Growing up in England we always knew how to start a conversation. Not being the most communicative race on the planet we usually resort to banging on about the weather. In fact tourists to the country are advised to talk about nothing else – they can even be highly critical and say how “bloody bad it is”. We won’t hold it against you! We agree.
Moaning about the weather is, however, not something that is the exclusive domain of the English. Thais have made it a mantra to moan about their own climatic conditions and foreigners are, just like in the UK, welcome to criticize or praise as is their wont.
Only one word of advice. Don’t diss the rainmaking….
I was amused in a recent meeting with an old friend who I see about once a year. He is a man originally from the North of England who is now a Thai citizen. I am from the South and am a Thai resident. We have been here a combined n eight decades.
So what did we talk about. Yes, you guessed it…the weather. We shared stories of how we cope with the heat and our recollections of heatwaves, storms and floods. For my own part I believe every year is the hottest yet, and 2019 is no exception. Perhaps, just maybe, I’m getting old. I’ve been staring at my thermometer stuck in the kitchen wondering if it is that high because I’ve just had a cooked breakfast. Only problem was, I had cold milk and Shreddies.
As the mercury continued to threaten to gush forth this week the nation seemed to be reacting in kind. If I didn’t know better the wacky stories of the past seven days could be blamed on the heat. It’s just that for 52 weeks of the year – even when the Thais appear in bobble-hats and jackets when the temperature plummets to the low twenties – it is always like an episode of Loony Tunes in the Land of Smiles.
Leading the way this week was a man in a red plate Mercedes Benz – adorned with pictures of the Royal Family – parked in Ratchaprasong in downtown Bangkok who, armed with a knife, released a load of cobras.
Somehow the Thaivisa headline writers resisted the temptation to go with “What a load of Cobras”….I could never show such restraint!
The man is believed to have mental problems, it went without saying. In some societies this is put down to interaction with the moon or “lunacy”. Here I think the sun has got to him. Especially as it was not a one off – he had done some similar stunt at a shopping center the previous week. No one appears to know what had driven Mr Benz to hacking up snakes in the center of the capital.
I just think he’s barmy to have bought a new Merc in the first place. He could have had at least three good Hondas for the price and it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d got snake blood on the seats.
Also clearly suffering from sunstroke was Lt-Gen Werachon, one of the hundreds of DEPUTY government spokesmen, who was commenting on the arrival or lack of arrival – I couldn’t actually determine which – of the Japanese. As the sun beat down he claimed that the culture of the Thais and Japanese are “quite similar”.
I was reminded of my youth when 1960’s class teachers who had never gone beyond Dover would give us books that had slant-eyed orientals who were all subservient, shifty and vaguely suspicious. It mattered not where they were actually from as they were all pretty much the same. This was beautifully lampooned by a character in the Catherine Tate show years later who complained about being served “tempura” or “battered veg with a blob of spicy jam” in a UK restaurant.
The owners of the restaurant were “Thai people, from Thailand…
Yes, I would take issue with the Lt-Gen’s assessment. Having been into hundreds of Japanese homes in Bangkok to teach English – and having a smattering of knowledge about Thai culture after teaching that for 20 years, I would point out to him that while the occasional Japanese can pass for a Thai on looks alone their culture and cultural attitudes might as well be on different planet never mind different continents.
Perhaps the only thing they truly have in common is a hatred for the hot weather though whether the average Thai could cope year after year with winter or even spring in Japan is a moot point.
My most popular difference in the two races came when asking both sets of people how they had enjoyed their holidays. The Japanese would always complain that everything had gone wrong no matter where they went – this I later learned was a crafty effort to make me feel better for not having had any time off. The Thais would always say their trip was “sanuk” even if it wasn’t. They were not prepared to lose “travel face”, you see. Japanese take face to a level Thais could only dream of.
I won’t get started on work ethics, planning and moral responsibility. Suffice to say I could probably live in either country and smile my way through being thoroughly different to either nationality! While still appreciating both, I might add.
While Rooster and my long term friend banged on about the weather and accomplishing DIY at our respective homes, it was another topic that everyone can talk about that gave us one of the better stories of the week on Thaivisa; airlines, and specifically “air rage”.
Clearly affected by some proximity to the sun (or two bottles of rum), a Russian man had tried to open the door at 39,000 feet on a Bangkok bound Aeroflot flight. He was restrained by other passengers, thank goodness. We all know you can’t physically open the door but that’s hardly the point.
Aeroflot has an alcohol ban on this route but, hey, a Russian and his booze are seldom parted.
I first had the pleasure of flying Aeroflot in 1982 when I went from Bangkok to Madrid via Moscow to attend England’s games at the World Cup in Spain. Had Wikipedia been around then I think I might have shelled out a few more baht to actually use an airline!
Aeroflot’s accident record through the previous decades was so appalling that it would have put off a seasoned and bold flyer let alone a nervous bag of airline jitters that is Rooster whenever I am obliged to sit in a silver tube and be hurtled through the air surrounded by high octane.
Fortunately the Madrid flight was not alcohol free. In fact Olga – as we christened the stout stewardess – expected to ply us with vodka and Scotch throughout the flight as a matter of course. She even took the drunken abuse handed out to her with Soviet-era aplomb.
Things have changed at Aeroflot. It is still virtually the biggest airline in the world but their flights actually get to their destinations these days. After the wall came down the new Russians were more accountable. They go everywhere and I’d even recommend them – especially when the booze ban is enforced on their occasionally errant nationals!
Seen as equally errant by many are the Chinese who are not known for their quietness especially in large groups. Thus it was one in the eye for the forum curmudgeons when it was not only shown – in a pie chart no less – that they dwarf every other nation in visits to Thailand but they actually spend more per head than westerners. Shock horror!
