque was in my name only, one in both our names. Ploy had already attempted this and had been told for the cheque in my name only I would have to open a bank account in just my name only, (the account is in joint names), to be able to pay it in. I told Ploy that was nonsense; for example, how come she can withdraw money in just her name if that is the case, surely withdrawing money should be stricter than paying money in - I don't actually mind who pays money into our account and nothing should be put in their way, indeed it should be encouraged, unless it is some Russian mafia money laundering scheme, but even then I might make an exception. Anyway, we went to the bank together and again we were redirected from the counter to the customer service people but this time was seen by the young girl next to the battleaxe that rejected Ploy before and that so represents the Peter Principle that is alive and well in Thai banks. The girl took one look at the cheques and produced a very detailed form for Ploy to fill in and as my normally strong and independent Ploy is now in subservient mode, which tends to happen in front of doctors and in front of a bank's minions, she started filling it in. I asked what the form was for and she pointed to to the single point font in the corner which I think said something about permission to approach foreign banks something or other. I tried to stop Ploy filling it in. How much is this going to cost I asked; how long will this take? The girl had wandered off but on her return Ploy asked those very questions whilst continuing to fill in the form - she was up to the section on your sexual preferences. $10, she said. What $10 US or Canadian I asked. $10, US the girl said. Why US I said, the cheque is Canadian dollars drawn on a Canadian bank. Why not baht? It was then clear that it was $10 per cheque, even though the bank and the cheques are from the same company. One cheque was only for CA$62. How long will it take I said. Ploy was still dutifully filling in the form - the section on your favourite colour and the name of your first pet - which I estimated would take her another three weeks at least given a small break for meals. Six weeks said the girl. Six weeks! - I couldn't help my surprise - in these days of electronic banking? I could walk to Canada in six weeks, (an exaggeration to be honest, especially given that the winter is receding and my chances of getting across the Alaskan ice sheets was not great but I didn't Thais are so hot on geography and I think I got away with it as the girl just nodded in agreement) . Ploy has stopped scribbling at the section on your favourite icecreams. Six weeks she said, $10 per cheque, for just a few dollar cheques! Let's go, and so we did. We will now post the cheques to my Canadian bank and in one week we should see the money in our account with no charges save for the postage. You don't read about these things on the expat forums.
Now our company has been set up, and registered for everything it has to be registered for, it is time for me to apply for my work permit. Now current expat wisdom seems to indicate that either you can work without a work permit which, whilst being illegal, holds a very small likelihood you will be caught, assuming you don't have a high profile job or you don't accidentally rub someone up the wrong way in which case see the above for likely outcomes. Work permits are hard, (read impossible), says another to get and it is the employer that has to apply, not you, so why bother. The latter is true but as my employer is Ploy I think I can sweet-talk her into doing it. As to the former, well we shall see but after much research it seems, as with registering the company, that once you fulfill the requirements it actually does happen. (Of course making yourself legal here does have the down side in that you will pay tax on your salary and you have to pay yourself a minimum salary which at the moment I believe is 50,000 baht/month whether you need to do that or not).
We have our requisite four Thai employees which are required for every one foreign worker, such is the foreigners capacity for work. The first job is to copy these worker's ID cards. The other papers that are apparently required, (for our case, different requirements apply for different jobs), are:
So next week, after enduring my umpteenth medical over the past few years, we will presenting the papers at Saraburi's Labour department. I will keep you informed and just in case the expat wisdom is correct, I will keep practicing my butt clenching exercises.
Today our furniture arrives from Canada, to Bangkok at least, but with luck sometime this week it should actually arrive here, in Saraburi. For the first time in I don't know how long all of our possessions will be in one place including all my LPs, books, CDs and DVDs. It gives a warm cuddly feeling of permanency.
Now the kitchen is finished we have started moving the kitchen stuff from my workshop into there freeing up space for some more desks. In clearing the workshop we also unpacked the three remaining boxes from Singapore which contained lots of baking trays and dishes, and we now have an oven as well as a gas hob, (well twin burners anyway), and a recipe for a lemon vanilla cake. We also have found our icecream maker which I think will be put to good use soon. Our first kitchen that we will actually get to use.
My last trip to the US means I have now qualified for the Singapore air Gold card again. It seems a little thing but when you arrive at the airport and see that long check in queue and know you can walk right past it or you have a long transit time and you can pop in the airport lounge for a glass of wine and a snack or have a shower, well it just makes travel that bit more civilised.
SingMai currently has three orders, four serious enquiries, two new collaborative product proposals and many ideas of its own. More importantly it is starting to get a little money in the bank as the house and car are paid for so our outgoings are low.
We still have some plans for the house. Roof insulation, extend the workshop to provide a covered area to store things, tile the workshop, paint the house outside and in; some things we will do ourselves and for some we will get men in, but all will be done only when money allows and it does not cause any disruption to SingMai work. There are a few things to be bought for SingMai in the next few weeks too, an inspection microscope, a new computer and a new printer; again when money allows.
Let's go back to eighteen months ago:
We had an employee communication meeting this week. Things are lurching from bad to worse and despite having a 'critical' IC to design and tape out they announced a Christmas shutdown for two weeks. We are told it will save $400k but as they are just forcing us to take paid holiday that must mean there is a hell of an electricity bill somewhere; probably all the secretary's dildos. If we turn the electric off in Canada for two weeks it will take us three months to thaw the building out when we get back. What do I know, I am just an engineer.
And just six months ago.
This relationship thing with Canada is strange and I can't really work out why things have soured so much between the country and us. When I read of this report on how peaceful a country is, showing Canada at no. 8, (no.1 being the most peaceful), and Thailand at no.118, below Iran, I wonder what exactly I am letting myself into. There are hundreds of these reports that usually put Canada near the top of 'best quality of life' countries or the 'longest life expectancy' country, the same reports that put Thailand somewhere near the bottom. Yet for us, life expectancy aside as we don't know that yet, it is the opposite. The bureaucracy that we have found at every step here is stifling. We sensed it when it took over 2 months to get our initial visa and work permit to come here, and it was not just the length of time but the attitude of the staff. And every time I re-enter Canada I get the same questioning and puzzled look as they scrutinise my work permit; why don't they just come out and say 'bugger off', it would be more honest. There was the hassle with Ploy's driving license which we just gave up with in the end. The PR application [failed] was the final straw.
No place is perfect of course, every time I buy electronic components they have to be imported and I pay customs duty on them which makes it hard to be competitive although that is not really an issue at the moment. The bureaucracy here is probably as bad as Canada but we can afford to have someone deal with all that for us, unlike in Canada. We have still to get a fast reliable Internet connection but then at least the power doesn't go off every Sunday morning as it used to Canada which left me without the Internet for two hours or so, usually just when I needed it for something.
In fact I have to try and think quite hard for the downside of living here and those things I can think of are not that important and are easily outweighed by the positives, and important positives like the food and the weather and the ability to relax, sometimes something simple like breaking off work early to have a nice leisurely meal and an ice cold beer at our favourite restaurant and then being forced to have another beer because of the sudden thunderstorm. Or planning a weekend in Bangkok to see Ploy's daughter and to just wander around the shops, have a nice meal and watch a movie.
So much negative seems to be written about Thailand, both by some that live here and some that have never even visited the country but feel qualified to comment on it. For Ploy and I it has rejuvenated us and given us old fogies a new lease of life. The country has energised us instead of dragging our life force from us as Canada did. I first visited Thailand, I think, in 1981 and fell in love with it then. Why has it taken me so long to fulfill what I promised to myself all those years ago.
...to be back home. But there was a little while when I wondered if I would make it. I had driven down from San Jose to Laguna beach on the Sunday, a beautiful, relaxed 400 mile drive. I did a little bit of work in my hotel room on arrival before popping out to get a bite to eat. I had dinner at this restaurant, choosing the chef's tasting menu which was quite superb although the glass of wine per course, after starting with a kir, made me feel quite light headed by the end. I particularly remember the starter of scallops topped with foie gras, the bacon and eggs, (although they didn't call it that), and less remember the dessert of raspberries and real vanilla icecream although I do remember I was unable to manage the chocolate souffle which was on the menu. The next day I had an afternoon meeting with an old customer, (which promises well), and then Tuesday I was on my way home.
I didn’t fly until 9p.m. so I asked to check out later at the hotel which they allowed me to at no cost. I did a bit of work and I had a Skype call with a prospective customer at 11a.m.; the third one after meeting him at the CES show so that is also very promising. However after I finished the work and the call I decided to go to a shopping mall and see a movie in the afternoon. I found one locally that was a 3D cinema and thought I would see what all the fuss over Avatar was about. It was raining quite hard but the shopping mall had a Barnes a Noble bookshop so I had plenty to keep me busy and with a spot of lunch and a 1.5 hour drive to LA airport, which can be longer in the traffic; I thought that would waste the afternoon away nicely. By the time the GPS got me to the mall the rain was torrential, the wind was up and my American convertible car was leaking. The mall was the only one in the US that was notcovered, (but the car park was!), and in going from the car park to the first shop I got absolutely drenched; there was about 2 inches of standing water on the pavements. I found Barnes and Noble, luckily close by, spent an hour or so resisting buying books for me and buying some DVDs for Ploy, (CSI series 7, Santana and a Pavarotti tribute concert). Well actually I did buy a couple of books, one of which I read half of on the flight home and would have finished if I wasn't so tired, it being a very easy and interesting read: 'itself a 129 million cubic foot edifice so massive that its steel accordion doors were forty five stories high and, without its ten thousand ton air conditioner, interior clouds would form under its 525 foot ceiling...and it would rain'. I looked out of the shop and the palm trees were almost horizontal. All the shop workers were also just looking out of the window and the mall was deserted. There was a restaurant opposite and I just ran into it. It was a burger thing, not MacDonald's thank god or my claim to fame of never having eaten in McDonalds would have been broken, and luckily it did other stuff, (actually a really decent chicken salad and a local micro brewery beer – above all expectations). They had TVs on and all the workers were looking at the TV Weather channel. There was a tornado warning out for exactly where we were and a flooding warning. They were advising people not to travel and schools were being closed. The people in the restaurant were being told they could go home if they wanted. I h elped by reminding them of that scene in the Day after Tomorrow movie which just went to show how little sense of humour the Americans have.
elped by reminding them of that scene in the Day after Tomorrow movie which just went to show how little sense of humour the Americans have.
I must admit it really was raining even by Thai standards and with the wind it was pretty bad. But all this is a anti-climax as the eye of the storm passed over after I had lunch – luckily a few plucky devils (Mexicans) stayed to cook and serve - I ran to watch the movie and by the time the movie had finished all was quiet. But even gritty Californians, (is there such a thing – I think they are all pampered wooses aren't they?), said they had never seen anything like this and tornados are unheard of in
The flight home was long but good and Ploy was there to meet me despite the 6.a.m arrival time. I didn't get stopped at customs this time, (although my bag was X-rayed), which was good as I had brought back some real breakfast cereal (for me), icing sugar, yeast and vanilla for Ploy' s baking projects as we couldn't find them locally, and I didn't fancy explaining what they were to a stern customs gentleman. The weather here was slightly strange being a cool drizzle all the way home; we grabbed a breakfast of moo pad bai krapow sai kai dow mai sud (fried pork with Thai basil topped with a sunny side up fried egg - after eleven days of Western food it was spicy enough to make me sweat), for me and noodle soup with beef balls for Ploy, all for 89 baht with two bottle of orange Fanta, about $2, a fortieth of my French meal at Laguna Beach and there was no Fanta with that.
And once home that two hour quick nap turned into an eight hour sleep of the dead that was only disturbed by Ploy trying to wake me to go and eat something. Inevitably I woke at 2.a.m., partly to allow the Moo pad Bai krapow to pass, and have decided to try and stay awake all day and organise the pile of work I have to do for SingMai so I hopefully get back to Thai time by tomorrow. The wall cupboards have arrived for the kitchen and I vaguely remember saying I would fit them as our Thai workers appear to have a wonky spirit level judging by the work they have done so far and in any case they have moved on to another job now. Our furniture arrives from Canada on Monday so Ploy needs to organise cleaning the storage area she has found for it, (1000 baht/month - large, dry, local and secure). Aside from Ploy's clay flower making and formal college she starts Chinese lessons next week to brush up her vocabulary but also learn simplified Chinese reading and writing as she was taught the full set: simplified being just 3000 characters! And don't ask about my Thai - I have been busy all right). She has just got the chanoot (land registry) documents for the house too now it is paid for which I know she is chuffed about so there is no doubt we are here to stay now whatever is thrown at us.
I stopped work Wednesday afternoon to wander around Las Vegas a little, well the Strip at least. I started by walking down to the Luxor hotel as I didn't chose the Mexican restaurant the other night, I found myself in the Nine Fine Irishmen pub in the New York, New York hotel (and casino), where I had a rather good shepherds pie served by a moustached Mexican gentleman. The Luxor is very impressive outside but rather a disappointment inside as the casino floor is covered which stops you seeing to the top of the pyramid - which is only visible at the hotel entrance so I left. (After getting slightly lost - every casino here has mirrors everywhere, I guess for that very reason - to keep you there as long as possible - with the ceiling supposedly giving you a more intimate relaxed environment. But I would hate to negotiate the place when drunk, bumping into every mirrored pillar and ending up in a bloodied heap slumped against one talking to my new found friend who bares a remarkable similarity to myself, rather like a fight club budgie talking into its mirror).
I walked up past the Excalibur, one of the tackiest of the hotels in Vegas, which is saying something, and went inside the New York, New York hotel (and casino) adorned with its fake statue of liberty and fake Brooklyn Bridge. This hotel, which I hadn't been inside on previous trips, offers a little more variety in the way of shops, or so it seemed during my dinner the night before and the street arrangement (42nd street etc.) is quite well done. Of course everything in Vegas is fake, gloriously so, from the Sphinx to the statue of liberty to the Venetian's gondolas and an inordinate amount of effort seems to go into making the fakes look as original as possible, but to what purpose I am unsure unless American visitors really think this Eiffel tower is the real one and the fake is 'somewhere over there'. As if in reaction to this, my hotel, the Tropicana, is not the only one to profess 'Vegas as is should be' which I guess is a snipe at these newer antics. By 'as it should be' it means faded, at least one magic show, a large smoke filled casino, a variety show, (for my hotel that is 'Mr. Las Vegas', Wayne Newton), and free
flowing alcohol 24 hours a day. There is a clear difference in style between the older hotels, (the Tropicana was opened in 1957 whilst the first hotel we ever stayed in in Vegas, The New Frontier - now demolished - was built in 1942; now that really was a faded curiosity), and the new themed ones. That said I rather like the older style hotels to the new ones that mostly seem to have been built in the 1990's; their gaudiness is genuine and the new breed of high end restaurants seems out of place here somehow, a place built on unlimited buffets (the Tropicana offers a 24 hour, all you eat, buffet for just $28), and steakhouses. The other thing missing now of course is the entertainers. Whilst I was there Bette Midler was at the Caesars Palace, and there were forthcoming shows with Barry Manilow and Tom Jones, (Sarno even had long discussions about the apostrophe in "Caesar's" - which he banished because the possessive "would mean that it was the place of only one Caesar". He wanted to create the feeling that everybody in the hotel was a Caesar. "Caesars" it became.). But the days when you fill every hotel (and casino) with names like Eddie Fisher, Andy Williams and Sammy Davis Junior are long gone and I can't see people going there to see the latest American Idol wannabe. The Cirque du Soliel seems everywhere and Phantom of the Opera is ever-present but once gambling is the only reason to visit Vegas I would expect the place to slowly die. The Venetian is an amazing hotel (and casino) but for all the amazing effort put in to replicate Venice, it isn't Venice, (it doesn't have the
stench to start with). If I want to see the Sphinx I will go to Egypt.
The next day I drove the 550 miles across the Mojave dessert to San Jose to meet with another potential customer. I could have flown of course but I rather like just dropping the bags in the car and the roads were pretty empty and it is a chance to see more of the area. The Mojave is a wonderful desolate place but for all its barrenness I never tired of the landscape, especially when climbing up to the 4000ft elevations. There is little by the side of the road, bar the occasional Wild West style resort and gas station but the nine hour drive just flew past despite nearly making a detour to see Death Valley. One sign I did have to look up on my arrival in San Jose was the town of Zzyzx which I thought probably meant something on Native American but in fact is an invented name that serves no purpose than to be the final word in the English language.
