My first day in Asia was spent in a casino. Not just a few hours – about 24.
I was on a stop-over to Sydney from London and I had three nights at the Village Hotel in Metro Manila, Philippines. I never left the hotel at all – that was exciting enough.
The friendly guys on the door of the casino checking passports had joked about me having the same name as the current US president. I said he was my uncle and the guffaws of laughter instantly endeared me to Asia. But unlike General Douglas MacArthur I never kept my promise to return to the island nation. Thailand saw to that.
That casino visit was a lucky one. I won plenty on that first day then – unlike many gamblers – quit while I was ahead and used the proceeds to buy pacific prawns and chips of a different kind in Australia.
I fell in love with betting as a teen in England and though I was never a professional I treated it as a money making exercise. I was not good enough to beat the government’s 8-10% tax on horse racing at the time but it was great fun trying and taught me many life lessons. Cheltenham and Epsom were more like homes to me than Beckenham. I named a daughter after jockey Frankie Dettori and almost cried when he failed to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Enable in Paris last Sunday.
I loved the sport of horse racing and betting was but a small part of that. On my travels in Asia and afield I went to the “derbies” in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia. I was amazed that Asians seemed to gamble more than even the Irish, something I now take for granted.
Thailand was no different to other parts of Asia except in the fact of being totally two faced like a coin flip they might wager their dinner money upon. Whereas the Hong Kong Jockey Club virtually ran the economy and gambling was seen as almost a public duty, in Thailand people would say one thing and do another.
Everybody from politicians to the man in the street condemned gambling in public. Then put their inheritance on the lottery, Hi-Lo or two flies climbing up a window. Politicians and police have always run casinos. Everyone seems to know where they are. The wealthy nip across the border for a flutter.
Later they turned to football betting and the internet. Today the national lottery and horse racing in Bangkok remain the only two avenues for legal betting. There are always self-righteous crackdowns at World Cup and Euro championship time. Yet the vast majority of Thais gamble. It seems to perfectly fit their national psyche – no helmets and no condoms and to hell with road carnage and HIV!
Isn’t life one big risk, after all, and won’t we get another stab at it in the next life!? I bet there is one….
Many have turned to cranial and penile protection but the thrill of a bet and the prospect of turning an easy profit sits comfortably even if not publicly admitted. Figures revealed this week showed that 57% of Thais (more than 30 million) gamble and many are addicted. Actually that is 57% who own up to it – with the stigma that is still in place you can bet your last baht it’s more!
Three large anti-gambling and health foundations said that 160 billion baht is bet on football, 153 and 150 billion on the illegal underground lottery and state version respectively. They have voiced fears of a rise in gambling among the 15 to 18 age group….no need to wonder where the youngsters get it from.
Gambling addiction is a very real problem that Thailand is right in addressing. I gambled for 40 years before giving up and was never addicted but I can appreciate the compulsion. I enjoyed the thrill of wins even though I accepted I’d lose in the long run, which I did. When I retired from teaching and Crystal Palace avoided relegation soon thereafter I knew my gambling days were over.
The thrill of working out probabilities of what is likely to come out of a Scrabble bag have proved sufficient ever since.
While the gambling story served to reinforce what many of us old hands already knew other stories in an eventful week on Thaivisa both confirmed and surprised us (though my calculating mind still put that ratio at about 90-10% in favor of lack of surprise!).
The week began with a loss of face from Immigration regarding their “biometrics” system that is like Big Oud’s pet. The chief got testy when Fido failed to nab a serial fraudster called “Sia Top” who disappeared to Hong Kong with a “pretty’s” wedding money.
Later in the week in front of a myriad of vinyl boards Sompong was singing his two billion baht baby’s praises again having stopped three foreigners. Yes, three! He plucked a further 40,000 cases of overstayers from the ether and said they had swelled the nation’s coffers by 90 million baht. Next stop the TAT for this whizz with figures.
Whereas many gave Sompong’s larger than life predecessor Big Joke the benefit of the doubt no one gives any credence to this reincarnation at Suan Phlu. He’s dour by comparison, as befits someone who was hardened by working on the border down south, perhaps.
Then came a story about how the authorities were coming up with new tracking devices. This was apparently so that plod could more likely be in the right place at the right time to solve crime. Methinks the machine’s mainframe may overload with reports that rozzers are at their mia noi’s, the local karaoke or most likely, still asleep in their booths.
Still, let’s look on the bright side – new devices always mean the possibility of more corruption both in their procurement and in their operation.
Corruption also figured highly when BBC Thai announced they had evidence that deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister Thammanat Prompao had been jailed for four years in Sydney for heroin smuggling. He had a different name but this hardly seemed enough to exonerate him.
This is now common knowledge and it appears that Uncle Too – in a shag pile sweeping move – has advised the embattled minister to stop banging on about defamation.
