Pattaya, Scams, Weed and TM 30…..with a little Thai honesty for good measure!
Herewith part two of my review of a stupendous and fun-filled year on Thaivisa containing the second selection of stories and themes that have marked the last 12 months in Thailand. There are ten headings presented in no particular order. Following the review comes a topical selection of this week’s best stories to round off 2019. Enjoy!
1. Pattaya: The Undisputed Queen of the Eastern Seaboard.
Rooster likes to refer to Pattaya as QUOTES – the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard. Her Majesty kept her crown polished as the purveyor of the very best news that Thailand has to offer this year. My news editor calls it gold and in Rooster’s mischievous hands the resort is never far from ridicule, praise and comment in equal measure. Sometimes I feel as though I live there though this year I spent about four hours in her….themes that captured the imagination of social media were the hunt for prostitution, the washing away of the expensive new beach and the perpetual doom and gloom stories followed by optimism. Indians were seen as her last hope and bar stool analysts bemoaned the disappearance of Europeans. The constabulary were kept busy with snatch theft and lady boys vying with foreign criminals that would make the Costa Del Sin look like kindergarten. Pattaya’s chief died on the way to a meeting in Bangkok. A proposed high speed train and a monorail (or is it a tram?) contrasted with the city’s taxi vs Grab vs motorcycle turf wars. As the year ended with a plan by an Indian group to bring a Nana Plaza style entertainment complex to 2nd Road, we at Thaivisa appreciated that Pattaya – like her or loathe her – was the lady that kept giving. Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin…even Bangkok to a degree….just trailed in her wake!
2. The Rise and Rise of the Thai Baht and Rising Prices.
The inexorable rise in value of the Thai currency went hand in hand with the tourism woes and the angst felt by those like retirees reliant on the worth of a foreign source of income. The TAT blamed visitors for spending less though they found it hard to accept that tourists might decide not to visit at all based on exchange rates. Financial experts blamed everything under the sun. And forum curmudgeons – all Forex gurus on a bar stool – fingered the government and the elites. Those of us who felt richer by the day because of our baht holdings tried ever so hard not to gloat. Australians and Brits in particular felt the pinch with the Aussie dollar teetering on 20 baht and sterling dipping as low as 37 (though those at the scandalous rip off window to Thailand at Suwannaphum may have seen 34 and a bit). When the UK election and promise of Brexit resolution promised an upward trend, down it went again. Sensible people understand that currency fluctuations are part and parcel of life but many were hurting. Prices in the shops and supermarkets remained high when foreign goods should have been cheaper. Blatant profiteering continues to be the norm as expatriates and retirees alike look forward to the mythical day when there might be price wars to attract consumers. Dream on!
3. Scams and Thai Honesty.
Though they have probably never gone away, the jet-ski and gems scams took a back seat this year as a great deal of new rip-offs – especially online – took center stage. The forum was full of the smug who would never fall for anything (despite the fact they were constantly deceived by the nature of the news they were fed). Pyramid schemes of all shapes and sizes filled the news pages to the point that journalists stopped explaining the word “Ponzi” opting instead to mention the % that the gullible had fallen for. Banks either stealing or “misplacing” customers’ money vied for news space along with the ubiquitous taxi driver and song thaew scams perpetrated in the tourist hot spots of Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket. Many also fell foul of building project deceit while whole families were blasted away for conning their relatives. Such were the myriad miscreants that Thaivisa even gave a name to the stories about taxi drivers and 7-Eleven staffers bucking the trend by handing in wallets left behind by customers – Thai Honesty! This enraged those who believed it was a TV conspiracy to counteract the negative press. Not a bit of it – Thais are as honest as the next nationality, if that is a compliment!
4. TM 30.
Everyone, even those of us who never have to bother with such forms, learned what was meant by TM 30. So much so that it became a buzzword for all manner of perceived grievances directed at the Thai Immigration Bureau and its chief Big Oud. Posters announced they were leaving Thailand because they had to report a weekend away. When immigration plod failed to catch someone, the resurgence of the 1979 law was cited as being useless. Naew Na became a mouthpiece of the bureau repeating their 1178 “dob in” line almost daily. So much vinyl was used that it became as rare as a straight answer; expats complained about the inconsistency from one immigration office to another. Those who had positive comments to report were drowned out in a sea of self-righteousness as many expats completely overstated their importance to Thailand and the Thai economy. I actually missed my annual trip to Chaeng Wattana (to get a re-entry stamp for PR) as I didn’t leave Thailand this year even for one day. The lady there always fills in the forms for me though this might have something to do with the fact that I “wai” and speak polite Thai – and there is a framed cutting on the wall that I presented to them after I wrote a letter of praise to a newspaper. Yes, the regulations can seem onerous at times but a little grovelling goes a long way in my adopted homeland…..