I stopped for some fuel and a sandwich but the restrooms were closed so I went next door to the cafe and ended up having a (plastic) plate of Chili Verde and a coffee for $8 which was as good as any I have ever eaten. Mojave town itself appeared to be a large airport but no houses. The name conjours up all sorts of things for me, probably through watching too many John Wayne movies, but I had to look up Wiki to find why the associations to Borax and the signs for the twenty mule train. Leaving the desert I climbed the roads leading through the Tehachapi mountains and such was the amazing scenary I found it quite difficult to keep myself on the road as every bend seemed to bring an even more amazing sight. It seems reading Wiki that my last customer visit on Sunday to Laguna Beach on Interstate I-5, (I was travelling Route 58), will bring even more dramatic views.
This trip has been a long one but now I am in San Jose I feel I am on the homeward leg and Tuesday, when I fly home, is not so far away now.
This week I have been in Sin City for the Consumer Electronics show and the following ICCE conference as well as meeting some new potential customers. I am speaking of Sin City, USA - Las Vegas - as every country has an appointed cultural icon where it seems anything goes; for Thailand it is Pattaya, for Singapore (if you can call it a town) Geylang and for the UK it is Scunthorpe. The week has so far been exhausting but fruitful with at least one very likely order resulting. I nearly cancelled the trip as I was behind with my orders and money suddenly became tight as Ploy's land sale fell through. Somehow I thought it might and Ploy got the call just three hours before the documents would have been signed. However Ploy said I must go as we need to keep the orders coming in and on Thursday I drive 550 miles to San Jose to meet another potential sale and then Sunday drive down to Laguna beach to meet with a previous customer who is interested in us doing some further work for them. All the travelling makes this a long trip, especially with the weekend in the middle, long enough for me to have to try and complete my orders in my spare time. I am under strict instructions to not call home as just before we left we got a 70,000 baht ($2000) phone bill for whilst I was in Canada! Ploy has managed so far not to kill anyone at AIS but this is the second month running they have made a mistake on the bill; last month they overcharged us 8000 baht. It is easy to see how Thaksin acquired his billions.
The flight here was surprisingly good. Singapore Air's direct flight to Los Angeles is business class only now which puts it way outside my price range and in any case it is not non-stop from Bangkok of course. But Thai Airways still offer their non-stop flight and for a little more you can fly executive economy which gives you better seats and better service. Well so they say on their web page but in fact it was all true to the extent that they 'borrowed' some meals (lobster) and wine (a nice Pinot Noir) from business class to offer us. The service was very good and friendly and the Airbus plane modern. The only slight downside was the seat back entertainment system which didn't have a great selection of movies. I watched the Michael Jackson movie This Is It and a couple of TV programs by Tim Marlow on Constable and Manet which made me think I really should try and finish my art history book some day. I must say that even on that small screen that movie made me reassess Michael Jackson. Flawed as a person, probably, but surely one the greatest dancers ever and his quiet assured control over all aspects of the production surprised me. I wish he had had the chance to perform these concerts before he died although the press reaction was probably already written. I actually slept well and with a brisk tail wind we arrived over an hour early which was good as it meant I avoided having to hear the American man next to me continue his tale of how his American wife 'stole' his $5 million house and then got a restraining order put out on him and while he professed his innocence in all of this told me how his current Thai wife used to star in pornography films unbeknown to him.
Bored of listening to a $96,000 turntable, excellent though it sounded (all military grade titanium but with a conventional tone arm which is the cause of most of the distortions), and the unintelligible presentations from the Korean engineers who constitute 90% of the papers these days I have mostly been working in my hotel room. Las Vegas is different to the other Sin Cities in that it doesn't do sex, rather like the rest of the US, but it does do gambling. But not a cent of my money has been wasted on the machines this year, the shows seem the same as they were three years ago - my last visit here - so I have been feeding myself an unnecessary three meals a day to pass the time.
My hotel here, the Tropicana, does not have a restaurant of note but at the Venetian, where part of the CES show resided, I found a nice lunch spot. The first meal I had there, a lobster and avocado sandwich was really excellent with a side of garlic fries and a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc you can sit and watch the world go by and it is in an interesting location sat between two CES show locations so you get all the geeks and weirdoes associated with that as well as the slightly less weird attendees associated with the Adult Entertainment Expo which runs right alongside the CES show.
Eating three meals a day to counter boredom does mean I can't really do justice to the ubiquitous buffets or the many steak restaurants but I did happen upon this unpretentious looking place that served up probably the best filet mignon I have ever had. In fact the rare tuna tataki starter with seaweed had already set the high standards and although, after my starter, I was regretting not ordering the tuna main course, the steak did not disappoint in any way and the pureed potatoes with a hint of mustard and the side salad I ordered were quite superb accompaniments; (I told the waiter that I nearly ordered the tuna main course after the excellence of the starter and he said, 'But Sir, we are a steak restaurant - steaks are what we do best'). The wine list is also extensive and the service everything it should be. Definitely a place to return to.
I had to search the Internet to find a good breakfast, by which I mean one which freshly cooks the food instead of offering it up in luke warm trays, and that also offers a good selection. I chose to try this restaurant at the Mandalay Bay which is a short free tram ride from my hotel. Still not in a routine I had been working since 2.a.m and was hungry and therefore was grateful to find they had what turned out to be the best corned beef hash I think I have ever had. Nothing gets you going better than that for breakfast, adorned with two sunny side up eggs and a generous splash of tabasco. Sourdough toast too with real butter, (not those little frozen packets), good service, and not expensive; about $20 including a huge pot of fresh coffee and fresh grapefruit juice. I did try lunch there which was also excellent and good value but it is definitely the best breakfast place I have found in Las Vegas; so far.
When Ploy and I were last in Vegas together we tried this seafood restaurant and really enjoyed it but this time it was slightly disappointing. The tuna starter, (I do my best to eat as much tuna as I can before it goes extinct), was good but the main course of atlantic cod tagine was rather bland. It was not cheap either. But at the other end of the scale the House of Blues, again at the Mandalay Bay, served up a very average chicken with roasted vegetables but also a quite excellent live band that were so good I bought their CD and stayed until midnight. Those who also stayed late would have found me strutting my stuff in the late hour, a testament to their generous wine servings.
Tonight I think Mexican, something almost impossible to find in Thailand, and this restaurant at the Luxor, a hotel I have wanted to look inside for while anyway, could be the destination.
Last night, on New Year's Eve, we celebrated my first ever new year in Thailand in a field not far from Saraburi. Thais celebrate three New Years; the Western one, the Chinese one, and their own in April and they give their all at each. Ploy had bought tickets for us on the advice of a friend but she seemed to have little more idea what would be happening than I did. The day had been unseasonably hot and as we drove there we hit a heavy shower which was not a good omen as the event was outside and uncovered. We arrived quite early, parked the car, and wandered around. The centre of the site was a field laid out with straw mats and rows upon rows of small circular tables, each with a bottle of Coke, a bottle of Sprite, several bottles of still and soda water and glasses. At one end of this arrangement was a stage, at the other the entrance. Surrounding the main event were lots of stalls selling traditional style clothes, food of course, fairground style shoot the balloon stalls, a lake, some beautifully decorated buffalo carts, a small temple and a graveyard. Ploy tried to contact her friends who hadn't arrived yet, delayed by the heavy rain, leaving me to wander around by myself. I did later see one other foreigner but at this time I was the only one there and I was frequently spoken too, in the nicest possible way, and every food stall owner invited me to try their snacks except, thankfully, for the insect man.
Ploy found me and took me to the event entrance where a line of elders would lay a garland of flowers around your neck and tie a piece of string ('sai sin') around your wrist for good luck. We were taken to our table and within seconds a bottle of whisky arrived which was included in the price. I don't drink whisky but anticipating this we had bought some beer on the way, (every event I have been to never has beer on offer - too expensive Ploy says), so Ploy went back to the car to get it. Whilst she was away the food arrived although I was one of the very few people sat down at this point. The food was about ten small dishes including sticky rice, a spicy dip for the rice, a curry of young bamboo shoots, minced pork salad (larb moo), fried chicken and a crispy rice dessert. The food was actually a little disappointing and later I popped out to buy some things from the surrounding stalls.
Our first friends arrived and as we started to eat the main event started. By now the tables were filling up quickly and by dark there was not a free table to be seen. A group of children played some traditional Thai music before a woman sat down and started to sing with them. I say sing because to my ears it sounded like a very adequate imitation of a cat in heat. And boy did she go on. And on. The event was really high tech with a TV camera videoing everything which was shown on four large screens around the perimeter. These screens also showed footage of events held earlier in the day. There was the ubiquitous Thai dancing which was also rather good and then again a lot of chat from a man and woman who seem rather over-fond of their own voices. By now our other friends had finally arrived - they were on a motorbike and had been held up by the rain which thankfully had held off from here - the food was gone and Ploy had moved to proper nearby chair to get some feeling back in her legs. A large piece of tissue paper that I had been given earlier and which I thankfully had not torn up and given to each of our guests, turned out to be a lantern which at this point everyone lit and watched as they serenely floated off into the night. Ploy wanted to go at this point although it was still 8p.m. but I didn't have any objections as I was also getting very uncomfortable and the stage event now seemed to be a lot of 'important' people sitting on chairs, (they obviously were important enough to be given chairs whilst us plebs sat on the floor), and talking to each other. As we got back to the car fireworks were lit so we stayed to watch what I assume was just the first round of many before driving home without incident, arriving to the competing sounds of every neighbour's stereo wound up to clipping distortion levels. I watched a little bit of TV which was showing an impressive Ayuddhya sound and light show event and then went to bed, once again failing to wait to see in the New Year. You can see more photos of the event here.
So today is the beginning of a another year. It is 4.30.a.m as I type this and the last music stopped just an hour ago - again I hesitate to call it music as it sounded like one of the soi dogs being castrated. The work on the house - at least the kitchen and the tiling - is all but finished and whilst on our short break in Pattaya we bought a standalone oven so we can now bake things. We bought a new gas bottle yesterday, the washing machine and sink are plumbed in and we just have a bit of organising to do and all is done. Our furniture from Canada should arrive soon, Ploy should get the money from the sale of her land on the 5th and on the 8th I fly to Los Angeles for my conference. This time last year we were in Canada, well I was, Ploy had returned to Thailand to take care of our house. Little did either of us think we would be living here just a year later. So I hesitate to predict anything for this year and we have made to resolutions but whatever does unfold I am sure it will be interesting as every year with Ploy has so far proved to be just that, and more.
When I was a teenager I was out from morning to night; as soon as I got home from work and ate something I was out again, swimming, playing football, drinking was involved if I remember correctly. Later in life came all the travelling, sometimes every day was a new city vista or planning for the next trip. In Singapore there were always things to do at night and the weather was conducive to enjoying them but all that changed when we went to Canada where the weather forced us to live like hermits until the one week of sunshine came. So we moved to Thailand where, we reasoned, we could once again go out of an evening without either planning it like a trip up Everest or having to remortgage the house to do so. But I am not, despite Ploy's encouragement. Come the evening I am happy to get something to eat but then I just want to stay at home, maybe sit on the porch, watch a DVD, read a book or even go to bed.
This Saturday Ploy told me of a charity motorcycle fair at Muak Lek, not so far from us. She made it clear she wanted me to go with her, having attended at least two such events without me in the past couple of months. So I showered to try to shake off the onset of lethargy that I allow to take me over at that time of day, I found a presentable shirt and we went out. Well, we actually went out an hour later than that as Ploy wanted to put on some make up. I had a beer to fill my time and then we went to get something to eat first. Ploy, she informed me, had already eaten so she ordered something quick without giving me sight of the menu, (Kow Pat Kapi), which I ate under Ploy's continuous instruction to finish it quickly. The reason for all this haste became clear as I had the audacity to finish my beer which I had helped myself to from the cooler whilst Ploy had gone to the kitchen to order my food. We had to go into Saraburi to pick up a friend, the opposite direction to Muak Lek and Saraburi has a tendency to be a tad busy on Saturday night. And so it proved, so by the time we were about to pass our house again I was in sleep mode where the prospect of enduring a few hours of incomprehensible conversation was not appealing. So I convinced Ploy to drop me off at home, I opened another beer, watched an old DVD and went to bed.
Ploy returned at midnight and I was surprised to find in the morning that she had taken quite a few photos although most proved to be indecipherable. However the few that I didn't delete certainly gave a flavour of the event, a sort of Hell's Angels but with rather less leather and moustaches. But Tuesday night I did succumb to a request to ''go somewhere', which turned out to be a display of the all the local school's 'Best Practice' (spelt variously throughout the stalls). And I enjoyed it and wished we had gone earlier as, being run by school children, it closed quite early. The stalls included all sorts of displays, from cooking and growing food, to local archaeology, to exhibitions of dancing (good) and singing (not so good). All the children manning the stalls were smiling and pleasant, although coming from the UK I kept expecting one of them to suddenly snarl, 'Bugger off you decrepit spastic', but it didn't happen. In fact being one of two or three foreigners I spotted there I got the royal treatment and was invited to try everything where a simple 'thank-you' or 'delicious' in Thai immediately produced a rush of giggles and smiles - as I said I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The work on the house is interesting to watch; I had done a plan for the kitchen but that did not allow for Thai working practices. The worktop has to be 38inches high I am told not 34 inches high as in the West, I have no idea why (and Ploy discourages me from questioning) but I find later they are raising the floor two inches to make the whole ground floor one even level so that becomes 36 inches anyway and Ploy seems able to work at that height without a problem. I have no idea about the drain for the washing machine and I keep asking only to be told, 'it is taken care of', but I see no way they can connect it up without running a bright blue pipe across the room. The 'worktop' which we paid about $1000 for our kitchen in Canada, is constructed out of reinforced cement which was laid using a base of old doors propped up on bits of wood that were nailed into the floor, (you never see screws used in Thailand). In fact everything seems to be made of cement, brick or plaster. The worktops will be tiled and I am sure they will be strong and look good but it is strange to see it made this way. Tiles are cut by eye using a hand held circular saw, the measurements are carefully taken but there is no tile cutter, just a (hopefully) steady hand whilst crouched on the garden stones. So far they have laid in excess of 65 boxes of ten 12x12 tiles and more smaller tiles for the worktops and the kitchen walls. They have used about 3 ton of sand and I lost count of how may bags of cement. But every tile is fitted seamlessly and it really looks fabulous as the same tile extends from the front of our car standing area, the patio, through the house to the kitchen at the back. We had to pay extra for tiling the bathroom, car port and living room as they were not in the original quote, but the cost for tiling is 90 baht a square metre plus tiles which, for our choice, are 155 baht per box.
Today is Christmas day, but here in Thailand it is not even a holiday. Our workmen arrived at 8a.m. to continue work on the house, the usual plethora of vans selling things passes by and the neighbours went off to work as usual. Ploy has gone into town to wash our clothes (no washing machine working yet - in fact we have a disfunctional living room, kitchen, downstairs bathroom and garden all at the same time but I am assured everything will be done by Sunday), pay our electric bill and buy some more tiles for the bathroom; (which we were going to leave alone but in levelling all the downstairs rooms - the dining room was lower than the other rooms as it was meant to be our kitchen so we levelled that to the living room but that meant the bathroom, which was already lower than the dining room, could only be entered with a parachute). I, in the meantime, am trying to ignore the sound of saw on tile and get some SingMai work done; we got another order yesterday and we had already decided to go down to Pattaya for three days starting Monday for a break and meet up with some other ex-pats that have so far only been virtual acquaintances. Never having stayed in Thailand at this time I was surprised at the hike in hotel prices but we bit the bullet and decided if we were going to pay six times what we would normally pay we might as well get somewhere nice, so we have booked this hotel, the only one we could find that boasts a king size bed. We have also booked this restaurant so we can hopefully have some good Western food before we return to a diet of mostly fish, pork and rice (not that I am complaining but it seems an opportunity lost if we don't eat Western food whilst we are there). And if we don't go now we both miss the opportunity to meet people visiting from the UK and also we then run into my US visit, or in short we don't get a break at all.
So today, with all the noise and bustle going on around me and with nowhere to even sit save for this chair in front of the computer, does not afford the silence that Christmas day in the West brings and therefore does not allow the contemplative sentimental look back on Christmas past. Although my only fond memories - indeed my only memories - of Christmas day go back to my childhood with my mother and father. Just the three of us, me waking at 5.a.m. to find a sack of little goodies at the end of the bed carefully placed there by my parents so I was kept busy and did not rush into their bedroom to wake them before sunrise. Little games, like that one where you placed tiny balls in little cups, or maybe a small book, an orange, chocolate and maybe one slightly larger present to tease. The big presents were downstairs and were not to be opened until after breakfast was eaten, a strange custom as I didn't normally have breakfast anyway. After the presents we then went to visit my Dad's mother and sister (more presents there) and then the rest of the day was spent having lunch (cold turkey and salad for me, hot turkey for my mother and father), watching TV, especially the Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise, and the blockbuster movie, usually a James Bond. I read my books, played my games, read the instructions on assembling various things, helped by my father, and maybe an aunt or two might visit. Aside from this childhood memory I do remember Ploy's first Christmas in the UK when she was there on a visitor visa and I tried as hard as I could to make her feel warm and happy. I bought a Christmas tree, put presents at the bottom which Ploy. not understanding the custom, opened as soon as I left the room - every day was Christmas day for her that week - and put up decorations. But that is that, I can recall no other Christmases, noticeably none with my first wife.
