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Thursday, December 14, 2006


Girls can do anything, but in Thailand...

When Nee graduated from her local high school in north-east Thailand a few years ago she looked at the options that were available to her. She felt drawn to the opportunity to study Mass Communications at Mahasarakham University. Her family supported this choice. Her parents were concerned for their youngest daughter. Some of the other options would have required her to go to Bangkok. At least Mahasarakham was in the region. They could keep an eye on her. She could return home often.

Nee loved her course. Most university courses in Thailand are about taking in knowledge and showing you have learned as required. Mass Communications enabled Nee to use her creative talents. She particularly enjoyed subjects such as photography, creative media production, broadcasting production and performing arts media production.

During the last year of the course Nee was given a work experience placement with a TV broadcaster. During this time she wrote scripts for the station newsreaders. This was an important job. She had to get it right. Apparently she handled this quite well.

Earlier this year, Nee graduated from her course and along with her fellow students applied for jobs in the industry. Not everyone got the job they wanted. I know, for example, that one of her fellow students is now working in a bank call centre. Apparently she's happy but I wonder how many of the mass communication skills she studied are being applied.

Nee was more fortunate. She got a job with a company that produces TV shows for broadcast through closed circuit television on university campuses. She is part of a team of two who produce a student lifestyle program.

Nee's job title is 'editor' however her job embraces much more than that. She comes up with the ideas, writes the scripts, lugs the video camera and tripod alone from one university campus to another, films the story and edits the film. In other words she does pretty much everything. Her job requires her to work long hours, six days a week. And because she has little experience her pay rate is pretty low. She's living in Bangkok which is not the cheapest place to live in Thailand.

Nee is able to reconcile these difficulties with the fact that she is gaining broad experience in the industry of her choice. She works hard. She has little time for fun in her life but she has made a good start in her career.

If Nee lived in a Western country perhaps her parents would be proud of the achievements their daughter has made in getting such a start in life. Sadly, this is not the case for Nee.

In Thai tradition daughters continue to live with, or at least close to, their parents. It is quite common for husbands to move in with the wife's famiy. As the parents get older the daughter is expected to look after the parents. This applies even more so for the youngest daughter.

But there are no mass communication jobs available in the family's village or even close by. The opportunities for Nee are in big cities such as Bangkok. No one in the family lives in Bangkok. They have little knowledge of it. They fear it is a dangerous place for a young woman.

They phone Nee regularly and tell her they want her to return home and apply for a safe government or teaching job like her older sisters. They are concerned for her wellbeing.

Nee has no interest in doing this. She is working in the industry that she loves. She considers herself to have an exciting future. She doesn't want to give all this away for the perception of security and status that can be found in a government job in the local district. So her family tell her she's on her own and if she has problems don't expect any help from them.

They still care for her. They ring her regularly but mainly to nag her about coming home.

Nee has no family and few friends in Bangkok. Her life is hard. Some days she thinks about returning. But so far she's maintained her commitment to her chosen career. Can she keep this up? I hope so.


Nee's story is not uncommon in Thailand and Asia in general. Family traditions are very strong throughout Asia. The family exert a huge influence on the lives of individual members. Perhaps most give in. I have friends elsewhere in Asia, both male and female, who are virtually waiting for their parents to die so they can live a life of their own choosing.


Before posting this blog I showed it to a female friend in Bangkok. She pointed out that stories such as Nee's are not so common today as in the past. I think perhaps my friend is right as far as Bangkok is concerned. However I don't think this is the case in country areas. When I interviewed my students at Mahasarakham University, I often asked them what they wanted to do after they graduated. Many of the boys were ambitious but most of the girls said something like I'll return to my village to teach or to look after my parents.

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Monday, December 11, 2006


Happy Constitution Day

Today is a public holiday in Thailand. Last night I asked a friend what the holiday celebrated. My friend said 'Constitution Day'. We agreed that this was ironic as there is currently no constitution in Thailand.

Maybe Thai people could celebrate the fact that a new constitution is being written that hopefully will prevent future prime ministers from ripping off the country.

