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Despite my father being born in France it would be a leap of the imagination to suggest I was brought up in an environment of multi-culturalism. Looking back I don’t think I was ever a racist but my South London upbringing was littered with stereotypes.
Though at the time if anyone had mentioned the word it would have conjured up images of the latest hi-fi.
My first encounter with people who were not white was aged eleven in the first year at a well-known inner London school. On the way to school I’d seen a shocking picture of an oriental lady on all fours under the seat of a railway carriage. I’d hurriedly put it back believing I was probably breaking the law just looking at it.
Earlier I’d seen my dad kissing a black woman who was married to an aunt’s brother. It all seemed rather odd having such a person in the house. She was from St Vincent – I had no idea what part of Africa that was.
At school there was a very dark guy with black hair called Abeywardene from a place that my parents called Ceylon but which he insisted had just been renamed Sri Lanka. I imagined this was just a part of India, the same as the only other non-Brit in the class called Patel who hailed from some dusty place called Karachi. They seemed nice enough but my first mate was Wichtowski – he was from Poland and a whiter shade of pale but seemed altogether easier to befriend.
Geography class taught me the rudiments of the world according to isobars which was not much help. The first “real Indian” I spoke to was in my local curry shop – he came from a weird sounding province called Bangladesh.
These pre-teen misconceptions only began to be banished on meeting a guy in my pub who said he was a “traveller”. He mentioned a trail from Europe to the Far East. This encouraged me to talk to some guys at the end of the bar who mentioned Bombay. My goodness, they seemed nice and were real Indians! They even gave me the number of a relative who was a doctor who I could stay with if I ever made it to India.
I felt embarrassed at being suspicious of their kindness when a year later I did meet him and he took me to the Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Bombay. India was my first love – but I found it unbelievably confusing and thought the same tout was following me around everywhere ripping me off. My stomach was also perpetually in a state of disarray despite tablets I put in my water. Thus it was with a mixture of regret and relief that my buddy and I boarded a ship in Madras bound for Penang.
Returning penniless once again to the suburbs of South London I became a gardener. Two of my first long term customers were Mrs Kumar and Mrs Nishikawa. The latter overpaid me and urged me to rest. The former worked me like a dog and once tossed my wages – a five pound note – out of a top window for me to gather up in the rose bushes. I forgave her – by now I had appreciated both the value of money and that basing opinions on the character of one person was idiotic; I had after all begun to understand the term “racist”.
When a close relative referred to West Indians by a derogatory term while driving I kept quiet and gave him my now learned Asian smile. That was the end of my liking for him.
By now we’d accepted that we were immigrants ourselves in another country and it was better to laugh off such comments and move on….and back to Thailand as quickly as possible! The laughs continue on both sides; who could not appreciate the humor of Catherine Tate whose character went to a restaurant in the north of England where there were “Thai people, from Thailand” or as her sidekick said in explanation:
These days I look back on many subsequent trips to India with great fondness. I saw the most unbelievable sights. Pilgrims washing in the Ganges and the Taj Mahal at Agra were what tourists saw but were still remarkable. I also got paralytically drunk with cricketer David Gower at a test match and saw a duck swimming around a large bucket at a fair – people were trying to throw a hoopla ring around its neck to win a prize.
I have travelled the length and breadth of Thailand and many other parts of the world but nothing is as unpredictable and remarkable as India. Now I visit the country to play Scrabble and to eat. From street stalls to the finest hotels it has what I consider to be the best cuisine in the world, especially vegetarian.
So I felt pangs of nostalgia and yearning as the week on Thaivisa began with the latest story from one of the site’s ongoing hits of 2019 – “The Indians are Coming!!”. Apparently two million are expected this year and a whopping 14 million will be visiting annually by 2030. With only 5% of Indians among their 1.3 billion even having a passport this rise seems guaranteed. They even spend 5,800 baht a day. Blimey…that’s my budget for a month.
Inevitably barstool bashers were out in abundance with their snipes about seeing Indian men on Beach Road accosting women in twos and threes and stories about sharing bottles of water with one straw. Pathetic attempts to hide their inferiority complexes. If people who run businesses are thinking like that, and still bemoaning the lack of westerners in Thailand, I pity them.
I’d be thinking about doing everything I could to woo the Kumars and their broods. And I’m hoping that my fast developing Ratchayothin area is soon to be covered in tandoori restaurants selling Chicken Tikka! I’ve moved on from my days of childish ignorance in South London – I’d sooner see the peoples of the whole world like my own children, varying shades of brown.
Ratchayothin will soon be welcoming the December 5th opening of the Green Line BTS northern extension to Kaset. This massive infrastructure project – opening next year to Rangsit and beyond – is dramatically improving the area and everything has been completed on time or ahead of schedule. One wonders why that poxy little underpass in Pattaya took so long!
We are blessed in Bangkok with an ever changing landscape and in my view an ever improving city. Transport infrastructure is vital the Eastern Seaboard and Pattaya in particular will benefit from the three airport train link. Many parts of Thailand – not just the EEC – are being developed with better links. The elevated road from Bang Pa-in to Korat looks set to be one of the finest drives anywhere in South East Asia and possibly the whole of the continent.