Christmas this year is a time for us to look forward and not back. Ploy has sold her land and she got twice what we paid for it and we also get to keep all the timber from the derelict Thai house that is on the plot, although quite what we will do with it is another question. I worry less and less about orders for SingMai now and we are now having to manage our work more carefully because we almost have too many orders. This coming year will probably see us employ our first engineer or two and see Ploy finally get her restaurant opened. Money is less of a worry, we have paid off our house and car here, so if things do go bad for any reason, we need only a few baht a day to eat. So quickly things seemed to have turned around since we moved here. The day to day living costs and high taxes in the UK and Canada gave us no opportunity to pay off the mortgage or the car loan. Here, once the work on the house is done, we have money left in the bank and can afford to get away for a couple of days without thinking about it. Life is good at the moment and I enjoy waking up of a morning and watching the dawn slowly light up our garden. That first coffee of the morning has never tasted so good and I love it when Ploy comes down, kisses me on the cheek and makes me my fresh orange juice. Memories of Christmas are there and maybe in the future I will look back on this one, my first Christmas in Thailand, with the same affection I look back on my childhood ones forty years ago, but this year it is all about what 2010 will bring.
'The day's most remarkable feature was a direct and unprecedented personal clash between the US President, Barack Obama, and the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, in which Mr Wen took deep offence at Mr Obama's insistence – in public – that the Chinese should allow their promised cuts in greenhouse gases to be internationally verified. When the President, in an unyielding speech, said that without international verification "any agreement would be empty words on a page", that was too much for Mr Wen. He left the conference in Copenhagen's Bella Centre, returned to his hotel in the city, and responded with a direct snub of his own – he sent low-level delegates to take his place in the talks.
A high-level source told The Independent that the US President was amazed when he found who he was negotiating with, and clearly regarded Mr Wen's absence as a major diplomatic insult. He snapped: "It would be nice to negotiate with somebody who can make political decisions" although last night urgent diplomatic efforts were underway to try to bring the two leaders face to face for a second round of talks, to patch up the disagreement.
Yet it got worse. The long-awaited meeting, on which so much hope has been placed for so long around the world – the Danes, from their Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussne down, have been referring to Copenhagen as "Hopenhagen" – threatened to descend into farce when Venezuela's firebrand Marxist President, Hugo Chavez, fired off a string of insults at Mr Obama from the podium, saying he had been awarded "the Nobel Prize for war" and referring to his "Yankee Empire". Subsequently Mr Chavez said he was leaving the meeting, along with his fellow Marxist Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and leaving the talks to junior negotiators. '
The above report from the Independent newspaper hardly comes as a surprise; what would have been surprising would have been if those leaders that we have had been able to put aside their differences for just a few moments such that a decision could have been reached for the mutual benefit of everybody in the world. The idea that Venezuela can somehow isolate itself from the effects of global warming and remain indifferent to the actions of any other country is naive, or arrogant, or misinformed or just plain fucking stupid - probably the latter. But at least I am now spared association with Canada's prime minister who succinctly summed up the conference in his own inimitable style, "The process is not the easiest process". ""When you have a couple of hundred countries, when you have this big a gathering, the reality is that obviously the major players will have a bigger role and you have to work in concert with others, in concert with those with whom you share perspectives."
Environmental groups bestowed the dubious "Colossal Fossil" award on Canada. They said Ottawa's target for reducing its greenhouse gases is "among the worst in the industrialized world" and its plan to reach its goal is "so weak that it would put even hat target out of reach."
The most disappointing thing about all of this is I won't be able to see the most spectacular results of this indecision and petty mindedness. Along with witnessing our first contact with intelligent aliens, being able to watch a conference such as this, replete with 193 leaders and innumerable cronies, get submerged by a 50m tsunami is right up near the top of my 'must see' list. But then, according to Santayana, given the legacy given to us by the World Wars, as well an the innumerable smaller wars still be fought, we are perhaps expecting too much from our leaders:
It is war that wastes a nation's wealth, chokes its industries, kills its flower, narrows its sympathies, condemns it to be governed by adventurers, and leaves the puny, deformed, and unmanly to breed the next generation.
So while we patiently wait for nature to engulf us in armageddon work continues on our house. The kitchen roof and walls have been built and the walls plastered and as I write this the kitchen work tops are being installed, our dining room is being tiled and the front porch extended. We have decided to extend the tiling to include our car porch driveway as our new choice of tiles didn't really match the old ones and the extra work is just 5000 baht. We have bought the doors for under the work tops and also chosen the paint for inside the house, although we will probably do that ourselves, room by room. My workshop is a disaster area at the moment as everything has had to moved in there while the work is being completed. It will get worse before it gets better as our living room is re-tiled and all our furniture there will have to find a new home but it will be worth it when it is all done.
We are close to Christmas now where most Western companies will shut down for two weeks, including some enforced shutdowns resulting from the financial circumstances like my old company is doing. This gives me two weeks of peace to work on SingMai stuff and it is amazing how much extra work can be done without the constant e-mails coming in. We found our old plastic Christmas tree from Singapore in the unpacking but we have decided for this year to leave it in the box. Ploy has a weekend camp to attend as part of her college course and that is on the 26th/27th December so there seems little point in making an effort to put up some decorations without her being here with me.
I am hardly an authority after living here for just three months but I do have some previous, 3 years living in Singapore and 3 years living in Canada so I should be able to recognise the signs.
As part of my weekly penance I read Stickman's website. Last week he wrote about how his current lifestyle, after ten years living here and despite being married to a Thai and being able to speak the language fluently, which should allow him to integrate better, he finds himself living in a Western bubble, eating Western food, watching Western TV and movies, speaking English to his Western friends and his article seems to have struck a cord, with his readers at least.
'Today I don't watch Thai TV although I have to admit that Thai cinema is actually quite good bar any story with ghosts. I seldom eat Thai food and the condo we live in is very much dominated by foreigners. Despite being proficient in the local lingo, I don't use it that often. I have few genuine Thai friends and those that I do have I don't see that often. So you stop celebrating Thai holidays, at least you stop celebrating them how the Thais do. Perhaps you suggest to your teeruk that she celebrate with her friends or family while you do your thing with your mates. The evening of Thai TV on the couch with the teeruk becomes teeruk on the sofa and you in front of the computer. The disappearance, or at least the reduction, of Thai food from the diet, inevitably replaced with Western fare, is gradual. You make excuses to no longer accompany her to the temple. You once tolerated it but now she is forced to call her friends to go with her. Road trips where you spend several hours reaching a destination, only to stop for an hour, eat, take photos and spend several more hours going home become old. All those very Thai-style activities you once quite enjoyed become a chore.'
His hankering is for his homeland, which is New Zealand. I have effectively been away from the UK for seven years now but I don't feel the slightest inclination to return to the UK and perhaps that is a the difference. I certainly hope so, I would hate to think that after ten years of living here Ploy and I would be living almost separate lives and I would spend every minute of every day in effective isolation, finding fault with everything Thai. I don't have any Western friends here despite intentions to meet some, it just hasn't happened, not yet anyway. Last night we went out to one of those BBQ places, (85 baht a head for all you can eat, and cook yourself), and Ploy invited two new friends of her's and their young daughter. Although my Thai is not up following all, (or indeed much), of the conversation I had a good time. These are the friends that want to open a restaurant together with Ploy and I can certainly vouch for the fact she is an excellent cook. Much of the conversation was about the restaurant and what design they wanted for it. The conversation was neither vacuous or uninteresting - a common accusation against Thais by expats - that said I have had plenty of vacuous and uninteresting conversations with Western friends and most of them have been quite fun. A letter in this week's Stickman column adds to the criticism:
I have moved from country to country more than once in my life and worked in many places in the world. When I transplanted myself from the UK to Canada it took me about four years to really feel at home and ultimately I reached a point where I felt I belonged more there than in my country of birth. Not so with Thailand. I think there are a number of reasons why:
I used to watch a home DIY program in Canada called Holmes on Homes and almost all of his programs were of him repairing badly done and often unfinished work on people's houses, often with these people thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket with no legal redress. So we have this family working on our kitchen. They work from 9-5, 7 days a week and I watch them from time to time. The metal support beams were rust protected twice and then painted one further time. We found out he is going to tile the entire kitchen when I expected only the floor to be tiled; yesterday he bought some catalogues for us to choose the tiles. They work hard, they tidy up at the end of the day and remember this entire job is costing us about $1200. All of the workmen we have had work on the house, from building the car port to spraying for insects and dry rot have done exactly what we paid for them for and they mostly did it with a smile. When Ploy called the insect sprayers to spray our house one more time - we had already paid for a further three six monthly inspections - they came two days later, on time, and we didn't pay a penny, exactly as we had agreed. Probably the work is not being done to Mike Holmes' standard, certainly safety standards are, shall we say, loose, and the idea of the right tool for the job seems foreign to them. But they get the job done and done to our satisfaction. Are we just lucky and tonight we will be murdered in our beds by a group of local workmen jealous at our apparent wealth.
I said before that, in wondering exactly why things didn't work out in Canada, I had come to the conclusion that to live happily somewhere you have to give your heart to the place. For various reasons we were in Canada through happenstance, we were in Singapore and Thailand through choice, through a desire to live there. In Canada we were not so happy and things always seems to happen detrimentally to us, in Singapore and so far in Thailand things has always turned out favourably. Bad things happen everywhere but if you like the country you live in then you tend to overlook the bad things, to remember them dimly. From Brit in Bangkok:
I just got back from a very nice lunch with eight ex-students from my last corporate English teaching job. They took me to a Japanese restaurant near my old office and we just talked. The food was great and the company excellent. Every time I go out with a group of Thais, I realize why I like Thailand so much. They're seriously the kindest, sweetest, loveliest, friendliest people you'd ever meet.
Maybe my experiences are selective but they are obviously not unique; maybe living away from the expat centres I am not drawn into the inevitable bitching about life that seems to go on between these people. I have little choice except to spend my time with Thai people and why is that such a bad thing; after all I married one so why would I want to avoid them. Canada is lot like the UK, more so every day unfortunately, and that is probably why I didn't like it. Thailand is a totally different culture and unless you are prepared to adapt to it then living here is going to be a struggle. For every thing you see that could perhaps benefit from being done a Western way, there is another that benefits from not being done the Western way. Bemoaning the former without recognising the latter will only grind you down.
Why would you move to Thailand if you don't like hot weather. When it hits 40degC, the air conditioning is on the blink, and I am trying to get some urgent job finished I may change my mind momentarily, but then I just have to remember the first job in the Canadian winter morning and sometimes in the evening too, shovelling snow, which can easily take an hour of your time up, every day, in -20degC. I know which one I prefer to struggle with. The food issue, if it is one, is irrelevant. If you really hanker for Western food then cook it yourself, all the ingredients are here. Just occasionally there is struggle to find a whole grain mustard or a particular cheese or Romano lettuce, but that is because we are in Saraburi and alternatives are available. Today we pay off our mortgage and tonight we are going to celebrate with a nice dinner - and you guessed it, the food will be Thai, through choice. It is not surprising that the best food available in this country is Thai. If I want bread instead of rice I can buy it and once our kitchen is finished, I can make it, but again, to reject completely Thai food when you live in that country seems paradoxical.
''I need intellectual stimulation in my conversations' the expats cry. Funny that, because in my experiences of the British club in Singapore or the various bars in any country, all that is talked is bullshit; sometimes it is fun, but the number of instances where I have discussed Lacan's castration complex or had any desire to do so have been somewhat limited, except where it may have influenced Tiger Wood's decision to bang everything in sight or explain Steven Gerrard's need to get into bar brawls. I am a little sensitive to the uneducated moniker having no degree in electronics which today is mandatory and makes me a sort of second class citizen in my chosen career. Certainly some, but not all Thais, not having the opportunity to study further may be not able to discuss in detail the current Iraq war investigations in the UK or have a view on Michael Fried's 'instaneousness' but does that make them less interesting. Our friends at dinner last night could certainly discuss their daughters apparent hyperactivity or the local Harley Davidson motorcycle fair that was held last Saturday or the rumours behind the restaurant killings that happened a few weeks ago close to where we were sat. Ploy left school at sixteen, (which is why she has gone back to college), but we can hold conversations on most subjects and she has a well thought out and intelligent view on subjects as wide as Thaksin to the best salad dressing recipe. Qualifications alone do not make a person intelligent. What makes a person interesting to talk to is their life experiences and they are not taught. I should say that my sample of Thais is rather select being mostly working or middle classes but unfailingly I find the ones I talk to to be bright, free-thinking and funny. I might not be able to find anyone who can talk about cricket here but I couldn't in Canada and there were precious few who even knew what football was, (soccer I mean), or who had even heard of Manchester United, which is not the case here.
My first disappointment in Canada came with my first pay cheque, two weeks after I had arrived, when I realised the tax man had taken over 50% of my relocation allowance. Welcome to Canada. I know if I went back to the UK I would be going up the wall in a matter of days, it is just a matter of the first of thousands of things that would affect me first. In Singapore and Thailand there were no 'welcome' presents such as that from Canada, indeed everything went very smoothly and continued to do so. Well until my job situation deteriorated which is why I left, but not for want of trying to find something else in Singapore. In Canada all I had was my job and once that went down the toilet I had nothing, no reason to stay at all. As I say, we moved to the country for the wrong reasons.
Things may yet run sour here of course and if you do read of a farang being murdered in his bed tonight by a group of locals then please, could someone delete this diary entry as it will just make me look silly.
For only the second time in the three months I have lived here we went into Bangkok yesterday. The principal reason was to change our Canadian money into baht so we can pay off our mortgage but I thought we would make a day of it and go somewhere and maybe have a nice, (Western), meal out somewhere. So our first stop was Pratunam where Ploy knew of Superrich, an odd name, (and surprisingly honest one - it is like the Bangkok bank renaming itself the Screw-You Bank), that none-the-less gave us a much better exchange rate than anything we could find locally (31.35 baht/CA$1). There are two shops, both called Superrich, (some falling out from the original company apparently), one offering 0.05 baht worse than the other. The process was simple and we soon left clutching our money. Next stop was a bank to deposit the money. Yesterday was Constitution day so the main branches were shut but smaller branches were still open in the department stores. We queued at the Bangkok Bank only to be told they wanted to charge us 1% of our deposit amount because our account branch was in Saraburi even though it was the same bank and because they can and they like to screw the customer anyway. It soon became clear all the banks we have accounts at wanted to charge that so mean as ever we decided to go home as we didn't want to carry around that sum of money, either personally or left in the car.
However, as it was barely out of our way, we did drop in on the Motor Expo at the Impact Centre on our way home. We didn't have any particular purpose other than a vague wish to purchase something for me to run around in sometime later next year as Ploy is often away all day with our car either at college or pursuing her various business interests. After a frustrating time finding somewhere to park, not helped by the usual whistle blowing imbeciles, we found our way into the main hall; the entrance fee was 80 baht each. About half the hall was for car accessories and the rest were the usual manufacturers although these were noticeable absentees such as Mercedes which were only represented by local agents. I have taken a fancy to SUVs after Canada, (just to do my bit for the environment and provide a carbon neutral balance with all those environmental activists - by the same thinking I also eat as much meat and fish as I can to compensate for the apparently increasing number of vegetarians around the world), and was interested in a new Hyundai although it was not possible to look inside and there was no information available, or pricing. The best we could get was availability was possibly mid next year depending who
you spoke to. We wandered around the usual suspects but we always come back to the Honda CRV; the 2010 model has GPS and Bluetooth as standard and the top of the range model was B1.5M. In comparison the BMW X3 was B3.3M, is not as pretty and doesn't have anything as standard. Of course you are just paying for the name and the nice X6 which looked much prettier was a cool B8M which would buy me seat on Virgin's new space shuttle. But even the Wolkswagons, Audis, Fords etc. were much more expensive; I am guessing that Honda must be made in Thailand as it is half the price of most others. Mazda have just introduced the CX9 but not the CX7, three years after I bought a CX7 in Canada. The CX9 was an expensive B4M.
