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The week that was in Thailand news: Searching for souls in Thailand


The week that was in Thailand news: Searching for souls in Thailand

There is usually a brief round of Thailand’s favorite social sport after Songkran – soul searching.

Why this and that went so disastrously wrong, why such and such was a national disgrace, what can we do about all these terrible things that are so un-Thai and all those Thai and even foreign miscreants who have let the side down so horribly. Blah, blah..

It usually lasts about two days until everyone realizes that how many chilies one has in one’s Som Tam is far more important than tiresome and nebulous concepts like law and morality.

I first experienced the National Sport of Searching for Soul (Thai Premier Division) after the Lauda Air crash of 1991. The Thais were less concerned about the loss of 223 lives on the 767 that came down in Suphanburi. They were far more aghast at the aftermath – rescue foundations and entrepreneurs of the most disgraceful kind had set up dozens of tables dealing in passports and charred watches and other ghoulish memorabilia for sale.

The soul searching lasted the customary few days and when the public were satisfied they had actually found one, everyone moved on. It was all a bit too unpleasant to face grisly facts about society, much easier to wonder why Mr Lauda had a funny scar and what happened to his foreign made thrust reversers, whatever they were.

This year the nation limped back to work after Songkran with barely a soul searching whimper. It seemed to be that most people who took part had had a good time. Those who avoided it, like Rooster, had also enjoyed themselves. Miscreants were at a minimum. As the country picked up the pieces of their back to normality lives we could spare a sneer for Pattaya where it was still going on…ad infinitum.

Such was the anticlimactic feel that it was hilarious to note that the chief of the country’s mental health department issued a five point plan for the “Post Songkran Blues”. He issued his tips on going back to work and avoiding depression. It sounded like New Year in England or when the clocks go back in October and the “nights start drawing in”.

Point one of the doctor’s cunning strategy was to plan ahead…. I have little doubt that was where all his compatriots gave up en masse, clicked like and went onto something more understandable instead. He should have eased people into the planning idea as it is a tricky concept. Number one might have been ‘get rat-arsed once again next weekend’ followed by ‘spend 16 hours a day on Facebook to ease yourself back into work’.

Songkran 2019 featured the usual fights fueled by that most insidious of liquid drugs, booze. But the arguments and fisticuffs seemed no worse than normal…..indeed no worse than any regular weekend in LOS – the Land of Spirits in more ways than one.

Some thugs attacked a bus driver for going too fast in a water throwing zone. Yawn. A man dubbed “Mr Lustful” was pictured with a very rotund and inanely smiling cop after “Mr L” groped a woman on a motorbike thus outraging the netizens. Double yawn. There was 2.5678% less carnage – or thereabouts – than Songkran 2018. Triple yawn.

In fact the only interest I could glean from this year’s Thai New Year concerned drunks and Khon Kaen (subjects not necessarily connected I might add).

The junta’s much trumpeted effort to crack down on drink driving seemed to have some effect. Not on stopping the practice but on banging people up. Somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000 people were drunk behind the wheel and on bike seats. You could take your pick at the figures you wanted to believe even though most of us will have imagined that hundreds of thousands were probably guilty of DUI if they’d actually been caught.

It was true to say that there were many arrests. The Probation Department reported about 400 people would have to wear the electronic monitoring bracelets and consume lao khao at home during the hours of darkness as a punishment. The EMs looked quite natty and vaguely resembled something a DPM might enjoy wearing:

“Hey Khun Mae, look at my expensive new Rolex”, one could almost hear the drunk driver boasting on arrival home.

“Oohoo na luuk!…..Did you buy one for you dear old mum too?”

The cops were obliged to reduce most charges in accidents involving a fatality from murder to vehicular shenanigans following a court ruling that scuppered their plans. The Taling Chan court rejected charges that might have seen a well-heeled factory owner on death row after he killed a senior cop and his wife. Fair enough – driving drunk and causing death should be ten to twenty years in my book. But please enforce it and don’t let the wealthy and connected walk free.

Smiles were the order of the day in Khon Kaen – and to be fair in many other joyous videos showing the good side of the festival – as the locals got together to break the world record for the longest duration Human Wave, previously held by Japan.

The denizens of the north-eastern city impressed the Guinness World Records’ Thai office rep with a wave lasting 17 minutes 41 seconds. This put the Japs firmly in their place for the first time since those memorable five hours before the Thai/Japan ceasefire in December 1941.

Meanwhile, I pondered if Guinness had a record for most drunk drivers caught on a single day or if Namibia had relinquished its undeserved Carnage Crown to its rightful owners.

As Songkran 2019 faded into national and personal obscurity, others will remember the Seven Deadly Days for very different reasons.

In Rayong a Belgian pensioner was horrifically murdered in his own bedroom. The bar stool sleuths of Thaivisa forum had a field day that took their minds off the loneliness of enforced Songkran hibernation. This glee was caused by the Thai media who said that the murder was reported after an eight hour delay.

In the house were the wife, the mother-in-law and most pertinently a former monk who the wife had befriended on Facebook who she had subsequently invited into her home to cook for her ailing husband who was in and out of hospital.

If master satirist Alan Ayckbourn had tried to pen a play – even a farce – with such characters I’m sure most people would have rejected it as too outlandish.

