Posts Tagged ‘living in bangkok’

When I first started traveling there were only seats in travel agents offices, telex machines, long distance trunk call boxes located in a cities largest central post offices, no tourist hotels, guest houses or hostels to speak of, and no guide books. In the decades since there has been the introduction of an avalanche of disruptor technologies like cellular smart phones, email, the internet, Face Book, Instagram and GPS location, and lets not forget the backpacker guide book industry that lists every aspect of what another set of travelers has seen a thousand times before you, etc etc etc. When none of these things existed, travel was difficult, arduous, painful, scary, exciting as hell, dangerous. The world has become a much easier place to travel.

Since all of the things I just listed are taken for granted we seldom talk of their existence, unless you’re unlucky enough to be with a old school traveler like myself. I make traveling historically sound like I rode around on the back of a dinosaur. But, I try to adapt, even though I sometimes catch myself grousing over the numbers of tourists and the negative effects I see are the result of mass tourism on once pristine gems.

There are things I love about the latest disruptor technologies and systems that have evolved to make the travel life so much less hassle than it used to be. A few of these ‘agents of change’ have been very useful to me recently. I’ll focus on Grab Car, Grab Taxi, Uber and Air B&B. Let me start with the fantastic new car transport services that were in the past a horror for travelers to use. Everyone, of a certain age, has horror stories about how a local taxi driver ripped them off somehow. They were taken on long winding freeway drives, past seafood restaurants, tailor shops, jewellery stores…or just sat in angst and horror as the meter ran up while the cabbies drove around in circles for a hour or more. This was a particular problem for us and our friends in Bangkok, where the cab drivers are notorious for gouging everyone, but especially the tourist.

Grab Car, the latest entrant into the transportation space is eating the cabbies lunch, and deservedly so. With a free download of their app, you can call a car to your location, usually have it arrive within minutes, pay a pre-set price for a predetermined distance, and be driven by a driver who has no financial motivation to drive you around in circles as there is no meter. The cars are driven by local persons who use the service to earn extra money.

In Bangkok it has become fashionable for young people to drive the family cars and collect passengers. The cars are new, they use GPS to determine the shortest distance, and practice their English with a smile. I haven’t had a bad experience to date. Nor has anyone we know who are piling into this service to avoid the dreaded Bangkok Cabbie. And just so you know, only fools and drunks use the Tuk Tuk. You’re just asking for trouble if you do.

Grab Car is different from Grab Taxi in that they are private cars as opposed to Grab Taxi who are still Taxi Drivers linked into a reservation system. Grab Taxi is still a taxi service and there is a financial incentive not to avoid the worst traffic areas, so be forewarned. Uber works in a similar fashion except there is no cash exchanged and everything is paid by Visa in advance. But…there is still a KM charge. So far Grab Car has worked the best for me.

Renting a condo in Bangkok used to be a horror show. It’s got easier than the bottleneck that existed between property managers and real estate agents who controlled the exchange between owners and renters. At first renters were obliged to use a word of mouth system of small ads in travel offices and on the outer doors of favorite cafe’s. When the internet arrived and large numbers of travelers arrived wanting to stay for the entire duration of the validity of their visa, property managers and other professional sharks and hucksters saw an opportunity and seized it. Agents and property managers used internet sites and began to control large numbers of rental offerings and used this power to increase rents in popular areas and introduce hefty ‘security deposits’.

How the ‘security deposit scam’ begins is when the agent/property manager demands a ‘first month, last month..and security deposit’ to move into a rental property. The longer the lease period the agent can entice you to sign up for determines the amount of commission they take home. So be wary of agents who’ll tell you that there is a ‘set period of time’…ie: six months, one year ( now common) or two years. It’s the latter demand they use when they think you’re a complete idiot ready to be carved up.

My personal experience and the anecdotal evidence I hear from friends and fellow travelers is that the agents and property managers have been making it impossible to return your ‘security deposit’, instead they have been pocketing the amount, after telling you to wait for the last day before your departure, that something has gone wrong with your transaction and the deposit is being held back. The excuses I’ve heard and that other have told me about are legion. Here’s a few…”The owner went to China and took the money”….”The owner had a family emergency and has gone back to their village”….”We found ants behind your cabinets and you must have brought them in with your books”. Or…as my friend Hiroku has told me after going back to the property manager every month, “It’s coming”….. but it never does.

