First Asian Martial Arts Games


“Amid chaotic scenes:” yes, it is the inaugural Asian Martial Arts Championship, which has been held here in Bangkok to even less than usual press coverage. Thailand won two gold medals yesterday (or possible the day before), one of which was for a young woman in a weight range that had only three competitors and who was in tears after the event after her principal opponent, from Pakistan, several times punched her in the face. Another Thai man won an event easily but a third was defeated in controversial scenes, with booing of the judges by Thai officials, athletes and crowd, the occasional flying water bottle and the usual kind of thing that happens when so-called ‘sports’ are decided by judges, whether they know the rules or not. There is an official website, here, under the slogan ‘The Games of Spirit – The Land of Smiles’ and, perhaps making the most of home advantage, Thai athletes lead the way with 45 medals, 17 of which are gold, followed by Kazakhstan and Korea, with China down in seventh place. This is what the website has to say about the history of the games: “Thailand have received the honor from the OCA (Olympic Council of Asia) to be the host of the 1st Asian Martial Arts, which is a great pride because other countries have been praising that Thailand has the capability, human resources, expert, experience and can be a center for the start and create a new phase of sports in our world with success and efficiency. With this assignment, the SECRETARIAT of the 1st Asian Martial Arts have designed the Emblem, Mascot, Slogan, Pictogram and Identity for the use of the 1st Asian Martial Arts Games.” Quite. The games continue until Sunday and today there are scheduled to be events in Karate, Muaythai, Kick boxing, Kurash and Pencak Silat. Several venues in Bangkok are being used. Good luck to everyone involved.

Jobs I’m Glad I Don’t Have to Do


It is important to keep a positive attitude when living overseas – well, it is important for everyone really. So, in that vein, here are various jobs that I can see people doing here in Bangkok on a daily basis that I am glad that I do not have to do: 1) central reservation plant maintenance: swathed in towels to keep the sun off, these women (mostly) stand on the edge of the fast line of the wider roads and cut the grass, weed, tend to trees and so on while hoping that no idiot smashes a pickup truck into them; 2) false beggar: all kinds of begging must be fairly miserable but there is one particular bloke who is often found on the footbridge I use to visit Tesco at lunchtimes occasionally – he will lay on his front with his arms and legs drawn up and a jacket draped over him as if he had no arms or legs. However, I have seen him walking around fully limbed up – what must people think of him and how does he put up with it? He’s only a young bloke; 3) anything that needs an oxyacetylene torch: how many times can we see chaps perched on scaffolding wielding these things while sparks fly in all directions (mostly downwards towards passing pedestrians of course). Bangkok is hot enough without using this torch and it is rare that a mask is provided; 4) street vendor stall worker: endless hours of sitting in the hot weather (and occasional rain storm) for less than minimum wages and having to put up with the proximity of all the other people nearby – not for me; 5) dredging the canals: workers (men and women together on a work gang) use long pieces of bamboo, nets and suchlike to dredge the filthy water of the canals – the smell even from a distance is pretty grim and Zarquon alone knows what they find in there; 6) any job that requires sitting on top of a loaded lorry or having to squat in the back of a crowded pickup truck.

The Fortune Town Experience


I was off to Fortune Town this lunchtime, since the adapter for my computer seems to have stopped working. Fortune Town is perhaps best well-known for the IT Mall on the third and fourth floors of the shopping centre, with a Tesco Lotus supermarket at one end and the hotel at the other end. These days it is convenient to get there via the underground, using the station at Phra Ram 9.

The Fortune experience is always interesting: there are generally a variety of pale farang guys trying to look self-possessed while being confronted by the kind of intellectual piracy that they had been told about but did not really believe could be the case. The Land of Smilers show them what is available and let them buy if that is what they want – there are all kinds of CDs, DVDs, software programs, games and so forth available. The cost is 120 baht per disc, last time I heard, so if you want a multi-disc box set of some TV show, for example, it can come to 600-720 baht (which is around US$20). I am not tempted by this, really, since I do not have time to play games or watch TV much and the music available is the mainstream stuff which is not my kind of thing – besides which, a new CD in the shops averages around 350 baht, which is not that much (US$7) and the variety available is getting a little better in the B2S shops (although we badly need a specialist music shop such as HMV, in my opinion). However, there are always plenty of customers who are tempted by these things.

