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The week that was in Thailand news: Amazing 2020: A year when everyone’s vocabulary shot through the roof!


The week that was in Thailand news: Amazing 2020: A year when everyone’s vocabulary shot through the roof!

This post is also available in: English

I love words. I collect them. I devour them. I even chop them up and profit from them.

Back in 1990 your columnist decided to try and become champion of the world at Scrabble. After finding out there was a serious Scrabble scene in Thailand, I went to Asia Books next to Villa and bought a dictionary. I planned to memorize its entire contents. I failed in both of my targets though I did become champion of Asia and the Pacific in 1998 and increased by vocabulary from about 20,000 to in excess of 100,000 after a few years.

In the first few years of learning the Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary I managed to accumulate 50 new words a day. I swotted 16 hours a day. Later I switched to Collins that has a quarter of a million words.

Getting out for a break in the early 90s, I remember ogling go-go dancers with an inane grin on my face. I was not interested in those shuffling on stage. I was anagramming King’s Castle to see how many eight letter words I could find from its 11 letters before the next song.

By 1996 I was the number one player in Thailand, had multiple trophies and was ranked 19th in the world. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got. I became the oldest winner of a Scrabble tournament in Thailand in September but the field was poor, decimated as everything has been by the pandemic. International competition is on hold and I haven’t boarded a plane for two years.

These days as age 60 approaches, the neurons are refusing to comply and it is everything I can do just to stop all that vocab acquired in my youth going AWOL (a real Scrabble word incidentally!).

This week Oxford Dictionaries were announcing their Word of the Year for 2020. Except that they weren’t. They explained that because this exceptional year has thrown up hundreds of new words and expressions – many of which everyone is now familiar with – they had decided on “Words of the Year!”

In the last 5 years their selection was indicative of each year’s events and trends. In 2015 it wasn’t even a word but the “face with tears emoji”. Then followed ‘post-truth’ (2016), ‘youthquake’ (2017), ‘toxic’ (2018) and last year ‘climate emergency’.

Though Collins decided earlier this year they were satisfied with “lockdown”, Oxford said there were just too many to plump for one. There was furlough, face mask, PPE, bubbles, super spreader, anti-masker, social distancing, ‘the R-number’ as well as the portmanteaus workcation and staycation. All related to the pandemic of course, a word now used 57,000% more often than previous years! Covid-19 became the most popular term in May replacing coronavirus (that Rooster found was an anagram of carnivorous).

There were many more of course that would have been a shoe-in for a normal year including QAnon, impeachment, Black Lives Matter or BLM, bushfires and mail-in.

Here in Thailand old favorites that have stood the test of time include fleeing (the scene), transfer (to an inactive post) and misunderstanding (understanding!). Rooster, through my work as a translator of online news, has done his best to promote “road carnage”, “brake failure” and the slightly tongue-in-cheek “Thai honesty” tag to stories about taxi drivers who find the crown jewels on their back seats. Sadly with no forgetful foreign tourists this year these have taken an…er…..back seat.

Other terms raising their heads above the Thai parapet this year include “state quarantine”, “new normal”, “high speed rail”, “dirty farangs” (thanks Anutin) and anti-government protesters (thanks Uncle P). Abbreviations like TAT and CCSA barely need explanation anymore. Even uneducated Thais have heard of Gee Dee Pee. And you’d have to be a ‘reusee’ (hermit) not to know what “Section 112” of the criminal code is all about!

Posters on Thaivisa forum need to get with the program, however. We’d like to see more imagination than “fragile Thai ego”, “brown envelopes”, LOS (Land of Scams) and BiB. Several posters liked my LOTUS (Loser of the United States) last week so use that as an inspiration and get your thinking caps on!

One expression seen frequently in recent years – especially in the time of top cop Big Joke – is Romance Scam. In a bumper week of news this week (follow the hyperlinks to read those you might have missed) the favorite scam of Africans abetted by their Thai girlfriends reemerged. A ten million baht one with victims in the North, Isaan and Bangkok surfaced.

One who didn’t get hoodwinked was “Da” from Khon Kaen who smelled a rat suspecting that the British airline pilot promising her the earth was telling porkies. He managed to tell her the local time when he was in Paris but that wouldn’t be hard. However, he slipped up when allegedly in Dubai. He’d managed to grow a thick beard since flying from London!

