A story from the south of Thailand this week about a hired gunman shooting a woman for 2,500 baht sent this columnist into a reverie of reminiscence about an extraordinary Thai man I met many years ago.
His name was Pira Sudham and he rose from humble north eastern beginnings to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote about social and political transition in Thailand including the Thammasat University massacres of the 1970s and the violence during “Black May 1992”. Among his subjects were the impoverished, slavery, prostitution and the drug trade. All his work is in English.
I was a teacher of Thai culture and he sounded like my cup of tea so I invited him to come to my international school to give a talk to students and parents. To say it was eye-opening would be the understatement of the 20th Century.
I had first come across Pira while reading a short story about a hired gunman. I decided to use it in my cultural classes for older pupils.
Pira explained in his talk that he had been born in Napo in Buriram and was a poor son of the fields. He was later educated by monks in Bangkok and went to the prestigious Triam Udom School, Chulalongkorn University then universities in Auckland and Wellington.
After his mesmerizing talk containing ideas I’d never heard expressed by any Thai, he invited me out to dinner. For such a humble and frank man, I expected to take a bus to Bang Na for a bowl of noodles or perhaps some curry on rice.
Five minutes later I was sitting next to him in a top of the range white Mercedes Benz and we were on our way to the Shangri-La hotel on the river. As we exited Bangkok Patana School his front wheel went in a pothole. He swore in English at the Thai highways authority, vowing vengeance.
A wry Thai smile crossed his lips but it belied a steely determination.
Over dinner and the most expensive bottle of Italian wine I have ever had the pleasure to drink, he regaled me with stories of Isaan and how we needed to work together to improve Thailand. He was so inspiring that I nodded and believed. Within weeks we had set up a charity that saw our schoolchildren raise hundreds of thousands of baht for poor children in his village.
He encouraged me to become a public speaker. I thought he was crazy as I was mid-30s and far too nervous to contemplate standing in front of anything more than a medium size class. I tried it and had the audience eating out of the palm of my hand; some children and staff were even crying at the end. He had unleashed an unknown power. I spent the next 20 years doing a great deal of public speaking and compering.
It was not just the hitman story that reminded me of him. The many protests erupting in the kingdom in recent weeks should remind us how the wider public as well as students can make a difference in improving the country we love.
Well I hope you love the kingdom, because I vow that I do! For me it’s a love that stands the test, but unlike a famous British hymn, it’s a love that does ask questions.
Down in Phangnga, Phakorn, aged just 26, had used his shotgun to dispatch a crab forager called Leuang from Buriram (the connection to Pira again). A callous shot to the head in a palm oil plantation. Good police work soon had the shooter in custody admitting his actions for that pitifully low fee.
As expected, this provided grist to the mill for those who claim that “life in Thailand is cheap”. Perhaps there was a smidgen of cheapness amongst the cruelty. But generally, I loathe this “one size fits all expression” of the Thaivisa barstool curmudgeon. It ranks alongside the ubiquitous “brown envelope” and universal “saving face” explanations, “fragile Thai male ego” and criticisms of everything from Thai driving to safety standards without providing any truly workable answers.
Apart from the fact that the western countries they came from miraculously do everything better! Yeh…right!
Used in a wider context the “life is cheap” notion is patent drivel. Throughout the whole world life is cherished above all else. And the sacrifices made by those who have died for others are rightly hailed as true heroism that must be celebrated and revered for generations.
Such lofty ideals seemed a long way from the forum this week as stories old and new continued to bubble and come to the boil.
Simmering away nicely is the saga of Red Bull Boss and his now infamous tango with a Thong Lo cop under the wheels of his Ferrari in 2012. A deputy attorney general claimed innocence then resigned before being hauled back to testify afresh. A probe recommended two charges be reintroduced. The actions of everyone from Thong Lo plod through the ranks, came into question. The chief of the RTP stamped his boots as “deep flaws” surfaced.
Frankly, one hardly needs to scratch that deep.
