Category Archives: Magnifying Glass

The doctor prince of Thailand

The reason for the quick follow-up is that today is… Mahidol’s Day! I doubt that many are aware of this, as even in Thailand it’s not a nationally celebrated holiday. He is remembered only by those in the field of medical and health-related sciences. Nevertheless, I’d like to introduce to you the life story of this important royal figure, one whose deeds impressed me the most.

Prince Mahidol Adulyadej – does that last name sound familiar? Mahidol Although he never became king, he gave not one, but two kings to the Thai nation. He was the father of the late Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), and the current monarch HRH King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). Prince Mahidol is also regarded as the father of modern medicine and public health in Thailand. You’ll see why, if you read his fascinating life story.

Royal Heritage
Prince Mahidol was born in 1892, first day of the year. He was the 69th child of the famous King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). He started his education in the Grand Palace, along with his half-brothers and sisters. Here he got the title “Prince of Songkla”.

In the Farang Military
He continued his studies in England at Harrow for one and a half years, then started a military career in Germany, thanks to the close relations of his Royal father with the Emperor William II. He was transferred from Potsdam to Berlin, on the orders of his Royal brother, Rama VI.

In 1914, when the first World War broke out, Prince Mahidol was ordered back from Germany, because Thailand declared neutrality at that time. (A side note: he gave the Germans a submarine design, for which he won a competition).

Back home, the Prince of Songkla was assinged a teaching post at the Royal Thai Navy. Here he continued designing small miliatry vessels: submarines and torpedo boats, which led to a conflict in a meeting: he was overruled by british-educated military seniors. He resigned from the Navy after only nine months of joining, giving the reason that his expertise would never be put to use there. No one knew that this was a turning point of national proportion…

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Forbidden acts 1: the Farang criminal

Why is it that so many Farang become habitual law-breakers in Thailand? Buying pirated goods and whore-mongering are only the most common examples, but wait. The most notorious Farang miscerants are deliberately acting against a Royal Decree! These ruffians pose such a threat to the nation, that they could be punished by 5 years of imprisonment and/or 100,000 Bt fine.

Browsing the Net, I compiled a small, non-inclusive list of the type of shady Farang characters that every decent, law-abiding person should stay clear of, and report the outlaw immediately to the appropriate authorities.

Watch out for Farang who try to work in Thailand in the following professions:

  • ice-cream making
  • rice farming
  • dress making
  • barber, beautician
  • manual cigarette rolling
  • hand weaving
  • shoe and hat making
  • dynamiting rocks
  • match making

These are just a few examples on a lenghty list filed under the Alien Business Law. A 1973 Royal decree came up with the list of 39 occupations forbidden to foreigners (oops, I mean, erm… Aliens) in Thailand. This list hasn’t been revised since 1979.

The rest of us law-abiding Farang citizens should keep this list in mind, and resist the temptation, strong it may be, to live out our Farang dreams as rice farmers or buffalo herders in a developing country. Apparently, the existing industry would be put in danger if aliens were allowed to enter the business.

icecream man
Farang icecream men are a threat to national security!

But it’s not all that gloomy, folks. There is good news on the horizon, at least for those who secretly dream about leaving that posh office in Farangland, for rocksalt mining in Isaan. It is possible, but only with a special permit. I guess the Kingdom wants to see your extraordinary credentials for the job.

That’s it for today. To balance it out, next time I will let you know about some of the ridiculous restrictions Thais have to face abroad. If you think this was too much, wait until you see that!


When the table gets turned

How foreign visitors to Thailand should behave to accomodate local customs is the focal point of many discussions here. However, recently our resident “Do’s and Don’ts” expert, Steve, showed us in his blog what happens when the table gets turned. He gave us an insight into what Thai people will have to watch out when their way of doing things clashes with that of a western culture.

I decided to add a few more pointers to his already excellent list.

If you become friends with a Farang of your gender, do not hold his/her hand. It may be a friendly gesture at home, but over here it’s likely to be misunderstood that you want to take it to the ‘next level’.

If you see a Farang goofing up in public (trips and falls, for instance), don’t laugh to ‘ease the situation’. You’ll be the only one to do so, and it’ll be perceived as an insult; your nose may be on the receiving end of a well-aimed Farang fist.

If you goof up, don’t just smile but do make an effort to apologize. For instance, if you spill the beer of a big fat Farang sitting next to you in the pub, the usual Thai grin will get your teeth knocked out.

Don’t think too much about Farang occasionally swearing. It’s not such a taboo as it is in Thailand. If you tell about a problem of yours to your friend, you may even get a sympathetic “awww, that sucks!”. Other times, you may hear “Dammit!” and “oh shit!” when something goes wrong. Contary to what you may think, it’s simply the equivalent of “saeng wa” in Thai. In general, do learn to distinguish swearing at you, from swearing in front of you. The former is an insult; the latter is not.

Do get used to Farangs yawning in your face, it’s okay there. However, don’t dig boogers from your nose in public: that’s not considered as okay here as it is back home.

BKK Metro users should know this already: please wait until passengers get out of the bus/elevator before you go in. You won’t get smashed between closing doors, trust me.

Eating in the West
Spoon is for soup only. Do get used to eating solid food with fork and knife. Try to get used to the horrible Farang custom of sticking a fork full of rice into your mouth.

When you are eating out with Farangs, make sure that you order all the food that you’d like. If you see one of your friends ordering your favorite food, don’t assume that he will share it with you, Thai style. Order your own portion as well.

Similarly, don’t put food on the plate of the Farang you are eating together with. Follow the selfish Farang custom: what you ordered is yours only.