Anyway, I found the shop I needed and had a choice of a genuine adapter (1500 baht), a copy (600 baht) or a repair (400 baht). I went for the expensive but legal option, as I try to do as much as possible (I am teaching business ethics this semester, after all). Lucky for me that I can afford it.

Construction Begins


The construction has begun on what I am assuming is the new church at the end of the soi – the start of construction in Bangkok means that a three-sided wooden shack (there is probably a better word) has been put up for the workers to rest in while not working. The crew, probably drawn from Isan as most people are, have started to live on the construction site – let’s hope they at least have some clean water and perhaps even electricity, although probably not apart from what is needed to work.

The life of the workers seems fairly grim to me (although it is better than having no job, of course). Temperatures during the day are quite serious at this time of year (the last time I saw a weather forecast the average daily ranges were 27-35 or something like that). Many of the workers, especially the women, will swathe themselves with clothes, including their faces, to keep off the sun and avoiding burning their skins darker. Others, the men of course, are happy to go around in just a pair of shorts. This is generally not indicated as sensible by health and safety regulations, which are very rarely applied.

As the construction continues, bamboo scaffolding will start to be erected – just about every tool is made from bamboo. Digging the ground up by hand is done by attaching a metal scoop to the end of a length of bamboo – really, there is almost nothing that cannot be achieved by the cunning application of bamboo. Workers lean out from the scaffolding at seemingly impossible angles with a view to reaching high and distant spots. At every turn, danger seems to threaten.

This being the Land of Smiles, most of the time cheerful banter is not far away. This is particularly true for payday and the couple of days thereafter, which are customarily marked by beer, barbecued food and a fair amount of shouting and singing to the background of loud luktung music. Other appetites also surface but these are better satisfied in as much privacy as is possible – ironically, as the saying has it, the land on which the church is being built was once a place dark enough to be used for that purpose. Don’t tell the nuns.

Ladprao Life


I’m not sure what was going on along Ladprao Road this morning when I was coming in to the office but the traffic going in the opposite direction all the way up to the Ratchada junction was completely choc-a-bloc – truly a snake eating its own tail and I did not see it move the whole time I was going past. There had been a little rain earlier on but not enough to cause this level of delay. Perhaps there had been an accident – these are, alas, common enough for the Bangkok streets. Perhaps also it was the traffic police who had set up another roadblock to stop certain categories of vehicle (usually motor cycles as the unwillingness of riders and their passengers to wear the prescribed helmets makes them an easy target) near to Ramindra Road, which is a place they seem to like establishing roadblocks.

Well, I hope that whatever the problem is it has dissipated now since I am shortly to take the same route back, unless the taxi driver wants to go via the Sutthisan route. It is best, I have found, to let them choose their own preferred route because otherwise they are likely to spend the entire length of the journey moaning about the traffic and clicking their tongues and so forth.

Apparently the land at the end of our soi is going to be used for a church of some sort – it has been vacant since pretty much all the time I have been hanging around Ladprao. For one period it was used for a kind of informal bar and a few people have tried to establish noodle stalls there. Most commonly it represents an opportunity for motor cycle taxi riders and anyone else passing by to go to an open air toilet. Well, no doubt the Christians will find some way of cleaning all of this up. Presumably it will mean an increase in traffic when services are being held and perhaps even some tiresome Christer evangelists will come around to try to persuade us to change our personal beliefs or just swan around acting self-righteously.

