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Despite living in Thailand for many decades, Rooster was a relative latecomer to the Thaivisa forum party.
I was first introduced to the site in the late noughties by a close friend who said it was a great place to get opinions about attitudes to Thailand. Thinking that sounded utterly dreadful I pretended to agree while steadfastly ignoring Thaivisa.
I did however take a sneak peek and eagerly followed an interesting thread in which people posted pictures of Thailand from years ago. That was an acceptable foray and I adorned many walls of my classroom suite with printed out and framed pictures purloined from the thread ranging from the Thai royal family to daily life in Siam, many years before even Rooster arrived.
I was head of Thai at a major international school and a well-known figure in that sphere and crossword gaming circles in Thailand. Though I cautioned fellow teachers and older students about the seedier underbelly of Thai life, my job was really to present the kingdom in a blaze of perpetual glory and adulation.
This, along with teaching the language to remedial Thais and wide-eyed foreigners, I continued to do in classes and speeches until a disagreement with a headmaster over my attendance at the 2013 World Scrabble Championship led to early retirement.
Aged 52, with plenty of funds and recently a dad again, I vowed to take at least two years off before becoming gainfully employed once more.
Enter Thaivisa. With plenty of time on my hands after wheeling my little toddler on her daily excursion to Kaset university ponds, I created an account and started to find out more about Thai news and what foreigners were saying about the country.
I realized that criticism I often aimed at others in Thailand for living in a bubble could actually be leveled at me!
Trending at the time was the case of the two Burmese men who were sentenced to death for the rape/murder of the British couple in Koh Tao. By and large I resisted commenting; at the time I was of the opinion that the men were guilty and felt that saying that would seem like trolling! Such was the overwhelming antipathy towards the Thai government and police regarding this case.
I am not sure I have changed my mind but thanks to Thaivisa I am definitely better informed. I made 500 posts on various topics and got some great advice, including on how to save money in buying cheaper pharmaceuticals.
Some of the “forum faithful” at the time were not my cup of tea. But saving money has always been a priority and I was grateful for many posters who provided valuable information on countless topics, as they do to this day.
But by early 2016 I had grown disillusioned with the constant moaning and I was on the verge of cancelling my account (now defunct, incidentally) and doing something more productive than wasting two hours on the forum each day (a conservative estimate!). Then something happened which ranks up there with the most defining and important things that have happened to me in nearly 40 years in Thailand.
I replied to an ad for a translator.
I gazed at it for five minutes then decided to apply – spinning through my head was a feeling that if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em! It appealed to my sense of humor and sense of the perverse.
In a Skype interview my soon-to-be boss explained that Thaivisa wanted to increase its local news content and, massaging my ego, he said I was the man for the job!
Within days I was not just a translator of 60 stories a week from the Thai press but a columnist commenting on Thailand each Sunday in The Week That Was, now in its 226th edition.
The first really big story that kept the editorial team awake at night was the shocking assault on the Owen family in Hua Hin at Songkran. This made international news, something Rooster had rarely achieved in my cub reporter days from 1979 to 1982 in the London suburbs before I travelled to Asia.
Despite already highly honed skills in speaking, I was to discover that I needed a far better vocabulary to accurately translate the news. Online dictionaries became my vital resource. Lists of the ranks of policemen or names of government departments and ministers became my bread and butter.
It was not all sensational news stories; much of it was quite parochial and mundane but along with the help of my tireless sub-editor we worked to bring a whole new face to the forum. Posters could have been forgiven for thinking there was a crime epidemic because we printed far more of that genre than in the past.
Like most languages Thai is very different when written rather than spoken. It took my own abilities in the language to a new plateau.
There was also a large amount of quirky “Amazing Thailand” stories that became a personal forte due to my background in disseminating Thai culture. Themes like “brake failure” and “police transfer” abounded. Some posters missed the older, gentler days of Thaivisa but many appreciated the extent of the news now on offer at the click of a mouse.
Even if it was ageing US man Harold’s ridiculous antics with former porn star Nat, a staple nurtured over more than a year. Growing familiarity with leading government ministers and senior policemen helped us put a fresh spin on their antics.
Over the last four years I have spoken to countless people, both Thai and expatriate, folk I would never have met in my previous existence. Many are lovely people like Colin in Khon Kaen. Some I would not invite home to mother.
