Twitchers, Touts and the Slow March of Progress


I had a twitcher last night – a taxi driver who kept twitching his neck and shoulders and jerking his body about in a way that made me wonder whether he had self-medicated something to keep him going through a long shift. It is not impossible.

Taxi drivers come in all shapes and sizes – I once got in the cab to see a driver so fat he had difficulty reaching the steering wheel. Others seem to be incredibly old, especially the Sunday drivers who borrow a car for the day to make some extra money. They tend not to drive as fast as the regular guys. You can generally tell when a driver is a regular because his (rarely her but it is not impossible) photo on the dashboard matches his face.

Many of the drivers have migrated from Isan or other regions and, when they first arrive, their geography may not be the sharpest. But they soon learn. Many are sympathetic to Khun Thaksin and the pro-poor government and take a leading role in demonstrating in favour of democracy. Others are not – there are so many that generalization is not a good idea.

Now that the new airport has opened, the new taxi system is much better than at Don Mueang, although there are still plenty of touts in and outside. Now, there is a queuing system and people collect a ticket from the desk where they tell the people where they want to go. The ticket is then taken by the taxi controller and the next driver takes the passenger – there is no more of this haggling through an open window and refusing to take people where they want to go, although that does sometimes happen to me if I want to go home to Ladprao at rush hour. Most cars are reasonably new and clean. Only twice have I had someone try to cheat me coming back from the airport, both times by apparently fixing the meter either to trip too quickly or to register a longer distance than was actually travelled. Things are not perfect but they are, slowly, getting better.

Violet Elizabeth Abhisit


Well, we made it through another weekend without a military coup or widespread violence. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is talking about patience and seeing out the problems caused by the anti-democracy mob, which is besieging Government House. Around 10,000 mob members (according to the BBC, the Thai media claim many more than that) advanced on Government House over the weekend and, apparently, ‘easily outwitted’ the police and their road blocks – outwitting the Thai police, eh, they said it couldn’t be done. Perhaps this is one reason why.

As a sop to the mob and their supporters in the Senate, now of course stuffed with junta appointees, Khun Samak has assented to a frankly inappropriate series of censure motions against the government, which has had just four months to sort out the mess left by the disastrous junta period and the obstruction of parliament. The motions will presumably by led by Violet Elizabeth Abhisit (if he can drag himself out of bed long enough), who has threatened to scream and scream and scream until he gets his way. VE Abhisit, a workshy quisling, has many things in common with the mob: both are the results of privileged backgrounds with nothing but contempt for the democratic process or the votes of the millions of rural poor who have repeatedly rejected the policy-free Democrat Party. Second, rather than create a new party politics with policies people might want to vote for, VE Abhisit would prefer to bring down democracy in Thailand, which he proved with his shameful decision to boycott the election of 2006.

Despite the fact that a court (it is illegal to criticize Thai court decisions) banned more than one hundred leading politicians from the Thai Rak Thai Party and dissolved it altogether, the Democrats were once again heavily defeated by the newly-formed People’s Power Party, which continued the pro-poor policies of Thai Rak Thai. In response, the Democrats, a once powerful party with a proud history, have done nothing. Fifty of its MPs will be involved in the no confidence debate which it has no chance of winning. One and a half days of debate will feature the Democrats moaning about supposed mistakes by the PM and seven members of the Cabinet instead of doing their proper job of articulating an alternative set of policies and persuading people to vote for them.

If It’s Friday, It Must Be Time for Another Attempt to Overthrow Democracy


The weekend approaches and, in Bangkok, that means new confrontations between the forces of law and order and the anti-democracy mob. At the time of writing, PAD (ringleaders of the anti-democracy movement) are converging on government house which, depending on which report is believed, they intend to mount a demonstration or will storm the building to bring down the democratically-elected government by force. The police are put into the position of trying to maintain order in the face of enormous provocation by the anti-democracy mob and by the agents provocateurs who stage violent acts while helpfully wearing clothes that identify them as ‘pro-government supporters.’

All schools in the area have been closed for the day and the police are preparing for the worst. The mob threaten to throw the democratically-elected prime minister Samak Sundaravej out of office, presumably to replace them with some unelected dictator, since the mob has no interest in calling for new elections. The government has a difficult path to tread because during the recent disastrous military junta period, the deeply sinister ISOC mechanism was put in place which gives the military (and certain other persons acting behind the scenes) enormous power to declare a national emergency and take over completely. If the level of violence increases to some undefined level, elements within the army will (or might, anyway) declare martial law and take over the government again.

