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When writing “The Week That Was” I usually have a fair idea of my theme by midweek. As regular readers will know it’s sometimes based on something in the news, sometimes something from my own experience or background or sometimes a combination of both.
This week was a bit different. By Wednesday I was sure I’d write about the differences between us Bangkok elite and the country bumpkins. That should wind them up, I thought. This was soon abandoned as story after story emerged on the pages of Thaivisa about big bikes, small bikes, bike riders, injured bikes, bikes on the sidewalk – in fact, everything except how to ride a motorcycle.
Being a rider myself with lots of anecdotes and experiences this had to be worth concentrating on and and would lead into a story about more general aspects of the week’s news.
Then came a story about the death of a little baby. And everything changed.
When I started work as a translator on Thaivisa in 2016 my editor – a very nice man from the North of England who has become a trusted friend – warned me about two things.
The people who comment on the stories and the human tragedy of many of the stories themselves. He was worried about me as if being closely involved in Thaivisa might be detrimental to my mental health….
I’ve got used to the absurdity of many of the forum curmudgeons with their displays of xenophobia, rampant Thai bashing and ignorance. This is balanced by the fact that amid the nonsense there are many who know Thailand well and plenty who have caused this long term resident to think again and reassess his viewpoints on several key issues about the country.
Their comments have not only amused me but have saved me time and money, two matters that I hold very dear! And of course monitoring the forum has become a source of information and inspiration for this column.
But this week it was my editor’s second warning that hit home – the one about the sheer sadness us translators face on a daily basis.
Since the day’s of being a cub reporter at age 18 I have seen much. I saw my first dead bodies at accidents in South London, mixed with police and firemen and all their ghoulish anecdotes. On coming to Thailand I learnt the written Thai language by poring through crime magazines with their horrendous stories and equally gory pictures.
But Mrs Rooster found me at my keyboard crying. The tears were falling on the laptop and I needed a hug before I could explain what was wrong.
The story was that of an 18 year old student in a part of Bangkok near where we live with our own little daughters.
Wannaporn had given birth to a baby girl – she claimed she didn’t even know she was pregnant. She didn’t want the baby and poured cleaning fluid down her baby’s throat, put her in a bin bag and tossed her into the trash from the third floor of her condo.
This was all terrible enough but it was a presenter on TV that really set me off; she said that the pitiful little girl had been found alive by a good Samaritan and the baby had grasped her hand before she later died in hospital.
Imagining that little hand – somehow begging for help from a total stranger – will stay with me for a long time. The tragedy of such an event was overwhelming even for this gnarly reporter.
The mother and her boyfriend have both been charged with murder. He denies it. Goodness knows what possessed the mother (or both of them) to commit such a heinous act.
The hug from Mrs Rooster and the knowledge that my own three and six year olds are loved and thriving enables me to move on albeit it with an acute sense of pain of what vileness the human race are capable of.
Note, I do not say what the Thais are capable of. Such crimes are as repugnant to Thais as any nationality. And such crimes could happen anywhere.
Fortunately most stories this week were of the sort that we have become accustomed to on Thaivisa with laughs aplenty and entertainment rubbing shoulders with the absurd. The kingdom’s motorcycles and their riders made up a fair proportion of the stories with the wider issue of the madness on the nation’s roads once again taking up copious column inches.
Bangkok was also the “star” of the week….with the bombing outrages and fires on Friday adding to so many news items concentrating on the capital.
Central to many of the stories was the new transport minister Saksayam Chidchob whose family own the Moto GP track in Buriram. Saksayam thinks that its time for “big bikers” to have different licences and actually undertake something he called “training”. They could do that by riding round his track, he said, getting in a completely unfounded observation that accidents in Buriram have plummeted because of his family.
This wide-boy also suggested that increasing speed on certain big roads to 120 kmph would ease traffic flow. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Chidchob family have shares in undertakers…..
Though I did agree with his observation that dawdlers (those going at a pedestrian 80 kmph) should stay out of the right hand lane. How frustrating it is to have to slow down for these morons hogging my Ferrari’s progress (alright my Civic). But how understandable when one undertakes on the left – a legal maneuver in Thailand – and realizes that bloody mindedness is not the only reason motorists chose to travel on the right.
The state of the left lanes with all their bumps and damage from the breaking of large trucks turns one’s car into a rattle-bucket and effectively reduces dual carriageways to single lane roads.
Suksayam’s plans made Pol Col Ekkarat Limsangkat – the Thai policeman who fronts a committee looking into changes to the traffic laws – sigh. While the police with their lazy lack of enforcement are one of the reasons for the carnage on the roads most reasonable observers would accept that poor driving skills, drink driving and the preponderance of motorcycles, lack of helmets and young age of riders are huge contributing factors to the daily carnage.
Having a go at those purchasing 400cc and above bikes is not going to make much difference.
In another story we were told that Bangkokians lead the way with 85% using helmets. I’d agree with that as I often count my fellow riders when stuck at the front of the grid…I mean the lights.
Various studies have shown that Bangkok has one of the lowest death rates from road accidents per 100,000 of the population. It stands at just over 13 – about a quarter of Rayong and Chonburi. Due to the large population in the capital it still has the most annual bike fatalities, however, as a story on Friday informed us as road safety activists and the Thai media reacted endlessly to the minister’s proposals.
Clearly helmet law has to be enforced nationwide especially among the nation’s teens who ride bikes to and from school. There is no point trying to stop them but every reason to firstly train them at schools and secondly subsidize good quality helmets for them to wear.
