Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bangkok Farmers Market: You care about the salad, but why not about the dogs?

Despite the heat, the sellers and organisers of the Bangkok Farmers Market still meet regularly, mainly at the K-Village. It already became an institution, and it's growing. The market is actually a kind of expat sell and buy fair, with still some (Thai) farmers, but also a lot of stalls selling natural cosmetics (whatever that is), young Thai entrepreneurs with coffee shops and bakeries, and even a buffalo farm selling Thai made mozzarella.

It a must go for the urban expat scene, the vegans and the juicers. Actually, the products are not bad, and even reasonable priced. There is a butcher selling one of the best sausages I ever had, and a french guy offering finest baguette. I bought delicious shiitake mushrooms and organic basil for 10 Baht.

But there is also a mission. The Facebook page says:
Our mission is to connect non-gmo/organic/pesticide free producers with consumers directly and foster a vibrant community focused around Healthy Living. We support the communities in Bangkok by giving back through education, charitable works, and community programs to bring people together. Our primary goal is to help build strong foundations for communities and focus on life. Working towards sustainability for future generations and our home planet Earth.

Sounds nice. Only that's not really what they do. First of all, I do have doubts if everything what is called organic. You can basically call it organic, since there is no certification or label. But ok, people buy what they want, and if they think it's more healthy, so what. What strikes me is the way animals are treated there, and more important the message that comes with it.

They offered a pony ride for the kids. Cute, see these little horses, and you can even ride on them and they are soooo small. That is the message to kids. Animals are cute. There is zero education about animals and the way they should be handled. So you have the vegan guys next to a Pomeranian dog in a bag. This is wrong.

K-Village is a dog friendly place, what means you can actually take your dog around there, and they have designated dog toilet areas (although I would like to see the faces when I walk in with my pack of five street dogs). Of course, you can't bring them in a restaurant. What actually happened when I had a coffee at Gloria's: A german guy and his Asian girlfriend came in, she carrying a small dog. He told his friend it's the new baby, and despite my guess it would have to sit on the lap the next two hours, the dogs was set on the floor - where he immediately started to mark the new territory.

If the Bangkok Farmers Market really cares about healthy living and education, then it should not promote dogs or any other animals as toys. They once had some animal rescue organisation there with soi dogs, but this time they had a dog in a bag on display next to board games.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Death and life

Trying to post a Google Awesome picture of a dead bird eaten by ants (found at The Coast condo).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Songkran is gone - and so are the empty streets

One year in Thailand, but two Songkran already - and still I am not the guy who spends the days (and nights) of Thailands New Year somewhere in the party zone. We had our fun at Lao Phi Mai, same time, same kind, just a different place, but for me it is too crowded in Silom or Central World. And of course, Kaosan road is a No-no (I have been there only once, maybe ten years ago, as a tourist, not even stayed there).

We went to Central World around noon and made our mandatory selfie in the foam party area, got a little bit wet just to please the gods, and then went on shopping. Down south in our village, Soi Wat Dan Samrong in front of our moo naan was an ongoing party zone. Traffic was stuck there, and no way to go out without getting soaked with water and coloured with chalk.
Thomas and Nataly Songkran

So, we did it the German way: Make a proper plan, leave early to the shopping mall, spend some hours there, buy food, beer and wine for dinner and go back through the smaller sois to avoid the traffic jam.

Songkran in Thailand

Not that I don't like the Songkran parties - I actually recommend it for everyone to try it at least once. But we live too far from the events in downtown, and it's not much of a pleasure to stay in the BTS for 30 minutes while totally wet. Also, it's not so much fun just to go on your own, and here in the village we don't know people to party with (the moo ban was pretty empty since most went home to the countryside).

So, how was your Songkran?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Awesome service at HomePro: Buying a washing machine in Thailand

Our washing machine broke down after 9 years of duty, and not one of the shops we asked could repair the Whirlpool front loader - even on the internet you can't get the manual anymore. So we decided to invest into a new one.

