Thailand should come with a government health warning – it can be seriously damaging to your health!
When I first came here in the early 1980’s I figured that a life spent in Thailand was likely to be shorter than one spent in many safer “nanny state” countries. And a life amid the increasing smog, dust and grime of Bangkok was likely to be even shorter still thanks to its effects on my lungs. But I figured it was going to be worth it. I was fond of making comparisons with Malaysia my first ever stop in SE Asia back in 1982. In that country I’d be dead in no time.
From sheer boredom.
When The Malaysian tourism authorities touted their “Simply Asia” campaign it didn’t look on the surface so different from the Thai’s “Amazing Thailand” promotions. There were the smiling tourist faces chomping on BBQ prawns, the stunning beaches and jungles teeming with wildlife, the abundant and colorful native cultures, the welcoming and helpful locals ready to give you the experience of a lifetime…again and again.
The difference was that Malaysia shut at about 7 pm. And woke you up at about 5.30 am with an early morning call from some moaning muezzin in a minaret. In Thailand in my youth you only went out at 11 pm and beddy-byes was early if it was 3 am. Nobody woke you up unless it was a companion you’d met the night before who needed to get back to her kids. In Malaysia the papers were full of the crime of “khalwat” or excessive closeness of people of the opposite sex.
No thanks Mr Mahathir……I’m off oop north.
Besides, Malaysia seemed far too safe and attracted wusses or old people. The danger inherent in Thailand seemed part of the kingdom’s attraction. The roads were perilous – even then. The police were not to be messed with. There was a coup every five minutes often involving shooting and wanton destruction on the streets. Crooks, rapists, murderers and conmen of all descriptions abounded in the crime magazines that helped me to read Thai. When I hear the modern farang netizen burbling on about “What is Thailand coming to today?”….I just smile.
It’s always been this way. Suck it up!
Apart from three or four close calls on my motorcycle in 30 years – par for the course even for a good, defensive rider – and a few absurdly violent altercations with my wives, I haven’t had too many brushes with death.
A security official in the wilds of northern Chiang Mai threatened to shoot me when I stood between him and a drunk German woman. He wanted to rape after we had both missed the long tail boat to Chiang Rai. I smiled when he put his gun to my chest and he smiled too. Bravado, yes, but Thailand had already taught me the power of using certain facial muscles to save one’s life. An uneasy night followed. In the morning the German lady suggested we travel together – I declined. It seemed I would be safer on my own.
In May 1986 myself, an Australian buddy and my first true Thai girlfriend counted ourselves very luck to live after we chartered a fishing boat to Koh Samet in a storm. It was the weekend of the great flood of that year when more rain fell on Bangkok in a seven hour period than ever in recorded weather history. We trudged from Soi Ngam Nuplee to Ekkamai through waist high floods, got on a bus and arrived in Ban Phe where no one was daring to take to the sea in such high waves.
Emboldened by a large bottle of Mekhong we persuaded a fisherman to leave port. The roof nearly blew off the rickety old boat as we were tossed mercilessly about. Ten people – all students who couldn’t swim – died in two separate incidents within sight of the Rayong shore that weekend.
In 1990 a member of the Laem Ngop (port for Koh Chang) constabulary – strode purposefully down a tour bus straight to Rooster who was sitting with friends near the back and asked straight out if I had any ganja with me. It was probably my fluent Thai that convinced him of my complete innocence of such a trumped up and frivolous charge.
Fortunately he never looked in my shoes.
In terms of most crime I always felt quite safe in Thailand. Friends and acquaintances were held up by gunmen in the streets or coshed over the head for playing funny buggers with taxi drivers. Generally I blamed them without saying it.
My first wife was robbed at knife point by a taxi driver but consoled herself that it was my money he took. I have largely escaped the consequences of some risky actions on my part over the years, especially in the early days.
These days most of my best tales of taking chances are likely to be when I have dipped my hand into a Scrabble bag in a “Hail Mary” attempt to win a game and prize money. That exhilaration is as good as it gets for this aging fogy.
I’ve generally avoided hospital stays but still spent a considerable time in the company of Thai doctors. Following the complications of amoebic dysentery in 1987 I nearly died when my liver threatened to rupture from an abscess. I was even meaner in those days shunning good health care, uninsured and hoping that ailments would correct themselves.
The pain of opening my wallet was just too much to bear.
In later years most accidents have been minor like headbutting a rock in Sai Yok, Kanchanaburi after warning my 6 year old son that it was slippery at the waterfall. A few years later the back of his head proved much tougher than my forehead when we collided in the middle of the sea on a banana boat. On both occasions the children learnt that grown men DO cry especially when nurses in clinics administer lots of stitches.