Try to curb the Thai fetish for plastic bags, straws and rubber bands. Over there, when you buy a bottled drink, you will also receive the glass bottle as a bonus! Just imagine! … however, you won’t get a straw with it. Something gained, something lost, I guess.

Don’t be offended if you get some items, such as a bag of Oreo cookies, at the local store without an additional plastic bag either. Also, when you order food at a fast-food takeout, you don’t have to say “in bags, please”.

Most important
Do share your culture with the Farang around you. Chances are, at least some of them will be so impressed, they may want to live the rest of their lives in Thailand. It happened that way with the writer of this blog.


Vanitatum Vanitas: a modern-day fable

The Vanity of Vanities
Once upon a time there was a big bad tsunami that killed lots of the resident mice, ravaged the Asian shores and made the lives of survivor mice miserable. Much help was needed from the other animals who luckily lived away from the disaster. Many of these animals, seeing the plight of their fellow mice, donated generously. However, even their combined kindness could not alleviate the troubles entirely. The animals came together to talk about what could be further done. All were clueless, until the smart and good-hearted Thai elephant came up with an idea:

“We gave all we could already, but there are many wealthy animals who don’t want to give anything. How about giving them an incentive to contribute to the good cause?
“And what would that be?” – asked the others.
“Well, we could use one of their most wide-spread weaknesses, vanity” – the elephant said with a Thai smile. “Let’s make some rubber or plastic bracelets from recycled garbage, and sell it to them, say… for a 1000Bt each, with all the proceedings going to the Tsunai Fund, to help our fellow mice.”

The animals were thinking about it for a while (they were not as smart as the elephant), until they understood the idea.
“We could also write some fancy text on the wristbands, like ‘We help tsunami victims – how about you?’ or something like that” – said the bear enthusiastically.
“Good idea” – nodded the elephant.
“I’m afraid that using our local garbage is not gonna make it attractive enough for the hi-so… I think” whispered the rabbit shyly. Can’t we import some garbage from a fancy country that has plenty?”
“Sure, rabbit, good thinking” , said the elephant with a kind smile. The rabbit turned away and her ears became red as she blushed.

The elephant swinged his long trunk back and forth for a while, a sure sign that he is thinking. “The UK” – he said finally. “That’s a land of much garbage, they surely will give us plenty. Also, our Thai hi-so think highly of everything British, so we can even charge twice as much for each wristband.
Okay, animals, let’s get to work!” – he said, and disappeared in the jungle.

Time passed, and everything happened exatly as the wise elephant foresaw. The wristbands, made from imported British garbage, were picked up like candy, for 2000 Bt each. The streets of Thailand, especially the jungle of Bangkok, were full of monkeys proudly prouncing, wearing “nam jai” on their sleeve – or in this case, on their wrist, for everyone to see how rich and generous they are. Many young golden monkeys wore the bands in school. The poorer grey monkeys could just watch in envy.

Something arouse inside these grey monkeys… it was referred to in that land as “khwam yaak”. The sly fox smelled khwam yaak from a distance, and immediately jumped to action. He took local garbage, made it into plastic and rubber bands that looked exactly like the original fancy british imports, and started to sell them on the streets and shopping malls for a fraction of the original price: 50, 40, or as low as 20 Bt each.

That was the time when the wristband-frenzy reached epidemic proportions. Hoards of grey monkeys rushed to imitate their golden brethren; flocks of black ravens were eager to show off their new possession in front of their white cousins, and the whole thing became a meaningless teenage fad, now fading away slowly.

The fox made a large profit – not one satang of that made it to the needy mice, of course – and the wise elephant had to learn one more lesson in his long life: vanity is a double-edged sword. Use it to fuel a good cause, doesn’t matter. Profit-seekers will find their way to exploit any vanity-based plan to their own, selfish end. Let us learn from the elephant’s mistake, and plan our good causes with honesty and integrity – values that cannot be stolen or twisted.

The end. 🙂

First Songkran: the traditional way

Sawatdee pi mai – the Thai phrase for Happy new year was heard on the streets of Thailand all throughout last week. Some even said it in English to me, right before dousing me with a bucketful of ice-cold water.

I was excited to experience Songkran for the first time. However, my excitement was tamed down a little bit by my memories of Loy Krathong, about which I had great expectations, but they fell short. I didn’t want to get disappointed like that again, so I put myself into the “let’s wait and see” position.

Luckily the Loy Krathong fiasko didn’t repeat, and my first Songkran was truly memorable and joyful. I got to experience it in four different ways – not bad for a Songkran noob. 🙂

1. The traditional way
My very first exposure to Songkran was completely unplanned, spontaneous – but don’t we all know that these can be the best sometimes? 😉
As usual, I was skating in the little maze of sois near my apartment on Saturday, when I run into a small but very noisy procession consisting of dancers and musicians in traditional Thai dresses, and some older folks singing and dancing with them. A bottle of whiskey also went around in the crowd, increasing the festive mood.

One of these mid-aged women came to me, holding a bowl of water in one hand, and some paste in the other. She came slowly, smiling, and upon my nod, she gently touched my face with the paste and poured the cold water slowly on my shoulders. What a nice way to get “initiated” into Songkran, no? 🙂

Afterwards she went back to the crowd, and I decided to follow them, out of curiosity. I also had more time to observe the crowd. A group of young school-age boys were dressed in blue clothes with golden ornaments, carried drums and other instruments and played music. A group of girls lead the procession; they wore traditional Thai dresses of red and gold, and danced. In the back were the older folks of whom I already wrote.

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