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It’s a funny thing, the cold. I was musing on the subject this week as the daytime mercury in my Bangkok condominium hovered precipitously just above 25C.Call me a wuss of the first water but after nearly four decades of Thailand whenever there are warning signs of an approaching cold snap I check my socks for holes, and ensure the England football team onesie that I bought years ago for 50p at a boot fair in Blighty has not been attacked by moths in the wardrobe over the last 12 months.
The said items are now carefully laid out and at the ready should – heavens forbid – the temperature encroach anywhere near 20C when alarm bells will ring throughout the Rooster household. When I shall forego even bath night, making do with what a friend’s maid admitted to me on one bitter Thai winter night: Ja Lang Tuut Yang Diaw; she was just washing a few of the nether regions rather than having the traditional twice or thrice daily scrub.
I was brought up in South London in the 60s and 70s, admittedly not the Arctic but still cold for about half the year and rainy for about 11 months. The sun used to occasionally peep through the cloud and smog for the odd day in July inspiring headlines line “Bank Holiday Crowds Throng Brighton – Traffic at Standstill”. The articles would be accompanied by pictures of stalwarts in vests with knotted handkerchiefs pretending it was warm as they tried to get comfortable lying on towels on stones sheltering from the elements with a hired “windbreak”.
My siblings and I would likely be sneering from a distance breaking wind after a trip for a Wimpy paid for with my dad’s accumulated Luncheon Vouchers. Usually we only went to Brighton in the height of winter on days when it was so cold that we’d use euphemisms like “fresh” (freezing) and “bracing” (subzero) to describe the icy conditions. I always wondered how many years before it would “put hairs on my chest” as my folks suggested.
However, on family trips camping to relatives’ farms in France in July (my French/English dad always said to avoid August because of the French) we would complain incessantly when it got over 75F (centigrade being unheard of then). We couldn’t wait to get back to the sanctity of Albion where we could start moaning about the cold again.
It’s always said that if you want to have a conversation with someone in England there is only one acceptable subject, the weather. Unless you do that, you will be completely ignored especially if you can’t pronounce a word like “twelfth” precisely or object to being shouted at to help you understand plain English. It is even possible to be rude about the English weather and remain popular. I once saw an Indian cricket commentator on TV call it “your bloody weather” on the BBC. Everyone laughed appreciatively.
The English almost universally hate their weather unless it is 25 degrees C on a July evening in a pub garden with no wasps and the children are not playing up. However, a lifetime of living in Asia has taught me that there are very different attitudes to the weather worldwide and it can be quite a revealing window into different cultures to question people about it.
Rooster has mostly met Thais and Japanese people. I spent eight long but pleasant years tutoring Japanese people in my mother tongue in Sukhumvit apartments. Talking about the weather I found to be handy for beginners and a great ice-breaker for every occasion. The Japanese astounded me because every salaryman, okasan and brattish child agreed that their favorite weather was winter. How they loathed the mosquito infested summers in Tokyo and Nagoya. Spring was also tolerable if not too warm as they romanticized about “sakura” blossoms.
Not surprisingly, they appreciated the coldest that Thailand could throw at them even if an extra 10 degrees lopped off was preferable.
The Thais on the other hand are, in my experience, dissatisfied almost every single day with their weather. At least that’s what they say. I mean when do you hear them say: What a lovely day it is! Only when they have got the last three numbers in the lottery. As an Englishman, this endears me to them.
When it’s hot they complain that it’s too hot. When it’s cool they complain that it’s too cold. When it’s monsoonal it’s just plain inconvenient with the storms causing broadcast interruptions of the nightly soaps.
They have a romantic notion of “Phaak Neua” (the north) and yearn for holidays in the mountains where it is really cold, even “tit lop” – in the minus!! But when they get there they complain bitterly, conspiratorially and collectively in their jackets and bobble hats before they are restored to equilibrium by the one thing that unites them in unbridled joy….Thai food. That can be relied on.