But the star of show lie in the corner of the hall, away from all the girls and the hype. Exactly 50 years old and a different to class to anything else around the beautifully refurbished XK120 reminded you how homogenous cars are these days, (sorry Ploy got in the way of the photo).
It is true that Fiat did their best to differentiate themselves by producing the ugliest car by some distance but otherwise there really wasn't anything that stood out and there were no concept cars on show. However it did make for an interesting diversion for a couple of hours.
Ploy has got the settlement amount required to pay off the remnants of our mortgage so tomorrow we will drive to Bangkok to change our Canadian money, (better rate than the banks, I'm going as a bodyguard although I am unsure of the deterrent effect of my current build), and by Friday we should be the owners of our house and still have a little left over. So to ensure any leftovers do not gather dust we have men in for a couple weeks to turn our back garden, (well, hardly that really), into a kitchen. The total cost for this and some other work is 45,000 baht including all materials and it will also free up space in my workshop. They were the cheapest quote we had which I was worried about but maybe you can have cheapest and the best. The most expensive quote was 70,000 baht for the same work. We looked at another house near us where they had done the same thing and they appeared to do a good job and for the last two days they have arrived promptly at 9a.m., perhaps encouraged by the fact that we have only paid them 10,000 baht so far for materials. Having said that they are not back from lunch yet!
Perhaps to celebrate our good fortune, for the first time in a while, our house was full of the smell of incense on Monday as offerings of fruit were made all over the house and in the front garden. It must have worked as yesterday we got another order faxed to us and we currently have ten enquiries to follow up on, an unprecedented number for us. I have also decided to attend the CES show and ICCE conference in Las Vegas in January as well as visit a couple of California based customers. I have booked Thai air for that flight as they fly non-stop to Los Angeles and for a little more I could book executive economy which gives me a little more legroom and bigger seats.
Our fears of moving here, the possible reaction from customers to us moving to a technologically 'backward' country, have all but subsided now: we have never been busier. Indeed a son of a friend of Ploy's has shown some interest in me being an advisor to his government department in the acquisition of some video processing equipment. We still need to do something about the Internet which I still access through my mobile phone. It is reliable but slow but I can't make a decision on what to do next. The TOT satellite seems a good option and also gives us a home telephone too but I have been warned about how reliable it is in the rainy season. Then we have two cable providers, TOT and MaxNet surveying the area and boasting 10-15Mb, the satellite is 1Mb, (or 2Mb if you pay even more); the cable is cheaper too. But we have also been told we won't get those speeds as we are too far from the transceiver and all it takes is one local kid playing some inane on-line game and all I will get left is a few token electrons. Whatever I decide I will probably keep paying for the mobile phone access as a backup and it can be useful when travelling as it seemed to work reliably in Canada too.
We will get the house painted externally sometime in the new year. We have been quoted 12,000 baht which seems expensive compared with the kitchen but it is quite a big job with our workshop and soon kitchen extensions and I don't fancy doing it myself. The money seems to be going out quite fast at the moment as Ploy also needs some new tyres for her car. We should also see our container arrive from Canada in the early new year. We will put most of the stuff either into into storage or perhaps we will rent an apartment in Bangkok and put the stuff there. It will also give us a chance to clear out our rather over-packed second bedroom and make this house appear a little more spacious.
Ploy was unaware of the fuss over Tiger Woods' alleged' indiscretions but after I enlightened her she just said, 'well, he is a man and he is half Thai, so what do you expect'. She was disappointed though, as much in his choice of bimbos as anything else. Wonderful what you can do with Photoshop these days.
At 11a.m. on Friday I arrived back in Thailand. The house is sold, bank accounts sorted out, I had some cash from the sale of our house, a container was on its way full of more furniture and equipment and I had two big suitcases full of more SingMai stuff on my trolley. I was shattered after the flight. I had hardly slept in Canada, maybe a maximum of five hours a night, usually less and often interrupted. I had slept little before the trip, constantly waking as I thought of more things to do, worrying about whether I could could get everything done and imagining every possible problem that might arise, most of which did, (and clearly I suffer from a lack of imagination). The car proved a problem, my Canadian debit card developed a split so I had to get a new one, another hour gone, even getting the money from the house sale wasn't easy and nor was closing the bank account. But it was all done and finished with and as I checked in at Toronto airport and I wasn't charged for the excess baggage I began to think the worst was over.
The trip was uneventful and I managed to get a little sleep on the flight to London although in economy sleep is always accompanied by some limb having been slept on or getting some crick in the neck. I arrived in London in the early morning at Terminal 3 and had to collect my bags and check in again at Singapore air because I had made separate bookings for each leg. The queue through passport control was long, long enough to consider going through the non-EU channel. Nothing had changed since I last travelled through there some four years ago, the same old carpet patched together with tape, the lost visitors unsure where to queue only to be met with some barked instructions that even I couldn't understand, the signs warning of the consequences of abusing the immigration officers, the only airport I can recall seeing such warnings. I collected my bags and had to go outside in the early morning drizzle to re-enter the airport at departures. Singapore air had moved from aisle 'D' to to the unmarked aisle 'A'. The queue was not too long but I had no choice as I was yet to accumulate enough miles for my Gold card. However when I finally got to the check in counter they told me I was over my baggage allowance. I fluttered my eyelids but the Indian gentleman did not take the bait and I had to fork out 390 pounds in excess baggage fees. What an about turn from the days Ploy and I took 125kg without censure (but with Gold card). I had no choice, I couldn't afford to not bring the bags so I coughed up, suffered my way through the security and hid in the the Chez Gerrard cafe where I picked at an unwanted, (but not bad), breakfast just to waste some time. Terminal three was better than last time, although by better I really mean it had more shops. It did not have more toilets as I found out prior to boarding. It did have more seating but only by way of pushing the existing seats so close there was no room for your legs. And as usual there are the people sleeping across four seats or with their baggage on the seats or with their feet on the seats opposite so I stayed in the cafe as long as I could.
As with the flight to Canada the London/Singapore leg was on the A380. Impressive from the outside, inside, aside from the largish 9 or 10 inch back seat LCD screens, there is not a lot of difference in economy. Leg room seems about the same as other planes, food and service are good by most other airline standards, the wine is free flowing but there is still not enough room to get a good sleep without some part of your anatomy warping itself into a severe case of elephantism. I watched a couple of movies, District 9 I thought rather good, I managed thirty minutes of some Will Ferrell 'comedy', a record for me I think, and the time passed uneventfully.
The transit in Singapore went easily and I nibbled breakfast (pineapple fried rice with chicken) on the flight from Singapore to Bangkok. My bags came quickly (for 390 pounds I did at least get the check in agent to put priority on my baggage) but I got stopped at Thai customs and had to fork out 220 Canadian dollars of tea money to the customs agent, (the only money I had). It could have been worse if he had found the cash from the house sale. Ploy and I have now agreed, after some past misunderstandings, which way I turn after exiting arrivals and we met up quickly and stopped for a banana smoothie and an iced coffee where she mopped my fevered brow as I recalled the last ten days to her. We then drove home and went straight to bed for a couple of hours sleep, (Ploy had been awake the last two days cleaning the house and also unable to sleep as she worried about me in Canada), ate something and then I slept the sleep of the dead until Ploy woke me at 6.30a.m. on Saturday; she was off to tamboon (give merit) at a local temple. Saturday was the King's birthday and I quickly shaved and showered to join her. However by the time we bought something the monks had already wandered off somewhere so we got some early lunch, went home, and both fell asleep again for the afternoon.
Wandering around the market in the early morning felt so good. The relatively cool air, although warm compared to Canada of course, the sun on my back, the (mostly) smiling faces of the market vendors, the smells of the food stalls, the busyness of it all; it all felt so alive compared to Canada. We have to make this our home now whatever happens but I have a good feeling about it. I told Ploy about my thoughts about a heart or head country and she immediately knew what I was talking about, even if I didn't. I was stopped in Thai customs for a trumped up reason and had to put some money discretely into a bag. 'No receipt' he said, but I understood which perhaps helped the transaction. Yet what I remember with disaffection from the trip is not this, but all the bureaucracy involved in closing a bank account, (certainly there was a singular lack of that in Thai customs, I didn't have to sign a single form), or even the effort involved in closing my XM radio subscription; nothing was simple and nothing was done with a smile, even when they were fleecing you. I should have been more annoyed with the charming Thai customs man and if that had happened the other way around I would have been fuming. That is the difference choosing to be here instead of being somewhere because of circumstances. So now we move on with our lives, a chapter closed, another opened.
Our house in Canada has been sold and yesterday evening I closed the front door for the final time. Being Canada this did not go without a hitch. I hadn't really allowed sufficient time to load up the container or allowed for the fact I would be so tired and jet lagged after my trip here. Stupid really, the time in the air was almost exactly 24 hours and then add to that the transit times it was hardly surprising I felt like a zombie when I got the train to Kitchener. And it was drizzling and just 6degC. When I got home the house was cold of course and the bed felt damp because of that but I was too tired to care. Although just before I went to sleep I checked the car was OK and it wasn't, the battery was dead and I couldn't even open the door. I slept solidly for four hours and then I was wide awake although my body didn't feel like it had had any sleep at all. We had turned off the cable so I had no TV or Internet but I did manage to connect via my Thai mobile phone which was a godsend. There was a note I hadn't seen the night before from our agent saying the buyers were interested in buying our furniture. What! The day before a $4000 container arrives they finally decide they might like to buy the very furniture that the container is for. Screw that, I am taking everything that is not fixed to the walls falling just short of Thai style where the plumbing fixtures would be taken.
I called the garage as soon as they were open and they gave me another number to call. I thought this was the beginning of a runaround but in fact it was the FREE roadside assistance I get with the Infiniti. Thirty minutes later a nice man arrived to charge my battery. In the meantime the man on the telephone told me how to get into the car, apparently I have a real key as well as an electronic one - well fancy that. It took nearly an hour to charge the battery sufficiently for the car to start but after that all was well. Shortly after the container arrived. There was no real hitches here except the container is left on the trailer which I wasn't expecting. This meant its loading height was about 4ft off the floor which was certainly not going to help and there was no ramp either. I went to get lunch to recharge my batteries with the intention of starting the loading in the afternoon but in fact lunch knocked me out completely and I just went to bed and slept until evening. By now it was dark so I decided to relax and start early the next day. And did I mention it was raining and only 7degC. The next day, well the next morning as I woke at 2.30a.m., (I thought it was 3.30a.m. as I forgot the clocks in the house had not moved back one hour - that took until midday to realise), I started on the packing. The first realisation was it was dark outside and in the container it was like the inside of a coffin, (an imagined experience). And it was raining hard and just 7degC. I packed some boxes but more cardboard boxes were not due to arrive until later that day. I also had to visit the lawyers to sign everything, and it turned out to be everything; it must have been twenty or more papers, each a declaration of some sort; I will pay the house tax and I will pay the electric and I will not take any fixtures and will clean the house and I will allow the buyer a final inspection and I will give him a blow job whenever he wants. I did ask why the bank were deducting $7500 for early settlement of the mortgage even though we had a mortgage that expressly allowed that. My nice lawyer explained that the banks are losing money and being a customer who will not be indebted to them very soon they feel it necessary to shaft me as I clearly have money and they don't. Or more technically, I took out my mortgage at 6.3% interest and the banks never thought the interest rate would drop lower than this. But it did. So according to clause 22.214.171.124.9.a.ii on page 436 of the agreement they can charge me the interest difference instead of just three months interest which I would normally have paid. And you guessed it, it doesn't work the other way around. Everything signed I went back to the packing.
I soon realised that I was going to have to pack the big stuff first which meant having to pack the king size mattress which meant I would only have the carpet in the basement to sleep on as the rest of the house had hardwood floors. This attractive prospect wasn't helped by the fact it was chilly in the basement, not helped by the fact I had taken the side door off its hinges to help get the big things out. So I moved forward my hotel booking one night and tried to manhandle the mattress down the stairs, a job that took three people to get it up there. The three seater sofa, the two seater sofa and the sideboard, all were dragged, sworn at, sidled and heaved onto the container. And it was raining and just 5degC. Apart from the time to do this was the time to wrap everything up with that bubble foam I had ordered. I worked through as long as I could before I decided to call it a day in case I did something stupid and put my back out which would really have buggered me. In any case the buyers had chosen tonight as their final inspection and I didn't want to be around for that. I drove to the hotel, had a nice bath and ate in the restaurant there, having a very nice paprika dusted chicken supreme that cost more that we spend in a month on meals in Thailand.
The next day was closing day. The container would be picked up at midday but it soon became clear I would not be ready so as soon as I could, (I had woken at 4a.m. again), I called to postpone it two hours. It was 1degC and there was wet snow falling. By midday I was beginning to panic. Not helped by the fact the buyers' father came to check on what I was doing. He walked around every room and asked when I would be finished. I told him the container was being picked up at 2 and I would be gone soon after that. 'I'll come back at 2 then he said'. I kept packing, and packing, and packing, not stopping for even a drink as I realised later that day when I pee'd a bright orange thick treacle. The container driver arrived at 12a.m. Just checking, he said, when you would be finished; 2, I said, or maybe later. It cannot be later he said as I have to get into Toronto by 4. He came back at 1p.m. but he got out his cab and asked if he could help. Without him I would have had to leave a lot of stuff behind, as it was I had to leave most of the kitchen stuff behind but at least everything else would be gone. Whilst I was thinking how to explain this to Ploy and why didn't I pack the kitchen stuff first and leave behind the thousands of dollars worth of SingMai equipment instead, the buyer arrived with his agent who promptly told me I had to get rid of the paint pots in the garage and the plant pots out the front ($30 each) because they were rubbish and they had a clause that said they could deduct $3000 if they had to remove the 'rubbish' themselves. When they left I finished the packing remembering Ploy's bike as a token and the container was sealed.
I called my lawyer, there is no such clause that they know of but you had better remove them just in case. I worked my way around the rooms leaving the kitchen to last. Most of the stuff left I packed into boxes and threw in the back of my car, along with the paintpots which I thought I would empty into a salmon river as final gesture of thanks to Canada. My neighbours arrived from work and came to see me, not surprising as I had started stacking up all my non-containered stuff outside their door. They were wonderful, they took everything, from my colour laser printer, (doesn't run on 220V), to Ploy's pickled chilli and dried mushrooms. At 5p.m. I had finished and absolutely shattered I wandered around the house one last time before finding the vacuum cleaner which I also gave to next door. When I called Ploy later that night I broached the subject of her beloved kitchen utensils but she took it well, having been in Canada long enough to know that if it can find a way to screw us, it will. And at least I gave our stuff to some nice people, although what they will make of the fermented fish I am not sure. And the black ink cartridge in the printer was nearly empty. I called my lawyers to tell them the job was done and they said they had the check ready, but my bank was already closed for the weekend so I told them to hold it until Monday and went and had a coffee with the neighbours, say hello to their dopy labrador, and fulminate over the buyers. OK, they did come in with an offer so at least the house is sold. But why is it that when we bought that house we let the sellers take all day to clear the house and when we found the box of pornography magazines and the hundred or so pizza boxes in the basement we just put them out for the rubbish men, (after a quick persusal of the former), and didn't threaten them with bankrupty. So when we sell the house why do our buyers have to be people that turned on the fridge we were leaving, (on our electric bill), and put our bowls of our baking soda in there to freshen it up. Or demand that we don't leave any rubbish behind even if it would be collected next week anyway.
But as I type this in the early morning of Saturday the job is done. If I do nothing else other than drive the car in a ditch somewhere the main reason for coming here is done. I have to sell the car - or drive it into a ditch - get the money of course and settle the remaining utility bills, see a possible customer in Toronto and try to find a way to pack everything that is now in the car into two suitcases that weigh something close to my baggage allowance. But today, apart from organising the rest of my time, is a day to let my body relax a little and let all those bruises blossom into their full colours. And Wednesday I go home, to our house that we will very shortly own 100%. And most of all I will be away from Canada. Perhaps because we were never meant to be here, (the job I came here for was supposed to locate me in California but for visa reasons I moved 'temporarily' to Kitchener), we never gave our heart to here. Seduced by the chance to own our own house here, (low house prices, certainly compared to California, and a real house, not just an apartment as in Singapore), we decided to settle here but we should have examined our hearts more closely instead of letting our heads rule. Moving to Thailand was a case of heart winning over mind, it didn't make sense really, running a business, the visa runs, the foreign ownership regulations, but are we happier there? You bet ya!
