To mark the end of a tumultuous and titter filled year on Thaivisa I present my review of some of the stories and themes that have marked the last 12 months in Thailand. This is Part One containing ten headings that are presented in no particular order. Part Two will be next Sunday. Following the review comes a short selection of this week’s best stories. Enjoy!
1. The General Election.
Once again Thailand’s general election was exactly what it said on the tin – the election of a general. After more delays than a British rush hour train, Uncle Big Too Prayut was finally swept back into power in an outpouring of indifference and suspicion. His hodgepodge government then did precisely what his previous administration had succeeded in doing – achieve virtually nothing except the wholehearted scorn of the Thai population. Prayut pathetically set the tone by fluffing his oath lines. Convicted drug runners and assorted murderers were named in the cabinet and other elevated positions while those with the most money like tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn and his even richer wife were rewarded with top jobs. Saksayam Chidchob got the transport portfolio because his family own a racetrack – that was mocked as being perfect to solve the continuing carnage on the nation’s highways. Popular opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was deemed to have broken every petty regulation the generals could think up and democracy was put on temporary hold for a few more decades, or until the anti-corruption drive is over, whichever comes later. In a final ominous move by those in power, street opposition to their rule is being questioned as to its legality. There is a sense of foreboding pervading the country.
2. Lies Damned Lies and TAT Statistics – forget 20-20 vision next year!
It was extraordinary but the pronouncements of the Tourism Authority of Thailand were mocked more than those from that tired old khaki underpants dinosaur Prayut. Despite evidence to the contrary from business leaders and those on the ground the TAT continued to pluck unrealistic figures from the sky. The downturn in Chinese tourism in particular was presented as not so good of an upturn. As the fallout from the Phoenix boat disaster of 2018 waned, the doom and gloom continued. Scapegoats were found – the strength of the baht, the world economy, trade wars,competition from Vietnam….. Never once was there a Thai based story in which the safety of tourists – on the roads or at tourist venues – or the ubiquitous scams were even mentioned as a problem. This was left to a German TV show to expose. That produced a circling of the wagons late in the year as figures pointed to a 40% lowering of tourist numbers and at least a 20% contraction in hotel bookings. Still the TAT plowed on with suggestions that nearly 40 million would visit in 2019 and next year would be up again after a bumper New Year outlook. TAT chief Yuthasak signed on for another term so expect more of the same pitiful denial in 2020. To cap the hilarity the TAT hired a fortune teller this week to help out.
3. Public Enemy Number One – Plastic Bags.
Politicians and the police enjoyed the year by being replaced as Public Enemies #1 and #2 by plastic bags. Throughout the kingdom war of one kind or another was waged on the carriers of everything from shopping to iced drinks to week old curry. Those in power wondered how they were going to carry their kickbacks home as the ocean held its inanimate breath. For the first time in Thai recorded history there were more D-Days than crackdowns as 7-Eleven and the supermarkets announced bag bans on the first Wednesday of months with a Y then realized they could make more money by banning them altogether under the guise of Going Green. With upcoming January 1st looking like the mother of all D-Days it remains to be seen if Greta Thunberg is invited and gets a bigger reception that Pope Francis did in November. Let us pray….Rooster has as many cloth bags as cloth caps and thinks the Thais will soon get the hang of things and then Prayut and his cronies and plod will be back to being most reviled.
4. Yet more vinyl: The Fall of Big Joke and the rise of Big Oud.
The year began with an individual policeman as the most popular – and visible – character in Thailand. In some ways the year ends in similar fashion. Back in January everywhere one looked was Lt-Gen Surachate Hakpan, the head of immigration and deputy at the tourist police. Larger than life, the self-styled Big Joke – rice gruel rather than humor – looked destined for the upper strata of the RTP, even politics. In April all this came to the abruptest of ends when BJ was ordered to go and shuffle paper at the PM’s office. No reason was given and speculation – though it has now died down – has remained to this day. Former border control policeman Lt-Gen Sompong Chingduang or Big Oud (the sound of a snuffling pig) took over at Suan Phlu. He was far more dour but it appeared that so much vinyl had been ordered for the promo boards that BO had to keep the public relations going. That PR was poor, however, and continuing crackdowns and slavish observance of old, outdated regulations irked many, especially the expat community. Biometrics became a buzzword and Thai media Naew Na became a mouthpiece of Big Oud. Many who had rejoiced that Big Joke and his “Bad Guys Out” era was over were made to think again and contemplate that the devil you know is often a far better bedfellow than the one you don’t.