The Rayong cops (Rooster was ticked off for being too informal so I’ll repeat the word here) were suspicious of the wife but banged up the cook on what seemed like a murder charge. Whoever did it had what the British somewhat euphemistically term “malice aforethought”. The poor victim’s eye was hanging out after he was bashed in the head, no less.

Malice? Malice? What the eff is Malice….

Down in QUOTES – the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard – a British man ended up in hospital after an altercation with his knife wielding Thai wife. He clearly forgot Rooster’s first, second and third ‘Rules of Engagement’:

One: Always retreat when your Thai missus picks up anything, let alone a knife.
Two: When slagging off the in-laws speak in Swahili, never Thai.
And three: Where possible, don’t get engaged in the first place.

More guilty than the wife in that case were the operators of the zipline in Chiang Mai known as “Flight of the Gibbon”. A Canadian tourist – with scandalous suggestions that he somehow contributed to his own demise by being overweight – had plummeted to his death after the ropes frayed and the pulley gave way on a line that should be able to withstand 600 kilograms.

I had been to this very facility many years ago on a safety survey. My school, Harrow International Bangkok, were planning on running a Year 8 residential trip and we needed some adventurous activities for the wealthy children to take them out of their molly-coddled and maid supervised comfort zone.

I went to Flight of the Gibbon a few months before the scheduled trip to check on their operation. I took Mrs Rooster along, too, for a free trip at the school’s expense. I would examine their equipment and check if it was all entered in a log book. If unsure about any aspect of safety I would take pictures and seek the second opinion of our online consultant. (He was British and had made it to the top of Everest on one leg and a single canister of nitrogen).

Mr Gibbon – who had only recently opened – was all gung-ho and trying to impress me with all the latest jargon about the radii of rope and how many Newtons his carabiners could tolerate. Then he smiled, stopped and said:

“Right let’s get you harnessed and up in the trees!”

He’d never met Rooster before so couldn’t be blamed for what happened next.

I looked at him a tad quizzically before saying something in Thai along the lines of: “You’ve gotta be joking pal! You wouldn’t get me up there if you and your Somchais carried me up!

“But the wife will try it……”

Mrs R did and had a great time in the leafy canopy as I watched from a safe distance on terra firma. She even returned and we later had two children to celebrate.

Even the Year Eight children went there on their expedition and were all returned intact to their Hi-So parents to be coddled another day. Flight of the Gibbon clearly went downhill in more ways than one after that as there were reports of other accidents and investigations in 2015 and 2016 before this latest avoidable tragedy.

The operators I worked with at Harrow got used to the fact that Rooster is a hire-wire – in fact high anything – wuss. Even air travel leaves me a jibbering wreck. I congratulate myself that I have been able to live on the 12th floor of a condo for 15 years.

On a school trip to Railey Beach in Krabi I was heard to swear very inappropriately in front of the impressionable teens when I saw the abseil we were all supposed to enjoy. In true “do as I say not as I do” schoolmaster fashion I encouraged all the scared kids over the precipice before doubling back through a dark cave on my own to avoid a severe case of the high-wire heebie-jeebies.

I take most of my biggest risks with money over a Scrabble board or on the back of a motorcycle whizzing around Bangkok. It amuses me that I have had people on the back of my bike who have jumped out of planes but who are scared witless riding pillion with Rooster!

Finally, much of Songkran for me was spent watching a sport that I don’t play but one that I adore to follow – golf. Years ago friends had tried to get me interested in playing. They knew I loved the game and had played on the pitch and putt courses in England in my youth.

I found everything about golf in Thailand dreadful. People were slow and always on their phones telling the “mia noi” that they were now on the 14th, now the 15th…..I started to wish I couldn’t understand Thai. You were obliged to have a caddie that I didn’t want. They all looked too old to chat up and invite for a little “Lum 19” (19th hole) action later. In addition it was either baking hot or pouring with rain and you had to rent a cumbersome wheelie thing.

The courses where I was taken were all very nice – but thrashing that little ball around, putting my back out and returning to the clubhouse with a score of 120 kind of took the edge off the enjoyment. Then came the bill and the drinking – no, golf in Thailand was not my bottle of Kloster.

But I always loved to watch it on TV especially as I had some considerable betting success when Mike Weir wiped out all my hitherto losses with a famous win at the Masters.

When it came to Tiger Woods I somehow contrived to always have large sums of money riding on him when he lost! So much so that several years ago after my retirement I decided to stop “buying grass for the hoses to eat” – a Thai saying to hide the fact one enjoys that scandalous pastime of wagering on speculative events.

So it was that this week I tuned into the Masters’ coverage from that beautiful tract of exclusive real estate in Augusta, Georgia with all its patrons and politeness. I was convinced that Tiger would win and totally happy in not having a single baht in bets weighing down his recently fused back.

His one shot victory is something that people the world over will remember for the rest of their lives. For me Tiger is not part Thai, not even really American, certainly not black….he is just Tiger. A man who has been through a lot. Like him or loathe him he has seen incredible success and adulation followed by misery, failure, family collapse and the dark days of injury, hopelessness, pain and public vilification.

Yet he has come out the other side to inspire not just golfers but people the world over who appreciate a comeback, appreciate someone who has overcome adversity.

As Bernard Trink might have said about his compatriot,

A tip ‘o the hat Tiger!


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