What motivates the PAD? Why would people prefer a military tyranny to the rule of law and democracy? There is a level of hatred against the current government and, in particular, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra which is on an entirely irrational level. Otherwise reasonable people (academic Khun Thitinan from Thammasat University who writes a column for the Bangkok Post, for example) make endless rants about corruption and criminality supposedly committed by Khun Thaksin’s government – electorally, the most popular and successful government Thailand has ever seen by a wide margin. Khun Thitinan, in common with many others, has never presented any evidence for his beliefs and as the nonsense court cases brought against Khun Thaksin demonstrate, the secret powers directing the PAD are desperate for any kind of ‘evidence.’

The answer: class hatred.

If It’s Friday, It Must Be Time for Another Attempt to Overthrow Democracy


The weekend approaches and, in Bangkok, that means new confrontations between the forces of law and order and the anti-democracy mob. At the time of writing, PAD (ringleaders of the anti-democracy movement) are converging on government house which, depending on which report is believed, they intend to mount a demonstration or will storm the building to bring down the democratically-elected government by force. The police are put into the position of trying to maintain order in the face of enormous provocation by the anti-democracy mob and by the agents provocateurs who stage violent acts while helpfully wearing clothes that identify them as ‘pro-government supporters.’

All schools in the area have been closed for the day and the police are preparing for the worst. The mob threaten to throw the democratically-elected prime minister Samak Sundaravej out of office, presumably to replace them with some unelected dictator, since the mob has no interest in calling for new elections. The government has a difficult path to tread because during the recent disastrous military junta period, the deeply sinister ISOC mechanism was put in place which gives the military (and certain other persons acting behind the scenes) enormous power to declare a national emergency and take over completely. If the level of violence increases to some undefined level, elements within the army will (or might, anyway) declare martial law and take over the government again.

What motivates the PAD? Why would people prefer a military tyranny to the rule of law and democracy? There is a level of hatred against the current government and, in particular, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra which is on an entirely irrational level. Otherwise reasonable people (academic Khun Thitinan from Thammasat University who writes a column for the Bangkok Post, for example) make endless rants about corruption and criminality supposedly committed by Khun Thaksin’s government – electorally, the most popular and successful government Thailand has ever seen by a wide margin. Khun Thitinan, in common with many others, has never presented any evidence for his beliefs and as the nonsense court cases brought against Khun Thaksin demonstrate, the secret powers directing the PAD are desperate for any kind of ‘evidence.’

The answer: class hatred.

Obesity a Growing Threat


The Thai people are generally small, petite and, according to most observers, rather good-looking. The people with whom tourists and visitors come into contact with usually follow that stereotype – not least because employers routinely require applicants to submit not just photographs on CVs and application forms for jobs but also expect candidates to detail their height and weight. Perhaps inevitably, the view is reinforced by the popular media which are full of sparrow-like models and various wannabes – while those with different body shapes struggle to get beyond the token appearance or comic relief status.

However, people who live in the country will have noticed something different happening. In common with other countries in Southeast Asia, the urban populations of Thailand are suffering from the increasing onset of obesity. As many as 40% of city populations are now thought to be suffering from some kind of problem related to being overweight. Walking around the shopping centres of Bangkok will do nothing to dispel this illusion, while observing the occasional crocodile of schoolchildren brings the lesson home very firmly. This is not just about the occasional spoilt boy but an epidemic starting to affect the whole Kingdom.

The usual suspects are to blame: an increasingly sedentary lifestyle accompanied by higher disposable incomes and the tendency to experiment with high calorie foreign foods. Many of the foreign foods concerned, indeed, are stuffed full of sugar and other sweeteners to try to make them more palatable to young Thais – as anyone who has tried to eat the bread or pizzas covered with vile sweet pastes will have to accept. This is exacerbated by the Thai habit, prevalent among the middle classes, of causing children to study extra classes after normal school and at weekends and not just feeding them with extra food as a reward but preventing them from getting part time jobs or even taking any meaningful exercise.

The country is already beginning to suffer from health problems such as increasing mature onset diabetes and heart problems. This will, therefore, get worse.