Most will take this with as much as a pinch of salt as a whole pack of Saxa. Indeed any figures containing the “TAT” acronym are highly dubious. But there is a smidgen of truth in this, albeit with a caveat. While I would accept that the Chinese are more than likely to fork out for expensive gifts at high end stores it is clear that they don’t support the “mom and pop” shops that other nationalities might frequent.
The money that they bring in invariably ends up in the hands of foreigners and their wealthy Thai backers – the elite if you will. So while the spending power may even be true the run-of-the-mill Thais won’t see a baht of it. And, unless at bottlenecks like airports and hotels, the Chinese tourists won’t be seen much either creating the impression that there are fewer tourists in Thailand.
This is just not true – despite the xenophobic ramblings of a forum like Thaivisa there are huge numbers visiting Thailand. It is just that the familiar landscape has changed from the 80s through to the present day. And you’d better get used to it – with the expansion at Bangkok’s main airport Thailand will be China central by 2030 when the current 38 million tourists is expanded to the expected 79 million.
Learn Mandarin and learn to button your lip. The days of westerners being the flavor of tourism in Thailand are over.
That flavor is now in noodles (and even Indian curry) rather than steak and chips.
Perhaps wisely with the heat being so high this week, His Former Omnipresence Big Joke left for cooler climes in the good old US of A. In his case, though, the heat taken off his shoulders by departure to America was less to do with the sun and more to do with the press and the unbridled speculation of what led to his demotion from police flavor of the decade to the most unpalatable dish in Thailand after fermented fish.
Journalists throughout the nation are as much in the dark as the rest of us by what happened to Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn and all his vinyl signboards. Manager suggested this week that the “Fast Track” priority lane scheme at Suwannaphum airport was the key to unraveling the mystery.
It was however speculation at best and it begged more questions than it answered. Was it that BJ had stepped on the wrong toes in trying to bust the four million baht a month scam at the airport? Or was he feeding at the trough himself?
To my way of thinking – and I don’t profess to have the slightest bit of inside information – the sound of silence from Thai officialdom is deafening. I believe that Surachate is a good man who has overstepped the mark, and overstepped it too quickly, in attempting to root out corruption. Big Too, PM Prayut, set an unrealistic and politically motivated target of twenty years. I’m sure in his khaki heart he thought if Thai corruption could be dented it would take more than one generation and probably about four. He’d be long gone and unaccountable.
Big Joke is history though perhaps not permanently on the scrap heap. If and when the political climate changes he would have a chance to be rehabilitated. This happens frequently in Thailand where those thought to be in the wilderness reappear as if from the ether to once again hold sway when circumstances and leaders change.
Those hoping that the election might change leadership clearly had too much pre-March 24th sun themselves. The conniving and jiggery pokery of recent weeks has elevated such shenanigans to new levels of disrepute. The hounding of Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn will have come as little surprise to anyone especially given the success of the billionaire at the ballot box.
Now his connections to a media company are prompting fresh efforts to get him disbarred. This may be unwise of the junta and its obvious connections within the Election Commission. More than six million people put their faith in the new and handsome face of Thanathorn. Thais can be politically apathetic but when they are emboldened not just by right but by numbers, things can get decidedly unpleasant on the streets.
Mark Rooster’s ramblings.
Other heat related stories worth a mention in dispatches were the 32 illegal Burmese workers packed into a pick-up and kept cool by huge blocks of ice, a mobile phone that exploded putting a hole in a pick-up windshield and a Taiwanese smuggler caught with 7 kilos of heroin stashed in St Luke’s Prickly Heat powder tins at Don Muang. I couldn’t get the thought that drugs suppression cops might have used Grade A heroin on their private parts to cool down out of my mind!
And so to a few Rooster awards. With my grown up children swapping temperate Blighty for oven-like Bangkok this last week I took six days off translating. You may have noticed that this resulted in Thaivisa going downhill (or uphill if you think there is no place for a bit of frivolous entertainment in the news!)
So the “Make Sure You Read To The End Of The Story” award I give to my childish self this week after returning to work on Friday. It involved the tale of the gay Thai man who pinched a Belgian tourist’s wallet. It was all about the pointing – a favorite of forum wags – but yours truly needed to make sure that everyone had read the translation to its conclusion. Hence the Thai miscreant was “detained and fingered at the police station”.
I don’t apologize for never growing up but believe me, some of my best friends are gay.
Another story disproved my contention that it is never too late to learn Thai. My “Get Someone Else To Write Your Signs in Thailand” award goes to the US pensioner and his wife who decided to commit suicide in a Chiang Mai hotel room.
After giving the maid a cheery greeting they retired to their room and put plastic bags over their heads and connected themselves up to a gas canister.
However, the maid was not sufficiently endowed with the English language to obey the sign that said “Do not enter – call police”. She breezed in with the spare key and got a sight I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Joining the Hall of Fame for “Best Thai Excuse Of The Decade” was a man the Thai press nicknamed “Tam Saitaek” who clearly murdered pretty “Nong Oey” perhaps with the help of another woman. Mr Saitaek (which sounds better than the English translation of ‘colon explosion’) told the cops that he was playing Russian Roulette with Oey, as you do, and unfortunately she got the bullet from the .38 rather than him.
Who would have thunk it!
Finally, we were told on Saturday that Thai men are increasingly turning to plastic surgeons in the kingdom for their six packs. Going to the gym to get abs is apparently so yesterday. And getting that flat, babe attracting tummy is available for as little as 120,000 baht and a few hours snipping.
Seeing my 25 year old son and his strapping six-pack physique these last few weeks has inspired me neither to go to the gym nor the hospital.
I’ll get my six-pack from Villa, thank you very much.