Mrs Rooster is from Loei where it can get quite chilly around the gills so she puts cold at 19C and below. For Rooster, for all intents and purposes a Bangkokian, that is enough to freeze the undercarriage off a troop of monkeys. I’m getting the blankets down from upstairs to snuggle under while watching the premiership at 25C! Forget that famous UK sitcom, this is “It Ain’t Half COLD Mum!”
Gran in Loei puts “nao maak” at 14C though she doesn’t really understand the concept of thermometers. My little chicks – 7 and 4 who have only experienced Bangkok, Loei and YouTube – say they like the snow best. I put this down to a recent trip to Dreamworld where the “Snowtown” temperature was -5C. I couldn’t wait for the torture to end.
Unsurprisingly, you won’t catch this columnist reminiscing fondly about England in winter. The last Christmas Day I spent there was in 2011 and I vowed never again. The trip was loathsome in the extreme only relieved momentarily at Kempton Park on Boxing Day for the fifth victory in the King George of Kauto Star. Even then it rained all the way home….
I’ve only ever appreciated the weather a few times. I’d have to be out walking in Perth (WA), Sydney, San Francisco, Copacabana or Ooty on a clear day at precisely 78C or 25.555C for perfection! I’m a fussy old git who prefers fans to air-conditioning.
And like most Brits only I’m only truly happy when complaining!
Cool weather was furthest from many people’s minds in another eventful week of news on Thaivisa. In the south – and especially in Nakhon Sri Thammarat where there was widespread flooding – they had the monsoon to contend with.
The protesters in Bangkok vowed to fight on. The cooler weather was helping their cause and the lack of rain – especially that version emanating from police vans – was welcome. Twitter took action against accounts opposing the protesters. The BBC called the young people of Thailand demanding reform a “youth rebellion”.
Their attempts to inspire “Bad Student” sympathizers not to wear school uniforms at the start of term on Tuesday was a bit of a damp squib. Though it still got education minister Nataphol Teepsuwan in a tizzy after those wretched leaders of tomorrow promised to name and shame teachers and schools. (There are times when he looks as idiotic as his counterpart in the UK – Gavin Williamson – who I thought was the spittin’ image of David Harris-Jones from the Fall and Rise of Reginal Perrin this week. As his swinging legs failed to reach the studio floor, I thought he was going to say “Super” in an interview with Kay Burley).
Nataphol clearly subscribes to the view that children should only speak when spoken to and preferably not even then. He even comes across as someone schoolkids know well – a bully. But the youth of today’s Thailand – perhaps inspired by figures like Greta Thunberg and emboldened by their superior social media savvy compared to most adults – are not the youth of yesteryear.
Along with adult protesters many were appalled by the decision of the Constitutional Court who ruled unanimously in favor of PM Prayut concerning his continued residence in an army home since his 2014 power grab when still army chief. The court decided he had the right to stay in his house as someone who “continued to serve the country well”, a key stipulation in an army rule made in 2005.
Of course, serving the country well is a matter of opinion. Though it is interesting to note that “serving” food years ago didn’t save former PM Samak Sundaravej whose conflict of interest in a TV cooking show led to his untimely downfall. Mind you he never had so many friends with khaki undies.
Apropos school uniform, as a long-term schoolteacher I’m in favor of uniforms so long as they are not too expensive for parents and are appropriate for the climate. I agree with the minister that abandoning them entirely can create an unlevel playing field where rich kids wear designer stuff and the poor kids lose face. But I also think that compromise is important in guiding children and that “casual Fridays’ should become the norm everywhere and that the ridiculous hair requirements are relaxed as much as possible.
Individuality – much feared by the Thai elites – is something that today’s youth are rightfully demanding.
In tourism news – a staple of Thaivisa these days – deputy at the tourism council Pradit introduced a scheme that was called “Champ Thong Thiaw” (champion of tourism). It’s designed to lead the country back to the old pre-pandemic days when the turnstiles at Suwannaphum clicked as if there was no tomorrow.
