I blame my brother for introducing me to smoking. He was seven at the time and I was barely nine.
Almost thirty years of self destruction started with dipping into a packet of ten Players No. 10. I finally saw sense in 1999 perhaps reaching an age when one starts to appreciate that one is not actually immortal. I went cold turkey.
A day of proud abstinence led to two. Two days led to a week, a month and a year. Then I was home free even if a vastly improved appetite meant my middle age spread did just that…spread.
There was a lapse or two – brought on mostly by the mistaken impression that I could dabble in shisha in Bangkok without re-addicting myself. But by and large – and certainly now large – I have ditched the habit.
I was always determined to be understanding of smokers. Wasn’t the reformed smoker, banging on about the fifthly habit that he used to revel in but was now blissfully free of, just a pain in the proverbial?
Perhaps I have managed to remain tolerant. But only to a point. People are welcome to smoke at my place – and no one objects to doing that on the balcony. I even supply a stolen ashtray. But I am thankful that all manner of public places in Thailand have seen smoking outlawed.
And grateful to see that by and large the people follow the law. That is just as well as we are unlikely to see the police enforce it if there is nothing in it for them. Like everyone I’ve seen the “tessakit” try to extort 2,000 baht from tourists. Written stories that said people might be jailed for puffing on Thailand’s beaches. But still the debate rages – the rights of smokers to kill themselves vs the rights of the rest of us to have cleaner, less fetid air.
Sure Rooster pollutes via motorbike and car exhaust, plastic bags and the nipper’s nappies. Many say the column is nothing short of verbal diarrhea. I’d like to do more recycling and be more eco-friendly. If everyone gave up their cars and two-strokes I’d willingly follow suit. For now I am still a bit guilty of the “if everyone else is doing it why shouldn’t I” mentality, ground into me after decades of living in Thailand.
I’d be happier if there was a total tobacco ban but that’s not going to happen while the government passes “Go” at the Thai Tobacco monopoly. I’m not campaigning for it, either, as I remember those 30 plus years of addiction to that insidious drug. But when, as this week on the hallowed pages of Thaivisa, I see that the Thai authorities are making it harder and harder for people to smoke in public….
Because that is what I want. A smoke free world where my children can grow up. But I also want them to be in a tolerant one; so let the smokers find a place far,far away from me and mine. Tax them to buggery to pay for their health care. Admonish them, make pariahs of them and lambaste them to quit. But let them smoke, for now.
Who knows one day what might happen in Thailand. The only certainty is that I will go up in smoke here……
Easily the most read and commented upon story this week was news that the Thai authorities were preparing to enact legislation that would stop smoking within 5 meters of virtually any public building except abattoirs. In effect this will mean the end of smoking in the street in places like Pattaya and most tourist destinations. Workers will have to go even further afield unless their employers provide dingy rooms in which they may inhale.
Smokers on the forum banged on about finding somewhere else to live. “Fasteddie” commented: “RIP Thailand, it’s been fun”. No sympathy here – I was close to putting in my two-penneth along the lines of “no need to wipe your feet on the way out, but do take your ashtray”.
Non-smokers – and they do seem to represent a great majority these days unlike in my youth – applauded the Thai authorities while mentioning the inevitable caveat of enforcement.
For me I never found the cost of cigarettes a hindrance. Even when Krong Thip went up from 12 baht to 13 it seemed manageable! But these days – especially in a country like England where I have spent the last few weeks – I wonder how people can afford it.
Maybe the cost is offset by dying young.
Apropos, the week on Thaivisa began with questions marks about the rising cost of living in the kingdom. Allow me to make some pertinent comparisons with my life in Blighty this past month.
How it is that just about everything in the supermarkets is a fraction of the price we pay in Bangkok? And I’m not just talking Western food. While the preponderance of second hand goods via charity shops and giveaways on drives added to ubiquitous recycling and laws on “sell-by” dates means the savvy can save in England.
On the flip side utilities seem expensive, insurance prohibitive and there are huge swathes of young people who will never enjoy the Englishman’s dream of owning their own castle. People can’t even get a deposit together that is enough to get on what everyone calls the housing ladder.
Tragically, and largely unspoken, many in my family will only ascend those rungs when their older relatives leave them properties or cash proceeds as inheritance. Wages for many jobs seem low and I had to ask people to explain the term “Zero hours contract” – it all seemed a bit grim.
My ticket for a disappointing 90 minutes at Wembley where the worn surface was covered in an “NFL” logo, was 45 pounds – three times the cost of my standing ticket for a whole season at White Hart Lane back in my youth.
Long distance travel by bus was reasonably priced but trains seemed exorbitant and desperately unreliable. Stationmasters in Japan would have to commit harakiri every morning if their trains were so frequently late.
I did a lot of walking and cycling though I was mindful of the appalling crime statistics in London that has seen 119 murders since the start of the year, many of them young black people.
One teen was stabbed just 100 yards from my sister’s house in Anerley. I went to see the flowers of remembrance, while looking over my shoulder just in case.