Sanook did an excellent job with this story, better than Thai Rath in theirs that reinforced a terrible racial stereotype with the scandalous: “He wasn’t presentable…he was black”. I didn’t translate that and present it here in condemnation. Yes, we all know that the Thai press takes liberties with “political correctness” (another favorite word of past years) but don’t they know that some of us delicate foreigners can actually read Thai!

Several academics proposed a smoking ban in condos putting the forum into a lather. Thai surveys showed most condo dwellers in favor, even smokers, they claimed. One of this column’s frequent and fast posters “Samui Bodoh” got in early with his 11 reasons to quit. Though only tobacco free for three years he made some good points. He was turned on by the IDB (in denial brigade) who absurdly spout infringement of civil liberties when it comes to limiting smoking.

Rooster quit after 30+ years smoking but I went back after a dozen years off, re-hooked by dabbling in shisha near Nana before it was banned. I mistakenly thought each pipe was less than a cigarette rather than the reality it was more like a pack! And breathed down in 45 intense minutes! I quit again in 2012 and will mark 9 years off next Valentine’s Day. I say “off” because like alcoholics should always admit they are an alcoholic at AA meetings, smokers should accept the likelihood of going back to the dark side. I’m a smoker.

More lather surfaced when doctors suggested that the Thai ban on e-cigarettes was a good thing protecting the nation’s youth from nicotine addiction. The reality is that one can buy vaping devices and fluid most anywhere in Thailand. Plod are satisfied with cracking down on importers and sellers from time to time, not smokers.

In related news (I wonder why…) DPM and health minister Anutin pressed on with the step by step legalization of weed. Following the removal from the Level 5 narcotics list he announced a pilot scheme in Buriram where small scale producers will grow a few plants behind walls to hand over to hospitals. Later in the week the minister, finally getting moving on an election pledge from last year, set up a 34-member committee tasked with explaining to the Thai people what “legalization” and “medical use” actually means and who can benefit.

Those thinking of lighting up in public or getting blasé about dope in the kingdom should accept that staying in the shadows and not making waves may be the best option for their personal liberty for many years to come. Pigs everywhere are wont to sniff.

In other drugs news, red faced justice minister Somsak Thepsuthin admitted that the biggest narcotics bust in Thai history was not ketamine after all but tonnes of washing powder. Not to worry Somsak……use it to clean up your ministry.

Also two monks were nabbed with 4.8 million Ya Ba pills. Not surprisingly, plod doubted their stories about needing money for their masters’ degrees.

In tourism news the TAT declared the previous long weekend a “mixed bag” with 20,000 heading to Koh Samet but few tourists braving the monsoon in the south. Pattaya’s deputy dawg Manot declared the smaze in QUOTES was dangerous though hopefully the air would clear enough to be made murkier again by this weekend’s fireworks that a business rep said was filling all the beachside hotels.

The TAT also announced it was turning matchmaker getting tourists (read Asians) to visit temples renowned for answering prayers in the marriage stakes. Not just this brainwave – in conjunction with THAI they are planning to fly the hopeful OVER temples to get as much merit as possible before landing.

A nervous flyer, Rooster would admit to praying on planes. Not for another dear wife but my dear life.

Former THAI airways chairman of the board Wallop was jailed for two years for corruption after not paying for excess baggage charges on 300 kilos of Kobe beef and fruit he brought back from Japan with his wife. He’s a big fish but there must be many others quaking in their boots now that bankrupt THAI has less friends in high places.

It was also announced that Thailand was no longer the number one place for Chinese tourists who are seeing Japan and South Korea as their new playground presumably once they are allowed out by Mr Xi.

In Chiang Mai “Artificial Intelligence” (thus far removed from the police) will be used to catch motorcyclists without helmets. One expert said that if everyone complied in the northern province, where 80% of vehicle owners have bikes, then 100 lives could be spared annually.

Rooster’s 99 baht Tesco special finally gave out this week when the strap broke after about ten years of service. I splashed out on a 269 baht new one. Yes, I know I am a fool but I don’t plan on coming off……

In Nonthaburi a spa was just a front for underage sex. The story was notable for the fact that both staff AND customers were arrested. The under 18s were taken into care. One customer was a secondary PE teacher who had found out via Line advertising pictures that one of his students was selling herself there. The education ministry did well by opposing bail for this miscreant.

