Raw emotions of all kinds were in the air in Thailand this week as the smog receded in Bangkok and moved north and north east to Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen. But in a week that featured Valentine’s Day, thankfully love was to the fore.
Arriving in Asia the best part of four decades ago I was struck by how much February 14th was celebrated in this part of the world compared to my London hometown. The Japanese even have one day for men to lavish gifts on their female sweethearts and another for the ladies to repay the compliment.
The Thais – like my first wife – would generally rather receive food than roses on most present giving days of the year.
In this regard they are a bit like Ramsey in “The Great Escape” with his German put down: “You can’t eat flowers, colonel”.
But they have always celebrated Wan Walentine with great gusto. Everywhere is decked out in cutesy red and the media publishes story after story with a “Khwaam Rak” (love) theme.
Most notable this week were the hundreds of couples that turned up at Bang Rak (the District of Love) to register their marriage on Thursday, a day they hoped would be auspicious for a long and child filled union. So many go there on this day that the district officials have organized an online queuing system.
Rooster – who has been called an old romantic…..okay, just old – married at Bang Rak. Back in July 1990 I had called my girlfriend to remind her that we were getting hitched. She had forgotten. Come on I said, as she grudgingly got out of bed and made her way to my house. For us this marriage was one to help me get a visa so I didn’t have to add to my tally of going to Malaysia that was already nearly 20 times.
But the marriage lasted. Despite our separation we remain legally wed to this day.
Off we toddled that day on my Honda Rebel to the registry office in Pahonyothin Road only to be told there that my paperwork was not in order (they were not used to marrying foreigners). Helpfully the clerk whispered that we could try “The District of Love”.
We were fourth in line at Bang Rak but the queue was incredibly slow. Those who complain about Thai bureaucracy today really ought to have been here years ago. Eventually after we had got decidedly ratty with each other – the soon to be Mrs Rooster having disappeared for nuptial noodles at lunchtime – we were told by the clerk at 4pm that we were too late. Please come back tomorrow.
Ardent Rooster was not to be outdone; the production of a purple note ensured that the office stayed open to 6 pm just for us (the actual cost was 20 baht). For the wedding feast I gorged on cheeseburger at what I believe was Thailand’s first McDonald’s near Patpong. Then we each had a beer at Superstar before going our separate ways.
Consummation could wait. We’d had more than enough of each other for one day.
The week on Thaivisa showed that – rather like my wedding day and subsequent married life – you don’t really need Valentine’s Day and all that lovey-dovey stuff to appreciate Thailand.
Big Joke – immigration chief Surachate Hakparn – was seen scowling on the big day. Mind you he had all sorts of criminals to catch. But I truly wondered where he was later in the day as one of his minions announced the arrest of another 520 migrants at the police station near Khao San Road. Maybe BJ was taking his missus out for a romantic candlelight dinner…..though that seemed unlikely as there were no pictures the next day and no vinyl board celebrating the details.
Despite claims that all over-stayers were gone a few months ago they keep appearing though admittedly these are in the form of Cambodians, Myanmarese and Laotians. They don’t really count and certainly don’t need as much love as the Chinese or even Indians in these tourism dominated days.
Showing less love than might ordinarily be required was a doctor who was filmed by relatives talking to a patient with liver cancer. Abrupt was not the word as “Khun Mor” told the lady in no uncertain terms that her time in this life was all but up and she should say ta-ta to the kids in case she popped her clogs by morning.
The video – viewed by millions – caused much debate with most Thais spouting “insensitivity” and most posters on Thaivisa forum saying “fair play”, say it like it is, it is not for a doctor to hide the truth. I’d agree with being gentle with most patients but if they ask for the truth for goodness sake give it. In my own past I have had to hear bad health news. I was glad to get it straight because it helped me to put in motion what I had to do to address the problem.
I am now the healthiest 57 year old foreigner called Rooster in the whole of Ratchayothin.
My area of Bangkok – perpetually filthy and awash with construction of roads, bridges and the Green Line train extension – is now covered in ramshackle campaign posters as well as temporary construction hoardings.
I was particularly intrigued by the stated policies of two political parties and resolved to advise my wavering wife to choose one or the other. The first said simply that they would not buy tanks but NGV buses. This was obviously a party not aligned to PM Big Too Prayut and his men in suits, ties and khaki underpants. They collect tanks, dirigibles and watches like there is no tomorrow let alone March 24th.
