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The week that was in Thailand news: “Ngong pai mot”: Don’t worry, being confused is part of living in Thailand


The week that was in Thailand news: “Ngong pai mot”: Don’t worry, being confused is part of living in Thailand

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Thailand seemed to be having an identity crisis this week. Add to that the fact that every government ministry, department and even spokesman is going off on their own never converging tangent. It leaves the rest of us in a state of utter confusion and reminds me of a word I always taught my foreign Thai language students.

That is งง or ngong – easy to spell, it doesn’t even have a vowel, just an assumed one. Fiendishly hard to say for those not familiar with the tongue dexterity (sorry I didn’t study linguistics and don’t know the technical terms) or language background needed to articulate an opening “Ng” sound. But beautifully simple and guaranteed a laugh if you can pronounce it correctly. (Probably more guffaws if you can’t).

When accompanied by a few words to give context and aid in the interlocutor’s understanding such as “phom ngong pai mot khrap” or “that’s completely flummoxed me” it can really hit home and grab a Thai’s attention.

I used to say such an expression will hold you in good stead in Thailand and can be used very frequently. Almost as much as “lot noi dai mai khrap” – “could you make that cheaper, kind sir?”

My students were not to worry about why they were perplexed, however. It wasn’t just the visitor who was confused. Even if you had been here yonks and studied the language and culture it could be utterly baffling. Even the Thais struggle with comprehending it all.

Consequently, the natives come up with many expressions to hide their own bewilderment that are usually summed up for any perplexed foreigner with a smile and a swift delivery of the all-encompassing term:

“Amazing Thailand!”

They leave it at that (especially if your Thai language skills are lacking).

Those that think they can figure out Thailand invariable come a cropper when the “truth”, such as it is, emerges. They are just those bar stool numpties out to impress the new arrival with their profound knowledge of Thai culture gleaned from years of imagining that the Thai mother-in-law is badmouthing them when she is really asking how many chilies he can manage.

A case of confusion this week was a simple and relatively unimportant matter in the grand scheme of things. Next weekend’s cultural festival of Loy Krathong. A charming occasion when Thais of all descriptions come together in secular harmony to float away their worries on boats made of banana leaf, chrysanthemums and joss-sticks. They may need to be Titanic-esque given what we have endured this year.

Being a full moon day it falls on a different date but this year it’s the same night as Halloween. This is leading to some contradictory messages especially as Loy Krathong doesn’t have the force of a Buddhist holiday or royal celebration and is not even a day off.

It’s one of few days in the year when everyone in Thailand actually goes to work though they usually take the next one off due hangovers.

This is by-the-by as it will be a Saturday, October 31st. So why the confusion?

The culture minister stated his fervent hope that all his compatriots will come together in the MOAT (the Mother of All Thai-ness) and float away their problems dressed in traditional Thai costume. Pretty standard that one. Culture ministers always put their heads above the parapets on traditional days or when pretties at the Motor Show twerk too aggressively.

Meanwhile in Bangkok, guv’nor General Aswin said that he would be giving away zillions in prizes for the best scary Halloween costume in an event to mark the revamping of Khao San Road. Halloween is one of those events adopted by Thais, like Christmas, to boost the retail sector.

My outfit is a shoe-in for the top prize – a grotesque ministerial rubber head adorned with a khaki surgical mask complimented with a white doctor’s tunic borrowed from a deputy high up in the health ministry. Finished off with clown’s feet that can easily be inserted in the mouth. I tried it out on my kids – they were scared witless – even though no blood was necessary to complete the illusion.

It will be interesting if any young people, or even the middle classes, dress similarly next weekend.

Meanwhile, the confusion was further exacerbated by what is planned in QUOTES (the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard). Central announced that this year’s concept for the “Bikini Beach Run” – yes, October 31st as well – would be to have it at night and make everybody glow in the dark. A bit like Chernobyl without radiation.

In addition – and somewhat removed from the culture minister’s stance – fun-runners would be encouraged to “rub shoulders” with ladies described as “E-Cups”. It’s almost worth putting on running shoes to see what that might mean!

Anyway, I expect that as always Thais and what foreigners there are in Thailand will enjoy themselves whatever their bent next Saturday. Either that or ask the authorities to have a word with the moon to adjust its schedule.

They’d probably try.

That we will no longer be under curfew for the celebrations came as a relief to many this week. Prayut – a tad surprisingly and looking a bit like Gary Cooper – lifted the latest emergency decree at High Noon Thursday saying things had settled down enough. Strange, as I was reading about tens of thousands on the streets of varying colors.

What this strategy may mean sent the Thaivisa forum into a tailspin that made “ngong” look like an understatement. Some hailed the move, others suspected ulterior motives. Maybe the authorities had overplayed their hand, even overstepped the mark and needed to backtrack. I’ll leave it at that. The new media restrictions were lifted but we still have the regular ones.

Confusion – Mega Ngong if you like – reigned after the arrival of the first batch of Chinese tourists in Bangkok on Tuesday. Were they really tourists at all? Conspiracy theories abounded.

The media and the government couldn’t even decide how many there were. Sanook said 41, Anutin said 40 and print media went with 39. Hopefully the disparity didn’t mean the odd one managed to sneak off for a surreptitious prawn buffet undetected.

A video showed the tourists in masks, shields and raincoats even though the monsoon had abated. They were putting possessions in plastic bags. “Welcome to Thailand!” one media caption exclaimed in transliteration. Welcome indeed; if one British guy’s description of the “prison-like” quarantine, the last in “The Stranded” series, is to be believed, it won’t be a bed of kulaaps.