This brought to mind an occasion when I was a teacher at Bangkok Patana and during a visit to a place of ill-repute on Sukhumvit that one entered via the toilets, I met one of the school’s attractive (and very adult) bus monitors. I said “oh, hi” and she said “Oh hello, Malcolm, how wonderful to see you again. How are you Malcom?” Fine I said and moved on to get an M-150.

My name is not Malcolm and never has been! I wonder who he was and if he ever found himself “in the middle” in the sack.

International news was dominated by the death of football genius and icon Maradona, aged 60. I’d read the news after a “ping” in the middle of the night. I didn’t put my phone down for three hours. Of all the articles I would recommend an analysis by Tim Vickery of the BBC entitled “How tormenting England made him an Argentine deity”.

Global infections rose half a million in 24 hours Tuesday to Wednesday as Americans were warned to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Many didn’t so it will be interesting to see what effect that will have on future numbers and how the decisions of politicians worldwide, under pressure to ease restrictions at Christmas, pan out.

Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Thailand’s book – Songkran was just cancelled and I don’t know many who missed it!

In England the Eton Mess announced via his ministers what areas would be in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 after the lockdown ends next week. A confusing mess indeed and worthy of a song….Tiers of a Clown.

President elect Biden named many of his senior staff with some criticizing his choices. Choosing John Kerry as his climate tsar showed intent. As opposed to the previous administration, many in the top jobs are at least likely to keep them for a while. The incumbent grudgingly admitted that he would vacate the premises.

In Austria the village of Fucking finally had enough of English-speaking tourists stopping for selfies and even pulling down their signage. The ancient hamlet, 350 kms east of Vienna, will be known as Fugging come January 1st. Apparently that’s an improvement.

Back in Thailand Manager published an excellent piece about the prevalence of domestic violence in the kingdom marking Wednesday’s international day for the “Elimination of Violence Against Women”. They reported continued violence against women and children in the home, workplace and schools.

Pulling no punches, if you’ll pardon the pun, the Thai media gained credibility by displaying a backbone. Violence in Thai society is a huge elephant in the room and violence against children one of its darkest aspects. While the English proverb of “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” has mostly been consigned to the past, the Thai version “Rak Wua Hai Phuuk, Rak Luuk Hai Tee” is still a watchword of far too many so called parents and advocates of violence in schools.

For non-Thai speakers it means: “If you love a cow tie it up, if you love your children, beat them”.

The anti-government protests continued with a midweek location change from the Crown Property Bureau to my neck of the woods in Ratchayothin. I happened to be passing near the SCB plaza when I saw a TV cameraman walking up an overpass. I offered him a lift and it was all smiles at the top where we stopped to survey a relaxed scene replete with food trucks and support services. This is not a mob, but a group of organized and peaceful protesters seeking legitimate change.

Later the brilliant “Thai-ness” of the scene was enhanced when Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak appeared in a yellow duck suit.

The predictable response from PM Prayut – our farter who art in khaki, hollow be thy name – and his cronies, was that martial law would not be introduced; they’ll just use “lese majeste” as necessary.

In Thai virus news, Bangkok Biz News called for the scrapping of quarantine and the introduction of three tests instead – one abroad, one on arrival and one after six days. Something has to give as the present arrangements are going to do precisely nothing for the return to mass tourism. Elsewhere it was reported that mask wearing is down about a third in Thailand from a high earlier in the year of 96%. The Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine would not be available here until mid-2021.

In consumer news the Thai health authorities are pressing ahead with plans to reduce the salt and sugar content of food by 30% for 2022. About time; on my occasional trips to hospitals it is necessary to fight through great throngs of diabetics and kidney patients. More Thais need to understand that sodium chloride and most forms of sugar are potentially dangerous drugs, especially for the young and vulnerable. The forum mentioned MSG in dispatches.

The Thai hygiene department announced on Friday that they would be fining restaurants who have failed to attend training after new rules were introduced in 2018. Now they face 50,000 baht fines if they don’t get their cleanliness and food additive act together by the middle of next month. It’s a bit late but better late than never.

Finally, a great human-interest story from Pranburi concerned local celebrity Amnuay, 54, who had been shot and handicapped five years ago. He gets donations at temples and is given free fuel for his battered and ancient 30,000 baht vehicle that he converted into a mobile home so he wouldn’t be a burden on anyone.

Apparently, he used to be a local councilor and building contractor. More interesting was his main job that led to him being shot and which “Phee Nuay” referred to as the “business of revenge”.

Disarmingly, perhaps, he had no regrets about being a hitman.


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