So: network playing up again, eh? About the size of it.

Katoeys (MTF): Good and Bad Treatment


Many visitors to Thailand are struck by the high visibility of what Thais call ‘katoey,’ who are people born as men but wishing to live as women. Such people, also now being called MTF (male to female), work not just in quite high profile jobs in the entertainment industry or as cosmetics salespeople but throughout the whole of society. It appears, on the face of it, that Thailand is a very tolerant society when it comes to accepting MTF and other people wanting to break out from the strictly heterosexual concept of society. This idea is reinforced by the large number of cosmetic surgeons offering various types of sex change operations.

However, there is nevertheless a fair amount of discrimination faced by such people. Ajarn Kittikorn Sankatiprapa presented a thesis at Srinakharinwirot University outlining the abuse and bias that some MTF people face. The situation is mixed because, although it is good to be reminded that things are not always what they seem on the face, there have also been various attempts to set up new dormitories in universities and toilet facilities in schools for MTF who face difficulties going to the toilet. MTF people are forbidden from using women’s toilets but, understandably, are not happy going into men’s toilets. They may be obliged to go home rather than use a public convenience and this is obviously a form of discrimination. The dormitory situation is a more intense form of the same problem: MTF would prefer to live in women’s dormitories but are not permitted to do so. Now, in various universities across the Kingdom, authorities are realizing not just the ethical issue but the economic one: there are enough MTF people wishing to attend university to make it worthwhile building facilities especially for them.

Universities are also considering whether to permit MTF to wear female uniform in class time – universities throughout Thailand are obliged to have a uniform code for students on campuses during weekdays. The male uniform consists of long dark trousers, white shirt and a tie. The female uniform consists of a black skirt and white blouse – a uniform with considerable scope for attracting complaints when, surprise surprise, some young women prefer to wear the skirt short and the shirt tight. Private universities have more latitude to establish their own uniform codes – I am quite pleased that we allow women to wear trousers and many prefer to do so.

Superstition Trumps Rationality


Former Prime Minister has urged people to be patient in the current climate and that the situation will improve when Mars leaves the vicinity of Saturn. It is the closeness of the two planets, apparently, that is causing so much of the trouble the Kingdom is currently facing. A well-known astrologer, Khun Luck Rekhanitade has, meanwhile, announced his own prophecy of the future, which includes the fact that July 2nd this year will be the scariest day of the last thirty years and that there is likely to be violence in Bangkok which will reach a peak on the 6th of the month.

It is all too common for Thais (and politicians from the rest of the region) to place their faith in magic and superstition of all sorts. Khun Thaksin was among those who visited a certain Cambodian monk who had a reputation for magic and the sudden disappearance of some high-profile statues from the front of buildings has been attributed to the preachings of such monks. The junta, during the recent disastrous dictatorship, regularly flew off here and there to consult with whoever they thought would tell them they were doing a good job. Luckily it has not reached the extent of Burma, where one former leading general had the currency denominated in multiples of 87, since he believed that was his lucky number. Even so, nearly every politician is either willing to seek magical help or permit being shown doing so in the media. Superstition of this sort is closely linked to religion here.

My wife has a cousin who owns a house in Bangkok but was posted to work in the south. To deter burglars, he installed an anti-theft system which would turn on the lights in the evening and turn them off again in the morning. When he returned from his duty, he was rather surprised to find incense and offerings of food to the house, since neighbours believed it was haunted and could, potentially, reveal the secrets of the lottery.

Who Benefits from Attacks on Democracy?


In a shameful show of opportunism, workshy quisling Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, is calling for a no confidence motion in parliament. Abhisit, who has done nothing to articulate any coherent set of policies or ideology for his once proud party, is best known for his extraordinary privileged background and his decision not to contest the 2006 election. Knowing how few people would vote for his incoherent, disorganized party, Abhisit decided to boycott the election and made some obviously false excuses about the power of the elected government and how it was all terribly unfair for people like him. This extraordinary show of his sense of entitlement opened the way for the military coup later in the year.