This is why I now only use Air B&B to rent my condo in Bangkok today. I am able to meet the owner. The condo is ideally located in a new building purpose built for this type of investment. I am able to inspect the condo if I like before occupying. The transaction is paid through Air B&B , there is no money in someone elses hands for me to have to chase down if something goes wrong. And as it is a VISA payment they will act as the final insurer of services rendered and return my money in the event of any scam. I am finding the Air B&B offering is proving to be a fantastic ‘disruptor agent’ to the traditional condo rental market. I do not have to pay three months rent up front…..nothing up front in most cases…unless specified.

I can rent the Air B& accommodation for days or months, whatever I choose to work out with the owner, but pay the same, without the ‘last month and security deposit BS. My Air B&B host will have provided me with a full suite of conveniences, much like a hotel service. I enter a condo full of all the towels, sheets, pillows, dishes, glasses, TV cable, wireless internet connection, …unlike in the old condo rental days, where landlords provided nothing but bare walls.

A great thing about #Air B&B for me is that I’m free to come and go as I please. I can leave for a trip to the southern islands or northern mountains and leave my contract by paying for the time used, and then come back and rent all over again without having to pay for time I’m not in the condo as you would have had to do under the old scheme. I’m finding that #Air B&B offerings are straight up competitive with traditional rentals, dollar for dollar, on a monthly/daily basis. And this is why I think that #Air B&B will eat the traditional rental agents lunch and throw them on the trash heap of history before long.

I believe that just as guide books and the internet replaced the travel agent and tour guide, and smart phones replaced the long distance call box and telex machine that these new entrants into the travel market, like Air B&B and Grab Car will replace the outmoded rental agents and taxi system, and none too soon in my humble opinion. The old guard deserve to have their lunch eaten by companies and technologies offering better, more efficient and honest service to the traveling public.

the people have spoken

the people have spoken

Living in Thailand and visiting as a tourist are two completely different experiences. Culture shock is a very real issue for people from the west who come to live in Thailand. Many people are fooled by the postcard modernity of Thailand when they visit as tourists. When they use that delusion to base their decision to move here for work or retirement, only to find that the fiction and the reality are worlds apart, some of these people freak out. Anyone who comes to Thailand expecting constant efficiency, fluidity, similarity, consistency, workability, on time, on budget… total honesty, return policies, generosity or fair treatment …or the rule of law…( hahahahahaha on the last one) or any other western concept are in for a surprise.

Thailand has adopted western features without developing any supporting western infrastructure to support them. What drives many westerners crazy is that the modern facade of Thailand makes it appear like everything is going to function properly….except it doesn’t. Everything from going to the bathroom to banking, to meal times and transporting yourself around the city are skewed in such a way to vary ones habitual understanding ever so slightly…and every once in a while you’ll see an unbalanced foreigner standing on a street corner , a bank, a post office line or restaurant screaming because they’ve let the frustrations get to them. At the other extreme you have foreigners who try to overcompensate by becoming overtly Thai in dress and mannerisms….and appear as if they’ve had a psychotic episode when the pajama pants are out of place and ritualized gestures are used incorrectly.

Carl Jung called this effect of an third world culture on the psyche of a western individual ‘Tropo’. It’s more or less describing what happens when the white man goes crazy in the jungle. Firstly…Thailand is not a modern country…it is not a modern society. Thais have adopted a western appearance in the span of one generation, they do not understand half the things they import…but they love anything western or modern…because it’s western, even if it’s spelled wrong or has no useful application in Thailand…..like furry parka’s worn only in the mall. Thai’s want to look progressive..but they are more conservative than you can imagine.

Thai’s are not a modern people, they are a tribal society dependent on a traditional hierarchy to guide their every move. Thai’s don’t think independently…nor do they want to. The Thai’s revolving door experiment with democracy should give you an insight into Thai’s appreciation of what democracy entails. Democracy is western..ergo it’s modern…. so Thai’s adopt it…and spell it wrong..but when it comes to ‘one man one vote’…no way! Secondly..remember that you are a ‘farang’…a foreigner and Thai’s have been taught by example to treat you with disdain.

Mistreating foreigners is a national past time. It makes the Thai’s feel better about themselves because they have a huge self image issue with low self esteem. It’s also because they perceive westerners as having wealth…while they are ‘poor’…that the west is modern..while they are third world bumpkins…which is hogwash. This drives westerners really crazy…it’s the basic dishonesty of all Thai-Foreigner relationships on every level. Thailand..aka..The Land of Smiles….is also the duplicity and backstabbing capital of the world.