I have developed opinions about our principal news sources. Daily News, Thai Rath and Sanook do the best job in my opinion. Naew Na and 77khaoded on the other hand leave a lot to be desired either acting as mouthpieces for the authorities or leaving the reader hanging with lazy journalism.
Posters should always remember that TV news from the Thai press – admittedly given a slant appropriate for the readership by people like yours truly – is largely dependent on the accuracy of the source. Obvious errors, and there are many, are corrected but mostly you are getting what it says on the tin: Thai News in English. This of course is supplemented by foreign news and local English language media who contribute.
Though I am an employee of Thaivisa, and you can take my opinion with as much a grain of salt as a whole pack of Paxa, I think that pound for pound Thaivisa represents the best place for news in Thailand even if some topics are inevitably off limits and need to be searched for in the darker recesses of the internet.
One topic that has always been hugely popular, rivalling Koh Tao, is the subject of Red Bull “Boss”. You would have to have been living under a stone to not know that in 2012 Vorayuth Yoovidhya, grandson of Red Bull founder Chaleo who died that year, drove his black Ferrari into a Thong Lo police killing him and dragging his body along the road.
“Boss” fled the scene and Thailand and when charges were leveled at him little was done to bring him back as he toured the Formula 1 circuit with untouchable gay abandon despite arrest warrants. Mention his name and Thaivisa would froth.
This week on the forum was a case in point. Within minutes of news that charges against Boss had been dropped, forum comment was running red hot. Why the charges were history seemed obvious to many – clearly a lot of money has exchanged hands contained in a massive “brown envelope” (one of the posters’ favorite expressions though one I personally loathe).
While this is unlikely to be far from the truth, it will be interesting to see what the family of the policeman have to say. Their silence screams “money”. They have always been quieter than the online babble. But if Boss makes a return to these shores you can be sure that both the Thai and English press will have a field day.
Obviously, this year has all been about coronavirus both here in Thailand and around the world. I have learnt all the new Thai (and English!) words and jargon to explain a pandemic though I am tempted to suggest that Thaivisa might have a new channel where the virus is not mentioned. Rather like Sky did in the UK after the public got fed up with three years of Brexit news.
This week the Thais were basking in the glory of having WHO contact them (and New Zealand) about how best to prevent and control a pandemic. “Nine Pillars” were listed but the subject of testing – a favorite of forum curmudgeons determined to find a chink in the kingdom’s apparent coronavirus success story – was not mentioned at all.
Another story proclaimed that “No one knows what Thailand is doing right, but so far it’s working”. That mantra will have to do for now. While the economic impact has been utterly devastating for many in Thailand there is still the silver lining, generally perceived, that a high death toll has been averted due to some very good practice.
Wasting a zillion baht on submarines rather than, say, doing anything about the death toll on Thai roads has been another staple of the TV poster over the years. They got in a huge lather about a fancy executive plane being bought for 1.35 billion baht.
Mockery, this columnist’s stock-in-trade, abounded with suggestions that the government should have retrofitted one of THAI’s sidelined planes instead. (Even BA, incidentally, are scrapping their entire 747 fleet).
Another top story this week was the violence between two gangs that fought pitch battles in several Samut Prakan hospitals. A doctor who did her best to save one of the gang members was smacked in the face for her trouble and resigned. The director felt it was time to have a “Gold Shop” style panic button for speedy police response to hospital violence.
He should understand that buttons don’t normally do it for Pavlov Plod; money is what normally gets those “dogs” salivating and off their backsides!
Absurd government pronouncements and equally bizarre and unbalanced laws and punishment are also a Thaivisa staple. Though no one was ever going to be fined 100,000 baht for smoking on a beach, the suggestion in 2018 that it could happen in theory was enough for the curmudgeons to topple from the lofty heights of their bar stools.
Flurries of indignation gushed forth at news that a Thai run Japanese restaurant in Chiang Mai had been fined 50,000 baht for, horror of horrors, promoting a deal on all you can drink beer. This draconian nonsense is all about protecting the big players in the market. Much of Thai life is like that; looking after the big fish while the small fry are encouraged to tug their forelocks and happily jump into the pan and get what is rightfully coming to them.
Who will be allowed back into Thailand and when continued to encompass many column inches. Tourism minister Pipat seemed to favor medical tourism so long as the patients weren’t sick with Covid-19. Elite card holders and film crews could be back in a matter of weeks. Again, those separated with families and children in Thailand were treated little better than cattle.
