This is page 17 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 13, 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).
A few days ago the trains in Singapore between City Hall and Bishan (I believe) broke down for a few hours. The next day Facebook was full of comments as Outraged from Outram demanded the resignation of the entire government and public floggings for all of the SMRT, (who run the trains). Most of these complaints seem to come from people who were waiting, ("for hours"), on the platform rather than the relatively few stuck on the train itself. No-one died, a couple were taken to hospital and released later. The world continued to spin on its axis. Have a read of some of the comments on Facebook.
I assume some announcement was made. In which case your choice is to take a small diversion and take the circle line. Or take a bus. Or take a taxi. You could even go 'the other way around' as the island is not so big, depending on your destination. An inconvenience, yes; something that requires people to be hung, drawn and quartered; probably not.
When we lived in Singapore the electricity went off for about 2 hours. There was a similar outrage. Apoplectic from Ang Mo Kio demanded the resignation of the entire government and the public flogging of the electricity supply companies. 'We are not a third world country' Singaporeans cried, 'how could this be allowed to happen'. Apart from the few trapped in elevators it was just a minor inconvenience and if you happened to be watching Channel 5 or Channel 8, a positive blessing, I would have thought. We watched the chaos from our balcony as a number of Singaporean headless chickens ran around the car park.
Yesterday morning the usual torrent from our tap became instead a steady stream, to be replaced by little more than a dribble and eventually a few solitary drops. When we first moved here - part time - the water in the morning was always nonexistent so we have taken to keeping two large bins of water filled ever since, one for each bathroom. Sometimes the water in them is more refreshing for a shower anyway, especially during the hot season.
Now it just so happened that the same day our water bill came, (which was higher than usual, according to Ploy because the charges have gone up not because of our usage), so Ploy asked why, when paying, we didn't have water given that we have a fair excess in the previous few months. They are repairing a large pipe, was the answer. Splenetic of Saraburi could have demanded the resignation of the entire government and the public floggings of the entire water board. But that is not the way of the Thai people and when in Thailand.... As I write this it is now 29 hours since we last had water. There have been no announcements, no water trucks, and there will be no compensations or apology. But then we have water buckets. People complain in the street, but then they get on with their lives.
Thailand has a much higher level of self sufficiency than Singapore. When the electricity went off in Singapore we had both a torch and some candles if we had needed them - we were alone in having this acquisitions. I do not keep a spare train in my pocket (or are you just pleased to see me), but it cannot have been beyond the wit of those on the platform to find an alternative way to go home or visit their mistress or whatever it was they were going to do. I don't like the electricity going off here, or the Internet stopping or slowing to a crawl or the water being off for more than a day. But I do like the Thai approach to the 'shit happens' incidences rather than the unnecessary over-the-top reactions in Singapore.
What will they do when something important happens.
I have a quotation from a company in Singapore. Just under 50,000 baht to incorporate a company there, appoint a company secretary, give us a temporary company address and get employment passes for Ploy and I (work permits). This would allow us to live and work in Singapore based on our own company which we can own 100%. And the advice is also that permanent residency would also be achievable, (and latterly citizenship), if we were to pay back the contributions that we withdrew when we rescinded the PR previously.
Those contributions may also be used for health care, to purchase an HDB apartment, or as a pension, so they are not completely wasted. I need to pay a minimum salary, as here, but surprisingly it is only a little more.
No more jumping through bureaucratic hoops for work permits, no more 3 month visa runs, I can visit Thailand on a non-O visa renewed yearly in Singapore without the need to prove funds. No need to employ four Singaporeans to achieve my employment pass. I can speak the language, at least outside of Chinatown. Corporation tax is lower, personal income tax about the same. We should be able to get credit cards again. And no bureaucratic mountain to climb to get PR assuming it is actually possible here.
It is not a straightforward decision. Our costs would be higher, quite a bit higher, and I would want to share my time between Singapore (work) and Thailand (play).
Wai Kru usually refers to the annual 'teachers day' where students offer gifts to their teachers as thanks for imparting their knowledge to them. 'Wai' in Thai is the prayer like gesture used to welcome or say thanks to people and 'kru' means teacher. However Wai Kru also has other meanings, such as a Muay Thai boxer 'addressing' the ring in which he is about to fight and also our circumstance, when a loopy-loo woman gives thanks to all the spirits that have guided her over the months and years.
It is an all day event. It starts at 6.a.m. with the usual Isaan 'music' which is the Philip Glass of Thai music; the constant repetition of motifs played at a million watts with 40% distortion. This is then replaced with a man shouting into the microphone for an hour or so before the monks arrive. Offerings are made to monks, incense sticks are lit, and in return I guess they bless the house. They are then fed and sent on their way upon which the man returns to his ranting and food is eaten by all the guests of which almost the entire local community is invited plus the families of the crackpot woman and her husband; the woman cooks all of the food herself. There are lots of flowers, mostly marigolds, and money on sticks; people are expected to wear mostly white. The tables stretch out onto the street which a lorry containing the public address systems has blocked.
The afternoon is a period of relative calm but it is only the calm before the storm. In the evening the music starts up again. This time it is a live band although if they called themselves that you could have them under the trade descriptions act. Another man, who looks suspiciously like a katoey (lady man), shouts unintelligible lyrics into the microphone whist another man hammers away on a xylophone and another thumps a drum. Each seem to be playing to a different rhythm; the total effect is that of toddlers being let loose on a Status Quo set. The 'songs' appear to have no beginning or end, they sort of fade away usually with the drummer left banging his solitary drum before the 'singer' starts shouting again. As the evening goes on the volume is slowly ramped up.
The mad woman gives more offerings to her spirits. More incense, more candles, more money on sticks. It is clear she is on something and she dances as if in a hypnotic frenzy - she is clearly certifiable. All the great and good of the area, including the Poo Yai Baan are there, although Ploy tells me some do stay away and of those there about 50% do not totally agree with this throwback to Thailand's animalistic past but don't want to pass up the free food. I do not go. Ploy takes the photos, I stick cotton wool in my ears and go to bed. It is impossible to listen to the TV or read a book or work so I just have to let it pass. That or taking a baseball bat to that bloody 'singer'. It doesn't happen often and she is the only local who I am aware of that does this.
It must cost a fortune. It is like she works continuously until she has enough money for this event, blows it all and so the cycle starts again. Her husband, a mild mannered man who I am told has many mistresses, seems to accept this.
I asked Ploy why she doesn't do this and she just shrugged. Sometimes she flirts with the fortune tellers and she definitely has a thing for feng shui, but otherwise I am just grateful to have married a relatively sane woman.
It is time to move on. A new enquiry late Friday from the US brings the current number to five, two asking for demonstrations which usually indicates a degree of seriousness, one asking for a quotation and one in Bangkok who we are visiting this Wednesday to leave them a unit to evaluate. Time to stop all this maudlin and get on with things. (Although we have been told that our Philips TV is not repairable as it is too old and he cannot get the replacement parts so someone is still kicking us).
Yesterday I was feeling a bit under the weather - I don't like the cold season here; I know, but 19degC and windy is just too cold and we don't have any hot water showers - and no doubt I have been feeling a little stressed recently. So I took the day off and spent the afternoon just dozing whilst listening the party preparations for the crazy woman down the road who is having another 'exorcism' on Sunday and the faint wail of the regular Saturday karaoke singing that Ploy was attending. I joined the karaoke in the late afternoon, (proudly wearing the karaoke club shirt that the organiser had given me), just to get out of the house a bit. (I am entitled to go because my weekly contribution is a large bowl of spaghetti bolognese which always get wolfed down by all accounts). The fun being had by all washed over me as well and I left a couple of hours later feeling distinctly better. (I don't know why but in the photo that was taken I have the ethereal look of those distorted faces of some horror movie, as if I am some ghostly unreal presence).
By the time I had left the lunar eclipse had started. Being keen on astronomy in my youth I have seen many of these but the sky was clear and I was wide awake after my siesta so I decided to try and photograph it. As the moon disappeared completely into the shadow I went back to the karaoke to bring Ploy out to look. Others from the party were already outside but inside I could hear Ploy giving her all. I popped my head round the door and beckoned her out but she said she couldn't. I thought she meant that she needed to finish the song first so I left her; the totality is thirty minutes so we had time. But as I looked up with my other friends one mentioned that Ploy cannot come out as she was born on a Monday. Why, I asked. It would be bad luck for her, came the reply. I looked back at the moon and slowly it dawned.
Monday in Thai is Wan Jan, วันจันทร์, Moon day. I guess having the moon eclipsed like that could be seen as bad luck. If you were living a 10,000 years ago that is. I asked the others what day they were born, Wednesday, Tuesday, came the replies; Monday said Khun Loom. Why are you here then, I asked. I am seventy years old he said, and so far I haven't had bad luck despite all these eclipses so I don't worry about it. So my wife, owner of a high tech electronics company and much travelled, appears to be turning animalistic. Maybe that is the influence of the crazy woman down the road as Ploy was helping her cook the party food in the morning.
At 5.a.m this morning I woke Ploy to attend an event at the Saraburi stadium in honour of the King's birthday. Why it is 5.a.m I have no idea, probably something to do with monks attending. Later she will attend the exorcism party. That leaves me the day to work on the demonstrations and I am doing so in a much more positive light and a better sense of purpose, (despite the party music starting down the road).
I have started to break my day up a little, half an hour a day on reading Thai, work of course, a little time spent on future projects for when we have the money to do them, and some time on the books and the website. The only part of the website that gets read regularly is the diary and the art history pages with a smattering of the other pages. As a result of some communication on another blog I was inspired to add some more material to the Martinelli (my favourite operatic tenor) pages and I noticed that I hadn't updated that page for over two years. Indeed, most of the other pages are sorely in need of some updates so I have decided to try and slowly update them all and add some new material. The last three years I have been getting between 800,000 and 900,000 hits/year on the website. Only once have I broken the 1 million barrier, in 2007. Maybe that would be a good target for 2012. That said I am getting twice the number of visitors as I was then, nearly 20,000 unique visitors for 2011.
Maybe it is a little early for 2012 resolutions but at least I feel in a better frame of mind to make them.
Or, you have made your bed, now lie in it.
Our accountant came round on Tuesday to collect the money for our monthly social insurance payments for our staff and for his expenses. I asked him about the minimum wage that this government is set to impose on 1st January of 300 baht/day. Now it is not that I am against the minimum wage per se, but it would mean us paying that to four Thai members of staff, only one of which, our accountant, actually does any work and then for only 2 days a month maximum. We have to do this to allow me a work permit - 4 Thais for each foreigner - which I would think is the biggest disincentive to foreigners creating start-up companies here that there could be. If Hewlett Packard had chosen to start in Thailand rather than a garage in California they would have had to immediately employ 8 Thais just to be legal.
But now the situation is about to become worse, much worse, as currently we only need to pay their social insurance; now we will be obliged to pay their full salary, for doing nothing. That will be 32,500 baht/month for the four employees, about $1000. I might as well just burn it. To put that in perspective, our total expenditure is about 12,000 baht/month, for both of us. Now I also have to pay myself a minimum salary of 50,000 baht/month as a condition of my work permit so now we will have 82,500 baht/month outgoings for no reason at all except to comply with government bureaucracy: 1,000,000 baht/year. (Ploy's salary of 35,000 baht/month pays for all our bills and then some).
Our accountant was relaxed about it; don't worry they won't do it, he said. Then it changed to, 'they will go for the big companies first, you are safe'. I had two comments for him. Half the country is under a metre of water, millions have flooded houses and are out of work, foreign companies are leaving in their droves, (maybe an exaggeration at this time), and yet the government are pressing on with the minimum wage despite early plans to phase it in and a lot of opposition from companies much bigger than we are; the same companies who have been on production stop for two months. So they are going to do it, like it or not, because it is the one promise they cannot break to their voters without inciting reaction. Regarding the second point; well in my experience the opposite is true, the big companies employ too many people and have enough high level links to not have to enforce this, at least not company-wide, so the easy option is to target the small companies - us. We have already had a letter from the government reminding us of this imminent legislation.
Given that we don't currently have any orders, (although we have four serious enquiries, one in Thailand), this really is taxing my patience somewhat. So we have been discussing the options. One would be for me to 'resign' from SingMai and let Ploy run it; the 4 Thai employee requirement is then dropped. I could get one of the non-O visas and work quietly but illegally. But then all that work to get the non-B visa and the work permit is lost. Although I don't think I will now apply for permanent residency here, I have always suspected that having a proper job here and paying taxes helps your case. Also if anything happens to Ploy then what happens to the company and what do I do.
But then would I stay here if anything happened to Ploy? That is question I have been asking myself this past week or so. In fact I have been asking myself if we should stay here at all. Initially I had thought I would move to Singapore or maybe just run the company there and live here. There is a much higher chance I could get PR in Singapore than here and the bureaucracy is a cinch there. Ploy and I discussed it again today. Given that we have no orders why don't we just pack up SingMai now and I find something else to do.
But each enquiry we currently have is a potential 1,000,000 baht order, to forgo that would be stupid. And could we really survive on minimum income, say a teacher's salary of 30,000 baht/month. The answer is probably no. Yes we could survive on it for a while but only out of necessity. And I wouldn't be a good teacher as I don't suffer fools and there is no bigger group of cretins than a classroom of children; I know, I was there. They say children are our future: well the world has been going to pot for the last few centuries of futures so it is the children that must have caused it; I would hate to waste my life having to impart any knowledge to them knowing they are going to fuck it up anyway.
This month our TV has broken down, ( 2500 baht), and our car needs some non-urgent repairs, (460 baht paid already, 3500 baht when they get the part in the New Year). OK, this doesn't happen every month but with the usual outgoings we would never have enough money left over to even go to Hua Hin for a break. We are both in our early fifties and the prospect of another 30 years of that existence doesn't appeal to be honest. (And I am seriously thinking of self publishing my first two books which will also cost - any thought of doing that just disappears if we give up on SingMai).
So after talking it through we are going to see it through. If we need to borrow to keep SingMai going we will do so, (or beg or steal). We will do those new products, although not all of them, and we will stake everything on SingMai being successful. There is no reason to think it won't be, without it we wouldn't be where we are as it is the only income we have had for two years and we have new gates and fences and a balcony and lots of R&D expenditure and lots of bottles of wine; we have a glitch caused by one customer monopolising our time for little reward and without us advertising our products in the meantime. We can't fix that overnight but running off to another country isn't going to help. We will keep the non-B visa and the work permit and keep ourselves legal and we will see this out.
Moving on is not an option.
Politicians like to tell you that a week is a long time in politics when in fact it is the same 168 hours as it is for the rest of us. It has been 168 hours for me too.
A lot of this week has been Ploy and I reassessing where we are. Planning and action, rather than passively waiting for things to happen to you gives a feeling of being in control. And what has become clear this week is we are still in control. Of course we cannot make people buy from us but we can certainly get out there and show our products to as many people as we can find. So that is what we did.
Our first visit was to a Buddhist Cable TV company in the north of Bangkok. Ploy tells me that they receive huge donations from the great and good and so it appeared as the temple site is in fact a small town that takes some time to drive around and the main 'temple' a huge warehouse style building with two 9 metre wide LED TV displays. We spent four hours there although the first hour was spent trying to get the appropriate people in the same room at the same time. It quickly became clear that these people don't seem to have a clue what they are doing and after the meeting concluded we were told to find another monk who is in charge of the cheque book who then told me their requirements are completely different to what we spent the previous 3.5 hours discussing.
That said it felt good to be out doing something. We treated ourselves to a night in Bangkok which also saved us the effort to return through the floods twice more for our next customer visit the next day. Driving to the temple we drove alongside a river. On one side was a wall which had a dirty tide mark about 0.5 metre high. On the far side of the river were houses, submerged in at least 1 metre of water. A few people could be seen on the upper floors but otherwise it looked deserted. I didn't take any photos; I am not a news reporter and it seemed inappropriate somehow in a peeping tom way. These people's houses have been submerged for at least a month now and probably more, a victim of the attempts to keep central Bangkok dry. To make matters worse they are probably out of work as their factories are also submerged. Unlikely to have insurance their government compensation will amount to the princely sum of 5000 baht.
We stayed at our usual hotel, the Nasa Vegas, where we have always stayed since we first met. Then it was 495 baht a night for a room, now it is 875 baht but it is still good value and the hotel has slowly been refurbished, the most noticeable improvement being the air conditioning units which now don't sound like there is a JCB digger in the room. I grabbed something to eat in the restaurant - the Thai food is rather good and if you ask for it spicy, it comes out spicy - and then bought a beer and some munchies in the convenience store opposite and we stayed awake until midnight watching movies together.
Our meeting wasn't until 1p.m. so we watched another movie in the morning, bathed and then slowly made our way to their office to grab some quick lunch there. At 1p.m. there were already two people in the meeting room and both were vice presidents according to their business cards. The meeting lasted three hours and by the end the CEO had joined us plus various engineers coming and going. Ploy, I was pleased to see, was showing our product with their own Cable TV programs whilst I was explaining something to one of the vice presidents on the white board. We left with the promise to return as soon as possible with a small modification that will allow them to use our product on air. Whether or not we get a sale it was a very heartening meeting and Ploy said the comments of all were very excited.
We returned home in daylight which allowed us to see better the devastation caused by the floods in the north of Bangkok. All along the elevated motorway are parked cars, some with people in the back, as they try to make some temporary home from home. We stopped briefly to look over the side and the streets are flooded to a depth of, I would guess, a foot or so. Everywhere are piles of furniture, piles of garbage, litter strewn, demolished concrete barriers and sandbags. People still try and go about their day to day lives, wading through the waters. Some shops are barricaded shut, others open, abandoned cars lie everywhere and there is a tide mark along the buildings that must be at least one metre high. And there is the smell, of rotting vegetation and decay. We drove past mile upon mile of flooded fields, as far as the eye could see on both sides of the motorway. The frontage road seems impassable in some places, gas stations closed, factories and shops barricaded and the motorway itself is full of potholes and lined with broken concrete.
We have had a temporary blip in our sales but this trip reminded us how fortunate we still are. If these people can carry on with their lives then we can certainly carry on with ours.
I arrived in Canada on a Saturday. The next day I decided to explore my new home. Apart from the cold the thing that struck me most was the quiet. Almost all the shops were shut, the few people out were walking their dogs, the car parks of the churches were full but there was a stillness to the place, a stillness that I had forgotten in my time in Singapore where Sunday is just another day. It wasn't until midday that places started to open and I found a restaurant to warm myself in.
Thailand is like Singapore. Sunday just merges into the rest of the week and has no special place. The rubbish men don't pick up on Sunday and I don't think we have post either, although it could just be we never receive any post on Sundays and the postman slips by unnoticed. However yesterday, Sunday, was a day that started to become the perfect storm.
I had woken early, even by my standards, at 3.a.m. The evening before our TV blew up, (bloody Philips - although I didn't pay for it), so I dragged out our old Panasonic, (and we are not talking flat screens here), from the spare bedroom and lugged that downstairs. I switched it on but there was no fizzle from the EHT. Dead as a Dodo. Bugger. I do have a couple of small monitors that I use for my work, one a 9 inch broadcast monitor and one a flat screen which is still tiny by any normal measures. I decided to listen to CDs instead but I had sort of geared myself up for a disaster movie DVD as I take quite a delight in watching the world be flooded/destroyed by aliens/ravaged by disease or torn apart by earthquakes. Saturday is my boy's night in although I am the only boy who attends whilst Pinky looks on. Ploy is out singing karaoke Saturdays and I might pop in for an hour and eat some food and drink their beer but otherwise I try to escape before the microphone finds its way to me. It is my night in, home made chips, easy sandwich of some description, open a bottle of wine and either a funny or a disaster DVD. It wasn't to be.
Saturday evening I had visitors; two women who wanted to take my heart rate and blood pressure and ask me some questions about my health. I have no idea where they were from but I complied; well why not, it was free. The ladies left after taking some notes but also left me with a worrying feeling. I returned to my CD and wine and went to bed early.
So at 3.30a.m. on Sunday I sat with my coffee and looked at my nearly empty e-mail in-box. The weekends are normally quiet anyway but for some reason that empty in-box preyed on my mind this time. We currently have no orders and the enquiries we had, a couple of which I had told Ploy I rated at better than 80% probability, suddenly disappeared as if the companies had been wiped off the planet as in my disaster DVDs. What if we don't get any more orders was a voice in my brain that kept getting louder. In know we have some assets to sell and the house is paid for, we could even refinance the car Ploy told me reassuringly the other day, but unlike the UK government, I realise you can't keep selling things off indefinitely. Maybe I should make an effort to force myself on the enquirers but it is not as if they down the road. At the moment the two 80 percenters are in Shenzhen and California. If I was to visit them and I didn't get the orders that would take a big bite out of our savings. Maybe I was wrong about this. Ever since I told our troublesome customer to piss off everything has gone quiet, (except him who still sends me questions via Skype every day).
So I did a Google search. Blood pressure, 145/100. It was not good. The 100 is the problem it seems and when those ladies left on the Saturday I sort of knew it then. But I had a medical just a few weeks ago for my work permit renewal and all was fine then. Maybe it was a blip. They used one of those automatic blood pressure things so operator error didn't seem an issue but maybe the machine needed calibrating. I dragged out our scales from upstairs. 90.6kg. But then I had already had a coffee and a large one from my favourite Far Side mug. Perhaps it is water retention. 90.6kg! Back onto Google. For my height I should be 75kg. My BMI shows me borderline 'Very Fat'. 75kg is positively anorexic, I think I was born heavier than that. But then I do know that I having been edging up in weight. I can feel it. But are we are lethargic as a family - hell no - so how did this come about.
Shit! What has this country done to me. I thought back to Singapore. Everyday I would be out walking. I walked everywhere. There were footpaths, we lived near Bishan Park where it was almost possible at one sweet spot in the middle to not hear the roar of traffic. Here I live in a small village but I have nowhere to walk. Farmland is on three sides of us and the other is a highway where the only likely outcome of walking is to be hit by truck going the wrong way up what is supposed to be the emergency vehicle lane. There isn't anywhere to go. It seems pointless to have to drive somewhere just to walk and then drive back. Hell, you can walk more in Bangkok. When Ploy had her apartment there I walked everywhere.
For two years now, everyday I have come down and sat in front of this computer and worked for twelve hours minimum. And for what. To become obese, a potential heart attack victim and with no money. Ploy came down at 7a.m. as I was on my fourth coffee, (but I drink it black with no sugar so at least I am not getter fatter on it). Ploy is back to college now so she had to leave but I think she could tell something was wrong. She came back early although she didn't say why and we sat together on the sofa.
I think we have made a mistake, I told her. For two years I have slogged my guts out and it is for nothing. I have spent all the money we had producing new products that nobody wants. The George Clooney lookalike husband you married has become an obese slob whose heart is likely to give up any minute and die leaving you penniless. I can't learn the stupid language, we can't get any credit cards from any bank which makes business travel for me a real headache and every three months I have to go to Singapore to get a bloody visa. Why the hell didn't we stay in Singapore.
Ploy stayed silent and listened, unusually for her. 'So what do you think we should do', she finally said. 'I need a holiday', I replied. 'In two years the only real break I have had is the trips to Singapore but that is two days and I usually have meetings to go to and of course my visa to get. But we have no money to go on holiday. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. I don't understand why we are not getting orders, it is as though the customer we excommunicated is sticking pins in a voodoo doll'. Ploy called someone on the phone.
'2p.m., next Wednesday', she said. 'We go and see those monks that came to see us at the exhibition in Singapore. They want to see the SM03, is it finished'? 'Not 100% I replied but but it is perfectly good enough to show'. 'We can also go and see that company in Bangkok too', I suggested, (who keep cancelling because of the flooding). 'Maybe we stay overnight in Bangkok at 'our' hotel. It is only 600 baht and it makes a break and saves us having to travel through the floods each day'.
