Letters from Thailand

{January 24, 2008}   The Chains of Love

If sexism, racism and ageism is discrimination against gender, race and age, and fetishism is the appreciation of unusual (in most cases) sexual practices, then what is the word for discrimination against fetishism?

The above story (click on post heading) got me thinking about this today. Can anyone enlighten me?


{January 23, 2008}   Heath Ledger

10things_ledger1.jpgI knew it was going to be a shit day when I woke up half an hour late because I’d forgotten to set my alarm. Usually when that happens, the day just goes down hill. I had made it into work just in time (thanks to the brainwave of putting on my make-up in the taxi) and had settled down with my first dose of caffeine, when a colleague broke the news that Heath Ledger had died.

Now, normally I wouldn’t bother commenting on the death of someone I’ve never met. But, this is different – I have good reason to thank Heath Ledger for saving my sanity almost every Friday for two years.

Between 2005 and 2007, I worked at a language school in the UK where it was common, during the winter months, to have to teach groups made up entirely of French teenagers, usually from the same school. Very often, the students came from ‘special’ schools they attended because they had been excluded from regular schools. They were nearly always accompanied by disillusioned teachers who looked like they were taking one last holiday before they succumbed to a nervous breakdown. The students themselves found the process of learning English – like any other subject – completely irrelevant. They had already been labeled as non-achievers, so what was the point in doing anything to change that perception? As a result, no matter how interesting we tried to make the lessons, we didn’t get very much out of them and waited desperately for Friday to arrive. Friday mornings were good – we could do DVD lessons. One of the most fought over (among the teachers) was ’10 Things I Hate About You’, so, if we were lucky, a couple of us would grab the DVD, combine our classes and distribute some comprehension questions about the film. There was Heath as the rebellious outsider, someone the students could identify with, and who we just found gorgeous as hell. So while they paid attention for the first time all week and answered the comprehension questions, we just sat, ogling Mr. Ledger, as memories of the earlier part of the week drifted away.

A sad loss. My condolences to his family.  May he rest in peace.

So begins the beginning of the Brownie Guide Promise that I was forced to recite on a weekly basis for 2 years (between the ages of 8 and 10). Aside from the promise, my memories of brownie guiding are not all that great.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this today is that I’ve been ‘recruited’ to assist the Girls’ Brigade at the school where I work, and I’m in a bit of a quandary about it, due to my experiences during those two years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the organisation was set up to encourage girls to develop leadership skills and teamwork, as well as keeping them off the streets. However, in reality, it was just an extension of the popularity contest that formed the basis of the Law of the Playground, of which I was forever in breach. I was never invited to join in games that involved speed or feats of physical strength and endurance because I was so crap at them. That didn’t bother me at all, I was quite happy sitting around with another pair of weaklings talking about what they were going to dress their Sindy dolls in that night, and there were enough other kids to participate in British Bulldog or Kiss Chase that my sissy mates & I weren’t missed. With Brownies, it was another story. Lack of participation was frowned upon and there was a hierarchy in the ‘pack’ which meant you HAD to do what you were told, either by the adults (Brown Owl & her sidekick, Tawny) or the girls further up in the pecking order (the Sixer and Seconder).

One of my biggest disappointments with the system was due to this hierarchy, which I will attempt to explain: The ‘pack’ (yep, that’s what we were called – just like a group of she-wolves) was divided into groups of 6, each headed by a ‘Sixer’ who was ably assisted by a ‘Seconder’. In my pack, these positions were assigned on the basis of seniority within the pack, so that once a Sixer left (probably to move up to the Guides) her Seconder would replace her and the girl who had joined next would rise up to be Seconder. When my turn came to become Seconder, I was passed over in favour of a younger girl who’d joined a full year after me. Yep, I’d been forgotten. When I complained about it to my mum, she promptly got on the phone to Tawny Owl (who lived in our street – more about her in a bit). The next week, I was told that they couldn’t inform the other girl that she was no longer Seconder (something about harming her self-esteem, if the term had been invented then. My own self-esteem was clearly of no consequence) but that we would both be Seconders. Now, in our six, we had a Sixer and two Seconders – surely a case of too many chiefs? Not that it mattered as I left soon afterwards, deciding that brownie-ing was not conducive to the lifetime of quiet non-conformity I envisioned for myself.