Now Abhisit has joined with the movement trying to stir up the idea that the country is facing political and economic crisis so as to create the conditions for another coup – or so at least it seems. The Democrat Party had wanted the government to open a general debate in which it could bring a list of complaints about government performance, without of course any suggestion of what should be done. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej quite rightly rejected this since there is a real need for government to continue to work its way through a number of vital issues – the government is struggling to deal with complex issues that look to be beyond its capability anyway. It has been in office for just four months and has also had to deal with the legacy of the disastrous junta government. It is not necessary to be a fan of democratically elected prime minister Samak to realise that the opposition Democrats may have some unspoken agenda and means of achieving it.

Irrespective of the success of the Opposition forcing a censure motion on the PM and various members of the Cabinet, the Upper House is also set to hold some kind of session assessing government performance. The Senate is now stuffed full of junta cronies and other right wing interests as a result of the new constitution forced through by the junta under conditions of martial law.

Who benefits from the continued period of instability?

The True Spirit of Euro 2008 Emerges


At least some of the Thai people have embraced the true spirit of Euro 2008 and have opened betting schemes. 99 people have been arrested for illegal gambling activities, although the amount of cash apparently recovered seems a little low. Thais, to generalize, love gambling and there are all kinds of ways in which they can seek to gain instant fortune. Young people are starting even younger, if this research is to be believed. A few years ago, when football was shown on the television people could text in to predict the final score and the man of the match (they don’t show women’s football) – there would be a lucky draw from those who predicted correctly and the winner would receive a new mobile telephone or a buffalo or something. This has all now been stopped because it promotes gambling and, for reasons it would take too long to explain here, we are currently going through a moralistic phase in society, in public at least.

No doubt we will shortly start seeing newspaper stories blaming late night football watching for students falling asleep in class, being disrespectful to parents and teachers and having sex with each other. By this time next week, I would have thought.

Anyway, people use all kinds of pretexts to gamble. Any time a famous person is hospitalized, for example, people try to find out the room number in the hospital concerned and use that number for the lottery. People will use the date on which people die as another message from heaven or just about anything which can be even loosely construed as a sign (it is, incidentally, a bad tactic to follow, assuming that these messages are not genuine because if then umber does come up, you have to share the winnings with all the other people who followed the same sign. Then again, reasons for certain numbers cropping up are often difficult to understand. This is Thailand).

Drama or Crisis?


Cool heads from those in authority will be needed over the next few days if the current drama is not to escalate into a real crisis – especially since there are so many people who want to provoke such a crisis.

The main problem is the high oil price, which is hurting a lot of people. Price increases have been approved or will be approved for boat taxis, taxis and buses, while Thai Airways has announced more fuel surcharges. Truckers are striking and as many as 120,000 trucks may be standing idle. Farmers are protesting in different parts of the country because of the difficulties they face. In the north, farmers have blockaded roads in Mae Hong Son with a view to persuading government to guarantee a 25 baht per kilogram purchase price for their garlic. Other protests and demonstrations are planned around the country.

That in itself is not a serious political problem – these are difficult times and people want to make their circumstances known in the public sphere, which is possible under democracy of course. The government will no doubt do what it can in response to the protests – some more help for farmers, for example, possibly subsidizing some fuel prices and so on. It cannot do much to control world oil prices.

The problem comes when trouble-makers try to use these demonstration as evidence there is some terrible political crisis and that the army must step in to restore public order and confidence. Spoilt brat anti-democracy activists are still holding up honest people from going to work in Bangkok and there is a danger that workshy quisling Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader (why? What does he not have to do to get sacked?) of the opposition Democrats will again join in by using parliament to try to prove that normal politics is impossible.

Will this become sufficient of a pretext for elements in the military once again to take to the streets and seize power? That possibility will increase substantially if there is violence – people in Thailand tend to be quite naïve with respect to the media and believe what they are led to believe. Violence will only serve the interest of the anti-democracy faction – if it should occur, consider who benefits and who, therefore, has really caused it. People will take money to do just about anything, here as elsewhere.

Shocking Pink Millipede Is One of Top 10 New Species in the Whole Wide World


Good news on the poisonous pink millipede front as the Shocking Pink millipede (Desmoxytes purpurosea) has been named as one of the Top 10 New Species of the Year, by no less than the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE), which is based in prestigious Arizona State University.

According to the Bangkok Post, “It rated third on the list, after the ”sleeper ray with a name that sucks, Electrolux addisoni”, and a ”75-million-year-old giant duck-billed dinosaur”.

