Keeping Up With Popular Culture While Living in Thailand

October 1, 2011

I’m a popular culture junkie. If you are like me and you are addicted to lots of TV shows, as well as football, basketball, baseball, and the latest Hollywood blockbusters, then you are in luck living in Thailand.

Many of you might be like my son, who doesn’t even own a TV, and thinks my addictions could be solved with a 12 step program. You might think that I am just wasting time on this “vast wasteland” when I could be doing lots of more useful things in this tropical paradise. My comeback is this:  Over the last few years I have written 6 books and published dozens of articles, planted hundreds of trees, established an endangered mountain tortoise sanctuary, learned to play the piano, built a bungalow, and started a website and blog on retiring to Thailand. I feel I’ve done enough serious stuff to not be ashamed to admit to wasting some of my time on this intellectual short coming.

You would think that picking up and moving to a 3rd World country would put a crimp on one’s ability to keep current on the most popular TV shows and movies and the various sports teams you root for. That might have been true when I first came to Thailand in the ‘60s. Back then, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, it was a week before I found out that the New York Mets had won the 1969 World Series. Now I watch the World Series live (with no hope at all for the lowly Mets though).

The True Vision satellite TV system in Thailand shows lots of western TV shows, although many are over a year old before coming here – and lots of the good stuff like nude scenes and “F” bomb-type dialogs are edited out. I don’t care about the “F” bombs but I do like the other stuff.

True Vision also shows NFL and NBA, and Major League Baseball, and major tennis and golf tournaments and more football/soccer than you’d ever want to see. They are often shown live but I prefer to view the taped version later as there aren’t any interruptions or commercials. You’d be amazed at how fast an NFL Football game goes by when there are no timeouts or interruptions.

Note: I of course do not encourage doing anything illegal, so the following is just theoretical.

I have heard, never had the experience myself of course, that one can purchase complete season DVDs of most popular TV shows and the latest movies on Thailand’s sidewalks. I know some people who even make regular trips to the Burmese border just to stock up on these as they have a wider selection there (mostly made in China, home of Pirate Captains a la Jack Sparrow). A friend coming back from Burma loaned me the complete set (6 seasons) of the Sopranos. The problem with those complete sets is that with my addiction I try to view the whole year in one sitting back to back. I think I viewed all 86 episodes of the Sopranos in about a week – maybe I do need a 12 step program after all.

But the real trick to keeping up with popular culture is “downloading”. Although a lot of your favorite TV shows can be seen for free on sites like hulu.com, when you try to view them from Thailand you get this message: “Sorry, currently our video library can only be watched from within the United States.” Be not dismayed!

That is where downloading comes in.

There are sites out in the Internet ether where you can find and download almost anything. And since TV shows have fewer copyright restrictions than other media they are quite easy to find and download and they are usually legal. You will need to get some free “torrent software” (do a Google search) and then log on to a “torrent-downloading website” (do a Google search). But once there just look up the show you want (check out the comment section first to make sure you don’t have a fake torrent) and proceed to download (single episodes as well as complete seasons are available). Download only .avi files (Audio Video Interleave) as they can be played on any computer and many DVD players (using CDs, DVDs, or Flash Drives).  I find that the cheapest DVD players work best, around 600 baht, since they don’t have any built-in rights protection.

And BTW, all the torrents come commercial free. That’s one part of popular culture I can do without.

Books, magazines, audio, games, pictures, software applications, and movies are also available as torrents for download but you would need to check on the legality of these of course.

Want to see the extent of my addiction? I’d encourage you to try watching them yourself but don’t blame me if you too get addicted.

I am not a TV critic, but I play one on the Internet. Here is my review of the shows on my must-download-torrent list.

My Top Dozen Downloads

(forgive the Americocentricism of my list)

30 Rock -Tina Fey, of Sarah Palin satire fame, is about the funniest woman on TV. With a great supporting cast, just about every line in the show is a joke, and at least one in five is the burst-out-loud-laughing-and-holding-your-side-to-keep-it-from-splitting type.

Breaking Bad – Bryan Cranston, the guy who played Malcolm in the Middle’s dad, here plays the greatest meth cook in the world. Oh, the trouble that great methamphetamine cooks get into. The character of the drug kingpin/czar of Mexican fast-food chicken is one of the rally cool bad guys on TV.

Damages – Glenn Close is a super lawyer and is even more nasty than the nasties she played in Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons. Full of twists and turns and the Glenn Close character outsmarting everyone. If someone like her character ever sues you, my advice is to settle right away or she’ll own your underwear.