Meanwhile the death of a star witness was once again deemed to be an accident. One wonders what Boss makes of all this. I doubt he is supping on an energy drink while reading the comments. I doubt he gives a Tossaporn. But at least us mortals can revel in the fact that he daren’t come home!
Like many other arrogant, obscenely rich fugitives, something that they crave the most is out of their reach but available to us. Let’s live with that solace if nothing else.
Hoping that his “residence” in Thailand could continue next week is teacher-cum-blogger-cum-journalist Richard Barrow. He said immigration paid a lengthy visit putting his visa renewal in jeopardy.
He does this from time to time; perhaps a little less of the histrionics for “likes” and a few more facts might help. He later tried to clarify but succeeded in only muddying the waters further for his supporters.
His blogging and subject matter didn’t appear worthy of banishment so it will probably blow over. None of this stopped the foreign netizens from spouting every conspiracy theory along the nonsensical lines that “no foreigner can criticize Thailand”.
Do people really believe that complaining about double pricing warrants deportation? It’s like getting blacklisted for moaning about bargaining at the market.
I accept that “mysterious forces” are often at work in Thailand but avoid defamation and sidestep outright law breaking and you’ll generally be left alone.
Many Thais are standing up to be counted and wherever Pira Sudham is these days, I suspect he is smiling into his Chianti.
However, at this point I must register further disgust at the “life is cheap in Thailand” claim. Mrs R just got back from the market and tomatoes – a staple in my household and usually available in Bangkok for about 25 – 30 baht a kilo – were on sale for a staggering 90 baht.
Needless to say, she knew a purchase would incur the “Wrath of Rooster” so came back with aubergines on a stalk. The traders blamed the price on the rainy season. My word the monsoon gets a lot of stick, doesn’t it!
Road accidents are blamed on it. (This week the carnage at the scene hit 8,500 and rising for 2020). Accidents at sea and drownings are because of it. Ask the curmudgeons and they’d probably blame the price of Leo and murder on a tropical storm!
Apropos, an air-con repairman murdered a Singaporean businessman’s wife in a bungled robbery in Korat. A Sisaket man raped and murdered a woman with mental problems leaving her battered to death by the Chonburi motorway. In Nakhon Sri Thammarat – that Rooster invariably refers to as the murder capital of Thailand – a boyfriend stabbed his better half nineteen times in the passenger seat of a friend’s car.
It was indeed a bad week for the living.
But as horrendous as these murders were, very little can compare with the needless death of a small child. My editor can send me the most grisly carnage from Thai Rath, expect me to translate horrendous stabbings or shootings in cold blood, but the death of a one and a half year old in Bang Bua Thong splashed tears on the keyboard.
The little guy was sleeping downstairs with his mum, who will always regret dropping off but was hardly to blame. He climbed on a speaker to open the front door and toddled off to a fancy carp pond by the side of the house where some colorful balls floating on the water grabbed his innocent attention…
I don’t like blame in these circumstances, I like to learn. Anyone with very young children should cover ponds until they grow up (the children, not the adults). One child of an international school teacher I knew once died in little more than a puddle outside their house. And don’t leave buckets of water in toilets and bathrooms uncovered either. Nippers can topple in there too.
I really don’t want to have to translate your misery one day.
Top alleged “xenophobia” story of the week concerned the upcoming Chiang Mai marathon. Organizers claimed they had no intention of barring foreigners but the backlash spoke volumes. “Grace” who had been carted off to jankers for having fake stamps and 60 ganja plants upstairs, was back behind her desk with Thai Visa Centre saying the press got it all wrong.
There but for the God of Grace go I!
All these denials made it appear that the standard “oh no we didn’t” Punch and Judy shenanigans of the Thai government and police were as catching as the virus.
Covid-19 spluttered along this week rather in the manner of an irksome cold or cold sore that persists. All I will say is that the penny – if not the baht – is really starting to drop. Foreign tourists won’t be coming back at all before next year even if there are a few flights.
