October 21, 2011
The Great Flood of 2554 continues. I’ve been told that these are the worst floods since before most of us were born, and for me that’s a long, long time ago. As of this writing Bangkok is preparing for the worst. But the Thais seem to be taking it as stoically as possible with the frequently heard quote, usually from some older person standing chest deep in flood waters, “Yes I got it bad. But everyone has it bad. And there are people lots worse off than me.”
This very Thai-like attitude is sometimes view by outsiders as complacency but others see it as the more logical “I’d rather complain about something I could do something about.” The amounts of donations coming in from the public and corporations here and the numbers of selfless volunteering, rescuing of invalids, lifting of sandbags, distributing food and clothes, is the one bright spot in a very overcast and dark situation.
This brings me to one of my pet peeves about living here in Thailand. No. it doesn’t have anything to do with the Thai people, the government, the weather, or the culture. My peeve is about the constant complaining that I hear from the Expats community who live here.
If all you knew about Thailand was what you read in ThaiVisa.com or some of the foreign language newspapers, or what your drinking companion has told you, then you would think that the current government was to blame for the floods. Another group wants to blame the former government. The blame game may have its time but now is probably not it.
Hey, I was sitting here in Chiang Mai when it poured down rain for weeks in a row. That water had to go somewhere and I don’t think that it was the current Prime Minister’s fault that it traveled south towards central Thailand and the Capital. I think gravity might have had something to do with it.
What about the earthen dikes and flood prevention systems that seem to be less than adequate, or deforestation, or the filling in of dams, or corruption? That was probably someone’s fault. Well, the current Prime Minister has been in office for only a few months. I don’t think she had anything to do with building the flood prevention systems or cutting down any trees. Let’s look into those things after the waters recede.
And anyway, how many Third World countries are prepared for a 100 year flood like this one? By definition, this situation isn’t something you see every day. This year there have been terrible floods in Pakistan, South America, and the United States, and even they weren’t as prepared as they would like to have been. Floods happen and Water will go where Water wants to go.
But the Expat complaints go on. “It’s the Red Shirts’ fault.”, “It’s the Yellow Shirts’ fault.”, “The Prime Minister is incompetent.”, “The Government is corrupt.” and the really fun one is “Taksin, the former Prime Minister ousted by a military coup, is to blame.” But when asked the question, “What would you do differently?” there is complete silence.
If you would like to see what I am talking about when I say “complaining” then check out the comments from the latest news story from ThaiVisa. I find it interesting that most Expat commentators seem to be against the current elected government and in favor of the one put in place by the military coup.
I have been following the flood stories on Thai TV and in Thai newspapers and interestingly enough, I haven’t heard them playing the blame game. The stories are about the suffering of the people, and the heroics of those trying to help. The Prime Minister had asked that partisan politics be put aside during these times. Unfortunately, many Expats cannot understand the Prime Minister or the Thai TV news so they haven’t gotten the message and continue looking for someone to blame.
Sadly, complaining is not that unusual for many Expats living here.
I find that there are basically two types of Expats living here in Thailand. There are those who feel that luck, or Karma, has been on their side to have allowed them the opportunity and good fortune to live in a place as hospitable, beautiful, and comfortable as Thailand. I myself love my home country of the United States, but Thailand has become my second home and probably the one where I will spend my final days. There are things I love about living here and lots of things I would want changed. But complaining about my life here is way down on my list of activities that I want to spend my retired years doing.
But there are others who don’t seem to mind spending what time they have left on this planet complaining about it. The complaints heard here in Thailand run the gamut from “The beer is too expensive”, to “All Thais are stupid corrupt people.”, to “Someone is always trying to rip me off.”, to “They just can’t understand my English.” All these complaints I have heard in the last few weeks.
The latest complaint I read was “The Prime Minister is so incompetent that she cried at her last news conference.” Hey, I was crying too. These floods are something to cry about.
Now I am no Pollyanna. There are lots of things I would change. I wish that the sticky rice and mango season were all year-round, and that the hot season wasn’t so hot, and that the cool season lasted longer, and that the rivers didn’t overflow, and that I wasn’t as old as dirt. But I figure that unless my complaining about it will change things and make them better, it’s better to enjoy what Thailand has and hope for the best. Maybe they will genetically modify those mangoes so I could eat them with sticky rice all year long.
For those wishing to contribute to Thai flood relief
If you are living outside of Thailand then contributions will be taken at any Thai consulate.
Inside Thailand you can contribute to the government relief program at any branch of the Krung Thai Bank. Most other banks also have relief programs, as do a number of TV stations.
If you would like to help care for the thousands of stranded dogs and other pets (this happened with Katrina too) you can give to
Kasikorn Bank, Branch Siam Square, Account Number: 026-2-25004-2
Bangkok Bank, Siam Square Branch, Account Number: 152-4-72740-9
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.
Retirement: Here is an interesting article from National Public Radio (NPR) about some thinking on retirement.
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.
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.