Usually people who don’t like you will tell you so or simply not deal with you….not so the Thai. They will lie to your face as long as they think they can take you for something..even to the point of granting sexual favors…which Thai’s view as no more significant than blowing their noses.. Thai’s smiling…is always phony…and while attempting to take whatever they can from you with guile….they smile. Thais learn from example to overcharge and mistreat foreigners.The government overcharges foreign guest as much as two and three times the going rate for every service and fee. The Thai see this and emulate the governments own actions. We call it ‘getting ripped off’. Farang is a word used to show contempt by the way…not a nice thing.

If you come here, remember why you came here. You come here to get away from where you came from. In the west the predictability and boredom is what drives people into cascading fits of depression. You come to Thailand to experience a lively chaotic atmosphere…don’t confuse the two. You can’t let the Thai way get you down. Instead accept Thailand as if it were a night at the circus….with lot’s of thrills and spills….but don’t take it seriously. Smile at the unexpected…laugh at the many surprises, disappointments and misdirection. Thailand is a gong show…enjoy it. Don’t come to the circus if you don’t like clowns. IMG_0076-Optimized

Last nights cathartic blowout was hard on people in Bangkok. Today is ‘the day after’ and I have seldom seen or heard the city in such a state of quiet. In the frenzied minutes rising towards midnight Bangkok became a carnival and a cacophony. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced an Asian New Year can imagine the ritual.

Just some background. Bangkok is a metropolis more than it is a city. It became a city. It was never designed to be a city. Bangkok is thousands of little villages that grew together over many hundreds of years. Each of these villages has a distinctiveness to it that escapes most foreign travelers. Families intermarry and stay within the confines of their traditional social group for generations. Events are organized around the community, by the community, with little input from the greater national or regional governments. Bangkokians are not the rugged individualists you might find in the United States.

The events that took place last night were the exact opposite of what one would expect in the west. Instead of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people crowding into a small area…like Time Square or Sydney Bridge, having taken public transit, and promised not to smoke or drink, while standing like docile little robots to watch a prearranged and choreographed fireworks display…Bangkok went wild in a distinctly disorganized way.

In the minutes before midnight, against a backdrop of constant sonorous chantings being broadcast from loudspeakers out of the many temples in the area, the sky erupted like a scattering of fireflies shaken off the branches of a banyan tree. The thousands of villages that make up the metropolitan area sent up thousands of individual fireworks and rockets into the air. It looked like the entire city had caught fire in the most brilliant way. The landscape was literally writhing with coloured flame and bursts of light. How fantastic, the spontaneity and chaos was majestic…like sparks and embers from a crackling fire flying dangerously into the sky.

There was no grand organized scheme, only the joy of twelve million people celebrating the coming of a new year. From the balcony of my hi-rise condo in East Bangkok I had a brilliant 270 degree view of a fairytale land landscape that could only be seen by someone who shared my vantage point. People on the ground could not have known how their thousands of small displays would merge into something so fantastic with the larger community.

There is a magical symbiosis when people join together without knowing they’re doing so, creating an uncommon beauty that few will share, but do so anyway in a spontaneous expression of national pride. Just freaking amazing people. One of the worlds unappreciated ‘wonders of the world’. I don’t have a bucket list of famous places to visit before I die. This is one of the most amazing sights on Earth to witness….if only because it’s so secretive, under appreciated by the common tourist and exists to be seen for only a few minutes a year.

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The worst has happened. Our property managers have drained our swimming pool. This is a disaster !! No not really. We just have to find another pool somewhere in the neighborhood. I had to bus around today looking…and found quite a few that are either frog ponds or not as advertised…the search continues.

I should have seen this coming…they’ve been talking about resurfacing the pool for five years. In Thailand…it’s common to hear of great plans afoot…while very little ever gets done. In honesty the pool does need a few new tiles.

Of course they didn’t tell us because we’re renting and all the strata minutes are posted in Thai. It’s a hell of a thing to wake up and find you daily ritual has changed. Like I alluded to..plenty of pools around, while ours is out of commission for 6 to 8 weeks…..bummer. Or have I gotten so lazy I can’t even travel around my own area….some of that for sure.

BTW…wrong about the silent ninja Gecko’s…they’ve started to sing.

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Our little perch in Bangkok is surrounded by a wide green space. I can smell the Gulf of Thailand on the morning breeze. The rising sun resembles an expanding supernova. Bird song and Soi Dogs are the melody of this neighborhood. 7 AM and already 90 degrees F. I hung our towels out last night and they haven’t dried. Humidity during this late monsoon month is well over 100%. What a shock to have transitioned so completely from Dallas in such a short time. We were away two years and it feels like we never left. This is the anniversary of my 40th year of coming to Thailand.

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