Now someone correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t television sets usually last longer than four years? Especially expensive ones? I even dumped a Coke into the back of my first-ever TV and it was still going strong at age 7. So you can imagine how pissed off I was when the 34-inch flat-screen Phillips CRT I bought in 2005 for 30,000 baht died for the second – and final – time last month.
So, grudgingly, I set out to buy a new high-definition widescreen LCD. And in doing so I got to discover once again why shopping for high-tech in Thailand really sucks.
People keep telling me Thailand is so inexpensive. If so, then why does virtually anything with a computer chip inside it cost so much more than the west? Laptops, iPods, dive computers, TVs, you name it. Expensive. Worse, of course, is the simple lack of selection and the unwillingness of retailers to haggle, bargain or discount from the manufacturer-imposed price.
The first thing I saw was this lovely LG LH70 42-incher. Great specs, but 36,900 baht. Too much. So I went out around the city looking for more. Keep in mind, this is Pattaya, not Bangkok and shopping for anything more than cow manure and condoms means much less selection.
I spent three weeks shopping for a TV and everywhere was pretty much the same: Samsung, LG, Sony and Phillips. One place had one Sharp model. Another had one Toshiba. I even found a floor model-only JVC marked down in Power Buy. But that’s about it. And you can forget about good, knowledgeable sales staff. Even in places like Numchai, which supposedly cater to farangs, the service is awful.
I was latched onto by one spiky-haired boy there the first day who, after I told him price was more important than brand, was shown a smallish, non-HD set. No, I want full HD, I say. â€’Oh, that expensive.”
How expensive? I ask. â€’Very,” he says.
Don’t tell me â€’expensive,” tell me the damn price!
Turns out â€’expensive” was anything above 30,000 baht, which, as it turns out, is the standard starting point for any 40-inch or above full-HD TV. It also what I was expecting to pay by the time I got to Spiky Hair.
I dragged him around the store for a while, somehow managed to see all the offerings, then left. I returned upon promise of a â€’big sale” the following week, only to find the one Sharp I was half-interested in (29,990 baht) was now 32,990 baht with no further discount. This sales guy was slightly better, but he kept trying to steer me into a 40-inch Samsung that I just didn’t want. So I left again, but told him I’d be back. Got his name and hours he worked so he’d get the commission.
Of course, the next day he’s not there and Spiky latches onto me again. I tried to shake him off saying I was interested in an LG – the same exact model I saw my first day of shopping three weeks ago.
â€’Samsung better,” was his reply.
Of course, he works only in the Samsung section and so I told him I didn’t want him as a sales guy. â€’No, I take care of you,” he says.
No, I … don’t … want … you.
That finally did the trick.
Found an LG-area guy who actually knew the specs on the TVs and got him to give me 2,000 baht off. Got it delivered that night for 35,000 baht flat.
Wouldn’t you know it, as the guys are hooking up the new unit they discover by TrueVisions descrambler – which was working perfectly fine three weeks ago when the TV blew – was now totally fried.
I still haven’t replaced that yet.
The Boob Tube
Among its many snazzy features (Bluetooth, direct PC connection) the LH70 has a USB port in the back. So I downloaded Episode 5 of â€’Big Trouble in Thailand,” copied it to a flash drive, plugged it in and sat back to watch Gavin Hill’s scandalous saga on my new big screen.
Can’t say it improved the series much.
After watching episodes 4 and 5, I’m of the opinion all the juiciest material creator Hill had was used in the first episode. Episode 4, dominated by footage of this year’s Bangkok Airways crash in Samui, was actually boring. Episode 5, which spends most of its airtime broadcasting that, guess what, Pattaya has a large sex industry, was high comedy.
The show starts with a smarmy British guy and his cow girlfriend chagrined after they took what they thought to be a hidden video camera into the Baby Dolls go-go July 27 and discovered it wasn’t too hidden. As Tourist Police Volunteer Howard Miller told them on camera, they were lucky they didn’t get a beat-down. Instead Brit owner Lee simply took their camera, which he gave back sans the videotape the next day.
Ironically, interlaced with the story was actual topless footage that Hill filmed — with the permission of owner Shane who was then selling the bar — inside New Living Dolls One. In fact, from the angle, it looks like he was sitting at my usual table! I’m sure (above, from left) Apple, Aom and Oh wouldn’t be pleased they were on the British Boob Tube.
They’re obviously more forgiving the Thailand Film Office, which still wants to roast anyone connected with BTIT, but now finds itself on the defensive again after another foreign-filmed TV show.
During the rest of Episode 5, you get to see three instances of farangs running on their bar tabs or, in the case of a pair of Indians, trying to con Miller & Co. that they paid 300 baht to enter the otherwise free Hot Girls go-go to see a â€’sexy show” and never got one. Of course, when Miller investigates, it turns out there was a show and the Indians simply didn’t enjoy it and wanted a refund. Unbelievably, the Thai staff actually gave them 50 percent back!
We Love India … Really!
