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The week that was in Thailand news: She may not be amused but Thailand needs Queen Vic!

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The week that was in Thailand news: She may not be amused but Thailand needs Queen Vic!

It was another bumper week of angst and laughs on the Thaivisa forum as those with axes to grind sharpened their tools and those who take life in the kingdom a little less seriously joined with the Thais in making fun of it all. 

As I have often said in this column, the ability to make light of Thailand and all that it throws at both its own people and those who have moved here is key to a successful life in the kingdom. Getting too hot under the proverbial collar is not conducive to overcoming the effects of an already sweltering climate.

It’s usually better to do what most Thais do – shake your head gently from side to side, say something like “That’s Thailand” and think about the next meal. There are, after all, few more important things to think about than what goes in your stomach. What goes in your brain is really secondary….and humor is the key.

Every English schoolboy knows who reportedly said “We are not amused” and this week the lady in question – Queen Victoria – was at the center of a story that featured both condemnation and resignation. The sale of the British Embassy.

It was not just the sale of the Wireless Road compound for 420 million sobs that brought the criticism. That has already been done to death on the forum back when the decision was made to line the Foreign Office’s coffers and abandon its citizens by flogging off some of Bangkok’s most prime real estate to Central for a much needed shopping center. (Us Bangkokians don’t actually shop, we need the free air-con).

No, this week Thai media published pictures that showed historical buildings on the former embassy site being demolished – something that many posters decried as a disgrace even if the buildings – being British – were not listed. It didn’t seem to me that the British had much choice in the matter having already sold the site, I figured it was up to the purchasers what to do with it. 

Rooster – who has a soft spot and considerable sympathy for most of the British Royal Family – was more concerned about the fate of the famous Queen Victoria statue, a fixture in the embassy grounds for yonks. We were told that it was being moved and would figure as part of the retail space. Shock Horror – Rooster was decidedly not amused!

Years ago the statue was moved from its original site so that Thais could get to it to offer flowers and incense without compromising security. The statue had become known as a monument that would promote the fertility of recently married Thai couples and – like the monarch herself – bestow the benefits of countless children upon them. 

This seemed to work for many years as Thailand’s population boomed. Recently we have been told that the population of the country, like most of the more developed world, is aging fast and in need of far more children to avert disaster. A world without Thais would be unthinkable.

Patriots like Rooster who have done the right thing and sowed their oats with gay abandon (in the old meaning of the phrase) are now hailed as rightful saviors of Thailand’s future even if the government does almost nothing to appreciate us financially. 

(We’ll put aside the fact that both my grown up kids have ditched Thailand for the UK. Their international school education and annual summer holidays in Blighty was to blame for their love of London and Liverpool. My three and six year old chicks have never been on a plane and are plugging away at a Thai school……so there is hope for Thailand yet).

The Thais are slowly beginning to accept that 60 is no longer ancient but relocating Queen Vic appears to be the answer to the falling birth rate. Let’s hope that they find a good spot for her in some elevated section of Central far removed from the scullery section or, heavens forbid, ladies underwear. 

I have faith that Central will handle this conundrum well. And there are bound to be sufficient vendors selling candles and jasmine to ensure that the noble Queen’s gynecological goodwill continues for many years to come. 

Apropos the buildings themselves, Rooster is quite glad to see them turned to rubble and become landfill. From assuming that my Thai wife was a prostitute before grudgingly allowing her to visit the UK, to making the bureaucracy of TM 30 look like a walk in Lumpini Park with all their pathetic fuss and adherence to antiquated rules, my consular experiences in Thanon Withayu were invariably negative. I’d rather forget the place along with its pompous ambassadors who over the years changed from just being tools to being tools of the trade departments of the UK government. 

I wish them all the best of luck in their new bargain basement home in a broom cupboard in Sathorn and if I ever need your consular services – titter – I’ll ask the Indian embassy where your call center is. Maybe they run it. 