There is not, on the whole, a great deal of wildlife to be seen in Bangkok and a shocking pink millipede adds to the spice of life – although I doubt they will last for long as apparently there is already a US$30 bounty on the head of each one (US$0.03 per pair of feet, presumably). There are the endless soi dogs, of course, and these days the rise of Bangkok’s middle class has given rise to a series of pet shops with cute names (Dee Dog, for example and Dog Idol), from which may be seen emerging sad middle-aged women with extravagant hairdos and tiny dogs wrapped in blankets or clothes or some such stuff as replacements for the children who have left home. There are the squirrels who can be seen travelling from one side of the road to the other by the power lines or telephone lines. There are a few hardy fish in the klongs (people still fish for them though, usually using small wooden fishing rods shaped like the stock of a rifle) and more rats than we really need. One thing it is very difficult to see is the Siamese cat – there is one cat down the road which looks a bit like a Siamese cat but not the kind which are so familiar in the west. Perhaps they are hiding somewhere.

It may be a sign of rapidly enveloping middle age that I have become at least vaguely interested in what kinds of birds are roosting in the balcony outside my bedroom. Not interested enough to open the curtains and look, mind, but interested enough to wonder about them.

Bangkok Protests Have a Long Tradition


Protestors have managed to shut down the Environment Ministry by blocking access to the main building – at least temporarily. The protestors are concerned about the scheduled building of two new power plants in Saraburi and Chachoengsao Provinces. The concern centres on the possible environmental impact of the new plants and the fact that, as they see it, there is no meaningful public impact into environmental impact assessments.

Protesting in Bangkok by people throughout the Kingdom has a long and distinguished history. When I have visited the ministry of Labour, for example (to visit my wife), it was a common sight to witness retrenched (redundant) or striking workers bringing their case to the centre of power. Historically, the power of the state, present in the King, was delegated to aristocrats or mandarins spread throughout the country and these officials were given permission to ‘kin mueang’ – literally, ‘eat the state.’ In other words, officials were expected to keep some portion of the national revenue (from taxes, monopolies and trading tariffs) for their own purposes – this is considered to be the origin of corruption in the country. It was only when the official took too much that people would rebel and begin a march on the capital to take their protests to the king.

Normally, of course, the king would send soldiers to kill or disperse the peasants before they got anywhere near the capital but the tradition remains. Thais tend to believe in the monument supposedly set up the King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, which promised them that all people could come to him and he would listen to their grievances. And so, it is common for protestors to come to Bangkok and set up camp to demonstrate about the issues that concern them and either receive a hearing and some kind of assistance or have to give up and go home.

In the current environment, with the spoilt brat anti-democracy activists PAD whipping up hysteria through a wrongly friendly media, protestors run extra risks. There is a real danger of violence at the moment. Visitors should stay away from protests – it is, after all, illegal for foreigners to be involved in political protests (it dates back to the Communist scare).

Why (if at all) Wat Preah Vihear Matters


In the past, Thai kings like their counterparts in Vietnam and Cambodia had little real interest in geographical borders on maps. The land was difficult to cross and the population was thinly spread away from the main urban centres. The power of a king depended on his ability to mobilize an army or the labour to build a monument or a new town. This power largely relied on the king’s relations with princes and governors of other towns.

This changed during the colonial period. The French, colonizing Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, started to draw maps of the region and to use western methods to work out who owned what and where. The Thai court went along with this with the usual endless compromising and ‘bamboo diplomacy,’ largely because it seemed irrelevant.

So, we have today’s situation in which the border is uncertain and disputed. Jungle and mountains do not matter much but the situation of Wat Preah Vihear is different. The Cambodian government is trying to get this wat, which is a particularly fine specimen of its type, recognised by the United Nations (in the form of UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site and has submitted a map to the Thai government showing that it is within Khmer territory.

This will be agreed sooner or later since there is little doubt that the wat is actually of Khmer provenance and the Cambodian people are very twitchy about these things – it was only a couple of years ago that a few comments made by a Thai actress supposedly claiming the wat as Thai rapidly led to anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh and the burning of Thai businesses.

While the people may get worked up about who owns the wat, the real issue lies in the Gulf of Thailand. Both sides are aware that there are more reserves of oil and gas to be located in the Gulf in seas which are not definitely allocated either to Cambodia or Thailand. The real importance of the negotiations, therefore, is to act as a precedent for dividing the seas and the precious hydrocarbons lying waiting underneath them.