'We can do it', Ploy said and hugged me. 'Ajarn Toi is having karaoke again today, do you want to come'? 'I might come later, I want to work a little first'. I sat at my computer. You are an idiot, I scolded myself. Look at all this stuff, all 80-90% complete and I am not selling it. When I worked for Philips they released products we hadn't started to design yet just to see if anyone was interested. If we do get an order I can finish it quickly enough. How the hell can people order if they don't know about our stuff. Yes, some enquiries have fallen flat, so go and get some more. I thought back to my first company and dragged out the old adverts and articles I had kept. Blimey, even the few scraps I still have show adverts everywhere, exhibitions, even cover page articles in magazines. We aren't doing any of this. We do pay for a website entry and we get all our enquiries from that but that is all. We did have lots of enquiries from the Broadcast show but we haven't really followed those up either, except for the Thai ones which have all fallen flat because of the flooding. For heaven's sake, get your arse in gear. I went off to the karaoke for an hour, ate their food, drank their water and came home and dragged my tiny flat screen TV into the living room to watch a funny movie.
It is Monday morning, 6.a.m. 'Come on' said Ploy, 'let's go and exercise'. I didn't resist. 50 metres from our house is a little park that the local government have just added a load of exercise machines to. I have looked at it. Often. I found my trainers and managed to pull them on, the only part of my body that hasn't grown fat. I surveyed the empty park and chose the bicycle. Slowly I started to pedal. I had put my watch on thinking 30 minutes cycling would be a good way to start this new regime. Three minutes into cycling my legs felt like I was in the last kilometre of a Tour de France stage. Ploy was on one of those twirly things and that looked a lot easier. No, go for the burn, I told myself. But I am already burning my legs screamed back. Give it ten minutes I told myself, it will get easier. I trundled on and stopped the second ten minutes came round.
There is a sit-up machine in the corner, I spotted, let's work on the six pack. I wrapped my feet around the bars and lay back. And I stayed there. As I tried to pull myself up I could feel the muscles in my back tighten. This is not good, I thought. 'I can't do that' I told Ploy. somewhat perplexed. 'Neither can I' she said. "Try this'. It was some contraption for stretching your legs but my legs had gone all wobbly by then so it wasn't for me. 'No sense in overdoing it' I told Ploy, 'I am just going to run a little and then I going back to house'. I started a little jog up and down the road beside the exercise park. It felt like I was running with a sack of jelly strapped to my front. How the hell did I get this fat, I wondered. I tried to divert my mind to younger days when I could swim the 3 miles to the Isle of Wight and walk up the beach like I had just had a refreshing shower. Pinky decided to join me but frustrated at my leisurely pace jumped up at me all the time. So I accelerated with all the grace of a pregnant sloth before signaling to Ploy I was heading back home.
I showered, my legs still shaking, dressed and sat in front on my computer waiting for the water to boil for my coffee. The first couple of weeks are the worst, I told myself, and at least when I am rushed to hospital the doctors will be able to comment how fit I look.
Children in Need is an annual charity television show in the UK. The BBC present the program each year and I remember making an effort to watch it even though it was Friday night and although I was always disappointed as stars I liked were lampooned or brief, specially written skits fell flat. The show was presented by Terry Wogan who was my favourite radio presenter at the time although I never felt he was as convincing when he could be seen. Known for his acerbic wit, television toned that down and innuendo never works as well on TV anyway, (such as the verbal image of the BBC virgins dancing on the roof of the BBC).
The BBC has some photos of this year's event, and there is Wogan, as ever, his wig just a little more grey than I remember. But who is that beside him? Wogan used to present the show by himself but latterly some younger person has been tagged on as it was decided that Wogan did not appeal to the younger audience: (in fact he did not appeal to the less intelligent audience which is a larger but inclusive set). But I have no idea who the bimbo on Wogan's left is, not a clue. As I look through the other photos of the show there is only one other person I know by name, Susan Boyle, although she only became famous after I left the UK, another icon to averageness hyped by these 'talent' shows.
''A host of stars took part in the telethon, including Matt Cardle'. Who the hell is he? (OK, Google to the rescue; what a surprise, he is the winner of another of those 'talent' shows). Even the BBC newscasters seemed to have changed, something I also noticed whilst in Singapore last week. Watching BBC World News for the first time in ages I realised I had never seen any of the weathermen before - they never changed them before, death was their only escape from 'cloudy with occasional showers'. All were young and lacked the necessary gravitas to describe typhoons and tornadoes in my opinion; they looked like they had just started wearing long trousers and their pubes still itched).
The government of the UK too seems to constitute young people with few politicians left that I have ever heard of. Occasionally a Kenneth Clarke or Tony Benn may pop up in the news, but usually only because they had accidentally spoken their mind on some subject and exposed their prejudices. Cameron, Clegg, whoever is in charge of Labour these days, none of these were in government when I last lived in the UK, not that I remember anyway. Reading the UK news these days, the only section that has any familiarity is the obituaries.
Have I been away for so long? It doesn't feel like it but the evidence says otherwise. Television is the window into a nation these days and looking through the round window into the UK I don't see anything I recognise. The UK seems so far away now. Going back to your own country should be like slipping on your most comfortable shoes but instead everything seems alien. What could be more comfortable on returning to the UK than seeing John Kettley predicting drizzle for the next 24 hours; you would know you were home.
Without these familiar comforts to return to the UK is as alien as any other place to live. Perhaps if I had returned more regularly - I think I have been back 9 days in 9 years and most of that was spent waiting on platforms for trains - it would seem so distant. Perhaps the reality of being there is different and the snapshot I get via the Internet is distorted, (although a little bit of on-line research shows John Kettley left the BBC in 2000), but it does look like I have been away long enough for me to no longer be able to regard the UK as my comfortable slippers. There is no going back.
ELECTION UPDATE: PLOY LOST. WINNER WAS THE PRICK WHO GAVE THE MOST 'INCENTIVE'. SECOND, THE WOMAN THAT GAVE THE NEXT MOST 'INCENTIVE'. Somehow I feel vindicated.
Today is the election for the Or Bor Tor, (and also some higher ranking local politicians). The elections close at 3p.m. and the results are announced shortly after.
At the moment Ploy is asleep upstairs. I have given her some decongestant pills I found to help her sleep as they are the drowsy kind. She has been surviving on 2-3 hours sleep a night for two weeks now and she looks like a zombie. As she was sleeping one of the local ladies who has been helping her came round. She has also not been sleeping and I know Ploy came back from some meeting at 1.30a.m. last night after waking at 5a.m. the day before. Neither of us think Ploy will win and as this woman has been speaking with the voters she is in a better position to judge. It is not just this country, but all those who purport to have democracy; everyone votes for what they personally can get out of it. Locally that means they vote for whoever pays the most. If you really don't like that person you take a small hit and vote for someone else that gives a little less. The money doesn't come from the nominees, it comes from the politicians they associate with above them because they then get more control and power. Unless the Or Bor Tor loses in which case they have to pay. But poor Ploy who refuses to pay for votes doesn't stand a chance; and that seems to be very clear now, even to her helpers.
It is not that this lady is well off. Her husband is a very good cook but you can only charge so much for meals in this area else everyone will eat elsewhere, no matter the quality. So the cuts of meat are often gristly, the vegetables the limp side of al-dente before they are even cooked and lots of spices are used to hide this. But he didn't do that, he trimmed the meat, threw away old vegetables and his food was excellent. People recognised this and he was very busy but he made no money. So he accepted a job in Malaysia cooking for a restaurant down there. However the promised salary never materialised but at least he was earning more than with his own restaurant. He came back for a couple days last week because his very cute adopted daughter was sick. Today he was stopped at Hat Yai in the south of Thailand because he couldn't get a visa to enter Malaysia. But his wife still votes for the person she thinks will best help the community and not just the one that hands out 500 baht, even though they need the money. But these people are in the minority.
Before 6p.m. the day before the election all posters and promotional stuff must be taken down, (who makes these rules?). Ploy didn't know that. The politician who she indirectly works for had a pickup come down with some workers to take down his posters. I watched them do it. The local prick nominee had already taken down his posters but he is an old hand at this. Ploy was out canvassing but I called her and someone told her of this rule. By now it was 4p.m. She had to quickly find some helpers, (I am not allowed to help), to pull down everything. Maybe I can understand the other nominees not telling her - although that seems a bit spiteful as we all live just a few metres from each other, but her boss, knowing she was new to this, could he have not mentioned it or even got his workers to pull down the posters for her. But then I think he has given up on Ploy because she won't pay for the votes. He has even offered to pay for Ploy's votes, but she refused. I don't expect we will see his smiling face with the Hawaiian shirt again, well not for four years anyway.
Ploy's other main helper is a retired teacher who because of his old position commands a lot a respect here. He, of course, is also is able to think for himself and not just with his pocket. It is he who should be running for Or Bor Tor but somehow Ploy got nominated instead and he just lives vicariously through her. He has done a lot to help her and it will hit him hard when she loses today. But he has already said if you do lose then she should try for Poo Yai Baan. That isn't going to happen. He desperately wants someone who actually cares about the community to be in charge and not the wasters who disappear for years just taking the 7000 baht/month salary but do nothing except parade their status.
I asked Ploy why this teacher does not accept the payment from one of the other nominees and then report it to the electoral commission - it is after all illegal. But no, he can't do that. Apart from putting his and his family's life is some danger it would achieve nothing. Every politician does it, everyone knows they do it, everyone accepts they do it, as as the morons accept the payment they implicitly endorse it. In the US corporations do the same on a bigger scale. The system stinks, everyone knows it but no-one will change it. But who could change it. And not satisfied with that they decry other countries and even go to the effort of overthrowing governments there that do not employ this ideal system
I wonder how people like this teacher have gone through life without accumulating a huge dollop of cynicism. For every well meaning vote for an honest politician there are dozens of votes from people who look no further than their next whisky bottle (Thailand) of next tax rebate (UK). The reality is the majority of the electorate are the equivalent of Sun newspaper readers who, not having been drowned at birth as they should have been, continue to subvert democracy. They are also the first to go on the streets to oust the government they voted for when their houses are flooded (Thailand) or some necessary austerity measures (UK) are announced.
Ploy's little foray into local politics has been an eye opener - for her. For me it has just endorsed what I already knew. My cynicism levels have just gone up a little more. It is a also a little taster of what it takes to be a politician. The good men must fall, disenchanted, at the first hurdle; the system is set up for that to be so. All that can be left is the corrupt and cretinous dregs. No wonder the world is in the state it is.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 54 years of age. Realistically I guess I have another twenty or thirty years to make something of myself, maybe longer. That is a fair amount of time if used wisely.
Things have not been so bad so far. I have some regrets, but just a few. I still have this nagging doubt I made the wrong career choice. In my latter years electronics has become just a job even though I have more freedom owning my own company - at least I am away from team building and having people tell me the most efficient place to put my keyboard. But writing is what I enjoy most now and although as a teenager I was a natural at science I was also quite good at writing. Freestyle essays I think they called it then. And I have always been inhibited by my limited maths despite a huge will to become good at it. There was a brief period at college where all that modern maths tripe I had been force fed was finally shaken off and pieces began to fit through the efforts of great teacher, but then I had to move college and he took it all back. And without maths you can't be a really good engineer. I muddle through and can make a living at it thanks to efforts of today's educators to reduce my competition but writing is what I should have done. There is still time. If I make time. I suspect I will also only muddle through with the writing but I will be happier.
But first we need money. Money to allow me the time to write because I am sure it will not bring a living, just satisfaction. There have been three times in my life when I was relatively well off. One of them I didn't even realise it and only latter events showed it to be what it was. The other times were fleeting. Now we are relatively poor although new enquiries are coming in every day. But until some of those enquiries become orders we have to take some care. We are certainly a long way from not having to think about money. It is not that I want to buy a new Mercedes every day but to have enough to work on my books and let SingMai just be for a while without always having to invent more products. Enough to fly off for a break somewhere without worrying about spending a significant proportion of what we have. Enough so that Ploy doesn't have to work if she doesn't want to and she has enough should anything happen to me. And yes, enough to go into a showroom and pay cash for that Jaguar, let's be honest. But just the one.
SingMai could yet bring that about. We have been here two years now and a lot of that time was spent getting SingMai established. A lot of that time was spent attending to one customer who, in hindsight, exploited us. We have kicked him out now. Next week I renew my visa in Singapore. At the end of the month I may have to visit a customer or two in Shenzhen. If either customer orders we shall be on our way. If Ploy wins her election she has told me she gets a salary from the government, 7000 baht a month, enough to pay all our bills comfortably allowing the SingMai income to be kept in the bank. The floods have stalled a number of potential customer visits here, but once they recede we may find we have some sales closer to home.
Happiness is largely being satisfied with what you have. Contentedness. I am not content yet. There are things remaining to be done. And there is still time to do them.
For the princely sum of 20 baht:
If you offered me the Tabien baan now, on a silver platter, gilt edged, encrusted with diamonds and with pages made of million baht notes I would wrap it around a grenade, pull the pin and ram it so far up your arse your head would blow off first.
''Kit arai', said Ploy, (what are you thinking). 'Nothing'. 'Jai Yen', she added, grabbing my arm, (stay cool).
It had been two hours. The four of us sat in front of the empty position, the only one that was womanned. The woman that should have been behind the desk was sat behind her computer, occasionally typing something before staring at the screen, transfixed as if an alien was sending her suggestive messages. To her left, at the back, was the supervisor who was sat staring at her screen, very occasionally answering a question from a member of staff, something she did without looking up or with any change to her frozen death mask of a face. To my right was Ploy, and then Khun Loom and Khun Am, my two guarantors for my yellow Tabien baan. It has been three weeks or maybe more since we last attempted to get my application pushed forward; we had been turned away because they were too busy. Now we were back and there still only one desk open, the same supervisor sat at the back and two busy girls in the corner doing ID cards. The number of people waiting was the same as before - I am sure they were the same people - but today we were told to sit. And wait.
'What are they doing' , I asked Ploy. 'No idea'. 'But they have already accepted our papers, doesn't Khun Loom and Khun Am just need to sign something to say I am who I really am'. 'Yes'. The woman rose and gestured to Ploy. She needed to see the original of our translated marriage certificate. 'You have already seen it', said Ploy. She didn't argue more and left us to drive home and collect it. By the time she returned the ID cards of my guarantors had been copied, (something they had to do themselves by going to another office in another part of the building as there was no photocopier in this office), and after reading four pages of closely typed Thai they duly signed each page and handed them over to the woman.
''What are your parent's names' the woman asked me. I sighed, loudly. Are you just going to keep asking questions until you find one I can't answer so you can refuse this application. You should try basketball, I know sod all about that. Ploy smiled, well grimaced really. We had already agreed I got to hit this woman first although Khun Loom wanted seconds ahead of Ploy. Khun Loom is 74 years old and although fit for his age I think was beginning to feel his life ebbing away. We have the Poo Yai Baan (village elder) with us but apart from the fact I think they didn't turn us away this time (I am sure they were going to without her presence) she didn't seem able to hurry things along. Again we sat watching the woman occasionally press a key on her computer.
And then action. She suddenly printed out reams of paper. She collated them, slowly as that was the only speed known to her, (I would hate to be her husband trying to bring her to orgasm, all the Viagra in the world wouldn't allow sufficient time), stapled them in bunches and presented them to the supervisor who for the first time looked up from the necrophilia website she was perusing.
And so we sat, hushed, with just the hum of the computers, the whirr of the fans and buzz of the mosquitoes as company. Slowly she turned the page. And then another. Two and half hours had now had passed. In one hour they would close - now I see what they are trying to do. She murmured something in Thai. They both examined the offending text; slowly. Our woman went back to her computer and starting slowing typing, staring at the screen, and typing again. She then printed the entire thing out again, three times. It was handed back to the dead supervisor. She slowly read page one again.
This time it was accepted. We were all gestured forward so the grand signing could begin. All of us had to sign each page of our own copies. All had to sign the last page of all copies. And then the woman sat in front of us and filled in another form by hand, with the same details meticulously copied from the computer print outs. 'I can write Thai quicker than her'. 'Nearly there', said Ploy and she grabbed my arm again. We were told to sit again.
Twenty minutes went by and again we were gestured forward to sign these handwritten papers. She then stapled the handwritten forms to one copy of the computer forms and collated them together. She took them to the necrophiliac woman. She perused them, slowly. She said something I did not catch. She returned to us and asked for another photo of my handsome self. She glued it in the middle of a plain sheet of paper and thrust an ink pad in front of me. She wanted my fingerprints. I looked at Ploy. 'Did you need to do this for your Tabien baan'? 'She can't ask for this, if she wants a police clearance certificate then the police need to do it - we should know, we have done enough of them'. 'Just do it' implored Ploy. I was so near breaking point. I clenched my fist but the woman moved to the back of the room anticipating my first blow. I pictured myself pummeling her podgy face, blow after blow raining in on her. Ploy unclenched my hand, grabbed my fingers and put ten blue smudges on the paper.
The woman returned from hiding, took the paper and added them to the pile. The dead woman rose, Nosferatu style, and approached us, but not so close as to leave the darkness of her corner of the room. I noticed there were no mirrors in the room. We are on holiday for five days now she told us. The forms have to be signed by my superior. We will call when the Tabien baan is ready.
We slowly filed out, each wai'ing the undead as we left. I wai'ed her in as low a position as I could. We drove home, stopping for a bite to eat and a welcome cold beer or two. Never again, we said in harmony as we toasted each other.
It is not that I have been doing nothing. In fact I have been very busy. But busy doing things that I think are of little interest to my reader. Like work. Freed from the constant demands of a certain customer I have been working flat out on our own products and thoroughly enjoying it. Albeit we have no orders and therefore no money coming in but it has been just two weeks since liberation day and better penniless and happy; (well better rich and happy and those things seem to fit together rather well in my view - at least I would like to try it sometime).
Ploy has been out canvassing every night, festooning the area with posters. I hope she wins as I have never seen her work so hard for something before. I think the let down would be a lot for her to bear. I have tried to warn her. She isn't paying for votes and what people say and what people do are two completely different things, especially in Thailand where being confrontational is a complete 'no-no'. Whereas in the West we think nothing of calling a door to door politician a wanker to his face and there are probably still two headless Jehovah's Witnesses strung up outside our house in Canada, (as a deterrent to others).
Ploy's slogan is 'Commitment to Community Development'. Her competitors are 'I give you Money to Vote for me and for me to then sit on my arse for four years' which is catchier I think, although perhaps less society minded.
[As an aside one thing that is nice here is the lack of door to door salesmen or religious nuts or charity organisations or, at this time of the year, trick or treaters. I especially hated the latter because as they were 'just children' it wasn't deemed acceptable to ridicule their costumes or grab their bag of sweets and empty them down a drain or pelt them with eggs as they run crying up the road to their parents. At least that what the judge told me.]
One immensely satisfying side of all of this politicking is Ploy is encountering the same ridiculous bureaucracy that I (we) have to endure for my visas and work permits, (and bank transactions and tabien baans and tax and social insurance payments and - well everything actually); it doesn't seem so discriminatory now.
The posters Ploy had made she paid for herself - not astounding news I am sure you realise. However she was reported by a government inspector for not putting the name and address of the printers on the poster. Now why would you need that you may ask. I have no answer and neither does Ploy. So she had to get some stick-on labels made and attach them to all of the posters. Can you spot it. No, it is invisible to all but the Hubble Space Telescope but the government dick is now happy. Or he was.
Now Ploy has to move one poster because it does not have a 25 metre clearance from the entrance to our main road. Another sign advertising government houses is within 25 metres but that is not an election sign so that is allowed. It is also about 25 metres square but that is another matter. Why 25 metres, why not 20 or 30 or 100 or 0.163. Who decided that should be a rule in the first place. What sort of life does that person have. Does he or she count the number of peas in each packet or weigh their stools to ensure their digestive tract is functioning according the bylaws. How many people are in that department that formulated that rule. I wonder what other rules may apply. Maybe lime green is a forbidden colour or Arial font is deemed suggestive. Why could they not make a rule banning election posters with photos of dead people as most of them are.
And then, last Saturday, Ploy stopped me from carrying a large pot of vegetable curry down to a friend's house, (Saturday karaoke party). 'But you can't carry it by yourself', I questioned. 'No, I will get some friends to help me', she replied. 'But why not let me do it, I am here, willing and able'. 'You cannot. People mustn't see me (or me) apparently giving something to someone as it could be seen as a bribe'. 'Oh', I said. 'How worthy and proper. And the 250 and 500 baht payments being made by the other nominees, that is OK is it'.
One day was spent with all the contestants being given instructions on what they can and cannot do. Ploy came back from that with her eyes glazed. Then there was the trip to the temple in Korat to get the monk's blessing for the campaign. And the trip to the temple in Jet Sow Noi to get the monk's blessing for the campaign. Then the donation appeal thing which hundreds seem to attend (I didn't). I have forgotten why we are doing this. Being embroiled in Thai politics, even at the bottom of the ladder doesn't seem something to put on your resume unless you already cite child molester or estate agent as previous occupations.
In my view anyone expressing a desire to go into politics is certifiable. Anyone expressing a desire to go into Thai politics should just be put down on the spot. It is unfortunate therefore that my power hungry wife is doing just that. She has just officially registered for the Or Bor Tor local elections: she is number 3 (Buea Sam). Her cards have already been printed, (in true Thai tradition she usually cannot smile in official photographs but just managed her best Wednesday Addams smile in this photo), and the posters arrive in a day or so. To give her due, she is not paying for votes - a tradition in these here parts - so she may not win. And I feel it will be a big letdown for her if she doesn't. A walk to the local restaurant is now peppered with handshakes to babies and kisses to dogs and blow jobs to the old men. Supporters shout out Beua Sam everywhere we go. I now know what being the First Lady must feel like; (First Man has rather Neanderthal overtones don't you think).
This was originally just a measure to get some influence in the area so we might be able to press our case for permanent residency a little more forcefully. But if she does win there will be no stopping her. Poo Yai Baan is next and if the present incumbent knows what is good for her she will be readying some dirt to deliver on Ploy at that election.
The trouble is there is little because she hasn't lived here long. She has had a few run ins with the local dickhead, (who is also running for Or Bor Tor), but everyone has - he is justifiably a dickhead and constantly does things to remind us of the fact. Then there is the chap who played loud music at 4a.m. who Ploy threatened to ram his karaoke mike up where the sun don't shine; I am guessing we can't rely on his vote, (he is silent now though). There is the fact she is married to a foreigner - I have no idea if that is seen as good or bad. And her slightly non-Thai looks might yet bring about Obama style calls for her to prove she is truly Thai - something she cannot do as she has no birth certificate - we will cross that bridge when we come to it. But she has a trump card - Pinky, who is loved by all, (except the dickhead). Thai people like dogs, (you wouldn't know it from the street dogs but there you go - it is a country of extremes). Didn't Theodore Roosevelt have dogs and he didn't turn out so bad. Obama has dogs too but things probably won't turn out so well for him.
I fly to Singapore on the 14th but on the 13th the results are announced. I will be expected to make a token appearance at that event. I am practicing waving indifferently with a slightly coy expression at this moment.
At 10.00a.m. this morning Ploy and I arrived at the local Amphur offices. The job today was for our Poo Yai Baan, the village elder, although she is in fact half my age, and another elder village person to state to the bureaucrats there that I do, in fact exist. All the forms that Ploy spent half a life time accumulating have already been accepted but further proof was needed that I am in fact physically present in this universe. I have met the Poo Yai Baan a couple of times and was at her wedding and I have been the house exorcism of the elder man, (ex army, 70 years old and respected), and they are to be my vouchsafes.
My wife, whom I have been married to for nearly ten years and with whom I share a bed, was deemed unreliable. My own presence was similarly disregarded. It was all rather existential and I found myself doubting my existence; Wittgenstein would certainly have approved of this thoroughness, at least if I was a rhino.
But we were all turned away. After ten minutes of everyone wai-ing deferentially to my guests we were told they were understaffed today and could we come back another day. I suggested we jump to the front of queue, all eight people, given who we had with us, but no, we obediently traipse away - even our Poo Yai Baan defers to little Hitlers.