Reminders that laughable construction standards remain a serious issue in Thailand, collapses featured in two stories this week. In Phuket several migrant workers were killed as scaffolding toppled at the site of two condo developments in Rawai. Later in the week was the 26th anniversary of the 1993 collapse of the Royal Plaza hotel that killed 137 people in Korat. Education department officials were in town to make merit for colleagues attending a seminar who perished in that dreadful event. 

Both are reminders of how engineers and corrupt officials take shortcuts and use cheap, shoddy materials to save a few baht and line the pockets of bent officials who turn a blind eye to building regulations. Rooster has learnt the hard way about Thai construction and how it can be both good and bad. 

The condo building where I live is old and very well constructed. Despite it being the best part of twenty years old there are no cracks or leaks and it is well maintained and solid. Thank goodness the neighbors can’t hear my screaming brood through the thick walls. 

But rental properties I have bought have proved to be the complete opposite. One – on the top floor of a building – needn’t have a ceiling, so much rain comes in anyway. It’s taken years of grief to make it habitable again and get SOME of my money back in insurance!

My advice in the property market is not to buy new, only condos and houses that are old and have been properly maintained. And never to buy at the top of a building! The good news about this advice is that most Thais love new – they are freaked out by the prospect that someone might have died in an old property. So the deals for buying old can be very good. You might also wait for a recession, that we were reminded this week is just around the corner.

I am not someone like many on the Thaivisa forum that rejects buying property in Thailand out of hand. Even my troublesome flats are now rented though my dreams of a ten per cent return on investment have proved untenable. With the condo glut it is now a renter’s market and I have found that a 4% yield (at best) is more likely. On a more positive side the arrival of the Green Line extension – opening to Kaset in December – is adding to property prices and resulting in a dramatic redevelopment of my Ratchayothin area.

This week I took my little ones on the train from the newly opened Lat Phrao Ha Yaek station to Victory Monument. The station looked great (as new builds invariably do) and the train was wonderful and freezing. Though I was a tad perturbed that a six year old paid full fare and a short hop there and back cost me about as much as a taxi. At least one that didn’t have a “turbo switch”. Roll on when I can get an OAP pass. 

The reference to a “turbo switch” was from a story about two Thais who went from Don Muang to On Nut in a cab. Notwithstanding the protestations of the driver, that despite his surly appearance he was whiter than the driven snow, an eagle eyed engineer eventually found that he was ripping off his passengers by boosting the distance traveled at the flick of a switch under the dash. The DLT can do little more than fine him some paltry amount. These rogues really need their livelihood taken away from them and some jail time to think about the meaning of public service.

Praise for taxi drivers figured in a much commented upon “The Week That Was” last week that both pleased and irked the Thaivisa membership. My positive observations about Thailand does not mean that I fail to see the problems in the kingdom. And believe me, the irony of the observation that I was complaining about people complaining was not missed on me. 

I put the “I” in irony and the sarky in sarcasm. 

I took exception, however, to the person who suggested that I was somehow “abusing my position”. I don’t really have a position to abuse and the idea that I am some kind of editor is absurd. I don’t have the language skills for a start….

And if I was an editor I might need to stop referring to my salary as my “pittance”. 

Many people enjoyed my calling out of the curmudgeons though I completely accept that a vibrant forum needs all kinds of opinions and that too much policing is counterproductive to that ideal. However, my comment of the week goes to GarryP (once again) who said about some posters: 

“If they could blame Thailand for their hemorrhoids, many would”. 

Still, I accept the criticism for writing little more than a rant and while I cannot guarantee that you will agree with my opinions or even like them, I hope you will understand that they are genuinely held. Oh, and I couldn’t give a hoot, just like a columnist of yesteryear who used to regale us about everything Thai, especially the “niterie entertainment”. 

Most commented upon story this week featured more angst than comedy. Some even got the popcorn out for a video. Once again it all concerned the TM 30 issue as irate posters responded to a top immigration official who said that it was “really not that hard” to comply. The meeting at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club was never likely to resolve anything but I would remind those who want to see a more relaxed and fairer attitude from the Immigration Bureau to persevere. 