While Rooster does not believe that xenophobia is any worse in Thailand these days (despite a survey on the forum that indicates otherwise) there have been many stories recently that provide grist for the mill. A crass comment about the number of foreigners in Pattaya contributing to coronavirus was buried but picked up by several posters in a story about squatters moving into the bars in Soi Bua Khao.
Suggestions that 90% of Thais don’t want foreigners back have their roots in virus resurgence jitters. It’s not xenophobia manifesting itself, just a general fear that can be seen the world over.
Talking of general fear, MP Prayut – our father who art in khaki, hollow be his name – continued to try and accentuate the positive to hide the failings of his administration and its ragtag collection of unpalatable misfits.
He was singing the praises of his pals at King Power who have decided to emblazon EPL team Leicester City’s shirts with the slogan “Thailand Smiles With You” next season. This will help to bolster Thai tourism, we were told, especially as Prayut said that the club has “billions of fans”.
I don’t think even Liverpool – who were presented with the EPL trophy in Yala and Khon Kaen on Sunday and at Anfield later in the week – could lay claim to that!
Also, 10,000 Leicester shirts costing 2,500 baht each are being sold to raise money. I have more than thirty Spurs’ shirts but I can’t remember paying more than a tenth of that! To wit, a depot full of Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags was raided in Amnat Charoen….
The feel good stories helped to deflect from the fact that two Nonthaburi immigration officers with the rank of captain had been transferred for taking 20,000 baht bribes to facilitate fast processing of visas. A surprising large number on the forum seemed to have personal knowledge of this!
In international news the leader of the free world said that his compatriots might consider wearing masks. Everything he does is now related to getting reelected but the desperation is showing. Every four or five days another million were added to the infected stats worldwide with the US, Brazil, India and South Africa now bearing the brunt.
The UAE announced they have launched a probe to Mars. I wondered if they are hoping to find oil. Hopefully one day the Sheik and all his minging minions will relocate there. It’s the very least they can do for humanity.
Back in Thailand we were once again reminded about those quirky stories that abound on the forum. In Bangkok the BMA announced that 350 new “Smart Bus Stops” were being installed under the “Check – Charge – Chare (share)” scheme. Incredibly, the travelling public will now be able to tell when the next bus is coming. This state-of-the-art development is supplemented with phone chargers and free wi-fi.
The problem with these plans is always that there is no maintenance budget. Give it a few years and they will all be replaced with the next “innovation”. In the meantime, they could just get the buses to pull over to the kerb. That might stop people being run over as was seen when a furniture laden pick-up reversed over a mum and daughter on Thursday.
At Wat Bang Lamung in Pattaya an explosion in the crematorium left two undertakers far closer to their maker than was comfortable during a funeral. The brothers survived but were severely burned as mourners ran for their lives. The person in the coffin was carried to a neighborhood wat to get the job done. An investigation is underway.
In Loei a rather ungrateful and angry Canadian, 57, walloped a rescue foundation worker over the head with an oxygen tank as he was being taken to hospital in an ambulance. He had broken his leg in a motorcycle accident. Natthaphon, 22, was pictured holding an ice pack to a head wound and said he went to the police to report the assault and damage to equipment.
The dollar and the pound continued on an upward trajectory this week as the Thais denied currency manipulation, another favorite of the conspiracy theorists. Rooster knows far more about home economics than macro issues but one thing I do understand is that in times of trouble one should consider the safe haven of gold.
I am self-flagellating after seeing the gold price get close to 30,000 baht per baht weight this week. Why oh why didn’t I have the courage of my convictions and buy gold bars in February when the price was 22,000 something. Fear of the unknown or just plain idleness, the greatest chance to make hay while the pandemic raged has slipped me by! Oh well.
Finally, I celebrated by 59th birthday yesterday. Being a diehard horse racing fan, I tuned into the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at deserted Ascot in the UK. On my 20th birthday in 1981 I was at the track with huge crowds when racing royalty in the form of the Queen Mother was in attendance.
The large crowd was momentarily stunned into silence as the immaculately turned out star attraction strode elegantly into the paddock. Then cheering erupted as everyone realized they were in the presence of greatness. True racing royalty.
No, it wasn’t the queen mum.
His Highness Shergar had just arrived.