In Pattaya business leaders claimed Thai consulates in Russia were telling tourists they couldn’t get the “much coveted” Certificate of Entry. They seemed unaware that the resort was offering its own local state quarantine. Then Mega Ngong became Ultra Mega Ngong when the Chinese extended their ban on outgoing tours as well as instigating one for inbound tourists.

This all had Thai tourism minister Pipat actually admitting there was “confusion” – rather like the pot belly calling the kettle “dam”. He promised to put the record straight with the Thai foreign ministry and have a word with the Chinese so that their folk would realize they needed just a few bits of paper, a swab or two and could come as independent travelers. Simple!

The TAT rep for Asia, Chatthanan, chimed in that he knew the Chinese all wanted to come; they were just waiting to see how the “ambassadorial” first group’s visit would pan out. Another TAT-bod on a video conference call in Pattaya said all Chinese prefer Thailand to their own country for holidays.

The authorities continued to bandy about the idea of reducing quarantine to ten days as if that would make any difference. Then quarantining at golf courses was floated. This seemed a bit rough for those who don’t like golf but par for the course for the Thais grappling to find any band aid for Thai tourism.

Incidentally, Thaivisa has begun a series called “Quarantine Tales” about what it is like to undergo that process in Thailand with tips for those who appreciate that jumping through the paperwork hoops and going through the expense and isolation may be the only way they can get back to loved ones, their property, their lives. They are unlikely to be tourists in the usual sense of the word.

In other tourism-cum-virus news, busy Pipat admitted that Thailand had taken a 1.57 trillion baht hit compared to last year while that video call between business leaders and TAT reps in Pattaya gave encouragement from China and doom and gloom from Russia and India.

It looks like Naan Plaza will have to wait for another year or two.

More misery was being experienced in Bangkok and surrounding provinces with the collapse of the housing market. Almost 200,000 properties worth nearly a trillion baht are empty and analysts are calling for the government to continue transfer and stamp duty easing due to end in December.

Rooster has had both relative success and failure in the Thai property market. I am grateful that my tenants – albeit at a low rent – are still sending me money!

The collapse of tourism and the dire state of the economy – that has contracted more than 7% – was rather like Koh Talu island in Krabi that crashed into the sea and broke up. A video showed cracks forming before 40,000 tons of rock tumbled.

In international news Rudy Giuliani claimed he was set up by Sacha Baron Cohen who entrapped him using an actress posing as a reporter in a hotel room. “I was only tucking myself in after removing recording equipment” said the former mayor of New York. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is due out imminently so we can be the judge!

President Trump and challenger Biden squared off in the final debate less than two weeks before what promises to be a momentous polling day and a historical decision for the American people. In a more restrained debate, the pair clashed over Covid and race and traded corruption barbs. Forty million are reckoned to have voted already.

Rooster has ordered extra supplies of 20 baht bags of Taro popcorn.

In the UK tougher virus restrictions came in for millions as a spat between Westminster and the leaders in Manchester dominated the news. Not for the first time in history people “oop north” are complaining that the “softy southerners” keep ordering them about.

Back in Thailand animal rights and sentencing in the courts featured prominently. A horrific tale of a Chinese tourist who had been rounding up stray cats on Koh Phi Phi then extracting their claws and putting them in hotel fridges soon concluded with his arrest. A six-month suspended prison sentence, 15,000 baht fine and immediate deportation was not enough for many outraged animal lovers on the forum.

He claimed that what he did would not be illegal in China and he had no idea about the law in Thailand. Well Mr Chee, we’ve heard that one before.

Posters were also incensed by a Phuket man who let the expat side down by dumping his mutt outside the Soi Dog Foundation. His abandoned pet tried to chase him home. A 2,000 baht fine ensued and the forum went predictably ballistic saying it was one rule for foreigners and one for Thais. I recall translating plenty of stories about Thais being handed jail terms for animal cruelty.

A Bangkok court handed down what was described as a lenient sentence for a rather uncivil servant who brandished a gun at a taxi driver outside the Government Complex. Unfortunately, we were left hanging as to what that sentence was.

In vaccine news it was announced that Oxford University would be working with a Thai company. This good news brought out the Barmy Bashing Army aiming low blows at foreigners who dared to engage with what they see as a corrupt government. (Anutin denied any such thing when asked by reporters). It’s time to put such considerations aside for the benefit of the common good and appreciate that Thailand has a lot to offer in the medical field.

Its credentials in handling the pandemic are not without merit and the success of agencies like the Government Pharmaceutical Organization are well documented.

Meanwhile, Thaivisa’s Facebook arm in particular could do without the anti-vaxxers, big pharma bashers and assorted coronavirus conspiracy theorists. Rooster reported more people than ever to Facebook for spouting nonsense on other sites this week. Alternative views are one thing, patent lies and dangerous statements with spurious links quite another.

Well done to poster “Mister Whisper” who spotted the most “Trinkisms” in last week’s column. However, some were actually “Roosterisms” and he missed “the resort” (Pattaya), “conflagration” (a favorite word for fire), “you have been warned” and “’nuff said”. Still a good showing and deserving of a tin of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.

Finally, I would like to register my appreciative wonder at the US space program for their stellar achievement in landing a spacecraft on the Bennu asteroid 330 million miles from Earth.

It was only the briefest of touchdowns to grab a sample of pristine material to help scientists determine the makeup of the early solar system. It remains to be seen how much asteroid NASA’s Osiris-Rex managed to collect and whether it can return successfully home.

But this was a stunning human achievement.


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