The other incident (and probably the one that made Brown Owl & Tawny decide I wasn’t a suitable candidate for Seconder) happened after Brownies, in Tawny Owl’s car. As I mentioned, she lived in my street so she would take me and my best mate to the brownie hut in her snotty green Morris Minor that stank of corgis (actually, not sure if she had corgis or not, but her stature, hairdo, tweed suits & support tights did put me in mind of Queen Elizabeth.) Anyway one week, we had had a ‘sing-song’ at the meeting. The lyrics of the song went something like ‘When I was two, I buckled my shoe, the day I went to sea’. After the meeting, my friend and I were waiting in the stinky, green car, waiting for Tawny to finish “discussing pack business” with Brown Owl (they probably had a bottle of gin stashed away somewhere). To take our minds off the boredom and our noses off the scent of wet dog, my friend and I decided to reprise the song with a slight change of lyrics which entailed rhyming ‘one’ with ‘bum’, ‘two’ with ‘poo’ and ‘three’ with ‘wee’ (we got stuck at four, so all suggestions welcome!). There we were singing along with a lot more gusto than we’d previously demonstrated, when Tawny opens the car door. We decided not to stop singing, but repeat the song, in full, for her approval. It wasn’t forthcoming. We were warned if she heard us using inappropriate language like that again, we’d be expelled from the pack. Not such a bad thing in itself, but if mum found out….

I think my greatest achievement was leaving with the record for the least number of badges earned. In four years, I think I earned three -flower pressing, household something or other (making tea & ironing for a month) arts & crafts – all of which have prepared me for the life of a modern woman.

And the rest of the promise?

I promise that I will do my best

to do my duty to God,

to serve the Queen,

and help other people,

and to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

{January 20, 2008}   Hairapy

I’ve been asked by my good friend and hair stylist to give him some tips for an article he’s writing about what to look for in a hair stylist. My own personal history with hair stylists is similar to that a typical relationship history: a couple of serious ones, a few flings and several one-offs where I thought “Oh my God! What have I done?!” For many women, a goal in life is to find that one man who ticks all the boxes and to never let him go. I look for the same in a stylist.

In order to research this topic, I’ve been trawling the internet for ‘secrets to a perfect relationship’, which, to be honest, has been about as useful as tits on a bull. For example:

  • Kiss your spouse/stylist for at least 5 seconds before you leave in the morning and before going to bed at night – somewhat impractical as the salon is at least 40 minutes from my place, and in the opposite direction of my workplace. I also think his boyfriend may have an issue with me dropping by twice a day for a 5-second snog.
  • Hug and hold hands often, daily – all very well, but how the hell is going to hold the scissors if he’s holding my hands and giving me cuddles?
  • Take turns making decisions – so it’s ok if he wants to give me a buzz cut and dye the remnants bright green and pink, because it’s his turn to make a decision? I think not.
  • Teach him, preferably early in the relationship, how to give you a fail-safe orgasm because it’s unlikely he’ll find out alone – I don’t think so, especially if the salon is open-plan. Also, there’s bound to be someone perverted enough to introduce hair straighteners into the proceedings which could pave the way to all kinds of injuries and law-suits.
  • Laugh at the little mistakes in life, hold the drama for a major crisis – Surely in hairdressing, his little mistakes may be a major crisis for me – I’m thinking of a particular occasion when I had my hair coloured by a junior who left bleach on my head for the good part of 4 hours (I exaggerate not.)

So, what should one look for in a stylist? Most importantly, someone who listens to what you want and asks the right questions. At the first appointment they should find out not only what style you want, but also what kind of lifestyle you lead – how long you have to spend to get ready in the morning, for example. Not all of us have the 2 hours required to blow-dry or straighten hair into an artistic vision, that, after all, is what hair shows are for.

Also, be aware that sometimes the reason for visiting a salon is because a change of image is symbolic of a change in one’s life, be it a break-up or breakdown, and stylists should be aware of this. These are times when we make drastic changes to our appearance which don’t seem such a great idea the next day (or even in the next 5 minutes). So, if your twin-set and pearls wearing librarian client walks into your salon demanding a mohawk, talk her out of it. As evidence, I submit Amy Winehouse’s latest blonde haystack.

If you want to keep a client, be prepared to admit that you might get things wrong sometime. A fling with a stylist I had once turned very serious when I went back the week after our first appointment and told him I was having problems maintaining the style. He put me back in the chair straight away, made a few adjustments and told me there was no charge. From that moment, he had my undivided loyalty until I left the country.

A couple of other points, if you don’t have anyone to wash the hair of your clients for you, then please keep your nails short. There’s not much that’s more painful that having a set of talons scratch away at your scalp like a dog burying a bone during a drought. Oh, and be friendly – I went to a salon once where the stylist was lovely, but when I went back a few weeks later to buy some products, she blanked me. I never went back there again.