I have read of this foreigner's tabien baan being given out with little but a brief perusal of some documents. But do these people know they really exist. That extra assurance is worth the additional visit and the complete waste of my, and others, bloody time.
On Monday this week, before our visit to the Labour office to hopefully pick up my renewed work permit, Ploy and I sat on our balcony contemplating life. This interlude was partly enforced by our fourth power cut in just three days and I was not feeling particularly enamoured with the country at this point. Living here is lovely but trying to run a business here is, to put it mildly, a tad difficult. What made this reflection a little more ernest was a statement made by someone on an on-line forum, that no permanent residencies had been issued in the last five years; a statement that was based on another particularly unreliable forum and the personal experience of friends and acquaintances.
Now we have been here before, starting our business, employing me as a foreigner and getting the work permit; all those things have at some point been deemed similarly impossible yet here we are. I can also say I know of no-one else who runs their own electronics company here so the evidence for achieving these things isn't strong yet here we are. But maybe the PR is possible here, with Ploy's recent attempts to get in the good books of people with a little more weight politically. After all the frantic stamping of the work permit people at the Labour office on Monday, we were told next year, if all remains the same, we can apply for a two year work permit, (at twice the cost), which is exactly the same validity as Singapore's employment pass offers. So maybe it is just a question of getting established, knowing the people and knowing how to play the game.
But what we if we lose the game. In theory I could get PR in Singapore for S$6000 if I qualify. I have had it before although rescinding it, as I did, may actually count against me if I applied again. Singapore has also started a little anti-immigration thing recently but at the moment I believe any application we would make would be viewed favourably. We could, I told Ploy, run the company from Singapore and just use Thailand for holidays. No more work permits, simple non-O visa for me and, as we found out this week, no more rip offs for Fed-ex parcels; (what we thought was import duty was in fact Fed-ex arbitrarily charging amounts for our component deliveries- they use unmarked vans to deliver via agents so it is them making the charges, not customs, although they don't state that on their invoice).
So after running between the first and second floors and having everything stamped a hundred times, wai-ing to anyone who looked important, paying our 3000 baht and signing 3000 forms I was given back my work permit with yet another stamp in it that is largely unintelligible. On Wednesday I went and bought an uninterruptible power supply that at least ensures some of my equipment runs in the event of a power cut and I don't waste hours re-initialising everything - we have had no power cuts since then of course. On Tuesday we talked to a local cable TV company that are interesting in adding HD broadcasting using equipment we can provide and that could spread out to other local cable TV companies around the country. So all is again set fair and we are back to our routine.
But what if PR is an unachievable goal. As Ploy keeps telling me, you do whatever you need to ensure you have somewhere to stay if anything should happen to me. I can certainly live in Singapore much easier than I can here. Running a business there is a breeze. Rent a small apartment there and use our home here as a base; it is just a two hour flight after all. It is a tempting thought, more so on some days than others.
Sorry to bang on about this. As Mike's repatriation coincides closely with the second anniversary of our move here it has given me cause for introspection. Are we where we want to be? Mike also posted on the positives of living here, the things he would miss once back in the UK, so let me give my perspective on those.
- The cost of living. Whilst not everything is cheaper in Thailand a lot of things are and they haven’t invented things like television licences and speed camera’s on every corner!
- Without doubt. We live an essentially Thai style life here and even with the air conditioning on in my workshop most days it really is so cheap to live a good life here. This is especially so as I am not reliant on pensions or income from abroad. SingMai (so far) can pay our wages and we get paid in Thai baht (albeit we charge our customers in US dollars so we do have some exchange rate considerations). But if the worst came to the worst and SingMai collapsed, well we own our house, land and car and we really could 'go native' quite comfortably - food wise we already do most of the time (save for my breakfast cereal) - and we have managed to build up a little savings like gold for emergencies. The big thing for me is the tax. For an equivalent lifestyle to what we had in Canada I pay 6% tax on my salary. In Canada I paid 46%. Then there were all the other deductions as Mike mentions that don't happen here. However high taxes are a Western thing. Singapore was the same with even lower corporate taxes (which are still high here at 30%). I could not go back to similar tax regime and I would have to work so returning to the West is an absolute no go because of the personal tax situation.
- Wildlife. Living in the middle of a huge game reserve is how I might describe Thailand. The photo opportunities, getting up close to all manner of wildlife, some more friendly than others, is an experience I will truly miss. I have even got over my phobia regarding snakes in Thailand.
- This is not important to me although having mango tees and banana and chompoo trees in our garden is nice and the speed with which things grow is amazing. But the birds I see most are still sparrows, starlings and bloody pigeons. The 'wildlife' also extends to soi dogs barking and frogs croaking all night so I am not sure it is such a positive.
- Thai food, not all of it but try making a Som Tum in the UK!
- I love Thai food and for the record it is not as unhealthy as some claim, no more so that if you eat at McDonalds all day. BBQ the fish or meat (no oil), steam the fish, eat the salads. One of my favourite dishes is pad pak boon fai dang, steamed morning glory plants which are stirred with some soy sauce, chilli and garlic. It is delicious and I can eat plates of it. I do cook Western food for ourselves sometimes and I do still load my mashed potato with butter but generally I eat healthier food here than the West and the portions are much more sensible. I do miss some food like lamb which is impossible to find locally but we have an ostrich farm up the road which is nice alternative if you can catch the buggers. But I would add to Mike's comment that it is not just the food but eating out here is an everyday event because the cost is so low. It is not a 'special' event that it is forced to be in the West because of the cost. Restaurants (good ones) are full all the time, with kids grabbing something to eat on their way home from school or whole families out for no other reason than to enjoy conversation and food. It is common to end up chatting to the people on the next table to you and even to join them for a beer sometimes. The latter I would miss even more than the food.
- The cool season-three months of fantastic weather around Christmas time.
- Actually the cool season has been too cool recently but as I mentioned I love the heat and humidity so this was never an issue - in fact it is a big plus for me.
- Lack of crime and particularly criminal damage like graffiti.
- Well, it is not that you can leave your house unlocked and Ploy, as we left our house unlived in whilst we travelled around, has security bars on all the windows and doors. Crime does happen even though we are not ostentatious in our choice of dwelling so don't look such an obvious target. But I probably feel safer here than I did even in Singapore strangely. That said some people here don't have much respect for your property and it is seen as acceptable (by some) to pick your jack fruit just before you do. That is minor of course. Ploy will tell you otherwise but we don't have kids throwing stones at our windows as we did in the UK or drunken louts screaming their heads off at 2a.m. as in Canada so over all I agree with Mike.
- Parts of the Buddhist culture, the beautiful temples, the monks on their alms rounds in a morning and the generous nature of many Thai people.
- Whilst we also have the monks rounds of a morning what I also see is the fortune telling part of their service which I think is quite damaging. Families with problems pay quite large sums of money for the advice of 'wise monks' and that advice is often strange. Ploy left for a woman's temple for three days and at just a day's notice, not because of any problem she had, but 'to help her daughter and her new step-mother get along better'. Ploy changed her name on a monk's advice despite my protestations and it still causes some issues with things like my work permit because some documents are in her old name and some in her new name. And then there is the lottery advice. Why is a Buddhist monk encouraging people to spend quite large sums of money they probably can't afford on gambling. And then they, for a fee, give out some lucky number that of course rarely wins but for some reason this monk 'is very good, one woman won 1 million baht on the lottery because of a number he gave her'. Yeah, sure! Positive. Well only in the way the church could be seen as a positive in the West fifty years ago. In other words it replacing personal morality and responsibility, so no, this is not a positive. The general lack of religion is a big positive except politicians also seek these same monk's advice which is the same as Blair waiting for god's say so before invading Iraq. The temples are beautiful though but as in the West again only because the people feel obliged to give too much of their money to their upkeep.
- Cheap and efficient public transport.
- No. Singapore wins here hands down. Decrepit trains that move slower than elderly hedgehogs with no legs, busses driven by drunken teenagers who think they are Emerson Fittipaldi and taxi drivers that considerately like to take you scenic route.
- Lots of smiling people who are not driven by keeping up with the Jones'. The lack of a consumer driven society, apart from mobile phones perhaps.
- I suspect they would like to be consumer driven. But the people are a big plus. Not all of course but the majority of people are helpful, generous and a pleasure to have as neighbours. But I had the same in the New Forest so it is something the UK has largely lost and I do suspect something that Thailand may lose if it is not careful (which means it will lose it - careful is not a watchword here). But yes a definite positive compared with any other country we have lived in. (In Singapore we also had great neighbours but the people are obsessed with 'getting on' and with unnecessary gadgets. Personal interaction is almost outlawed in Singapore which is why their birthrate is decreasing).
- Women. Why is it I wonder that English women seem to be so far up their own ar*** and act like the original “bitch from hell?”
- I don't think women's attitudes in the West are any different to the men's; perhaps we just expect it less. I have far more problems with Western men and their attitudes, (especially ex-pats), than Western women. Women here are not so demure as many are led to believe. They are strong willed and not always very rational. In terms of beauty I think other Asian countries win, like Vietnam or Japan, but almost all the people here smile, including the women. And as a man is there anything better than having a pretty woman genuinely smile at you.
- The lack of ageism. Older people are valued.
- Yes again although I only see it and and am not yet in that revered status. But the Thai language even has 'special' words that show respect towards elders and teachers. But throughout society there is inbred respect. Children can play freely and if one falls over or does some thing wrong someone will help or admonish if the parents are not near. Without fear of reprisals! When we had the flooding recently the more able filled the sandbags and delivered them to the people who were less able. It was just done, silently without any thought of trying to look good or expectation of some payment. If we walk to the local restaurant we probably chat to fifteen or more people of the way, often no more than the ubiquitous 'bai nai', a sort of 'where are you off to?' enquiry without expectation of an answer (the answer is often, 'I'm fine'). Society works here and that is a huge plus. The huge minus is we get to see it disintegrate as Thailand copies the West. I would also add that I get respect when people are told I am an engineer. I didn't get that in the UK. In the UK the ancient class structure has left society with little respect for scientists and engineers (who are seen as no more than grease monkeys) yet huge respect is still given to doctors (who train for the same time and engineers) and parasitic lawyers. Having your own business is also respected in Asia where a 'salary man' is almost a form of disparagement. Thailand also has less of the ridiculous celebrity culture the West has although it is getting there; talentless actors and singers are two a baht here too.
So not all of Mike's positive I see as the same which I found a little surprising. But we are all different of course. In this introspection what has become clear to me , I think, is that Thailand is a great place to live - now - but not a great place to run a business such as ours. If I changed to a retirement visa and stopped SingMai every hassle in my life would be gone, except I have insufficient savings and no pension, so hassles would be replaced by starvation. I think I would also go crazy without a 'real' job to do. The problem is, the bureaucracy of running the company I couldn't deal with. I don't lightly say I would burn down these buildings. A big reason for me not staying in well paid 'secure' employment is I couldn't deal with the modern day processes and procedures that pass as work these days. The totally unnecessary bureaucracy required to just live and work here would soon have me rogering the faceless little Hitler with a red hot poker laced with cyanide. I am guessing that is no-no here. For Ploy to politely (to their face) accept that those photocopies were unacceptable because they were colour copies which clearly and not real and we need to copy everything again in grey and white, well, those copies would soon be used to start a small bonfire with that particular bureaucrat bound and trussed at it's apex. I can't do it. So should anything happen I would have to close SingMai and become a beggar or move it somewhere else.
But one other positive aspect of Thai society is they live in the present, (although this also means they repeat the mistakes that history should teach them). So I will, as they say, cross that bridge if and when I come to it.
The only Thai related blog that I regularly read is Thailand Blogs, from Mike Rose, who lived in Phachuap Kiri Khan, in the south of Thailand. His blogs were informative and well written and generally written with genuine affection for Thailand without glossing over its faults. Mike won an award from the Tourism Authority of Thailand for his medical tourism blog and his photography was also excellent.
But a few months ago something changed. His posts became a little more acerbic and he wrote of a return trip to the UK without any hint of when he might return to Thailand. And indeed that is what has happened as he has chosen to stay in the UK. No doubt his reasons are many fold although it is likely one event has 'tipped him over the edge' and made the little niggles that all countries have seem that much more irritating.
I thought it was worth looking at the some of the reasons he gave for leaving Thailand on his last post as I approach 2 years of living here because Mike was perhaps closest to anyone I know in his approach to living here and whilst we never met his reasons for leaving might yet become mine. Forewarned is forearmed.
Mike also posted of the positives he found while living here but here are his list of negatives and my reaction to them.
- Missing my family and the need to take some responsibility for the care of my mother who is first stage alzheimer's.
- My parents, if alive, would be 81 years old by now and leaving the UK would certainly have been a much more difficult decision, although one I know they would have encouraged me to do. But as they are both dead and I am an only child, family considerations do not enter into decision.
- Sick of not having decent supply of water and electricity. I can do cold showers, but humping cold water around and bucket showers are not for me.
- This I understand. When we first bought this house there was no water at all until mid afternoon when a slow sludge emerged from the pipes. We needed to fill up large buckets in each bathroom over night when the supply returned to be able to shower in the morning. We only visited then for a week or two at this time so this procedure was 'all part of living here'; if I had lived here permanently its charm would have been quickly eroded. Now however the water is there most times although when it does disappear there is never an excuse given or compensation paid - people just accept it. We still have those buckets though and sometimes use them through choice in the hot season when the mains water is quite warm; I don't hanker for an electric shower except on the very coldest days. The electric is more of a cause of annoyance though. It again is better than before but interruptions are quite frequent and often for no discernable reason; however they are not often for long. They do, however, almost always occur just as I am working on something critical. It is perhaps not the interruptions in service that annoys but the general acceptance of 'this is the way things are' that grates sometimes.
- Lack of decent Internet facilities/connections along with the censorship that is applied to social media in Thailand.
- When we first moved here permanently there was no cable Internet so I had to rely on a few electrons an hour dribbling through my mobile phone. Now I have two Internet connections from 3BB and TOT. At no point so far have both of these been down at the same time, (except when the electric goes off of course), although 3BB goes off from time to time, again for no discernable reason. They are both quite acceptable speeds, upload and download, and do what they say on the box. As far as censorship is concerned I haven't noticed it affect me, at least for sites I read and visit. Yes there are subjects that we can't openly discuss, but there are also plenty of other subjects to write about so I just avoid them.
- The urge to speak English and hold some meaningful conversations in that language. Plus my own inability to speak Thai effectively.
- Mastering the Thai language is not easy, for me and I guess for Mike. I have noticed on the excellent Women Learning Thai website that those who say they have mastered the language spend hours a day, some full time, on learning Thai. I don't have that option and there is no doubt I am linguistically challenged. I also interact little with Thais locally because I spend all day working in my workshop, mostly alone. Ploy's English is good so trying some moratorium on speaking English at home would just lead to long silences. Yes I need my Thai to be better and I have the permanent residency to aim for so it will get better once I have a little more free time. But what I don't have is the urge to hold meaningful conversations in English. Maybe it is that only child thing but I am quite happy here alone or with Ploy. I think that is because I write a lot, on here but also my books and I am lucky to have a friend in Holland that actually knows how to write proper letters, albeit now via e-mail, but who doesn't find the need, in writing a whole sentence on Facebook to abbreviate even some of those words. I mean, how difficult is it to write 'thanks' out properly without abbreviating it to Thx or even 'T'. Cretins.
- Reading a decent newspaper where people are free to express their opinions.
- I read the Independent newspaper on line which is the only quality newspaper left in the world I think. Yes the local English papers are rubbish but then I don't read them other than to glimpse on-line should a little snippet of real news sneak through. Every newspaper has an agenda now. For news the BBC is still about as independent as it gets, (save for some reporting on Thailand). Everything taken with a pinch of salt is the best approach.
- The climate. For three months every year I was fine but for the other nine I suffered with the heat and particularly the humidity. I felt drained and hated living and sleeping in an air-conditioned environment.
- We have air conditioning in my workshop and in the bedroom but nowhere else. I love the heat and the humidity except perhaps on the really hot days when it goes above 40degC. And now the cool season drops below 20degC and the rainy season seems to always bring flooding we really do have seasons of a sort. But this is just not an issue for me, especially having endured Canada for an eternity, (three years). The benefits are, (apart from my recent muscle problem in my back), a virtual illness free life, (save for a very occasional bout of the squits).
- Pollution. Rubbish is dumped and burned everywhere including plastic. Add to this the incessant noise and lack of concern shown by neighbours.
- Our rubbish is collected every day and we have recycling people pass by every other day or so. But I know what Mike means. Even with these regular collections rubbish that isn't collected is just dumped in the field opposite us. Our local macho man, lacking a BBQ to kill an animal on, lights fires regularly with no concern to neighbours to burn anything and everything, not just garden waste. And we do get the loud music too (not that you can call it music by any definition I know of the word). But I have a wife who complains, even to the extent of taking someone to the police station (they got a fine of 500 baht and haven't spoken to us since), but this is unusual. When Ploy complained about someone 'singing' karaoke at 4a.m., loud enough for us to be woken by it two streets away, she promptly dressed and told everyone who wanted to hear (and those who didn't) exactly what he could do with his microphone. As a result she was actually castigated by some people living closer to the noise for not 'living and letting live'. But he hasn't made that racket again. Parties still happen but they are occasional but in this respect it is actually better than when we lived in the UK, certainly the apartment, and much better than Singapore.
- The standard of driving and other things effecting personal safety like accidents involving public transport.
- Two men left the restaurant last night almost unable to stand and got in their car and drove off. Luckily the one driving was the one who fell asleep for an hour with his face in his plate so he should be a little more refreshed. This is not an unusual occurrence and you quite often see lorries drifting across lanes, either because of tiredness or drunkenness. I don't drive in Thailand and leave all that to Ploy because it is no pleasure to drive here. Most roads are in a poor condition locally and the idea of a Sunday drive through the countryside with the roof down just isn't viable here. I just accept it.
- Vegetating. Social isolation, not having the urge to do things. Every day seemed the same. This led to a decline in my personal fitness and affected my personality and the way I interacted with people. I existed!
- I am heavier than I have ever been in my life. It is because I sit behind a computer or soldering iron all day. There is a little fitness park just across the road from us with an exercise bike and some other fitness equipment but I don't use it, partly because I am a little shy to do so and also because it is looked after by the husband of the aforementioned woman who Ploy took to the police station so it is a little awkward. I have never been one for running in pointless circles so I don't really take care of myself, and I know it. I should do more. I have promised myself to get out more. Although Ploy is out more often than not and takes our only car I could take the bus into town and wander around a bit, something I don't do at the moment. And we should try and get out and about a little more. But vegetating, no, because of the business of course which keeps me more than alert and then there are all the books and novels to be written, playing with the dogs, or even learning Thai or just listening to music and reading all those unread books. My problem is not enough time to do everything. I am socially isolated but I chose to be and still choose to be. The virtual 'friend's I have are just that and are almost certainly not people I have a common interest with. But as I mentioned above I don't miss that. I didn't socially interact in the UK or Singapore or Canada either. Surrounding myself with 'friends' only on the basis they happen to live locally is complete anathema to me. I would cross the road to avoid most of the people as unfortunately Thailand does appear to attract the dregs of society; a generalisation perhaps, but one I have realised. I have always fancied living alone on an island. I have realised that dream with my metaphorical ocean the Thai language.
But Ploy is my boat to the mainland for supplies. Without her that isolation becomes real and possibly unsustainable. Without her maybe my plans would have to change for this is her country and not mine and sometimes that is very apparent. But then I would perhaps not have the choice Mike made for returning to the UK as I would be in prison for burning down the Lop Buri immigration offices.
Ten days since my last post and whilst I have been obediently working on our orders Ploy has been busy.
Most of her time has been spent running around various government departments to get the papers required for my work permit. Yesterday she submitted the huge wad of papers to the Labour Department only to be sent home once again. Today she goes back one more time and as they have already accepted payment for part of the fee, (total, 3,100 baht), we can assume that it will finally be accepted today. It is not just a question of dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's, the 'i's need dotting with a certain colour which changes depending on the day and only certain 't's need crossing depending on the weather. I would have burnt the building to the ground by now with everyone locked inside. Just to remind my reader, this is a renewal of a work permit where I am doing the same job in the same role for the same company at the same address. If anything the renewal is proving more difficult than the original application.
But it could we worse, a friend who works for a local company with a Taiwanese owner, (married to a Thai and having a Thai born son - they employ fifty Thai workers), has just had to fork out 200,000 baht to immigration for them to renew his business visa. That of course is not the standard fee for such a visa, it is about 100 times the standard fee but that money was to encourage immigration to grant him permission to keep his Thai based multi-million baht company running, because without him, there is no company of course. And people wonder why I travel to Singapore every three months to renew my visa there. It does seem the more you do for the country the more difficult they make it for you to stay and work here. Prop up a bar all day and slag off Thailand to similar brain-dead ex-pats, sure, you can stay. Pay taxes, employ Thais, export products, perhaps try to help the local community; bugger off.
But once the work permit has been achieved that is it for another year, for us anyway. Tabien baan in the works, work permit done and I have already booked my next Singapore trip to renew my visa in November. Time to concentrate on work for this bureaucracy is an almighty distraction that neither of us needs.
But despite all that Ploy has also decided to run for the local elections for the 'Or Bor Tor' (OBT), which is like the second in command to the village head, the 'poo yai baan'. The motivation for helping the man on the poster, who is above even the poo yai baan apparently, so Ploy tells me, is to 'have some power', a refreshingly honest appraisal of why anyone would want to go into politics. In this case Ploy wants to be able to call on this man if the Labour office or Immigration mess us around again. And with the permanent residency application possible in 18 months or so that actually seems like a very shrewd move. Ploy may not win but this man seems happy if Ploy continues to help and support him locally anyway, and she may not win as she has refused to pay the voters, something that the other nominees for election seem to do: Ploy knows because she has previously accepted all their 250 baht gifts gladly. With 600 people in the local election that could prove costly anyway.
Every morning Pinky goes out for her run whilst Ploy and I sit outside and have a coffee, (for me anyway). Yesterday Pinky came back with a friend, a puppy we have seen before, so Ploy went immediately to get it some food as it looked like it hadn't eaten in weeks, (although plenty of things seemed to be eating it). It hung around outside our gate for a while, understandably, before trotting off. A few minutes later we heard this painful yelping and Ploy ran outside. The pup had wandered into the local street dogs mafia ring and was being punished for doing so. One of the dogs had bitten it, not too badly but had drawn blood. I knew what was coming next - we have been here before. At least this dog was a male so it could not be pregnant. The mangy beast, that was little more than a slightly furry handkerchief of bones, was carried into our garden and given some more food. I tried various arguments but to be honest my heart wasn't in them as I knew I would lose anyway. 'Pinky won't like it, she is used to being alone - she'll' get jealous'. 'Pinky needs a friend, it'll be good for her and it is a boy so they won't fight'. 'It's disgusting, it looks near to death'. 'I'll take it to the vet'. 'But that'll cost a fortune - look at it'. But by then Pinky was nosing around and they started playing together - that sealed it. That night, after a good scrubbing, (by me of course), which only showed how little hair was left on the creature and how many scabs and scars it had all over it, it got one injection to be taken once a week for four weeks and five tablets to be taken twice a day for who knows how long, (by me of course). It is staying outside for now whilst we count its diseases but already it and whatever is living on it follows us around everywhere and I am left to take care of it whilst Ploy is out lording it over the great unwashed. Its given name is Yoyo; please don't ask why, it was Ploy's choice.
We grabbed something to eat on the way home from the vet last night and rushed into the house on our return as it was raining hard, yet again. (I see our new lord and master is vowing to stop the flooding in the future, according to his poster anyway. I don't know why but King Canute comes to mind). I threw some blankets into Pinky's old kennel and put in some food and water but then I noticed something on the ground. It was not a frog, which have now started inundating us due to all the flood water, but a young bird. Ploy asked why I was still out in the rain. I showed the bedraggled bunch of feathers to Ploy; it has fallen out the dove's nest I explained. 'Is it alive', she asked, 'Yes, just a little stunned'. 'Well, we can't leave it there or the cats will get it'. Still raining heavily with Ploy shining a torch light into my eyes, I slowly scaled our mango tree to return the bird to the nest. I tucked it in as best I could and read it a little story before running into the house to shower, smother my scratches in antiseptic cream and get a beer.
