My first well paid job in Bangkok was teaching English. But not to the Thais – despite my love for the Siamese I always perceived that they were a bit lazy as a race when it came to studying most things except the art of eating. And this “khii giat’ streak was especially true of language learning.
I had a private schedule and was teaching door to door by the hour. And all my students were Japanese. The community of Japanese living almost entirely in Sukhumvit Road was huge perhaps 15,000 strong. There were the “salary-men” (as their own language referred to them) their stay-at-home or golf playing wives and “Super Mario” obsessed children (yes, that dates me). And they all had money to burn, time in either the mornings, afternoons and evenings and they all got on well with ingratiating and wily “Rooster Sensei”.
I spent 35 to 40 hours a week in Japanese houses in Krung Thep for the next eight years replacing students who went back to Japan with new ones utilizing word of mouth. I felt like I was in Japan – I country that to this day I have never visited. Virtually no one ever stopped learning such was the Japanese work ethic. When not teaching in their rented condos and helping to empty their fridges of Japanese treats, I ‘returned’ to Thailand – often dropping off for a “bite to eat” in Soi Cowboy on my way home.
They were good days living in Soi 39 with like minded friends at one of the ubiquitous Indian owned apartment blocks. It amuses me that I earned in 1985 more than what many people I see online are willing to work for in Thai schools in 2019. And you won’t need me to tell you that just about everything except a satellite dish was cheaper in the eighties.
As one of my students who spoke English well wryly observed, I would be destined to learn Japanese better than my students would master English. This came to pass perhaps aided and abetted by my innate selfishness and penchant for picking up languages that I managed to develop learning Thai. I’d been a total language failure at school in the UK but I soon built up a 1000 word Japanese vocabulary and learned to write Hiragana, Katakana and the first four years of primary Kanji. I even went to school learning Japanese in a Thai class.
Something the present Mrs Rooster said was: Ying peun nat diaw, daay nok song tua (SHOOTING once but getting two birds). Later I managed to get two wives but that took many shots.
But the job – despite the lovely and dedicated Khon Yippun – got boring and I decided to seek a change in 1993. In one week I was offered three jobs. The first was as a marketer that promised riches but also tedium. The second was as a sub-editor at The Nation. I read the Bangkok Post and at the time thought The Nation a poor cousin and, besides, 21,000 baht a month did not appeal. I opted for the third choice. Thai teacher at international school, and the next twenty years were set fair.
Many of my friends couldn’t generate the baht I did with the Japanese that was more than my initial international school wage. Several took the plunge and went to the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular to build up a nest-egg. I don’t know where my dislike for that part of the world came from (perhaps from my reasonable parents) but I’d sooner have chopped my hands off than go to Saudi. Mind you if I’d gone, they’d have probably done that for me.
Yes, to put it mildly I have never felt the need to get into bed with a bedouin but have always appreciated why The Thais’ special relationship with the Saudis is…er….a gem. (Google Saudi and Thai gems’ case if you want further clarity to that remark).
My brother tutored the son of a UAE crown prince in Abu Dhabi – his only student for six years – enabling him to build a secure financial footing he had not quite managed previously in Bangkok. But despite being close to him I never wanted to emulate or even visit the UAE. I vehemently disagreed with several Emerati policies that affect me personally to this day. And when a promoter decided to hold the World Scrabble Championships – my Holy Grail – in Qatar I told them I wouldn’t be seen dead there. After a revolt among players and the Middle East squabbling between the Arab nations’ ruling families they moved the championships to Nottingham…altogether more appealing than direbollockal Doha.
So it was this week that I, and millions of others around the world, eagerly followed the story of 18 year old Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun who was facing deportation from Thailand after being stopped at Suwannaphum airport. I was livid as it initially looked like the Thais were going to send the young woman back to her death either at the hands of her family or by the state, probably for the heinous crime of apostasy.
In fact I was so furious that I was about to put fingers to keyboard and resurrect the weekly “Midweek Rant” that I binned in 2017 after failing to get angry with Thailand frequently enough! My article was to be entitled “For Buddha’s Sake Thailand and Big Joke – Grow a Pair!” This proved unnecessary when in a delightful U-turn Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn handed over the relieved young lady to the care of the UNHCR who promised to find her another country to go to. Maybe somewhere nice, like Australia.