Yesterday Ploy came home from her day school yielding a flower pot, (soup bowl actually), bursting with her latest clay creation. I know she is proud of it and I have to say it is not one of those things you constantly try to break or mislay,unlike a hideous green and pink glass vase I was given by my aunt for a Christmas present a long time ago; and yes, it has been lost in all that moving. In fact she should be rightfully be proud of it for she hasn't been doing it for so long and it really is very accomplished. Ploy can do anything if she sets her mind to it, which is why, unwisely according to a friend, I am going to try and teach her PCB layout. As much art as science I think she will enjoy it and it will save time and/or money for SingMai, but I have been warned that as with teaching your wife to drive, it could lead to divorce.
Good news this week is that after an 'impatient' e-mail to our lawyers, the tax exemption letter has come through, (one of those strange coincidences), and I have organised the container so all is set for the marathon trip back to Canada on Monday. I leave Bangkok for Singapore at 6.30p.m. on Monday, leave Singapore at midnight to fly to London arriving at 6a.m., leave London at midday to arrive in Toronto at 3.p.m. Too stingy to pay for a taxi all the way home I then get a bus to the station and the train home, hopefully arriving at 8p.m. I then have three days maximum to pack up everything in the house and sign everything and then four days, two a weekend, to close bank accounts, give back the car and see three potential customers, one in Toronto.
The money from the sale of the house in Canada will allow us to pay off the little mortgage left on this house, (currently there is an offer on for paying this off by the end of the year) . We will then own the house, car, have no debts and have a little money in the bank. The hiccup with the Shanghai company means we have not had any income in from SingMai for two months and I mentioned to Ploy that that could already be having serious consequences there whereas here, with the much lower cost of living, we only need to be aware of it. But we have yet another enquiry this week from an established customer so we currently have five serious new enquiries on the boil.
In fact you can now buy a house on this estate for less that 400k baht, but the houses here have been standing for over six years so they do need some repairs. We have new neighbours moving into their house for the first time and just getting the jungle of a garden in order is serious work. We do not have any plans to extend our empire - the obvious thing to do was buy the neighbouring house - but any money left over will be used for SingMai and to continue the upgrades to this house.
I was sick on Wednesday, literally, and it took two days to recover. It is easy to put that down to Bangkok Belly, except we are not in Bangkok but the Yum Hoi Shell, a salad of raw mussels, probably didn't help. However, in those brief respites laying on the bed waiting for the next bodily expulsion, I did think that maybe I have been overdoing the chilli. The reason no-one else got sick was, of our two friends at the meal, one was pregnant and chose not to eat it, one didn't like it and Ploy, who did eat a little, said it was too spicy. I therefore gorged myself on it. I have noticed that I douse most things with liberal amounts of prik nam pla, (a condiment of lime juice, fish sauce and chilli), and especially the chilli. Ploy takes care to add a little of the sauce to her meal whereas I take chilli and all and usually finish the little bowl it is served in. I think after three months of this my stomach may finally have said enough. So yesterday I made a tuna salad, no chilli, just a little black pepper and mustard in the dressing. And despite recent reports I have tried to cut back on the alcohol, it is so easy to buy here and so cheap, but instead of having a couple of bottles in the fridge I have a case of it and usually drink a couple of 640ml bottles of Archa to finish the day off, in addition to anything I may have drunk during dinner. So a new regime. Not abstinence obviously, that would be silly and unwelcome and unhealthy - but a little moderation perhaps or the occasional day or so without. And the illness certainly helped kick start that although I think I read somewhere that alcohol and chilli can help an upset stomach by killing the bacteria that cause it...
On Wednesday we will have been here 3 months and we are both beginning to feel settled here now.
Every week day Ploy leaves at about 9a.m. to arrive 30 minutes late for her lessons on how to make clay flowers. Now she has the learning bug proper she begins college next Sunday with the aim of starting where she left off thirty years ago and trying to get a degree, for no other purpose than to learn. The cost for one year is a princely 1000 baht. This afternoon Ploy is looking at a restaurant with a new found friend. The co-owners at Baan Mai Et have had a disagreement after just two months and the cook and manager who walked out asked Ploy if she might be interested in opening a restaurant together. As Ploy's lesson will be only one day a week at first she is interested and is also allowing me to go over the finances before any decision is made. Apparently the restaurant they have in mind is all fitted out and we just have to buy utensils, food and drink. We do know she is a very good cook and he a competent, personable manager and Ploy and I have been dreaming of doing something for a while now. If this place is fitted out and it just needs a lick of paint then we can grow it from there and put back any major overhaul until we have a good customer base.
I have settled into the routine of working at SingMai and we had three new enquiries last week although we had a hiccup with the Shanghai company as their CEO's daughter, (living in the UK), has been killed in an accident so that project is on hold for while. (That is actually a rather spooky coincidence - with my first company I had a customer who we were just about to start production of our product with when the owner's daughter was murdered: he just packed everything up and that was the end of that).
I tend to wake very early but enjoy working in the early morning quiet with just the company of the 'jing joks' chorus, (จิ้งจก), and fresh coffee. Monday week I return to Canada to try and finalise everything although as I write we are still waiting for the tax exemption letter. However after much changing of decision we have finally decided to ship all our furniture here regardless because if we leave it there too long we may have a problem with Thai customs. My mobile phone Internet connection all but died this week for no perceivable reason - but it did prompt me to look again at other options. TOT who we badgered to provide us with a broadband cable connection appear to have a satellite Internet connection that they failed to mention before. It is 2600 baht/month for 1Mb and we had nearly signed up for it when a passing van advertising 10Mb was flagged down by Ploy. Yes, said the man, we are putting broadband cable in your area, although you are too far from the repeater to get 10Mb, but cable should be better than satellite, especially in the rain. I am still torn, the satellite is all mine and I am unclear if we share the other connection or not, (he told us not), but we are waiting to see what actual data rate we will get before deciding, (he promised to measure it and let us know this week). That cost is 1500 baht/month. We also get phone/fax with the satellite but not with the other company. However we also get our second satellite dish (after the TV) and if we do get UBC we will look like Jodrell Bank here.
Given all the above I mentioned to Ploy that her plans to move to Bangkok might have to be put on hold too which she didn't seem so bothered about. Yes, we just live in a government house but we are slowly getting it as we want it and the neighbours are nice, (one small codicil, at 5a.m. this morning and then again at 6a.m. two separate Led Zeppelin like cacophonies of 'music' shook our window pains one for a new house blessing and one for a marriage), and I like Saraburi and the area. We have two quotes to add an extension out the back for our kitchen, 45,000 baht to build up the walls, fit a roof, guttering, windows, extractor, tile, build worktops and shelves and do all the plumbing and electric which strikes me as pretty good. One quote gave us the option of buying everything ourselves in which case the work came to 25000 baht. We have some other work planned too; the kitchen in the house which we use as a dining room, (but as we have no kitchen to speak of it is perhaps a luxury but we had to have somewhere to put our dining room table and chairs), has a sunken floor so we want that brought up to the level of the rest of the house. Moving our makeshift worktops to the new kitchen we double the space in my workshop too. We also want to get the house painted inside and out and extend our patio at the front of the house, the first and third we may do at the same time as the kitchen as they will need to raise the floor at the back too. And after much negotiation we have found someone who understands insulation so we want to get insulation put in all the loft spaces to try and keep the house cooler in the coming warmer season.
Now SingMai is registered as a limited company and registered with the tax people I can now apply for my work permit which I will do when I return from Canada. To prepare for this we have dragged more of our accountant's relatives into service as staff, so with Ploy and our accountant we now have four staff which allows us employ one foreigner - me! Jokes about how farangs are seen by the government of doing the work of four Thais seem to be lost, except on me. We have to pay all the employees, Ploy of course, our accountant now gets a regular salary and the other two get a nominal 5000 baht/month which gets paid to Ploy. I get nothing, an anomaly I hope will get rectified soon.
Yesterday was my birthday and in anticipation we had booked a table at my favourite seafood restaurant at Baan Gluay. Because they now seem to run out of fish by the evening, (after ordering over 100kg of it in the morning), we pre-ordered our favourite dishes.
I had to work in the morning - well probably I had to work all day - but I am trying not to get into the regimen I slipped into in Canada so I promised myself the afternoon off. In reality, by noon, we were in Lop Buri. I travel to Canada to finalise our house sale on the 23rd of this month, (although at the moment finalise may be a little premature as our lawyers have to withhold 25% of the house sale value until it gets released by the Canada tax agency which should happen because it is our primary and only residence - to date, after two months, this hasn't happened), and I need to try and get as much work done as possible before then because for ten days I will be out of action as it were. So I thought it worth a trip to Carrefour instead of our local Tesco Lotus to see what Western snacky delights may be on offer to keep me going through the day. But first Ploy wanted to take me into the town which I was slightly reluctant to do but I am learning that I should do what I am told as it usually turns out well; see the folly in Pattaya or the recent Loy Kratong festival. Instead of being urinated on by monkeys, the monkey house was Ploy's first suggestion, the place where we parked had a monumental old gateway in front of it and I showed some curiosity as to what it was. Ploy, for whom ancient monuments have as much appeal as a leprosy colony, pluckily enquired and as we walked around the walls as instructed we found the entrance to Phra Narai Rachanivet, an ancient palace of the
Ayuttaya period. Having got Ploy so near there was one final hurdle to be overcome, a 150 baht entrance fee. I could already see the ruins and palace ahead of me and was walking towards the ticket office only to realise that Ploy was showing the same enthusiasm as Dustin Hoffman might have for a visit to the dentist. I assured her this was the price for me and she would pay less but she tried to encourage me to go alone. I played the 'I want you with me on my birthday' card which worked today and went to pay, only to be told that some places were closed and we could both pay the Thai price, 30 baht each.
I am not sure how long we spent in the palace and I left before exploring everything as Ploy had clearly reached her boredom threshold although she staunchly tried not to show it. The palace was really well done and a small museum, where unfortunately you couldn't take photographs, included some Kymer sculpture from the 10th and 11th centuries. I didn't realise that in King Monkut's time, Rama IV, he made Lop Buri into effectively the second capital of Thailand and some of the buildings that remain are owed to his insight. This was a time of British and French colonisation in the area and King Monkut, and latterly King Chulalongkorn, negotiated, flattered and skillfully manouvered their way through these times and kept Thailand independent with only a small loss of land. One of the buildings is called the reception hall for foreign envoys but more interesting was the elephant stables which really does conjure up another time. The museum was nicely done with information in both Thai and English and the gardens were a wonderful peaceful retreat.
From the centuries old Khymer architecture we then drove to the slightly more recent buildings of Carrefour. In addition to stocking up on cereal I did find what looked like a nice ham and after searching the entire store I found some Dijon mustard, although no Colemans unfortunately. The fish caught my eye, beautifully displayed and a whole fish, sufficient for two, could be bought for 17 baht, about $0.50 in old money. But then it is cheaper still in the markets but until we get our kitchen built we will have to make do with restaurants for now. I also have been on the look out for some shirts. I wasn't able to bring many clothes from Canada because of our already exceeded baggage allowance but I haven't found anything here that fits. I am not a particularly large fellow save for what my Mum used to call a 'long back' and a slight but well earned paunch. However even the XL shirts here constrict breathing and blood flow so I was pleasantly surprised to find XXL on display, although only one in any colour that couldn't be called a shade of putrid. A couple more years of this life and I will be looking for XXXXL shirts!
We drove home to put the cheese and ham in the fridge and then immediately left for the restaurant. It is nice to just eat out together but it does mean we are restricted to three or maybe four dishes so Ploy asked if our accountant Beer and his family, who we both like a lot, could also come, (Beer, ironically, doesn't drink alcohol but luckily his father readily becomes my drinking buddy). However as we arrived at the restaurant those numbers had strangely increased to nine; I had no idea we knew that number of people. The food was of banquet proportions. There fifteen dishes in all, from the crispy little whitebait
fish, Pla Lag Gluay, a spicy curry with bamboo shoots, Gaeng Som Nor Mai (which I didn't like as much as in another restaurant: apparently I like it southern Thai style which this wasn't), steamed fish with ginger and coriander, Pla Luak Jim, a wonderful deep fried fish covered in garlic, Pla Katiem Pik Thai Grob, some prawns by way of a change, Goong Chair Nam Pla and not to forget two bowls of the searing Tom Yum Pla. One of Ploy's four gatecrashers brought a birthday cake so she can come again and after the main meal we waited while the restaurant sent someone out to buy candles. To avoid setting off a bushfire we decided on a limit of nine candles which everyone watched me light, a test of whether the beer Chang was doing its job or not. We were the last to leave and I hope a good time was had by all, I certainly had enjoyed myself immensely.
It was a very hard week in Shanghai and I got no sleep on the red-eye flight back home so the weekend was spent relaxing and also planning. The company I visited over the weekend offered me a full time position working in Shanghai; a team of engineers, my own budget and a simple mission to develop a new product line. I didn't refuse straight away as I wanted to get Ploy's reaction first, but she thought exactly the same as me - after all this time getting SingMai off the ground, why then just throw it away and go back into salaried employment. I hadn't exactly taken to Shanghai anyway and there was the prospect of this being another Canada, a place we almost accidentally ended up in where neither of us is a citizen and which neither of us feel we can call home. We will still get the business so we have politely refused the offer. Next week I may travel to Singapore for a couple of days for a workshop and then at the end of this month I have to go to Canada to finalise the sale of the house there.
Last night was Loy Kratong. Ploy was trying to get a hotel in Ayuttaya but, luckily in some ways given our tiredness, everywhere was booked up so instead we decided to just go out for a meal at one of our favourite restaurants, Baan Mai Et. The four of us gorged our way through a whole crispy fish covered in herbs, (Pla Chon Samoon Pai), black egg salad (Yum Kai Yuo Ma), Green Bean Salad, (Yum Tua Poo), Som Tum Grob, (I have never seen this crispy version of Som Tum anywhere else), another salad with BBQ pork neck (Yum Kor Moo Yang), and fried pork with Thai basil, (Moo Pad Bai Krapow). And a couple of bottles of Beer Archa to wash it down. Ploy also spent some time feeding some pork balls to the puppy and her mother - not surprisingly whenever we arrive at this restaurant the dogs run out to meet us - why does that seem so familiar.
After the meal one of our friends suggested we go down to river to see the Loy Kratong festival. I was reluctant as I was already tired and these things can become somewhat protracted in my experience. I still hadn't really recovered from my week in Shanghai and I have noticed that in Thailand I tend to work the daylight hours, waking at 5a.m. and working through until 5.p.m., an early dinner and then maybe a bit of TV, but often it is straight to bed at 8-9 p.m. So I was feeling rather tired and very full but Ploy was already driving off in pursuit of her friend. As we approached the river and the traffic came to a stop it became clear that the entire population of Saraburi was here. It took some time to find a parking space which was a reasonable walk from the main festivities, however I was so glad Ploy had 'persuaded' me to come.
Both sides of the river were festooned with lights. A stage had been set up upon which various dancers, schoolchildren and girls paraded. The river was awash with Kratong both large and small whilst paper lanterns were littering the full moon sky. We did not stay long; we walked along the river bank, watched a little of the presentations, and then we walked back again. Everywhere Kratong, lanterns and of course food was on offer and I certainly could of stayed longer, although once home we both just collapsed into bed. And unlike before when we were only staying a few weeks at most, this time there is always next year which Ploy has already promised will be Ayuttaya.
Tomorrow we have air conditioning fitted in the bedroom, a triumph of organisational planning as the nighttime temperature drops to 20degC as the cold season blows its way in and we barely need a fan. The more we work on the house the happier I think Ploy is here and less she wants to move to Bangkok. That said we are talking of getting an office there and the proximity to Bangkok should help us recruit some engineers, our next big step for SingMai. I know I keep saying it but since we have moved here things just seem to be working out for us. It is exactly as we hoped, a much better balance between work and play as last night so aptly demonstrated. Ploy spends her mornings learning how to make clay flowers at a local school and soon she will go back to college proper to learn to become lawyer which should keep me in my dotage in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.
I haven't read any of the 'normal' foreign literature purporting to be about Thailand. Most appear to deal with the shadier side of life here, being centred around the bar areas, and I don't tend to read such literature; the bar scene in Thailand doesn't interest me at all and when Ploy and I last went to Pattaya neither of us could get out of the place quick enough. I have read some books about Thailand, its history, about the King and also two good books about Thai traditions from a foreign author whose name I forget now. So I was interested to try and get a copy of Andrew Hick's book, 'My Thai Girl and I' which is about '...how I met Cat, a 'Thai Girl' half my age and how we set up home together in her village out in the rice fields of North Eastern Thailand'.