We went to HomePro at Paradise Park, because it is the closest one and we had already good experience with a water filter system. And again, they did not disappoint us at all. The seller told us all the pros and cons of the different models ("This is Siemens but made in China, not so strong, this one is Siemens made in Germany"), and was totally fine that we chose one of the cheaper models for sale (a Samsung front loader for 12000 Baht).

And yes, he could speak English. And he helped us through all the forms we had to fill, including a sketch where you house is, explained that there is free delivery and installation, that they will take the old machine for free, and how long the water hose is that is included. Didn't take long with the whole process, and we left happy.

Buying something is sometimes easy, getting it not so much. I was told to get a phone call the day after the purchase, to tell me time of delivery. And indeed, HomePro called me. The girl first started speaking in Thai and when I told her I can give it a try to understand when she speaks more slowly, she immediately switched to fluent English. We agreed to get the washing machine delivered the next day between 10 am and noon.

In Laos and Vietnam that would have meant not before noon, and since this is lunch break, more likely after lunch, about 3 pm or so. Not with Home Pro: At 9.57 am I got a call from the delivery guy to confirm the address and minutes later he showed up. De-Installation of the old one and installation of the new one was fast and easy, the two guys were very polite, and even without them speaking English I was able to understand the basic functions of the machine. He even explained that I should use a better extension cord and special detergent for hot water washing machines.

I will use HomePro again for any installation and delivery. Great Job!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Noise: The sound carpet of South-East Asia

It isn't a matter of getting older for me - I was always sensitive to noise. Not all kinds of noise. I don't mind children playing aorund, dogs barking, cats fighting, cars passing by.  What I don't like - and guess most people feel the same -  is kind of sudden or unexpected  noise like some idiots motobike,  a bang.

But then there is Asian noise. This is a constant carpet of sounds, noise, music, speeches, all mixed together. The handymen cutting tiles, the village chief making announcments through the loudspeaker system, the sound check from the nearby concert (and the concert itself with bass frequencies carried kilometers). Look at Tesco Lotus: Not only the usual easy listening music, but also some promotions, TVs everywhere explaining you why you should drink this fruit juice, and nowadays two staff members with microphones shouting to customers that cashier 4 is now available.

In my coffeeshop where I am writing this post the waitress switched on the music (as told by the boss), but since it's a small shop and no customers (I don't count, I guess), she also watches TV on her phone - of course without headphones. (It also seems no problem to do this in a gym, by the way).

What is this Asian relation with noise? Even Laos, the relaxed and laid back country, is actually full of this kind of noise - there is always a wedding or funseral, and the loudspeaker towers look like they set up for the Rolling Stones. 

Studies ( already that noise doesn't make you feel comfortable in a shopping mall, and that all this shouting through microphones decreases sales.  We also learned that noise is stressing us - but try to find a building in Asia that is proper build with walls no reflecting any sound. It is immpossible.

My guess is that the noise is the sound of the growth and development. It shows people that the economy is buzzing, that the city is alive 24 hours. It also helps you to get kind of lost, sounds distract your thoughts, makes you a good customer, but it also distracts you from the anonymity of the metropole.
More studies:
Urban Corridor Noise Pollution: A case study of Surat city, India

The Effects of Store Environment on Shopping Behaviors: a Critical Review

Effect of backround music to customers behavior:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Responsibility and Daddy in the gym

It is said that people here in Asia have a problem taking responsibility. It is one of the complains I hear a lot, in particular from business people. And indeed, it seems to be difficult for some people here to take the initiative or even responsibility. The main reason is not that they don't want. It is kind of a tradition.
Most south east Asian societies are developed from a aristrocratic system. Although many call them selves a democracy, they haven't really developed a functioning civil society, where the power is in the hands of the people rather than some elite, party or families.

Thailand is no exception: You learn from the beginning not just to respect the elders, but also not to question them. You don't question your parents decisions, your teachers decisions or your bosses decision. You are taught that others make decisions for you, because they are higher in hierachy, older in age or richer. So this avoiding of decisions and questions is basically in many peoples blood.