I'm never sure about Thai holidays. If I ask two different Thais, often I get two different answers. I decided to search the internet and found the following information.

Constitution Day, December 10 (guess the holiday was officially yesterday), commemorates the advent of the regime of constitutional monarchy. This came about on June 24, 1932. Previously
Thailand was ruled by absolute monarchy. Not sure why it's celebrated in December when it happened in June but this is Thailand, I often don't understand the way things are done here.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006


Getting the sound right

Or perhaps the alternate title should be 'Keeping the wrong sound out'.

I have been motivated to buy better headphones to use with my computer and/or iPod because of the overloud pubic broadcasts that I wrote about here often while in Cambodia. In fact I was motivated to buy the iPod in the first place as a way of protecting myself from that unwanted noise.

When you buy an iPod you get small earphones with it. They are not too bad but they don't keep out all the noise and they tend to fall out easily. I bought a cheap set of headphones in Phnom Penh to get around these problems and to a point they worked.

I have found that if I listen to gentle music of my choice I can fall asleep. I find it difficult to sleep through loud music that I find unpleasant. The headphones or earphones don't block out all the loud music but they take the edge off it and the music of my choice gives me something more pleasant to concentrate on. My desire is to find a set of phones that cut out more of the external noise.

I have searched reviews on the net to see what better models are available. As a traveller I wasn't interested in anything bulky or heavy. I was drawn to the Shure series of earphones starting with the E2c at about $US100 through to the E5c at around $US500.

$500 is way to much for me to pay for earphones but I would consider paying $100 if they do the job I want. However, I could not find Shure, or any of the other brands I had considered, in Cambodia.

I decided to see what I could find in Thailand, then I would have them for when I return to Cambodia or encounter a similar situation elsewhere. In Bangkok and several of the larger Thai cities there are IT Malls where most of the shops are devoted to technology products. Yesterday I headed to my favourite IT Mall.

This centre has five floors with perhaps 100 shops on each floor. It takes a day to search them all thoroughly. There were one or two other things I was looking for but this was my first priority.

Early in the day I found a shop with iPod accessories that sold ibuds. These are pieces of soft plastic that fit over the iPod earphones and provide a plastic extension that goes further into the ear. This is a similar principle to the way the Shure earphones work. But reviewers were impressed by the Shure sound so I wanted to buy them if I could. I spent the day going from store to store and from floor to floor. Eventually I gave up. I decided to go back and buy the ibuds. Perhaps they would do until I get to Singapore, maybe next year. I might find Shure products there.

Heading back to the iPod accessory store, I stopped at one of the shops I'd investigated before. They had some interesting items in a glass case at the front. I looked more closely and realized that I was looking at the Shure E2c. The name wasn't in large letters. It was easy to miss.

A sales assistant came out and told me they had no stock. This was their demo. He didn't know when they would have more stock. 'Can I look at it?' I asked.

He got it out and I could see what was in the pack. There was the basic earphones and a little pack of accessories. I knew from the reviews that these accessories were to block the external noise. Then he offered to sell me the demo.

'Has this been in people's ears?' I asked.

'Yes,' he answered. I asked him this twice and both times he said 'yes' but sometimes when people are talking in a language that is not their own they say 'yes' when they haven't properly understood the question. In any case, I figured I could wash the buds to be safe. I was getting desperate. I hadn't seen another in a day of searching.

Their list price was 3,900 baht which, on current exchange rates, is over $US100. He offered it to me for 3,500 baht, just under $100. I pointed out that they were advertised on ebay for between $60 and $100 brand new in the States. I didn't want to pay so much for a demo. But I figured I would rather have one in my hands. I offered him 3,000 baht. He talked to his boss who approved.

Then he asked if I would like to try it out. Obviously it has been in people's ears, I thought. I was reluctant to put it in mine without washing the buds but I decided I would prefer to hear what I was getting for my money—still more than $100 in Australian money.

