Might a Storm Surge Threaten the City of Angels?

Perhaps I am wrong – perhaps I am wrong about everything, I often think so – but the re-election of incumbent Apirak Kosayodhin as Governor of Bangkok seems a terrible waste. For the past few years, Khun Apirak seems to have done little or nothing to prepare the city for the threat of global warming and environmental change. We all know the tales of the sinking of the city which, combined with rising sea levels, means that by the time I have finished paying our mortgage the house will be standing in one metre of water.

A story yesterday in the Bangkok Post discussed the possibility of increased storm surges which might affect the city and its hinterland. The Director of the National Disaster Warning Centre (NDWC) Khun Smith Thammasaroj has been pondering the possibility that such a storm surge could be felt in the Gulf of Thailand, pointing out that Cyclone Nargis, which killed scores of thousands of people in the Irrawaddy Delta region of neighbouring Burma might well be replicated. This is of course not something that government officials are willing to hear, especially when it means substantial thought and investment at a time when the country is already menaced by the international credit crisis and internally by the violent anti-democracy movement. Readers might recall that Khun Smith noted the possibility of a tsunami prior to the 2004 disaster and was roundly dismissed, in some cases as little more than a crank.

The problem is that there is still some denial of climate change, often for politically motivated reasons. There is also the problem that collecting and analyzing data concerning climate change is complex, owing to the interaction of so many variables and the fact that the short period of time in which phenomena have been studied makes analysis more anecdotal than systematic.

In any case, it is to be hoped that Khun Apirak can, over the period of the next four yers, keep himself awake long enough to oversee the various disaster management and evacuation plans that exist and devote sufficient resources to understanding and guarding against likely future environmental changes affecting the city.

Bangkok v Thailand

The leading contender for Bangkok governor is incumbent Apirak Kosayodhin, who is the Democrat party candidate. Khun Apirak describes himself as a leading businessperson and observes: ”Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is a good example of how business veterans can use their expertise in city management.’ ‘Curious that the right wing PAD mob consider the current government to be bad because it is run, according to mob ringleaders, by businesspeople but those same people, including super-rich media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, close their eyes when their own preferred candidates talk themselves up in the same terms.

Khun Apirak has argued that city-level administration should be in charge of crucial policy areas, including transportation, health care, education and the environment. This is contested by PPP candidate Prapas Chongsa-nguan, who has argued that central government should manage these areas. This is a complex issue and one in which simplistic positions are unlikely to be helpful – modern cities differ in a wide number of ways and decisions on jurisdiction are probably best handled on a case-by-case basis.

Khun Apirak of course wants the position of governor to be as influential as possible since that is his job but there are ideological elements too. Bangkok is a so-called primate city in which government, monarchy, judiciary, executive, business and cultural institutions are all concentrated. Bangkok is not Thailand but it does contain most of what are considered to be the leading institution of the country (although HM the King at the current time is residing at his Hat Yai palace). This means that most income is generated in and retained by Bangkokians in one form or another. Historically, this has meant that Bangkok people have benefited from the money and other resources and have only sparingly shared them with the rest of the country.

It was to overturn this situation, one way or another, that Thai Rak Thai was elected in 2001 and it has been the reassertion of traditionally held power and privilege, mostly acting behind the scenes, that led to the military coup and the support for the right wing PAD mob currently illegally occupying the government compound.

Understandably, perhaps, Bangkokians vote in their own self-interest and that is why it remains dominated politically by the rightist Democrat party. That may well be enough to permit Khun Apirak to keep his job.

Oh the Joy of a Rainy Bangkok Morning!

Well, it began raining sometime after midnight and it was still coming down fairly strongly at 6 o’clock when I got up – oh joy, a Bangkok morning in the rain.

When it rains, the taxis are immediately seized with the fierceness of the liberated Soviet peasant seizing the commanding heights of the economy. My tactic is to go and wait close to the school at the end of the road – parents take their kids to school by taxi (some do, anyway) and then get out to take them inside. Then, as I lurk, the taxi approaches a few yards away and I leap in like a gazelle. In my imagination anyway.

However, unless it is my imagination, since the petrol prices have gone up so much, more and more people seem to be sharing taxis and just kick their tiny kids out on the street (OK – one parent will get out but the other will continue elsewhere and there are people outside the school anyway to manage traffic and kids).

The rain makes the situation worse because trips take longer as the traffic instantly snarls up and since 7 in the morning (by which time I was standing like a buffalo on Ladprao Road) is a common time for knocking-off and changing shift, a lot of taxi drivers were just evacuating their passengers and going home. I counted six doing this – unless they had very tiny passengers in the back, which is possible, or invisible people or ghosts (which is obviously not possible).

Now that the Bangkok Governor’s election is in full swing, large wooden boards advertising one or other candidate have started to be attached to every vertical object along the streets – lamp posts, telephone boxes, stationary dogs – which makes for a colourful spectacle when driving along but almost impossible to see what is coming from the pavement. Consequently, I had to peer around a board (number five, Apirak, I think) in order to keep an eye on potential taxi-white knights and that left me vulnerable to the drivers who think (or more likely do not think at all, ever) it is a good idea to drive at high speed close to the pavement and soak everyone and everything within several feet of the road.