I started to read about this book on the Thai-UK website but the discussion immediately started off with a criticism of the use of the word 'girl' instead of woman. Andrew is 60 so Cat is 30 so yes, a woman not a girl, but what about the book. (Don't judge a book by its cover it is said, but the one occasion I did this, some book on Thailand by an author who called himself Chuck Wow, I felt it was totally justified as 'Chuck Wow' means masturbate in Thai so what could be expected of the literary gem inside. In fact that exactly illustrates why I don't tend to bother with foreign literature in Thailand). If you read his blog he is clearly educated and observant so it must be worth a look and as I was travelling through Bangkok airport Saturday I picked up a copy, (none to be found in Saraburi).
The first thing I should say is that, barring tiredness at the end of the flight, I would have easily read the entire 250 pages so the book can't be that bad. In fact the overall impression is that of a good read whilst not quite putting it in the league of Joyce or Dickens, (but I wouldn't have finished them on the flight either).
Although married to a Thai girl my wife Ploy is a Chinese Thai, born in Bangkok, just fours younger then me, who had travelled quite extensively in the region even before I met her and has just her daughter with no other extended family. The furthest north we have ever been in our travels is Korat, the gateway to to the farming Isaan region of Thailand. A long time ago, when I first travelled to Thailand I did get to stay outside of Kong Kaen in Thai village which was much closer to what Andrew must had met when he first encountered his mother in law's house but otherwise our lifestyles wouldn't seem to have so much in common.
However there are quite a number of events that Andrew recalls in his book where I definitely felt empathy. Perhaps the one that hit home most was Cat's constant need to work, to grow something, to build something, to do something. Meeting Andrew, for Cat, appears to be akin to a company getting continuous rounds of venture capital money, the difference being that there needs to be no long drawn out negotiation or business plan, and certainly not market research, despite Andrew's attempts to bring some degree of planning to all of this. I certainly recognise that trait in Ploy, although instead of growing rattan trees, she was running a civil engineering company digging drainage ditches or making silver jewelry, or.. And to be honest, in reading the book, I wanted Andrew to call a stop to it all because even before the new venture was started, you knew it was doomed to fail, and the failure is often due to simple lack of planning. But then another frustrating aspect of the book, which I didn't empathise with at all with, was Andrew's insistence on keeping his Willy jeep despite it doing no favours at all for him. Rather than finding the jeep episodes amusing, I would have been queuing behind Cat waiting to slap him senseless. It is only in hindsight that I can see that whilst Andrew has his jeep I have my own company - which also had no business plan or marketing study done - we just did it.
One or two chapters in the book I didn't feel sat so well, and these were when Andrew reflected on certain aspects of Thai society, such as the teenage sex education or religion. It was just the chapters in the book are short, each one a short story on its own, and this format didn't really allow Andrew's thoughts to be developed properly: I felt they broke the flow of the main story. Perhaps they could have all brought together in another book where their themes could be properly developed.
The impression I was left with upon finishing the book is that it so refreshing to read an honest and frank account of life in Thailand. I say honest because I certainly recognise that life, even from the relatively urban province of Saraburi, and I certainly recognise the people, from the people down the road from us with the speakers as big as the house to the various waifs and misfits that we encounter daily. And I think the book has one of the best accounts of what it is like to beg a visa out of the British embassy for your Thai girlfriend.
The book is also very welcome. I read Stickman's weekly column and I almost feel dirty for doing so. Whilst he wallows in the dregs of Thai and expat society, whilst at the same time providing a holier than thou criticism of the same, I constantly wonder why he doesn't break free from all of that and really experience Thailand. As he constantly reminds us, he is fluent in Thai, has travelled widely in Thailand, but when I read his words I don't recognise the country or the people at all. This is not the country that I have visited so often or have now chosen as my home. That is not to say some of things Stickman complains of do not happen, Andrew also complains of some of these things, and I have also had my share of frustration in my short time here. But whereas Andrew 'goes with the flow' and takes the things in his stride, Stickman adds another notch to his why I hate Thailand stick whilst remaining here none the less. So in short a good read, especially for those of us living our dreams with our Thai girl.
This week I am visiting a customer in Shanghai and I already have the feeling it is going to be a long week. The trip went well, although we had to wake at 3a.m. Saturday to get to the airport in time and the section of 'new' road I thought existed between our turn off at Bang Pa In to the new airport is largely unmade and has been constructed using the very dark material that absorbs all light. Signposts are also apparently unnecessary until you are upon the airport and the sign for the car park is also deemed superfluous but Ploy got me there in plenty of time and the flight itself, via Singapore was uneventful and actually not so bad. However I arrived in Shanghai very tired having only visited here once before, and only then for two days, and a little unsure where to go.
I had been told by my customer to take a bus to Hong Xiao airport and then take a taxi to my hotel from there. I eventually found the bus stop and the bus duly arrived. Clever people these Chinese; to save on fuel and do their part for global warming the bus did not seem to have any brakes and instead had what sounded like a horn which mysteriously made the obstruction ahead disappear. I had chosen a seat towards the middle of the bus which prevented me getting the full effect of the trip but all the non-Chinese people in the front seats I noticed as I got off, had white hair. The TV on the bus showed an advert for the 430km/hr express train and I wondered why they bothered with such an investment when they had this bus. On the plus side when I got off my day old stubble had gone as had a few (more) grey hairs I had noticed in the morning.
The taxi driver did not understand my very best Mandarin as I asked for Motel 168, Wu Zhong road. Luckily I had anticipated such a problem and had printed off a map in Chinese. This didn't initially appear to help but eventually after I thought of just getting out and walking, he cried, 'Ah, Wu Zhong road' and off we went. We drove for about ten minutes until I noticed a sign for Wu Zhong road and felt slightly happier. But after we drove past a brightly lit neon sign announcing itself as Motel 168 he stopped in the middle of a six lane road and looked back at me from his perspex cage and shrugged his shoulders. Perhaps, I suggested calmly, whilst gesticulating wildly, that fucking huge 30 ft high red neon sign might be it. He looked confused for a few minutes but then said, 'Ah. motel' and proceeded to do a U-turn in the road just as the lights changed to let the oncoming traffic go which resulted in another cacophony of horns.
The hotel did not appear that inviting and had a smell of stale cigarette smoke about it; smoking is obligatory in China I had forgotten. At least the hotel had my booking, (made by the customer), but when I opened the door to my room it was clear that non-smoking rooms were not an option and just a couple of nights there would more than make up for a lifetime of non smoking. I didn't even open my bags and instead chose to immediately go to the restaurant serving a range of 'international cuisines' and get an early night. I sat down at a table while the waiting staff appeared to be cleaning ready to close; it was 8.30p.m. on a Saturday night. My waiter came over and I asked what beer they had. He looked at me as if I just requested the blood of a terrapin served over tomato juice, which they probably had, but beer appeared more difficult. He beckoned me to follow him and after just a short walk he proudly showed me the cooler cabinet. I looked inside and from the extensive range of beers on offer I chose the well know Chinese beer Heineken rather than the Heineken or the Heineken they also had displayed. Worse was to follow as he brought over the menu which was completely in Chinese. Luckily they had pictures but I had to guess what delights were being portrayed. I chose BBQ pork to find it was squid but actually it was rather good and rice
which turned out to be rice. The meal actually was not so bad and I even managed to get another Heineken before retiring to bed. I read another couple of chapters of my book, (of which more later), but unable to focus on the words properly, turned off the light. Seconds later the sounds of a squealing Guinea pig from the room next door brought me back from my premature slumber. And so it went on - and on - as whoever it was next door continued to pork the Guinea. I got some tissue from the bathroom - not to join in - but to stuff in my ears and I moved my pillows to the foot of the bed and was soon in a fitful sleep. I woke at 6a.m., Thai time, 7.a.m here, feeling somewhat the worse for wear despite only having had the two Heineken, maybe my drinks were spiced or maybe it is the all pervading cigarette smell. I switched on my computer and tried to connect to the Internet which I achieved immediately only to find most of the blogs I read were blocked. Seconds later the Guinea pig started her squealing again, and again, and again, although each time a shorter time; Piggy must be getting tired but I had to admire him trying. There was a kettle in my room but no coffee so I read my e-mails and declining the chance to see what breakfast might be on offer I decided to walk a little up the road.
Walking in Shanghai is not really to be recommended. The pavements, in this area at least, make Bangkok look like a superior version of Singapore. And if that were not enough avoiding the various scooters and motorbikes, some of which are fully electric and therefore completely inaudible, makes for some fun. Well fun for two minutes. After that it is somewhat irritating and after two seconds more, bloody dangerous and I am looking at arming myself with something to take them all out. I hide inside a Coffee Bean where all is tranquility save for the constant honking of those horns, although in the light of day they appear to do nothing to the obstacle in front - maybe the bus driver had a magic horn, as the chap in the neighbouring room obviously had too. The coffee and the respite made me feel better so strengthened I started walking up the road and actually started to relax a little and enjoy myself. I noticed a sign for a Thai restaurant and although under strict instruction from Ploy - after so many disappointments - vowed to return there for my lunch. There was just a chance that they might actually be Thai and I might be able to order what I like. Aside from that everything was in Chinese, and I mean everything, even the KFC shop front that was only given away by Colonel Sanders' finger licking face.
As I promised myself I returned to the Thai restaurant and was immediately made to feel at home by the Thai lady-boy on the door. However my waiter was Chinese but did speak a little English and the menu was in Thai, Chinese and English. I ordered my favourite Moo pad Bai kapow, Pork with chilli and Thai basil, and it was actually very good, save for the mushrooms as everyone knows this dish shouldn't have mushroom in it and I hate mushrooms. But it was actually a little spicy and it was real bai kapow, not hor la pa, or worse still western basil. An older lady came over, (well she was younger than me but older than the waitresses and the lady boy) and 'wai'd' me so I said Sawadee back and she started to speak to me. Between my fractured Thai and her fractured English I got the story of the restaurant and even better the assurance this was a 'real' Thai chef and the next time I come I should order the food as I like it. So saved, a place to eat which although not cheap is good and means I won't starve. Tonight my week starts with a business dinner but after three Singha beers I feel more up for it and I found a bar next to the restaurant which I might explore for a nightcap. And the Guinea pig and Piggy checked out this morning as I caught them leaving so I might not need the tissue tonight and I might have some chance to explore more of this salubrious area of Shanghai.
I have now been here over a month and to date, save for two semi-aborted attempts, (food for the soi dogs), I have been eating exclusively Thai food, and not really with any regrets; I am lucky in that I can eat intensely spicy food without a problem, so all options here are open to me. However I am not someone who agrees that Thai food by itself is the best in the world. That is to say, whilst I love some Thai food, I also think other cuisines of the world have something to offer, (although not all, the Dutch for example manage to grow exceeding large on a diet of complete crap). But Spanish, Italian, French and Indian food, and dare I say it British food, does also tickle my taste buds. But save for a few very expensive Bangkok restaurants I have tried, western food, at least in these here parts, leaves a lot to be desired. And actually, pizzas apart, which I am not really taken with, western food here is really a pseudonym for steaks, and as I mentioned below, we are not talking well hung, ('You ought to be bloody well hung!' What do you mean, ought to be?' Lenry Henry, some program or other), Aberdeen Angus here, but more inadequately endowed buffalos, and not young'uns either. Then there is the obligatory salad which whilst lacking in finesse, (what, no pine nuts or artichoke hearts), would pass if it were not for the 'dressing'. No extra virgin vinaigrette here either, but a sticky sweet, strangely orange coloured gloop that could well have fallen from the jaws of
Alien. The steak itself is 'served' (lopped onto a plate) with some cold vegetables, (al dente obviously does not translate into Thai), and a few, (and I mean few in the literal sense, i.e. less than 7 or 8), French fries, which are neither French or fried, (the steak restaurant is one of the few places you can meet with a microwave oven). So I resign myself to finishing our kitchen when the work demands of SingMai relent a little and buying a small oven and cooking my own western culinary delights.
However there are the Western snacks that it is nice to have, like cereal for breakfast and a cheese and onion sandwich so this Sunday we went off to the local Tesco Lotus store to see what they had in the way of Western delights. And we did not come away empty handed. I had already bought coffee, both Maxwell house and Nescafe are well represented here and whilst lacking Bries and Wensleydales, I did manage to find a very passable Cheddar cheese, (in name at least). Onions are no problem of course but bread is another matter. As with Singapore bread here has to be played around with, so you can buy raison bread and cheese bread and all manner of such things, but nothing that passes as real bread, a nice rye perhaps or sunflower or sour dough, but no, nothing. Well to be honest there was something that looked like a French stick but they don't last more than ten minutes before becoming something that would get through a full innings of a baseball match so I resigned myself to a few slices of the whitest white bread I have ever seen. It tastes ofresigned myself to a few slices of the whitest white bread I have ever seen. It tastes of nothing but it serves its requisite
function of holding the cheese and onion in place. I also found some breakfast cereal although not my favourite Shreddies or Weetabix, but at least the cornflakes were real Kellogg's, assuming of course there isn't a roaring contraband market for fake Kellogg cereals in Thailand and abroad. Ploy helped me negotiate my way around the milk thereby avoiding the nasty sweet variety and I was pleasantly surprised to find there was none of this health kick stuff like that 1% nonsense you can get in Canada. So overall, a reasonably successful trip. There was bacon but I chose not to buy it but we did get some eggs and some crisps, (or potato chips for those in North America). I think I bought Lay's which were my favorites in Canada - I say think because they have written their name in a mix of Thai and Western characters, a Western 'L', a Thai 'Lor Ling' which I guess is meant to look like a Western 'a' and a Thai 'yor yak' which sounds like a 'y' in Thai. I nice marketing trick which means neither Thai or Westerner can pronounce the name.
But my favourite bit of my morning is still the orange juice, freshly squeezed from these sweet little beauties which Ploy buys from the market at just 20 baht for a kilo, the amount you see there. It is case of horses for courses, the Thai food is both delicious and cheap but it is nice sometimes to sample some other flavour, just to tickle the tastebuds.
On Friday we will have already been here 4 weeks and the time has absolutely flown past. From the 117 boxes we now have just three left and they have been repacked with unwanted kitchen stuff. Most of the rooms have been tidied up and the living room, dining room and bedroom don't look all that bad, we have even hung some of our prints. The SingMai workshop is up and running and we seem to have got a reliable, albeit slowish, Internet connection. We have opened a joint personal bank account and got telephones although I still haven't worked out the cheapest, most reliable, method of calling when I am abroad. We have registered SingMai as a limited company and we have had the obligatory sign made. I have booked flights to see a customer in Shanghai and also the return flights to Canada so I can complete the sale of our house. And we have done maintenance on the house, (insect spraying, air conditioning fitted in the workshop, washing machine plumbed in, ground fitted to the workshop electrical outlets), and the car. Not bad for four week's work.
Today Ploy is in Bangkok getting her old school leaving certificates so that she can continue further education. When we get the money from the house sale in Canada we will get an extension done at the back of the house so we can extend the kitchen and get air conditioning fitted in the bedroom: we don't really need it yet and it is the cooler season coming but we will probably need it in the hot season. And we will paint the outside of the house - sky blue is our preferred colour. And when I say we will paint, I mean we will get someone to do it for us - one advantage of being in Thailand is the low labour costs which means we don't have to do all the work ourselves. And when we also get the money from the house sale we will start the design of a new range of products for SingMai.
I feel comfortable here. Whilst there are frustrations, like a day to not get business cards because the shop refused to just say, 'sorry, we can't do what you want'. Instead they find every possible stalling motive like, 'let us get the paper weight you require and then we'll call you'. We knew they probably wouldn't even bother and indeed they didn't. But it wasted another two hours. So instead of using them and compromising on the the SingMai 'blue' colour (for some reason they couldn't match it), the rounded corners to the card, ('old style' which is Thai for 'we can't do it'), the font, (Arial must be too passe and they chose some odd font probably created by some maverick Wordpress user), the weight of paper, (to be fair most Thai business cards use paper so thin you can see through it so our demand for a paper weight that had sufficient mass not to float around a room was unreasonable), we found someone who could do all of the above, but were not in Saraburi. And then there is the SingMai bank account which could not be opened because we hadn't minuted the first board meeting when we made the decision to open a bank account. Now we have a board membership of three, the minimum necessary, (it used to be seven); Ploy, myself and our accountant's father who is a sleeping share holder (literally) who has no power or voting rights whatsoever. Now before you question the reasoning behind that let's be thankful we didn't have to find more relatives, which just a year ago we would have had to. So now we have to have a formal meeting and minute it even though Ploy and I, being at the bank together, at the same time (but without the token father) presumably had made just such a decision and were not there by accident. But despite this it somehow seems almost amusing and being Thailand and not Canada or the UK, Ploy is able to organise all of this and let me get on with my work.
