I really ought to get out more.
But I suspect like many people in 2020 – twelve months that will forever be called “The Year of the Pandemic” – I have spent a far greater time than usual tucked up at home with a good book or living life vicariously through the column inches of Thaivisa.
Not last Sunday, however, as a friend was celebrating his 50th birthday in the Suriwong area of Bangkok. He first came to Krung Thep in 1999 when I was already an “old Bangkok hand” of 14 years’ experience having lived in Sukhumvit Soi 39 and thereafter in Bang Na. Funny to think that compared to me in 1999, he has been here much longer now. He was one of those people, now happily married to a Thai, who I knew instantly would stay. He was easily the best man at one of my weddings.
Before the meet up I decided to have a look at some old stamping grounds near Nana to see if it was true that Thailand was deserted. Even I was shocked. Yes, it was Sunday at 6.30 pm but apart from a few diehard foreigners and a smattering of bar girls there was nary a soul in sight. I’d feared about having a place to park….bikes were all along the edge of Soi 4, no clutter because there was no traffic.
Only the convenience stores seemed to be doing much trade. Jools, where I used to enjoy many cottage pies, was a 7-Eleven. In Gulliver’s there was one Asian chap reading a book. A few small TVs were very fuzzy. I peered into the Beer Garden and was hailed by a gaggle of harridans like I was an endangered species. Nearby next to a stall full of sex toys, Kamagra and bongs – a sure sign of the times – I espied a small stand selling masks with football team logos.
Passing over Chelsea and Man United I asked the lady if she had “Sapur”. She said yes and thrust a Juventus one in my hand. A young lady trying to palm me off with an old lady, I thought but said nothing. When she did find a “special” 80 baht one with a cockerel I had to turn it down as the “kai deuay” was RED! With the game against Arsenal coming up that night there was no way I was going to tempt fate with THEIR colors.
Scurrying away from the disgruntled mask seller – bemoaning another Cheap Charlie farang – I saw an entirely new set of outside bars that I later found out had been open for a few months.
It was called Manana. Squinting at the sign’s small print to see the Thai spelling I observed that it was “Maa Nana” or “come to Nana” though of course its name echoed the Spanish for putting something off on the never-never. I walked inside and asked a lonely bar owner if there would be any customers “manana prung nee (tomorrow)”. She smiled politely not getting my pathetic attempt at humor. She didn’t seem surprised I declined to sit down.
It all seemed like Thailand was waiting for tomorrow – waiting in areas like this for when the foreign tourists would return. Still the same friendly, hopeful and stoical Thais. I really hope they get their wishes soon. Rooster might even return for a beverage or three.
My final stop was Patpong; I decided to see if I could ride along it. More shock. Now well past happy hour opening time in a bygone era the whole place was deathly, just a few lights indicating that one or two places might deign to open later. The market was all gone and so was everybody else. Going from one end to the other in a few seconds my youth in that street flashed before my eyes. How on earth had nighttime Thailand come to this.
Almost every day at my desk the answer to that rhetorical question was confirmed in the stories my editor sent me to translate. Daily News, Sanook, Thai Rath, Naew Na…you name it they all contained “foreign tourists”, “pandemic”, “quarantine”, “latest stimulus plan” or “TAT brainwave”. I complained to the boss and he just sent me some more. Wisely he puts clicks above my mental health!
At least Thursday had some good old-fashioned slaughter, reminiscent of George Orwell’s immortal paragraph in Decline of the English Murder in which he describes an idyllic Sunday afternoon scene on a comfy sofa, with a cup of tea, a pipe and a copy of the News of the World.
“In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about. Naturally, about a murder”.
Typically, in Thailand’s case it was the ongoing saga of a contract killing of a motorcycle taxi guy in Pattaya back in July. Two ne’er do wells had already been arrested and to their credit tried to make it look like they had a personal beef with victim Prathum. But the relatives and plod were unconvinced and when new RTP chief General Suwat put the CSD in charge there was only one outcome, albeit four months later.
Behind the scenes were two 53-year-old fixers who the owner of a casino had ordered to pay the hitmen 200,000 baht to dispatch Prathum. His mistake had been to take pictures in a casino and make a point of it. (A reminder of unpalatable events down the years in Go-Go bars when tourists thought it was no big deal to get a video camera out).