Chinese in Bangkok (II)


Under the Absolute Monarchy (brought down by the revolution of 1932), responsibility for trade and industry was allocated to foreigners – Persians, Indians, Chinese and even Europeans were able to take high positions in the administration of the state. The Siamese (Thai) people themselves were expected to remain as subsistence rice farmers and the Siamese nobility was strictly controlled to reduce the likelihood of rebellion or attempted regicide.

In particular, monopolies were sold to the so-called ‘sinful’ industries and these were allocated almost entirely to Chinese. Hence, all the brothels, breweries, gambling houses and opium dens in Bangkok and other urban areas were run by Chinese managers and they imported ethnic Chinese people, primarily men, to work in these industries. Chinese also ran industrial enterprises including tin mines, rubber plantations, manufacturing facilities and import and export agencies. Frequently, the ethnic Chinese workers in these industries were controlled almost entirely by their managers and were expected to spend their wages in company-owned shops, pleasure houses and the like. They also maintained their own security forces – fighting was rife, both between individuals and as part of gang warfare on a larger stage.

As private enterprise spread to the streets of Bangkok, therefore, the jobs were largely taken by Chinese. Hence, the rickshaw operators, porters and construction workers in the city were nearly all Chinese. This was an important feature when it came to trying to organise labour in Thailand for unions: there has been no tradition of Thai (as opposed to Sino-Thai) urban working class in the Kingdom.

As industrialization and modernization increased in pace under Kings Rama IV and V, the numbers of Chinese in Bangkok also increased rapidly. Thousands arrived – mostly from specific areas and they brought some aspects of their culture with them. Certain activities are still associated with Chinese from different regions to this day. Owing to the ways in which the ocean liner industry was organised, for example, many Hainanese Chinese arrived during this period and that partly explains the popularity of chicken rice to this day.  

Chinese in Bangkok (I)


Chinese have been in Bangkok since before it was Bangkok – when the Thai (actually the Siamese) capital was moved after the burning of Ayuthaya by the Burmese army in 1767, it was moved to Thonburi and then to the modern site of the City of Angels. The ethnic Chinese community, who were mainly artisans able to create valuable goods, then occupied the land which the monarch desired for the Royal Palace and related buildings. After having been asked to move, the Chinese then re-settled around the Yaowarat area where Chinatown remains today (it is not very clear how the request was worded but it was, presumably, an offer that could not be refused).

Those Chinese have been joined over the years in Thailand by a variety of other migrants. Some came in heavily packed boats and were destined for coolie labour, while others had more resources and were able to link up with merchants who had already established niches for themselves in the country. Some came to work in rubber plantations in southern Siam and northern Malaya, controlled by the British, while others worked in the tin mines on Phuket and elsewhere. Some thrived and others did not.

Although some people have tried to ascribe some kind of special entrepreneurial skill or aptitude to Chinese, the truth is that they by and large adjusted themselves to the local conditions as best they could. Where opportunities to break into importing and exporting were available, they were taken and others were brought into a business as and when it grew. On the other hand, when manual labour was all that was possible, then this option was taken, often with the hope of saving enough money to upgrade the quality of life and then even import a wife. It would be misguided to imagine that all the many thousands and indeed millions of overseas Chinese would have the same experience or the same aptitude for a particular type of economic activity – as migrants they were outsiders and had to fit in to what it was possible for them to achieve.

Sim Soi


Anyone who has played the game ‘Sim City’ or any of its many variants (e.g. Sim Tower, Circus, Aquarium, Ant Farm, Public Convenience etc) will be familiar with its depiction of capitalism red in tooth and claw. The player’s role is to act as the government or metropolitan authority and provide basic infrastructure and uphold the rule of law, while the little and mostly unseen Sim citizens continuously enact Schumpeterian creative destruction. That is, they are constantly building and destroying buildings and facilities on the same piece of land over and over again. On some occasions, periods of stability break out when no destruction takes place for measurable periods of time but it eventually starts up again – sometimes for reasons which are apparent (e.g. an earthquake destroys the local power plant and disrupts water supplies) and sometimes for some micro-level reason which it is impossible to identify – and the player is too busy looking at the bigger picture to have much time to ponder on the individual acts of building up or building down.

