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The week that was in Thailand news: Once upon a time in Thailand…..


The week that was in Thailand news: Once upon a time in Thailand…..

It seemed like a great week to break the law. Plod was otherwise engaged.

This was good news as Rooster’s tax disc had expired (Yes, that is about as daring as I get these days). Sadly, my family had been delayed upcountry after my brother-in-law, who built our house, fell off a roof.

The Bangkok constabulary was busy standing at the end of sois pretending to keep the ASEAN leaders safe from some unspecified threat. Some 17,000 officers were required for this. Or was it just to impress the neighbors that Krung Thep is always traffic free and pleasant. Call that a rhetorical question.

They even shut the schools; who needs education when there is face saving to accomplish.

All Chonburi plod – and every corporal to Lt-Gen east of there – had their leave cancelled to go in search of an American, his wife and a Thai who had the temerity to escape from court where they faced an extremely long time behind bars for dealing in crystal meth.

With penalties as severe as murder why not at least attempt it while trying to escape. That is precisely what happened on Monday and a Thai police officer was lucky to survive being stabbed.

Many forum posters – acting like the Pattaya amateur dramatics troupe – thought they’d all be well gone over the border within hours. The sensible knew that plod would bring out all the stops. Rozzers anywhere always do when it’s one of their own.

By Wednesday Bart Allen Helmus, his wife Om and their mate Noi (or was it Ton) were all in varying states of custody. It was difficult to be sure. I say this because the story featured so much erroneous and inaccurate reporting that even after top brass clarifications on Thursday one is left wondering. One poster summed it up by saying the whole saga should have started with “Once upon a time….”

First the American was the shooter with reports that the guard was hit. Then the Thai came into the frame. Finally the lead investigator at the Pattaya press conference admitted no one was shot in the escape.

Om was reported captured first. Then she was still on the run. Then she was reported shot by Yankee Bart who finally turned the gun on himself after setting off a few volleys at the cops.

Bart was then pronounced dead. Hours later he was alive again in a coma. When the top brass clarified everything they skirted round the minor issue of the death of a foreigner. 77kaoded insisted on the coma angle – they’d asked the doctor showing admirable initiative.

Also it appeared that Bart had not shot at police at all either during the breakout or his capture. Though he reportedly shot his wife who was revealed as three months pregnant. That seemed a bit excessive just to avoid fatherhood, a point made in a roundabout way by Lt-Gen Satawat Hiranburana.

She apparently survived with barely a scratch in one report and was grievously injured in another. Either way it appeared that Bart was unable to shoot straight meaning that the cops had never been in much danger at all, unless you count the threat of losing face. Noi or Ton (his family insisted he was Tam) gave up with a couple of female teenagers who somehow got involved with about 8 others.

Satawat displayed all the evidence and muttered something about “negligent work practices” to explain away how “Mot” had managed to smuggle a gun and a knife into the court cells. Expect tumbleweed to come out of the promised investigation. The Lt-Gen smiled and spoke of the swift resolution to the case. We could all have some crumpets or, it being Pattaya, crumpet for tea.

The forum curmudgeons climbed on xenophobic and bad reporting bandwagons. Doubtless under the pressure to get leads the cops and court officials were willing – as they usually are – to say anything so long as the newshounds were scribbling something to keep Joe Soap informed. Few actually blamed Thaivisa for the inaccuracies.

Thaivisa generally does not involve itself with actual reporting on such cases. Our stories – mostly written by Rooster – were translations from the Thai media who themselves would probably blame plod for errors. We make every effort to check facts from the Thai media using resources from Google to Wikipedia and back. When things are patently untrue or spurious we will say.

But what are we to do when someone is said to be dead. Dismiss it as hearsay? The speed with which online news hits the consumer these days means it is just as well to hold your horses before commenting. The same could be said of Thaivisa news posts, but we know how much you want the story!

Screaming “fake news” is as silly as believing that its greatest proponent – the current incumbent in the White House – is the paragon of virtue or that Boris Johnson is not as long, slithery and unpredictable as his surname implies.

The week began not with “fake news” but with a story about a sporting event that is never going to happen. Namely Thailand and her neighbors staging the 2034 World Cup. The FIFA president stood up at the ASEAN conference to hail the Memorandum of Understanding as though it meant something. His name INFANTino seemed somehow apt.

Football lovers like Rooster would give their right foot (I’m left footed) to see the quadrennial showpiece in SE Asia. But methinks that I shall go to Footy Heaven watching it on the box. Whether I shall even turn on the next edition in the middle east remains to be seen. It is being held in a despicable place I prefer to call Catarrh. A legacy of the totally bent Sepp Blatter.

When the 2022 hosts were announced it came as no surprise to my FA insider sources in Thailand who knew where the smart money was going. I had been advised to put the house on at 2-1. Pity really that the wife owns that…..

The picture accompanying the World Cup story featured a veritable rogues’ gallery of leaders. There was Uncle Too pulling down his football jersey emblazoned with Prayut Chan-ocha on the back in a desperate attempt to hide his khaki underpants. The disgraced Suu Kyi who has lost all her honorary degrees after abandoning her own people. Mahathir who imprisoned his main rival for engaging in banditry of the bedroom kind. Bolkiah of Brunei who would enslave gays rather than give them rights. Hun Sen….

Amusingly no one seemed to want to link hands with Duterte – the Filipino’s fellow leaders clearly didn’t want to get the blood of a thousand extrajudicial killings on their own hands.

