Amanda's Epistle

The continuing story of my life in Thailand


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Ten Reasons It’s Better In Thailand

I’ve lived in Thailand for eight years now. I would never live in the US ever again. Of course, I’m also married to a Thai citizen…and you couldn’t make him live in the US for a million dollars. He’s been there once and couldn’t stand it.

This is not to say I don’t love my home country. I know it’s a great nation and I salute the flag. My father is a veteran, as was my grandfather, and great-grandfather. It is a great place.

But there are a few reasons Thailand is better. Some may seem frivolous, but others may make you think.

1. Full-service gas stations. When you drive up to a gas station, an attendant comes out and asks how much gas you want. Several others clean your windshield and mirrors while you fill up. They take your money or credit card and bring you your change and receipt. You never have to get out of the car.

If you’re on a motorbike (like a majority of the population), you do have to get off just to get to the gas cap, but the attendant will still pump the gas for you. In fact, it upsets them if you try to do it yourself. There’s an unspoken rule among Thai’s that you never EVER do someone else’s job.

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This phenomenon amazed my mother, who discovered the next great thing about Thailand.

2. Everybody works! We have several conductors on each public bus. Gas stations are full of attendants. Walking markets are full of vendors. Even the disabled will play music at night markets for their living.

There is no welfare here. No free ride. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

3. The family (not the government) is expected to take care of you. This is true for young children, aging parents, and the disabled. My mother-in-law lives with us and does the cooking, cleaning, and provides child care. In exchange, we take care of her in her old age so she doesn’t have to work in the rice fields. Benjamin, our nephew, was abandoned when his mother ran off to marry a guy from Malaysia. We took him in as our own. It is our responsibility to do so.

I am often asked who is taking care of my parents, since I live here. I’m glad I have two sisters, one living at home and another not far from my parents, as I can give a suitable answer. They wouldn’t accept the idea of me leaving my parents to “gasp” fend for themselves.

4. The pharmacy is part of the hospital. I recently talked to my mother, who told me how she had to go to Walmart to fill a prescription because CVS didn’t carry it. My husband was puzzled by this story until I told him, “American hospitals do not have a pharmacy attached. You have to go to a different place to get your medicine.”

He found the idea ridiculous. At every hospital in Thailand, even the poorest and most run-down government hospital, there is a pharmacy counter. After you see the doctor, you wait for the pharmacy to call your name (or your number) and they give you your medicine (although you may have to report to the cashier and pay for it first).

5. There’s no such thing as a “deductible.” When we had my first child, I had to explain to my husband that my insurance company required that I pay a deductible before they would cover my hospital bills. He found this to be as ridiculous as there not being a pharmacy in the hospital.

Thai insurance companies have no deductible requirement. If you go to the hospital, and meet the requirements in your plan, the company will pay your bill. But there is a chance they’ll claim your plan doesn’t cover your hospital stay, so make sure you know what it covers. I don’t have Thai insurance myself as they don’t cover childbirth, as they believe childbirth is always “planned” and does not required insurance coverage. My husband and son have Thai insurance though (as I doubt either one will be giving birth anytime soon).

6. Insurance is not tied to your job. While we’re on the subject of insurance and how it works, I might point out that Thailand has government insurance. But the reason government insurance works is because EMPLOYERS DO NOT PAY FOR IT. Therefore, it has not driven businesses out of the country.

7. Excellent PRIVATE hospitals. Thailand is actually famous for it’s high quality and low cost health care. At least, it’s a lot cheaper than it would be elsewhere.

Special note here. If you are on the government healthcare plan, you can ONLY use a GOVERNMENT hospital. And the government hospitals are run like most other government offices (think the DMV in the US) with long lines, not enough staff, not enough beds, dingy lighting, and dirty floors. The one in Pai doesn’t even provide soap in the bathrooms.

It is the PRIVATE hospitals, i.e. the ones you pay for, that are excellent and high quality. Foreigners and Thais who purchase private insurance are able to use these hospitals. I had one friend who changed from a government hospital to the private one next to it and found it was the exact same doctor. He would serve PAYING patients at the private clinic first and make the others wait in line.

8. No regulations. Thailand is a very laid-back society. You can build on your land without needing a permit. You can open a shop in your yard to sell noodles without a business license. You can burn leaves in your yard without the Homeowners Association sending a nasty letter (although your neighbors are still free to complain about it).