Indians, by the way, are on the warpath (sorry) about their treatment of late in Pattaya. The full story won’t be online until next edition of the Pattaya Mail newspaper is published Friday, but the paper is publishing a critical story about Pattaya bar and restaurant owners who have refused service or even entrance to Indian tourists so many times a formal complaint has been lodged with the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports. That complaint was forwarded to Pattaya’s mayor and the local Tourism Authority of Thailand office which, amazingly, didn’t even contest it.
â€’What’s happened has happened, but we are going to fix it,” Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome said. “This directly affects the city and we are going to explain that to entrepreneurs to relieve the tension from the situation. We declare here and now that Pattaya City welcomes everyone without regard to race or nationality.”
Now I can’t abide Indian tailors as much as the next guy, but Indians are, believe it or not, now the No. 1 tourist group in Pattaya, larger than Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Brits or Germans. How typically Thai for business owners to once again kill their latest golden goose:
Travel agencies and tour groups have reported a number of cancellations after earlier groups were turned away from bars and restaurants who refused to serve Indian customers.
In fact, it’s been a long-standing problem with Pattaya go-go bar owners in particular being quite vocal on online forums for several years about refusing service to Indian and Arab customers as well. Only a handful of Walking Street bars actively advertise that they welcome Indian customers.
When Indian visitor numbers were low, that wasn’t a high-profile problem. Now that Indians have become a key group in the absence of Western visitors, the minister of Tourism and Sports was is so concerned he directly ordered the city to investigate.
High-Season Political Theater
Of course, with high season (or hopes of it) rapidly approaching, government types are getting themselves hot and bothered on a number of fronts, the electoral process being at the top of the list.
It’s pretty clear after recent by-elections that it’s only a matter of time before this Frankenstein ruling coalition loses power. Each new regional election chips away at the majority and what elections aren’t doing, the Election Commission is. Democracy keeps trying to reassert itself and the majority of the voting populace – the poor of the North and Northeast – still want Thaksin and his frontmen in the Puea Thai Party.
Even Newin, the defecting powerbroker who brought Abhisit to power, thinks the government has until, at most, next June. Some think, however, it’s possible the Democrats could hold onto power until 2011 by messing around with the Constitution (again). The Democrats announced this week they want five amendments to the Constitution and, truth be told, not all are bad.
First among those is revoking the stupid rule that if a political party must be dissolved if even one party executive if found guilty of electoral fraud. This rule is a lot of the reason the political system is in the state it is. Second is a return to a system of electing all members of the House and Senate. Third is a new requirement that the Cabinet and prime minister must get legislative approval to entering into certain treaties (Think Preah Villar.). There’s more of lesser importance you can check out here.
Of course, while the Democrats are doing their thing, Puea Thai is trying to find a way to mount a national campaign. And you’ll never guess who they’ve turned to: Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the man who not only piloted Thailand into the 1997 financial crisis, but resigned last year to take the blame for the bloody attack on the Yellow Shirts that lead to December’s airport closures. The shock among pundits was palpable.
He’s even tipped to become the leader of the Puea Thai Party. Which means, he could very well be our next prime minister. Indeed, I was immediately rendered speechless…
This was the man who insisted on referring to himself as father and to the people of Thailand as my child during his premiership. And I thought only (one person) has the right to such a claim. Speechless…
Gen Chavalit no doubt has his fans. Those believing he’s a man of great abilities and leadership. But to others he’s also the classic example of the old-style Thai politician. Which side is correct, or is the truth somewhere in the middle? You, dear readers, may decide for yourself.
(T)High-Tech, Part 2
Meanwhile, back on the high-tech (Thai-tech?) front, the government seems to be doing its best to screw up plans to finally introduce 3G mobile broadband.
The same week Prime Minister Abhisit says 3G will launch this year, his low-tech gnome running the ICT says she wants to put off the 3G license auctions â€’as long as possible” to protect AIS, True, DTAC and other behind-the-times mobile carriers. Imagine the loss of face when Cambodia gets nationwide 3G before Thailand.
It is gratifying to see, however, that the Cabinet rejected planned changes to copyright laws that would have allowed the police to arrest you for buying counterfeit DVDs. Abhisit said enforcement of the new law might have been â€’problematic” as cops might simply go after better-paying buyers rather than hunting down the distributors.
The Bangkok Post gave the copyright-law smackdown to Thai Visa, the Nazi-administered farang message board, this week. I must have laughed for an hour when I read the TV post announcing that the Post would no longer allow TV to copy and paste its news articles, a main source of traffic and advertising revenue for TV.
â€’We have a very different vision than the Bangkok Post about the future of community networking”, says Barry Main, marketing director of ThaiVisa.com. “But no worries, we have The Nation and The Phuket Gazette already on board, and we are soon hooking up with other local news sources.”
Uh, Barry? The Nation is part of the â€’Society for Online News Providers” that is working together against cowboys with their â€’own ideas about the future of community networking.” In other words, the days of you stealing others’ copy and trying to make money off it while quashing any criticism about your own operation and banning members who do are numbered.
Finally, speaking of Nazis, as you enter Pattaya from the north you are greeted by a variety of welcoming signs. The sign at right has just recently gone up to plug the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Wax Museum. Is it just me or does anyone else think the big Ripley’s corporation needs some sensitivity training?