Letters from Thailand

So much has happened since I last updated the blog. The reason for not writing was that I wasn’t even sure that ‘Letters from Thailand’ would still be the right title. Back in October I was reaching the end of my tether in a job that was sucking the soul out of me, so I decided to quit before I ended up looking for lost marbles in an institution for the insane. At that point, I seriously considered going back to the UK. I even told my family that my Christmas holiday might be more permanent. However, after some heartfelt talks with friends here, sipping cocktails at Vertigo and looking out over the city, it was clear that I wasn’t ready to go back and that my issues had nothing to do with Thailand, but with my job. Therefore, I decided to look for another job, and luckily found one that would start in January, which allowed me some time with family over the festive season.

As for not writing, well, the strain of those months made it very difficult. My style has always been light and humourous – It’s part of my character to see the funny side in any situation, now matter how dire (some might even say I’m a bit warped, they’re probably right!) but my characteristic humour was rapidly disappearing as I struggled with my lot. It became impossible for me to put my thoughts in writing – the tone of which would have been a collection of self-indulgent, ‘poor me’ type rants. If they’d been written by someone else, I’d have wanted to give them a good bitch-slapping and tell them to GET OVER IT, ALREADY! Oh, and I also feared that if anyone working at the same place happened upon this blog and read the ranting, my number would have been up!

Anyway, I finished work at the end of November and enjoyed a month of unemployment. One week was spent here in Bangkok, then 3 weeks at home with the family, where I perfected the art of terminal unemployment by lounging on the sofa watching daytime TV and scoffing the Christmas chocolate rations. Had it not been for regular walks down the road to visit my nephew and play with his train set and the fact that I wasn’t getting income support, I could have been a real benefit scrounger! And, in the new year, I returned to Bangkok and started my new job straight away.

So far, all is good. The benefits of the new job are far outweighing the salary cut I’ve taken (I look at it as payment for having what’s known as a ‘life’.) Whereas before I was leaving the office in the dark and not getting home until late, grabbing some junk to eat when I got back, I’m now home by 5 which gives me plenty of time to do a few laps of the pool and get something healthy to eat. I’m really not sure if it’s the endorphins from all the unfamiliar exercise or the new job, but whatever it is, I haven’t felt this good for ages. An added bonus is that almost 3 weeks into the new year, I haven’t lost the motivation & self discipline to work on losing the red wine and chocolate kilos gained at Christmas and they are slowly disappearing. Let’s hope I can keep it up for the rest of the year.



I just joined a Facebook group called ‘You Know You’re From Devon When…” which mentioned Gus Honeybun, the rabbit, who should be familar to everyone born in the 70s and 80s who lived in the South West. It was a 5-minute show at tea-time where the presenter (the legendary Ian Stirling is pictured here) would read out birthday cards to the lucky select few, and Gus would do bunny-hops (one for each year) wink (ditto) or if you were REALLY lucky, press the magic button which changed the colours of the scenery (if you were REALLY, REALLY lucky, it would be the RAINBOW button!) Even the most boisterous kids parties came to a standstill at this time, when parcels having been passed and gallons of fizzy pop (orange or lemon?) consumed, everyone would sit, with baited breath around the TV to see if their host was one of the chosen ones.

Obviously, there was a limited amount of time, so not every card could be read. I think I managed to tally up two birthdays altogether, no magic button though, just bunny-hops for me, most disappointing. And, of course, there was an unwritten etiquette on how to behave, especially if you weren’t one of the lucky ones. In this case, any reaction at all would be regarded with utter disdain by your peers. In fact, I remember attending a classmate’s birthday party one year and the birthday girl broke down in tears and had a tantrum that the wondrous anniversary of her birth had not been read out on live TV (can’t remember her name, but the look of her face creasing is imprinted on my memory, in minute detail). The rest of us sniggered silently, rolled eyes at one another and ignored her for nearly the whole year. We started to speak to her again in the run up to her next birthday, ensuring (we hoped) an invitation to a repeat performance of brattishness. Not a chance. Her parents decided it would be much better to take her, and a couple of her less bitchy friends, to the cinema instead. Things changed when you reached the age of 12 or 13 (the upper age limit, if I remember correctly), your family sent in a card, and your name was read out. That was enough to ensure that you endured the worst teenage years EVER. No one ever forgot that. I still bear the scars!


{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.

{September 28, 2007}   Another Long Break!