Also emanating from Pattaya was a weird story about a couple who two months ago were delivered of a sickly daughter. The infant was taken away to another hospital’s ICU with the couple kept abreast of developments over the phone. However, when they finally went to Chonburi to check up on their little one the hospital told them she wasn’t there and never had been.
The story begged many questions despite Rooster’s efforts to make it coherent. It brought to mind the classic exchange between Torquay hotel owner Basil Fawlty and the Major about women and Indians. Fawlty quotes Oscar Wilde about women having minds like Swiss cheese. “Whadya mean, hard?” offers the Major. “No, full of holes”, counters a bemused Basil.
Holes were evident in a police pick-up after an extraordinary rampage in Pathum Thani. A worker stole a backhoe (that many on the forum insisted was an excavator), demolished his boss’s motorbike then headed for a market with plod in hot pursuit. The road was blocked by the pick-up but that didn’t stop the runaway who swung his mechanical arm and deposited the obstruction unceremoniously in a roadside klong.
Plod – behaving decently as they often do in such circumstances – shot out the engine rather than the miscreant’s brains. Whether it was a backhoe or excavator it was certainly a big scoop for the media.
In pandemic news, Manager came up with some welcome realism on the Elite card scheme that aims to flog 10 million baht condos and give foreigners 5 year residency. The target of selling a billion baht’s worth of condos to only 100 people when there is such a massive glut was a miniscule and rather pathetic drop in the ocean, they noted. All too often the Thai media sucks up to the “phoo-yai” with their absurd projects – when they don’t it’s like a breath of fresh air, something Thailand can always do with especially now that “burning season” is upon us!
Then Kasikorn’s research team suggested a tad optimistically for the forum’s liking that Thailand might have up to 7 million tourists next year spending 4.8 gazillion. This came after an admission that the Special Tourist Visa had attracted a staggering 825 tourists since October and SIX (Yes S-I-X) yachts. In a mother of all U-turns the government announced it was making it even “easier” to get an STV by expanding the scheme from citizens in low-risk countries to every man, woman and child on Earth!
As many on the forum rightfully pointed out, they should scrap the 14-day quarantine first! Instead, in jittery Thailand, it’s set to continue. Not that it will worry the golfers who now can get in a couple of rounds a day while staying away from the rest of us who think golf spoils a good walk. Amid all the nonsense, this golf course quarantine plan – especially likely to attract thousands of South Koreans – seems like an ace.
As Thailand’s borders also continued to look like Swiss Cheese, every official worth his weight in waffle said that the Tachilek incursions were “under control”. Words that always strike fear into those who have lived their lives in Thailand.
News that Cambodia and Malaysia as well as Myanmar seem to have more than enough “natural crossings” to keep the gangs who transport human cargo gainfully employed was accompanied by Chiang Rai business leaders calling for karaoke workers to be sued for 20 million baht. Hapless health minister Anutin burbled on about the lack of infection.
It seemed appropriate that in a brilliant typo the newsletter went out with the heading: “Auntie dismisses rumor of epidemic”.
I wonder if he actually has an auntie or, as he’d like us to believe, he was the result of some spontaneous immaculate conception, perhaps delivered in the theater by a grimacing foreign doctor without a free mask.
Local fears were rising as Thailand’s English print media claimed that a Myanmar strain of the virus could spread 20% faster than the Wuhan version. The poor Burmese have been blamed by the Thais for everything ever since some gold theft in Ayutthaya almost 250 years ago!
In protest news many leaders were charged with lese majeste at police stations all over Bangkok. Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn was at Pahonyothin nick facing a charge of violating the Public Assembly Act. Thanathorn, a voters’ favorite and apple of the eye of Thailand’s young, can barely leave the house without upsetting people desperate to see him incarcerated before sundown.
In international news the UK was sticking out its collective chest as the first people were given the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The first male to receive what the Eton Mess described as a “shot in the arm” for Britain was a man from Warwickshire called William Shakespeare.