9. You don’t ‘need’ to have a car. My husband was amazed that in my hometown in Kansas, you simply couldn’t get anywhere if you didn’t have a car. A motorbike doesn’t cut it, as we have snow and ice in the winter. But unless you live in a big city, there’s no public transportation. You either have a car, or you’re stuck.

Thai’s mostly use motorbikes. Or else they just walk. And they can walk a pretty long ways to get to the market from the village or from one village to the next. If one person in the village has a truck (like us), it’s not uncommon to take half the village to town on market day.

10. Pre-paid cell phones. Thailand skipped the age of phone lines and went right to cellular. Cell phone towers are a lot easier to put up than phone lines. A basic cell phone is dirt cheap and prepaid, so you don’t get hit with any texting or roaming fees on your bill. When you run out of money, you’re out of money. Refill it at 7-11, as there’s one on every block. They have to keep the service cheap as a cell phone is a MUST HAVE for even the POOREST people in the country.

By the way, the cheap phones often work better and last longer than the fancy expensive ones. Don’t waste your money. Get a cheap and sturdy phone that will actually receive calls and get something else like a tablet if you want to play games or use wifi.

There’s actually a great many other great things about Thailand, but I will leave it at ten for now. Yes, America is great and I miss having hamburgers and chicken fried steak and a house with air conditioning. But Thailand is also a great place to live and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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Songkran versus Betel Nut

Songkran is a Buddhist holiday celebrated in April, which is the hottest time of the year in Southeast Asia. It has some deeper religious meanings, but like our own holidays in the West, it has pretty much become just a big party and an excuse to get drunk.

And throw water on people.

Yes, the way you celebrate Songkran is to stand by the road with a large trash can full of water and a bucket so you can splash people as they go by on motorcycles or in trucks. Folks in the back of trucks will likely be toting around their own water supply and douse you right back. Or else be armed with water guns.

The buckets are a lot worse to get hit with.

This goes on for three days. That’s right. THREE DAYS! Sometimes longer in small towns, as the kids will stand outside their houses with buckets and hoses and spray people for a week. April and May are their summer break from school, so what else do they have to do?

My first Songkran was rather unforgettable. I was in the back of a truck, going on a trip with some of my English students, who DID NOT TELL ME IT WAS SONGKRAN. I was wondering why everyone was ducking all of a sudden.

This caused a lot of problems later, as my passport got wet and I had trouble renewing my visa the following July.

Another Songkran, I was actually living in Chiang Mai, right next to the moat. Yes, Chiang Mai has a moat, which marks the boundary of the old city. And yes, it has water in it. And yes, they use the moat water to throw on people during Songkran. And yes, this causes a lot of health problems.

I had planned to just stay in my room for three days. I even checked out a stack of books from the library and purchased several more from a used bookstore. But I had no air conditioning, it was the hottest season of the year, and I ran out of drinking water.

So I had to venture out and walk down to the corner to buy drinking water, trying very hard not to cuss out the tourists throwing water on me. Oh yeah, most of the people in Chiang Mai throwing water are not the local Thais, but the tourists. For Thai people, the novelty wore off at around age 10.

Now Songkran is approaching again. I plan on staying indoors, or even going to visit the village for three days. They don’t celebrate Songkran in the Lisu villages, as the Lisu are not Buddhists.

The Lisu, in fact, find Songkran just as annoying as I do, as illustrated by the following story from my husband.

An elderly Lisu woman was returning to her village by bus. She climbed on the bus in Chiang Mai, sat by the window, and calmly chewed her betel nut.

Betel nut is a mild narcotic that is commonly chewed by the older generation of villagers in Thailand. It turns their teeth red, and later black, but they actually think black teeth are “healthy.” Chewing betel nut requires periodic spitting, much like chewing tobacco does.

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Now the windows of the bus were wide open, as the public buses only have fans and no air conditioning. Public buses are also popular targets for the people celebrating Songkran, as the passengers are mostly “unarmed.”

Naturally, someone on the street threw a bucket of water at the bus, dousing the poor Lisu woman, who just wanted to get home.

So the Lisu woman takes a long swig of water, swishes it around in her mouth, which you may remember is full of betel nut, and spews it right back at out the window and all over the people on the street.

By the way, Lisu people are very good at spitting.

Apparently, they are also good at revenge.