The carnage on the roads is of course a major issue that won’t go away with more tarmac. Minor squabbles still bedevil transport issues. This week the “wins” (motorcycle taxi riders) were caught on tape beating up a Grab Bike rival and were also moaning about losing their jackets for three years for sidewalk riding.
The jackets are highly prized and may cost tens of thousands to procure. I got one – without official certification – for 180 baht from a shop in Phrakhanong that I passed while riding my bike. I decided to put it on and ride to Nana for a beer. The looks and cheers I got when removing sunnies and helmet outside a bar were memorable. The jacket now stays in a cupboard – I don’t think wearing it and antagonizing a “win” is a very good idea!
Down in the far south a welding student at a technical college riled an “ajarn” who pulled out a gun and fired it in class. No one who has been in Thailand five minutes will be surprised about the number of guns that are carried but in a college? Where do they think this is, America?
PM Prayut Chan-ocha was banging on this week about “honorably” hosting the 35th ASEAN summit running from November 2nd to 4th. Honor indeed. How about honoring my advance payment for the education of my two children. Their start of term dates were put back at short notice by a full week on orders from the Education Ministry just so Uncle Too and his cronies could have a bit less traffic on the way to their chinwag. Disgraceful.
How about prioritizing education and fairness? Uncle, tell me, is there any reason I shouldn’t call you a member of the KKK – Khaki Klad Kleptomaniacs? Then they added another day to New Year holidays, good grief.
Meanwhile, the compulsory insurance for people on certain long term visas once again hit the news after comments about loopholes from senior officials in Phuket. Is it just me or does every passing story designed to clarify the situation just make everything muddier? I pity people caught up in this mess – it’s enough to send the stress levels rising making a hitherto unnecessary hospital visit necessary! Insurance or no insurance.
Immigration chief Big Oud continued his crusade to rid Thailand of foreigners saying he had only just begun. This seemed to fly in the face of reason after announcing 45,000 arrests the previous week. Several on the forum were even bemoaning the days of Big Joke – what did I tell you?
Naew Na – now little more than a paid mouthpiece for everything immigration – produced their usual stock stories about the hunt for naughty “chao taang chart”. Their perpetual drivel nonetheless means more clicks on Thaivisa stories. Immigration themselves aided in this along with Rooster’s tacit connivance.
Tired of the same old lines I decided to refer to someone that immigration had called “from the land of kimchee” on one of their vinyl boards as “Cabbage Man”. This tendency to use nicknames for foreigners is commonplace in the Thai press. Brits are “from the land of gentlemen”, Germans are beer swillers, French smell of perfume, Americans all have an uncle Sam and Japanese subsist entirely on raw fish.
While I don’t see much wrong with this in the media, for immigration to do it at an official press briefing – even if the guy is a wanted criminal – is improper, impolite and smacks of amateurism. Hence why I felt that the angle of the story should be less about the crime of the South Korean and more about what immigration called him.
Cabbage Man indeed – a case of the pot bellies calling the kettle black.
In Chiang Mai a wealthy benefactor of temples and unis was found murdered in her townhouse stuffed in a fridge and encased in cement. To add insult to injury, well murder, it was still plugged in. Her BMW was missing and the hunt was on for a “song thaew” driver who was seen pressing every other ATM in the north.
In QUOTES – the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard – three dozen go-go dancers shuffled to Plod Central to report that the bar owner had not paid them. Forum curmudgeons were aghast that their spokeswoman, Gift, suggested they were “forced to wear high heels and dance”. She also claimed each was owed 1,200 baht a day that made me think I am in the wrong business.
Most notable accidents of the week all featured victims who avoided injury. A teacher referred to his “baramee” (merit gained by doing good deeds) after a long row boat being transported on a pick-up pierced his windscreen but not his head. The flimsy bit of red rag hanging off the back of the unexpected load will come as no surprise to drivers and riders in the kingdom. It’s time that Thailand started enforcing the fitting of lights to such hazards.
A 74 year old granny escaped largely unscathed after a motorcyclist fled the scene and a cat was equally unwilling to stick around and face the consequences after causing a seven vehicle pile-up of pick-ups in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. No one was injured so my own Western superstitions kicked in imagining that the moggie could not have been black.
I hope that isn’t racist.
Most serious crime of the week featured Somchai who raped a UK tourist in 2009. Now released he attacked a German man with an axe during a burglary in Samui. Somchai was soon arrested in Bangkok though he resisted capture and got a few shiners from a large contingent of grinning plod. Well done to the cops on this one; now the courts need to follow suit and throw away the key.
Finally the best story of the week had to be from Phrapradaeng where the constabulary were called after the terrified maids at a short time hotel found what they believed to be a corpse wrapped in bloodstained bedclothes beside the bed on the floor
Smiling Captain Plod didn’t have much fingerprinting and investigating to do after finding out that the elongated bundle merely contained reddened towels and pillows. He also discovered that the previous occupants of the room were a man and a woman who left at 2 am in an embarrassed hurry.
It was clearly that time of the month.