5. Xenophobia, Indians, Chinese and Russians.
One of the overriding myths of the Thaivisa forum this year was that rampant xenophobia had built up in Thailand towards foreigners – especially expats. As “evidence” of this forum curmudgeons pointed to draconian visa regulations, the changing of the goal posts and TM 30 reporting. Some even claimed this anti foreigner rhetoric was filtering down to street level. All the while much of those most vocal on the forum spouted the most appalling xenophobia towards visitors to Thailand from India, China and Russia. It seemed like the keyboard warriors spouting from their Pattaya bar stools were calling the pot belly black. The Chinese – without whom Thailand’s tourism industry would be desperate – were castigated for being noisy and dirty and giving money only to their compatriots. The Indians were dismissed as argumentative and Cheap Charlie despite claims they spend twice as much as the Chinese! Russians were blamed for being violent and rude. Paragons of virtue and wealth sharing seemed to be the holier-than-thou Europeans. I wonder why that should be?
6. It’s a dog’s life – Expats in Thailand.
A common theme on the Thaivisa forum this year was that everything was leading to one inescapable conclusion – you had to leave paradise! Those who presented reasoned arguments about Thailand still being a great place to work, stay and retire in, were drowned out in a cacophony of TM 30, insurance and bank deposit gloom. Vietnam and the Philippines were presented as better. They were more welcoming, more exciting and even had clean air. The state of Thai air quality was constantly mentioned. Thread after thread featured spluttering expats going home with their families after they had had enough. Some even claimed they were being hounded out. Surveys that listed Thailand and places like Bangkok at or near the top of expat wish-lists were pooh-poohed as nonsense. Those who were ‘forced to stay’ were looked down upon as having burnt their bridges and were little more than trapped. A meeting at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club after a petition was started in the north east resolved nothing. Rooster – admittedly from a permanent resident “I’m alright Jack” standpoint – read these stories with increasing incredulity; Thailand has changed, no one would deny it, but on balance I feel that the improvements outweigh the negatives. For this columnist she remains one of the very best places in the world to live, raise a family and enjoy life. And Bangkok remains its jewel in the crown. It is an opinion now drowned out in the complaints but – though I ain’t no lackey – I am sticking to it.
7. Crime and Punishment.
Crime was seen as rising and punishment was viewed as not fitting the crime. Some foreigners on a few days overstay were hauled off to jail while the absurd idea that Thais were being fined 500 baht for serious assault took hold. A “wai” and a contrite apology was viewed as more than enough for the most heinous of crimes while petty offences were punished with severity. The rich were able to get off and cases got forgotten while the poor were hounded and made to suffer in their place. This was largely nonsense and merely a result of the loudest shouters being believed the most. The police – despite coming in for the usual justified criticism – did act fairly and sensibly in many small as well as high profile cases. Those guilty of drug offences received very long sentences. Yes, the rich sometimes walked – but the case of Ital-Thai’s Premchai the panther shooter and his entourage showed that justice was not just for the downtrodden. Thailand has a long way to go for a fair and equitable system of crime,punishment and justice and money still talks – just look at the case of the factory owner who bought his way out of killing a policeman and his wife for that. But paying damages are important and accepting responsibility and being allowed to move on remains a tenet of Thai life and culture. Corruption remains deeply rooted in society but the rise of people power through social media is slowly starting to chip away at the antics of the elites.
8. Do as I say NOT as I do – Teachers assaulting children, education system in a mess.
Week after week, month after month the forum was saturated with stories of teachers assaulting children. This has always been the case in Thailand where some still believe that “Khun Khru” has the right to do as they please. These cases are becoming far more visible due to the fact that children themselves – armed with mobile phones – are catching the teachers in the act. Time after time directors fail to act responsibly and the problem is exacerbated by parents who are only too willing to forgive and forget after the teachers apologize with a grovelling ‘wai’ and a hollow “it won’t happen again”. This along with an education system that continues to leave much to be desired presented schools in a poor light this year. Reform is well overdue but critics of the system suggest that appetite for that is low from those in control who are more than happy for the population to stay subjugated. Personally, I fear what I might do if one of my little ones were assaulted for not doing their homework. Meanwhile buzzwords aplenty came out as more English teachers were promised. That’s good news for Filipinos, I should imagine, as the Thais continue to try to improve things on a mean budget when the education of the people should be a matter of national priority and high spending.
