There are days when Rooster has barely wiped the weary sleep from his eyes, not yet slurped that first cup of reviving coffee, hardly focused on the day ahead when I take those initial glances at the ten stories that my editor has asked me to translate from the Thai press.
And I can barely believe my own porkies (that’s eyes not lies, by the way).
The text is there. The brain is almost in gear. Yet something does not compute. Even after nearly four decades in Thailand this seems too unbelievable! It can’t be true…or can it!?
One such day was Thursday. I had to glance over my shoulder to check that Jeremy Beadle had not returned to life to tell me I’d been framed. Or look behind the bedroom curtain to see if Peter Dulay was lurking ready to tell me to look in yonder lens because I was on Candid Camera.
Still unconvinced, the now fully alert eyes darted to the calendar. August 27th. Not April 1st. Double check 20/20 vision for 2020. This was for real! All systems are operational! Don’t beam me up Scottie. Thunderbirds are Go!
It was time to translate even if the stories were away with the fairies!
The week had started with nary a flicker of surprise. Thailand was spending a Googleplex of baht on submarines instead of bailing out its desperate people. This was to be expected. How else could the governing generals survive unless they have a few toys to play with.
The opposition threw their own toys out of the pram but the best response they got was that the sub purchase could be delayed. Until the government would proceed anyway – Som Nam Na for even trying, losers!
Then along came tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprkarn who makes predecessor Kobkarn “Durian Kit-Kat” Wattanavrangul appear like all her screws were tightened. A rare feat for a tourism supremo.
Hapless billionaire Pipat was pressing ahead with plans to lock up all foreigners on arrival for two weeks extracting every last cent or penny they happened to be carrying, forbidding them to go outside a one kilometer Phuket exclusion zone, testing them all over again, keeping them tied down for a further seven days then…only then, unleashing them on a wider Thai public who mostly have said they don’t want them.
Then a survey from abroad announced that 4 in 5 actually do! (Clearly the odd one out was Anutin who still hasn’t forgiven Johnny Foreigner for turning down his freebie Health Department mask).
As if to make Pipat’s Pipe Dream even more nonsensical he reckons that 2 million foreigners will jump at the chance between the October 1st D-Day – when the invasion is slated to commence – and the end of March.
PM Prayut – our father who art in khaki, hollow be thy name – sounded a note of caution questioning if 2 million was really worth it when 20 million was the norm. I mean what’s a paltry few billion between friends when the voters could be alienated.
Especially when compared to the cost of those subs, despite the Chinese discount for old friends.
Undaunted, Pipat insisted he must press on. All working together. All ministries as one. After all who could rely on Thai domestic tourism. All they do is cram themselves in one room, turn on the soaps and order Pizza Hut two-for-one specials with free Coke. Then toddle off back home to start work on Monday or watch daytime TV, depending on their post pandemic status.
All hail the Phuket Model he yelled! We shall prevail! And when we have contained the virus we will unleash the foreign hordes on Chiang Mai, Udon, Samui…..you name it!
Justice minister Somsak Thepsuthin did little to allay Rooster’s mounting incredulity. There he was in a chef’s hat also pressing ahead with his own stimulus measures.
Tourism in prisons!
After they had studied English and accounting, (I’m not making this up, please believe me) there was a “cookoff” between the inmates to decide the “Iron Bar Chef”. The forum faithful will have noted Rooster’s reference to “cooking the books” in the story.
At least the tourists after their imprisonment in Phuket will be able to empathize with the convicts’ plight. Who knows – it could lead to a whole new round of cultural understanding between wily Thais and baffled foreigners.
Then came Thursday when the S.H.*.T. (Studies of Humanity In Thailand) really hit the F.A.N. (Foreigners Appreciate Nothing).
In a measure to help deal with the carnage on the roads the RTP has decided to REDUCE the fines. Not just that, plod in all their uniformed glory came up with some baffling new anomalies to streamline the system.
How the lady presenter on Channel 7 kept a straight face was remarkable. I suspect years of presenting the Thai news had hardened her to the point that even the bells and whistles of a Thai soap would fail to perforate her eardrums.
The fine for not having a license, previously up to 1,000 baht, was now 200 baht. They threw in some cunning semantics to make it look as though they had thought this through to the nth degree. Running a red light that was 1,000 (or thereabouts depending on plod’s mood) was now a fixed 500 baht.
