The news on Friday that Thaivisa was no more – at least in name – caught many of the forum faithful on the hop. What was all this ASEAN Now stuff about?
Cue a rather hilarious thread that claimed the owners of the site were now in the pay of the Chinese Communist Party. Maybe posters had misread ASEAN as ASIA and didn’t know that ASEAN referred to ten countries in south east Asia.
Or didn’t believe the hopeful blurb that the site was moving into new markets, expanding horizons.
To read some of the comments it felt like members were grieving for a departed relative. It certainly smacked of “lurve”, so that was heartening for us at AN HQ.
I can assure you that Rooster is still here (stop groaning) and it’s business as usual so in the spirit of celebrating ASEAN I’ll be writing about how I came to Thailand rather by accident via some of our neighbors.
But first ASEAN. The original members of “The Association of Southeast Asia” sixty years ago this month were Thailand, the Philippines and the Federation of Malaya. ASEAN started in 1967 when Indonesia, the newly formed Malaysia and Singapore joined the fray. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 95, Laos and Myanmar in 97 then finally Cambodia confirmed membership in 1999 after a coup delayed things.
Weighty matters, but Rooster’s Asian connection began in a small railway compartment on the 8.11 am from Beckenham Junction to Victoria.
I was late for school and all alone so I thought I’d look under the seat as you often found magazines there. Peering up at me from something I’d never seen before called Penthouse, was an oriental looking lady in a state of undress.
Looking around furtively to make sure I hadn’t been observed, I secreted the glossy pages in my satchel next to the pens, ruler and sharpener then after a further perusal deposited it under my bed at home in case mother did a strip search.
It sowed a seed, as it were, in the mind of an impressionable 14 year old.
Six years later I had the opportunity to visit a friend of mine who was a steward (definitely not a bar steward) on the P&O liner The Canberra that was heading for port in Sydney.
I bought a ticket on Philippine Air and headed for Australia with a three day stopover in Manila. The Village Hotel had a casino where I deposited myself for most of the trip though I did have a ride on a jeepney and was hooked on Asia as a result.
People were talking about a man called Marcos and his wife who had zillions of shoes; it seemed terribly exciting and everyone seemed fascinated by me – that was a first in my life – not least of all that I had the same surname as a well-known US president.
After three weeks in Australia I returned to London not talking about shrimps on the barbie,hats with corks or billabongs but the amazing people of “Asia” that I had discovered. A bit like MacArthur I vowed to return.
But I never did, at least not to the Philippines.
I got sidetracked. I arrived in South East Asia in early 1982 on a reconditioned French ship that had set sail from Madras (that dates me) five days earlier.
Disembarking in Penang, little did I know that I would visit that gem of an island maybe 20 times in the coming decades, mostly on visa runs from a country I knew virtually nothing of to the north.
A Canadian in Goa on a rickety bus sharing an interesting cigarette with me had mentioned not to miss Thailand. I made a mental note of the name, though that lady in the railway carriage always seemed more Hong Kong than Bangkok to me…..(she was probably from Cleethorpes but who was I to know).
From Penang we traveled to Singapore in far greater comfort than we were used to in India. There we stayed with a friend on Orchard Road who said he had to always go to the back of the queue because he had long hair. He warned us about spitting gum and getting the cane.
It seemed like I was back at school.
Headmaster Lee Kuan Yu was in charge and it seemed like a police state and unpleasantly clean to boot; time to move on.
Back to Malaysia we travelled in diesel taxis from town to town. First stop was Tioman island where they filmed the musical South Pacific.
Idyllic but we were itching for more action than snorkeling and ogling the fisherman’s daughter in her headscarf.
Kuantan seemed dreadfully dull and closed at 8pm. You were woken at 5 am-ish by some dude wailing.
Ditto Kuala Trengganu, likewise Kota Bahru. Where oh where was the action……??
Crossing the border on foot to the station at Sungei Kolok and we started to have our answer.
To this day I remember everything about THAT day. The picture of the hippy that thankfully we didn’t resemble so we wouldn’t have S.H.I.T. (Suspected Hippy In Transit) stamped in our passports, strange people with no hair dressed in orange, nobody speaking English, everybody smiling and looking at us as though we’d got out of a spaceship.
I pity the tourists who come today, or who might come today. Back then it was discovery. No internet. No phones. We didn’t even have a copy of South East Asia on a Shoestring as that was cheating.
After the train to Surat Thani, Samui was unbelievably cheap and enjoyable. The only girl in the only bar in Chaweng – Lightning Bar – actually came over for a chat in bitty English. And when we arrived in Bangkok I only thought of one thing.
I was home.
