Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mam and I finally had our home phone installed, so I finally have access to the Internet once again, but not without a major battle.

Mam and I fought a battle with the local TOT office in Klongngae, waged well over three years, dodging their corrupt dealings and negotiating different angles until we recently found a loophole in their so-called policies and jumped through it with both pairs of feet.

A few years ago, an Australian man I met here in Thailand once said to me, “Jim, if you stay here in Thailand long enough, you’ll end up going through different stages of either liking or hating Thailand, its people and its ways.” And I’ve found this to be true.

To paraphrase what my good friend Richard, who is from England, recently said in response to my complaints at having been severely cheated by the management of the Thai school where I currently teach:

“I don't think we can ever get used to this [the way Thai’s do things] but we can certainly be less surprised when it does happen. All I can say is always try to make sure you cover every base i.e. when someone (Thai) says something [in regards to promising or guaranteeing certain salaries or conditions] ask him or her to guarantee it (in writing). If they ask why you need a guarantee, it shouldn't take too long to explain that they generally have no loyalty/honor/morals when it comes to money.”

I’ve written before about the difficulties Mam and I had in trying to get a phone installed once we moved to Ban Klong Tong Nûea, from Soi three in Thung Lung, way back in March of 2006. At first we were told, “We will come out and install your phone within three or four days.” Then, after a week had passed, Mam called the TOT office in Klongngae, which proved to be a waste of time. So, she took a ride on the Songtheaw, south to Klongngae, to the TOT office where we have to do business in order to get a phone installed or pay a bill (calling them on the phone ALWAYS proved to be fruitless). Once she arrived, she was told, “Perhaps it will take a month or two.”

After a few months passed, Mam returned to the office and this time was told:

“We’re sorry, but it is impossible for you to have a phone installed at this time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this when I first arrived at this office four months ago?” Mam asked.

“Well, we didn’t know back then,” the woman answered.

Following this waste of breath, Mam was given some mumbo jumbo about quotas being met and being on a list and not enough numbers to give out, etcetera. But the real interesting part is when one woman in the office pulled Mam aside and whispered, “But I think if you were to pay about 10,000 baht, it is possible you could have a phone installed very soon.”

If you’re reading this and you’re from the West, you have to understand Thai people to understand the way my wife most assuredly reacted to this blatantly corrupt request to line this filthy woman’s pockets.

Although I was not present at the time, I have no doubt whatsoever that Mam simply smiled, gave the woman a deep wai (a symbol of respect) and moved on.

Once Mam got home she started complaining, but as soon as I went on a rant about wanting this woman’s name, and wanting to return to the office with Mam and see who this woman was, demanding she tell me her name so I could report her to the main office in Bangkok, Mam clammed up.

You see here in Asia no matter what the offense, it’s usually all about losing face. Losing face, for an Asian individual, is one of the worst things that can happen to them.

Eventually time passed and the anger subsided. Mam talked to our landlord and voiced our issues about the phone and the need to have the Internet. Together, Mam and our landlady went to the Klongngae TOT office and talked to them, coming back with a brochure about their satellite plan that offered high-speed Internet service for an initial 5000 baht satellite dish installation fee and about 1200 baht payment per month installments. A wee-bit high priced, but at least it was something.

I agreed to the satellite plan and Mam returned to the Klongngae office with our landlady to fill out the necessary paperwork. The office initially wanted a down payment, but I had previously told Mam, “No service, no payment.” There was some argument, and Mam got very frustrated with me, but I stood firm. Eventually, the company agreed to send their technicians out to “survey” our property.

Not surprisingly, a month passed and nobody came. So, Mam faithfully returned to the office to complain. About three weeks later, on a Sunday no less, a handful of very lazy TOT “technicians” showed up at our home, trotted around with a hand-held device held to the sky, and before I could even get my shirt on and get downstairs, they left. I asked Mam, “What the hell was that all about?” She then told me they could not install a satellite dish because there were too many trees around our home and the signal was poor. So, I said, “What about the water tower?” (We have a water tower to the south of our home, which towers above most of the trees at a good twenty feet [approx. 7 meters]).

At this point we’re going on approximately one year and seven months after Mam’s initial visit to the TOT office in Klongngae.

Mam returns to the TOT office and complains to them that their “technicians” spent only about three minutes at our home on that fateful Sunday, and the office assures us they will send someone out again to survey the area.

At this point in the ongoing saga, Mam and I neither one are holding our breath, lest we both perish a horrible death from hypoxia.

About two or three weeks later five “technicians” show up. It’s a hot, lazy afternoon, and three of the five of them immediately retreat to our tree shaded area where Mam has hung her hammock, which one of them lays upon, while the others squat and basically do nothing for the entire time they were at our house.

The two remaining “technicians” wander about our property with their mobile-phone-looking devices hovering in the air, all the time laughing and generally acting as unprofessional as anyone could possibly imagine. Upon their initial arrival Mam called our landlady to tell her that the “technicians” were here. About ten minutes later, our landlady’s mother shows up, as she is the one who actually owns the land.

The ‘pseudo-technician’ wearing sunglasses prances about as if he were whanńa (boss in Thai), which evidently he was, and finally he turns off his little “device” in order to talk not to Mam, but to our landlady’s mother.