Take it or leave it – here or at the station. Or 7-Eleven or bank transfer. Anywhere will do. Just pay. They expected the public to believe that “negotiation” was now dead.
Finally, amid 155 changes for the better, or so we were told, came the coup de grace – motorcycle riders with no helmets 500 baht fine reduced to 400, pillion passengers, no ifs no buts, 800 baht.
OK Jeremy come out. I know you’re hiding and all that pneumonia nonsense was just a game for a laugh. And Peter, where should I be looking? I promise to smile for the camera!
Barely had Rooster recovered from this onslaught on objectivity when along came the story about Mr Prima from Belgium. Apparently the latest “bad guy” arrested by Big Oud and his immigration heavies was an actor.
After reading his tale if you’d told me his surname was Donna I would have believed it without batting an eyelid.
Mr Prima was blacklisted in 1999 for forgery. But he returned in 2014 at Suwannaphum (my spelling) and after being turned away went to Myanmar then Cambodia before sneaking across the porous border. Then a talent scout – recognizing his amenable personality (IE he won’t charge much) and noting his fluent and clearly pronounced Thai – signed him up for movies and the soaps.
Feeling a tad jealous by this point Rooster asked Mrs R – a soap expert – if she recognized him. Her non-committal response was a tad disconcerting. At the very least I expected her to say we all look alike.
Anyway, IB plod had stalked Mr Prima to his Lad Prao condo. Media Naew Na helpfully noted that the Belgian had brought a string of women back who were all….wait for it….different. At least things were now starting to become more believable and Rooster could take another swig of coffee without fear of spluttering it over the keyboard.
To cut a long story short – please follow the link – Mr Prima is now in the hands of the Wang Thong Lang police. I wonder how you say “Nice One” in Flemish.
Not in the hands of the police – for many obvious reasons – is Red Bull Boss. Public Enemy #1 (how the government must hope and pray he is never caught lest they be tarred with that brush) is back facing reckless driving and cocaine consumption charges encore une fois.
Big Oud said that the Thong Lo police had been in touch and he had put out an APB (All Point at Boss) order should the miscreant decide to front up by sea, land or air. To capture him, no stone would be left unturned though a few of the heavier rocks might prove a struggle. Nobody mentioned Interpol as those blasted foreigners have an infuriating habit of getting the job done when all that is required is saving a bit of face.
The whole affair has stretched incredulity to the limit and has caused an irreparable malfunction in jaded Rooster’s titter-o-meter.
The continuing protests against the government, the spat with Facebook about closing down certain sites and the barefaced denials of evident truths by leading figures in suits, somehow felt less serious. But Uncle Too was not seeing the funny side. One daily newspaper quoted him as saying that Thailand would be “engulfed in flames” if the students persisted in their demands.
Undaunted many Thais including the students continued to give the government three fingers.
Frankly, if you live in Thailand, you’d better be prepared to find it funny – or else! And isn’t it better to die laughing than get miserable like all those jealous curmudgeons in foreign countries.
Thankfully by Friday a little seriousness prevailed though you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was more merriment. Dr Thira of Chula uni said the world virus situation was still so bad that Thailand should keep the country closed to foreign tourists for at least six months. He warned of a catastrophe if they didn’t. Then Tourism Council of Thailand chief Chairat went further in the opposite direction.
He told Thai Rath that the country’s tourism sector would be completely destroyed if moves were not made to open up to foreigners. He warned of ten million redundancies not the present four.
Observers of what is happening in Thailand could be forgiven for thinking that the country is making it up as they go along and making U-turn after U-turn. They are. But in this regard they are only taking their cues from governments all around the world who are chopping and changing doing the same thing.
Regarding foreign tourists it is fair to say that this is a major dilemma especially in Thailand. And much now rests on the opinions of a few people on a southern island who rather like a Roman emperor hold sway over the future of Thai tourism with a potential thumbs up or down for the “Phuket Model”.
So are 90% against it or 90% for it? It’ll depend on who the surveyors ask!
It was almost equally hard to keep a straight face reading the news from abroad this week. In the US the highly respected postal service was deemed to have rigged the election two months before anyone has even voted. Rooster has ordered three hundred weights of popcorn in anticipation of November. There was more racial unrest in Wisconsin and Hurricane Laura hit the Louisiana coast.
Why do they name these killers after women? Is it a mother nature thing? Surely Hurricane Vladimir would have a better ring.