This was a major coup for the ex-major general who proved once again that he has his finger on the pulse and is the most media savvy Thai policeman to have ever lived, bar none. He also partially bucked the trend following the disgraceful sucking up to the Saudis by the POTUS (Piece Of Thoroughly Unpleasant Stool, I believe it stands for) and several other Western leaders over the shocking Jamal Khashoggi murder case.
BJ is a crafty copper and his PR skills – and obvious support from above in reversing and sidetracking immigration procedure – will hold him in increasingly good stead as his meteoric rise continues past the stratosphere to that exalted place of the rich and untrustworthy….Thai politics. Maybe BJ could eventually buck the trend there too.
Readers will note that I have a soft spot for Surachate. I may be being sucked in but I WANT to believe in him. I admire people who bend the rules because as a schoolteacher they were my watchwords. If a child could come up with a reason not to follow regulations – that was good enough for me as Head of Department at Harrow after I ditched “Rooster Sensei” for “Khun Rooster”. Doubtless there was far more to the story of Ms. Rahaf than met the eye but on the face of it I say: Congratulations BJ for a job well done….
You had to grin at his quote, however: “We are the land of smiles – we don’t send people to their deaths”, especially in the context of earlier remarks from his BFF Prawit that the DPM intended to do just that!
A day prior to this case blowing up in our forum faces Surachate had been quoted on another “mother of all threads” that attempted to explain the latest news about retirees, their pension letters and financial requirements. I tried very hard to get my head round what it all meant and failing that decided to watch the YouTube highlights of my beloved Spurs thrashing Tranmere 0-7 for the twentieth time instead. I understood that.
A formal translation of the supposedly new rules followed but posters still seemed to be scratching their heads about what it all meant. My! How the visa discussions go round in circles.
Of course, it’s a big issue for the retirees and I would suggest that Surachate thoroughly gets to grips with the problems that expats have in Thailand and starts to make things easier for good, honest people to live in the kingdom, especially if they are supporting Thai wives, husbands and children. That will really put a feather in his beret alongside his other wings.
As Thailand picked up the New Year stiffs off the road – in reality representing death stats that were the same as any other time of the year – came news that a tour bus overturned entering Bangkok from Roi-Et on Sunday killing six and injuring 56. To rub salt into the wounds of the injured and make a mockery of the grief of the bereaved, the DLT handed out their “top whack” fine of 5,000 baht to the driver and the tour bus company paid a derisory 30,000 baht per corpse.
Grist to the mill for those who perpetually come out with Rooster’s least favorite of phrases about life being cheap in Thailand.
The driver will face prosecution, too, but (rhetorical question alert) what will that achieve? apart from having him banged up on rice gruel for a few months. Precisely nothing. The carnage continues and is a national disgrace. Even more tragically, it will not feature as one iota of policy in any of the political parties’ manifestos for the election next month…or whenever it ultimately happens.
Rumors abounded this week that there would be further delays to voting day before Prayut and his cronies are properly ready to ensure that they have the very best chance to hang onto power without the need for any “Khaki Coalition”, something those who bark orders for a living detest with a gun-toting vengeance.
Once again we were told that tourism was booming – especially in the aptly named “Boom Boom Pattaya” where the translator was clearly “‘avin’ a laff”. A numerically challenged business and tourism official told us that New Year occupancy rates somehow exceeded 100% at hotels in QUOTES (the Queen of the Eastern Seaboard) pointing to a rosier than red resort future.
Not to mention all the excitement of THIS year’s build up to the 60th Anniversary of Pattaya in 2020. If the TAT can lie then tourism leaders in Pattaya put the “P’s” in Porky Pies.
Appropriately given the upcoming anniversary, I try to look at Pattaya with 20-20 vision. I first went there in 1982 and though 48 hours is usually enough I have enjoyed many trips to QUOTES both alone and with my children. It is what it is but being someone obsessed by value for money I can give its hotels and food outlets a big thumbs up for that. Praise indeed you might say from a committed and Barmy Bangkokian, though I would have to take issue with Pattaya, and Chiang Mai, being named as two of the healthiest cities in the world this week. Apparently it was largely based on the number of spas…..
Naturally, the forum curmudgeons also pooh-poohed the notion of a tourism boom though I appreciated the comment of “Lemonltr” who gets my Quip of the Week prize for his wry tourist season observation:
“Strange, this year the girls are calling me handsome man. Normally in high season I’m Papa”.