This morning I retrieved the young bird from Yoyo's mouth. I don't know whether it was already dead but it was by now which at least saved me from climbing the tree again.
On Friday afternoon, after one more trip to Bangkok because someone decided I needed a power of attorney for Ploy to be able to a translation authenticated, (yet not for others), and still requiring a visit to the old goat from our 'poo yai baan,' the town head, to confirm I am real and actually live here, (I have actually met her as I attended her recent wedding and as the only foreigner around these here parts I tend to get noticed), the application for my yellow tabien baan was accepted. Ploy looked physically drained when she returned home.
And then it started to rain. And rain. And rain some more. We had to wade to our local restaurant last night and as we went to bed our streets were already flowing with water but as we woke up this morning we were greeted with rivers outside of our door.
Pinky is in her element. We have to fight to bath her but show her dirty water and she is straight in, running up and down the streets and drowning as many small children as she can.
Ploy is in her element. No college today, she announces, which doesn't mean there is no college for her, just she is not going. Much more important things to be done, like talk to the neighbours and supervise sandbags being filled. She has just left on her bicycle to survey further afield. I probably won't see her until tonight or the floods subside, whichever is the later.
I meanwhile have to work. My back is still aching but it is better than it was and finally seems to be making some improvement. Work has piled up a little as I fretted over the tabien baan but now that is over I think I can catch up quickly enough. If Pinky will just leave me alone long enough instead of pestering me to let her out again.
Whilst life here in Thailand is mostly good there are inevitably some irritants as with all countries and this month will test our mettle as it is work permit renewal month.
Yesterday I called Ploy at 5p.m. to find out where she was - she was returning from Bangkok. This morning I had instructions to wake her at 6.a.m as she has to return there again.
If you own property in Thailand you are given a little blue book with all the details inside it, a bit like the deed of a house except it is more personal. You only get this if you have actually paid for the house in full. It is in effect confirmation of your residency in Thailand. It is possible, as a foreigner, to get a yellow book containing the same information and it can help to have this when doing things like getting a driving license, otherwise you have to traipse off to the British embassy every time to get them to produce a document confirming your residency here. Ploy is on a mission to get this document, the tabien baan.
I mentioned it only in passing. I actually have no real need for it save for the driving license application but I don't actually think I want to drive here anyway and public transport is quite good and cheap. However my Canadian driving license runs out later this year so I wouldn't be able to rent a car should I wish to during one of my business trips. Ploy seems hell bent on getting all the documents she can to enable me to live here 'should anything happen to me' although I haven't really given much thought as to what I would do should anything happen to Ploy - almost certainly whilst out driving.
Anyway, we both went to the local Amphur (district) office and some old goat at the back barked out a list of required documents without so much as looking up. I told Ploy not to bother but she said it was simple. The only issue was our marriage certificate which, because we got married in the UK, needed translating, but only after the British Embassy authenticated it. Oh, and after the translation you then have to get a stamp from the Ministry of Affairs to prove the translation was authentic; (yes of course this could be done at one and same time but that would be too efficient). Ploy actually managed to get the translation and translation authentication done locally so only one trip to Bangkok to the British Embassy.
So last week she took all the documents in to the old goat to be sent away again because a) my passport had to be translated and the translation authenticated and there was a questionnaire that needed to be filled in, (in Thai). The questionnaire asked me searching questions that could easily be found on my passport but I gritted my teeth and helped Ploy with the transliteration of the place names, like my place of birth; (actually there was one question, what religious faith am I, that did cause some consternation. They actually offered Christian and Buddhist as options but I refused them and insisted on atheist as a matter of principal. None of our dictionaries seemed to have a correct translation for atheist for some reason - one popular on-line dictionary translates it as the opposite - there is a conspiracy at work here). Anyway she got that questionnaire authenticated and the passport translation done and off she went again.
5p.m, yesterday and my call to Ploy. 'Where are you, I ask'.' Not far from Saraburi, I had to go to Bangkok'. 'What for?' 'To get your passport authenticated at the British Embassy'. I won't bother you with my detailed response but the gist of it is that in the last month I have travelled through Thai immigration six times. At no point did they or their computers think my passport was anything other than genuine and to prove the point they put a pretty little stamp in my passport. The customs and the airline staff thought the same. So did the immigration people in Singapore and Taiwan who also put pretty little stamps in it. But the old goat is not so sure and required Ploy to go to Bangkok to get a 20 year old Thai bimbo to write a letter confirming it was genuine. And because Ploy didn't get there until the afternoon she has to return today to collect it. Apparently she then has to go to the Thai embassy to get them to authenticate the authenticated letter because the 20 year old bimbo there is an expert in British passport forgeries and the British embassy are not be trusted.
Now I know all of this does not involve my time but it irritates the hell out of me because in another amphur they would, in all likelihood, have just processed the documents we had. And it is symptomatic of the hoops you have to jump through for the bureaucracy here.
What is this? Ploy indicates some sentence on the list of forms required for my work permit, 17 in all some of which, like the Phor Ngor 50, run to 30 pages already; (the statement of company accounts). 'Notary Putary Document', I read aloud. 'What is that, we don't know what it means in Thai', (we being Ploy and our accountant). It doesn't mean anything in English, I answer, but to be sure I get out my dictionary to look up 'Putary' but it is absent - the Thais are contributing new words to our English language. Never mind, we'll get the the other 16 and ask them later. Again I don't have to do anything here, work permit applications are made by the employer i.e. Ploy. But having got the work permit last year you would have thought renewing it would be simpler - sort of an official letter confirming I am still employed and the document showing my tax and social insurance payments. But no, why make it that simple. And I have to have yet another medical because Thais don't want syphilitic foreigners working in their country although seem quite happy to have arseholes 'working' in their government.
As we walked round to our local restaurant last night I asked Ploy, if I am going to have to visit Singapore every three months for the rest of my life to renew my visa, would it not be easier to just move there? And whilst we are at it, why not get permanent residency there too!
Yes, We have Bananas
The trip was essentially to renew my Thai visa. Next month we have to renew my work permit so we decided, once again, to go the easy route to renew my non-B business visa. After all the work and travel recently the trip was also a chance to have a little break. It didn't work out that way.
The day before I was due to fly I pulled a muscle in my back. I have had back problems before but they have been a thing of the past since I started taking regular trips to the chiropractor in Singapore, (not all chiropractors are the same and finding one you can trust and who won't permanently dislocate your neck is essential). My last trip to Singapore was for the exhibition and I didn't have time to visit him them so six months had gone past and that was obviously too long. I had been feeling stressed out too, mainly over one customer, (who we have decided to finally ditch), and it is that which usually brings the problem about.
So after some aspirin and ice I found myself in the familiar surroundings of Changi airport. However Singapore is changing and changing fast and not changing for the better. The most visible sign of this change for me is the taxi rank. There are two types of taxi at the airport, the limousine taxi which you book from within the airport or the ordinary taxi which is my choice of transport. However now there is another. It looks like an ordinary taxi except it is 50% more expensive for the 'luxury' of Chevrolet car. The auntie or uncle who ushers you to the taxi now offers this option first without any explanation of the additional costs involved. When I looked confused they explained the charges and they were there on the board which I never read because before there were no options. So I politely refused and was instead pointed to an ordinary taxi - a Mercedes as it happened. It will not be long and they will be asking if you want the meter turned on or not. As in all things, instead of Bangkok removing its hustlers and frauds from the arrivals hall Singapore has decided to embrace this - everything always descends to the lowest common denominator.
It was Monday and late afternoon by the time I arrived at my hotel - always the same one as it not too expensive, (except at the exhibition week when they opportunistically put their prices up by 50% - as did all the other hotels), but it is also close to Orchard road and the MRT so convenient and the staff are friendly. Which was just as well. Although I booked via their website it was only upon being given the key to my room that they mentioned they were refurbishing the 7th floor. I was on the 8th floor. The work will only continue between 10a.m. and 6p.m. they said encouragingly and there is only occasional noise.
I ate in the hotel restaurant and chatted at length to the waiter as he remembered me from before. We talked about how Singapore was changing and how expensive things were there - the bus and MRT fares are due to rise again in November although I don't remember them changing at all in my three years there. I went straight to bed afterwards to watch a little TV and rest my back which was starting to badly ache.
At 8p.m. I was movedto another room after my third complaint about the noise. My new room was on the executive level and the highest floor and although there was no discernable difference in the room save for the scarlet pillow cases and the prettier plastic shampoo bottles, the noise was less. I didn't bother to ask why there was still work at 8p.m. and crawled into bed.
At midnight I woke and only just made it into the bathroom before revisiting my herb crusted salmon dinner. My stomach felt like Bruce Lee had done a roundhouse kick into it but luckily the pain from my back and the sudden movement helped offset that. I knelt slumped over the toilet bowl for a while wondering what the dark objects were before crawling back into bed and sleeping fitfully until the morning. I don't think the food was bad, it was just the continual pain in my back that I think may have caused the upset.
All things considered I didn't feel too bad; I queued for my visa, again a painless process compared with immigration in Thailand, and then visited my subcontractor who I had asked to do a small modification to two boards I had brought with me. I then went to Marriott cafe, my favourite people watching spot, for a nice lunch only to be told that my regular choice, the tuna ciabatta, (not tinned tuna but a slab of rare tuna with avocado and tomato and crispy bacon), was not available. I sat to the accompaniment of the road drilling in Orchard road and discovered that the cafe and indoor restaurant were to be closed for three months for refurbishment, a totally unnecessary action but compulsory it now seems in Singapore for anything over six months in age. The cafe is about food and wine and location and most of all, location, and refurbishment is likely to only diminish one or all of them. I hate change, especially change for the sake of change.
The afternoon a quick lay down on the bed to relax turned into a four hour sleep, and in the evening I met with friends at a new restaurant, (to us anyway), down at the Harbour front. The meal, as always it seems now in Singapore, was disappointing, (it was supposed to be Spanish but even the paella tasted of nothing), but the company was great and the Spanish beer surprisingly decent. I had an uninterrupted night's sleep and then two days free. However my back was still painful but e-mails and telephone calls to the chiropractor had remained unanswered. I decided to visit one of their offices in Tao Payoh as I was on the way to have coffee with one of my friends of the night before, (somewhat fortuitously the female as she had lost her part time job). The office was open but there was a new upstart young doctor there. However they explained the regular doctor is now part time and having climbed up to their office, (why put a chiropractor on the top floor of a building), I decided to submit myself to the newbie's manipulations. He also attached some electric muscle vibrator thingy to my back for ten minutes and then another fifteen minutes of ice. At the end of it I felt worse than when I arrived, (certainly my wallet did), but after walking for a little while I felt I was walking much more erect, (in posture that is), and another return visit on my last day left me in a little pain but much a freer feeling.
I managed a swim one afternoon to the accompaniment of the renovation's drilling but was glad to return home to recuperate in the quiet here. As always in Thailand things change at a rapid pace and only four days away had seen two doves start nesting in our newly pruned mango tree and the first flowers appearing on our banana tree.
Another holiday gone that has has left me wanting a holiday. I think I will stay at home from now on.
My last trip to Taiwan was probably eight years ago, too long ago to be sure of the facts. The 101 tower had just opened but only for the first four floors I think but in any case when I went to see it, all but the bottom seven floors were enveloped in fog.
I remember a seaside resort about 40 minutes by train from Taipei which had a tiny and strange museum full or 'artifacts' which included the remains of mermaids and other strange sea creatures.
I remember a nature park which had some natural hot springs where you could rent a cubicle and bathe in the pungent mineral waters.
I remember the bar where we and some local girls played pool until 6a.m. in the morning before hurriedly returning to our hotel to shower before having to meet with customers for the rest of the day.
I remember the Hilton hotel which had a restaurant to die for. I remember the night markets and the similarity a lot of the streets had with Thailand; small family run shops - a certain organised exciting chaos about everything.
But I was not looking forward to returning; another business trip to meet, this time, a supplier that wanted us to sell their products in Thailand. I wasn't so sure I wanted to do this; after all, we had prided ourselves in having our own unique designs and just being a distributor, albeit for related products, didn't really appeal. But the relationship could also bring in new customers for our own products so we reasoned, and if we can do this with little impact on our own work, well, why not.
And so I found myself once again queuing at immigration at Suwarnabhumi airport for a flight, firstly, to Singapore for a one night stopover, and then onto TaiPei early the next day. The company I was visiting had arranged for a taxi to take me to the hotel and having sailed through immigration and finding check-in a breeze I soon found myself in a surprisingly spacious room with its own separate lounge, inclusive of breakfast and Internet access for just 1650 Taiwan dollar a night. The hotel staff also proved to be very friendly and I had initially thought the company had paid for hotel but in a real throwback to the old days, they take no deposit or credit card swipes at check-in; you just pay when you leave.
I won't bore you with the technical details - suffice it to say it went very well - but the company could not have done more to to make me feel welcome. Feeding and watering me frequently, constant cups of coffee and enquiries as to my well-being punctuated the stay and although the days, (and some evenings), were long, the three days flew by. I started to take real pleasure in the evening meals with my hosts, a rare event indeed for me as I almost always prefer my own company once the work is done. The young lady sales and marketing manager in particular - and no doubt helped by her beauty - could well turn out to be a long term friend as our conversations increasingly departed from just the usual trivialities.
It was over one of these discussions that I mentioned Teresa Teng. I first heard her in Thailand on Ploy's CD player in the car. She was a favourite of Ploy's mother and one song in particular really made me take notice. Not a voice I would normally pay much attention to as I usually like a good belter, it nonetheless wormed its way into my heart; "like weeping and pleading, but with strength, capable of drawing in and hypnotizing listeners." On the last day I was to be taken to the 101 tower on what turned out to be a beautiful warm and still day allowing us to go outside on the viewing platform at the 91st floor. However my charming host also mentioned that a colleague was delivering something to me: at some expense and considerable effort they had tracked down three boxed sets of Teresa Teng's concerts for me. I was genuinely touched that they took the trouble to do this and for that evening my usual cynicism was brushed aside.
The last evening was spent at a Japanese restaurant, mostly with my lovely host as we waited for the CEO to arrive (and pay!) so we indulged ourselves in what, I am quite certain, was the best sashimi I have ever eaten, including within Japan. And as we waited for our benefactor and the draft Asahi beer flowed and the raw sea urchin was voraciously consumed - a taste like no other I had ever eaten before in my life - the conversation butterflied across marriage and living in Thailand and food and Teresa Teng, all sprinkled liberally with laughter.
I got back to my hotel at 10p.m., packed my bags, and set my alarm. Thursday was all travel and we arrived back at home after driving through a torrential thunderstorm at 7p.m. The trip back, this time with just a transit in Singapore, was spent contemplating on the conversation in the car back from the 101 tower - where do I see SingMai in ten years time - and in reading my two Hilary Mantle books that I took with me.
Business trips these days are a chore. Increased security, no gold card to be able to hide in lounges because of the scarcity of my trips these days, ignorant and obese passengers that cannot tell the difference between check-in and carry-on baggage and more often than not seem have got the two mixed up, the ubiquitous screaming child two rows in front, hotels that treat you like a criminal at check-in and where everything seems to be in the 'additional charges' column and indifferent yet expensive food.
This trip was a revelation. A company that wanted to do business with us but not just exploit us. A company that wanted an honest long term relationship based on trust. A company where I actually liked the people, that had lives outside of their work and were happy to talk about them. An openness that allowed them to talk candidly about problems they had encountered in their seventeen years and not just hide behind the usual marketing bullshit.
I feel energised again and although next week I have a few days in Singapore, part business, part holiday, for the first time in a long time I feel content with what we have achieved and how we are going to grow the company. And how we can maintain that work life balance that so often finds the fulcrum 90% of the way along the wrong side of happiness.
And in my absence our gate had arrived to the envy of neighbours, (a little ostentatious perhaps but, well why not).
There's Nothing to See Here
So what shall we talk about today. The riots in England, the financial crisis, the possible evidence for liquid water on Mars and the implications that would have for life beyond our planet or the ripples found in the microwave background that may hint at other universes.
Or perhaps about our new garden fence which arrived yesterday and which rather cleverly matches the balcony. The gate arrives in another week so I took the photo from the other side of the garden. A little over the top perhaps, but what the hell. This is our treat to ourselves; a promise to reward ourselves occasionally for all the hard work we think we put in. 57,000 baht for everything including installation and being stainless steel it should last longer than us.
On Saturday I fly to Taiwan to visit a company that want us to represent them in Thailand. They manufacture broadcast TV equipment so it complements our products nicely. And then almost immediately on my return I fly to Singapore to renew my visa after I was told by Thai immigration they needed to keep my passport for 4 weeks to renew the visa here. So to hell with that and it gives me a little break which I can use to be honest.
A few tribulations at work from one customer in particular that I won't bother you with but I think we will finally get rid of him in the next month or so. Lots of new enquiries as well as this new venture with the Taiwan company and new products very soon to come on line so lots to keep my mind away from the escalating nonsense elsewhere in the world.
There is plenty of time to write about that in the coming weeks. Like our fence, those problems are going to be around for a long time.
There was a letter in the Bangkok post a few days back warning of the outcome of the new Thai government increasing the minimum wage, as it has pledged to do. The writer, a CFO at a major company who apparently also had the foresight to predict the economic woes of 1997, saw a nightmare scenario where companies currently employing large numbers of minimum wage earners would suddenly be hit by hugely inflated wage bills, which would then give rise to increased cost of goods, (and food), which would increase inflation which would lead to increasing wage demands from everybody and...: well you can see he has a point.
Unless of course those very same companies didn't increase the cost of the goods and absorbed it, thereby reducing their profit and their dividends to parasitic stockholders and conceivably even the higher management not taking a pay increase or bonus for that year. You then have one happier workforce, no inflationary pressures on the economy and best of all, the stockholders don't get to buy a new yacht on the backs of the efforts of minimum wage earners; they may even have to go out and find a proper job.
So the US have passed their debt bill into law, whereby their efforts to attack a 14.3 trillion dollar debt include not a single cent in tax increases for the rich or for large corporations. At the same time the HSBC bank have announced simultaneously an 11.7 billion dollar profit and the compulsory redundancy of more than 25,000 of their workers.
'Hmmmm, it might sound a lot to some people, but if you’re extraordinarily greedy, have complete disregard for everyone but your shareholders, and are in league with Satan, then it’s just a drop in the ocean.'
Snap, in a wilfull and malicious act, nominated me (dropped in my lap) some blog award thingy that involves more work and effort than I really have time for. Now I could have ignored it, after all I don't really have a blog as she pointedly remarks, and I rarely respond to such 'chain letter' type things. After all I haven't replied yet to that Nigerian businessman billionaire who died and left me a tidy sum in his will. Or the Chinese businessman billionaire who coincidentally did the same thing just two days later.
Instead I could regale you of the work I have been doing, of two imminent business trips to Taiwan and Singapore and of Ploy's new business plans. But I guess a little publicity for the website never comes amiss and I am sure Snap meant well and as part of the mission involves dredging up seven old posts, well that was a nice diversion over a coffee.
But that said I have been writing this diary for seven years now and that is a lot of words to trawl through. I will restrict my answers to the diary although I had more responses to the Singapore and especially Art History pages over the years, (really). Also, in terms of finding things like the most popular posts, well that is difficult because although I get comprehensive website statistics I don't date the entries so I can't relate one to the other and in any case I can't be arsed to do it. So I will guess. Some entries have been posted to other websites so I also get some measure of response from the comments on there too.
So, here goes and apologies for some multiple answers - there is lot of posts out there to just narrow it down to one.
Most beautiful post: A post from the very first page of my diary. Soppy and sentimental with no trace of my usual cynicism but as true to this day as when it was written.
Most controversial post: This is easy as it brought a letter, post resignation, from my old company accusing me of all sorts of things and threatening court action for damages. It obviously hit home with some there. Then the post on Gary Glitter didn't pass without a few abusive e-mails landing in my in-box. Nor did my post on the English malaise where some seemed to think I was attacking them personally. I was.
Most helpful post: This was tricky. I don't do helpful posts for people with acne or who can't fill in a form without asking inane questions on some forum or other. However I did find this one which provides a handy checklist for those considering emigrating from the UK.
The post whose success surprised you most: There was a brief Internet meme called MicroFiction Monday where you had to write a small story in less than 160 characters as a caption to a weekly photograph. I really enjoyed it and it brought a regular e-mail response Monday and at least one persistent virtual friend. These are two of my favourites.
The post that didn't get the attention it deserved: So many. But rather than bang on about my favourite bugbears, (which are, with age, increasingly almost everything), how about a post on choosing how to die. You would have thought someone else was interested in that subject. Or another morbid subject, the Thai wedding of Ploy's ex.
The post I am most proud of: Well, a couple of posts on personal achievements. Getting my Masters degree after eight years of distance learning, (in three countries), and many lost weekends and evenings. Then there was the renovation of our house in Canada which we should both be amazed at as we did everything by ourselves except for some electrical work. And last, but certainly not least, the day I finally wrote that letter and resigned from all the modern day corporate nonsense to be free.
And the worst part: I have to nominate, (drop in their lap a steaming turd), five other blogs. Now most I read have already been nominated and I don't read many so I am going to pick some favourite sites that I am damn sure don't read this tripe thus ensuring an end to the chain.
Great Opera Singers : Does what it says on the box. But if you are interested in real singers this is a really insightful blog.
Me Against them : Funny and anarchic. Hopefully you will be offended.
The Year of Writing Dangerously : Panders to the writer in me. Michael writes with a real wit so the fact he remains unpublished is an inspiration to all of us.
Basic Instructions : Well not really a blog as such but a very funny cartoonist.
Bad Astronomy : Another pet love of mine. And he also exposes idiots from time to time which is enjoyable yet frustrating at the same time.
Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.
That quotation is from P.J.O'Rourke. There is an article in today's Independent newspaper asking what is wrong with our country's leaders that has led to their approval ratings dropping so low, all across the world, from Europe to Japan to the US. The answer can be found in an obscure poll reported in the Bangkok Post which concludes that people seem happy to accept a corrupt government as long as they also benefit from that corruption.
The common element in all these disillusioned countries is that they have democracy and we will fight wars to impose it on others should we feel like it. But as P.J. says, if we don't impose some sort of test on those we allow to choose our leaders then we get to the situation we have now. And the only people that can change it are the people we voted in or the people that voted so that isn't very likely to happen.
And so we go around and around. The end is nigh I tell you.
Beam me Up Scotty
Whilst there are approximately 27 conflicts going on the world today, Greece, Ireland and various other European countries go into economic meltdown, the US - well what to say about the US - and revelations about bribery of the police and phone hacking continue to illustrate just why the news today is so debased, it may seem highly irrelevant to discuss the funding cuts to NASA.
In 1976 the first space shuttle, Enterprise, was rolled out of its hanger. Just seven years after man had first landed on the moon this was the dawn of a new era in which space flight would become almost mundane and we would have colonies in space and possibly the moon as bases for deep space exploration. Of course it didn't turn out like that. NASA, without doubt, and without the inertia that came from the Cold War, showed itself to be the typical over-bureaucratic government organisation it always was. Largely direction-less, at the whim of each passing Administration, at the mercy of the cost-plus contractors it chose to employ, it has left us with only one real legacy as the last shuttle takes its final bow - the Hubble space telescope.
But that legacy is on its last legs and the latest cuts announced mean that its successor, the James Webb telescope, is being cancelled, (and also the SETI site has had to close because of lack of funding). Of course it is not all bad news, increasingly other countries and private companies will fill that void. But the visions of the other space explorers does not seem to be so far reaching as that of NASA in the 1970s. In the space of a decade the US went from not having a reliable rocket that could launch even the tiniest satellite to landing a man on another planet, (and safely returning him home). But since 1976 we have only dabbled in space with no far reaching vision. Mars seemed the next logical step in 1969 but in the intervening 42 years we have, apart from some amazing unmanned space probes, gone little further into space than we had in 1960.