Desperate Housewives – The craziest neighborhood block in America. Lots of good looking women getting into all kinds of riotous trouble. Suicides and murders and adulteries, all good suburban family fun.

Dexter – It had to be hard to come up with a story line where the audience is cheering for a serial killer to succeed. But Dexter only kills the bad guys so we cheer him on.

Game of Thrones – One of the coolest shows on TV. Very faithful to the Ice and Fire books of George R.R. Martin. Great writing and acting and lots of medieval politicking, and knights in shining armor and of course sword fighting and damsels in distress – and even a few dragons.

Justified – Timothy Oliphant plays a fast-draw U.S. Marshal in backwoods Tennessee. Moonshine and hillbillies and hidden marijuana fields galore. Oliphant and his huge ten-gallon cowboy hat are worth the price of admission.

Mad Men – Probably the best written show on TV. About a New York advertising agency full of smoking, drinking on the job, pointy breasted secretaries, male chauvinism, and pre birth control pill sex. All the stuff we loved about the early 60s.

Modern Family – After hearing that they won the Emmy for best comedy I had to take a look. Best thing I did all week. Hilarious.

Sons of Anarchy – Most motorcycle riders here in Thailand have visions of riding huge Harley Hogs. Watch this show and live out that dream vicariously. It is another show where you root for the bad guys, this time a California motorcycle gang. And Katey Sagal, remember Peg Bundy from Married with Children, is a really hot biker Old Lady.

The Daily Show – The best “Fake News” show on TV. A pretty good “News” show too as this is where the majority of American young people get their “news”. Has won an Emmy for best writing every year it has been on. Jon Stewart’s interviews are the most interesting on television.

True Blood – Loosely based on the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries. Vampires, werewolves, witches, and even some fairies. Anna Paquin won an Oscar when she was a kid for her work in The Piano. She has grown into a super hot Bon Temps, Louisiana, mind-reading “fairy”.  The occasional nude vampire-on-fairy love scene is worth waiting the whole season for. Women seem to love this show, with two good looking vampires, and an unbelievably hot werewolf, but the best looking guy is Sookie’s brother, a regular human being. I love them all and I’m a straight guy.

Honorable Mention: Here are some shows I download on slow weeks: The Simpsons, South Park, 60 Minutes, Glee, National Geographic specials, and Pay Per View sport shows.

Now what is Step 1 in those 12 Step Programs. That’s right, admitting you have no control over your addiction. Well, I got that one down so far. Only 11 more to go.

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Retirement: Here is an interesting article from National Public Radio (NPR) about some thinking on retirement.

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Update: In August I wrote a post titled The Rainy Season Has Arrived. Right at this moment parts of Chiang Mai are under water. The central market and the popular Night Bazaar are flooded as is most of the area on both sides of the Ping River. Our little stream hasn’t overflowed its banks yet but there is no guarantee that it won’t. We are far enough from the river so we are OK, for now. All across the north there is severe flooding. And of course that water has to go somewhere. Nakorn Sawan and Lopburi are getting the river runoffs from the north and are being hit bad.  And what’s down river from there? Bangkok. I just got word that the waters have already reached Bangkok. Please send good thoughts our way.

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Bloomberg.com has a nice article on The Challenges of Retiring Abroad. Making it doubly nice is that they chose to quote yours truly in the article. It is worth a read anyway.

4 Responses to “Keeping Up With Popular Culture While Living in Thailand”

  1. jimmy said

    yah thailand an asia are used to being flooded but this year seems quite bad an so extensive. prayers to Philippines. Most of chiang mai on wrong side of superhighway is a huge klong……

    enjoy comments on TV. will try torrent downloads. thanks.

  2. Gord said

    True/UBC have stopped showing NFL, NCAA, NHL games. They didnt renew their contract with ASN so at the 5 week mark of the NFL season they just dropped it. Shows the mentality here and lack of care for loyal customers who have been paying for the platinum package solely for watching North American sports. Rediculous!

    • I just noticed that. Bummer. I thought they weren’t showing the NFL because they were showing the baseball playoffs. So what I did was to download torrents of NFL games (do a search on “NFL week X”) It turns out that the torrents are in HiDef and crystal clear. So at least there is an alternative. I agree True was really declined in quality – but there is still a lot of soccer. Maybe there are fewer Americans living here and more Europeans. But I did watch the 3rd game of the World Series today.

  3. EJW said

    Thanks for the link to NPR. Reading the comments to that article was scary. Many had planned VERY well for retirement and were still struggling. My main asset is my house and I am doing home improvements now in case I have to sell it. I am considering moving to ChiangMai in retirement, so thank you for your blog. It helps me to get some perspective.

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