Goodbye Thailand, for now

Visitors to Thailand, especially those going to one of the resorts, are advised to learn a foreign language before going. Not something common like French, German, or Spanish and not one of the north European languages with so few native speakers that they are all fluent in English. Something like Russian, Hungarian, or Korean will do. Here’s why.

Walking the streets of Thailand will see you accosted by a hawker, trader, or rip-off merchant every ten paces. Shouting out six or seven saleable items in the time it takes you to walk past them – a distance of two metres – is their preferred method of advertising, with the wares of the last stall fading only once those of the next are at maximum pitch. It’s kind of like a linear barbershop quartet, only with a couple of hundred members instead of four. This is a place where not being able to speak English, or being able to feign such ignorance, is a distinct advantage. Looking straight ahead with a baffled but purposeful expression will get you through provided you don’t utter a word of English. Unfortunately some, especially the Indians trying to flog you suits, will step in front of you, hand outstretched in greeting like your brother would if you showed up at his house to watch the football. There are several ways to deal with this, one of which is to ignore him completely leaving him standing in the pavement as if he’s trying to greet the invisible man. If Indians understood the concept of embarrassment they’d soon quit doing this, but then they’d also not be trying to flog suits to strangers on the side of the road. And ignoring annoying pests is only possible for a while, and eventually you have to say something. Such as “Who the fuck are you?”, but they’ll probably chalk this up as a foot in the door and claim a sales commission. Occasionally I stop and ask excitedly if they sell suits, waiting for the beaming “Yes sir, come inside please sir!” before I say “I don’t want one” and walk off briskly. Mean, but fair. Continue reading

Rip-Off Britain

Kindle 3G = $189

Kindle = $139

Kindle 3G = £149 ($232)

Kindle = £109 ($169)

I’ve noticed similar discrepancies between and, too.

Posted in UK

Why Travel Writers Should Avoid Making Political Remarks

Extracted from Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux, an American writer.

Page 368:

All this order, prosperity and efficiency the Vietnamese had found for themselves after decades of war, in spite of us; we could take no credit for it.

Page 370:

‘What sort of work do you do in Saigon?’

‘I am an inspector in a factory,’ she said. ‘We make leather shoes for women.’

I drew a picture of a fancy stiletto-heeled shoe on a page in my notebook. She looked at it and smiled. She said, ‘Yes!’  They were exported to Europe and the United States.

I asked her how much money she made and the details of her work.  She said that she and her fellow workers earned $400 a month.  Could that be true?  Her husband earned $700 a month.  These figures were much higher than the salaries of comparable workers I’d met in Romania and Turkey.

So, other than making Vietnamese rich by setting up luxury goods factories and paying wages higher than those found in parts of Europe, the United States has played no part in the prosperity of Vietnam.