One year after the Enterprise was shown to the public Voyager 1 was sent on its exploratory mission to map the outer planets. It is currently, after 33 years of flight, 17,500 million kilometres from earth at the edge of our solar system. At its current speed it will take another 72,000 years to reach our nearest star that, as far as we know, has no orbiting planets around it so not much of welcome there. Whilst there were plans and reports at NASA to bridge this gap through new propulsion methods they are of course now put on hold. None of the new players in space exploration have plans beyond going back to the moon. Should we wish to explore the stars rather than our own near planets we need a multi-generational shift in technology to bring about interstellar space exploration. This isn't now going to happen, in my lifetime or in all likelihood, ever.
Does any of this matter? Well, I have always said before that it does. As with all aspects of life it is aspiration that brings hope. To a farmer in Sudan you can rightly argue, given the choice between food and research into near light speed space travel, well the choice is obvious. But then does it need to be that choice. If the choice was between food and fighting some war in Iraq - well the choice is also obvious. Only for some reason the wrong choice has been made and continues to be made and as in all times of disquiet countries continue to dig their moats deeper and top up their cauldrons of burning oil. The world is becoming increasingly fractious and xenophobic.
Once research is stopped it is very difficult to re-ignite it again. Researchers dissipate - the expertise gets lost - even scientists need to eat after all. Without some catastrophic event such as a hostile alien invasion or a large asteroid hitting earth, there seems little to give that essential sense of purpose again. It is possible that in 800 years mankind will look back on this era as the second Dark Age. Increasingly I come to the conclusion that in 800 years mankind will be just a brief footnote in the history of this planet.
That was the Week That was
On Tuesday we sent the first part of the potential order to the Korea company for their evaluation. On Friday afternoon we sent the invoice.
The amazing thing about the week, even with 3.a.m. starts to do some modifications, was I managed to sleep well and even catch some afternoon siestas. My back is almost 100% now and I actually feel quite refreshed.
They now want to see a demonstration of the next product which coincidentally I have had another request from a US company for, and next Saturday we have a Thai cable TV company coming to us for exactly the same reason. We have also had a Taiwan company asking if we are interested in distributing their products - in some ways they interleave with ours - and we have had a couple more enquiries from India and China. Apart from the Thai company none of these things seem to be as a direct result of the exhibition but it is coincidental that we have suddenly become very busy just after it. And next week we have 6 each of our new products arriving from our Singapore sub-contractor.
Whilst we were away of course there was the election. My own feeling was it was probably better if Abhisit had won but only if he did so by a clear majority which was unlikely. If he had to go into a coalition to get a majority, as with any coalition, it then becomes about personal benefits and who gets what government position and not about common goals. So although Peua Thai won at least they won by a majority and you would have thought that would have kept the red shirts happy who were likely to just go back on the streets if Abhisit won, whether by fair means or foul. But it seems the red shirts are not happy.
Before Yingluck is even made prime minister they seem to be complaining that things are not happening fast enough. And not things you might think would be a priority, like the economy or the election promises like increases in minimum wage, but about releasing all those red shirts who in prison and taking action against the army chiefs and Abhisit for quelling the Bangkok sit-in last year. Yingluck has so far not responded to those questions. And of course the spectre of Thaksin looms over her and the question of if and when he might return - a question she also ducks although she does say she is her own woman and makes her own decisions.
So the red shirts have got what they wanted and are still not happy. Revenge is not a pretty emotion. People were killed in those Bangkok riots, buildings were burnt, people on both sides died. If there are lessons to be learnt it is that the right to demonstrate can only be allowed to go so far in a democracy. Whilst some may have seen Abhisit as a despot right for overthrowing, he clearly was not and his tolerance was certainly seen as weakness by some. Maybe the government was a sham but then was Thaksin such an innocent. Were all the charges against him trumped up - that seems unlikely. The army's role in staging a coup when they don't like what is happening doesn't help at all because there is then a political vacuum. There is such a division between the people of the country now it seems difficult to see how things can move on.
Although Peua Thai won the first past the post voting system means that the majority of the people actually voted for other parties. So why didn't Abhisit change the system to proportional voting during his time in office. There was little that Abhisit could have done to woo the voters in the north of Thailand - the reaction to Peua Thai winning clearly shows a resentment that goes beyond reason. But time heals and changing the voting system would in all likelihood have given him another four years to try to heal some of those divisions. Bring Thaksin back if that is what they want and release all those in prison under the lese majeste laws. You will not win those votes but then they have little to hit you with. But no, he did none of that.
So now we have the Peua Thai party in. The worry is there are extremists on the Democrat side too - it was the yellow shirts that shut the airport last year. They actually advised a No vote at the election (and apparently 1.4 million agreed with them) rather than vote for Abhisit because they felt he wasn't right wing enough. They could yet create a fuss and although the army has said it will not do anything they are a volatile lot. But let us assume none of this happens. Things could settle down and you could argue that is more likely under Yingluck. Economically things are likely to be little different, you can only do what you can afford to do and the government advisors to either flavour seem astute as the government borrowing and GDP show, Thailand is not doing so bad, certainly compared with most of the West. I don't think any government would be allowed to scupper that.
But there is a deep division in the country and the problem is either major party only seems to address its own people. From Saraburi down is Democrat, from Lop Buri up it is Peua Thai. That is unhealthy. Interestingly a survey of children's IQ shows almost the same split. So isn't that the answer. To improve the education of the north such they may make a more informed choice in the future - which may be neither Peua Thai nor Democrat. And to change the voting to proportional representation so parties are forced to appeal to all voters, not just their own people. True democracy where every vote has an equal weight and voters have enough information and knowledge to make informed choices. But name a country where that happens. Perhaps Thailand could be the first.
No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one
It was last Wednesday afternoon. Still exhausted after the exhibition and everything that went before it; the late payment from the US company, Pinky's illness - well I am sure you have read about it if are reading this - I suggested to Ploy we got away for a while. We had spent all Tuesday afternoon and all the morning cleaning the house, which included all our washing from the Singapore trip. The house looked spick and span, my workshop the same and I had even put up the posters from our stand. The reason, we had potential customers visiting, visitors to the exhibition.
We sat in the quiet of the workshop, in the cool of the air conditioning, and looked at each other. When, said Ploy, barely audibly. Tomorrow, after these people have been. I have sent out all the quotes, we have one order that won't be late even if we take a couple of days off, now is the time. We are all exhausted, we need a break. Pinky, comatose on the floor, raised her head with visible effort, looked at Ploy, and then slumped back down with a long sigh. See, even she wants us to go. Go where, said Ploy. Somewhere easy, by the sea so Pinky can run around, she has never seen the sea; she'll love it. Jomtien?
OK, said Ploy. Call when when they arrive. And with that she traipsed upstairs for an hour's sleep. I e-mailed some friends from the area. Did they know of a hotel that accepts pets. It didn't really matter, Pinky could sleep in our car, but I knew Ploy would be happier if she could stay in our room, (Pinky that is, I usually let Ploy indoors now she is getting older). We got one positive answer and a telephone number. A British couple running a small villa style hotel in Bang Saray. By the second call things didn't sound so positive as they started talking about kennels that were close to them. To hell with it, we will just go anyway.
Ploy came down at 4p.m. Where are they, she asked. No idea I said. They called soon after for directions. They were miles away and already over an hour late. Ploy spoke to them. I told them you weren't here, she said, I told them you had another appointment in Bangkok and couldn't wait for them as they were so late and still another hour away from us. But... No matter, they want to sell you something, not us sell them something. Are you sure? Yes, trust me. I didn't care. I had instantly switched to holiday mode and was looking at the photos of the hotel rooms on the website. They arrived at 5.15p.m. Ploy didn't let them past the gate. They talked to her for 45 minutes before leaving. Ploy brought their brochures inside. Told you, she said. If they had talked to you they would still be here Saturday.
We went out for dinner with a couple of friends, one of whom had just got her settlement visa to join her husband in some remote mining town in Australia. I felt sorry for her, the description her husband had given, it sounded like hell. And she has no idea when she will be back to see her family. But the meal was good, the beer flowed and I could already feel my body relaxing after months of stress and hard work.
We both woke early on Thursday. We packed quickly, I checked my e-mails but there was nothing urgent. I wasn't taking my laptop with me and I had no intention of reading my e-mails whilst I was away. After all, it is just 4 days, we would be back Monday afternoon, (but maybe we would add a couple of days onto that, who knows), and two of the planned days were a weekend and an election weekend at that. We packed everything in the car, Pinky excitedly leapt into the back seat, panting over my shoulder such that I could feel her hot breath on my cheek, I slipped on my sunglasses, (which I thought I had lost but had found in the clean up - a good omen I thought), and we were on our way.
A short way into our journey Ploy turned off the motorway - a friend had told her a quicker way to the airport than the motorways was to go via Nakhon Nayok and the airport was on the way to our destination - so I went with the flow and was soon appreciating empty roads and a more pleasing landscape than our usual route. Until we were pulled over by the police at some traffic lights. I immediately knew the problem, our car tax was out of date. I knew Ploy had bought a new one but she hadn't replaced it on the windscreen. No problem I gestured to the policeman as I fumbled in the glove compartment. It's not there, said Ploy. I took it out when we went to Singapore as I didn't want to leave the new one in the car when it was parked at the aiport. But wouldn't the new one have been on the car anyway, or at least should have been. Yes, but I forgot to buy the plastic thing to stick it to the screen. Couldn't you just use this one again with a bit of Sellotape. The policeman had already filled in our form and was probably regretting stopping a married couple before he sent us across the road to the police station to pay a 200 baht fine. Keep this paper, said Ploy, we can use it if we are stopped again.
So we went on our way for another few kilometres before Pinky decided she needed to go. We are both very good at reading her gestures now and there was no doubt about it. Like a child she wouldn't go before we left, too excited by the trip to come, but now, having taken this back route we had a dual lane road with fields either side and nowhere to stop. We trundled on before a side road appeared to offer an opportunity for our dog's ablutions. But every time we slowed a group of soi (street) dogs appeared from nowhere so on we went again. Eventually we stopped where a grassy knoll appeared to offer the toilet opportunity we were looking for. I put Pinky on the lead, just in case, and off we went. About 50 metres along the verge a clap of thunder and all the grass around rustled ominously. We rushed back to the car as fast as we could, this time Pinky stopping by every clump of grass to sniff and investigate whereas on the way there she had passed them all by. By the time I got to the car to be greeted by a 'what kept you' I was only 50% drenched. Pinky retired to back seat, yet to relieve herself and shook the rain from her coat. Ploy turned around and we continued on to the road accident.
Being a dual lane road any accident would cause problems - this one had completely blocked three-quarters of the road as it involved a lorry. Luckily our lane was the one with permission to pass although it still took thirty minutes to do so whilst the rain pelted down. Passing the accident and now stuck behind kilometres of backed-up traffic we sauntered along with Pinky reminding us of her needs on a regular basis. But after a while the traffic thinned, the rained eased and we reached ChaChoengsow where we stopped by the side of the river for a break.
I put Pinky back on her lead as we were by a main road and we walked across to the railings to watch the storm debris sail past us and the sullen clouds disperse. I let Pinky off her lead, she is quite reliable now and I thought it would encourage her to do her business. Ploy said she was popping across to the market across the road to buy some fruit. For some reason Pinky missed Ploy leaving as she was sniffing around some huge pot plant. However once she realised her mistress had gone panic set in. She looked left, right, all around whilst I ran towards her with her lead sensing her next action. I was too late. She, in a moment of inspiration, had decided where Ploy was (she wasn't) and set off at full speed down the middle of the busy high street with me running as fast as my decrepit flip-flops and saturated clothing would allow along the tow path. Eventually she stopped, slightly confused, as did the traffic, still more confused, but then seeing Ploy about three metres from when she started her race, pelted back again along the middle of the road to enthusiastically greet her whilst Ploy tried her best to admonish her.
The rest of the journey to the hotel was relatively uneventful. We had to call a couple of times to find it but once we were there we were there we parked up and heaved a sigh of relief. I went ahead to book in, although the owners requested no such formalities - we met their dog, a Chinese Shar Pei, which looked like a dumpling in an over-size hanky with its folds of skin, but was very affectionate, and after a few moments we decided to let the dogs meet.
Luckily that went without incident, we chose our room from the two types available and Ploy moved our luggage in. I meanwhile, was set upon by the owners who engaged in persistent conversation which I found rather overwhelming, having not spoken to any foreigners in Thailand for months. I much prefer the nod at reception as you pass by approach to familiarity at hotels - I was getting the feeling they were going to sleep with us. I managed to extricate myself and then spent some time extricating Pinky from the over zealous attentions of the Shar Pei, which I don't think were amorous, just over-friendly. It was already 4.30p.m. so we thought to eat early and then just sit in front of the TV or read one of the books I had remembered to bring, or swim in the small but empty pool. I approached the owners to ask which way to a nice restaurant area. They started to tell me but then volunteered to take us to 'their favourite restaurant'. I tried to politely decline but they were insistent so I skulked back to my room to tell Ploy. Why are they coming with us. I couldn't shake them off, they insisted and they are taking us in their car. What about Pinky, said Ploy. Ah, a get out clause. But before I could offer my excuse they were apologising that their dog did not like being shut in the house which it would have to be until we were sure the two dogs would get along. I didn't tell them we were taking Pinky with us so looked suitable disappointed, got instructions on how to find the beach restaurants, and then we slipped out with Pinky.
As we sat in the restaurant looking along the beach at the fishing boats coming and going we finally started to relax. After the meal we let Pinky run in the sea for the first time (and last as she then took an aversion to waves) and dig her way to Chiang Mai in the sand (which was not to be the last time). When we got back the owners were in their little bar and although Ploy and Pinky managed to escape I was dragged in for a couple of beers before a fitful night's sleep.
Breakfast was included in the room price so we took advantage of it but then, whilst deciding what to do with the day, I thought I would take a quick look at my e-mails. A new quote request which was nice, an e-mail from a friend and a little burst of new e-mails from a company that had just made contact with us before we went away. Each e-mail was the same message, the last in red type. 'We urgently need to evaluate your IP cores PT8 and PT5 - please contact us'. I wrote back. I had already told them where I was, (sort of, a business trip as companies don't like to think of you not working), but I got an instant reply. It is our haste but we need to evaluate before we purchase and we need to do this now. They meant now. The order, should we get it, was worth 1.5 million baht, about $46,000 dollars. It probably meant a trip to Korea. I replied again. By Monday I would propose to them how we can proceed as quickly as possible. It was already Friday and I explained it was election weekend. OK, Monday then, they agreed. I told Ploy.
Strangely I didn't feel excited. A big order, one we can do, one we don't feel others can do so we have an advantage, I hate Seoul but it is not too far to travel to; but why oh why on the first day of my first holiday for a year! I couldn't decide what to do. Some of our equipment I needed was still in Singapore. One of the products they wanted needed some work to finish it. I had another order to finish first in any case. And I was shattered. Completely and utterly shattered. More so than before because I had allowed my body to switch off the adrenaline pump and unwind.
We decided to do our own thing for the day. I would stay there, swim, read, relax, do nothing. Ploy would visit a friend in Chon Buri. We would meet in the evening for dinner. By the time we had come up with this decision it was already midday anyway. The afternoon was very pleasant. I took Pinky for a walk where she met a group of young pups from the farm down the road, I met all the Thais I had been warned off meeting - the man that always hid behind the gate when their dog approached but in fact was hiding from them so he told me - the neighbours with their uncared for dogs who proudly showed me their friendly Pitbull and enquired about Pinky with some affection. Ploy had already told me of the rather disparaging look she had been given when we arrived and the owners did seem to have a rather distasteful opinion of most Thais despite living in the middle of them. Later in the holiday other guest arrived, again an English man and his Thai wife or girlfriend but she was acceptable for some reason but as I was to find out, that was because she had money. They arrived in an Audi TT convertible, good for about 30 metres on Thailand's roads, although I was later told he didn't own it but was given it as payment for an unpaid loan by one of his clients. He was a money lender, or usurer as Dickens better put it. And do you know, he looked it too. Even in the T-shirt. Others passed through, all English, all full of stories of this bar girl or that one that had ripped off some Westerner. I tell you, these girls should be in charge of the country. If they were negotiating with China and Vietnam over the Mekong delta in just a few days Thailand would own all of Cambodia, Laos and half of the Szechuan province with an option on Taipei. But the owners drank it all in. For them bad news is good news although in many instances I did feel that the stories were just a little exaggerated.
Ploy arrived back late from her friends and I was really ready to sleep but I hadn't eaten since breakfast and we decided to go out to the same restaurant. We shared a couple of dishes but before we could let Pinky out for a run the heavens opened so we just returned to the hotel. Although that meal was shared it almost certainly was the cause of my food poisoning.
I didn't feel that well in the morning but felt obligated to eat something. Ploy told me today was up to me so I chose to call a friend (virtual friend as we had only met once and then only briefly) and meet for lunch. This we did. We arrived at the beach resort he had nominated and before I looked around I rushed through the restaurant to the toilet and barely closed the door before accurately vomiting into the squat toilet bowl. I returned after a little while and joined my friends at the table they had chosen. I spent the next two hours in a conversation I barely remember, refusing food and sipping on a cold beer. I told Ploy I needed to get back to the hotel and despite offers to do some sight seeing we got back to our hotel just in time for me to run across the road to the ditch. I managed to get to my hotel room and slept through until the next morning.
Ploy had bought some medicine for me which calmed things down - for those that are interested all the action was in the top half was a good sign I thought - and although feeling distinctly unwell I did not feel sick. The next day we returned home so decided to just relax for the day. We took Pinky for a long walk down to the beach ('you took your dog through the village - we never do that'), and let her stare at the waves and dig her way to Vientiane before retuning back to the hotel. It was the best part of the holiday.
After that we thought to rather aimlessly head towards Jomtien and find something to eat. Today was voting day and a lot of places were shut and alcohol sales are banned. I remembered a fish and chip shop someone had recommended and we stopped there, one of the two restaurants apparently open and I had a very decent haddock and chips with a large coffee cup of beer, (it must be coffee in a coffee cup).
We then sat on the beach at Jomtien, let Pinky watch the waves and dig her way to Shanghai, drink a beer (in a real glass as the beach is apparently allowed to serve beer) and sit and watch the approaching storm slowly hide away the islands in its shadowy pockets. As the first drops of rain landed on our table we ran to the car and drove slowly back to the hotel. The owners were out that evening, (a foreigners get together which we were initially invited to but as they got to know us the invitation appeared to relapse), so we opened a bottle of wine and saw the evening out by watching the election results.
We woke early on Monday and decided to leave straight away, forgoing breakfast. It was as I loaded the small suitcase into the car that I felt the muscle twinge in my back. By the time we were home it had seized up leaving me walking like a cripple. The trip home was uneventful save for being stopped by the police at a toll station because our tax had apparently lapsed. Initially we were told we would have to pay again as we had previously been stopped in another province but a little eye fluttering and we were on our way. Thank heavens for Pinky.
I read my e-mails, the phone rang twice and Skype was flashing message after message. After a little to-ing and fro-ing with the Korea company we resolved a schedule and as I write this I have already delivered the first part. An urgent message to my Singapore sub-contractors and our equipment arrived this afternoon. And my back is slowly getting better through a mixture of regular rest, ice packs and exercises I was once shown to help relax the muscles.
Boy do I need a holiday.
Sixty or more business cards, a sense of being on the right track with the business, some nice comments about our products, some possible future long term business relationships, a clear direction for our new designs, a stinking headache, a sore throat and a general feeling of being left for dead after a plucky fight over ten rounds with Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
It is the latter that is dominating at the moment. I started feeling rough on the flight home and by the time we arrived home, aside from the diversion from the overly enthusiastic greeting we had from Pinky - which was nice, I have to admit - I went straight to bed. Ploy, who looked like death last night, seems to have recovered quickly whereas I am still feeling the effects of that sustained bout of roundhouse kicks from Bruce and the lack of sleep for the three months preceding the exhibition that also lasted for the four nights during it.
However, once I can shake this off we will have fond memories of the show: (the photo on the right was taken one hour before the show opened!). Perhaps the one lasting benefit of the show will be the affect it has had on Ploy. From the feelings of intimidation and trepidation at the end of the quiet first day as our small stand was towered over by the large black Sony stand or the complete TV studio stands that companies such as Miranda had on display, to the end of the third day when we had had most of enquiries including several Thai cable TV companies who seemed very interested in what we had to offer and were genuinely interested in the fact that there was finally a Thai based company who could help service some of their needs. Thailand does not need a false 'Buy British' campaign; pride in Thai products and companies is genetic here.
It took the first day to get my patter right and to determine what aspect of our features I should emphasise. By then Ploy too had got her welcoming speech off pat and had actually chased down some Thai speaking attendees and brought them back to our stand. This included the three monks in the photo who are responsible for the Buddhist DMC cable channel which Ploy excitedly told me afterwards are the recipients of huge amounts of donations from rich and poor alike: the photo shows me regaling them the joke of the Buddha, the Pope, Cameron Diaz and the donkey which they pretended they hadn't heard before, (and it is also a very rare photo of me wearing a tie, in fact all the ties I took still had the sales labels on them, five years after I bought them in Canada).
Our stand was opposite the China pavilion which comprised 22 small companies and espoused the often forgotten but admirable business notion of having at least one pretty girl on the stand, (one which we also embraced of course), and it also allowed Ploy to practice her Mandarin. The only other Thai company there were devoid of any Thai staff save for two floosies who wandered around in tight fitting sparkly tops and skirts short enough for anyone to be able to tell their original colour hair without bending down. The only thing missing from the gaudy stand was a short time love hotel.
On the last day of the exhibition with everything packed for the next morning's flight home we visited the restaurant we frequented so often when we lived there. After five years we were greeted back like old friends but the chef has obviously changed, or perhaps we have changed, and the meal was disappointing and surprisingly expensive. I still have a soft spot for Singapore but it gets eroded every visit. When we lived there it was already an overly populated island of four million people. Now, five years later, that has swelled to 5.3M and that is too many. Woken every morning at 6.30a.m. by the construction site behind our hotel it is difficult to find anywhere that is not being built on. We saw more traffic accidents in our week there than I remember seeing in three years of living there as the Asian driving skills and patience are tested beyond limits by the dense traffic.
I almost finished reading a book on this trip too which I was pleased about. Whilst not a novel I would otherwise be proud to say I had read I was pleased I stayed with it, (and it was pleasant enough to want to do so), so all my efforts to disregard the Internet and Facebook in particular are not just spent on some other worthless pursuit; (I even left my laptop at home on this trip although that was slightly enforced by circumstances outside my control). The book was also interesting in the view of some of the ex-pats the author met, some of whom begged her to meet them just so they could hear their own tongue spoken and to find out about some of the banalities of home.
Coming home from this exhibition, for us, was just that, coming HOME. Whilst I dozed upstairs I heard Ploy proudly telling our story to each neighbour in turn. As Ploy pulled me from my death bed to take me out to dinner she tells the story one more time to the interested restaurant owner. As I sat with a glass of wine surveying the damage Pinky has inflicted on our garden, (we chose to leave her outside and had some people come and feed her - by the look of her, a lot of people), there was a feeling of contentment I have never felt before.
The exhibition has given us a clear direction for our company but it has also given us a direction. I will find that dentist - twenty years since my last appointment is likely to leave me looking like Walter Brennan in the near future - and we will make sure we have more time for ourselves. And I will make sure I find time to read more. Time to bring out those unread Hilary Mantel books.
I have had more than my fair share of bureaucracy the last couple of weeks. My tolerance of it is low at the best of times so as little Hitlers do their best to thwart our plan to become millionaires it was inevitable that someone was going to cop it eventually. That honour fell to Thai customs, indirectly at least.