There are similarities with this and the nature of change in Bangkok (and many other urban areas too, of course). I can think of a number of different sites that I pass on my daily commute twice a day (there and back again, so to speak) that are regularly changing from one form to another. Sometimes the reason is apparent – I would imagine that the piano shop on the corner of Ratchada-Lad Prao that had a brief incarnation as a Coyote-Bunny Bar which then failed was lack of parking and insufficient nearby residential areas (it is next door to the subway so people could get there that way but, somehow, Coyote Bars and the subway do not seem to mix). A piano shop would be OK there because it is a specialty shop (i.e. one which customers will seek out and endure some inconvenience in accessing) and because, presumably, no one expects to take a piano home with them straight away.

Various local bars and restaurants also have inevitably high levels of turnover following business failure – of course, failure can be a regular term. Plenty of businesses are set up by people who only intend to be in operation for a fixed period. For example, spouses of migrant workers with little otherwise to do can establish their own businesses while they wait for the contract to finish. Many bars and restaurants are in any case just hobby ventures for some.

However, other closures remain unexpected and unpredictable. Such is the nature of capitalism – and there are customarily others waiting their chance to make something successful.

Scavengers


Bangkok does not have much in the way of recycling. There are a few demonstration projects with the different coloured rubbish bins but these impinge very little on the lives of the millions of Bangkok residents. In some shops now there are attempts to encourage shoppers to use linen or cloth shopping bags rather than the plastic carrier bags but these have not been very successful. Bangkok residents (self included) like the plastic bags as means of storing rubbish which is then put into rubbish bins (there are so many damn soi dogs and other pests that rubbish cannot be left on its own, in a bin or not). I once got a free gift (having bought something, books no doubt) from B2S of a very nice cloth reusable shopping bag – it was wrapped up in a plastic bag and the sales assistant kindly put it in a separate carrier bag before handing it to me.

However, there is one important form of recycling in Bangkok (and across much of Asia and, no doubt, everywhere where there are poor people) and that is scavenging. Watch the back sois of the city and there, working generally diligently through the day, often with a three-wheeler with a scoop at the front full of what to other people is rubbish, are the scavengers. These are people who specialize in finding items in household rubbish which can be resold, whether it is tin cans, newspapers, cardboard boxes or bottles. They work it seems a regular patch (to avoid disputes with each other) and search through the rubbish bins and fly tipping unused land. It is a hot and unpleasant job but it appears to sustain those doing it. Scavengers (I suppose more upmarket names are possible) will pay 50 satang for a tin can given by a householder and a few baht for a pile of newspapers – my mother-in-law is happy enough to make a few coins this way – and can then sell them on at a marked up price.

This is how in part the city works and regulates itself. I suppose it must be termed a market-driven solution.

Bangkok and Climate Change


It has been hot these past couple of weeks in Bangkok – it has been hot across the country but it feels worse in the capital because of the traffic, the pollution and the sheer mass of people. We have had Songkran of course and one or two rain storms but the main rainy season is yet to start – 38 or 39 degrees is predicted for today and the year’s hottest day is supposed to be coming on the 27th, after which we might get some more cooling rain (which the farmers will appreciate).

I don’t know about other people but the hot weather tends to raise my temper as well and it is necessary to make an effort to be calm from time to time. It is all likely to get a lot worse what with the global climate change, the rising sea levels and the sinking Bangkok land.

The newly published report Bangkok: Assessment Report on Climate Change 2009 reveals that the levels of CO2 emissions here is equal to that of New York at 7.1 tonnes per person per year.* That exceeds London, which produces 5.9 tonnes. The principal problem is with the public transport system, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the ancient buses belching enormous plumes of black exhaust onto the streets. Some of the vehicles still being used are more than 50 years old. An efficient Metropolitan Administration would have replaced all of the fleet with modern and efficient equivalents – we do have some new and smart buses but not enough.