How much more sensible it would be for PM Uncle Too to stop wasting our money (in this case US$175 million) on sixty Stryker infantry carriers and machine guns and instead put it into preserving the lives of the nation’s youth.
The incredible loss to the nation’s GDP caused by road fatalities and injuries has been repeatedly highlighted by international agencies yet the government pay lip service to the problem. They conduct face-saving Songkran and New Year crackdowns that make Thailand a laughing stock around the world. The subject is anything but funny.
As yet more motorcyclists were strangled by wires and cables hanging all over Thailand’s roads the RTP commander Gen Chakthip Chaijinda asked us to believe that he cares passionately about our safety. He ended the week by saying that he was finally ridding Bangkok of street racers on two wheels – a comment that inspired many an upcountry Thaivisa poster to shout: What about us?
Another bike story combined the Thai penchant for playing the lottery on numbers divined from every conceivable source with the death of an American in Ban Chang.
With a Thai lady riding pillion they had both been killed and ended up covering numbers marked on the road. An unrequited spirit from a previous accident was deemed to be at work in the death of the unfortunate couple. This all prompted many people to play number 58 that – lo and behold – came up in the Thursday drawing of the state lottery’s last two digits. These are more important to most people than the first prize.
Some Thaivisa posters facetiously expressed the view that they were now converts to Thai thinking…..at least I thing they were being facetious.
Finally was an accident aftermath story that left me almost as livid and upset as the death of the newborn. Somchai Verojpipat – who killed a top policeman and his wife after driving away drunk from a golf club in April – was given a meager suspended sentence.
Yes, he paid a record 45 million baht to the families of the victims. Yes, he has shown remorse and contrition. Yes, he will do community service. Yes, I’m sure he gives his grandchildren fluffy toys and pecks on the cheek.
But he really should be doing time. Previously a murder charge and even the death penalty was mooted. This has now been watered down to nothing. It sends a completely wrong message to the huge numbers of people driving drunk in Thailand. Some deterrent! – this suspended sentence is utterly disgusting and disgraceful.
Some will say that this shows Rooster is not Thai and is just another whinging foreigner who doesn’t understand the forgiving locals who place acceptance on admitting wrong and money above all else. There are a lot of Thais who agree with me. We are people who want more accountability, better deterrents and frankly, more justice.
Challenging the newborn baby story for shock value was the experience of a cosmetics’ saleswoman in Bangkok. While she was applying make-up in her car in the parking lot of Central in Bang Na a man jumped into the back with a gun and ordered her to drive to a curtain motel. Only her quick thinking helped her escape. For once plod did a great job in ensuring that the man who committed this terrible abduction – a driver based at The Nation tower on Bang Na – Trat – was quickly in custody.
The fact that he never got the chance to rape the woman should not lessen the sentence. The intent was clear and he deserves a very long diet of rice gruel.
And so to a few Rooster awards. The “He’s a Lumberjack And He is Not OK” award (sponsored by Monty Python) goes to the Canadian man in Pattaya who has been terrorizing the resort. A couple of weeks back he was scaling the roofs with a machete. This week he was tearing around the bay on a jet ski resulting in a chase to Koh Larn and back. He needs locking up then deporting – for his own safety if nothing else.
The “Bright Idea” award relates, yet again, to motorcycles. It goes to the tessakit in Bangkok for upping the ante and enticing the capital’s residents to dob in riders on the sidewalks. Apparently the public can now get 1,000 baht reward for each rider they report.
With many pavements being mere extensions of the capital’s roads there should be plenty of pickings; for many retirees struggling with the 800,000 baht in the bank requirements they could easily supplement their income if they got organised. But as my son says, please remember that snitches get stitches.
“Loser of the Week” was undoubtedly the British pound. It has been falling steadily ever since Brexit and with BoJo blithering on about a no deal exit from the EU things have only got worse. Those of us who have baht reserves and property in Thailand are feeling smug. But it is obvious that many retirees are suffering and tourists are simply not visiting due to the exchange rate.
Australians are also suffering – and they haven’t even lost the Ashes yet!
Finally, Monday was National Thai Language Day and three foreigners were mentioned in dispatches and received awards for promoting Thai.
One was a US man called Udom who has lived in Thailand most of his life and has tens of thousands of followers online who enjoy his witty take on Thai ways in Phrae. Another was a crooner who appeared on TV singing in Thai and the last was a farmer in the north-east who gets most of his laughs from speaking in dialect.
I was envious of them all but not surprised by the comments of many posters who think that learning Thai is somehow too hard or even beneath them. My own life has been incredibly enhanced by speaking Thai and I believe that many who don’t learn and criticize others are hiding behind their own inadequacies and frustration. They could be so much happier if they made an effort to master even the basics of Thai.
Apropos, and with the English Premier League set to start again next Friday (thank goodness), I would like to quote Liverpool and Wales legend John Toshack who was commenting on Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale. Unlike Mr Toshack, Bale has not learnt Spanish and consequently not endeared himself to supporters in Spain.
Toshack told BBC Radio 5 Live that criticism of Bale is justified and he should have “engaged himself” with Spain and the Real supporters during his six years at the club.
“Come out Gareth, do an interview, speak yourself,” said the 70-year-old who formerly managed Real. “You’ve been here six or seven years now. You don’t speak the language. That’s an insult to the people that you’re working for. It’s not gone down well at all here in Spain and it saddens me.
“He’s been important in Real Madrid. It’s just a great pity that he hasn’t engaged himself a little bit more with the country that he’s living in, with the supporters that are there every week.
“Gareth, come on. Take a little bit of time out and learn the language.”
Many in Thailand could learn from these sentiments.