In England U-turn upon U-turn meant that the government was going round in ever diminishing circles. Listening to Education Secretary incompetent Gavin Williamson avoiding questions about masks in schools was like returning to one of his kindergartens.
In France and Germany, the virus was increasing alarmingly showing what most everyone now appreciates; this mess has only just started.
Two mass murderers will never see the light of day again. In Christchurch the Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant got life without parole for the murder of 51 people, while in Thailand Prasitthichai, the Lopburi school director who killed three including a young child in a gold shop robbery, was sentenced to death.
In sports the Paris police made 148 arrests after Paris Saint-Germain didn’t like being beaten by Bayern in the Champions’ League Final in Portugal.
I was taken to task by one reader last week for always mentioning the Beautiful Game (football or Scrabble, take your pick). What about cricket, he fumed. Oh alright, I’ll acquiesce:
In the third test against Pakistan it rained just like it did in the second test. Though the clouds cleared for a few minutes to allow England’s James Anderson to become the first fast bowler in history to get 600 wickets.
Respect to the man; he’s clearly got bails.
Back in Thailand the road carnage was less about death and more about potential this week. A leading Thai doctor in Bangkok thought that narcolepsy should be added to the list of conditions preventing driving. How many of the “lap nai” (microsleep) accidents that might have been caused by this was not mentioned.
In Nakhon Nayok 44 primary school children and their teachers on the way to the Science Museum were driven into the undergrowth by Arun, 63, who said he was not familiar with the road. Two #1 buses in Bangkok were pictured playing a dangerous cat and mouse game before the passengers wisely fled the scene at the bus stop.
In Bang Plee a “big biker” nearly killed a Myanmar pedestrian. Thai media 77kaoded – obsessed with the Big Biker moniker – said he was on a 300 cc machine. Thai Rath earlier confirmed that for the purposes of the planned new training for bikers, big means 400 cc up.
Personally, I think more training for ALL bikers would pay dividends.
Amid the madness of the week Pattaya seemed almost sensible. A tourism and business leader in QUOTES said that it would take up to five years for the resort to recover her previous glories. Measures to stimulate the Thai domestic tourism market with better parking and less restrictions on the deckchair folk were announced and mayor Sontaya said the EEC fund were giving him 80 million baht to plan various tourism projects. One was a port on Jomtien beach.
And in further good sense, City Hall is spending two million baht on a mobile sterilization unit after a scary increase in the number of stray cats and dogs during the pandemic. Many have been abandoned by people laid off and going home. Rooster is convinced by the arguments that sterilization is a better answer than just culling.
Some Thai posters and a less than sympathetic Sophon Cable TV on Facebook, called for the culling of another epidemic. The homeless and desperate on Pattaya’s streets and beaches. The lack of empathy for these unfortunates inspired Rooster to angle the story critically. Thais are a compassionate people – I’ll always believe that – but the reaction of some Thai posters from behind the safety of their keyboards beggared belief.
These people are not the “dregs of society” that exist only to drink ‘lao khao’. They are your compatriots and they need your help especially at this very difficult time.
Pattaya also took one in the eye from Hua Hin and Cha-Am. Despite the alarming murders at both of these holiday resorts recently, Booking.com said that more Thais clicked on them for holidays than anywhere else. Anecdotal reports indicate that both, with their reasonable proximity to Krung Thep, are doing far better than those further afield like Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai, to name but three.
Doing better this week was yours truly with a little help from the electrical authorities. They finally came through with refunds on meter deposits adding 6,000 baht to Rooster’s coffers for my main residence and a further 2,000 baht each for two studio apartments that I rent out.
Readers who own property and have the meters in their own names or the names of their spouses may like to see if they are eligible for a refund too. Every little helps and if you make money I only want a beer for the tip!
Finally spare a thought for little Captain, a boy aged 3, who was slathering himself with hand sanitizing gel on the front porch before going to school. His brother – as siblings occasionally do – set fire to him with the aid of a handy cigarette lighter.
Fortunately, Captain was only burned on his arms and legs and survived the ordeal.
I mention the story as it probably contained the best typo of the week. At least I hope it was a typo. Captain’s uncle who ran to help said it took almost 20 minutes to put out the flames.
The difference between “nathee” (minutes) and “winathee” (seconds) can make all the difference!
Speedy recovery little fellah!