If the sea level rises by one metre relative to the level of the city (excessive water pumping is causing subsidence all over the place), then 72% of the city would be affected by 2025 (other estimates exist). I do expect that, unless we suddenly see some unexpected and dramatic action, by the time my mortgage is paid off, I will need to wade to the front door.

 

* This seems to be based on the amount of emissions divided by a population of six million – if the several million migrant workers in Bangkok were included, then presumably the figure would be rather lower.

Abhisit Puts Tanks on Bangkok Streets


Events are happening so quickly that it is difficult to keep up – and it is likely that many things will be forgotten or swept under the carpet in the clamour for urgency.

The situation now is that the ASEAN Summit was cancelled after the government was proved unable to keep order and the various Asian leaders had to be rapidly evacuated by helicopter. Pro-democracy red-shirted demonstrators were moving their protests from Bangkok to Pattaya when it seems there were attacked and shot at by a group of PAD goons and undercover security forces apparently organized by turncoat ‘godfather’ politician Newin Chidchob – it is possible that red shirts also used violence (poor Bangkok Pundit, to whom I generally turn for up to date information, sounded in despair yesterday when he was describing both sides as being no better than each other), although I remember previous clashes during which pro- and anti-democracy factions clashed and the telling phrase from the red shirts was ‘we brought sticks to a gun fight.’ The same seems to have happened here – I do not of course condone violence from anyone.

There are now reports of tanks on the streets and incidents across Bangkok and beyond. PM Abhisit has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and some surrounding provinces which means, inter alia, “Under the order, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited, the press is not allowed to present news reports which could incite worry among to the public. The order also allows the public to be evacuated from areas considered to be risky.” This should be borne in mind in considering, in the future, what is being reported now and in the next period of hours or days.

Some questions:

Will this lead to yet another military coup?

Why is Suthep still in a job?

At what point will the Invisible Hand decide that Abhisit should be let go?

Tomorrow, depending on what happens between now and then, I hope to touch upon the hypocriticial nonsense now being spouted about tourism losses.

Is This the Day?


Is this the day? It might be.

Many thousands of red-shirted pro-democracy supporters are expected to demonstrate in Bangkok and throughout the country. They will make their demands – an end to the unelected Abhisit government and a return to the 1997 Constitution.

Yet two factors make this a very different occasion from previous demonstrations. First, despite the pathetic protestations of lying rightists and cronies, the pro-democracy movement has been decoupled from support for ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra. He supports the movement, of course and is allied with it but does not lead it. This has enabled many people who were pro-democracy but uncomfortable identifying themselves as Thaksin supporters to join the movement. The increasingly desperate attempts by the right-wing press (and foolish international media persons who should know better) to paint the movement as being entirely about Khun Thaksin in fact reveal the truth.

Second and more important, since Khun Thaksin named Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda as being the chief conspirators behind the 2006 military coup, an enormous taboo has been broken in Thai society. Now people feel free to discuss whether they really want the unelected and enormously privileged few to have so much power and money. The general feeling in the air is that there is an unbottling of rage and resentment, particularly at Prem, who has increasingly sought to equate himself with the Royal family. It is widely believed (the habit is hard to break) that Prem has been the secret hand behind so much of Thai politics in the last quarter of a century and it is also believed by some people that every decision he has made has benefited himself and his cronies while condemning the mass of Thai people to penury. Today will be the first day on which this will become an openly stated theme of the demonstrators.

If the privileged elite in the unelected bureaucracy, the privy council and the military do not prepare to make a proper compromise, they could see the whole edifice of their power swept away in a torrent of protest. Things could change very quickly – then again, the military might again be ordered in by invisible people behind the scenes to suppress political dissidence. Or nothing could happen. However, there is a recognition in at least some parts of the Thai media that things have genuinely changed.