The seed was sown earlier this week when I went to get my re-entry permit, a twenty minute formality. However we, (as Ploy came with me), had the misfortune to be served by the same woman that Ploy had talked to about renewing my visa here in Thailand in the absence of my passport. It was she that had said I could get a visitor visa within an hour which at the time seemed helpful, (the non-B visa renewal takes days as they like to have a jolly to see our premises - as if that is anything to do with them - but the Labour office and Immigration don't talk to each other and like to do each other's jobs). As it was I renewed my business visa in Singapore as I wanted to keep the continuity of that visa. I can work under a non-O visa, (based on marriage), but if anything happened to Ploy then I would, in theory at least, have to leave the country immediately. With a non-B visa I am independent of Ploy and before anyone says that is a rather cold hearted way of looking at things; well perhaps, but Ploy encouraged me to get it and yesterday she had an accident driving to Bangkok which, although not major, showed how tenuous our grip on life can be, especially on Thai roads. If something did happen to Ploy I would still want to stay in this country.
So I present my papers for the re-entry permit and off this woman goes in Thai, directed at Ploy, about how I should have got a visitor visa instead. Now I don't think she meant visitor visa, I think she meant non-O visa, but in any case I tried to quietly point to the same reasons I gave above why I wanted to stay on a non-B visa. I also said I think it counts in my favour to have a non-B visa when I go for permanent residency. She would have none of it and insisted the non-O visa was better for me. I decided to be quiet, I got my stamp and we left. Ploy, who got the worst of this, explained that this woman gave out the non-O visa and saw the opportunity to get a little under the table payment for expediting the application. Someone else does the non-B visas in which case they would be the beneficiary.
OK, I got the stamp and we don't have to go back there for a while.
So next we have to get a carnet to take our equipment to the exhibition in Singapore, (did I mention we were going...). Both Ploy and I had already talked to them on the phone and we had the requirements. So I printed out the pro-forma invoice, we put serial numbers on everything and we took photos of everything, (a stupid requirement that I have only ever come across in Thailand). We tried to value our goods suitably lowly but it still came to 11,000 baht although we get that back. More annoying was the 4000 baht fee to customs to expedite the application. It didn't seem an option to have it done more slowly. If we applied two years before we needed the carnet it still seems we had to pay to expedite it. OK, bite my lip and just pay. So yesterday Ploy went off once again to Bangkok, I think her tenth trip in the last three weeks.
At 7p.m. she arrived back home with a large scratch on the car, (she was late back because of this because she insisted on the police and insurance people attending as the person who hit her was uninsured). So we had an extra scratch but no carnet. Why? Well because we had not photographed all of the items on the pro-forma. The items I did not photograph were three screwdrivers (ordinary ones, not the Doctor Who type), and some DVD discs, (video test discs, nothing fruity). I tried to remain calm, I really did and I could see poor Ploy had no fight left in her and her eyes pleaded with me not to do a Victor Meldrew. I couldn't ask her to drive once again into Bangkok and today is lucky number day anyway, (lottery), which coincides with a lunar eclipse - I am not sure if that is extra lucky or unlucky - which she was willing to miss but I just couldn't ask her to do it.
So in the good old time honoured fashion I told them to fuck it. We'll just hand carry the stuff with no carnet. It is only a few boxes anyway and leaving Thailand should be no issue. Entering Singapore should be no issue. And we will give some of the stuff to our sub-contractors in Singapore to Fedex back to us. If we do get stopped at Thai customs then a few baht will put it right.
You can only push so far.
I know you are bored hearing about it but it is my whole life now and there is nothing more to write about. So clasp your hands over your ears, it is just five days until we leave for the exhibition. Today I go to Lop Buri to get my re-entry permit. That should be straightforward enough as we have done that before but it is a couple of hours out and that seems a lot at this time.
Ploy has been helping me generate some new video patterns these last few days so today I will spend some time trying to integrate them into our new product; it has been nice to have her working with me. Later this week Ploy has to go to Bangkok to sort out the carnets. Needless to say they are not as easy to do as elsewhere with photos of all our products we are bringing having to be taken with their serial numbers. That proves a small issue as, a] we haven't finished them yet and b] we forgot about serial numbers. So we hastily ordered a label printer which won't be here until tomorrow probably but then the panels and boxes for our products won't be here until Thursday now. But Ploy is confident she can get the carnet in one day with a little bit of easing, albeit that day increasingly looks like being Friday.
I looked on the exhibition website and there are 620 companies exhibiting but looking at a lot of them they haven't put their information on the website so I get a silver star for that. And actually I think we will have something ready so although everything is last minute, what exhibition is not like that. Our brochures are ready and look good and our posters should be waiting for us when we get to Singapore. I have even managed to get a press release out for a new product and update our website.
And I have appeared on two virtual friend's blogs this last few days. The first was Catherine who interviewed me about learning Thai and then Mike invited me to write a guest post for his Thailand site. Mike called me an entrepreneur and writer and it would be churlish to complain but I think writer should be reserved for those who actually write properly and entrepreneur is one of those now debased terms used by thirty something cretins who haven't got an idea in their head or a penny to their name but write books on how to get rich quick and see fit to lecture people who have their own businesses on how to run their own businesses. See also guru, visionary and management consultant.
But back to work. Where are those amphetamines.
The Lost Sunday
I arrived in Singapore late Sunday Afternoon. I was tired, well dead beat actually; we had got paid at last on Friday, (after a final ultimatum from us), and I know that the passport issues, the visa and trying to get everything ready for the exhibition had been taking its toll; the 4 hour night's sleep were a testament to that. But I had promised myself to try a get a few hours R&R whilst here and I had promised myself a steak. I thought that my only other night might be spent working, the restaurant in the hotel was Italian style and didn't offer what I had in mind so before getting too comfortable in my room I went straight out to the Hyatt hotel to the Mezza9 restaurant. They were doing a promotion on Argentinean steak so I ordered the tenderloin, a tomato and onion salad and some chips, a glass of wine and sat back to savour the delights to come.
I woke at 6.a.m. I had a bad headache, in fact my whole body felt distinctly ready for the grave. My stomach was churning and I felt very confused. Yes, this was Singapore and there was my computer and my clothes from the night before, I remember the tomato and onion salad, drizzled with a little oil and lots of black pepper. I remember being unable to finish the last succulent bite of the medium rare steak, the excellent chips...but nothing else. I looked in my wallet, there was no receipt but then I don't usually bother to pick them up. But there was too much money there, I know because I had brought some to pay the printers to save on the bank charges and had put that to one side before I went out. I hadn't paid the restaurant, but surely I had to have done. How could I not have done, I was sat right by the reception desk, the restaurant had not been busy so waiters were everywhere.
This is Singapore, what if I had just walked out of the restaurant. I could see myself being stopped at immigration as I tried to leave the country before being publicly flogged and thrown into Changi prison. I turned on the TV to Channel News Asia and waited for my security camera mugshot to appear. I made a coffee and switched on my laptop, or tried to, but no response. I knew the battery was dead as I use it plugged into a docking station all the time but it is plugged into the supply. I know it is the battery charging light is flashing. I press the switch again to no avail. What is happening, I have woken up in an alternative universe.
First job on a busy agenda was the Thai visa application. I wanted to be near the front of the queue and it was now 6.30a.m. The embassy opened at 9.15a.m. and I wanted to be there an hour before. I so wanted to go back to sleep but thought I wouldn't wake up again. And what to do about the Hyatt. I had a bath and felt mildly like my body was coming alive.
It was 8a.m. 'Er, this may sound strange, but I had dinner here last night but I don't think I paid'. A look of bemusement from the concierges. Two more joined us to hear the idiot Ang Mo. 'The restaurant is closed now sir, but if you can give us a telephone number'. 'I don't have my telephone with me' - a combined look of confusion from the Singaporeans who are welded to their phones day and night - 'but if I give you my business card you can contact me by e-mail. Er, sorry again', I furrowed my brow to try to add some gravitas to my situation.
I got home at 10.30p.m. on Tuesday. I plugged my computer into my docking station and switched it on - all was OK. I was still tired although Monday I had slept from 5.30p.m. until 7.30a.m. I had spent the whole day in confusion with a slightly dazed look in my eyes, looking in and looking out. I glanced through my e-mails. I owed the Hyatt S$121 and they thanked me for contacting them. I read the receipt, one steak, one tomato and onion salad, one bowl of chips, one glass of sauvignon blanc. I hadn't even ordered the Pinot Noir I had my eye on.
We had written the money off but an e-mail to the CEO brought renewed hope that we might get paid. We were then copied on an e-mail that was an instruction to their secretary to pay us. Then nothing. One week passed and another prompt resulted in the 'bank transfer didn't appear to go through e-mail', the modern day equivalent of the cheque is in the post. They said they would send it again that day. Two days later, nothing. Of course. It really is as if they are deliberately teasing us, playing with us as a cat does with a ball of wool. They say on their website that they are a service disabled, veteran owned small business so I guess what they are doing to us is only what they were indoctrinated into doing to small countries before. We don't have much leverage but we can withdraw all support and by their last technical e-mail they may actually need it, and we can refuse all future orders - they have repeatedly said they wanted to order more. Aside from that it is just frustrating and just one more thing on top of everything else.
The British embassy say on their website that passport renewals take a maximum of 4 weeks to process. So having decided that I needed more pages with a new Thai visa looming and another page to be used by a possible China visa I sent off my application. 4 weeks passed and the folly of my decision was becoming apparent. Now I had only 1 week until I had to renew my Thai visa but I had no passport. Ploy went to Lop Buri and asked the Immigration office what we could do. Well it seemed the non-B (business) visa entails them visiting us to see we are real. (I won't go into why they need to do this when I have a work permit where they did that very same thing). A little encouragement on our behalf would push us to the front of the queue. For those who constantly decry the corruption here, well what if it actually works in your favour. What I wouldn't have done at this time to grease a palm or two to get my passport sooner. If there were only a couple of days left on my visa and I had no passport then they could give me a visitor visa instead but for that I would need a translation of my (English) marriage certificate.
Already time was running out so Ploy drove the next day to the British embassy in Bangkok to get our certificate authenticated - the only action that has not been farmed out to some private company in the name of 'saving money'. Now how the hell can a non-profit organisation be more expensive than a profit making organisation that has layer upon layer of cretinous management. Should I have wished to progress my passport application I was invited to 'have my credit card ready' before calling a number in the UK at the cost of 0.69 pence (+VAT) a minute. But wasn't my passport in Hong Kong? At least that is where I sent it. But no, in the name of security passports are now only processed in the UK. So I send my passport application to Hong Kong, who send it to the UK to process. And there it disappears. No acknowledgement they have received it, even in this electronic age, no acknowledgement the passport has been sent out, (by DHL so there is a tracking number presumably). No e-mail to contact them, no fax, just this rip-off telephone number. And whilst all of this goes on the British embassy staff in Bangkok sip on their gin and tonics, nibble their cucumber sandwiches, (no crusts please lest the effort of chewing exhaust them), and read the freshly ironed edition of yesterday's The Telegraph whilst being fanned by a naked Philippina coolie.
So Ploy arrives with our marriage certificate. And two hours later she returns with it. And nothing else. Ploy changed her given name after we married in the UK. Although, in the West, we only do this to avoid the tax man or if we are mildly insane and want call ourselves Elvis, in Thailand it very common and is seen as way to change your luck - usually prompted by a pesky monk. All documents relating to this can be changed in less than a day. So Ploy took her name change certificate and also her passport which shows the name change. Not good enough said the girl behind the bullet proof glass enshrouded cubicle. I need the certificate translated into English explained the Thai girl. Now when I applied for my passport I didn't need to send off my old one because you are supposed to have it on you at all times here. I didn't need to authenticate my photograph. I just sent the application form and a photocopy of my passport page, (and of course my debit card details - most important). I could have been anyone with temporary access to my old passport. The photo could have come off my website. There was not a single question to validate my identity like my father's name or mother's maiden name. Yet, via Hong Kong, it is being processed in the UK because of 'security issues'. However for Ploy to obtain a document that says that the original document she had in her hand that has her family name written on it and her date of birth written on it is in fact, an original, and that surely serves little purpose to anyone, she needs to get a document translated and shown as an authentic translation so the Thai girl behind the desk can read it.
By the time Ploy got the translation done it was too late to go back to the embassy so she drove home. Bangkok is a two hour drive from our home if the traffic is not too bad. The next morning she wakes again at 5a.m. and drives to the office to get the translation authenticated. For speedy service she pays a little extra - again gratefully paid. The embassy finally accept her application, she pays 1800 baht and she is told to come back in the afternoon which she does. She picks up the authentication document and drives quickly to the people that will authenticate the authentication document but too late. They cannot do the paperwork in time even with monetary persuasion. Ploy leaves it with them and the next day she gets up at 5.a.m. to collect the authenticated authentication.
But the day before my passport had arrived without fanfare, one day later than the four week maximum. But too late to get my renewal of the non-B visa done in Thailand. This was such bad planning on my behalf and showed how out of date I had become. Four weeks, well of course they will tell you that. My last passport renewal in Singapore took two days but I think they said it can take four weeks. Add a couple of days for postage, maybe one week outside. Now I knew visas were out-sourced to some parasitic organisation but I had assumed passports would always be done by the embassy. Just the embassy in Hong Kong. I should have read more. So now what to do. I was reluctant to change to a visitor visa after all this time and effort to get the non-B visa and I thought changing now might affect any eventual permanent residency application. So on Sunday I travel to Singapore with my shiny new passport to get a new non-B visa. Inconvenient given the impending exhibition and the work still remaining to be done, (and later still because of all this hassle), and inconvenient because of the cost given the non-payment of the US bastards. But I can visit the printers and I can visit my sub-contractors and I can use the couple of days to recharge my batteries and get my heart rate below 200.
The work schedule has now had to change to complete an order we have to ensure we have some money coming in which makes getting everything ready for the exhibition more problematic. We will have something there, certainly, but not at the state I would like it to be. Ploy, now in a coma-like state upstairs, should have been helping me the last three days and won't be able to do so whilst I am in Singapore either. But it is not just the work, all the above irritates inside you, a constant reminder of how the world is today and the total futility of trying to do things honestly and correctly. The one person(s) to come out of this well is the government people in Thailand who did all they could to help us. Placing an order with no intention to pay. Farming out essential services in the name of 'security' or 'economics ' and then charging premium rate telephone calls to progress the application. Hiding behind needless rules in the name of 'security', (Ploy asked to see the manager at the embassy but was told he was busy humping one of his personal assistants so the desk clerk had no option to do what she thought she had to do).
But none of those things were Thailand.
It had been a long thirteen hour day but the image on the monitor looked good and I was happy with it. I was tired, mentally, but Ploy was going out to a 'party' in the next street so I made my excuse, made a tuna salad sandwich and some french fries, poured a glass of Chardonnay and sat down to watch Hot Shots for the umpteenth time; the perfect switch off and relax movie even after multiple viewings.
I dragged myself upstairs at 8.30, showered and almost got into bed before, through the fog of tiredness, I realised there was a god-awful noise going on outside. I knew what it was. This 'party' was in fact yet another exorcism as some intrusive ghost had taken upon itself to park in someone's house - or so they think anyway. I pulled on some clothes, walked past the lines of cars and fluorescent lighting to find Ploy walking towards me, grinning. I was given a seat right next to the very cute Thai dancers and given a glass of water, (no beer or whisky - this must be a serious ghost). I watched some of the Thai dancing whilst the host of the exorcism introduced his son and adopted daughter, who was one of the dancers, to me.
But then things started to get serious. The music stopped and someone started blaring some chant out through the huge PA system. Others joined in, all their hands clasped in in 'wai' gesture, still others blew horns and some started ringing bells. I knew from my stay in Singapore that noise is used to drive the ghost away - unfortunately - you would have thought that some gentle persuasion of the quieter kind might be occasionally used. The racket increased in amplitude and Ploy took over the big bell clanging duties. All seem totally engrossed so I tapped Ploy on the shoulder and in so doing nearly induced a heart attack in her and gestured to her I was leaving. I must have been tired as I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, even though the din continued outside.
A few days earlier we had broken off work early to go to one of our favourite restaurants and have a bit of a break. The restaurant closes at 4p.m. so we don't eat there as often as we would like as daytime I usually just grab something to eat from the fridge and wait for the main event in the evening. The restaurant was not that busy so the staff sat down with Ploy and started talking whilst one person continued to bring out plate after plate of the most wonderful food, (and bottles of Leo beer). It was a lovely afternoon punctured by Ploy's increasingly animated conversation.
The restaurant faces onto a road which was recently widened and resurfaced. The work took nearly two months and the restaurant was closed for that time. They took the opportunity to refurbish. Previously the restaurant had tables under an awning that faced the street and you could walk through to the main covered but still open area if you wished. In the middle of this was a huge tree, right in the middle of the entrance. They cut the tree down when they refurbished, covered the whole area with a proper roof and widened the entrance. The restaurant is bigger, more spacious, wooden slats replace the completely open sides and although it has lost some of its charm it is difficult to say it is not an improvement.
However the restaurant is not busy anymore - at lunchtime it used to be difficult to find a table as my opinion as to the quality of the food was obviously shared by others. Worse, the father of the family that owned the restaurant had died leaving his daughters to run it. Ploy thought all of this was down to feng shui. The new restaurant layout, she explained, meant that the front and back were now open and worse still, opposite each other and directly facing the street. Bad luck will blow in and good luck will blow out, she explained, (why not the other way round?). And they have cut down the tree to make matters worse. Ploy told them they had to close the entrance and make a new one that was not opposite the rear entrance, not a minor task in my view and almost certainly meaning the restaurant would have to be closed again. All the staff and the owners listened intently. I drank my beer.
Anyone who reads this diary on any regular basis will know I think all the above is complete hokum. The restaurant is not busy because it was closed for two months and people find other places to eat, especially when there is so much choice. A little bit of advertising to remind people you are open and the cook is still the same would bring them back without the expense of another refurbishment. As for the ghost, well if anything needed exorcising it was the local Pheu Thai party representative who decided to attend the exorcism in the morning, (elections are due soon), and not some non-existent ghost. Twenty years ago I would have felt the need to explain this to everyone - at length. Twenty years ago I would not have been able to live in this country.
It has become clear during my stay here that I have an increasing tolerance to people living their own lives in whatever potty way they wish. Obviously that doesn't apply to Christians - I do still have standards - but the animalistic actions of the locals don't bother me - in fact, providing they don't keep me awake too often, I actually find they enrich my life because they bring me in on them; (Ploy said the man who was running the exorcism party asked where I was and seemed disappointed I had chosen to stay at home). It would not be possible to live here if I riled against everything. You have to go with the flow else it will all bottle up inside you and slowly the resentment will show itself in some way or other - mostly in rants on Internet forums these days it seems.
I wasn't ready to live here twenty years ago because I was still setting the world to rights. Now I am happy to just be an observer and I am content in that role; I can't change the world and my job now is just to make sure I have a good seat as it destroys itself. Knowing my place in the scheme of things means I can accept slightly unstable neighbours and means that I can make Thailand my home and not just a place to live.
Just a Quick Note before I Die
Today is only the start apparently and I have up to the 21st October to sort out my affairs. But just in case I am one of the first to feel the wrath of God I thought I would take this opportunity to update my loyal reader.
Well the US company have made contact at last and have promised payment. To date we have not actually received anything but we reason, why bother to say that at all if you don't intend paying, so I guess we just wait. Maybe they are waiting to see what happens today.
I had a problem with one of my pieces of equipment, (for work, not personally); well if you must know, this one. I wrote to Tektronix and to my surprise there was a company in Bangkok that services Tektronix products. We contacted them and they said they charge 3000 baht to evaluate the problem which seemed fair enough so Ploy drove down there last Friday to drop it off. Thursday she picked it up, apparently fully working but without any fault being found. I have no idea what the problem was - I checked it against another similar piece of equipment and my signal was OK - but now it is working OK and better still they made no charge although they had obviously spent time on it. I am impressed.
I have a couple of other pieces of equipment, (for work not personally), that will only run on 110V, from our time in Canada. I was going to buy something new but with the US money not forthcoming I decided instead to get a transformer. So yesterday Ploy went out to Saraburi to buy one. She called me three hours later, from Don Mueang near Bangkok. I have found one she told me, but I need to know what wattage. I told her.
When she arrived back home, 8 hours after she left, I asked why she went Don Mueang. The only one I could find here was 3000 baht she said and I then thought of this big electrical store near the old airport so I went there. This one was only 1600 baht, she said proudly. Plus the gasoline I added. Yes but still better.
It was late so we decided to go out to grab dinner. We passed by Pai's food stall, Ploy's friend who she helps from time to time. Ploy stopped and wound down the window of the car, (well we have electric windows but the effect was the same and pushing the button to open the car window doesn't evoke in the same way). Does he still like it, she asked, in Thai. They nodded back, smiling, and Ploy drove off. Like what, I asked. Oh, I took Pai and her daughter with me to Don Meuang. Do you know, I have been to Pai's house many times but I have never seen her daughter's little boy ever have any toys. Na song san, she added, (pitiable). Well when we were in Don Meuang we went to the toy department of a department store, (looking for the wrong type of transformers, I questioned), and he sat in one of those little cars and we couldn't get him off it, so I bought it for them. How much did it cost, I asked. Only 400 baht she said. So 1600 + gasoline, + 8 hours of your time + 400 baht. Is that more than 3000 baht? Maybe, but you should see her son's face.
I won't bore you with all the work stuff: exhibition, working, running late, fixing problems, writing brochures, fixing equipment, that sort of thing.
Tonight we have a wedding party to attend at a hotel in Saraburi. This must be a posh do, no corner of the street cordoned off, no fluorescent strip lighting for a kilometre either side of the house, and no Morlam music to waken the dead at 5a.m. It is the best hotel in Saraburi, (although it is no Oriental), and our invitation is on gold embossed paper and we are actually named on it. A shame as they obviously don't know what is going to happen to them later today. Let's hope I get a couple of beers down me before Armageddon else it will have been waste spending all that time making myself look beautiful and Ploy is having her hair done today. At least we will look our best when we meet Lucifer, (I wonder if we should take something).
Pinky was back at the vets on Thursday; two more injections, the second of which she didn't like at all, now she is on just 9 tablets a day and a syringe of something we have to squirt down her throat. She is a little quieter than normal, if we accidentally leave a magazine on the coffee table when we go out to dinner there are still some pages readable when we return, but otherwise she looks quite well. She is fussy with her food so we have started giving her some appetite stimulants which the vet gave us before but we stopped when she started eating 24/7, so make that 13 tablets/day. Next week she gets another blood test but it is already getting more difficult to get her into the vets and after that last injection I don't think it is going to happen.
Running out of Steam
Thirty Six days until we leave for the exhibition in Singapore.
Whilst work is going well and the planning is all coming together we are having problems getting the final payment from our US customer. The last two e-mails have not even been replied to which is not a good sign as they were sent to three people and it is not a big company so I know they will have been seen and read. At least one of them is one of those people that interrupts what they doing whenever they get a message on their i-Phone, ('I just need to answer this'), whether it be a meeting, lunch or having sex, (although I didn't actually witness the latter, thank heavens). It is US$13,500 so not a small amount and it was going to be used to get some more of our initial two products made; now we will have to be a little more cautious. At least we are not living hand to mouth here but the injustice of it nags away at the back of your mind even though you try not to let it get to you.
Up to now I guess we have been lucky in that all our customers have paid up all on time albeit some impose their own payment terms. Cash flow is always a problem for small (all) companies, especially when we fund all our development from sales. The beginning of the end for my first company in the UK was a large order, (60,000 pounds in 1980 something), that we had to invest in equipment to be able to complete. Then our customer's customer (NASA) cancelled the order and so, in turn, was our order but we couldn't give back the equipment. The money was a big blow but also the time we invested in the order - for us it was almost complete - meant we were unable to accept and complete other orders. And it was a custom order so we couldn't sell it to anyone else. And so the house of cards starts to fall.