I have connived with doctors over the years on many minor issues, not least of all in about 20 operations on my big toes for ingrowing toenails. I was insured with my schools for a while which helped. I always struck up conversations in Thai with my doctors (my handle on their language was nearly always better than their English but I let them slip in a few medical terms so that they wouldn’t lose face). I figured that if the onus was on me to understand then there would be less confusion.
When my insurance ran out, or when it didn’t cover my problems, me and “Khun Mor” always came to an agreement about prescriptions. Filling them at hospital pharmacies – especially at the private establishments I favored – would have been a financial disaster due to their scandalous overcharging. Besides who needed “para” (paracetamol) and certain antibiotics? Long before the internet I was self-medicating and going to the local “phesat” (pharmacist) to get the drugs I needed. And also to ask their advice thus avoiding doctors and their charges completely – a very Thai way of living.
So it was that this week I was smiling at not just surviving the dangers and problems of a long life in Thailand but at stories that show nothing ever changes very much……or so I thought.
First off was the story entitled “Private hospital in trouble for charging 30,000 baht for diarrhea”. I mean who in their right mind would go to a hospital for having the runs in the first place let alone get seriously ripped off in this manner? After patting myself on my back for avoiding such painful penury I nearly needed a trip to the dentist;
As the Thais say “huaroh fan ruang” (my teeth fell out from laughing). I was reading the post of the week from moderator “Crossy” who quipped in response to the headline:
“Our office canteen can provide diarrhea on a random basis for 35 baht, why pay more?”
Then came the stories that proved the lie that all things stay exactly the same in Thailand. The first was another medical story featuring the head of the Bhumjaithai (proud to be Thai) Party who said he would only join a coalition government if they followed his party’s ganja reform initiatives to the letter.
Anutin Charnvirakul’s remarks showed just how much the landscape has changed in regards to Bob Marley’s wonderful ‘erb. But they also showed how much the landscape has remained as steady as one of Constable’s scenes. Here was just more of the petty political maneuvering as Anutin said “if you don’t we’ll join the opposition, so there!”.
Apropos ganja I was then sent pictures of an American man who I met years ago who always seemed to be in danger of losing his liberty due to wobbles on weed. Here he was with none other than HRH Prathep – Thailand’s beloved princess – at a show promoting medical marijuana at a temple in Nan. I thought about sharing this on the pages of Thaivisa but eventually decided that a wait and see policy in relation to the new “wonder drug” might be better.
It was that dangerous Thailand mentality kicking in again. Or discretion is the better part of Valium, as I like to say.
The second story featured another thing that wouldn’t have been dreamed of in my day. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports are proposing to charge every tourist an insurance fee. For perhaps as little as 100 baht a visit they will be able to get emergency treatment and be repatriated if and when they die….Thailand seemed as dangerous and as hilarious as ever!
Danger of a different kind was pictured on the streets of Bangkok in the Lat Prao neighborhood near Rooster’s Ratchayothin Roost. Here a radio station posted a picture of motorcyclists cramming the pavements in the back to school rush hour. I translated the story using the term “rot tit” in the headline.
These two words quickly followed “sawatdee” and “khrap” in my early understanding of Thai so I was stunned when one poster questioned that “rot tit” (vehicles stuck together) was really the expression for a traffic jam.
Such ignorance of basic Thai reminded me of my English head master at Bangkok Patana School who asked me to give him Thai lessons in his office. “Rooster,” he said,”I have been here for seven years and I know some Thai but really would love to speak more”. I stifled a yawn but smiled that Thai smile – I was taking his money after all.
In lesson one I prepared a few simple vocabulary items to instill confidence in my eager student. He clearly did not know as much as he was letting on. When we got to the words “rong rian” his face contorted as he asked:
“Yes, what is this ‘rong rian’ I keep hearing about?”. I explained it meant “building learn” and the penny seemed to finally drop. I forgave him – he was only a headmaster after all.
A “safety crackdown” on the water in Thailand obviously came much too late for the poor Chinese souls in the Phoenix boat disaster in Phuket last July. This week the ever sensitive Thais decided to flog the salvaged boat to the highest bidder setting a 900K lower limit. I do hope that whoever buys it intends to scrap it though I have my doubts.
In response to Poster of the Year Colin’s horror about this sale I had commented that we ought to go into business together, half each; put the boat on display, open up a cafeteria, write stories about seeing lottery numbers in the hull, charge people 500 baht to go on board in return for an amulet made from part of the hull, have plenty of shrimp on hand for the Chinese….that sort of thing.
I do hope people who read that appreciated the black humor……at least I think I was joking as after being here nearly four decades I sometimes wonder.