Winners and Losers


Of course, changes in the city, whether brought about by transportation or any other reason, have negative as well as positive consequences. Whenever changes in the transportation system are made, for example, this leads to forcible purchases (not sure of the legal situation but it is certainly expected that people have to leave their homes and businesses) in areas affected by the change. Many of the residences concerned may be old-fashioned and undesirable but they are, nevertheless, home to many people who are understandably reluctant to leave. Even if better accommodation is available, it may be far from family or work or even neighbourhood networks and, therefore, much prized.

Additionally, the bourgeois-ification of the city changes its nature and not always for the better. Increasing amounts of the centre of the city are now occupied by hi-so shopping centres all essentially providing the same offerings of goods and services. A little way away from the centre is a series of middle-so shopping centres based on one of three or four supermarket brands and the franchises that are regularly associated with them. These centres are undeniably popular with consumers but have had the effect of making the city very much more homogeneous than it was before and reducing the level of ‘Thai-ness’ in Bangkok, replacing it instead with a form of internationalized or globalised urban life. As is inevitable in a capitalist system, the creative destruction of urban change leads to both winners and losers. Since the level of social welfare in Thailand remains very limited, destroying that form of welfare that may be derived from solidarity with neighbours can be problematic. That does not mean that every neighbourhood is full of happy people in and out of each other’s houses but it can be significant.

So far, Bangkok has avoided the situation of a number of other Asian cities, in which the central areas are protected for urban elites, while former residents are forcibly removed into outlying slum regions. Democratisation would help to ensure that situation continues in the future but it is not clear whether it will be permitted.

Mass Transit and Change in Bangkok


The mass transit systems (both the subway and the skytrain) have changed Bangkok as a city in a number of ways. The success of the systems means that mobility has increased in the centre of the city and there should be a positive impact on pollution, both air pollution and noise pollution (although I cannot say I have noticed this or seen any statistics to support the idea). The new stations, especially the skytrain stations, represent important new areas for street vendors and other micro-level entrepreneurs and some of these businesses can be quite sophisticated in nature (we have done research on this area – I could write at greater length than anyone is likely to be interested in reading). Retail as a whole is affected as those shops near to the routes benefit while those remote from them will suffer.

Housing is also affected. As Bangkok is not only a growing city but one increasingly becoming middle class in nature, there is a demand for more accommodation which is in part being met by the building of ‘villages’ (i.e. up-market gated housing estates or communities) on the edge of the city close to good road links (the mass transit does not yet meet up with suburban Bangkok). However, these villages mostly offer family homes (based on my admittedly limited experience). There is also growing demand for reasonably priced condos or apartments near to stations for single people living in the city. Many new blocks are being built because of this – well, actually a number of them have been postponed because of the economic crisis and the number of loan applications being rejected has also increased, as a symptom of the liquidity crunch – apparently, the highest level of demand is from unmarried people of from 25-34 years old, with income of around 20-40,000 baht per month and looking for apartments priced at 1.6 – 2 million baht, with floor space of 30-40 square metres.

There are still many half-finished projects littering Bangkok from the 1997 crisis and it would be disappointing if more of the condo blocks are left unfinished. Let us hope the government (and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) has the intelligence and determination to make sure these projects can go ahead if at all possible. They will help to stimulate new production and new economic development in the city.

Bangkok’s Stimulus Package


Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has announced a variety of new initiatives to help Bangkokians through the ongoing economic crisis. They are of mixed value – assuming that they actually take place at all and are not just more excuses for corruption, for which our city has a long and not very distinguished history.

Making available low cost housing for people with comparatively low salaries is good (there is a lot to be said about housing in Bangkok – perhaps another time), while providing more space for market vendors is necessary and helpful. The farmland which, it is said, represents 20% of the total of land in Bangkok, is also going to be helped through greater provision of cash crops – that is not very clear, what does it actually mean? People owning land will be encouraged to grow more cash crops? Metropolitan land will be given over for such purposes? Perhaps this will be made clearer in the future.