Not only did I let down the memory of MacArthur and never return to the Philippines, I could hardly be called an ambassador for ASEAN in subsequent years.
I’ve never been to Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia. I have traveled extensively in Indonesia and been to more Scrabble tournaments in Malaysia and Singapore than I care to remember. But neither Brunei nor Vietnam…chern khrap, be my guest, if you fancy those.
Top of the news in Thailand this week was Phuket. I visited Patong on that first trip in ‘82. We stayed in a bungalow for 50 baht and the owner hated us “Cheap Charlies” because we ate tinned fish bought in the market for 5 baht and gave him 4 baht for plain rice. We dined in our room.
I never liked Phuket because of this guy after he tried to pad our check-out bill with “Lady 300 baht”. I pointed out that this was a private transaction already enacted that didn’t involve him or payment for the use of the premises.
I learned my first Thai swear word.
Thursday this week was the much heralded opening of the Sandbox and Prayut and his cronies descended on the island for the “Khun Mae” of all photo-ops.
It was an almost complete PR disaster. Not because of the numbers of tourists – that’s a sideshow to the main feast. How we dined on the PM and Anutin caught with their masks down, Pipat’s incoherent burbling about numbers, the environment minister clearing up 800 kilos of trash so that Uncle Too could hug a turtle on the now pristine beach and DES minister Chaiwut having to go into 14 day quarantine on the island after travelling down on a plane with someone with Covid.
Pure gold. And all accompanied by yet more assessments (printed today) from the Tourism Council about how tourism was saved so long as the Chinese are allowed out in October and Bangkok is virus free.
The chance of either is about as likely as Anutin doing a Matt Hancock after snogging a Covid infected sea turtle, having a meal in a restaurant in the Thai capital or a beer after 8pm in Pattaya!
The resort became the latest place where the Covid-ante was upped.
The numbers of dead and total cases broke records daily as many places were in lockdown in all but name.
Plod in Bangkok said they didn’t want to arrest people for inciting civil disobedience and pubs opening but it was their duty to try and get off Facebook and leave the sanctity of their booths and stations. At least after the sun goes down.
Flip-flopping continued to be the order of the day. The most hilarious followed the almighty debacle that was the late night announcement of the closure of construction camps.
Thousands got wind of that and fled the scene to the countryside with 34 provinces infected with virus by people from Bangkok. Songkran all over again, only much worse.
The hilarity was the cancellation of Tuesday July 27th as a public holiday. So what I hear you say.
Well taking this day off was designed to make the end of July holiday a whopping five days long to “stimulate the economy”.
After the embarrassing exodus to the villages the cabinet was forced to rescind this and tell everybody not to travel next month after all.
If you’d booked – hard cheese. The spokeswoman, left on her lonesome as Uncle hid, muttered something about asking for cooperation on refunds.
Still the flip-flops continued. (Australians call the footwear thongs which makes the Brits cackle). This was the cost of Moderna vax at private hospitals.
They’d said 3,800 baht for two doses, then changed it to 3,400. This was found to be price gouging by the hospitals due to a markup of over 50%. Eventually 3,300 was agreed.
Talk about what is in British thongs.
If you’ve already overpaid I expect they’ll give you a monogrammed mask when you get your first jab. Just hope your initials are AC or PC, while stocks last.
Rooster’s biggest laugh this week was when my sub-editor said it was a slow news day. Surely he was joshing.
The first story he sent for translation had “gay, Italian, fake Viagra, murder suicide and injured cop” in the first paragraph.
This was a story that happened in a house on the Petchkasem Highway.
Elsewhere a man in Chaiyaphum killed a family of four then himself because of a pump then a Brit started shooting at a luxury house in Pattaya that resulted in 50 cops descending.
There were just enough rozzers to ensure arrest, meaning we missed out on a manhunt for a pot-bellied, Singha singlet and grubby shorts wearing trigger happy guy with an Uzi.
Frankly, one would have thought that he’d have been happy after England dispatched the Germans at the Euros on Tuesday night. There again….he may have been Scottish or heaven forbid, even Welsh.
The progress of England brought much joy to my Ratchayothin Roost. The children were chained down to learn the lyrics of “Three Lions” and promised that if our heroes make the final next Sunday everyone gets new phones…..fancier ones if they win.
Finally, the change of name to ASEAN Now was also accompanied by a swanky new logo that looked very professional.
One poster on Facebook called Ryan Doran made me chuckle with his comment that I think was meant to be positive:
“Way better than that stupid durian”.
Oh I don’t know Ryan. I’m sure we’ll all get used to the new format and features of our go-to place for news.
But I think I may miss that durian.