He connected it to an iPod and we put the buds in my ears. As the review said it made it seem like the sound was coming from right inside my head. But I thought the sound was a bit tinny. I tried another song. It was still tinny to my ears. Was this the earphones or is this just showing that on good earphones modern pop is in fact tinny? Also, while the reviewers said the volume could be turned right down low, I found it necessary to turn it up. I usually play my iPod with the bar about half way across. I needed to turn this up to about 75% to hear it well. Furthermore, it was not blocking out much of the external noise. Sure I wasn't using the additional noise blocking accessories but I would expect it to be better than this without them. I decided I did not want to invest $100 in something that was little better, if any, than the earphones that came with the iPod. I declined to buy them.

I went back to the store with the ibuds. When you look at what you get physically, they too are overpriced. I mean—six small pieces of moulded soft plastic, made in China. They must be made for a few cents. At a selling price of 200 baht (about $A8), someone is making a big profit.

On the other hand, this morning I put them on my iPod earphones which I connected to my computer. The smallest size bud is fine for my ears. They fit right inside and as the review said for the Shure earphones the sound seems to be coming from inside my head. Also, as the Shure review said, I need to turn the volume right down. They don't block out all the external noise. I still hear a dog bark and a mobile vendor's attention-getting noise. But from my test, I'm not sure the Shure ones would do any better. Also when I move about or shake my head, the earphones no longer fall out. Compared to $100 for the Shures, perhaps $8 for these ibuds is a bargain.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Changing strays in suburban Bangkok

I recently returned to Bangkok after a year away. What I noticed last time was there were far fewer stay dogs in the suburbs—at least near where I was staying. I was told that the government had rounded them up and created a home for them somewhere—not sure on the details, it was just hearsay. But there were certainly fewer strays.

On this visit I notice a couple of things. There are more strays again and the variety has changed. Previously the strays were usually unhealthy looking bitzers. They're still here but there are also two kinds of dogs that are popular with Bangkok dog owners, perhaps because of increasing prosperity in Thailand. First is the fluffy white ones and second is the larger aggressive ones.

The older strays were never aggressive. But now watch dogs are common. I'm often barked at when walking past the gate of a big house with a high wall. The other night a group of dogs were sleeping outside a block of home units. I disturbed them by walking past. One was quite aggressive. It followed me and snapped at my bum, but just missed. Usually I ignore aggressive dogs but with this one I stopped and stared at it. It backed off.

The point I'm making is that unless Thailand has an education program for dog owners, the stray problem will never go away.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Speaking the language

When I first returned to Thailand my head was full of Khmer. I would try to communicate in Thai but when I opened my mouth what came out was often a mixture of Thai, English and Khmer—all in one sentence. I had to start getting my brain to think in Thai again.

The first night I was here I went to the local market. On the way I was running numbers through my head. 'Nung, sorng, sahm...' I was OK up to nine but somehow I could not remember the word for ten which meant I was also stuck for all numbers from 11 to 19. After a little while I remembered yii-sip for 20. Thirty-plus was easy. Sahm-sip, sii-sip, etc are almost the same as Khmer but the units are the Thai ones, not moi, pii, bai.

It's one thing to think it through like that but when speaking spontaneously, that's not always what comes out. Slowly, as I listen to people around me Thai is returning to my brain. I hear a word and think, 'Yeah, that means...' And now, after two weeks back here, when people speak to me in Thai, I usually answer in Thai. I'm not saying I'm fluent. I never was. But the Thai words are coming to me—most of the time.

Still, when I need to say 'thank you', I find that 'orkun' often slips out instead of 'kob kun'.

I know there are people who speak fluently in many languages. I wonder if they ever have problems like this when switching from one to another.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Celebrating the orchids

There were many things I enjoyed in Cambodia. But one thing I missed was flowers.

It is not that you don't see any flowers in Cambodia but considering it is right next to Thailand and has a very similar climate it is surprising how few flowers there are compared to Thailand. I was lucky that Sarun, my landlord, enjoyed keeping a garden. There were always some plants in flower in my yard. But generally in Cambodia flowers are not all that common. And I can't remember ever seeing an orchid.