Less suitable seems to be the levying of taxes on hotels, cigarettes, alcohol and petrol – this kind of regressive tax (i.e. everyone has to pay the same irrespective of income) is known to be unhelpful in economic development and widens the gap between rich and poor. How will it help people who need to drive cars or motor cycles for their livelihoods? The hotel industry is already suffering hugely from the recession and last year’s PAD Disaster, so taxing hotel rooms is hardly likely to be welcome. Is this an attempt to make money from the ‘sinful rich’ to distribute to the ‘deserving poor?’ If so, it is clearly a retrograde step and part of the religious rightist’s attempt to increase social control over the poor – the attempt to ban alcohol sales over the Songkran holiday is just the most recent manifestation of this baleful movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Investigators do not believe he took his own life.”


The severed head of a western man in his forties has been found dangling some five metres from the Rama VIII Bridge. A note, apparently written in English, was found attached to the head, claiming I want but I cannot …,” and “I came to Bangkok to be [with] you.”

Top Bangkok police investigators seem to be concluding that this is not a case of suicide: how can they be sure?

Frozen Food in Bangkok


When I first began visiting Bangkok, about a decade ago, one thing that struck me was the lack of frozen food. Large supermarket chains were just starting to establish themselves across the country and it was only in the smaller, foreigner-oriented outlets (e.g. Villa, Foodland) where pretty much any kind of frozen food was available at all. Thailand was famous for the propensity of people to eat out – in fact, to pick up food prepared outside and take it home in the ubiquitous plastic bags. People could eat the contents later on, especially since Thai people do not require food to be piping hot (generally, there are exceptions) but will eat it lukewarm, thus enabling people to eat together.

These days, nearly all supermarkets and even convenience stores offer sections dedicated to frozen food and local producers have created brands based on local tastes which have become widely available. S&P was the first entrant, I believe, and continues to offer its range of prepared individual meals. However, a variety of new entrants have come into the market and some of the newer products are quite sophisticated. For example, I recently noted a new range of prepared, frozen meat pieces which is designed to be placed inside the pot of instant noodles and is then thawed out by the hot water that cooks the whole pot. This is in addition to the premium range of meals provided by the Blue Elephant company, which is positioning itself as a manufacturer and distributor of gourmet Thai foods here and overseas. I also noticed yesterday a range of upmarket products including frozen battered seabass fillet, which I intend to try tonight. The cost is not cheap in Thai terms – the seabass was 150 baht, which is quite close to the daily national minimum wage and even low cost alternatives seem to be about double the cost of fresh meals of the same type.

Still, the success of frozen foods (measured by the growth in the number and range of products available) suggests various changes in behaviour in Bangkok at least – the amount of frozen food seems to me less outside the capital. Eating alone, living alone and the atomization of family life are changes associated with the rise of frozen, individual meals. Some more research into the issue here would no doubt be of interest.

Smeliies Occupying Don Mueang


I went past Don Mueang airport on my way to where I am now and had chance to see the occupation at first hand – it was the first time I had seen the Smellies up close and it confirmed my impression that they are a self-important bunch of twerps. Why else would they think they are so much more important than ordinary people that they should be able to use the expressway for free and could keep honest people waiting to go about their business waiting behind them? It is the same for the poor bus passengers forced to get off the buses highjacked by armed PAD goons and left on the side of the road. Luckily police were able to reclaim one such bus – but only at the cost of shooting out its tyres. The others are still in use by the Smellies.

Possibly 20,000 people or a few more joined the PAD useful idiots protest at Don Mueang and some other sites, far below the number of pro-democracy supporters who turned out the other week and it does appear as if the popularity of the anti-democracy movement is finally waning – Chief Smellies had to bus in thousands of presumably Democrat supporters from the South just to reach this number. PM Somchai Wongsawat is, it is being reported, relying on the good sense of the great majority of Thai people who wish to see democracy triumphant in the country. PAD smellies will try to occupy Don Mueang and possibly the Supreme Command HQ if the Cabinet decides to meet there but its apocalyptic government must resign today rhetoric has been exposed as empty posturing. There is still, of course, the danger that PAD goons will take one final chance to unleash another wave of violence on the city but, so far, nothing they have done has roused military leaders to bring the tanks back on to the streets again (Bangkok Pundit (http://feeds.feedburner.com/BangkokPundit) comments that many PAD useful idiots may not be aware of the extent to which armed thugs conduct business on their behalf)

 

Perhaps this might be seen, not as the end or the beginning of the end but at least the end of the beginning.