I have been lucky enough to come across a stylist who I also consider to be one of my great friends. And, if I haven’t stressed this enough already, good stylists and great friends always listen.

  • Don’t assume that you won’t be tempted to have an affair as almost everyone is. You need to learn to resist.

To my great friend and stylist, so far, I’ve not been tempted. It’s til death do us part as far as I’m concerned. Love you!

{October 11, 2007}   A Brush with the Inquisition

I’ve just returned from Hong Kong, which was great. I stayed with an old friend from way back, met up with a couple of others, ate some great seafood, drank some cool cocktails and generally had a wonderful time.

The main reason for going there was to renew my visa at the Thai Embassy. That was not so wonderful. It seems that the Gestapo are alive and well and working in the Thai Embassy in Hong Kong. What had previously been a simple, stress-free experience in the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, turned into an interrogation.

The first indication that things were not going to go as smoothly as before came on the Sunday evening I arrived. Over a few Sauv Blancs, I was telling my friend that my plan for the next day was to get up early and get to the embassy, leaving the rest of the day free for fun stuff. She then informed me that it was a public holiday in HK, and that the embassy would be closed. Whoops! Rather than panic, we just sank a few more wines and spent the whole of the next day (and night) doing fun stuff (a bottle of Veuve, a couple of lychee martinis and – for old time’s sake – vodka red bulls in Insomnia. Suffice to say that sitting around waiting in the embassy the following day was an even less attractive prospect than it had been the day before.

So, I arrive on time at the embassy, slightly worse for wear, but ready to be all smiles as I flirtily requested a fast-track application as my flight to Bangkok was the following morning. The exchange went as follows:

Me: Good morning. I’m here to apply for my visa. Here is the paperwork you require. I’m ever so sorry that I wasn’t aware that….

Embassy Man: Fill in this form.

(I go off to fill in form, asking official-looking lady at information desk if I can borrow her pen. Answer: No. This is my only pen, and I am using it. Finally ask another applicant if I can borrow her pen, she graciously lends it to me. I return to EM)

Me: OK, here is the form. I’m ever so sorry that I wasn’t aware that yesterday was a public holiday here….

EM: Be quiet. I am looking at your papers.

(A bit of shuffling)

EM: Where is the xyz form you need?

Me: I’m sorry, what form is that? I wasn’t aware I needed one. I didn’t need one the last time.

EM: New regulations.

Me: Since when?

EM: Since May.

Me: But the last time I went was in July.

EM: You need the paper. Wait. I will speak to my Supervisor. Sit!

(I sit and observe a dodgy looking bloke incoherently explaining to his Embassy Person about how his girlfriend stole his passport somewhere in the North of Thailand. He had a new one and was now going back to look for her despite the fact he did not know her full name, address AND had overstayed by 2 years! Good luck, mate!)

20 minutes later, the Supervisor (previously known as the”I don’t lend my pen to anyone lady”) arrives, beckoning me into an office where there is a suspicious looking spotlight shining from the ceiling and a rack in the corner (OK, so I made that last bit up).

IDLMPTAL: Why do you have all these stamps in your passport?
Me: Well, I used to work in Thailand, then I went back to the UK for a couple of years. My job back then involved a lot of overseas travel, so that’s why there are so many stamps.

IDLMPTAL: Are you working at the moment?

Me: No. I’m applying for a job and waiting for my work permit to be processed.

IDLMPTAL: Did you have a work permit when you were there before?

Me: Of course.

IDLMPTAL: How long was it for? (Translation – I’m going to trip you up if it’s the last think on earth that I do)

Me: The same as every work permit – one year and then renewable after that (right answer – do I win a prize now?)

IDLMPTAL: OK. This time I will give you the visa. (Undertone – don’t ever come here and bother me again, I’m busy taking care that my pen doesn’t get borrowed or stolen.)

Me: Thank you so much. By the way, I wasn’t aware that yesterday was a public holiday here. My flight is tomorrow, so is there any way my visa could possibly be fast-tracked? I’d be ever so grateful.

IDLMPTAL: No. It’s not fair on other people. You must change your flight.

Me: But, that’s not possible. My flight is not changeable (a white lie, but what do they know)

IDLMPTAL: Then there is nothing we can do to help you.

Me: OK, OK. I’ll come back tomorrow.

IDLMPTAL: Now take another number and join the queue. My colleague needs to check your documents again.

I wait another 15 minutes, during which time I decide to try again for a fast-track.