There are brilliant things to enjoy about the UK that you wouldn’t see in Thailand; a quiz show, banal as it was, was hosted by what in pre-PC days we called a midget and one of the stars of a popular soap had cerebral palsy. These innovations were balanced by loonies like Jeremy Kyle and Piers Morgan getting daily airtime and, laughably, even respect.
But as the nights started “drawing in” and people became more home-bound I was glad to get back home to Bangkok on Thursday.
And enjoy a taxi from the airport that would have cost me four times as much – at the very least – in London!
Coming from an area near Croydon it had been the two year anniversary of a tram accident there that killed seven people and resulted in no arrests or much justice, just compensation. Sounds familiar, I thought as the taxi whizzed to Ratchayothin. Back in Thailand the news pages were full all week of accidents and the skulduggery that seems to go hand in hand with them.
In Chiang Mai a father took the place of his son after an accident that killed a popular kindergarten teacher. The son had no license or insurance so it seemed the best thing to do. It initially fooled plod until social media – and parents at the school – pointed out the bleeding obvious, something invariably missed by the constabulary.
In another incident CCTV caught a pick-up driver reversing over a stricken – and probably already dead – motorcyclist. Forum sages – or so they like us to believe after their long hours in the kingdom – regaled us with the oft held opinion that Thais just love to reverse over accident victims to finish the job and avoid paying compensation.
Utter, utter drivel. Though I’ll grant you that leaving the scene of an accident rivals Muay Thai as a national sport.
“News” that high speed trains linking Thailand’s main central region airports would travel at speeds of up to 250 k/mph also got the bar stool skeptics in a froth to match their inexpertly poured midday lager.
“Not in my lifetime”…. “You’ll never catch me on a fast Thai train”….”Thais can’t even change a light bulb”……”this government has achieved nothing”….. they burbled in cacophonous idiocy.
Some people need to perhaps open their eyes and ears and not just their beer swilling, “know-it-all” mouths. Developments on the state railways have admittedly been as slow as some of their antiquated rolling stock, but other major infrastructure projects now in progress are very impressive.
As the election nears we can expect more to be signed off in a hurry though calling them populist might well qualify for a jail term.
The ever increasing train lines in Bangkok and the overhead road from the capital to Korat are examples of such mega-projects. Moaners said years ago that no one would use the BTS or MRT and it would be plagued by accidents. They have proved incredibly safe and even the airport rail link is now similarly packed.
This all shows the moaners up but still they babble on regardless.
And what of the speed of completion of projects? Arriving back in Thailand I was delighted to be told by my polite and interesting taxi driver (most are just that) that the underpass at the Ratchayothin intersection was now completed. This major project was finished in much less than two years. My driver said that Big Too had come to open it as we whizzed underground, though I shall put a rain check on his assertion that traffic snarls in the area are a thing of the past.
I am, after all, a Bangkokian through and through.
The Green Line extension in the area is set to open next year and it is already adding value to our properties and enhancing a deprived neighborhood much in need of improvement. People who forever pooh-pooh the Thais and say there is no development in the country – the lifeblood of Thaivisa click-a-thons – are the ones living in cloud cuckoo land.
Thursday saw more developments on the subject of smoking, this time vaping. The anomaly of people facing jail for the use of e-cigarettes looks to be over after the excise department said that tax will legalize the trade. While this is good news for vapers I just hope the Thais are ready for the full consequences; the UK high streets are now full of vaping liquid shops vying for attention with the bookmakers and fast food outlets.
A caveat on this story, however, is that it may fall into the category of fake news. Suggestions have been made that like their scatterbrained tax structure, the excise department may have got their info in a twist.
Another kind of smoking may also become more prevalent after medical marijuana legislation was sped up. Interesting times are ahead for the wonderful weed as the country comes to terms with use for the sick versus the needs of inhalers just itching for legalized chilling.
Just don’t mull it up with devilish tobacco, please, and it will get my wholehearted stamp of public approval.
Ignoring Big Joke’s latest myriad busts, other good news flowed like the Chao Praya in November this week. The pick of the bunch was the wonderful sight of several healthy leopards in the much rejuvenated Kaeng Krachan national park. Clearly Mr Ital-Thai has learned his lesson.
And it was followed by suggestions that 7/11 would be weaning the public off a national staple, plastic bags.
There are increasing signs that the Thais are beginning to react to environmental issues with substance as much as bluster and finally understand that their beautiful country is the single most attractive draw to visitors and thus must be protected. Moves like the extended closure of the bay at Phi Phi are further evidence that a well overdue wake up call has finally sounded.
I just don’t buy into the miserable online rhetoric that Thais never learn and can’t change. My taxi driver from Suwannaphum agreed though we both had to laugh that “us Thais” often go about change in an unusual and roundabout way – rather like his circuitous route to Rooster central.
Finally it was delightful to see that tourists were beguiled by what they thought might be “Ewoks” or trolls cavorting about in the surf surrounding a Krabi island.
They were in fact a real life “installation” put on by a group of imaginative Thai artists. It may have come as a relief to some that the country is definitely not being invaded by unwanted aliens.
Our beloved junta and Big Joke, please note.
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