5. Road Death and Admissions.
For the first time the highest levels of officialdom in Thailand – none other than Night Watchman Prawit himself – admitted that something needed to be done about the carnage on Thailand’s roads. He mentioned 20,000 plus fatalities, well above the official “at the scene” stats that no one believes. So they set up committees to arrange committees. Any positive ideas all led to the inescapable conclusion that they needed police enforcement and were thus pointless. A huge dent – if you’ll pardon the pun – could be made in the appalling stats if plod would act regarding motorcyclists, helmets and the young who ride them to and from school. Yes, they have cracked down well on the road racers but more – much more – needs to be done until Thailand loses the “most dangerous” place to drive moniker. Daily News ran a daily column to report the carnage always cautioning that the figures would rise. This was translated by Rooster about once a week and added to the vast number of accident videos and reports of accidents that featured on our forums. Widely viewed and commented upon, Thaivisa are at the forefront of keeping this disgraceful aspect of Thai life – or rather death – in the news. Now is time for action rather than words or the kingdom will see one million more of its inhabitants die on the roads by 2060.
6. Thaivisa camaraderie: Pointing, Puns and POTY.
Though the forum continued to be dominated by a small number of members who are serial posters, it was heartening to see that despite much angst there was also humor and dare I say it even a sense of camaraderie. This was epitomized by the interest in the Poster of the Year poll. Bonhomie was more lacking on Thaivisa’s Facebook arm where the lack of moderation contributed to an unseemly free-for-all at times that was usually reined in on the forum proper. Mid-year some threads – not just royal ones- were closed down as a slap on the wrist for nasty elements who reveled in suicide or nationality baiting. For my taste there was still too much racist rhetoric but at least this was offset by the sense of fun. Posts about pointing and the use of vinyl became themes that we at Thaivisa adopted as our own. Presenting Thai stories about the power of amulets and the penchant for seeking lottery numbers everywhere inspired a pooh-pooh backlash that was mostly good humored. The hunt for prostitution in Pattaya, the resort’s sand, the mythology of TAT figures, blaming brake failure and micro-sleep for accidents and the salvation provided by Indians all became themes of mock and ridicule and pun-fests. Thaivisa – and many other Thai news sites from whence the stories were translated – increasingly became drivers in formulating opinion about the country. To wit, I would urge people to read stories and not just headlines. And understand that the news selected on a site like TV is just that, a selection. Wider knowledge of the Thai language is still important in appreciating the news and the public should realize how they are manipulated for clicks and how news can be presented as much as an entertainment as an information source these online days.
7. Musk Melon and other Spats.
Spats aplenty featured everywhere one looked in the last year of the decade. In parliament it became tedious as well as insidious with the ruling cronies attempting to beat down the popular upstarts with spurious weaponry. Out on the streets the wide use of hand held video, dash cams, helmet cams and CCTV – the news media and plod’s best friends – showed not just accidents but Road Rage with Rooster’s capital Rs! I have almost never experienced any myself in 35 years in Thailand but one had to wonder about its prevalence with the swords and guns brought to roadside disagreements. Ambulance drivers and the proverbial “Irate Netizens” (a Rooster wind-up term) took aim at drivers who blocked rescue vehicles. Grab and regular taxi and “win” services faced off everywhere with murder coming to the streets after battles in Udom Suk between warring ranks. Pedestrians in turn had a go at motorcyclists for mowing them down on the sidewalks. The authorities empowered the public to act by promising 50% of fines as an incentive to report illegal riding. But the mother of all spats had to be that between Musk Melon and Vernon Unsworth played out online then in a Los Angeles courtroom. Despite the “paedo” slur Melon prevailed leaving the rest of us to wonder what constitutes acceptable behavior online. It would be true to say that the policing of the internet and its moderation is still decades behind the technology.
8. Infrastructure Projects as Thailand Heads for Tomorrow.
Despite the perceived inactivity of the government many large infrastructure projects proceeded apace. This was most noticeable in Bangkok where residents continued to experience traffic woes as a large number of train lines were built overhead. At Rooster’s Ratchayothin Roost a Green Line extension was completed accompanied by improvements in the roads and a welcome boost to property prices. The city’s transport is undergoing a sea change but still the authorities do little to deter cars despite the capital’s air pollution problems. Those of us who love the city still say: “It’ll be great when it’s finished”. Outside of Krung Thep the spectacular Bang Pa-in to Korat elevated road looks set to open a scenic section soon; it will be one of the greatest drives in SE Asia when it is done. CP Group won the right to start developing the three airport rail link connecting Don Muang – Suwannaphum (my spelling) and Pattaya (U-Tapao). Some think this is unnecessary and fear for the safety of passengers but it forms an integral part of the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor plans. The dual track train south – and the preservation of the iconic Hua Hin Railway Station – was a feature of plans for what is known as the Thai Riviera down to Chumphon.