Unfortunatley that leads to a lot of problems. One is the current political situation on Thailand, where people still blindly follow their leaders in stead of starting a process of reconiliation and re-thinking constitutional structures and procudures. But it also effects every day life. It isn't common for some to think ahead, getting a feeling for cause and impact. 

Of course, I do generalise here, and not all Thai or Asian people are the same, but some differences are just obvious. Like the guy who came into the compounds gym recently. It was this "daddy who told his wife to take care of the little boy today"- type. So he came into the gym with his 4 year old. Of course this isn't a proper playground for kids, and thats what is written on the sign as well (in Thai). But signs are seens as wall decoration (or to cover a hole), so who cares. 

So Daddy had no idea what to do with his son, and decided to just go on with his exercise. First threat to his life came when he did push ups while the boy was playing with the adjustment screw on the bank. Fortunatley he wasn't strong enough to pull it out. Then "po" went to the weight lifting stand (see him  in the picture above). And while doing it, the son had fun to increase the weight sticking  the adjustment screw into different holes. He was just lucky that his Dad was strong enough and released the weight carefully - otherwise the boys hands would have been smashed.

Only because the boy got bored after a while, it ended and Daddy left the gym with his boy - maybe complaing at home how naughty the son was today.

It's just an example of what I see so many times. Families on a motobike with no helmets, wires connected with duct tape (and used in wet areas), cars barely hold together but still transporting 20 construction workers. I sometimes wonder how all the building here still stand.

There is of course some advantage. We in the west kind of lost the ability to live in the moment. Planning ahead deons't make life more fun, it actually makes it complicated. So stress is all over us. I learned to plan less ahead here. I didn't give it up, escpeially not when it comes to safety, but I am more relaxed when it comes to planning of events, for example. Sometimes things will just turn out well. Even without much planning. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why are so many 7/11 in Thailand - 7 in my street alone?

Yeah we will get a 7/11 across the street, a new one. Not that we don't have 7/11s here - we have about 7 in a stretch of 1 Kilometer. But this one will be even closer - just across the street. I am wondering about the business concept: Why is 7/11 opening a new shop even next or opposite to an existing one?

So I did a little bit of research and found two kinds of answers: One is that Thai people don't like to walk (far), and so there is enough business for all of the shops.

The other explanation is that CP, who is the franchise business owner, doesn't really care about the success - so it gives you a licence as long as you pay for it. People told me that CP would even wait until it turns out your 7/11 runs well and then opens it's own one just next to you. That doesn't makle sense to cheat on your own business partners, but it wouldn't surpass me either if true.

Some numbers:

The first 7/11 in Thailand opened - according to Richard Barrow - on June 1st 1989 on Patpong Road in Bangkok.

The 7/11 Website says: "At the end of the year 2012, the Company had a total of 6,822 7-Eleven stores nationwide. Of the total, 3,177 stores are in Bangkok and vicinity (47 percent) and 3,645 stores are in provincial areas (53 percent). According to type of store, there are 2,984 corporate stores (44 percent), 3,320 franchise stores (48 percent) and 518 sub-area license stores (8 percent). Presently, an average of 8.3 million customers visit 7-Eleven stores each day."

So indeed nearly half of the shops belong to CP, while the others are franchised. The Global Post was running a story about the success of the minimarts in South East Asia. In Thailand the story is even more successful since CP is on e of the countries biggest food producers and can sell it's own products in it's 7/11 shops. A perfect combination.

On Thaivisa people gave advice about the estimated costs of a franchise licence (1.6 million Baht/5years) and the risks that comes with it (long working hours, competition, small profit margin).

CP itself gives a detailed overview about the costs for a 7/11 franchise:
Costs: Type 1 Type 2
Total - 1,480,000 ฿ 2,630,000 ฿

My conclusion is that the risk is pretty low for CP and Seven Eleven and it the benefits are bigger. First of all, rent and salaries are still low in Thailand for those shops. The turnover should cover it. CP clearly wants to dominate the market and location is key to this. They target Family Marts and others, but I doubt they could harm Tesco Express because of its fresh products.