But despite these frustrations they somehow seem slight here compared to the West, the Thai 'mai pen rai' (never mind) spirit seems to pervade and there is nothing so bad that a nice meal and a couple of beers doesn't resolve, especially at the prices they are here. Last night, as Ploy had spent all day at the non-printers we went out and had some delicious Tom Yum soup, some boiled fish fillet with ginger and coriander, some crispy salty small fish, (a little like fried whitebait), and some fried rice with pork. Two beers and it all came to less than 300 baht, about ten Canadian dollars. And to spice up the evening, at the table in front of me was a family of seven, headed by what seemed someone high up in the Thai army judging by the decorations on his tunic, (although the Thai army take the Idi Amin approach to these). Anyway, one of his daughters, who just so happened looked quite cute and therefore attracted my latent fatherly attention, I saved from almost certain death as a grasshopper the size of a Boeing 747 ambled up her back. I drew the attention of the cute girl's sister to this creature who as calm as you like picked it off her back, (and it took both her hands to do so), and let it free on the ground. Much hilarity ensued whilst I was left wandering the outcome of this in the West; the restaurant would certainly be closed down indefinitely, nearby houses would be evacuated, the girl would be rushed to hospital and given who knows how many injections and later all the family and similarly affected customers of the restaurant would be given stress counselling.
And talking of beer, I have really taken to Beer Archa which is made by the same brewery as Beer Chang, my previous favourite here. Now neither of these comes close to Adnams Old or Ringwood Best back in the UK but the playing field is different - after all I put ice in my beer here, something I would rightfully be garroted for in the UK. Beer Archa, being less strong than Beer Chang seems slightly smoother and at 240 baht for a case who can argue. And there is always some new flavour or sight to find, like those salty fish last night, or rediscovering those tiny sweet bananas that look like small Chihuahua turds but I think probably taste better. And there are the opportunities here, especially for Ploy as a Thai, like her ice-cream parlour she is thinking of opening which, if successful, she has plans to franchise across the country, (and probably further). Sort of Dairy Queen but with real ice cream.
One of our reasons for coming to Thailand was to try and get a better balance between life and work. Especially in Canada my life in particular just seemed a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week slog. It was just that there wasn't anywhere to go. Now that may sound stupid when we have all the small towns to explore along the banks of Lake Huron or Lake Erie, or we could travel to Niagara Falls or go into Toronto, but we had done those things, more than once, and all of them were an hour or more drive away. Kitchener and Waterloo offered little, just boring shopping malls or parks the size of postage stamps and it was surrounded by miles upon miles of boring Mennonite farming land which offered little unless you had a maple syrup fetish. There are just so many more things to do here and Thailand always has some surprise in store.
I had woken at 3a.m. upon which time my brian immediately switched on and I started working on the SingMai jobs that still needed completing. It hadn't helped that I have thought of some new products that we could sell and I had started some provisional design of, and then there was the work that still needed doing on the house here. So trying to learn from Canada I told Ploy I thought we should take the afternoon off and go somewhere, just for a change of scenery. Things have been full throttle since we arrived here, getting the house organised, trying to get SingMai established and the workshop built, getting everything like bank accounts set up and just getting used to the complete change of life here. So we decided to go and see Ploy's land at the Jet Sow Noi (Seven little girls) waterfalls which I haven't seen for more than four years now.
Along the way we stopped at one of the many roadside vendors to buy some trees for our garden. Our garden is looking quite nice now but Ploy wanted to buy another mango tree to provide a bit more shade at one of the windows. She ended up buying two mango trees, one sweet and one green mango as well as a Chompoo tree, (which means pink in Thai but is also a type of fruit). We then drove slowly through Muak Lek and meandered the lanes to the waterfalls. I barely recognised the land when we got to it and my attention was none-the-less diverted by the fact Ploy got the pickup stuck in the mud as she parked off the road. Thirty minutes later with the aid of some sacking and and a lot of pushing from me we managed to push the car off and while I went off to wash Ploy chatted with the neighbours on either side. We have discussed many times what to do with the land. It is in a beautiful location and as such we have thought of building a bed and breakfast there. As the land is quite small we thought something up-market, maybe just four rooms but offer jacuzzi and a very good breakfast, perhaps a traditional style Thai house. I don't think the dwelling that is currently on the land will attract too many guests. But then looking at the work involved in just levelling the land to say nothing of what we do with the rather poor immediate neighbours with the chickens running wild everywhere and the piles of rubbish stacked high, we would never ger our investment back. Also the land does not have chanoot which is the official land registry papers which in theory means anything we build there can be be seized on at whim by the government.
After Ploy spent time talking to neighbours we went down to one of the waterfalls to see the Poo-Yai-Baan, the head honcho of the area to see if we might get a chanoot for the land. She told us that would not be possible as the land is all owned by the army and none of the places in this area have this, even some of the quite luxurious and obviously new houses; so it would be a risk but a small one to build anything there. While Ploy talked I wandered down to the falls and watched the children playing in the river. I really like this beautiful area.
We were hungry by now and had originally thought of stopping by one of the fish restaurants by the Pa Sak Jolasid reservoir. However Ploy suggested we try one of the two steak restaurants we had passed, but not before we stopped off at the Thai-Danish market out of curiosity. The steak restaurant was mistake - note to diary, do not eat Western food in the central provinces. It is difficult to know exactly what they did with the steak or what sauce it was that oozed around it, but I am quite sure, even though we paid 50 baht more to have the US sirloin, that this was not AAA grade steak, hung for thirty days and nor was the sauce the chef's signature bernaise sauce. The best part of the meal was the roll and butter! I should have ordered the tuna steak; well actually I tried until Ploy told me the tuna came from a tin - I should have ordered it out of curiosity to see by what process tinned tuna becomes a steak.
This week we must try and get our kitchen together so we can start cooking properly. Ploy has been cooking on the single gas burner and did some delicious squid with Thai basil (hor la pa) Saturday night, but she has no worktops to chop things on so I need to build something this week. That will also allow me to buy a small oven so I can cook the one Western dish I miss, roast chicken with champ potatoes.
Despite the disappointing meal we had a nice afternoon and felt suitably refreshed as we got home. We ended the evening by watching one of our old DVDs, Ghost Ship, which for some reason Ploy had not seen, a good honest horror movie we both agreed, even though it was my third or fourth time of viewing. So Thailand did as we had hoped, in just five hours we had recharged our batteries, seen some new things and had a really nice break. This was a good move.
Another week gone and it seems not a day goes by without some event, however small. Yesterday Ploy and I had a little flare up. Ploy was out and the cardboard man came round for the first time in a few days. As we continue to empty boxes and clear out rubbish it was no longer possible to see the front of house, not even the second storey. We could of course have just thrown the rubbish out but then the few baht we get for the cardboard and plastic and paper keeps me in Beer Chang or Beer Archa for a few days. Now Ploy is very wary of me going out alone and short of actually locking me in the house when she goes out gives me strict instructions to lock the gate after she leaves, to not answer anyone calling and to not go out and buy anything from the street vendors passing by. However I knew these people from their many previous visits and as the prissy one of the two of us who always has a duster in hand decided to let them in. Thirty minutes later we could see our house again, I was 160 baht richer and I thought it was a job well done. I watched them all the time, I made sure they didn't take anything that wasn't being thrown out and I am sure they didn't send an army of midgets behind my back to ransack the house. So Ploy arrives home and by now it is raining. That was unfortunate because one item they appear to have taken that was not for disposal was Ploy's long hook she uses to hang out the clothes, (and that now needed to be brought in), brought from Singapore and originally costing probably about S$1-2. All hell broke loose, what else had they taken, what other valued possession that for some reason had been lying in the pile of rubbish at the front of our house had gone missing, never to be seen again. And what was I doing letting them in anyway. These 'poor but good people' as Ploy had called them, were suddenly pariahs, only out to steal from dumb farangs, I was lucky not to have been raped and left for dead. I can run my own electronics company but somehow these people, all two of them, are capable of sneaking out our TV out from under my nose. It all blew over very quickly although 'how nice the garden now looks' is an unmentionable subject. I have tried to point out that if I had treated Ploy like this when she first came to the UK she would have been on the first flight back home. In reality, I spend every day working on SingMai so I don't feel the need to go out so much anyway.
Yesterday we had a ground fitted to the electric outlets in my workshop. Like most of Thailand all our electric outlets only have two pins. However in the workshop we had some more outlets fitted and I asked for three pin outlets which also happen to accept both Thai and Singapore two pin sockets which is handy. I bought a surge protector board at huge expense (800 baht) for my computer and more delicate equipment which also accepts UK plugs which is very handy, but of course, without a ground, the 'surge protection doesn't work; I was also getting occassional 'fizzes' off my equipment. So yesterday that decorative third pin was actually wired up, the fizzes are gone, the surge panel might actually work and generally I feel just that little more comfortable. The cost was free as the chap that installed the ground also fitted our air conditioning - however, on instruction from Ploy, he will receive a bottle of whisky next time I pass through duty free as a thank-you.
Probably as a result of my blatant advertising for my favourite restaurant we have been unable to eat there for the last few days as they have run out of fish by the evening and this has resulted in us buying a dog, or more accurately obtaining a dog. We have now got our kitchen sufficiently organised that we can cook at home but before that we were eating out everynight and had started to frequent a nearby restaurant that does some really excellent food at reasonable prices. They also have puppies and on our last visit there Ploy arrived back the table after what I thought was break to powder her nose, loaded with a puppy on each arm. 'Which one do you want', she asked, and this not being Korea I knew that instead of choosing our next dish we were likely to soon be the owners of a new companion. We both chose the one with the panda patch eyes, and although we left the dog there as it was still being weaned, soon I will have little bite marks in the corner of my PCBs and a smell of pee whenever I turn on the printer.
SingMai is now registered although it cost a little more than we thought. Although the set up costs were 5000 baht as originally estimated it has cost us 10,000 baht to release 2 million shares, the minimum we need when there is part foreign ownership. But today Ploy has gone off to get the official sign made for outside our house and we are now both directors of SingMai Electronics Company Limited. The official papers should come through in 1-2 weeks and then I can go and get my work permit and we can open the company bank account. The process has been relatively smooth thanks to our tame accountant but officious as you would expect here, with hundreds of signatures, often three to a page, required.
If anyone ever wondered what happened to all those dot matrix printers of the 1990s, well you only have to come here. Laser printing, and even dot matrix printing, is not something that has been openly embraced here. It would also appear that it is no longer possible to buy the ribbons so you are often presented with a bill on what initially looks like a blank sheet of paper and you need forensic equipment to discern the print.
Ploy's car has been giving us some jip. After a 10,000 baht service thanks to the ill-use of of the idiot, two days ago Ploy was left for dead in the middle lane when the clutch failed. She managed to limp to the Mazda garage in her only available option, third gear, and 4,200 baht later the problem was fixed. It left Ploy wanting to trade in the car, especially as during the clutch fix she talked to the sales people and got an offer on a new, larger, pickup. That started her onto various forays into Isuzu, Toyota and Nissan garages to see what deal they would offer, but to me it seemed we were just going to pay 10,000 baht a month for four years to get the same car we have now, only newer, and in most cases with a colour choice that was limited to either black or white instead of the rather fetching blue we have now. So I have managed to persuade Ploy to hold off a little until we hopefully have a little more money in the bank and perhaps can afford to buy something a little more comfortable.
A week and a half has past already since we arrived in Thailand and all is well with the world. There has only been one fly in the ointment so I might as well get that out of the way first - we can't get the Internet at our house. Well I say can't. we are still waiting for one company to get back to us but they will be laying a cable for the best part of a kilometre if they agree to do it. However by replacing my 'old' Nokia mobile phone with a newer Nokia one, (the older one being given to Ploy as her Samsung phone has always been problematic getting a signal), and signing up to GSM's unlimited data service for 999 baht/month I have a seemingly reliable 460.8kb/s service up and running, unless someone calls me in which case my 44MB download is interrupted. But for now it has enabled me to get on-line which is great.
Aside from that everything has gone smoothly. The flight was too long, 29 hours scheduled but in effect another 16 hours have to be added to that for the time it took us to get to and from the airports. There is little to say about the flight except my first transit in Frankfurt confirmed it as a serious rival to Heathrow as the worst airport in the world and Singapore air and Changi airport, (especially the new Terminal 3 which was still being built when we lived there) are clearly streets ahead of anyone in the best airline/airport competition. My visa was duly stamped at Thai immigration and we recovered our bags and walked out of the airport with me being an official resident of the country for the first time. Ploy's friend, who was due to pick us up in Ploy's pickup, wasn't waiting dutifully for us as he apparently felt tired so he went to sit down out of view. Ploy's phone had no time left on it so it took us an irritating few hours (minutes but after 29 hours it felt like hours) to first locate him and then try and trigger enough brain cells so that he might actually remember where he has parked. Then Ploy decided to drive even though she had had little to no sleep as this idiot didn't want to as he thought he would get lost going from the airport to Saraburi, and with suitable coaching we did get lost anyway as we set off for Chon Buri. Even my tired naive knowledge of Thailand thought this seemed the wrong direction. But we did eventually make it home - after a stop to get gasoline as he also had failed to anticipate the amount of petrol required for the trip. More on this idiot later.
The house surprised me in some respects, for example the garden, which we had had covered in black plastic and pebbles, sort of Japanese style - was looking overgrown but not too bad. However I had forgotten how many boxes we had moved here from Singapore three years ago, 117 if my memory serves me right, and most were still sealed and blocking windows and doors around the house to add to the security; it was like opening a tomb. The bed and wardrobes had been assembled but that was about it. To be honest the place looked like a bomb had hit it - there was clearly a lot of work to be done to just make the place habitable, let alone get my workshop set up.
Although we were tired we decided to go out and eat something and then just get an early night's sleep, Thai time. Three years away but our favourite restaurant was still there and the owner and her husband, the chef, came out to greet us like we had never been away. Some Tom Yum Pla and a couple of bottles of beer Chang and I needed no more reminding why this was such a good decision.
We both woke early but felt refreshed enough to start work on the house. The day was Saturday so we could just concentrate on moving stuff, opening boxes and trying to organise everything as best we could. As I write today, ten days after we first arrived we have ten boxes in the workshop still to be opened, all kitchen stuff, and six boxes in the spare bedroom which we have no idea what is inside them yet. In fact that bedroom is a complete mess as we have just thrown anything we couldn't find a place for into that room and now we cannot even get inside the door. However the living room is looking reasonable, although my little AV receiver has given up the ghost for some reason but the TV is working and maybe at some point we will get something other than the Thai TV that Ploy had already subscribed to - to date we have hardly watched TV at all. The main bedroom and bathrooms have been cleared and a little light dusting (!) has helped. Ploy has no kitchen in the house so we have decided to turn the extension into a workshop for meand a makeshift kitchen until we can afford to add on a proper kitchen at the back of the house. Opening the boxes has also given me my Linn Axis turntable, my books and all my CDs which I have been missing for three years - it was like greeting old friends again. I am not a great one for possessions but I have to admit having the few things we have acquired over the years back again, and fondness with which we both unwrapped them, might just explain why we never settled in Canada. After ten days this feels much more like a home than we ever managed to make our house in Canada.
One change for the better here is the water pressure in the morning which used to mean you had to be very strategic in making that first early morning ablution or it may remain there until much later in the day. Now the shower is actually painful at full tilt although we have still retained the old water buckets. In fact having proper bathrooms again is great. By proper I mean real bathrooms which seem to accept the fact that a drop of water may actually escape the defined allowed areas such as the sink and bath and may do so without the ceilings or foundations of the house being compromised. The West has yet to understand the function of a bathroom and I am sure we all had mothers who delicately placed those desiccating fluffy mats in the bathroom that were capable of sucking the humidity out the air within a 100 square metre area and woe betide you if there was any damp detected in them after your daily wash. Here we can have a water cannon fight with absolutely no fear of any side effects.