The Washington Post chimed in with “To be or not to be vaccinated, that is the question” while another wag came up with Rooster’s favorite: “The Taming of the Flu”. Eighty-one-year old Bill Shakespeare was likened to “Vacbeth” asking “Is this a needle I see before me?” He took it all lying down and was dubbed a “Gentleman of Corona”.
Us English relish a good pun-fest even more than our penchant for sarcasm though someone suggested that Shakespeare puns should be Bard.
Stateside, much of California went into lockdown, Rudy Giuliani got Covid and Dr Fauci suggested that infections arising from Christmas might make those after Thanksgiving look like a walk in Central Park. Well over 200,000 daily infections were being reported and 3,000 died from the virus in one 24 hour period.
Meanwhile some republicans were suggesting that the incumbent’s post-election antics were threatening success in the crucial Senate vote in Georgia in January that will determine whether Biden is largely hamstrung or as free as a Bald Eagle.
Best player of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Italy’s Paulo Rossi died aged 64. I well remember his fantastic performance against Brazil that I witnessed in a crowded bar in Madrid.
Back in Thailand the baht continued to feature as a central character in many stories and even went below 30 to a US dollar at one point. Stories appeared daily from one financial official or another about proposed “measures”. One report on Thursday suggested there would be very little alteration in the exchange rate before the end of next year. Throw massive uncertainty over a Brexit deal into the mix – something that might be resolved today (Sunday) – and you have a real currency head scratcher that this columnist prefers to leave to the “experts”.
All of whom seem just as clueless as me.
Khao Kapow (meat with basil over rice) was in the news several times. A Suan Dusit poll suggested it was Thailand’s favorite pandemic dish and Thais were going onto YouTube (where else!) to learn how to cook it. Also, they were mostly spending less than 300 baht a day on food and increasingly washing their hands before meals, a key rule at my Ratchayothin Roost.
Then came a story that a man on his way home stopped in Pattaya and was charged 228 baht for a “Kapow Gai with fried egg”. He complained and every netizen went irate. What he omitted to mention was his takeaway was from a beachside seafood restaurant that listed 228 baht as the correct price. The restaurant was exonerated in the subsequent investigation and the manager appealed for the court of social media’s understanding because he principally serves foreigners.
Bless the good ship Pattaya and all who soil in her.
In sentencing news, Danusorn who walked into a Victory Monument clinic in February and shot his ex Piyanut dead and injured a co-worker was sentenced to death, commuted to life on admission. Thai Media made much mileage of the case at the time because the murderer was wearing a suit. He’ll now need body armor in Thai clink.
In Nonthaburi a nasty hoodlum fired twenty shots at his neighbor’s house after he came back drunk. He told the Rattanathibet constabulary that he was cross after his “pheuan baan” had the temerity to erect a house next door to his and not inform him about putting in utilities. Thattaphon, who had previous for weapons offences, assault and was using mummy’s gun, will hopefully have different neighbors for a while.
An actress apologized to the LGBQTI community for joking about having purple hair and purple urine. Transgenders and others were upset that it associated them with drug use. Many on the forum said it was “political correctness gone crazy” blaming “snowflakes”. These are common cries from the curmudgeons until the boot is on the other foot and they get irked by Thais with their brand of largely innocuous cajolery. Then they will shout “racism” from behind their keyboards, PC flying out of the window.
Apropos last week’s comments in which Flying Saucage, in an excellent post, questioned my calling Thai students “those wretched leaders of tomorrow”. Rest assured this was intended to mean the elite’s perspective of the students, like having an unwelcome stone in one’s shoe. Rooster happens to be very proud of the actions of most Thai students in recent months.
Finally, the UK and the world’s longest running soap opera Coronation Street celebrated its 60th anniversary. One of its stalwarts William Roache, 88, has been playing Ken Barlow since the first episode on 9th December 1960. He is the longest serving TV actor in a continuous role in history.
“Corrie” became a phenomenon in my youth and one of its stars, Jean Alexander who played Hilda Ogden, was second only to the Queen in terms of being recognized. Jean died in 2016 aged 90.
In a documentary this week Mr Roache revealed how in the early days of the show it was not known whether it would be a success. However, after not too long his father, during a family get together around the TV, said to Bill: “Change the channel for us, Ken”.
That’s when he knew he was appearing in something special.