The UK then was not very forgiving - this was the time at which banks started moving local branch decisions up the ladder to some faceless bureaucrat. I can actually remember two of our first bank managers visiting us to see what we did and they feigned interest really well. By the time we had this order defaulted on these men were nowhere to be seen, (one actually forewarned us of the change), and all communication with the bank was via letters which cost us 25 pounds a time to inform us what we already knew. As soon as it started raining the bank took back their umbrella.
Here we have no borrowing, the exhibition is all paid for save for the hotel and expenses in Singapore. We have to get brochures and posters made and we need to get the cardboard boxes ordered for our products. We have some work to pay for for our Singapore subcontractors but other than that we are not committed to anything else. We have another order which will give us a monthly income for a few months, we have some money in the bank and as Ploy keeps saying, don't worry, I can pawn my gold if we have to. It won't come to that which is a nice secure feeling but history cannot be rewritten and this late payment has brought it all back. I have tried not to repeat the mistakes of my first company but one mistake we have made is to be suppliers to too few companies with too many custom orders. I have said before they have been our funding for the products we wanted to make and we now have cleared the books of them, (well, that monthly income is for a few days a month of my time to finish off an old custom order that our customer was supposed to do himself), but the damage they have done in terms of not following up 'standard' enquiries is already done. The US order was a custom order and actually really left field for us, (I am not sure I really know what that means as I don't follow baseball), and now we are likely not to actually get paid for it I realise we have exactly repeated my mistakes of before.
There are differences: we have no indebtedness, partly because we couldn't get loans here anyway, and I have 'pawn my gold' Ploy who keeps encouraging me: 'you can do it'. So it is not quite Groundhog day but I do feel just a little of my energy has been wasted in futile regret.
p.s. The photo is the only one of 69 attempts to capture the phenomenal thunderstorm we had last night - at its height I was forced inside by the wind and rain. Even Pinky, (who is getting better by the day, she thanks you for asking), hid from this one and we were without power for about an hour; for once quite justifiable given its severity.
We sent my passport off for renewal on Tuesday; (Monday was another holiday here, two this week). Thanks to my loyal reader, who advised me to read the Hong Kong British embassy website, it seems I do not need to get any countersignatures if I am over 16 (I am) and if my appearance has not markedly changed since my last application, (perhaps a more distinguished air but that is all). So I sent it off and asked for the 48 page version this time. I made the mistake of reading the notes provided for filling in the passport application form. They are apparently being being revised to reflect this new information, so it tells you on this discrete web page, hidden from view from all but the most ardent Internet perusers and certainly nowhere near where the notes and passport forms are downloaded from.
Ploy had to go to Bangkok yesterday to try to get a piece of equipment I have, repaired. It meant she was late home, it being Friday, which in turn meant that we were late to the vet for the blood test results. They were very good and stayed open for us because apparently things are not good. 1650 baht this time, two injections, 4 lots of new tablets which means we have to give her five tablets at breakfast, one at midday and five more at night. Whilst she is very good in the vets and barely whimpers at the injections she fights us tooth and nail with the tablets. And we have to do this for a month at least. She has ehrlichiosis but the vet thinks she will pull through as she is strong and although her blood platelet count is down and there could be internal bleeding there are no signs other than a bloodshot eye. She seems slightly perkier this morning, judging by the fight to get her to take her breakfast tablets, I managed 4.5 out of five before giving up and having one of the antibiotics dissolve in my hand; (and before anyone writes in, if you think you can hide these things in her food, you don't know our dog). Still, it should mean she loses a bit of weight which is no bad thing.
Preparations for the exhibition were going OK until we accepted an order which entails us working a few days every month for a customer in Hong Kong to complete a project. It gives us a regular monthly income which is great, but it also means we have a few days missing from our already tight schedule. And with Pinky taking time from us too, (just being with her at this stage - there is not much else we can do except wait), I am starting to get into heart attack mode.
With all these wars the UK fights in the name of democracy it is interesting that the people have just voted against increasing democracy in the country and moves to make the House of Lords elected looks like they will also fail. I must admit I don't really care about the latter one. It is bad enough allowing mildly stupid individuals, whose strength of opinion allows them be swayed in their vote by newspapers that have their own political agenda, vote for the government. Allowing them to also vote for the the only people that might actually bring any sanity to the decision making process doesn't seem a good move. But then the House of Lords is there only to show that care in the community does not work and it puts a very strong case for involuntary euthanasia for all retired politicians; (or anyone that aspires to be a politician in an ideal world).
And talking of privilege, (for him anyway, for having popped out the vagina of another simpering moron), I managed not to comment on the two unattractive individuals who recently got married at considerable tax payer's expense - wasn't I good: I must be content living here.
Pinky is a hypochondriac. There are having been signs ever since she was born and we were probably over-sympathetic to her when she had her puppy-stopping operation. I think she took from that that we are gullible and give her lots of attention and treats if she whimpers convincingly.
But fore-warned is not necessarily fore-armed. So when she suddenly cried out in pain whilst running around and limped convincingly towards us we immediately took her off to the vet, paid the 250 baht for some tablets and smothered her with love and attention. It turned out to be a sprained muscle, (brought about no doubt because she bounds around everywhere leaping over tall pieces of furniture and small children in a single bound despite her slightly chubby 27kg frame), but if ever she needed anything for the next week we were there for her and if we seemed a little indifferent she would feign that pirate limp again with the sad pained expression and the understated yelp of pain. And this year's Oscar for best performance as a dog goes not to Cameron Diaz but to Pinky. Tumultuous applause ensues.
So she was sick on the floor. Nothing much, just a single sheet of kitchen roll amount. She seems hot, said Ploy, to which I countered by pointing out we were all hot - it's the hot season. She isn't eating, said Ploy, to which I countered with the fact that she was over weight anyway. So Ploy had gone to the market, today being a holiday here, and I went and checked on Pinky as things were ominously quiet. I found her upstairs, prostrate on the floor. She wagged her tail a couple of times but even that effort seemed too much for her. Her eyes were bloodshot and she was hot. I called Ploy. Can you check if the vet's open - they were. So Ploy came home and we took her in the car to the vet.
The closer we got the more she seemed perkier. I was sure the bloodshot eyes had gone. She didn't seem so hot but there is air conditioning in the car. What the hell, we are nearly there now. And she had been sick again during the night - at 1a.m. to be precise - this time to the tune of three sheets of Kleenex.
OK, so she is sick this time. We wait for the blood tests but it seems certain she has an infection in the blood caused by one of those ticks we find on her after she has run through the tall grass straight into the mud of the farmers field near us. She also has an infection on the lungs, caused by running through the tall grass and eating whatever she finds left over from the rubbish collectors before we can get to her and scold her. 750 baht, 3 sorts of tablets and an injection.
To give her her due she still looks sorry for herself. And she is getting lots of attention and treats, (which to give her due, she is only eyeing at the moment - even she realises she needs to look ill a little longer before munching them all down).
At the Crack of Dawn
For the second night in a row I find myself sat behind my desk in my workshop at 3.a.m having tossed and turned for an hour trying to will myself to sleep - to no avail, obviously.
Having promised not to accept any more special orders from customers I have now gone and put myself under unnecessary pressure by going to this exhibition and the amount of work preparing for it is beginning to overwhelm me. Why did I choose to launch two new products there! In fact why did I pick this exhibition to go to; it is expensive, increasingly so in fact, and apart from not having easily demonstrable products that might stop some passer-by and tickle his curiosity we also don't have brochures or posters or business cards. Or a passport.
Visas have been quickly filling up my passport for a while now so whilst there are still 6 years validity left, thanks to the random entry stamping of certain countries I only have two full pages left and a few bits and pieces. I need to renew my Thai visa before the exhibition trip and I was planning to apply for the 12 month one here in Thailand this time as we now have a good long track record of paying tax and social insurance. That is one page gone. Then I need a re-entry permit, again for 12 months and they should be able to squeeze that onto one of the partially filled pages. That leaves only one full page and in July we had thought to attend an exhibition in China for which I need a visa of course and then my passport is full save for some small entry stamp spaces. If I needed another visa I am done for.
So I looked at renewing my passport but of course this is now done from Hong Kong as the British Embassy in Bangkok no longer actually do anything it appears, (even visas are handled by another agency now). So I downloaded the forms and yesterday started filling them in until I got to section 7. Countersignatures. Bugger, I had forgotten all about that. A British citizen from one of these categories, (doctor, lawyer etc.), who has personally known you for two years. Aside from the small matter that I try to avoid doctors and lawyers and these categories of people at all costs - after all it is usually not good news if you are employing their services - I don't know any British citizen aside from one friend in Holland and an aunt in the UK, neither fall under the required category. Now they do say you can use someone from those categories from Thailand, (if you must but you can hear the sighs and tut-tutting coming from the form's page), but I don't know anyone here who qualifies in any case. So that is that then. Given the need to renew my visa for which I obviously need my passport I have decided to just fill the thing up to overflowing and solve the problem another day, especially given they seem to require 4 weeks minimum for the processing.
The last time I renewed my passport I did so at the British embassy in Singapore; it took all of two days and I guess I must have used someone from the (large) company I worked for - I think an HR manager qualifies. We don't have an HR department although I guess we could invent one. Maybe that is the answer. The trouble is if we appoint someone as an HR manager he may get ideas above his station and start organising team building events and then we would have to kill him.
These things nag away at you when I really should just be concentrating on work - or better, sleep. At least I can see the sky now and all outside is not just pitch black with just the rustling sounds from the garden of various invisible creatures to keep me company. And I really must start designing those posters and the brochures too. And I need to get those panels made for the product cases too. And I have 12 new enquiries to answer. And I need to finish a couple more products so I can release them and keep the enquiries, (and hopefully orders), coming in. And the business cards to design and order, (OK, I have actually done that but only a couple a days ago so I included it to emphasise the amount of work I have on). And a demonstration to prepare for a customer which could lead to a nice ordr. And the hotel and flights and visa invitation letters to organise for Qingdao.
And I need another coffee. Perhaps I should wake Ploy to ask her to get it for me so I can continue working. That action would at least ensure I got some much needed sleep.
Money makes the World go Around
We don't need a lot of money to live here in Thailand, particularly as we usually live 'Thai style'. If we do eat Western food we cook it ourselves; if we eat out it is always Thai, partly because there is little foreign fair available locally, partly because what there is is poor quality, and partly because we like it. However it did come as somewhat of a relief when we finally got paid for two of the outstanding invoices with just one payment more to come. After all we do have to pay the electricity and water and diesel and then there are the hidden surprises like our washing machine packing up.
We bought a new LG one as we have an LG fridge which has been great, (unlike the ones in Canada - and why would you need a fridge in Canada - whose compressors make more noise than the steam engines of the Waverley when under full steam). Our previous washing machine was a Samsung and that had done great service but ten years of travelling had done for it and the parts were not obtainable here or repairable. But we couldn't find a Samsung so settled for an LG with some sort of steam mode and, what seemed a good idea at the time, direct drive. But direct drive is not a good idea for a washing machine where the load is almost always unbalanced. Another feature of machine is its fast spin speed of 1400rpm. And so when we tried it for the first time, like an excited child at the beach, it vibrated itself out of its little under the counter cosy space out onto the main floor of the kitchen until the electric cord pulled itself from the socket. We don't use that speed anymore - clothes dry quickly here anyway - and by setting the spin speed to the lowest setting of just 400rpm, by the time the spin cycle is finished it has only vibrated itself a foot or so out of its home, more like a pensioner getting down from the steps of a coach.
I can only guess that we have bought the model aimed at the market for sex starved spinsters although they didn't say anything about that when we bought it. Luckily we had to order it as top loaders are the rage here else I would have expected a long queue of old biddies at the shop waiting to try its spin cycle out. How I hanker for our old belt driven one that obediently stayed in its rightful place.
The cardboard boxes for our new products have turned out well, in fact exactly what we wanted. Prizes galore to the first Thai company to have actually delivered what we want, when we wanted it and at a good price. Now we have to find somewhere to store 2000 of the blighters, the minimum order.
I read today that Donald Trump is considering running for presidency. As he will be running as a Republican I guess that means there is a real prospect of having him as president and Sarah Palin as vice president. He is busy at the moment trying to prove that Obama was not born in America and casting aspersions on his education suggesting that he wasn't a very good student, (at Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude). He is probably on to something for America has a track record of allowing black kids from Chicago to bribe their way through Harvard! That said, can you become president if you were previously a bankrupt, or perhaps officially he wasn't, he just bankrupted dozens of companies which clearly doesn't count, that is just business.
After that he will fight on a platform of being anti abortion, anti gay marriage, anti gun laws (I didn't know they had any anyway), and will overturn Obama's health care reforms and will cut foreign aid, particularly, I guess, to those countries that they are currently fighting wars with. If I was Obama I would just chuck it in now, surely he doesn't need this and he can't get through any other reforms now he has lost his majority. In all likelihood, given his approval rating, he would lose the next election anyway. Why put yourself and your family though it. America had its chance and blew it.
The photo is of one of the trees in our garden which should, at this time of year, be awash with yellow flowers. Previously this lovingly cared for specimen has produced nothing whilst the uncared for wild ones were dripping with flowers. But this year it has suddenly rewarded us with flowers, quite possible because of the severe pruning it got by courtesy of our builders. This must be a true masochist of the tree family. The tree is apparently the national tree of Thailand and it is called the Golden Shower tree, an unfortunate name to those of us who were brought up in a dockland town and have experienced the slightly seedier side of life.
A Strange Week
It has been a strange week that ended on a very strange note.
Most of this week has been spent looking at our on-line bank statement to see if we are being paid by the US customer. I knew we hadn't because their bank sends notification when a transfer is initiated so it was more in futile hope than anything else. I finally lost patience on Friday and told them pay up or else. Not that there is any else. They have spoken of ordering more which might give us some negotiating power but for now we have nothing of course. But this morning we have a e-mail apologising and saying they have paid one of the three invoices. Being Saturday here we still don't see it in our account of course but hopefully next week we will see something.
That will allow us to continue planning for the exhibition in Singapore which is proving increasingly expensive. We bought a stand that already had furniture provided and this week I started planning our demonstrations. However I found, more by accident than anything else, that there is no electricity provided unless we pay extra for it. This is a broadcast television exhibition, why on earth would I have a stand that didn't need electricity; did they expect me to just perform card tricks or for Ploy and I to sing a selection of songs from Carousel. And apparently they frown upon the use of distribution boards so expect you to order one outlet for every piece of equipment. Bugger that! I ordered two, another $200 gone, and will take some distribution boards with me. We also need three TV monitors which you can rent from one of the show's sister companies, at a price of $420 each for Christ's sake. I could buy a new one for that but then I would have to take them to Singapore with all the customs issues that would bring so I bit the bullet. And so it goes on. Now we have to find some printers to print some brochures but locally, the first two places Ploy found, don't print in English!
Actually, while I am moaning, I am going to say that whilst I defend many many things about Thailand, one thing I find incomprehensible is why we cannot source anything, and I mean anything, from this country. Total disinterest seems to be the byword for all companies here. OK, there is one exception, the umpteenth company we have contacted to make cardboard boxes for sending our new products in has actually provided a satisfactory mock up sample for us and Tuesday next week they will provide the quotation and the final version in all its glory. If they actually deliver, it will be a first. Business cards, printing, metal instrument cases, electronic components, wooden tool boxes; it goes on and on, everything we eventually source from Singapore and not at any more cost to be honest. And they can print in English too, (and also printed our business cards in Thai).
OK, rant over. Other than planning for the exhibition and also waiting for the money my week has also been punctured by the most lurid dreams. No, not the sort that needs the sheets washed in the morning, but odd dreams, like Ploy dying and me being able to will her back from the dead. That sort of thing. What on earth brings them about I wonder, I haven't been eating any more cheese than normal. They have left me feeling slightly other worldly during the day and my work rate has dropped right down.
To cap the week off Ploy has been running around like a donkey with a horse fly on it arse because the potty woman down the road who keeps being possessed by various gods and devils has had yet another visitor. So we have loud music and fire crackers to accompany me this morning and our guardian lions and Ganesh statue were adorned with a chalky powder this morning to have their 'eyes opened'. I have no idea what that means symbolically and Ploy has already disappeared because some legendary monk from afar is giving some talk at our local temple so she has run off to hear that.
Isn't there some folklore about not waking sleeping lions or is that dogs. No good can come of this. I dread what my dreams will be tonight.
I can't remember when it was that I stopped making the effort to stay up until the New Year was rang in. I think it may have been when the BBC stopped having the New Year TV programs when we could see all the people who had died in that year and decided instead we should watch some talentless moron try to amuse us.
I certainly can't remember the last time I went out to some event, a party or one of those ubiquitous firework displays. We did make the effort to go to a New Year party when we moved to Thailand but were both in bed well before midnight.
Despite all my trips to Thailand I had never been here during the Thai New Year until last year and it fully matched my expectations even though I stayed in most of the time. As Ploy said to me just yesterday when I questioned why she was not out enjoying the revelry; 'I have no wish to have my face smothered in damp talcum powder by an ugly drunk man'. Ploy did go out to the temple across the road from us which in true Buddhist traditions had a very loud party allowing both drinking and gambling but she was home by nine after winning nothing: I had already retired at eight after very early morning starts the past few days. So this year it looks like I will miss all the 'fun' as locally the only signs of celebration are a few children running around with water pistols. I have escaped, so far, without any incident at all but then I have not ventured out aside from letting Pinky out for a run. Miserable old git - yes, and proud of it.
However one thing that was different this year is that we again sponsored a little food give away at the same temple of debauchery. We might have to put a cap on this generosity though as we haven't received a single order from it all and to be a great company I know that we should give nothing away for free - strings should be duly attached wherever they can be.
I don't feel any obligation to join in. I didn't feel any obligation in the UK so why should that be different in another country. I live here, respect the customs and laws and pay my taxes; it doesn't mean I have to fully embrace their childish TV, like their appalling pop stars or join in drenching everyone in the name of 'good fun'. At least there are traditions here I can enjoy, such as Ploy sacrificing more paper money on Hungry Ghosts day, whereas in the UK enjoyment was increasingly found only by being alone with a photo of Felicity Kendal.
I mentioned before about (not) missing things from my home country but then two items in the news highlighted two events that I would be quick to book if I was still living in our urine scented apartment in Southampton. The first is the new season of the Prom concerts has been announced and Prom no.2 immediately caught my eye as it is a concert performance of William Tell. This opera puts enormous demands on the tenor and few tenors attempt it at all; (Pavarotti only ever recorded a studio version of it and never performed it live). As a fan of tenors I urgently looked to see who would be performing it and found a new tenor to me at least, John Osborn, who has a nice voice with easy top notes but surely not the grunt required of a true Arnold. But I would certainly be booking tickets none the less and maybe staying overnight in London to listen to the organ recital the next afternoon followed by a new work with a 1000 performers on stage. Here is just a small sample of Willian Tell with the tenor I would have chosen to hear in this role had he not died in 2003:
Of course, the Proms cannot last and already it is being popularised for those who want to come but don't actually like music. Soon Arnold will be sung by Justin Bieber and the orchestra and chorus replaced by the Bay City Rollers.
Another must see event is the Joan Miro exhibition at Tate Modern. Possibly my favourite artist so I won't bother about the social interpretations the curators have saddled the exhibition with as they clearly do little to help us enjoy the works or allow them to envelope us and inspire us as Miro clearly wished (otherwise why would he cloud the message in abstraction).
An Unexpected Award
We are the proud owners of a Mazda pickup truck, bright blue in colour, that has now done some 150,000km, nothing for a diesel admittedly, but has done sterling service is shipping all our furniture from A to B and onto G and P, collecting bags of sand and cement for the work on the house, and in earlier years shipping around Ploy's workers when she had her civil engineering company. We are proud of our little car but, this being Thailand, Ploy feels that I, in particular, should have something more fitting of a company director and especially of a company that will soon be in the running for a Thailand Exporter of the year award (assuming they invert the qualification parameters).
So when we drive around we point out the cars that we like which for Ploy are nearly all name brands like Mercedes or BMW (because in Thailand they count for more) whilst for me I like the quirkier or more practical cars, like the Honda CRV with four wheel drive, given that having a Ferrari is all well and good but where on earth would you drive that on Thailand's roads without cracking the sump open within 30 metres.
But recently we have found a sort of consensus with the Mercedes E class, (coupe for me, saloon for Ploy but that is as close a consensus as we tend to get and unless we have one each it will be the saloon; I know my place - in return I would get to choose the colour as long as it is not that one or that one - 'It's up to you' is a loaded retort). The car costs five million baht, about $166,000 which is silly money given we don't have anywhere to park it and Pinky would devour the rear leather seats in seconds. However one thing we do agree on, we would not buy it until we could pay cash for it and still have sufficient in the bank to live on without worrying. That would mean a major transformation in our sales or we keep dreaming.
This fiscal management is something that seems long lost on the people of the the United Kingdom. The country is broke but no-one seems prepared to take any responsibility for the position they find themselves in. The bankers continue to find ways to pay themselves huge bonuses, the house holder continues to make false claims for breakages on his insurance, the unemployed do jobs for cash in hand or claim for benefits they are not entitled to, the lazy won't work that extra hour for the company because there is no overtime payment, the poor continue to breed like rabbits because they prefer to procreate than read a book and the government rewards them for this activity. So when the government tries to balance the books, something they were elected to do, we have protests on the streets and country wide demonstrations and revolt.
I have never been poor. I have temporarily been in the situation where I really did look for money at the back of the sofa and I needed it, (I seem to remember almost 2 pounds were found). Luckily I found work in a pub kitchen which didn't pay much but I did get to pick whatever I wanted for my meals, for free. That didn't last for long but long enough for this break from engineering to be rather refreshing. But enough about me. Basically you cut your cloth to measure and if things get a little tight then something has to go; maybe the trips to the movies, wine, meals out, cigarettes, water colour classes. Maybe you take that extra job in the evening or you sell one of your children into prostitution - needs must. But continuing to run on empty isn't really an option even though most companies and governments seem to aspire to it today.
My parents certainly made sacrifices for me even though I chose not to go to university and even if I did I wouldn't have had to endure the ridiculous costs that students are now encumbered with: as an aside those costs are undoubtedly a result of the ridiculous numbers that now attend university, regardless of ability, because it is deemed easier to do that than get a real job and the government doesn't want to further inflate the unemployment statistics by having the gormless and lazy wandering the streets - university should be an elite establishment, like it or not. But my parents certainly made sacrificies in limiting their own careers, (by my mother in choosing to stay and home and educate and care for me), and by my father in leaving the army he was so fond of and taking up a civilian position.
It seems today that no-one is prepared to make sacrifices and certainly not for someone else's benefit, altruism is well and truly dead. People only seem to give to charity to get something back whether it be tax concessions or because some company tags a minute charity contribution on the back of a burger sale.
The size of the deficit is astonishing and how respective governments chose not to attack it but to continue to grow it leaves me speechless. I mean the only thing a government is there for is to balance the books. But then whilst respective prime ministers have hardly had to ever tighten their belts themselves or have knowledge of how to personally tighten their purse strings you would have thought their university education would have allowed them to add and subtract. 126 billion pounds. 126,000,000,000 pounds! My little PT9 encoder sells for the princely sum of $9,500 or about 5,800 pounds. I would have to sell 21 million of them to recoup that and if I was lucky enough to sell one per month that would take 1.8 million years but which time I will probably have popped my clogs and mankind will be introducing American idol to the Alpha Centauris.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch of course so to meet my obligations:
Please visit Michael's blog: especially if you have any aspirations to ever be an author but also just to read a well written blog. I am not just saying this, Michael's blog has been one of my favourites ever since we met on the late Microfiction Monday.
Nominating four other bloggers is not easy as I don't wish them to be encumbered with undue responsibilities. My favourites are listed at the top of this page and two of them are by the same person. Take away the 'professional' blogs/websites and I think there are only five left anyway, so to them I nominate this award.
And finally, to quote the award rules, 'Share four simple things about yourself: 1-a time you had to exercise FAITH, 2-something you HOPE for, 3-something (or someone) you LOVE, and 4-a time when you felt LUCK'.