Some Truths about Thaksin


So, John, you work for Khun Thaksin, even if you have never met him (although he did walk by on his way to meet more interesting and important people as few weeks ago). Answer me these important questions, entirely according to your own opinion:

Q. Is he going to buy Ronaldinho and is that a good idea?

A. It certainly looks like he will try. I doubt it would work out well because Ronaldinho has attracted a reputation for being a workshy party animal who is unlikely to value new manager Mark Hughes and his approach to football highly – Blackburn were not given the nickname Blackeye Rovers for nothing.

Q. Was it a good idea to sack Sven?

A. Not in my opinion.

Q. Where does his money come from, anyway?

A. He achieved success through securing a government license to operate in the telecommunications and satellites industry. This turned out to be enormously profitable – much more so than previous careers in the police and computer retail. As the money mounted, his company diversified into a variety of different fields – real estate, hospital ownership, media and others. He divested himself of shares in the company so as to be permitted to become Prime Minister and his family subsequently sold them to Singapore’s Temasek. That left a lot of cash, some of which has been invested in Manchester City, a much smaller amount supports Shinawatra University and, presumably, there are other investments about which I have not been notified.

Q. How about these corruption charges?

A. Well, after the military coup, the junta put its best people and a lot of resources in trying to justify their action by bringing corruption charges against Dr. Thaksin and his family (especially his wife and children). The results have been negligible – some trivial charges about the Phaholyothin land sale which will soon disappear, complaints against government policy to make a loan to Burma and to manage the lottery which the government, overwhelmingly supported by the electorate, seems entirely mandated to have done. Some members of the Electoral Commission, also supported by the junta, are themselves in prison because of the way they tried to find evidence of electoral wrong-doing.

Q. Any truth to the human rights abuses?

A. More than 3,000 people were killed during the War against Drugs, which is the issue most commonly raised. Khun Thaksin was certainly PM at the time, the policy was very popular (the new PM Samak Sundaravej was thinking of reviving it) and it seems to have had a positive effect in removing drugs from schools. Khun Thaksin made some intemperate comments but there is no smoking gun linking him directly to any extra-judicial killing – and the extent to which he was able to control the military, for example, was shown when he was ousted in a military coup.

Q. Other people completely disagree with your views, don’t they?

A. Yes.

Q. Are you writing this column without sources because the network is so desperately poor that you have no choice?

A. What do you think?

A Little Less Gambling, A Little More Kicking


Lumpini Park is best known for being the national capital for Muay Thai – the eight-legged form of martial arts unique to Thailand (although some Cambodians argue that it is just an adaptation of an older Khmer form).

It is called ‘eight-legged’ because fighters are allowed to strike with two fists, two feet, two elbows and two knees. This could make the fighting very deadly. The roots of Muay Thai, like most martial arts, appear to have been low cost ways of providing means of defence to poor peasants and villagers who were subject to the predations of bandits and wild animals – and were too far away from the authorities to expect any protection from them. Knowledge was, it seems, most commonly passed on to the local people by Buddhist monks – which supports the tradition of the fighting monks in Shaolin style which is an important shared point of East Asian culture.

Well, this is all very good but it appears that Muay Thai, notwithstanding the big strides it has made as a participative sport internationally, is failing locally. Lumpini Park management are concerned that it is only foreign tourists and local gamblers who are turning up for events. Worse, the influence of the gamblers is making the spectacle of fights boring for most spectators.

The problem is that gamblers want (understandably) to make sure that their ‘investments’ are as safe as possible and so wish to minimize the risk of losing. They identify the stronger fighter in the bout and then somehow influence that fighter to adopt a very conservative style of restricting the movements of the opponent through the early rounds and then throwing him down for the clinching points in the last round. This means all fights become very similar, dull and lacking in flair or wild kicks or other unexpected events. The result is that events at Lumpini Park only may embrace new rules to make them more entertaining –although there will be no rule changes in the rest of the Kingdom or internationally.

Muay Thai is still very popular – go to any university, for example, and the security guards can be found whiling away the tedious hours watching it on the telly and bantering with their friends.

