Elephant’s Leg


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



WATCH WITH MOTHER, BANGKOK STYLE: SIRIRAJ’S CARNIVAL OF THE GROTESQUE

Together forever – even in death

Where should one take a visiting mother in Bangkok? Temple-hopping, perhaps? Bargain-hunting in markets and malls? Rooftop or riverside dining? Or maybe to see mutated babies, preserved serial killers, elephantiasis-afflicted scrotums the size of medicine balls, and all manner of diseased, ruptured, punctured, crushed and deformed organs, skulls and limbs?

If that, rather than a Chao Phraya cruise, is what floats your – or your mother’s – boat, then jump on board a ferry to Siriraj Hospital’s Forensic Museum, which mixes genuine scientific endeavour with the kind of shock appeal previously reserved for Victorian carnival freakshows or 1980s body-horror movies.

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BANG SARAY: 30 MINUTES AND A WORLD AWAY FROM PATTAYA

 

Pattaya’s skyscrapers loom in the background, but it’s easy to forget the city while lounging in Bang Saray’s clear waters

Talk to any old-timer expat here in Thailand and chances are that, before long, they’ll regale you with tales of when places such as Pattaya and Phuket were quiet fishing villages, and then lament that if only they’d bought land or property back then, they’d be stinking rich now.

Which raises the question of where tomorrow’s Pattaya or Phuket might be, or whether there even remains such potential in a country which is vastly more ensconsced on the tourist map than it was in the 1970s or 80s. Surely anywhere of commercial opportunity will already be long-discovered?

Maybe not. 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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IT STARTED WITH AN ITCH

Anyone for noodles?

There are many interpretations of “getting the itch” if you live in Thailand. It could be a desire for travel. It could be a mosquito bite. It could be a rash after eating some dodgy seafood. Or it could be an after-effect of indulging in some naughty nightlife.

So I wasn’t too concerned when an itchy red bump appeared on the side of my foot early last week. It looked and felt just like a mosquito bite, of which I have had thousands in my life. By now, I can even resist the temptation to scratch.I was a bit concerned, however, when the next morning I noticed my mosquito bite had grown a tail. Further concern ensured when the “tail” had doubled in length by the time I finished work, so I went to see a doctor.

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VIOLENT, FORCED ABORTIONS: GOOD. SMOKING: BAD

DIY abortions on Thai TV

I don’t subscribe to the idea that all censorship is bad. As much as I appreciate freedom of speech and expression in the media and arts, I do believe in sensible censorship of the most extreme opinions and/or images. For example, I think it’s quite right that distributing material which incites hatred is a crime in the UK, and that the USA’s Freedom of Speech law, which allows for the same to go unpunished, is a little lax.

But if censorship is to be enforced, it has to be done with common sense, and it must also treat the public with a modicum of respect for its intelligence. Continue reading




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