Now I am back in Thailand and there are orchids everywhere—all different shapes, sizes and colours. One day, in Mahasarakham, I went to lunch with a friend. After lunch Jonlee was dropping me off at the university to visit some other friends. She pulled in at a roadside stall to buy an orchid plant as a housewarming gift. I was so impressed by the range and variety of orchids on this one stall that I returned to photograph them after my visit to the university.

Since then I have continued to photograph Thai orchids and other flowers in my travels. Many have been added already to my flora page (see sidebar) and I will continue to add more. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Festival in Mahasarakham—and the noise...

My friend told me that I was lucky, my visit to Mahasarakham coincided with the Chinese opera festival. There would be performances each night for a week.

If you've been following my blog you know that my tolerance of noisy festivals is low after my time in Cambodia. I suspect that I might have heard just a little too much Chinese opera as well as other types of music broadcast very loudly and usually distorted.

One night I passed the festival site and saw that there were many street stalls. This I always enjoy, so I decided to check it out. The festival predominantly consisted of stalls in the street. There was a stage, where they were singing Mowlam, the music of north-east Thailand, not Chinese opera. While Mowlam may not be my favourite music, it certainly wasn't loud. And most of the action was in the street.

I enjoy the challenge of capturing the atmosphere of such festivals in my photos. A technique I use for candid shots of night markets and festivals is to wear my camera around my neck, the flash off, a small tripod attached, not for the camera to stand on but for me to hold it steady. I have a remote in my left hand. I stand still and click the remote without looking at the LCD or viewfinder. Such shots are always a little blurred. I'm trying to capture the atmosphere, not the detail. Usually the subject is not aware of the photo being taken so they don't pose. Thais don't usually object to being photographed but they love to pose.

I enjoyed the festival and returned several times.

More of my festival photos can be found on my photo page.


On the subject of noise, so far, since returning to Thailand, I have only once been subjected to noise that was too loud to be comfortable. This was on the bus trip to Khon Kaen. They insist on showing a movie. It was a Hollywood action movie dubbed in Thai. I dislike action movies and I dislike movies dubbed in Thai. I suspect that the studios that do this dubbing have only about four actors to provide all the voices. And you get the same voices every movie. While you don't have to watch it, the audio can not be avoided. Efficient speakers are mounted at regular intervals throughout the bus. I think I need to start a campaign to provide headphones. I have acquired earplugs since arriving in Bangkok. They were sent from Australia. I could not find any in Cambodia and one of my friends in Bangkok said he'd not seen them here either. They were about five percent effective. Most of the noise would not be blocked. Fortunately, after that movie finished they did not show another and the rest of the journey was peaceful.


Friday, December 01, 2006


Connection with Sita

One of my friends who teaches at Mahasarakham University has a home in Khon Kaen. She suggested that if I caught a bus to Khon Kaen she would take me the rest of the way to Mahasarakham.

It sounded like a reasonable offer and I had no deadlines so I decided to go with it. What I didn't know was that her husband is an army officer and they had booked me into accommodation at the army camp.

I guess an army camp is the last place you would expect me to be looking for accommodation but it turned out to be an interesting visit.

You may be aware that I have an interest in Cambodian history and the Pol Pot era. I am interested in anything that helps me understand the way the human mind works. So the fact that Pol Pot fathered a daughter in his later years interests me.

I discovered that my friend's husband, Met, had worked in Cambodia for seven years during the 90s. His job was to liaise with the armies of the three Cambodian factions working towards democracy.

During that time Pol Pot died. Met was responsible for leading a press photographer to the Khmer Rouge hideout in the mountains behind Anlong Ven near the Thai border. The photograph of the dead man that resulted was published worldwide.

I asked him if he saw the daughter, Sita. He said he had and that he thought she was very strong. People were filing in to pay their last respects to her dead father. Met never once observed her crying.

He is an interesting guy. I'm glad I took that detour and had the opportunity to meet Met.

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