Top titter-fests of the week were caused by two of the top tits – the head of the government and the head of the TAT. Big Too caused the Thai’s teeth to rattle in their sockets as he suggested that his divine intervention had prevented storm Pabuk from wreaking havoc. He is clearly setting himself up for god-like status ahead of the election or setting himself up for the mother of all falls!
Then TAT chief Yutthasak’s gushing comments after Thailand was named in the top ten of places for retirees inevitably had the forum commenting in proverbial droves. Thailand was deemed naturally beautiful, quiet, cheap and having never been colonized virtually all in the same sentence. Litter on the beaches, noise everywhere, the rising cost of living and a WWII welcome mat to the Japanese notwithstanding.
Top “drama” of the week was the story of the male staff of a seafood restaurant who all dressed up as heavily mascara-ed women to scare a little child, as you do. One of their number was filmed twerking his crotch to a little toddler who he pursued after the child had tried, quite wisely, to flee the scene.
Thais love these online dramas where the netizens get more and more irate and the general public have ample chance to express their self-righteous outrage. It is, after all, only a modern day extension to the comments I used to hear from Thai friends on Koh Samet when they ogled (extensively) the wicked behavior of topless farangs in the 80s.
However, on this occasion it did seem a bit off and was quickly followed by the standard grovelling if not graaping apology and comments from the staffers that they would use their brains in future.
Good luck with that guys! But please take my advice: Don’t stub your toes….despite a lifetime of experience on the Thai roads I can’t stand brain matter at the scene of accidents.
The usual round of incredibly forgetful tourists and scrupulously honest Thais entertained the forum again this week. First up was a Brazilian mum who had a samba moment and left 91,000 baht on a mini-mart counter (This miraculously became 100K in a police poster at the media “hand-back” later in the week). Mum Paula managed to break a “Thai Guinness” record and get more “thank yous” into a single sentence than ever achieved before when a sales girl returned her money.
Pornpailin, the young woman, was held up as the Siam Paragon of Virtue as was “Aunty Porn” who returned an Italian’s wedge of pecuniary Parmesan after he left everything he owned at her Chumpon eaterie. It was hugs and wais all round at this “Honesty-Fest” though Aunty was perhaps a tad disappointed with the proffered 1,000 baht reward – the Italian had a million baht in his Thai bank account.
The forum did their own version of irate netizenship in suggesting that anything less than five to fifteen thousand should have been hurled back in Senor Stingy’s face.
These feel-good stories from the Thai media are invariable translated – and enriched with wind-up vocabulary – by yours truly. The hyperbole of the language serves to infuriate the forum curmudgeons who are convinced the tales of Thai honesty are a Thaivisa conspiracy as heinously deceptive as the latest tourist figures from the TAT.
The reality is that Thais are great with the vast majority being the nicest and most genuine people you could ever hope to meet anywhere in the world.
Apropos the tourism figures, the government this week were slapping themselves on the back for another job well done (I can’t remember the other one but I’ll pass it on if I do). A spokesman announced that the free Visa on Arrival scheme had been a great success. A 70% increase in visitors was plucked from the ether to justify the good news. Though not charging had cost two billion baht in lost revenue Mr and Mrs Woo had got sucked in and spent 6 billion instead.
As one poster dryly observed, this amounted to an average 6,000 baht expenditure for a two week stay.
Rooster, who has a habit of watching the satang and letting the baht look after itself, accepts that waiving visa fees is a reasonable idea. I turned down a trip to Bangalore this week to attend an international Scrabble tournament after the Indian authorities tried to fleece me for thousands of baht just to set foot in their country.
This was in stark contrast to my first of many trips to the sub-continent in 1982 when visas were unnecessary. I was concerned after passing though immigration at New Delhi airport that my admission stamp did not have a date on it. As I was intending to smoke my way around the country for several months before going further East I went back to the official who told me not to worry. An act of parliament meant I could stay for 49 years if I wanted.
Now wouldn’t such a stamp in Thailand make the retirees – and anyone else for that matter – deliriously happy!
Finally a former colleague of mine alerted me to the fact that the UK newspaper The Guardian – referred to by Britons as the Grauniad for its legendary typos – had followed the story of the Saudi teen in Bangkok and had quoted the Thai chief of immigration hilariously naming him as Lt-Gen Samut Prakan, a province south-east of Bangkok.
Finally, here was something bigger than Big Joke.