9. Stories from Farangistan and elsewhere.
For this columnist the year was dominated by events in Washington and Whitehall and the subject of climate change. In the capital of the United States its so called president continued to do as he pleased with little sanction or restraint. He faces impeachment but will not be removed from office unless his majority Republicans turn on him, which is not going to happen. Rooster fears that his “witch hunt” rhetoric will resonate with a baying public who will vote him back in. In London it was all about Brexit, all year. The parliament was hamstrung by politicians and the courts effectively blocking the divorce from the EU until a landslide win for the Tories at least promised an end to the impasse. Brexit will happen but don’t expect an end to wrangling as trade deals take many years. Ubiquitous Greta from Sweden was named Time’s Person of the Year for her climate change activism. Climate change deniers – not least of all Trump – scandalously condemned her. Protesters from “Extinction Rebellion” in London brought much of the capital to a standstill in an effort to make the government act. One protester climbed on a tube train and was attacked by angry commuters. One had to despair for the world.
10. Amulets and Lottery numbers.
Fortunately the light-hearted nature of Thailand kept most people smiling though I still worry about some foreigners who live in the kingdom who take things too seriously. Accidents were always to the fore. Drivers praised their amulets for saving them even when everybody else had been annihilated. Number plates were considered important when snakes were found in the engine compartment. Two headed cats, calves, pigs and every other animal imaginable drew villagers from far and wide bearing incense and flowers. Logs inhabited by bounteous maidens were also popular. But top of the pile had to be the banana tree that had fruit pointing skywards like some Stunted Spiritual Schlong – who could not find the lottery winner in that! In hundreds of other stories the quirky side of Thailand – often backed up with video footage – reminded us why we love to live here. The football supporter who ran naked round the Hat Yai clock tower after his team were defeated got a slap from the constabulary after his antics. Fortunately the slap was on the wrist…..
As promised, the following stories from the last seven days were noteworthy for one reason or another:
1. Police warn public not to drink and drive at New Year – click on this story for the promo picture alone featuring “Yommaban” from Thai hell and a man with a steering wheel!
2. To intervene or not? Police were investigating after a man was stabbed to death following an argument between a boyfriend and his Vietnamese girlfriend in Bangkok.I usually stay out of spats – I have enough on my plate with six and three year old girls….
3. “Avenue Plaza” modeled on Bangkok’s Nana Plaza is set to open in Pattaya in March. An Indian owned group plans to turn The Avenue on 2nd Road into yet more Go Go bars. “Sean” told me that reports of Pattaya’s niterie entertainment demise were just “negativity”. Many mistakenly thought the new venue would target Indians causing one FB wag to comment: “Naan Plaza?”.
4. Closure is not normally welcomed but that is exactly what hundreds of Thais in Phuket want. Fifteen years after the devastating Asian tsunami their lost relatives sadly remain unidentified.
5. A female motorcyclist was killed in Korat during a road safety training exercise. As Bangkok legend Bernard Trink was wont to say – “Any comment would be superfluous”.
6. A murderer described as the “Jack the Ripper” of Thailand was let out of jail to kill again in what prison officials declared was a clerical error. The corrections department director-general should resign in disgrace. If he was Japanese he’d have topped himself by now. Somkid was soon captured after a massive manhunt as villagers demanded an eye for an eye.
7. Thais should lower their prices as the downward trends in tourism continue to bite. In a story from Phuket posters on Thaivisa and Facebook commented in droves after Thaivisa suggested that a Starbucks latte was cheaper in Berlin than Thailand.
8. Meanwhile, as mentioned briefly above, the TAT have turned to a fortune teller to help with their promotions. Tarot reader Dr Khatha Chinbanchorn has been hired to instill a bit of “positive energy”. He stopped short of predicting a billion visitors by New Year.
9. Uncle Too had a busy week debunking what he said was “fake news”. His wife was not a Muslim but a Buddhist, he ranted. He was also vocal in praising Thai massage. He was at a technology forum when he had a “traditional one”. It all ended happily though the masseuse said he had appeared “tense”.
10. Rather than closing on a positive Christmas note I won’t. In Buriram a three year old child called Tenggwa was savaged by a vicious dog that grabbed her by the throat, yanked her about like a rag doll and killed her. The little girl’s granddad told reporters in tears that the owner refused to accept any responsibility claiming it was done by a stray. Stray or not, would the Thai authorities please start to jail irresponsible owners and euthanize these filthy and dangerous menaces to our children that roam the streets and villages of Thailand.
May I wish all readers a very merry Xmas.
But spare a thought for Tenggwa who won’t be opening any presents this year.
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