Danger in the form of snakes was lurking everywhere – that is snakes as in pythons rather than policemen. The ubiquitous ’round up stories’ featured one of the pictures of the week – a gaping mouth that was very nearly clamped round a pussycat that had evaded the serpent’s gnashers.
The snakes seem to be doing everything that they can to escape the heat – another of the dangerous killers of Thailand. With virtually no letup to the amazing three month long temperature highs in Bangkok I figure that this year has been the hottest ever. We finally had rain on Wednesday but this pathetic excuse for a storm provided little respite.
If global warming turns out to be true I’m going off to balmy Greenland just so long as I can get an Inuit Internet connection.
Feeling yet more heat this week was Mrs May. I have frequently used the term “embattled” when referring to this woman. Now “dead in the water without a Brexit oar” seems more appropriate. Expats and tourists visiting Thailand will have seen the baht at barely 40 to the pound in the capital’s better exchange rate places – much lower in Suwannaphum (my spelling) where all the banks connive to rip off the public offering almost three baht less.
The airport exchange rate is a scandal that needs investigating – like many rip-offs in Thailand it is getting worse and worse, too.
Reminding us of the danger on the roads – as if we had forgotten – was the latest in the saga of Somchai the factory owner who killed a Lt-Col cop and his wife while paralytic behind the wheel of his Benz. Somchai has promised to pay 45 million baht to the families of the deceased. This is good. Indeed the mum of the deceased cop was rubbing her hands almost in glee as she praised Somchai.
But I do hope that when he faces the judge he is told this: “Khun Somchai….the court notes your contrition and restitution to the families of the deceased. But I need to make an example of you so that Thais do not drink and drive and do not believe that the wealthy can simply pay their way out of trouble.
“Ten years…..take him down”.
And then I woke up…..
And so to a few Rooster awards. The “Picture of the Week” (as good as the python pic was) went to the authorities down on the Eastern Seaboard for their simple fix of another of Thailand’s great dangers – the Pattaya sea. In a story entitled “putting a plaster on a gaping wound” the Na Jomtien council had crammed a few sandbags in a drain hole to stop the sea turning black again. I know it is thirty years overdue but it really is high time that the Pattaya major used his high profile connections to bash some heads and get some action.
Much of the resort – one of Rooster’s favorites in Thailand before I stopped going there after the International Firework Festival last year – is a mess and needs urgent attention. If they are serious about promoting this place then it needs more than a plaster – drastic surgery more like. (The fireworks incidentally are on again this weekend should you wish a different kind of bang in Pattaya).
The “Darwin Award for Complete Lack of Service to the Gene Pool” goes to hapless thief 36 year old Saran in Chiang Mai. After being out of jail for five days he thought a flimsy surgical mask would hide his identity back at the shop where he used to work that he now planned to rob. He pilfered 800 baht from a drawer, was caught on CCTV then got locked in for the night.
In the morning he said “Thank You” (okay “taeng khiw”) as he barged out when the staff opened up then saved the police a trip to his house to go and arrest him. Needing his motorcycle, confiscated after his last offence that saw him jailed, he went to the Chiang Mai cops to get it back. The staff had reported him and he was promptly shackled in irons once more.
Saran – “pheuan thee rak” – if and when you get out again please, please, please try Durex. They come in all sizes.
The “Best of Luck Award” goes jointly to the relatives of the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Argentinian football manager Mauricio Pochettino. The King Power Racing team will be attempting to win the Derby at Epsom next Saturday with their three year old colt named Bangkok. Bangkok was bought by Leicester City’s Khun Vichai with a dream in mind.
On the same day by beloved Tottenham Hotspur – managed by ‘Poch’ – will be taking on Liverpool in the final of the UEFA Champions’ League in Madrid. Maybe I’ll have a double on Bangkok and Spurs!
I’ve not been able to get a ticket for Madrid but I may yet fly to England to take in the Derby in the afternoon and the Champions League on TV at Spurs’ new stadium in the evening. Now to broach the subject with Mrs Rooster……
Finally this week saw the death of a legend of F1 motor racing, Austrian Niki Lauda. Mr Lauda was also a friend of Thailand and a friend of everyone who ever got on an airplane.
Following the crash of Lauda Air 004 in Suphanburi in 1991 Mr Lauda traveled to Thailand to personally investigate the crash. He succeeded (appropriately enough through his personal drive) in exonerating his pilots and laying the blame at Boeing’s door because of faulty thrust reversers.
He was an honorable and dignified man who helped to deflect from the deplorable activity that went on at the crash site where trinkets and passports were traded by rescue staff, a disgraceful episode in modern Thai history that caused much soul searching at the time.
Goodbye Mr Lauda. Your humanity and determination made a positive difference to everyone.
And helped make our lives safer both in Thailand and around the world.