For a nation that professes to be tolerant the Thais sure do a lot of complaining. Even though they are not very good at it. Their conciliatory approach – slathered unpalatably with the need to consider status and face above all else – often makes their whinging ineffective. Sometimes downright pointless. It becomes merely hot air – like the ramblings of a thousand Thaivisa “irate netizens”.
Is that the sound of a movie gong being struck? Yes! Yes! Here comes that lean, mean fighting machine for justice striding center-stage like an unstoppable Bruce Lee…… only fatter and whiter and a tad older.
Enter The Farang.
I’ve been living in Thailand since I was knee high to a “takkataen”. Most people who know me – except my wives – would say I am not the archetypal complainer. Laissez-faire I get, even if French left me cold at school. Besides, Thailand has taught me to go with the flow, turn the other cheek and smell the roses, even if they have all shriveled up in the heat.
But like any self respecting journalist I loathe injustice. And there are some things that I just can’t stand chief of which are rip-offs that cost my children their inheritance, dogs and noise. A combination of these is likely to induce a fit of apocalyptic proportions. People are more than welcome to keep dogs. If I go to houses where there are dogs I might even pretend to like them as they rummage around my crotch. Noise is OK in its place – I even went to a concert once and saw Siouxie and The Banshees even though they were terrible. I got a free ticket so it wasn’t a rip-off.
But when dogs, noise and rip-offs disrupt my life – watch out. Which brings me to the point of my Sunday sermon. How to complain in Thailand. I’m not saying I have all the answers. Wouldn’t dream to presume that my method is best. Indeed much of it is based on having a good handle on the Thai language. But I offer the following anecdotes for your consideration safe in the knowledge that I couldn’t give a monkey’s what you think….if you don’t like my tone, complain to the editor.
(These are some of my successes – I’ll leave the ones that failed miserably like getting money out of a big developer for a leaking roof at a new condo).
When it comes to complaining I don’t worry about loss of face – my wrinkles and lack of Nivea have seen to that. Why should one try to avoid all conflict and embarrassment like the Thais? I’ve always been embarrassing if Mrs Rooster is to be believed.
Monday was busy. My Thaivisa editor had just sent me a mountain of translation work. Every story contained the words immigration, raid, arrest, Facebook or Alzheimer’s. It was going to be a long morning in my bedroom-cum-office. Then the yapping began…
Yap, yap, yap followed by YAP YAP YAP!
Then what had previously gone in one ear and out the other came back to me. Mrs Rooster had been all abuzz last week that a very well known Channel 7 soap celebrity was moving in next door for a month or two while another condo in the building was being refurbished. And she had a dog.
Being a celeb the juristic person had never done anything about this lady despite the strict rule about such pets. I’d seen her once cradling the beast (about as small as a chihuahua) in the lift but seeing as it didn’t impact on me, hadn’t pooped on my foot, who was I to complain.
But this yapping was another matter. I couldn’t concentrate on the latest murder of a foreigner. This was a crisis. What strategy to employ…what level of farang to be on this occasion…how many soap opera antics should I employ – it all went whirring in my head as the yapping built to a maddening crescendo.
OK decision time. Call Mrs Rooster. Then overreact. “I’m going next door – where’s that stick in case the hound bounds out and attacks me at the throat and gives me rabies”.
“You’re barking you fool,” no irony intended. “I’m going with you”, said Mrs R.
Not having that – this is a job for irate Farang with a capital “F”. Don’t need any Thai to soften this one. All guns blazing. Rat-a-tat. Thank Buddha, she was out…..the mutt was obviously home alone while celeb was at the refurbishment.
Next stop juristic person office. What’s she doing with a dog, I’ve lived here 15 years, never complained about a thing (not strictly true), either the dog goes or it’s the police (wow, how empty that sounded!). Still the point was made even if everyone was stifling a chuckle as I stormed out of the office saying in Thai: “I’m a celebrity, too, get me outa here…”
Very quickly all noise had ceased and I was able to put the finishing touches to the latest horror road carnage….bliss. A delegation had obviously plucked up the courage to confront celeb. Then I heard two people coming up the stairs (I live in a duplex). It was Mrs Rooster and the celeb who was a very attractive and polite young woman. She looked very scared and had a “perma-wai” fixed to her ample yet conservatively attired bosom.
She listened to my admonishments. Apologized profusely for disturbing me. Said such a terrible thing had never happened to her in her entire life. Begged my forgiveness and promised that Khun Rex would be removed to mum’s mansion forthwith. She clearly was a very good soap actress – though perhaps she had met her match in Rooster after those amateur dramatics.
However stupidly I had made my point and it had worked. My feelings had been clearly expressed. And the result seemed fair. I softened it with – keep a dog in your new room, so long as I don’t see or hear it why should I complain. She countered this with a promise of soundproofing. If and when I meet her again I shall ask if she can get my kids on the soaps….they take after dad.