On Monday we went to open a new bank account. We had brought a little Canadian money with us - most is tied up there until the house sale goes through. We chose to open a joint bank account at the Bangkok bank because we thought we would also want to open our business account at the same bank and the Bangkok bank was the only Thai bank we knew of that had branches outside of Thailand - although I am not sure if that matters or not. The clincher though was it is easy to park at the main bank and the Tesco Lotus branch is open on Saturdays. I had read widely to find out the procedure for a foreigner to open an account here and had got a equally wide range of opinions so we decided to just go armed with all our paperwork and see what happens. It didn't start well. The woman at the customer help desk clearly, assuming owners look like their dogs - owned a hundred bulldogs. She greeted us, I am sure that is not the right term - and told me I needed a work permit to open an account. Ploy explained carefully that she was sure that was not the case and after some consultation with her junior - presumably so any later blame could be allowed to fall on the latter and not her - great to see Thai companies embracing Western management styles - it was then decided that they would photocopy any papers we had which we then had to cross and sign and then all of this and us were presented to what I presume was the manager. I surely could not be the only foreigner to open an account at this bank in Saraburi but it seemed like I was setting a precedent. However eventually the account was allowed and an hour or so later after much signing we were presented with a nice bank book and debit/ATM cards that I was pleased to find could be used in any country. Later that day we got a call from the bank - they had put my name down wrong in the bank book so we both had return to the bank the following day, sign more things, and get a new bank book where my middle name was changed from 'Citizen' to 'Bruce'. This time however the madame was much friendly and I was sure she actually smiled once, although she may have been letting a small fart go.
By the middle of the week it became clear all was not well with our car so we went to the Mazda garage to get a service. Despite assurances it was clear the afore mentioned idiot had just run the car into the ground, and worse had clocked up quite some mileage on the car. Because of this the quick oil change service turned into a four hour 10,000 baht affair with timing belts and whatever needing to be changed. However it was well worth it as the car sounded again like I remember it. Ploy is going to ask the idiot for 50% of the cost of the service and also is getting him to pay for some scratches to be repainted a result of him putting a cover on the back on the pickup. Whilst we waited at the garage both us got to have a test drive in the new Mazda 3 which was fun and my first experience of driving in Thailand. I got an International driving licence before leaving Canada but I have no intention of using it if I can avoid it.
With the weekend looming and our car nice and shiny we decided to get away for a couple of days over the weekend. We thought we would drive down to Jomtien near Pattaya and spend some time relaxing by a hotel pool, eating some crab fried rice and then returning via Bangkok for me to get my China visa for my impending trip to Shanghai. It didn't turn out as well as hoped. In retrospect we were probably too early to enjoy a break. We were both shattered from our twelve hour regimes of unpacking and cleaning and unpacking and cleaning with the occasional break for having men in to spray for insects or having someone fit Ploy's air conditioning units into the workshop or getting the bank accounts open. On the way down Ploy stopped off in Rangsit to see a friend there. Well actually, so I was told, the friends were more like family to her and the closest friends her parents had before they died. Her closest friend at school was flying back to Paris in a couple of days where she now lived so it was great opportunity to meet up. We all had lunch in a private room and it was then just non stop catching up where I barely managed to pick up a single word of the conversation as it veered between English, Thai, French and Laos so instead spent time eating the good food and drinking Leo - not my beer of choice but excellent none the less.
After the lunch one of the woman showed us around the market that she owned. This was unlike any market I had seen before as all the stall owners wore the same colour 'uniform' and it shared none of chaos that Thai markets normally have with clean stalls, hardly a soi dog to be seen and no fetid water underfoot, in fact the tiled floor could almost have been eaten off, although I decided not to try. The owner also showed us her new Mercedes sports car (4.5M baht) while her husband showed off their prize cattle, again something I hadn't seen before. These strange animals, some bigger than a horse, were quite amazing and would fetch up to 4M baht if sold. These were clearly not your average Thais. One small problem that luckily Ploy didn't notice was Ploy had asked me to wear a sapphire ring she bought me as she was wearing her Rolex watch - we had to be seen to be appropriately dressed I guess. Anyway I had been stroking some of these beasts and went to wash my hands under the running tap and you guessed it, my ring fell off into the tank of indescribables. Whilst Ploy continued gossiping away I fumbled away amongst the strange soft lumps and foam and luckily happened upon the one solid thing down there. I quickly picked it up before Ploy came across to ask if all was OK. Yes it was OK, now.
After the lunch and tour we started the drive down to Jomtien. Ploy has an aversion to using the motorways as she doesn't like paying the tolls. At first I thought this was agreeable as we meandered through the country roads. But then the weather took a turn for the worse and there was some local flooding which slowed the traffic right down. It was starting to get dark now and still raining and my evening spent by the pool was fast disappearing. I pleaded with Ploy to take the motorway, which she did, but we still didn't arrive in Jomtien until 8p.m. and to a flooded beach road caused by the rain running off a nearby building site. We drove along the flooded road until we got to a hotel we last stayed at some 6 years ago, the Grand Palace. Ploy went in to negotiate the price but to be honest by then I was past caring. 1200 baht a night, twice what we paid before but a nice-ish room with view of both pool and beach and I started to relax. We both looked like zombies and it was still tipping down so we decided to just get a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant and get an early night. The meal was poor to say the least, Ploy had a nicoise salad and I had a tuna sandwich. The waiter seemed decidedly backward and everything had to be ordered twice; I thought it was my bad Thai but Ploy couldn't get him to understand either. The price for the princely meal, 800 baht with 10% service charge for the cretin added to the price. We went outside to the 7-eleven and bought a couple of beers and some water and went to our room.
The next day Ploy decided to see a friend in Chon Buri. I reminded her that this was supposed to be a break but I was promised the trip was the morning only. At 3p.m. we got back having spent two hours waiting in a car whilst the friend went to the doctors. To be honest she did sound rough but if we had known it was going to be so long we would have just gone home. Driving back Ploy tried to divert me some palace place she wanted me to see but I managed to get her to keep her promise and by late afternoon I was lazily wallowing in the pool. Ploy didn't want to swim and found it hot just lying there reading so went to her room. I felt rather guilty leaving her alone but to help make the decision two enormous Russian gentleman decided my sun bed was a good place to hang around and smoke so I also went back to the room. Ploy looked bored and glad that I had returned so I thought we would go out to one of the outlet malls where I could get some clothes having had to leave most in Canada to keep to our baggage allowance. The trip proved fruitful and I also got some rather nice shoes. After the shopping we went to a fish restaurant at the far end of Jomtien beach which we had found to be very good in the past. Needless to say it was less than impressive and the cretin from the hotel must have his brother working there as we failed to get him to understand we wanted a bucket of ice for our coke and beer, (no Chang again). Rather fed up and with a monstrous 1500 baht bill we set off to try and find some live music. Two hours later we slunk bank to the hotel totally disillusioned with the place. We had parked in a new shopping mall (new to us anyway) on Pattaya beach road and wandered quickly around there and then out onto the street. We found the whole place an awful dive. Maybe we are older now but the impression was of being in a place where the dregs of society were holding a convention. There was none of the sense of fun we felt before and the bars that had some music were not in the least inviting, not even as a single man would I have the slightest inclination to enter the bars. The place certainly had changed and we couldn't get out of there quickly enough.
When we got back to hotel I suggested that we leave Jomtien and go to Bangkok early. We would have had to get up very early to drive to Bangkok as the Chinese embassy opened at 9a.m. for just 2.5 hours and I wasn't sure I had all the right paperwork for my Chinese visa so I wanted to get there early. Ploy immediately agreed and by early afternoon the next day we were arriving in Bangkok. The delay was caused Ploy insisting I visited this 'palace' which it turns out is an extravagant folly built by the owner of a huge chicken farm. I must admit it was more than impressive and we even got to meet the owner. Another of those surprising places you happen upon in Thailand.
Ploy suggested getting a hotel within walking distance of the embassy which seemed a good suggestion. After passing hotels that would have required one of us being sold into prostitution to pay for Ploy said she knew of an area that had some 'Love hotels'; (how?). We found one that was slightly less seedy that the rest and got a room for 895 baht which for this area was not to bad. This mirrored paradise resulted in me getting bitten to death in the night by some smaller creatures than what one might expect to perform such a function in such an establishment. But at 8.a.m we were queuing at the embassy and by 9.30a.m. our application had been accepted. We had planned to then return to Saraburi and pick the visa up later but the 2-3 day turnaround expected was reduced to the next day, presumably because of the impending Chinese National day holidays so I suggested we spend one more night in Bangkok and pick the visa up first thing the next day - as long as we changed hotel. We spent the rest of day wandering MBK trying to get my mobile phone working with the Internet. It took all afternoon but it was successful, as evidenced by me posting this. In the evening I thought it would be nice to get a meal at the Henry something bar at the Marriott hotel. Although I am happy to eat Thai food all the time it seemed a missed opportunity to not have steak in Bangkok as the Western food in Saraburi is not up to much. However another 2000 baht meal was indifferent to say the least (no beer Chang) but I did get a half decent glass of wine during happy hour. We stayed at the Nasa Vegas where we had often stayed before but in my four year absence from there they had completely renovated the front with the impending opening of the airport skytrain and adjacent station with the result the rooms had gone up in price, although at 695 baht they not exactly expensive.
Ploy dropped me off to pick the visa up the next day which was a simple ten minute job and then we drove home to Saraburi. Within minutes of returning we I had the Internet sorted out and we both felt good to home, and home is what it felt like.
In the evening we went out to a newly opened restaurant which does do beer Chang and even better, another beer new to me, Beer Archa from the same brewery. So we sat under the stars watching the jing jocks much away at the mosquitoes, eating some wonderful food, chatting to the owners and listening to rather good live music. Yes, this felt really like home now and today is the first day when I have been able to settle into work. Slowly we can work our way around the house, Ploy is off to register our company as a limited company and to close some old bank accounts and move the money to our new account. As I type this, looking out at our garden, listening to some Jan Akkerman in the background, I feel more relaxed and excited at our prospects than I have possibly ever done. Another order arrived today, an old customer has resurrected his project and we have the exciting new prospects in Shanghai and now Taiwan too. And I have a beer Chang and ice in the fridge. And the icecream man has just passed by so I need to chase after him.
We have sold the house! We had to drop the price another $3000 but it means when we fly to Thailand on Wednesday we know exactly where we are. Yes, I will have to come back and pack everything up at the end of November and it does mean we will have very little money left over after the sale, but then we won't have any debts either.
Neither of us feels very much affection towards the house despite all the work we have done on it. I think some of that is because we finished the house knowing we were going to sell so we didn't do the things we wanted, trying to save money where possible. We also haven't really had time to sit back and enjoy the house. The day after the renovations were completed we put the house up for sale and since then, almost every day, we have had people viewing the house. And of course the house is closely associated with Canada which we have grown to dislike immensely. We have made one or two friends here such as our neighbours but we have far more friends and Ploy's only family back in Thailand, and not so far away in Singapore, so to some extent it is a little like going home, for both of us.
Tang Mo seems excited we are coming back, I have a lunch date with Marcus who I will finally get to meet after quite a long term 'virtual' relationship, and I have found an on-line presence of another Brit who lives in Saraburi and doesn't seem to have the same disillusioned relationship with Thailand as most ex-pats seem to have. Truth be told, our first few days will be just getting things organised, cleaning the house, which has been shut up for six months now since Ploy came back here, and trying to get some sort of workshop for SingMai set up. But tonight I think we might both, finally, get a good night's sleep.
An Auspicious Day
Yesterday was the 9th September 2009, or 09/09/2009. Nine is a very lucky number in Thailand so that date is especially auspicious, (albeit the Thai year is actually 543 + 2009, but never mind that). Yesterday we had a second offer on our house which we nearly rejected as they refused to budge on price and in most respects failed to meet even the 50% concession between their starting bid and our selling price which given there very low starting point would have been generous in any case. Even the completion date, which they wanted to make the end of December, (and where will you find a lawyer then!), they argued over. However we conceded in the end, at 10p.m. which is a ridiculous time to negotiate anything, happy in a little way that at least we had an offer and consoling ourselves that they will be left to live in this miserable country whilst we are enjoying the gentle sound of waves on pebbles whilst being serenaded to 'Som Tam Pla la mai ka?'. We will have already left by the time the offer gets confirmed - or otherwise - but with some luck we may arrive in Thailand having sold our house. I will come back at the completion date to move the furniture and close our bank accounts and return our car. It means we will be in Thailand debt free, albeit with only a little in the bank, but hopefully SingMai will start bringing in some orders at that point. Or I could go and teach English or splash out on some make-up and tout my wares around Spassos. From reading Marcus, the latter would appear the least stressful and certainly would pay better, ('I made 501 baht at Spassos tonight'. 'What miserable bastard paid you the one baht?' 'They all did!').
After we signed the our initial counter offer we drove to Toronto to get my visa for Thailand. It largely went without a hitch and the Thai consulate, which seems very much a one man operation, did my visa in just three hours which is almost Singaporean in its efficiency.
So now just six days left to get everything packed. Without the Gold card we are limited to just 20kg per person and the two essential items of test equipment that I need to take for SingMai take up 19kg of that. I can't send them now because I need to use them up to the date we leave here and to send them by post or courier would cost a fortune, at least to get them in something like a week's time. I am trying to pack one box of bits and pieces to send so I don't have to wait until we sell, (or six weeks after that) before having some more parts and equipment; I don't want to have to buy everything new again for what would be the third time.
The remaining time here is going to fly past. Tonight we are meeting with some friends at our favourite bar, Thirsty's, to say goodbye, but also to receive some home made pickled onions. We made the mistake of mentioning to the barmaid on one of our occasional forays there that we were leaving Canada, the equivalent of broadcasting on NBC news that we had grave robbed Elvis' grave and were selling the doughnuts that we found stashed there. Any thought of quietly exiting stage left is now gone.
Bye Bye Canada
We have booked our flights to Thailand and we leave here in just ten days. Ten days to pack what we can within our baggage allowance, get my Thai visa organised and possibly my Chinese visa for my visit to Shanghai, try and send out some boxes of SingMai stuff, clear the fridge, organise a power of attorney for the house contract -should it ever sell - try to finish the SingMai work for the Shanghai company before the disruption of the move, change all the postal addresses, hand the car back to the garage for safe keeping until we can sell the house and pay off the loan, organise the taxi to the airport, organise our pickup at Bangkok airport, cancel our telephone, Internet and cable TV and arrange something with the neighbours to take in our post for us.
You may have gathered that the house hasn't sold yet but we have lost patience waiting. Both of us have been ill again and there seems little doubt that it is the stress and frustration of the house that is doing it. After all we have done that seems odd, but as Ploy puts it, we are trapped here by the house sale apparently unable to move in any direction until we sell. One viewer, a family including three children and a dog got out of their car as we dutifully left the house, as instructed by our agent. Just as we drove to the end of our street, we watched them all get straight back in their car and drive off. They hadn't even opened the door or even moved off the driveway. What was so appalling about our house that it didn't even warrant opening the door for! We have three more showings today, a holiday here in Canada so even the shopping malls are closed, our usual sanctuary where we window shop and have a coffee. One couple have been back twice and maybe they will make an offer but we have made the decision to move on. We can sign the offer electronically but we will have to arrange something should the offer become confirmed and we go to completion. But then we have left our furniture in the house, to make it more homely and easier to sell, but also because we don't have the money to move the stuff to Thailand, and we can't bring ourselves to sell it at stupid knock down prices. So we have to come back and clear the house but that could be in months and sitting, waiting and watching the dwindling visitors as winter sets in would have driven us crazy. We also found out, by accident really, that because we are leaving the country we only get the profit from the house sale once the Canadian tax bastards deem it is our principal house of residence. So we need to leave all this behind and get on with our lives. We'll sort out Canada once we have the money from the house sale, and only then.
The move to Thailand, for me at least, is the most challenging we have made yet. It makes Canada and Singapore seem a breeze. I have no idea how most things work in Thailand and I will be totally reliant on Ploy for a while. So the boot is on the other foot now and I get some sense of what it must have been like for her to move to the UK and be totally reliant on me. Albeit, for her, it was not for long as soon she was out by herself, finding what buses go where, discovering the charity shops as our house soon began to look just like one, (just one pound fifty she would grin, as she moved aside some Rothko print to replace it with an appalling china bulldog), and taking up English and computing lessons. I must use her example, to learn the language and to get out by myself. I will be snowed under with work to begin with but I truly believe that this is a sort of destiny, ever since I first visited Thailand some 27 years ago.
Reading the on-line newspaper today I see that Charles Harrison has died. He was professor of art history at the Open University during my studies there although I unfortunately never met him. I remember watching a video of him 'explaining' Jackson Pollock's work, Summertime, and it was a complete eye opener for me. For the first time, instead of talking theory we were actually studying a real painting; he taught me to really look at paintings. I know he had some some sympathy for Modernism, now debunked by most art historians, and I really wish I had had the chance to meet and talk to him about it. He is one of those tutors, even though I never met him in the flesh, that inspire you and open your mind to new ideas and opportunities.
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