Me: I’m so sorry I wasn’t aware that yesterday was a public holiday here. My flight is tomorrow, so is there any way my visa could possibly be fast-tracked? I’d be ever so grateful.

EM: No.

Me: Come on, a little act of random kindness is good for the soul, you know.

EM: No. Come back tomorrow.

I decide I’m probably pushing my luck and go back the next day. Luckily, the powers that be in Hong Kong have the foresight to open check in desks at the airport express station, so you don’t have to go all the way there and miss your flight. Other cities, take note.

{July 9, 2007}   What Not To Wear In Kao San

Yesterday I had the pleasure of resurrecting an old tradition from my first life here in Bangkok. At that time, my friends and I would spend our Sunday afternoons at Kao San Road, recovering from the excesses of the previous night, chatting, eating and people-watching with a few medicinal cocktails. It became such an institution that we christened the event, ‘Kao San Shitface Sunday’ and its associated rituals (such as declaring it officially open as soon as there were more than three of us present) were performed as solemnly and seriously as a holy communion. Since that time, we’ve become a bit lax in our observations – probably because we’re all a bit older and the recovery time is twice as long. But it was nice to indulge in a bit of nostalgia.

Kao San is one of the best areas in the world for people-watching, in my opinion. And sitting there, cocktail in hand, I found myself mentally composing a list of dos and don’ts (or rather, just don’ts) for visitors to the area. As it is here that the most heinous crimes against fashion, style and all-round fabulousness are committed, a mere sampling of which follow:

  • Dreadlocks. This is simple. Unless you are a black rastafarian, or on tour with the Levellers, don’t do it. Particularly if you’re blonde. You look ridiculous. You’ve just come from mummy and daddy’s middle-class suburbia, not the protest of a motorway construction, where you lived in a tree. If there was such a thing as ‘eco-warrior chic’ , it died a death in 1996.
  • ‘Same Same….but Different’ t-shirts. Should read, ‘Same Same…and bloody tedious’.
  • Fisherman’s pants. Should be banned as outdoor wear. They’re great for slobbing around in the home, as are pyjamas, but they aren’t flattering either and you wouldn’t set foot outside wearing them.
  • To all the Brits in football shirts, shorts and skinhead haircuts, guzzling Chang on the pavement – please go back to Magaluth or Faliraki, where you belong. The sight of you offends me and makes me want to trade in my passport.
  • To ladies who are bigger than a size 10 – don’t bother trying on any of the clothes for sale by the side of the road. No matter how much you huff and puff and try to squeeze into them, they’re not going to fit. They were not made for women like you (and me). I’m not saying you’re fat, you’re not, you’re gorgeous, womanly and voluptuous, but it’s a sad fact of life here, that the clothes are not. Trying them on will only dent your self-esteem and you’ll look a bit of a twit into the bargain.
  • To ladies of all sizes. Bras were invented many years ago, and for good reason. Use them.
  • To the idiot I saw yesterday in your persil white fisherman’s pants and navy blue tunic shirt, entering the establishment that I happened to be sitting in, slapping a poor girl on the arm as she was blocking your ‘entrance’ and forcing her to make way for you, waltzing in as if you owned the place, looking with disdain as the staff tried to find you a suitable table, then flouncing out with your nose in the air, as if ‘dressing like a native’ would do you any favours and ingratiate you with local people (it won’t – they think you’re a bloody idiot too). I hope you’ve left the country already. Go back home and tell all your friends what an ‘Asian expert’ you are because you’ve spent a couple of months on a whirlwind tour of the region. Go on, you know you want to.

Please note, that this(except for the fourth one and the last one!) ‘style guide’ is mostly tongue in cheek. I’m certainly not expecting anyone who reads this to follow my commandments. In fact, I hope some of these fashion faux-pas continue to be committed as it gives me and my friends something amusing to look at and bitch about while we sip our margaritas.

…and submitted this site to a blogroll of bloggers (try saying that after a few martinis!) in Thailand. At the moment, I’m waiting for my application to be approved.

This is worse than internet dating – I have all kinds of reservations about this. First of all, will they like me? I’ve had a look at some of the blogs on the site and they’re all finding so much more interesting stuff to write about (looking at my page it seems to mainly consist of personal nostalgia and/or slagging people off – not particularly likeable!)

Then, there’s the writing. Wow – it never ceases to amaze me how many great writers there are out there – even those whose native language isn’t English have writing skills that put mine to shame. I’m hoping it’s because they’ve had more practice and that I will improve, eventually!