Thais only indulge in knee jerk reaction with their own kind. When it comes to foreigners changing things they CAN make a difference. But as I have said before it needs time – time usually spent forgetting who made the original suggestions so that ultimately a Thai can take credit for having come up with the idea. I know this after being married not once but twice.

Many things are wrong in Thailand and the law is very often what another Victorian might have referred to as “a ass”. Mr Bumble was talking about the stupidity of donkeys but the analogy could have a more modern connotation. Some people would do better to get off their backsides and try and effect change rather than suggest that filling in the online petition organized by the Isaan lawyer (now past 5,000 signatures) is asking for trouble. Sign it, write a letter (translate it into Thai), be vocal, state your piece…and of course, SMILE!

(By the way those who suggested last week that Rooster’s conciliatory column was as a result of a “friendly visit” from the authorities “a la Andrew Biggs” I can confirm that nothing could be further from the truth. Except that I am handsome).

Which leads me rather nicely to another story about attitude adjustment. The RTP said that a bounty of 3,000 baht (that will be 100 pounds in a couple of weeks) awaits anyone who dobs in motorcycle street racers. Tens of thousands have already been fined nationwide but plod has so far only found those who have disrupted their sleep outside the station. In order to round up the rest they have called on the public to apply a hand to the long arm of the law. Send in your dash cam footage when the road ahead looks like a locust storm. 

Plod also asked us to believe this week that the much heralded points system for licenses would make a difference to the appalling carnage on the roads. Well I can tell you that this system will end in total and abject failure. Not because a points system is not a good idea, but because it is only a good idea in countries where there is something called rule of law. 

In Germany and Japan, to name perhaps the two finest developed societies on earth when it comes to respect for the law, it has been proven to work. While the Thais continue to see abiding by the law as some inconvenience in the way of personal freedom, such a system is destined to fail. 

The people ignore the law when it suits them, the enforcement is shambolic at best and non-existent at worst and the whole system will be slathered in corruption. Ultimately it comes down to education and political will and with neither seen as a priority the vicious circle will continue as a million more Thais die on the roads over the next forty years. I’d better make some more…..kids, not roads.

With respect to the family of the deceased I was more concerned that the tramp had managed to consume what the police said was a large amount of durian. Knowing the price of the “golden nectar” at Big C I suspect he must have been pilfering from an orchard to provide the accompaniment to his “lao khao”. 

And so to two Rooster awards. The “Budget is God” award goes to the highways department in Phitsanuloke who replaced perfectly good road signs with new ones. Thais picked up on the story by posting pictures of identical signs side by side on the Nakorn Sawan road. The highway bods said it was part of standard ten year maintenance but many saw this as wasteful and a slavish adherence to budgets and following pronouncements from on high without question. 

They would have been better served by putting some of the money into filling potholes or making the road markings clearer instead of replacing signs that could have been brightened up with a lick of paint and used for another decade.

Finally…..as someone fascinated by Thai culture, the top story of the week was about the lack of bum guns at the new parliament building. Even though they had spent a billion baht it appears ministerial bottoms have been put on a back burner. Future Forward party MP Niraman Sulaiman wins the “Thai Cultural Awareness” prize for pointing out that use of the bum gun is inextricably linked to what it is to be Thai. 

Following his pronouncement and that of another MP who intimated that tissue paper resulted in the embarrassment of “cling-ons”, Thai Rath ran a survey asking the Thai people if they were ‘for or agin’ the bum gun. 

Rather surprisingly it was quite close. Rooster is an aficionado of the device; so much so that I introduced my eldest sister in England to their use and bought one she installed in her South London privy. 

Despite or perhaps because of the icy cool water from the mains, what a  great pleasure it is to stay with her…..especially after a Lamb Vindaloo.

Enjoying a little bit of Thai culture in the London suburbs. 

Rooster

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