Elephant’s Leg


FINAL BELL TOLLS FOR LUMPINEE BOXING STADIUM
The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The infamous “bear pit” atmosphere inside Lumpinee Stadium

One of the world’s most iconic sports venues closed last Friday, with the ringing of the final bell for Bangkok’s Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

It was to muay Thai what Madison Square Garden is to boxing and wrestling – a venue steeped in history that fans would make pilgrimages to and competitors would dream of fighting in.

Opened in 1956, Lumpinee would go on to rival the older Rajadamnern Stadium in terms of prestige, both as a venue and a championship (the championships of Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums are among the most respected in the sport).  However, I always preferred Lumpinee. My first visit there remains one of the most vivid cultural memories I have had.

Back in 2005, while backpacking with my step-brother Andy, we attended a Lumpinee fight card just days into our two-month stint in Thailand. On a budget, we opted for the cheapest tickets, the so-called third-class section, and we were so glad we did. Continue reading



PIMPS, PROXIES AND PREPPIES – THE MOTLEY CREW VYING TO LEAD A NATION

Thailand’s general election takes place this Sunday. As a non-citizen, I can’t vote. When the election was announced, I thought that was a shame, since for the first time in my life I have an interest in politics. Back home in Britain, I did vote, but was fairly apathetic about it.But as the election and its major players started to take shape, I started to think that even if I could vote, I would no longer be able to do so with conviction. That’s not because the campaigning has been so strong that it would be hard to pick which candidate would be best. Far from it. Now, it would be more a case of choosing the lesser evil.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the major contenders – with “con” being the operative syllable. Continue reading



THE THAI SMILE: LOST IN BANGKOK, FOUND IN KO SICHANG

Ko Sichang offers Thai countryside atmosphere and attitudes by the sea

Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.

For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.

Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.

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THE AFTERMATH OF ANARCHY
Downtown Bangkok goes up in flames, May 19. (Photo by http://www.benowenbrowne.com)

As Bangkok burned, I made good my escape. Evacuated from my workplace as Red Shirts descended on the road to my office, with their brothers bombing and torching dozens of important and iconic buildings around the city, I met my girlfriend Waew and together we headed for Hua Hin, a seaside retreat a couple of hours’ drive south.

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BANGKOK ON THE BRINK OF CIVIL WAR?

Red Shirts on Silom Road

War zone. The brink of anarchy. Bangkok burning.

Front-page headlines from the past few days in the Bangkok Post which are in no way an exaggeration.

The anti-government protests by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), or “Red Shirts”, have been going on for two months now, and friends and family back home who’ve seen dramatic news footage have enquired about my safety, to which I had always replied that “it looks much worse than it is”, and that I was completely safe so long as I stayed away from the demonstration zones.

Not anymore. Continue reading



RIDING RICKSHAWS IN DAVID CARRADINE’S FOOTSTEPS, CHILD BRIDES IN TOW

Journalism 101: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

As I work in the press, I’m always quick to defend journalists, especially against the stereotype that they “make things up”.

It is true, though, that facts can be shaped to fit an agenda, and also that whenever there are two or more sides to a story, a journalist can take whichever side best fits his remit. But they can’t simply make things up.

For a start, it’s against the law. If a newspaper prints a story about a person or event, and cannot prove that it is true if required to do so, then it will face penalties.

Take, for example, the 2004 case of the Daily Mirror‘s publication of photos which apparently showed British soldiers abusing an Iraqi captive. Desperate for a sensational scoop, The Mirror didn’t check the authenticity of the pictures, which were later proven to be fake. The result – editor Piers Morgan was fired.

So, a publication really can’t “make things up” without risking personal, political or financial repercussions. However, that’s not to say it never happens. While I may be quick to defend the press against this stereotype, at the same time I am quick to criticise journalists who do contribute to it.

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THE LEO BEER CALENDAR CONTROVERSY: NO SEX (OR BEER) PLEASE, WE’RE THAI

It is often assumed that the people who complain loudest about something have the most to hide. That’s the prevailing logic about homophobia – that those who hate gays do so because they are seeking to deny something about themselves.
And it is certainly the case with the recent controversy over the Leo Beer 2010 calendar launched here in Thailand last week – and promptly banned from sale or distribution by the government.

The reason for the ban was two-fold. First of all, alcohol advertising laws in Thailand forbid the linking of alcohol with fun. Secondly, nudity is forbidden in the media. As this was a calendar promoting beer through the use of body-painted (so, officially nude in that they weren’t actually clothed, even though they were at least visually covered) models, it was always likely to offend someone in a position of power.

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CAKE-EATING, TOILET-SQUATTING EX-PM SAMAK SUNDARAVEJ DIES

Samak finds food and politics don’t mix

Former Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej died yesterday. He succumbed to liver cancer in Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital, aged 74.

Samak was PM when I moved to Thailand in April last year. He was quite a character and his presence – along with the movements of his rivals and his interactions with the press – could at times be quite comic, if not downright farcical. Before Thai politics turned sour with mob protests, airports seiges and coups, it could even be quite fun to read about Samak’s exploits.

He was the first of three PMs in my time here (three leaders in 19 months in itself is an indictment of the state of Thai politics) and by far the most memorable. He was nowhere near as photogenic as current PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, nor was he anything like as polite as his successor, Somchai Wongsawat, but that is precisely why he made his mark. He behaved aggressively, he was beligerent to the media, he sulked in public, he was unafraid to belittle people if he felt they deserved it, he was stoic in the face of political pressure – and his hardened appearance matched these, ahem, qualities.

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A TASTE OF THE UK AS CHAOS REIGNS ON THE RAILS
Half and half

Half and half

Ah, a taste of home. And no, I don’t mean a jar of Marmite or a pint of bitter. I mean a newspaper headline that will be all-too familiar to anyone who is from or has lived in Britain. “4,000 stranded in rail chaos” was splashed on the front page of today’s Bangkok Post.

Rail chaos. Words that are so familiar to the Brit, they’re almost like the lyrics from a favourite childhood song. Nostalgic, even.

The story is that strike action forced the cancellation of the majority of services in, to and from the southern province of Surat Thani, with passengers left stranded or to find alternative means of transport.

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MISS THAILAND 2009 REINFORCES PALE SKIN PREJUDICE
Thai beauty

Thai beauty

Thai people have brown skin. Well, there are different ethnic groups within Thailand, but generally speaking, the average Thai person has light to medium brown skin. I state the obvious merely because it is seemingly something the Thai media likes to avoid.

If you had never been to Thailand and only watched the majority of Thai movies, TV shows or music videos, and look at the advertising at subway stations, in magazines, and so on, you’d be forgiven for thinking Thais were a light-skinned race. Creamy, white complexions, sometimes even with rosy cheeks, represent a tiny minority in real life, but the great majority of the media’s idea of what Thais (should) look like. Pale skin is absolutely considered to be – and promoted as – attractive, and in many cases is actually a prerequisite to success. It doesn’t need me to point out how unfair this is, when skin colour is entirely a matter of birth – and something that cannot be changed, regardless of what the enormous market for sinister skin-whitening lotions will tell you.

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