The second set of hoardings – one every 30 meters which is helpful for us foreigners who still have trouble reading several lines of Thai while driving – would have been unthinkable years ago. It had a large ganja leaf and was telling me if I voted for them I could get high every day and the cops would do nothing. Progress that could really put the smile back in the Land Thereof.
On arriving home I told the missus to vote for that party. Not being completely on top of the news about maryjane she scowled and said dream on, I’d be arrested before I got addicted. I muttered something under my farang breath about her being a Conservative with a Big C and she thought I was going out shopping again and not to forget milk this time.
The message about the party promoting ganja eventually got through, however, when she realized the profits to be made by converting her modest sugar cane plantation in Loei into weed.
Money soon trumps morals and marijuana moolah is massive.
Later in the week the Thai authorities were seen paving the way for more liberalization with an amnesty on ganja announced. It just seems to get sweeter and sweeter!
Yes, sugar cane is so yesterday though Rooster suspects that it will still be required when we are toking up all day long not least of all to satisfy the sweet craving munchies.
Someone who clearly has been eating too many pies already was the bakery lady who fell down a drain behind her shop. The cover was unable to hold her 80 kg weight as she took a selfie. Sanook called her a fatty and Rooster – the translator of this story – simply repeated that salient fact.
Several posters – bringing their Western cultural mores and hangups to Asia – cried foul saying it was rude of English translators who were probably just as overweight. They completely misunderstood that calling someone plump in Thailand is something of a compliment. Why else would so many people be called “Uan” (fat). Have you ever heard of someone called “Phorm” (thin)? Of course not, now that WOULD be rude indicating ill health and more importantly the lack of money to get blissfully fat.
Old habits die hard. It’s a bit like those framed Victorian posters you see translated into Thai featuring two businessmen. One side has an obese but happy rich man while the other features a miserable thin sod with nothing. One says “He sold for cash, the other sold on credit”.
Like that old chestnut several stories that are stock themes on Thaivisa made continued appearances. One was the latest minivan driver paying far more attention to Line chat than the upcoming carnage on the road ahead. He was filmed for two minutes with no one saying a dickey-bird. If it had been me I would have used my best Thai sarcasm as I’d rather keep my physical face intact than lose a bit castigating a driver.
Another theme is a perennial TV favorite, foreigners behaving badly. This one was a yob – egged on by his mates – who was caught by a canvassing candidate peeing off the back of a Pattaya song thaew. The driver was tipped off and resolved to secretly take the miscreant to the Pattaya police station instead of Central. Unfortunately the hooligans got wise to the impending trouble and scarpered in all directions.
Had they not fled the scene we would all have been treated to another theme – the foreigner wai-ing atrociously after merely behaving badly.
Sanook made the most of the story saying that johnny foreigner had got out his “anaconda”. One for the tourist’s scrapbook when he goes home to Liverpool, no doubt.
Out in Pathum Thani an old boy had a very lucky escape when he was hit by a taxi crossing the road. He was flung into the air and landed squarely on the rear window smashing it to bits. The rescue services left him to stew there for a bit while they got the vital pictures for the media.
One woman who was going nowhere – at least not for a while – was an even older woman who fell off the second floor balcony of a house in Prakhanong while cleaning. She was impaled on railings. The pictures looked horrific but she, too, survived to mop again.
In Chumpon a group of Myanmar illegals were nabbed by immigration when passengers on a tour bus suspected there were foreigners in their midst. Why? Because it smelled so bad on the bus. Thirteen people were promptly arrested at a checkpoint and given a bath while the drivers who had been paid 1,200 baht a head to secretly transport them south forwent the scrubbing and were just hung out to dry.
Several newbies on the forum commented on the Thai penchant for burbling on about body odor. Rooster never forgets – especially when in polite company – to mention I have already showered three times that day. One of my favorite Thai whiter than white lies, it is always greeted with a mixture of suspicion and raised eyebrows.
Farang netizens became irater than the irate Thais as a firestorm of angry criticism swept through the forum after a man was knocked down by a motorbike on a sidewalk in Bangkok’s Nang Lerng district. Crush the bikes, yelled some.
Attempted murder, screamed others. A “top” lawyer said quite reasonably that it was just assault.
What made this case worse than normal was that the motorcyclist had knocked down the pedestrian after losing face when he was ticked off for riding on the footpath moments earlier. He may well do some time on rice gruel.
Finally, the vandal foreigners in Chiang Mai were out with their spray cans again. This time the police blamed a foreigner for writing a Valentine’s Day love message on the wall of the historic Chetawan temple.
It said: “Love u Sandy. Happy Valentines Day”.
The cops are looking for a farang who can’t use apostrophes.