PAD Almost Finished


Well, we were promised the final battle, when the people of Thailand would rise up in their multitudes to tear down an unjust, nay a tyrannical government. What was the reality? The few thousand remaining ultra-rightist anti-democracy PAD goons launched another pointless wave of violence across Bangkok for absolutely no purpose. Buses were highjacked, police officers beaten and spat upon, innocent people terrorized once again by the PAD goons, under the protection of their celebrity sponsors – but government decided simply to cancel the session scheduled and, hey presto, the end of the world will come on Wednesday instead. The ‘national strike’ promised by the few class traitors among trades union leadership who have disgracefully sided with the PAD thugs has also failed to materialize. Of course, the last time the class traitors threatened a general strike the more sensible union membership refused to support ultra rightist policies. Perhaps they remembered rather more clearly how many labour activists were murdered by just the kind of military junta that the PAD ringleaders and their celebrity sponsors seem so enthusiastic in restoring to unearned power.

Some PAD goons and their useful idiots went out to Don Mueang, where the government has decamped while the illegal occupation of government continues but that is unlikely to last long since it is quite a long way away from their comfort zone.

Pro-democracy supporters have, as usual, remained level-headed and avoided PAD provocations and violence.

Expect more overnight ‘grenade attacks by unknown assailants’ which are, of course, PAD ringleaders blowing their human shields up with the utmost callousness.

Allegedly.

Right.

Meanwhile, in the grown-up world, the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) has claimed that the number of unemployed in Thailand might rise to 1.1 million as a result of the current financial crisis. Union leaders have previously claimed that employers are deliberately exaggerating the problems as a pretext for laying people off. Pretext or not, people will be laid off – I expect job losses to start really hurting by the end of the year, although paternalistic employers may try to keep employees on until after Chinese New Year.

Courts at Centre of Politics Once More


Attention returns to the various courts, once more, where steps are being taken to try to resolve Thailand’s political future – not, unfortunately, being decided by the will of the people or the competition of ideas and ideologies but the decisions made by individuals appointed in often contested circumstances (which is yet another code).

First, the Constitution court has repealed three laws passed during the junta period of 2006-7, when the jackboots ruled through the ‘National Legislative Assembly’ of appointed cronies. This includes a conflict of interest law which is clearly unworkable. However, in typical Thai fashion, the laws were repealed not because they are unjust or brought about by an illegitimate military junta but because there was not a proper quorum in the assembly when they were passed.

An attempt will be made to revoke other junta laws, including the banning of 111 Thai Rak Thai MPs for whatever pretext it was that was used. Meanwhile, the PPP (largest party in the ruling coalition and successor to TRT) continues to work towards changing the constitution – perhaps even the one giving the junta and its cronies immunity for its seizure of the country. That will be controversial, of course.

Dozens more lese majeste cases are also being prepared, including one against ‘veteran social campaigner’ Sulak Sivaraksa. One problem is, for those trying to understand what if anything it all means, is that no one is allowed to repeat what the allegations are or they will be charged as well.

Ten ‘inactive’ political parties are about to be disbanded, apparently. There is a lot more – a worthless busybody is making more allegations about Thaksin, for example, while public prosecutors are preparing more charges against the public ringleaders of the PAD mob – which is incidentally refusing to allow the royal funeral motorcade to pass along Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue.

Court jaw jaw is better than war war, of course, although it is hard to be enthusiastic about legal proceedings as a way of making policy. Never mind, let’s see what happens after the Royal Funeral and the ASEAN meeting.