For a long term resident of Thailand – and one that once inhaled – one of the most remarkable sights of the year was a political party campaigning for not just the legalization of cannabis but the idea that Thais should be allowed to grow it for profit. Bhum Jai Thai got some cabinet posts and the country pressed ahead with promoting weed for medical purposes. It was well overdue and now the country finds itself playing catch-up with countries that have stolen a march. Whether recreational use will one day be allowed remains a moot point but the drive towards medical use makes prosecution of small time users somewhat unlikely. A policy of live and let live similar to that adopted by the UK seems likely for the near future. Thailand with its favorable climate and agricultural tradition should be pressing ahead. But the war on drugs – hard drugs that is – that has seen tens of thousands of incarcerations continues to be lost. Many including this columnist would like to see the war ended as it is futile. The drug fueled arguments and murder are not a reason to press on with the war. They would happen anyway. Logic suggests that if the country wants less trouble they might ban alcohol ahead of many other drugs anyway. Meanwhile tobacco got a very bad press. Street bans were largely welcomed though the law on smoking at home around children was misunderstood by foreigners in particular.
10. The Funny and the Quirky – why Thai News Remains the Best!
As I mentioned above in cautioning the reader, the news is increasingly an entertainment as well as an information source these days. And many sidestep it altogether to get to the comments! Certainly news in Thailand is never far from the fun and quirky – the antics of the politicians and the police attest to that! The juxtaposition of Western and antipodean based cultural sentiment alongside Thai cultural mores represented in thousands of stories on the site, helped to explain why Thai news remains one of the best. But while it is easy to mock, ridicule and criticize, I would urge readers to maintain a balance and let Thai culture and thinking become part of their psyche. There is much to admire and those that achieve a balance in Thailand are the happiest. Lastly, the most read and shared story of the year may surprise you. No it was not TM 30. Not Indians being the last hope for Pattaya. It was the story about the “Fast and the Furious 7” film crew having a minor prang in the south of Thailand. A reminder that the kingdom may seem like a soap opera at times if not a full blown movie!
As promised the following stories were noteworthy for one reason or another in the last seven days:
1. A French/Thai couple who run a dog sanctuary-cum-kennels in Buriram came in for criticism after local workers said they had been locked in the cages. A whole can of worms emerged after it was claimed that the Frenchman was acting as a bogus vet and had received 50 million baht in donations over the years. I found it interesting that neither the man nor his wife wanted to speak to me to put the record straight.
2. The Thai media have reintroduced nicknames for cabinet members. The government itself has been likened to a second hand dealership. Its leader is “The Drunken Boxer”, deputy dawg Prawit is “Big Brother the Entertainer” and transport chief Saksayam is “The Demolisher”. That’s about as daring as the Thai media gets which is hardly surprising……
3……….as a Thai journalist was imprisoned for two years for defamation after apparently stating the truth about a chicken farm. She is on bail and plans to appeal but the business is still going after 20 other reporters. Thailand really needs to take a long hard look at its defamation laws. They are largely counterproductive protecting the elite, big business and others at the expense of the people.
4. Thailand is planning to ask UNESCO to name Songkran on one of its iconic traditions lists. I am afraid what was once a pleasant, charming and culturally pleasing holiday has been hijacked by water tossing louts. Yes, the old traditions still exist but I hope that UNESCO reject the request and instead advise the Thais to clean it up a bit before applying again!
5. Several stories allowed reporters – and Rooster was no exception – to draw parallels with the festive season. In Pattaya there was the disgraceful sight of an 80 something foreigner sitting almost naked in a wheelchair at the police station. The Christmas spirit eventually kicked in but he was said to have been there for several days. Thais had a go at Ebenezer Plod.
6. The planned lack of police checkpoints on the main roads during Christmas and New Year was billed as a gift to the public though plod said it was to ease traffic flow. The flow of drinks is likely to be as uncontrolled as ever but nearly 2,000 alcohol checkpoints were proposed on secondary roads. Cunning, as it is easier to extract money down side roads…..
7. Thais dressing up as Nazis hit the news again after a couple of idiots gave the thumbs up next to a Christmas tree at a Bangkok shopping center. The Israeli ambassador was rightfully aghast but with the education levels about World War 2 in general and the holocaust in particular being almost non-existent it’ll all blow over until the next time. Sadly, a case of a storm trooper in a teacup.
8. Big Too has been promoting “Walking Streets” in Bangkok (at Silom, Yaowarat and Khao San) and the provinces as part of “economic and tourism stimulus measures”. I find it a little disconcerting that the country needs to attach such a name to our streets. I hope that this will not lead to a “Singaporean” style ‘dumbing down’ of the vibrancy that is Thailand all in the name of “progress” and a military sense of order.
9. Though not good news for a slain female gaur, it was interesting to see a full size male tiger caught on film devouring its prey in the Mae Wong National Park. It had apparently migrated there from a sanctuary and indicated that the park was a suitable home for endangered species. With the unexpected continued closure of Maya Bay the other week it is pleasing to note some positive news about action to preserve Thailand’s natural resources.
10. Finally, the Thai highway police have set up several dozen cardboard cut out patrol cars around the kingdom. The “Dummy Cars”, complete with flashing lights, will join the “jaa choey” (stone police officers) in helping to enforce the law and ensure our safety into 2020.
Happy New Year!
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