Down in QUOTES – the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard – there were far more down to earth matters. A story about trash left out at a housing estate produced a massive response as foreign posters tried to outdo each other on whose is the cleanest nation. Arch wind up merchant Yinn (“she knows not what ‘she’ does”) stoked the fires by suggesting a tad impertinently that Pattaya is full of foreigners.

She conveniently forgot to point out that no foreigners would be among the 1,400 residents of a Thai housing project and another pertinent fact was also omitted. This was not about the cleanliness of the folk but because of a dispute about people throwing out bulky items such as furniture and beds with their left over rice and curry.

Dustmen were unable to fit it in their carts so everything remained uncollected. On television the next day, clearly stung by the social media criticism, the local authority had brought in a heavy digger and trucks to clear up. Not surprisingly they found it easy, even at short notice, to rent a backhoe in Pattaya.

Up in Chiang Mai 100 Grab riders who are being shafted by their own company protested about the lowering of delivery rates saying they could not make ends meet. The story should be a wake up call for the thousands of people online – especially on Thaivisa – who think that companies like Uber and Grab will benefit everybody.

Admittedly the Red Bus drivers of Chiang Mai are as loathed by some as the taxi drivers of Bangkok. Many see the breaking of monopolies and unspecified mafia groups as beneficial. But be careful what you wish for.

The London black cabbies – another group that might not have enjoyed the best press – have been thoroughly and shamelessly disadvantaged by the drive of the authorities to promote Uber. Thailand is more reticent but the same will happen. But who will benefit? The prices will be cheaper than the established services at first. Then due to a lack of regulation they will rise and be more expensive than current ‘song thaew’ and taxi fares.

The drivers who work for Uber and Grab – as was seen as clear as a Chiang Mai day this week (sorry bad metaphor) – will be paid less and less until they are in greater penury than their out of work predecessors ever were. Prices for the consumer – at present a loss leader like milk in UK supermarkets –  will go through the roof.

The beneficiaries will be the investors in Uber and Grab. Thus the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer and the public will be disadvantaged. All done in the name of change for the better. Just watch to see if I am right.

In education news it was announced that Thailand had slipped from 64th place on the English Proficiency Index in 2018 to 74th this year. This led to the usual inane Thai bashing on the TV forum. In such threads it is always apparent how little is made of the need to learn Thai when living in the kingdom. And few seem to even think to mention how much better it would be to learn Mandarin or even Hindi.

Reading such threads always boosts Rooster to the highest levels possible on the Schadenfreude-o-meter. Regular readers of this column will know that I made my modest fortune teaching the Thai language. I reserve the teaching of English to my own chicks to whom I rarely utter one word of Thai. Apart from them, the less English Thais speak the better.

That reminds me of some ill advised comments last week. Do such posters who complain about the column not see how ridiculous they look moaning about its content and then saying they would not stoop so low as to read it? I don’t know what is worse – people like that who find Twitter a challenge or those who can read who then post interminable and inaccurate drivel about Thais, Chinese, Indians and Muslims.

The vibrancy and freedom of the forum is important. Free speech is vital but should never be hate speech. At times I think the moderators of online forums as much as the owners of Google, Facebook, Twitter and the like, need to rethink their policies as we enter the middle of the second decade of social media prevalence.

Stories in the financial news would have had us believe that the Thai baht was up and down more swiftly than a Nana Plaza Denizen’s Draws. According to my own research it seemed remarkably stable despite the small rate cuts enacted in the kingdom. Those wanting to see a lasting and dramatic improvement in sterling will have to hope the political impasse in Westminster ends with December’s election. Or when Pigs Fly, whichever is sooner.

To wit, or should that be twit, the Rt Honorable Member for Pratt’s Bottom Rees-Mogg suggested that the Grenfell tower victims would have shown more common sense by jumping into the flames against the advice of the fire brigade. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – like realizing what a complete buffoon one has made of oneself after saying something idiotic on radio.

Back in Thailand Naew Na were continuing to act as the lackeys of immigration and Lt-Gen Big Oud’s personal organ. This week they depicted a Swiss over stayer with a cartoon alien head. Even one of Rooster’s important documents is called an “Alien Registration” booklet but really! As I have said before, I don’t believe that such stories reflect any increase in xenophobia in Thailand but supplying any grist to the mill is detrimental.

Bad guys out, phone numbers to report illegal activity, encouraging snooping for money; would the country not be better served by announcing an amnesty for long term over stayers to get them back in the system, back paying for their stays? Other countries – even the US – have tried it, so why not show a little compassion and good sense Thailand? An over stayer may have broken the law but is not necessarily a criminal and certainly does not deserve to be paraded in the press like an inhabitant of Alpha Centauri.

Finally I hope you are sitting comfortably as I would not like you to faint, bang your head and become the latest expat to cark it in paradise. I have praise for the TAT.

This week they announced that they are reminding travelers – and tour group operators in particular – about what you can and can’t do regarding smoking in Thailand. Many on the forum – TAT bashers who could never admit they might occasionally do good – harped on about air pollution, vehicle emissions, crop burning, the Thai Tobacco Monopoly…..

All important issues but this irrelevant jiggery pokery was like the smoke and mirrors adopted by the TAT over tourist numbers. Stick to the point.

In my view Thailand has taken positive steps in attempting to stop smoking in many public places and there have been some notable successes among the gaffes. Also after some reluctance I must admit to agreeing with the ban on shisha and efforts to curtail the trade in e-cigarettes. Both are insidious ways to entrap youth and the unwary.

Yes, there is nothing worse than a reformed smoker and Rooster is guilty as charged. But I believe that progress has been made albeit slowly. And there is nothing wrong in telling visitors to your country what you can and cannot do.

That is being a good host.


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