Much later, after all the “technicians” left, our landlady’s mother tells Mam in a voice laden with contempt, “That man isn’t a man. He’s a freeloader and a cheat.”

The final verdict was no satellite dish could be installed due to the dense wooded area around our home. But, our landlady’s mother told Mam the presumed ‘big boss’ of the group ended up telling her that if she truly wanted a phone line installed at this house, he could guarantee one would be installed if she were to fleece his pockets with about 25,000 baht.

As it turned out, he and his little flock left abruptly once she asked him for his name.

This is the current reality of how businesses operate in Thailand, and this situation is a very basic one, actually.

There are more complicated issues involved and many hinge on whether or not you are a foreigner. Foreigners certainly get cheated more than Thai’s do, but Thai’s get cheated on a regular basis too.

One thing I find interesting is that Thai businesses that cheat or are corrupt in some way are absolutely mystified when they have to deal with a foreigner who absolutely will not accept their poor business dealings and are more than ready to report poor business practices to the proper authorities, demanding proper treatment, or punishment for improper practices. Such is the difference in third-world countries and the industrialized countries of the West.

Zip forward two years, thereabouts.

Mam and I continue to receive a monthly bill from TOT for approximately 127.00 baht. Mam takes another runner to Klongngae and asks them why we are still receiving a bill only to be told, “If you want to keep that phone number, you have to continue to pay 100 baht, plus local fees.”

So Mam reasonably asks, “What if we don’t want to keep that number?” To which she was told, “Well, once we install a new phone at your current residence, you will not be charged for a new phone number if you have retained the old number you had while living on Soi three.” Ha! Did you catch that? “…Once we install a new phone at your current residence…” Not only did that fail to answer Mam’s question, it implied we would eventually cave in and pay the outrageous fee they were asking in order to fleece somebody’s pockets. So Mam persisted and was finally told, “If you want to cancel your number, your husband will have to come in to the office as the phone is in his name.”

Thinking about it, I told Mam, “Let’s hold off for a bit and once again renew our attempt to get a phone installed. If things don’t work out, I’ll travel to the Klongngae office and put in the cancellation myself.

So, upon another return visit to this decrepit TOT office, Mam carefully mentions to the personnel at the office, “You have made it impossible for us to have a phone except for your requests by two of your employees for us to pay extra fees amounting to more than 10,000 baht, so what reason do we have to continue to pay a monthly fee for a phone number we will never be able to use?”

She also, in her own polite way, informed the office (after my repeated supplications) that her husband, “The dreaded Farang,” had compiled an ongoing list of the events we had been experiencing through dealings with their office, including names, [which was a fib] and was sending the information to the main TOT office in Bangkok.

Shortly after that brief showdown, the bills for our old phone number stopped, without the need for me to appear at the TOT office and formally cancel our old number.

Sporadically, over the next year, Mam made attempts to the TOT office for a phone, still to no avail. Then suddenly, she was given advice through someone in our village regarding a currently existing line on our rural road.

It seems one particular individual in our small rural village of Ban Klong Tong Nûea used to be the central phone manager. Mam and I had seen the “phone sign” hanging outside his house, typical of small villages that have no phone access. Years ago, the local villagers would come to this house and use the phone for a small fee, but as times changed and more and more people were accessing mobile phones, this phone “center” closed down and the residents failed to pay their monthly bill.

Finally we had found the necessary loophole in order to get a phone. In late December of 2008, Mam bundled up the wife of the man who had the old phone line and they took a trip to the TOT office where she signed the papers turning the number over to us. Mam was asked to pay a fee and was told, “We’ll be out the first thing in January to install your phone.” Upon returning home I chastised her for paying them money, but Mam said they wouldn’t take no for an answer and said they would not be able to install our phone without a down payment.

Well, as you can probably guess, January came and went with no phone installed. To put an end to this long and boring story, all total Mam had to make four trips to the TOT office, at one point actually confronting the man responsible for the installation face-to-face, telling him he was a liar.

But, as it stands, all it took was a quick call to the TOT office in Bangkok, where Mam got on the phone and told them what was going on with the despicable office in Klongngae. The Bangkok office assured Mam that the issue would quickly be taken care of, and….

Our phone was finally installed on the 3rd of February, around 10:00 a.m. Mam told me it took them all of about 20 minutes to do the job.

This is what it’s like trying to get anything done in Thailand, but I can honestly say that we’re learning from our experiences and one thing I’ve learned is to keep accurate records and report poor service. I sent a detailed letter to the TOT office in Bangkok, mentioning every little corrupt action and every failed promise to them. I have yet to hear from them, but from what I’ve been told, this situation won’t go unnoticed.

So, once again…I’m back, just like a hangnail that won’t seem to go away. And I promise to provide more interesting stuff for my faithful readers to peruse! Provided things work out and the IT ministry doesn’t end up shutting down access to, I plan on adding some new blog pages on plants of Thailand, flowers of Thailand, and interesting bugs and animals of Thailand. I’m also looking into uploading some files to to share some of the files I’ve been working on with you, my faithful readers. I’ll have a homemade crossword dictionary and large recipe file up, to start with.

Cheers and thanks for your patience!

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