Also, a Seven Eleven shop is very standardised, and can be set up within days. That saves a lot of money. Same goes for equipment: CP just orders large scale of shelves and gets good prices, I assume. And as above mentioned being your own supplier with some of the food things are more easy.

Do I like 7/11? Yes, because it is convenient and available. Forgot the milk? No problem? Want a snack: They wave it for you (what is modern Thai for heating, and means to warm it up in a microwave).

Thai Life Insurance Video: They still are the best when it comes to emotions

Thai ads became already world famous for the emotional touch, and this one is no exception. Well done!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

One year living in Thailand: Land of food

Time is running fast. It's already a year since we moved from Laos to Thailand. This time, it wasn't much of a change, since Lao and Thai culture are quite similar and we travelled to Thailand quite often. Even the language is not so different. So, no real culture shock this time. But maybe a bit.

Coming from undeveloped Laos, where we had no cinema, no supermarket, no reliable hospital, Thailand was kind of a paradise. That's why we often travelled from Vientiane to Udon Thani or Khon Kaen. So we had high expectations living in paradise. But of course, it's not. Bangkok is a big city, we learned fast, and it takes a lot of time to get around - in particular when you live down south like us. The expat community is also different: Less NGO people, but more expats doing "something" here and living here since centuries. And a huge business community of course.

One rule for us since we left Germany is to stay a a bit away from the expat community, at least most of the time. We left Germany for a reason, so not need to have sauerkraut or pork leg or listen to complains. And here comes the major difference to Laos: It is more difficult for me to get closer to Thai people than to Lao people. I still have very close friends in Laos, but most of the people I know in Thailand I knew already when we moved here. We live in a Moo Ban, a compound with 90 percent Thais, so there is no lack of local people. But only our neighbours opposite are open and talk with us (maybe because they are Christians, not Buddhists, and look for likewise people). It is not a language barrier, since many here speak English and my Thai is good enough for a chat.

I heard it a lot, that Thais actually don't like foreigners. I don't think that's true in general. There are some they like foreigners, and some they don't like them. As it is the fact in every country. Same goes with the Land of Smiles: It is a myth. some smile, some not. Some are friendly, some are not. Only stereotype that fits in my experience is the shyness, mainly when it comes to practise English.

Beside this, life here isn't bad. We have a swimming pool that we rarely use, but I am in the gym every day. We have awesome medical services, even the private local hospital near us is reasonable enough for smaller injuries like my dog bite.

Food is a big plus, it's cheap and delicious. Land of great food might fit better actually. Compared to Laos, it is more delicious and there is more variety, but the Thai beer sucks. Really sucks.

Driving here isn't as bad as expected, both with car and motorbike. It is dangerous, of course, but once you are aware of it, it's not much more different from Vietnam. Just never drink and drive, don't text and drive and always think and care about the other drivers.

So we are looking forward to our second year in Thailand.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Street food in Thailand: Why cooking anymore?

I am a passionate cook, and I really enjoy to do it. Everyday I usually cook one or two meals. But cooking for two comes with a price, literally. Compared to the street food I can buy just around the corner, home made food is expensive (and I am not talking about western food). No way I can make a pumpkin curry for 20 Baht - the pumpkin alone costs at least 60 baht.

So more and more we shift our food supply from supermarkets to street food stall around the corner. The selection is huge and it is always delicious. From vegetarian food to classics like Green Curry. Five Spices is our latest favourite, a very un-Thai dish with cinnamon. A whole meals with rice and five dishes is not more than 130 baht, thats less than 5 USD.

Is it safe to eat street food? Yes and No. It depends on the stall and the time you buy it. Go early in the morning and its fresh. Around noon its there for a while. Usually around 5 pm you get fresh cooked food again, and at night you can be sure its not. Also, usually meat is not the filet mignon or chicken breast, but everything that's cheap. We eat mainly vegetarian, so it's easy. Also, fish isn't always the best choice. The bigger the fish the more likely it's not from one of the klongs. Thai food also isn't the most healthy food, they use way too much salt and saturated fat. But the right mix with some fresh veggies and fruits can keep you and your purse healthy.