He had threatened 100 lawsuits but now seems happy to hope that it all blows over and he can keep his grubby hands in a new trough. And let’s face it the downtrodden farmers are always good for a billion or two as leaders all the way to the top have found out since rice grew in fields.
Fallout from Khao Yai National Park continued as it was revealed that 11 elephants died in the fall at Haew Narok falls. A barrier has been ordered to prevent further tragedies. Might I suggest that a few million more are ordered for the nation’s balconies, especially in Pattaya?
The death of another animal – giant panda Chuang Chuang – also continued to make news. The Thais said that it was heart failure and not bad diet as many Chinese had claimed. But does bad diet not lead to heart failure in pandas?
Either way it seems the Thais are happy to bamboo – zle the Chinese just so long as it doesn’t affect tourism.
Thailand’s disregard for public safety was also to the fore when a two year old perched on the lap of a passenger in a car driven by a senior policeman’s relative was killed. Yes, even the cheapest car seats do cost several thousand baht but they are a sensible investment. Yes, my children ride with me on a motorcycle. That is gambling enough but they sure as hell wear helmets and sit in car seats when we are all on four wheels.
Gambling with his passengers’ lives was the stand-in driver of the Route 8 bus in Bangkok caught on video going through and hitting a barrier at a level crossing. He was sacked but the story revealed the appalling state of the BMTA’s regulations regarding concessionaires.
On this occasion the regular driver – who had a stomach ache – had let his mate take over because he needed to earn some money. He went along too, not to provide moral support but because the stand-in didn’t even know the route. The BMTA fined the operator a paltry but top whack 5,000 baht. As forum posters who know this disgraceful route pointed out, it is time for the BMTA to man up and sack the organ grinder, not just the monkey.
Talking of which Thailand’s organ grinder Big Too has ordered his monkies – how he views his subjects – to stop drinking to mark the end of Buddhist Lent. That might be observed by a few as today (Sunday October 13th) is an alcohol free day.
This time of the year is when “kathin” ceremonies are held to give new robes to monks and this will form part of the Royal Barge Procession that will be held on Thursday week, October 24th.
For people who have never seen this spectacle I would recommend it. Held infrequently it is the final part of HM Rama X’s coronation. I was lucky enough to witness this “Amazing Thailand” event around twenty years ago when invited to the riverside Bank of Thailand by it’s then governor MR Chatumongkol Sonakul.
However, I remember our meeting as well as the dozens of brightly colored boats and magical chanting that accompanies their progress down the Chao Phraya River. “Mom Tao” extended his hand and I went to “wai” then he went to “wai” and I extended my hand. East and West never did quite meet on that occasion….
Yes, if you are in or around Bangkok on the 24th don’t miss the Royal Barge Procession.
Top click-a-thon of the week were a whole raft of stories about Thailand introducing compulsory insurance for long term visa holders. All attempts to clarify the situation just made the issue muddier and muddier as the week progressed. That is all I am saying on the matter – go to the threads and make your own mind up!
But do remember that the deadline is October 31st and the Thai authorities, rather like the drivers on the kingdom’s notorious roads, have been known to make unexpected U-turns…….
Tourism and Sports minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn continued his efforts in making his idiotic predecessors look like sensible and sage gurus. He mounted a two pronged attack this week to save the country’s tourism – the first was to bring the “Mazu” or Ruby Goddess from Fujian in China to Thailand in November. Hordes of Mr and Mrs Woo’s are expected. Wicked our kid! No doubt this fine initiative – juxtaposed with a perceived lack of critical thinking in Thailand that was reported elsewhere – will be followed by deliveries of Delhi deities.
The second masterstroke was to propose a cut in the tariffs on designer goods, probably from 1,000% to 950%. Way to go Phee Phiphat! Though Rooster will hold off on treating the missus to a new Louis Vuitton handbag just for now, could you use your influence and billions to get a few baht off Vegemite, Blue Cheese and HP? Then you’ll have my eternal thanks and I might even lay off you for a week.
Finally to two internet dramas on different sides of the world that illustrate how similar nonsense inspires people of different cultures to click on the news. No, it’s not the continuing and disgraceful shenanigans of Tweedledumb and Tweedledork on either side of the Atlantic.
In Thailand it was the far more important reaction to the break-up of facially challenged Phee Meemee and his erstwhile heart-throb Nong Bee. Bee has dumped Meemee for a more handsome alternative causing an outpouring of netizen sympathy for Elephant Man.
While in Blighty netizens and news media couldn’t get enough of a spat between two WAGS (wives of English football stars Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy). Essentially Coleen R claims Rebekah V leaked details to the press while Ms V insists she is the victim of a hacker. A reminder that our online data is never safe.
I mention this not that I imagine anyone in Thailand is remotely interested in the story but because of The Sun’s brilliant headline:
Wagatha Christie – Roodunnit.
Respect for quality journalism.
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