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The week that was in Thailand news: When it rains it pours! Thailand facing its own “Annus Horribilis”

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The week that was in Thailand news: When it rains it pours! Thailand facing its own “Annus Horribilis”

This post is also available in: English

It is far from the monsoon season in the upper reaches of Thailand yet the disastrous start to the new year on so many levels makes it appear that the rain has already started gushing down on the kingdom….and some! The country is in the grip of the mother of all monsoons.

Tourists are deserting Thailand and top of the list are the Chinese – well you were warned. It is after all the Year of the Rat!

Armed crime is rampant as comparisons are being made with gun-toting America. Even the Thai Army are running scared. Criticism of everyone from Big Too down is pouring in like rain through a gaping hole in a dilapidated tin shack roof in a cassava field. The air is filthy clogged by 2.5 PM particles and the water, if you can find any in the drought, is saltier than ‘naam pla’. And when it comes to the carnage on the roads people are saying….don’t get me started.

The brickbats are coming  from all sides, Thai and foreign. And what’s worse, there appears to be no end in sight.

Perhaps the biggest indication that the country is facing a massive crisis is that many top officials have stopped the customary practice of circling the wagons. Virtually abandoned the spouting of nonsensical figures. Ended putting a brave face on things in order to save what face is left. Started to realize they are in a cavernous hole and beginning to appreciate that it might be time to order Somchai to stop digging. Or at least give him a smaller spade.

Of course the coronavirus – now named COVID-19, though not affectionately – is hardly the fault of the Thais. And I stick by my opinion that many in the country have made sensible decisions in relation to the outbreak (notwithstanding health minister Anutin “Deport ’em” Charnvirakul.). But with an economy not only heavily reliant on tourism but suffering in the manufacturing sector too, Thailand is one of the countries facing the brunt of the fallout whatever your views on China, the worldwide hysteria and how things pan out from here.

Tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn would have Rooster’s sympathy if he hadn’t repeatedly shown himself to be a bit of a numpty. Pipat cut a disconsolate figure as he reported that 85% of Chinese were not in attendance and tourism had been “shaved” in half. Cutting analogies abounded on Thaivisa forum and this columnist imagined Big Too making one such gesture across his neck as he listened to his hapless minister.

It almost looked like Pipat was ready to take a razor to his own wrists. Even his predecessors – fools of the first water like Kobkarn “Durian Kit Kat” Wattanavrangkul and ‘Wearysack’ Kowsurat – didn’t have to face a crisis like this. What had he done to deserve it? Was it karma for all those billions he and his wife have accrued? Methinks, it might be time for Pipat to don some saffron robes for a week or two and head to a comfortable temple.

At least that would get him out of the way though the damage to Buddhism could be immeasurable.

On Monday he was reported as suggesting that a “tourism fee” could be used for renovation for all the damage tourists do. One could predict how that lead balloon would go down. With foreigners charged ten times the local rate at his national parks one could sense Pipat’s head thumping into his hands as angry reaction poured in.

“Oh woe is me! As if the virus is not enough, why as I suffering from foot in mouth too? Why?”

In the latest tourism crisis meeting in Bangkok on Thursday he suggested keeping bars open to 4 am and giving free visas away to Chinese and Indians. Bereft of the slightest clue this was older hat than a Welsh miner’s flat cap. Perhaps he should look out of his ivory tower;  he would see that there are no tourists to be charged nothing, there are no visitors to fill the bars to 4 am – even by 10pm they’re empty!

He should ask those working in the industry rather than rely on the sugar-coated opinions of his minging minions and those equally culpable rogues who run the TAT, incompetents running tourism into the ground.

The terrible events in Korat last weekend did nothing to shift attention. It just made the feeling of doom and gloom in Thailand ten times worse. The incident itself was shocking in the extreme for while the kingdom is riddled with gun crime – and always has been – it has generally avoided such spree killing, avoided such worldwide attention.

The procedures in place at Thai military armories were shown to be hopeless. The army chief could not circle those wagons – he was exposed, as bare as a new recruit who mislaid his khaki underpants in the mess hall.

And what a mess! The response to the unfolding tragedy – while recognizing the heroism of members of the public and security services – was similarly pathetic. The irresponsibility of TV news organizations in “live” revelations of the location of the shooter were utterly disgraceful.

They seemed to think that if the shooter could murder for Facebook “likes” so could they.

The reaction of the prime minister was unbefitting of a leader. Of course he is not a true leader, but that hardly exonerates him.

He clearly has little human empathy and his advisers make Boris’s controller Dominic Cummings look adept. He misread the situation in an attempt to protect his army when the public were demanding answers to difficult questions. As they increasingly are. In fact the whole country is becoming more and more restless.

That Thailand has an obsession with both legal and illegal guns is without question but that issue hides more serious matters. Top of the list are an army with more generals than the Western world put together but few with any brains to match their inflated and unrestrained egos and salaries. The army has procedures that are mired in years of incompetence and unaccountability.