The area of my condo, despite the building of the Green line extension to Rangsit, is very quiet. A few years ago there was a great deal of noise coming from the roof of a factory…..into the JP office I strode. All the usual dramatics – “yes, everyone’s been complaining today Khun Rooster kha”.
Sod it…this is a job for Rooster Man…..complaining superhero of Ratchayothin. On the bike. Screech to a halt at the factory two blocks away. Bustled past protesting security despite their efforts to stop me. Straight in the manager’s office. Sat down. “Hello, khrap. Noise from your factory is driving me bonkers….”
He listened patiently then walked with me to the foreman’s office to inquire what it was all about. A bracket had come loose on a vent. “We’ll repair it by the weekend”. “Dream on! I’ll have topped myself by the weekend….” (delivered in best nudge nudge wink wink Thai – was this weird farang joking?) Upshot: Repaired by the end of the day.
There have been many other successes down the years. All with that unexpected belligerence, absurd soap-style dramatics, use of Thai language to confuse, divide and rule. Never quite being that annoying farang who just loses his rag. But, importantly never ever trying to be Thai but always appreciating that the Thai is the one on the receiving end.
My little girl’s scooter – a Christmas present bought at Tesco Lotus – was broken by January 2nd. “Sorry, more than one week ago said the lady, no refund” – “get me the manager” said Rooster – he’s busy – no receipt, sorry, sorry…ok give me the address of the owner of Tesco I’m going round (why talk to monkeys when there’s always the organ grinder as my Croydon news editor used to say). Where’s the nearest police station? I work for a news organisation. Where’s my phone and the video button?…..(dramatics and bluff building aplenty). I’ll get the manager….
Result: One new pink scooter, that has lasted this time.
And finally my two year old’s Pre-K school fees. She was yet to start school proper and I was paying by the month. January – despite New Year hols – had 22 days in school. Fine. February had 16 with a couple of smog days off thrown in for good measure. Yet both cost me 10,000 baht. This was a school so I decided to dispense with the dramatics and go for smiles and perseverance as I proceeded up the hierarchy.
In response to my need for a discount the class teacher said “naa ja may day kha”, the year leader “khong may day kha”, to the kindergarten head , and finally to the head of finance “may mee thang kha – what about the other parents”. They’d all turned me down but Rooster was still standing and still smiling and still insisting that 7,000 baht is the highest I’d go.
The head of finance was exceptionally rude and dismissive. So I smiled even more. Now the challenge had set in – honed in 5,000 games of tournament Scrabble all around the world against some of the cleverest people on the planet. They shalt not win. I sat down. “I need to see the owner of the school”. “She doesn’t come here”. I asked for a sheet of paper then much to her horror took about 15 minutes to write a detailed letter – in English as I thought why not – and address it to Khun Owner….
Two days later came the new bill. I smiled again. Yesterday I passed the head of finance in the playground. She ignored me in the nicest possible way…win-win. As I said to the wife, she’s an ugly old bag isn’t she. “Shush….someone will hear you old snake head”.
I often wondered why so many Thais used the English word “complain” when speaking Thai. I know now. The subject is fraught with so much difficulty for the average Thai, so much angst that they’d prefer to use an English word to refer to it. It’s so unpleasant unless like Rooster and the board game that has helped me so much in life…you make a game of it!
Top of the complainers – Rooster excepted – in the past week or so have been the residents of the C-Ekkamai condominium who are furious that the Chinese have been allowed to used their common areas in a most common manner on short term AirBnB and Booking.com rentals.
A raid the other week netted some miscreants and this week Thaivisa revealed that unit owners were still offering their rooms on daily rentals. The residents had formed themselves into a complaining group on Facebook; Thais are always adequately emboldened by the crowd or pack mentality. In their righteous group they had even produced a video of all the Chinese and their bags in lobbies and lifts.
This was more than the odd person – this was a hotel in all but name. When I retired I was one of the first people in Bangkok to offer spare rooms on AirBnB. It started well but I soon tired of inconsiderate foreign guests and Thais who forgot to return their keys. When some people damaged some blinds it was the final straw. Complaints to the company were met with tumbleweed – my success in complaining to the Thais was not replicated with people from my own cultural background.
I had a year long relationship with Booking.com. Some Europeans left the water on in one of my flats causing an inter-floor flood then had the temerity to write a poor review about cleanliness. The company were as useless as AirBnB had been. I abandoned this “nice little earner” then became all ‘holier than thou’ as the Thais started to clamp down and call it all illegal!
Frankly I can completely see why legitimate owners would be upset at tourists using their facilities and cramping their style. Fair play to the Thai authorities for clamping down on it even if the driving force is obviously the hotel trade.
Complaining about Thai Immigration has been one of the features of the year on Thaivisa; this week the focus shifted to a 77 year old US Alzheimer patient whose daughter could no longer afford to keep her in a Chiang Mai care home. The main reason was the requirement to have 800K in the bank. I spoke to the daughter at length but some of her answers left me wondering. Was this woman so naive or was she trying to pull a fast one. There were points during our interview when I wondered if I might not get more sense from mum.