- FAITH: Well we are not going to get very far with any religious definition of the word but I do have faith in my abilities as an engineer. I have repeatedly taken on lucrative orders with very little idea how to actually complete the order but each time I have come through. I always wanted to be an astronomer and now I wish to be an author but both of these things misses the fact that I do seem to have an inherent ability for electronics and really I should make the most of that.
- HOPE: The world is fast going to hell in handbucket, the current economic situation exacerbating the situation. I am not talking about some nonsense Mayan prediction but I would like to be alive when the shit really does hit the fan and there is worldwide social disintegration. Having an asteroid hit the planet would just be the icing on the cake.
- LOVE: Long lazy lunchtimes. It only needs to be a well made sandwich and a crisp glass or three of white wine whilst watching the world go by. Even better to have some spectacular weather, like a thunderstorm.
- LUCK: Meeting Ploy. I was travelling the Far East a lot but not Thailand. Ploy was in Singapore for five days and had only two days left before she returned home. What are the chances of us meeting as we did and me having the rare confidence to not just stare but actually do something about it.
What a Difference Two Days Made, Forty Eight Little Hours
We are just back from our short break in Bangkok, attending the seminar and showing one of our products. The exhibition/seminar itself wasn't that interesting although I think we may have made a very useful contact that may help our sales but he came from Ireland, but our hope of finding some similar Thai electronics companies was futile. As Ploy said, companies just seem to have sent employees to be seen to participate and as some sort of 'day off' and 'free lunch' for them: the seminar was much less populated after lunch I noticed. The number of marketing people was high which was nonsense given that the presentations were for engineers.
However we had treated ourselves to a stay at the Millennium Hilton including a special offer upgrade to the executive floor which gave us free snacks all day, free drinks in the evening and free breakfast including some amazing views over the Chao Praya river. Not that our room didn't have those with a wonderful panoramic view over Bangkok. The room was 6000 baht/night, ten times what we normally pay at the Nana Vegas hotel but we both had two wonderful night's sleep. The first night, while Ploy went out shopping, (and because she didn't feel her appetite justified the expense), I treated myself to dinner at their Prime restaurant, (another 6000 baht - what both of us could dine out on for two weeks locally). Again a wonderful view over the river, amazing service, and a superb fillet steak (Australian) but I did feel it was just a bit too expensive for what it was. Yes, the presentation was wonderful, the steak perfectly cooked, the steak frites were the best I have had and the crab cake starter succulent, but I had no dessert and just a kir and two glasses of Malbec so overall it was just too expensive I thought. But I do feel totally refreshed and on check out we got a 20% discount.
The first room we had the jacuzzi bath was not working. I wasn't that bothered but we did complain and they insisted on moving us to another room. When we checked out I jokingly asked for a discount because of this but the receptionist hesitated and Ploy immediately pounced, sensing weakness. After some persuasive discussion he offered us a 20% discount on the whole stay and it was done in such a way I think we can go back again. Stupid money, I must admit, but on the second day we had the free lunch at the seminar, (at the Swissotel so not bad), and then we indulged ourselves with the free food and wine on our executive floor.
The stay was eased by an older couple taking care of Pinky. Their dog has just died and we asked if they would take care of her whilst we were away which they immediately agreed to. Pinky likes them so we didn't have any concerns leaving her with them and that was quite a relief as all the 'kennels' we could find just stick the dog in a cage - they don't even seem to let it out for toilet breaks. We did find one who let the dogs run around in a dirty yard although he warned us one of the dogs was very aggressive and had a habit of biting the others. We will be away for seven days for the exhibition in June so it is good to have found someone nearby who can really take care of her. Because the stay was only two nights the damage was only one shoe and two plants which they laughed off. After a seven night stay we will, of course, have to find someone else.
Home Sweet Home
I woke at 2a.m., yet again, but my flight was not until 10.30a.m. Four hours to Denver where I had a two hour stop over and a very poor Mexican Green Chilli with plastic knives and forks. Two hours to Los Angeles and a five hour transit where I had a very decent split pea and ham soup followed by a blackened chicken sandwich. I was already very tired and I just sat at the gate staring at the planes arriving and leaving; I didn't even get myself a drink. The flight to Bangkok was 17 hours. I skipped dinner, picked at the breakfast, watched The King's Speech (very good) and lots of the comedy TV channel, (The Big Bang Theory and Two and Half Men), and slept to my i-Pod in shuffle mode. The best investment I ever made was the Sony noise cancelling headphones.
I had a couple of coffees waiting for Ploy at the airport having arrived early at 5a.m.. She hadn't slept all night and was so tired she had to stop by the road for a nap on the drive to the airport which is why she was late. The trip home was uneventful and after a more than enthusiastic greeting from Pinky we both slept the sleep of the dead. I woke at 3p.m. although I could easily have slept much more and just sat in the garden watching Ploy prune our mango tree. We grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant by the river, still too tired to really enjoy it, and then watched Avatar, which I got second hand for a $1 in the US. I must say that, without the 3D, I enjoyed the movie a lot more than I did in the cinema as the story, for what it is, took centre stage and Ploy enjoyed it too, surprisingly for a science fiction movie, her least favourite genre of movies after cowboy films.
When we had the balcony built Ploy also had the builder build up our garden wall on the corner to stop, she told me, bad things entering the house that way. The feng shui motivation is lost on me but she said she wanted to have a stone mural on the new wall which I did approve of and whilst I was away, having collected it from a company in Korat, our builder came back to install it. And, although he had to leave to complete another job before it was finally finished, it is very impressive; to all the neighbours as well as Ploy proudly announced. Ploy had also bought a small garden centre as the garden is festooned with pots and plants. She had won 20,000 baht on the lottery and had had her birthday whilst I was in the US so this was her birthday present to herself.
On Thursday we are attending a seminar in Bangkok so we have treated ourselves to an exorbitantly expensive stay at the Hilton hotel for a couple of days. The company running the seminar have invited us to show a couple of our products which is timely as our next new product has just arrived from Singapore.
As I mentioned completion of the American order is a sort of watershed for us. Our future is now completing our own products and hopefully getting some orders for them. Currently we have no orders on the books although we are still receiving enquiries and the SingMai website looks to be having its busiest month yet despite not having any new product releases for a couple of months now. We have a whole host of products to complete and release as well as the exhibition in Singapore to prepare for but before that we are taking a few days off.
Ploy wants to visit a friend in Phitsanulok so I have been looking for hotels there and happened upon this one where you can have your own private swimming pool. I will never persuade Ploy to pay 8,400 baht a night for a room so instead I will have to share a pool with others but the idea of spending a few days reading and writing and swimming appeals a lot and with Ploy's friends nearby I don't have to worry about her getting bored. We are both running on flat batteries at the moment so this is a good opportunity, with two invoices about to be sent out, to get that long promised break and recharge.
I'm not an American, Get me Out of Here
It was a long but fruitful day at work and I am reasonably confident that I can complete the work to their satisfaction and that we will get paid for it.
I arrived back at my hotel at 6.15p.m. and immediately went down to the restaurant for dinner. One very good meal, one extremely poor one; what would today bring? I had reasoned that the good meal was the regular chef and the bad meal was the chef's day off. A little odd the quality was so poor in quite a large chain hotel but today was sure to be back to the main chef, wasn't it. Apparently not. Either the main chef was on holiday again or the better cook was in fact the restroom attendant who takes over on the chef's day off. So this time I had a pork chop that was, unusually, rare on the inside and blackened on the outside - authentic BBQ style. The french fries were flacid strips of potato and the side salad constructed from vitamin and flavour free ingredients with a blue cheese dressing that was only lacking in the blue cheese department.
I bought a bottle of wine to take back to my room as I had another three nights to endure here and paid with a $100 note. After some delay the sullen waitress came back to me; we don't have any change for such a large note. The change was $40 - two $20 notes would have done. So the Hilton hotel, capacity 213, does not have two $20 notes on the premises. Why don't you put it on your room, Ms Sullen suggested. Because I go home soon and I don't want to take home a lot of cash. I signed and took my bottle of wine upstairs.
The morning before work had been spent trying to get the receptionist to send a fax for me. I have found why I had a problem booking my flights with the US airlines. They do not accept debit cards unless they have a US address. However United have a Thailand based webpage and I successfully booked my flight there with my Thailand debit card; or so I thought. However I got an e-mail asking, Thai style, to confirm my details again and send copies of my debit card and passport. So I copied the information and asked reception to send it which they did; or so I thought. Happy my escape from here had been planned I was waiting in reception for my lift when I thought to enquire about how to book a taxi or bus to the airport as I hadn't seen either since I arrived.
Ah, she astutely observed, you are the person that tried to send that fax aren't you. Yes, I said, (remarkable, it was all of an hour before). Well it didn't go through, apparently we need some code before the country code. Yes, of course you do, you spastic; your International dialing code. Do you know what that is, she enquired. Don't you know, I countered. Have you never sent a fax internationally before! I think it is 001 but you should know that. I'll check and send it again she said. My lift arrived so I left it in her incompetent hands. I have just received an e-mail, having thought to e-mail United in Thailand to warn them. No fax received. It is 2.30a.m. here now and the restroom attendant, fresh from his exploits in the kitchen, is probably manning the reception. I will wait until I get to my customer and ask them to send it.
Two days left and I am out of here, even if I have to walk.
Bring Him Home
Having travelled half-way around the world at the behest of the customer, (who is paying for the flights and hotels), it was a surprise when they announced on Friday that they don't work at the weekend so a whole 2 days of my six here are to be spent with me twiddling my thumbs. I chose the hotel because of the proximity to their place of work and as I was to find it is a bugger to get around.
On Saturday I dodged my way around the traffic to walk along the highway to the nearby shopping mall; there were no pavements and in some cases not even a verge. It took a whole hour to walk around the mall of which 45 minutes was spend buying CDs and DVDs in one shop. I had noticed a cinema there and thought that would be a pleasant way to pass the afternoon so I started looking for somewhere to eat, not that I was hungry, but to pass the time. The mall itself and the surrounding area was festooned with burger joints and Mexican restaurants (why?) so I wandered outside and spotted another line of shops on the other side of the eight lane highway. Taking my life in my hands but wanting to sit somewhere for lunch, be served rather than serving myself and having some choice of menu other than toppings on a salmonella ridden donkey burger I did my best Sebastian Coe impersonation, (as the athlete, not the smug Conservative git he is now), and found myself pursuing a long line of shops which included a Mexican restaurant and a couple of burger joints. However, alone on the corner, was a TGI Friday which I gratefully entered. And after perusing the menu long and hard, I chose a turkey burger with various toppings.
I had noticed that the cinema had a live broadcast of Lucia di Lammermore from the Met but on my return I chose the movie Paul which I thoroughly enjoyed, laughing out loud at several points. I particularly liked Kristen Wig as the Creationist whose beliefs are challenged somewhat by meeting an alien.
Risking life and limb again I returned to my hotel and by the time I crashed on the bed in my room I was knackered. I chose to eat something in the hotel rather than venture out again but had a very disappointing lump crab cake that was all lump and no crab and had been incinerated to boot. Too tired to care I went back to my room and had a fitful night's sleep.
I woke early, read the cricket scores and planned my day. I decided to centre it around lunch and tried to find somewhere decent within walking distance. I could have got a taxi I suppose but you had to call for one and I didn't want the hassle of trying to get one to get home again. I found a seafood restaurant that was not part of a chain which was four miles away. It looked sunny out so at 11.a.m. I ventured out only to immediately return to put some more layers on. The walk was pleasant enough, passing by a small wood and the road, despite no having any verge, was not busy. I found the restaurant easily enough although it was not quite what I was expecting. I ordered the crab dip to start which was very good but enormous. They had a special of rack of lamb which I fancied but I was stuffed after just the appetiser. I stayed and watched the inevitable basketball on the TV before deciding to order something else. I had seen some main courses leave the kitchen and they would have fed a small nation so I ordered another starter, a tuna salad, which was also huge but the tuna was delicious. Stuffed to the brim I walked back to my hotel and fell asleep on the bed watching the food channel.
The news channel here is full of the 'US led' bombing of Libya. On my brief forays on the news channels I haven't seen a single moment considering the result of these actions. It certainly seems an extreme form of no fly zone. Surely a no fly zone is stopping things that are already in flight but it seems to be being interpreted as bombing the shit out of anything that may conceivably fly, like a brick building or people. Maybe it is lost in translation and the US and their fellow exploiters think it is a no flies zone, but that surely will be difficult to implement given the amount of camel dung there must be there and it cannot be helped by the increasing number of dead people. Even if they achieve this mission how will stop foreign flies entering Libya and assuming they don't kill all the flies are they just going to imprison without trial anything that looks fly-like. How could they justify doing something like that!
I guess the US had a load of troops hanging around doing nothing after withdrawing some from Iraq and they were just itching to do something. What better than bombing a country with a nasty man at the head of it. That happens to have oil, coincidentally. Nothing good can come from this. If each government's aims were not transparent before Iraq, they certainly are now. I guess, in the US at least, the dichotomy between the concern over the 'people of Libya' as opposed to the 'people of Burma' or the 'people of Zimbabwe' is never likely to be questioned but in slightly more educated countries such as France or Germany I am surprised it is not being questioned. Perhaps it is and I am missing it.
So to work today and I hope we can finish in the three days we have left. It is only 6.30a.m. at the moment, 3 hours until I get picked up because 'they are not morning people'. I will be glad to start that trip home.
It is 5a.m. and I have finally given up trying to sleep. The flight on Thai airways from Bangkok to Los Angeles was uneventful and I slept quite well having treated myself to executive economy and not having anyone sat next to me either. One and half hours to get through US immigration and customs I was grateful I could at least speak the language, (unlike the passengers on the China Southern flight), and being a visa waiver candidate, having got to the front of the long queue, I actually waltzed through. Then I had to change some baht and walk around to terminal 1 to confirm my flights on US airways as my debit card wasn't usable on-line. That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be as there is no ticketing there, only automated check-in machines but I finally found a helpful older lady, (dyed blonde hair, artificial tan, very shiny teeth and one to many face lifts), who also got me exit row seats on both my flights to Baltimore the next morning at no extra cost, ($20 each leg on line).
The hotel was nice even though the taxi driver didn't know where it was, (1 mile from the airport and I had to pay a minimum fare, so he said, of $15 - I was past caring by then and had been told by one Hilton courtesy bus that they didn't go to this [Hilton] hotel. They did, I found out in the morning).
Dumping my bags in the room I found the restaurant/bar, had a Sam Addams beer and nice ahi tuna cobb salad, returned to room and paid $10 for the ''complimentary' Internet access, read my e-mails and tried to sleep only to find that the hotel is parked at the end of a runway; the last plane left at 3.13a.m. I gave up trying to sleep, read the cricket scores and checked-out early expecting the airport to be quiet at 5a.m. Far from it! It was heaving and it was only 40 minutes before my flight by the time I had gone through the security screening which was a quite unpleasant experience. One security officer stood right by my stationary queue unsmilingly scrutinising each person as if he had X-ray vision; he had the look of someone who keeps his chain saw in pristine condition. When the trays ran out just in front of me, I asked him if we could have some more which prompted an even sterner look if that was possible but it did get him to move away, although not to get more trays.
The first flight was to Phoenix and then on to Baltimore. My luggage also arrived, a first for a US airline and by the time I found the hotel, (again the taxi driver didn't know where it was!), I had been awake for over 24 hours and was sleep walking. The hotel was an imposing and unattractive brick building but the room is nice and quiet, the bed comfortable, the Internet is truly complimentary and I had an early night after a St. Patrick's day special of cream of broccoli soup (is that especially Irish?) and Shepherd's pie (same comment). The Shepherd's pie was very good and the menu looked varied and interesting which is good because I have no intention of venturing anywhere except to complete the work and get home as soon as I can.
I fell into a deep sleep watching Iron Chef but then woke at 11p.m. and didn't sleep much after that, hence the early post. My customer doesn't pick me up until 9.30a.m. when half the day is gone for me and I know from the e-mails he works late; something I will have to put him right on. The first day of six before I return clutching a cheque in my hand, metaphorically at least.
I don't travel well in my old age and now, as well as missing Ploy, I have a dog that apparently pines when I am not there, (as she does when Ploy goes away). Four days in Singapore is one thing but this is ten days away - too long. And when I get back we both almost immediately go to Bangkok for a seminar where we are exhibiting one of our products. I am not sure much will come of it but as it is just down the road, why not. There are supposed to be over 100 Thai attendees and some of the seminar is being given in Thai so it should be interesting. And then it is less than 3 months until our big exhibition for which we have just paid the second and final installment for the stand. So now we are committed.
Being here in Baltimore I miss both Ploy's birthday and Pinky's who was born on the same day as Ploy. There is a shopping mall just up the road from here so I will probably buy something for Pinky from a pet store there and for Ploy, maybe extend that trip to Bangkok by a couple of days and spoil ourselves at a hotel there. These holiday plans have not come off recently but we do need a break before we start the next load of work. Ploy wants to visit a friend in Phitsanulok and is talking of driving there which might be fun although the opposite way to my planned beach holiday on Koh Chang.
For now it is just get this week out of the way and to keep thinking that by this time next week I will be over the Pacific, five hours into my flight and just 12 hours away from Bangkok and fourteen from home.
Pulling up the Drawbridge
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening out with my friends in Singapore. The food was not special, the beer from the Czech micro brewery was OK but the company was great. On my return to Thailand I immediately resigned for the final time from Facebook and resolved to not bother with the one remaining forum I still engaged with after reading through yet another cretinous thread. A friend recently e-mailed me, apparently concerned that I was withdrawing from all human contact, and to some degree I think what he wrote was true. There are stories, possible true - I have no idea - of foreigners living in the further parts of Thailand who slowly go mad, or at least strange, isolated as they are from non-Thai society. I needed to check that wasn't me but firstly, I don't live in the furthest parts of Thailand but near two quite large towns. Last week I was in Singapore and soon I have to travel to Baltimore for my postponed business trip. So I do meet people. I sold Ploy's daughter into prostitution last week so I could afford a couple of glasses of wine at Brix in Singapore and ended up people watching at the bar with another ex-pat Brit, living in the Bahamas and en route to a climbing holiday in Nepal. I enjoyed his company as we had very similar outlooks on life and both could enjoy the shenanigans going on in the bar as we both fully understood what was being played out before our eyes. So no, not isolated, just selective. And no, not going mad, just watching the world go mad whilst trying to remain sane.
Yesterday there was the news of the earthquake in Japan and I sat mesmerised by the astonishing photos from the BBC news website. This morning I quickly looked at the headlines to see the latest. I have ex-colleagues in Tokyo and although we are no longer in contact I thought of them. Looking for more news I came across this article from the Thailand Nation and almost felt sickened by it. Yes, the world must go on, although for many it obviously will not. But just hours after the disaster an article lamenting the fall in tourist numbers or the affects on the fucking stock market are, shall we say, inappropriate, and more so, totally irrelevant. That parasitic structure which has done more to differentiate rich from poor in the world that any other is concerned about its own wealth because Japan, one of the richest nations in the world, has been hit. In Haiti or in Sichuan, China, where recent earthquakes left ten of thousands dead, the stock market seemed less concerned and the Thailand Tourist authority could breath a sigh of relief as they recently announced they didn't want poorer people coming to their country anyway as they didn't spend enough. (The one up-side of this announcement is that will probably mean less Brits coming here).
The earthquake relegated the Middle east riots to the second page which at least means we don't have the posturing of the Western politicians so in our face as they see an opportunity to fleece any fledgling governments whilst saying it is all done in the name of democracy, as usual.
In the UK and US there is basically a two party choice when it comes to elections. If at the end of their term if the voters feel they aren't better off financially then they usually vote in the other one. Sometimes you get a particularly charismatic leader or particularly inept opposition in which case the term extends although in the US this is limited, in the UK it is not.
So it is not so surprising that, in a recent by-election in the UK, given that the country is still in recession, that the opposition party won by a landslide. As the opposition leader said:
'Labour is the only progressive alternative to this Conservative-led Government and I urge people to join us or work with us to change the direction of this country.'
If I could be bothered I suspect I could find a near word for word quotation from the current party in office, just before the last election. It is so easy isn't it, in fact the financial crisis which just heightened the U. K.'s bankruptcy was a gift from heaven for whoever was not in power at the time. Although the winners of that election still didn't win an outright victory and had to form a coalition with the Liberals, the third party that has not been in government since the 1930s. That in itself was strange as it was Labour and the Liberals who were traditionally seen as being both left of centre and the Liberal leader has been castigated for agreeing to the coalition just to be able to get power 'at any cost'. So in four year's time you can guarantee that it will shift back to Labour again because Britain has no money or industry to be able to get itself out of its financial mess. Money in the pocket is the only decision making criteria here; incredibly the government can even go and wage an unjustified and illegal war on another country and still get voted in as long as the voter thinks, (not having enough intelligence to calculate it), he or she has more money in their pocket.
So this is democracy in action. Four or five years is not a lot of time to do anything especially if you keep reducing their majority because of by-elections. Just ask Obama who is now powerless to do anything unilaterally so the voters will be able to kick him out without ever knowing what he might have been able to achieve. It does seem somewhat unfair to vote someone in and then in a fit of pique allow further voting during their term so that anything they might have wanted to do, what the voters originally voted for them to do just months before, cannot be done because they have no majority. This latest UK by-election, albeit only a single MP, is less than one year after the general election.
Now the vote could be against the Liberals for their agreement to form a coalition but the trouble with this is it can have unforeseen consequences. The Liberals were beaten by the British National Party, a racist far right party that should be banned were it not for this all-engulfing requirement for 'democracy'. There is a very real chance that Sarah Palin could become the next US president and that would bring repercussions for all of us.
In the Middle East people are dying to overthrow maniacal despots and that could only be a good thing, couldn't it. But these maniacal despots have actually protected their country better than any new virgin government could ever do, especially as that government is likely to be some amalgam of disparate groups each wanting something different even assuming they know what they want. Secret police, disappearances, corruption - of course any sane person wants to be rid of this, but democracy hasn't achieved it so why hanker after it; the grass is not always greener. How, you may ask, can I compare Gaddafi with Obama. I cannot, but I should not compare person with person. Obama is not America, unfortunately, American is the CIA and huge corporations and corrupt bankers, each in their own way as mad as hatters. It is a population of hundreds of millions, the majority of which cannot point to Japan on a map, let alone Libya or Tunisia. I don't know, but I am willing to bet Gaddafi knows where Tulsa is, hell he is probably making a bomb there as I write this. If and when these despots are overthrown the West will rape and pillage these country's assets in the good old tradition of 'the best interests of the people' and 'ensuring a return to democracy for these people'. Those latter two statements are euphemisms for force feeding the populations Starbucks and McDonalds whilst forcing them to 'adopt' (buy) Western technology from Western companies whilst they employ cheap local labour to pillage the land. Equality for women, minimum wages, stonings, female castration; disgusting behaviour, but hey, it's not our country and we shouldn't judge now we have what we want; they should live as they see fit, we should not judge, Now lets get out of here and leave them to it.
Thank heavens these countries have oil so the West can show its concern; would these riots have even happened without some underground coercion from the West; I guess we will never know and I am not a fan of conspiracy theories, (although the 11th March when the Japan earthquake hit is the birthday of Rupert Murdoch; which James Bond movie was it where some maniacal despot in charge of a news media corporation 'invented' his own news to sell newspapers). How disappointing that the earthquake has upset some stock market investors because it has hit a rich country. Before making a poor region rich, like Japan or California, they really should look at the plate tectonics first. Too late now I guess. Maybe that is why California is being made bankrupt so the affect on the economy is not so large when the big one hits.
So today, all around the world investors are fretting at their portfolios whilst planning their investment in the oil and construction companies as they, in turn, plan their asset stripping of the Middle East. By tomorrow, on page four of Murdoch's newspapers, there will be a few column inches stating that the last expected survivor has been found in the rubble of his noodle shop in Miyage prefecture.
All you can hear here is the clinking of the chains as I pull up the drawbridge a few more inches.