Another Crushing Defeat


With inflation at a ten year high, the Stock Exchange of Thailand taking another big hit yesterday, problems among the police (and also this), as well as doubts that democracy itself can be sustained, let us turn to the world of sport, which so often gives us reason to exalt in honest endeavour and triumph over adversity.

Or not, as the case may be.

Last night Thailand’s bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was dealt an almost certainly fatal blow – a 3-2 home defeat to Bahrain means the Kingdom now has zero points from three games, which is nine points behind the visitors. The best that can be hoped for now is to win the three remaining games (not very likely) and hope for the best with results elsewhere (also not very likely). Almost certainly Bahrain and Japan will qualify for the next stage of the competition.

Despite all the money and interest shown in sport, especially football, in Southeast Asia, the quality remains disappointingly low. Last night, Southeast Asian champions Singapore were crushed 7-3 at home by not so mighty Uzbekistan. Yes, Uzbekistan are not a bad Central Asian side (although I thought Kazakhstan had more potential in the long run) but to be swatted aside like this is close to humiliating. Can you imagine Qatar or the UAE (which have similar resources) being beaten at home like this? True, those countries play the typically Middle Eastern style which it destroys the soul to watch with the endless murder of football but that is just sensible deployment of resources (and no, not allocation to the referees).

So why is football so bad here, despite the number of people playing it? First, there is no proper national league. Instead, teams from Tobacco Monopoly, BEC Tero and Bangkok University, among others, contest the league. A national league was launched a few years ago but attendances were so low it stopped after one year – yet it offered genuine opportunities for people to support their home town teams. Perhaps Thais would prefer to support Manchester United instead.

Second, the players are not fit enough, both physically and mentally. Last night, the team played spiritedly enough in the first half but then faded in the second.

Third, inconsistent and short termist management. The coach and the coaching structure are relentlessly changed with no thought to long-term development. A few years ago, Peter Withe was in charge and was making real progress – then he was sacked because the FA refused to pay the rent for his apartment. Since then, regression, no matter who gets the chance to be in charge. Sven-Goran Eriksson would understand this.

No Coup This Weekend At Least


Well, we survived the weekend without another military coup but it was touch and go for a while. The problem continues to be the anti-democracy mob which wrongly calls itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). This group, which receives enormous support from the media, is holding the country to ransom. The group is led by convicted criminal Sondhi Limthongkul, who openly advocates removing the vote from the poor.

Bangkok witnesses plenty of protests and demonstrations throughout the year and life continues but this one is different – not because the mob is baying for democratically elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign but because certain people behind the scenes are using the mob to create tension and perhaps violence to provide a pretext for the military to step in again. The PM was (as is often the case) a little intemperate over the weekend and these remarks are being taken as a reason for intensifying demonstrations. So far, cool heads are prevailing and the mob is being left to sit in the rain for a while.

If ABACpoll is to be believed (and based on its track record that is a big ‘if’), the majority of residents believe not just that the situation will get worse. Also, 94% of people want peace to prevail in the country – who are these 6% people who do not want peace? What kind of a question is that anyway? Do you want peace to prevail in the country? No thanks, I’d rather there were violence and misery on a daily basis.

 

Khun Somchai Madeupname writes: Well, John, you work for Shinawatra University and Khun Thaksin pays your wages. Why should we believe anything you say?

Reply: well, Khun Somchai, I certainly do work for Shinawatra University but I have never had any interference with anything I want to say or to write – on the other hand, this is Thailand and everyone who works here has to practice a fair amount of self-censorship. I will certainly write what I think as much as I can but, from time to time, topics arise which it would be potentially dangerous to write about honestly and, in those cases, I will remain silent.

2. World Tattoo Arts Festival and Exhibition in Pattaya this weekend


This weekend (May 17&18 2008) the Second world Tattoo Arts Festival and Exhibition will take place in Pattaya.

Thailand it’s famous for it’s high quality tattoos, it’s unique style and celebrities like Angelina Jolie and others have visited Thailand just to be tattooed.

More than 100 tattoo artists from all over the world – the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia – will demonstrate their skills this weekend in Pattaya.

Johnny Wong was Thailands first tattoo artist, and it’s his daughter Joy Wong who is now organizing the event.

The first World Tattoo Arts Festival took place in 2006.

You can see pictures from the 1st World Tattoo Arts Festival here.