So, by the time I arrived – and to skip over the anarchic who was here first mind battles that must also be fought – I was soaking wet, covered in mud and in no real mood to do any work.

To arrive at work in Bangkok in a good mood needs the patience of a Bodhisattva. Any of the candidates actually have any idea how to improve the situation? I mean, really?

Election for Governor of Bangkok

Anecdote is not evidence, of course, but Suvarnabhumi Airport seemed almost empty last night. Normally, the first of the three entries into the immigration section is crowded with farangs and the smart traveller (or me, whatever) sneaks off to the next entrance, where there are generally much fewer people. However, last night it was not necessary as there were vacant immigration people sitting around with nothing to do. The traffic was very light too. There was a report last week that tourist arrivals were 30% down on normal because of the PAD mob action. It takes the Tourism Authority a few months to collate figures and then naturally they will not publish them straight away – I imagine they will be concerned that they will miss their targets.

One thing that the light traffic does make clear is how many billboards there are on the streets advertising candidates for the Bangkok governor election. There has been very little about this in the English language press – perhaps there is more in the Thai language media but it seems very low key. There seem to be three main candidates, based on the advertising. The first is incumbent Apirak Kosayodhin, who is the Democrat candidate and who, based on his performance so far, is best described as ‘rarely seen.’ I am not sure what he offers apart from more of the same (i.e. very little) and the Democrats of course these days seem to have no policies or ideology at all, thanks to leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who would have been forced to resign in just about any other country in the world based on his disastrous electoral record.

The second candidate is Chuwit the massage parlour baron – former baron, presumably. His pictures show him furiously (he is always shown as furious about something or other) searching for something, sometimes on the back of a motor bike taxi with the aid of binoculars. I assume this refers to his desire to search for and root out corruption wherever it might be found. He promised the same thing if he were elected to parliament but the torrent of tales he was going to tell about the rich and powerful somehow was stoppered at the source. Perhaps it was because revealing these secrets would compromise his own position and not just an act of flagrant hypocrisy.

A third candidate, number one as I recall (the two above were five and eight – they are numbered to make it easier for people to vote, especially those who cannot read well) offers ‘t-zone for teens.’ It is not clear to me what that is or why anyone would vote for it but there you are. No doubt he means well.

As I recall, the TV personality and occasional Bangkok Post columnist Nattakorn (what was his surname?) was going to run as a kind of underground candidate, relying largely on internet campaigning. Since he was the most acute Thai columnist by quite some distance, it is to be hoped that he loses and returns to his writing and broadcasting.

The election is due on October 5th. Let us see if more information emerges in the meantime.

Fuel Cell Car Unveiled; Bangkok Is Best City in the World; 1-2-Go to be Sued

Perhaps science will save us from the misery, the daily victories of the anti-democracy movement and the relentless recapture of the state institutions by the right wing. Look – even now a new and wonderful fuel cell car has been unveiled. The car runs “by electricity produced by proton exchange membrane fuel cells which transform the chemical energy liberated during the electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to electrical energy.” I don’t really understand what that means but it sounds like the kind of thing we need and apparently is good for pollution as well. The Office of the National Research Council of Thailand is urging the government to support this car for commercial use – apparently, units can be produced for just two million baht, which is a fraction of the cost of other fuel cell type cars available in other countries.

Meanwhile, Bangkok has been voted the world’s best city by the American Travel and Leisure magazine. The list seems a little bizarre, with Buenos Aires second and Cape Town third. No other Asian cities make the top 10. This is a taste of the travel writing involved. Singapore does not appear on the top ten of Asian cities, although Udaipur does, as does Siem Reap and Hanoi. Well, young people eh?

One-Two-Go airlines is to be sued in the USA after the terrible crash in Phuket that left 89 people dead last year. Complainants are demanding compensation and may press for the prosecution of the CEO involved, as well as for action taken against the insurance company involved, which has allegedly been less than helpful. There are other complaints against the length of time taken by the Thai government to release information. It sounds like a horrible situation for them to be in.

Here is Nobby Piles on Peter Reid and being manager of Thailand. Good luck to him.  

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).

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.

Bangkoks Weirdest Bakery

Ok, this one goes almost without words. This guy is making pastries that look like body parts and dead people.
I guess it’s some kind of baking art, maybe inspired by Body Worlds Exhibition from Gunther von Hagen.
But this Bangkok baker (near Ratchaburi) is actually taking it a step further. Instead of just being able to look at dead bodies, you can actually eat them (well, at least the pastries that look like bodies)…
Talk of a publicity stunt, hm? I guess this baker was doing good even before he pulled that off (to create this kind of bakery, you need lots of skills) – but with all the media attention he got by creating those, his business must be running high 🙂