Prayut attended some funerals and compensation – the Thais’ most beloved and soothing elixir – was promised, but the damage was done. When one news presenter, in a slip of the tongue, suggested that Big Too had laid a wreath at his own funeral the online titters were tinged with a feeling if only it could be so. This excuse for a democratically elected PM is past his sell-by date and should exit stage left.

Copycats that followed only prolonged the agony all week. Gun crazy 20 somethings high on Ya Ba went on social media to say they were going to attack their local shopping centers. It is easy to say these nutters are not representative. I prefer the analogy of them being the tip of an iceberg – we all know how much more is below the waterline. In Bangkok nerves were on tenterhooks as shots were heard downtown…..

The actions of security guards at the Korat mall were praised and RTP chief Chakthip “Big Peh” Chaijinda was filmed going in like Flint; both were stories that cheered the Thais a little in their hour of need. But that hour is now more like months and any claim of “heroes” is just clutching at straws and failing to hide the grim reality:

Thailand needs some clear 2020 vision or 2020 will go down as what Britain’s Queen Elizabeth once famously described as an “Annus Horribilis” – and no, she was not referring to the Royal Seat.

The deaths of two Russian children in a speedboat collision in Phuket are clear evidence that all tourism ministers have failed to address this single issue of safety. Khun Kit Kat promised it after dismantling the sex industry. Wearysack said he’d use his Harvard Law degree to follow up. Pipat hasn’t got a clue and has now found he hasn’t got any authority.

In the modern world of swift dissemination of news and equally fast online condemnation, Thailand is increasingly being seen as patently unsafe. Even if it is not inherently true, it matters not. It is the perception. Rooster has banged on to the contrary, and praised efforts to address safety issues in the past, but it is becoming increasingly hard to do so with any semblance of face, let alone a straight one.

The economy falters yet prices keep rising. And I sense that the Thais themselves have had more than enough. I was with Mrs R in the aisles of Tesco Lotus this week and was so enraged about the increase in the price of store brand muesli that I decided on an unusual and very audible rant in the vernacular.

My ranting in Thai can be rather clever and pointed, even if I say so myself. I am a past master with skills honed by not one but two long suffering Thai wives. But even I was surprised by my fellow shoppers. They nearly broke out in applause and one old boy was moved to slap me on the back with a cheery “Yuu muang Thai naan laew si”: You’ve clearly been living in Thailand a long time!

It was like a badge of honor, almost as congratulatory as the citizenship conferred on Udom Suksanaih, the American funny man in Phrae who can now call himself Thai.  

In Tesco and on Thaivisa Rooster did his best to keep his chin, and that of the readers, up this week. Thankfully there are always enough quirky and humorous translations to make even the darkest weeks appear brighter.

Chonburi immigration felt the lash of Rooster’s keyboard in their latest exploits with the BMW smart cara naked woman speaking in tongues (er….that’s English) at Chiang Mai police station caused much mirth and some “farang hanky panky among the frangipani” in a flowery park in the same northern city vied for the netizens’ attention after some “steamy serpent sex” between two snakes in the south.

Call it a “bunch of cobras” if you like but it gets me through the day.

All the sex led up to Valentine’s Day on Friday. Mrs R looked at me all misty eyed and hopeful and asked me in the blurriness of 6 am what day it was. “Friday 14th February song phan haa roi hoksip sam”, I managed.

I was obliged to get out my kite after that attempt at humor.

A “Super Poll” told us what we already knew. Thais think Mahakhabucha Day is far more important than “Wan Waa – len – tai” and are far more concerned that teens will get pregnant in short time hotels or bring home a dose of the clap to mum.

Rooster dislikes the idea of being told what to do so I never celebrate nonsense like New Year or Valentine’s. Christmas and Birthdays only exist because I have small children and I see no reason to inflict my meanness on them…..

Up in Loei a structural engineer explained why the province’s famous sky-walk tourist attraction appears to wobble. It made sense to me. I am a frequent visitor to Loei as my wife hails from that beautiful province but you wouldn’t get me on anything high anywhere. Not unless you can light it, that is.

Thaivisa managed to manufacture its own news with a poll about phoning 1178 to snitch on overstaying foreigners. The results were overwhelming – the Immigration Bureau better get some more Bimmers as they are unlikely to get much help from the forum! That was at least gratifying to see.

Finally, in Koh Samui tourism operators were briefly cock-a-hoop that a luxury liner had weighed anchor in Nathon Bay and disgorged 3,000 of its German, Italian and American two-legged cargo. Elsewhere other liners and locals were not so lucky. It may have been only for a few hours but hey, in a week like this one and as a supermarket chain in England advises us: “Every little helps”.

Clearly those on the ship were well heeled but Rooster – who put the FU in frugal – is unlikely to ever be one of them given the name of the vessel.  I had to Google to make sure I wasn’t the victim of some kind of sly joke.

Costa Fortuna.

Rooster

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