God, I am so crap at this.  Always have been.  I used to get diaries for Christmas when I was a kid to encourage me to keep a journal (actually found some from the awkward teenage years a few months ago which made for entertaining reading) but the novelty always wore off a few weeks into the new year.  I think I made it through to the beginning of March once, and this was the record.

Anyway, a brief rundown of the past six weeks:

GOOD STUFF  – Spent a couple of weekends outside of Bangkok recently, first to a friend’s lovely home near Pattaya to celebrate her birthday, the next a whole 3 days in Koh Samui, visiting a few friends.  As an island, I’m not particularly fond of Samui.  I only really go there to catch up with my friends who live there, but this time I felt really chilled and the stress of work that has been recently manifesting itself in physical symptoms, such as a sore throat and aching joints, all but disappeared (they did come back as soon as I landed in BKK again, though).  Another friend, who used to live here and was my dependable partner in crime for a while, came back for a visit, so it was great to catch up with her again.  I’ve also booked a short trip to Hong Kong for this weekend and am looking forward to renewing more old friendships there.

LESS GOOD STUFF- It was my nephew’s second birthday a few weeks ago, and I missed the party.  I did call and ended up getting a tad ’emotional’.  My love/hate relationship with BKK is definitely going through a latter phase at the moment.  I really hope it passes soon.

{August 21, 2007}   ‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello Kitty!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a good commentator on current affairs, especially in this country, but I couldn’t let this story go without a mention.

The Thai Police have come up with a unique method of reprimanding officers who fail to do their job efficiently and politely, by forcing them to wear a pink Hello Kitty armband for the day.  I think this is brilliant!  Nothing like a bit of public humiliation to ensure that professionals are performing to their best abilities.

I can’t for the life of me think of anywhere else in the world where this would happen!

{August 10, 2007}   It’s been a while!

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I last posted.  I have to thank English Girl in Isaan for reminding me that I still exist.

Either it’s a sign that I’m way to busy, or I’ve had nothing to write about.  Work-wise things have been pretty hectic as my assistant has left me (sob!) for a much better paid job (I begged her to take me with her!) and teachers keep dropping dead with man-flu (at least that is what I am assuming in my less charitable moments.)  But enough of the shop talk.

In the last month I’ve also grown another year.  I had a fun night out with the gang (VLT wasn’t there, which made the evening!) and my best friend from Samui also came up for a visit.  We went out to Thaipaz for dinner, which was yummy, and then on to Soi 4.  It was here that I finally realised that I have reached an age where it is better to add on a few years for the sake of the ego, resulting in a mass of compliments about how wonderful I was looking for 40.  On a less fun note, the evening ended with friend from Samui and myself having a bit of a teenage girly argument.  Still, all was either resolved or forgotten the next day.

Last Saturday was spent away from the usual haunts and in the Chatuchak area, which was great fun.  I met some fab new people and boogied the night away to 80s music.  Later, we returned home to Silom where I swapped make-up tips with my two new best friends – fabulous Euro drag queens (actually there were 3 of them, but one of them was a sullen cow from Manchester who got the hump when I asked her if her dreadlocks smelled – oops!)

Finally, last week was another out-of-town English camp.  This time in Lampang.  Accomodation was definitely an improvement on Korat-hole, but the kids were just as great.  In fact, I was sorely tempted to adopt most of them.

So that’s my life last month.  Summed up in four paragraphs.  How my old English teacher would be impressed with the improvement in my precis skills.

{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!

{June 25, 2007}   I Want My Mummy!

I have just spent a day lying in bed with a nasty cold & stomach bug.  Why is it that no matter how old and independent I am, illnesses – even the most minor ones – make me feel like I want to be tucked up in my childhood bed with mummy mopping my brow and bringing me Lucozade & Heinz Cream of Tomato soup?

Doesn’t help that this lurgy hit me on a Saturday night (why not a school night?!) which meant I couldn’t go out to play, and on the Sunday morning one of my closest neighbours (Kosmo Mansions is situated in a tower block, so all neighbours are close!)  chose to start banging nails into his wall at 8:00 am, and was obviously trying to re-create a bombed-out mode of decor as the banging did not stop until 4:00 pm.  Eight hours!!!!

It is now Monday morning, and am feeling a little better.  Well enough to leave Kosmo Mansions, anyway.  The building management have decided that today’s the day when some unnecessary work is carried out which means switching off the electricity for 6 hours.  Not the best time or place to be ill at the moment, but it’s back to work tomorrow, which means, naturally, my nose will no longer be stuffed up and everything else will be back to normal.  Bloody typical!

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!

et cetera