The English version of the project didn’t have the same ring: “Thailand Champion Again Global Expat and Tourism Hub”. My goodness – TCAGETH wasn’t even a decent acronym though it did manage to have more buzzwords than a planeload of STV tourists.
Pradit claimed that Thailand would be the first place that tourists would come to when all this virus nonsense has died down. Understandably, this sent the forum curmudgeons into a mother of all lathers with the now familiar anti-China rhetoric taking center stage. To me it seems perfectly reasonable that the Thais should want to re-engage with their Asian big brother when it comes to tourism. Besides, at the moment what else is there?
In the north of Thailand tourism was said to be in tatters after six Thai women who had worked in a karaoke bar in Tachilek had sneaked over the border and threatened to infect many people back home. Frankly, the test and trace procedures in Thailand are top notch that many countries would be proud of. The porous borders leave more to be desired.
In international news former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing died of Covid related complications aged 94. His work in legalizing abortion, liberalizing divorce and lowering the voting age were notable.
Across the pond, president elect Biden said he would ask the American people to wear masks for 100 days after his inauguration. Good luck with that. The incumbent is said to be planning to miss that event and stage a rally to launch his 2024 campaign. I wish I wasn’t an atheist then I’d have a Lord to pray to.
In the UK government ministers were cock-a-hoop instead of cocking-oop. This was because the regulatory authorities approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in double quick time. Meanwhile, fans in masks returned in limited numbers to some sporting events in the UK most notably football.
Back in Thailand another virus that has played second fiddle to corona this year featured in the news as the world marked HIV/AIDS Day on December 1st. Thailand has done an amazing job since some initial but thankfully brief days of denial in the early 80s. While hundreds of thousands have died over the last 35 years and much stigma still remains, great progress has been made especially in life saving drugs that are produced economically in Thailand and in the care afforded to Thais and others living with HIV in the kingdom. That number is estimated at about half a million. The number would be higher if including those who don’t know they have the virus.
Thailand’s HIV/AIDS programs have been recognized around the world especially in stopping the virus passing from mother to child and in providing universal health care. However, the Labour Department this week only REQUESTED that workplaces stop the scandalous testing of potential employees. They should be DEMANDING and prosecuting to end a practice that has been illegal and flouted for many years.
People with HIV are not lepers – or even “sufferers”, as a daily newspaper in Thailand who should have known better, stated. Those on anti-retroviral treatment with suppressed viral loads are not even infectious and all things considered have virtually the same life expectancy as anyone else!
That is unless they go on the roads……this week it was announced that the transport minister’s idea to establish a 120kmph speed limit was soon to be enshrined in law. In reality it only refers to certain main highways without U-turns, so virtually none that don’t have the regulation in place already!
In crime news a senior police sergeant in Buriram went to a restaurant where he shot his ex-wife and murdered a couple of friends while in Chonburi near a fish market some Thai tourists who were cooking seafood nearly became part of the barbecue when a nutter with a gasoline canister set fire to himself. Police said they would have a word with him.
Plod also plans to have a little chat with a woman in Sa Kaeo who was keeping her 89 year old father chained to a bed without food and water while she went to work at Big C.
On Friday it was announced that Thailand was buying 26 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford virus for 6 billion baht and would start vaccinations in May. This can’t come a day too soon, if not for the health of the people in Thailand then for the health of the devastated economy that affects so many.
Finally, a very touching story came from Nakornping Hospital in Chiang Mai where a young motorcyclist was taken after suffering catastrophic head injuries. Pictures put on Facebook showed medical staff and nurses ‘wai-ing’ the dead body. The reason for this soon became clear.
His mother and brother took the difficult decision not to prolong life by pointless surgery. Instead they gave permission for his organs to be cut out and donated to the Red Cross so that many others could enjoy a new lease on life.
It is to be hoped that more people in Thailand follow their fine example in thinking about others even at such a time of extreme personal grief.
I applaud them.