Finally, there’s the knowledge. They all seem to have made the time and effort to learn enought about the country they now call home to be able to form intelligent opinions about the serious issues of the place – politics, corruption and all that jazz. Issues I would love to know more about, but can never articulate myself.

So what can Kosmogal bring to the site? Well, if you look at it as a menu, the bloggers mentioned above are the hearty main courses, while I’m happy to be a sweet, frothy dessert of no substance whatsoever, but finishes a meal nicely!

I’ve just got back to civilization after 3 days in the Northeast of Thailand (Isaan) on a work trip. I’d never visited this part of the country before, and it was quite an experience. The scenery was beautiful, the weather was intensely hot & humid and the kids I was working with were brilliant. Despite living in what most westerners would consider abject poverty, they were well-mannered, took pride in every achievement they made and had an amazingly positive outlook on life that it puts their western contemporaries to shame. And, they treated us like superstars! I was even signing autographs on the last day!

The trip wasn’t without its less glamourous side, though! The accommodation certainly was not up to diva-standard. I should have known. A couple of days before departure, I decided to see if I could find the hotel on the internet. I searched for (and I have no qualms about naming & shaming!) the White Orchid Hotel in Korat. Nothing. Once we reached and subsequently drove right through Korat, I realised my error. I should have been looking for the White Orchid Hotel in the Arse-end of Nowhere. Of the two hotels in town, this was, apparently, the better one (I dread to think what the not-so-better one was like.)

Firstly, our welcome. I’m not sure if she was the owner of the hotel, or someone who was employed to sit behind a desk doing nothing all day but get pissed off whenever a customer walked through the door (something, I doubt, that happened very often). Whoever she was, she had mastered to perfection the art of service with a snarl. Our room keys and TV remote-controls were chucked on the front desk while she returned to the more urgent task of watching TV ads.

Secondly, the room itself. Smelt as if the last occupant had died in there ten years ago, but his corpse only removed the day before. Lying on the bed was like trying to sleep on an ironing board. No top-sheet, just an old, scratchy blanket they probably acquired when the local prison was having a clear-out. No sign of insect-life as yet though, which was a bonus. Anyway, no sooner had we checked in, when it was off to visit the school for a visit with the principal. Unfortunately, we had all spent 6 hours in a van and hadn’t time to freshen up when we were whisked off. Not that I had anything to worry about. It was clear that this man had no time for women (and I don’t mean in a gay sense, I mean in a Victorian, should be tied to the kitchen sink, where’s my dinner bitch? sense) so completely avoided 9 out of the 10 people gathered in the meeting.

Finally this ‘meeting’ came to an end and I could go back to the hotel hovel and have a shower! Hoorah! And this is when I discovered that the insect-life I missed earlier had just been playing hide & sink. My ‘bathroom’ was teeming with ants (in fact the following morning I feared they had carted of my toothbrush, but luckily I’d just hidden it in my washbag!) I also discovered that the door didn’t fit in the doorway, and that the bedroom window gave a wonderful view from outside – which made me very popular with the local boys.

Then it was on to dinner. Found a restaurant that did a hotpot/bbq thing which is so popular here. Not my favourite kind of eatery, it has to be said. I mean, if you’re paying for dinner, why should you be the one who has to bloody cook it! Still, I consumed more than my fair share – just to be polite. A couple of beers helped to wash it down. Then back to the hotel as there were no bars to be seen. By this stage it was only 8pm. Couldn’t really go to bed, so decided to hang out with my colleagues and learnt a new skill (a card game, called Bok Deng.) I had to go back to my room pretty soon after though as the hotpot was about to make a prompt reappearance. Made it to the bathroom just in time and realised that toilet paper had yet to be invented here. Brilliant.

The following night passed in much the same way, except we did stop off for ice-cream on the way back to the hotel, and it was thanks to this treat that my ant population increased dramatically. I’d forgotten that while eating my cornetto, one of the chocolate-chips had fallen into my cleavage. When I went to bed, I chucked my bra in the suitcase and found a whole ant colony living on it the next morning.

Despite all of this (and what would I have to write about otherwise?) the trip was a huge success and I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Can’t wait for the next stage of the tour in Kon Kaen next month!

{June 15, 2007}   A Big Thank You

Since I got here and started my new job, there has been precious little time for catching up on this blog that’s barely even started.  And, as the workplace was my only access to a computer it looked for a while as if Letters from Thailand would be returned to sender, as it were.  So, I would like to say a big thank you to my favourite couple here (you know who you are!) for assisting me with all the technical requirements that would enable me to blog from home.  Words cannot express how grateful I am.  Love you!

et cetera