The tourism authorities can big up the prospects as much as they like but they are kidding no one, least of all the poor Thais whose livelihoods have been decimated by the pandemic. The pandemic that as we are frequently reminded has resulted in the same number of deaths as a day on the roads or a couple of week’s drownings of under 15s in the nation’s reservoirs.
In Krabi the local tourism business leader said that Koh Phi Phi was now sparkling clean. Volunteer divers had even tidied up the seafloor. The island was totally, 100%, completely, absolutely, ten out of ten safe for the Thai and foreign tourists she soon expected to arrive in droves.
Methinks she doth praise too much.
In QUOTES one of a myriad of deputy mayors announced how the burying of unsightly wires and cables in Walking Street could be accomplished by very little digging. They will be using the existing drainage pipes that for some reason are completely redundant and don’t actually drain water anymore.
Bless the good ship Pattaya and all who sink in her!
Motorcyclists in Bangkok protested 1000 strong at Grab HQ over the company’s general meanness and abrupt change in work practices. Some of the angst can be laid at the door of the riders’ expectations after a bonanza during the lockdown but most companies like Grab, Uber…you name them….who enter a market at the expense of legitimate and long standing services, are initially hailed by the public, then completely shaft their employees and customers because they only care about shareholders’ profits.
Expect these kinds of companies to increasingly crawl out of the online woodwork. I’ll hail a taxi in the street and walk to McDonald’s thank you very much even if I pay more.
In international news Galicia in Spain banned smoking in most places over fear of virus spread. Ole!
In the country previously known as the greatest on earth, Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris for his election running mate that had the incumbent tweeting some renewed nonsense. Rather like he did with suggestions that Obama was born in Kenya, he’ll get some redneck mileage before he announces the truth in a mock display of self-righteousness.
How can anyone fail to see through this demon?
In the UK the government announced a last minute quarantine for people coming back from France where 150,000 were holidaying. Unlike Scrabble players, the Eton Mess and Co. don’t know their coccyx from their olecranon.
In Auckland, lockdown was extended for at least another 12 days.
In sporting news, the Champions league quarter finals were one leg behind closed doors. I can’t say I miss the crowds as much as I missed having no footy, racing or snooker at all. Having them back has all but saved this sporting nut’s life, with or without spectators.
Though the person in charge of the crowd noise button at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield will probably only get the hang of it after the final of the World Snooker Championship concludes tomorrow. Spectators were to be allowed this weekend.
Back in Thailand the nation enjoyed a day off to celebrate the 88th birthday of HM the Queen and Mother’s Day on Wednesday. Further holidays to replace Songkran were announced for September 4th and 7th making another long weekend next month.
In Chiang Mai a deranged foreign woman threatened to jump into the Ping River before wrapping herself in a purloined Thai flag and appearing naked at a shrine. Not surprisingly she was later carted off to the city’s most well-known psychiatric hospital. Sadly, stories of this nature do nothing to promote the very real issues faced by people with mental health problems. Quite the opposite.
Coming from a family where we have had to face up to such issues, I would like some posters – especially on Thaivisa’s Facebook arm – to show a little more restraint in the nonsense they type.
In Kanchanaburi a man called Ramet, 20, who has a condition called valvular heart disease (had to Google that one) reportedly came back to life. Fortunately, an alert policeman (no oxymoron intended) spotted that he had opened his eyes after he had apparently breathed his last on the toilet while taking an afternoon dump.
The rescue foundation had done up his flies and were just doing up the body bag when plod intervened to save Ramet going up in smoke!
Finally, immigration chief Big Oud gave us all some timely laughs this week reporting on the arrest of three Chinese nationals called Wang, Si and Dong.
Wang was operating a dodgy website without a work permit and Si was on several years overstay.
Even for such a stony-faced cop as Big Oud, he admirably managed to keep a straight face behind his mask when it came to announcing the third man’s misdemeanor.
Dong was charged with illegal entry.