Some posters on the story asked pertinent questions. Believe me I had asked those questions but not got very coherent replies. They were people who had had a web design business but who had absolutely no media savvy whatsoever. Maybe the two are separate.
I decided that the essential element of the tale – the changes to immigration financial rules creating hardship – was a genuine beef. Some curmudgeons on the forum suggested they would never carry through with their threat to leave Thailand. When pictures came of their departure at the airport I was consoled that I had not been taken for a total ride….the daughter piled into the curmudgeons of Thaivisa in a statement the next day.
I felt that at the crux of the matter here was not immigration rules per se but the status of Thailand as a medical and care hub. Surely everything possible should be made to ease the lives of people undergoing operations and long term care. They are bringing money and employment into Thailand. You shouldn’t take with one hand and take more with the other, as the bashers are always telling us the Thais behave.
Complaints about the deplorable state of some of Thailand’s beaches continued this week. Pattaya was for once spared – they just raked over yet more millions of baht of sand like a Bobby Charlton comb-over. Chief miscreant this week was a pipe hidden by the sands at Patong that suddenly started gurgling up black stuff – all caught on video of course and posted on Facebook before the sludge had even reached the sea.
The closure of Maya Bay at Phi Phi has shown that the Thais are prepared to act to help protect and preserve their environment. But so much more needs to be done. The new government needs an Environment Minister and a complete revamp on how it approaches such issues. Without it I fear the country will just stumble from one environmental embarrassment to another with a lack of coordination and a lack of planning marking not just the present but the future until there is nothing left of nature worth visiting. A true golden goose death if ever there was one.
The week had begun with complaints about The Thaivisa faithful from none other than the folks at Thaiger. Their main man Tim Newton – an Australian journalist of some repute – gave us the benefit of his “Top 7 Thai Expat Myths”. It was not an in-depth analysis but he made some coherent and salient points and it wasn’t a bad piece for someone who had only been in the Kingdom seven years – that’s the day before yesterday to us old hands.
The fact that several on the TV forum dismissed all his observations out of hand rather proved his point about the negativity on our beloved platform. It really is time some of the posters here took a long hard look at themselves – even in the mirror if it’s not cracked already.
Mr Newton’s point about the carnage on the roads not affecting everyone was in a sense true but in another way dangerously erroneous. Sure, those who don’t ride motorcycles and who drive defensively in good cars without the aid of Lao Khao have a great chance of seeing the next lottery draw. But the 26,000 who die annually affect us all even if we and our nearest and dearests are not among them. The loss to the nation, to GDP, to humanity is almost incalculable and remains a national disgrace made all the worse by the pathetic attempts to do something effective to rectify the situation.
Prem Tinsulanonda can have few complaints about seeing 98 years in Thailand. The veteran statesman and former PM who died this week was a wily politician who played one faction off against another in a career spanning seven decades. Here and now is neither the place nor time for a critique of the man though I would recommend some background reading on this giant of Thai society. Find some books that are banned as they might give you the best perspective!
One PM who is now history – and perhaps subject to more complaints than any Briton since Charles the First – is Mrs May. Boris Johnson is favorite to replace her but we can take solace from the fact that favorites rarely win such races. One imagines that Thai politicians – who preside over one of the biggest messes made of politics in the world – must think they are doing something right when they compare themselves to the United Kingdom. A seat of democracy, law and constitutional pride has been driven to the depths by the quagmire that is Brexit. Though quicksand might be a better analogy.
Still, the antics of Boris and co – and there is a lot of co in the leadership campaign – should be a fight worth watching. At least as fun as seeing Drumph at the sumo in Tokyo this week. And with BoJo now facing a lawsuit for lying about Brexit there could be some very fruity turns in this saga.
And so to a few Rooster awards. The “No Bell (end) Prize For Literature” goes to Uncle Too for suggesting that his compatriots read Animal Farm. One wonders if he was being serious referring to a novel that states “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”. It fits rather nicely into the Thailand narrative though it could have been even better coming from the chief of the RTP…..weren’t the pigs in charge in Orwell’s classic?
The story also led to my favorite forum comment of the week from “Nikmar” who was one of many posters who pooh-poohed the whole idea that Prayut might have actually read the book. He quipped:
“Maybe he’s confusing it with The Three Little Pigs”.
He certainly likes to huff and puff and blow the house down on occasion.
The “Best Spin (coupled with an ability to use Google) Award” goes to the police chief who defended his underling who kept falling off his motorcycle in Phuket. Those nasty netizens complained he was clearly drunk. But the wily chief said he was suffering from “Meniere’s Disease” or tinnitus and the problem was not oral but inside the ears.
The chief is to be commended for using that stuff BETWEEN his ears in coming up with that one.
Finally the traffic cops in Bangkok have announced the precise locations of cameras they plan to install at 30 intersections to stop motorists and us bikers running red lights. Putting aside the un-likelihood that postal fines will every stop us renewing our licences I would just like to say to the RTP:
Thanks awfully for the heads up.
And I promise not to complain if you do catch me.
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