Wednesday, 30 September 2009

An evening with the Red Shirts

A couple of weeks ago, I got word of an event from Thailand's UDD political party, referred to as the Red Shirts, that was taking place in Saraburi that Friday evening.

My keen interest in Thailand politics, coupled with the mother-in-law’s passion for the Red cause, saw us take a family outing to the event (cladding The Little One in red was not my idea, honest).

In the UK and the West, political parties keep in touch with their core supporters at grass-roots level using meetings, luncheons, newsletters and drop-in surgeries – here in Thailand it’s a whole different ball game.

The best way to describe a Thai political event is 'roadshow', it's an event geared towards entertaining whilst party officials, discuss and debate their key topics.

The event included a busy market, selling all things red, many things Thaksin and the usual market goods - food, drink, etc.

The main event was the on stage speeches from a host of senior (so I’m told) Red Shirt officials – although I don't know their idenitifes - props to anyone who can identify them below.

There was, of course, the obligatory sing-song which saw most party official take to the stage in song. I’d pay good money to see British MPs singing on stage – perhaps there's potential for a horrendous, car-crash celebrity talent show: Westminster Idol.

Unsurprisingly I was the only foreigner there. Not wearing red, along with The Missus, I stuck out like a sore. I need not have worried though.

Despite initial thoughts that I’d be instantly disliked for being a foreigner who was photographing and videoing his way through an event designed for Thais, those I came into contact with were friendly and welcoming.

Political rallies are not renowned for being interesting and well attended at home, unlike the Red rally in Saraburi. The sizeable audience was comprised mainly of families and groups of friends who sat eating and drinking whilst watching the events and speeches on stage.

Though everyone was wearing red, I noticed that many were not supporting official UDD wear, some to have just threw on something red - take for example the woman wearing a Rooney 10 Manchester United shirt.

In one respect it is refreshing that so many people take an active interest in politics; however, from what I know about the types of speeches and rhetoric from both the Reds (UDD) and Yellows (PAD) the content is heavily slanted and rarely objective.

Unfortunately my level of Thai is not sufficient for me to translate the content and my translator, The Missus, has no interested in helping out on this one, alas.

My biggest complaint was the location of the event, which required navigating an dangerously busy dual carriage way route. That said, hardened expats will be used to this sort of thing.

A couple of videos I took from the evening are below.

Apologies for the somewhat jittery video quality. This is down to a combination of unsteady hands, the sound and using my Sony Ericsson as my interim-camera while I wait to get a new one.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Economist: Did you know?

A week or so back the Economist posted the below video on YouTube. I'm shocked it has only received 26,000 odd views (particularly when Five Little Monkeys has more than 10 million views, albeit over 2 years) as it is insightful and fascinating - all in all highly recommended.

The video, which was developed by information design consultancy XPLANE, looks at the changing media landscape, including convergence and technology.

So if you are into the internet, social media, technology (esp mobile phones), traditional media, interesting stats and future trends then this is right up your street.

I originally posted it on Twitter but, upon reflection, decided it deserved a little more exposure.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Role reversal

Living in Thailand is considerably easier when your partner is Thai.

Having a native partners helps overcome most of the issues which arise from the language and cultural barriers here in Thailand. A prime example being my visa applications issues, which would have be hell without The Missus.

It's pretty rare for an expat to help their Thai partner in a meaningful way beyond perhaps learning English or technology issues.

Well, I managed to show my value to The Missus this weekend.

The Missus has recently begun working part-time at a foreign-run business (contrary to my own opinion they do exist here in Saraburi) - first time since The Little One was born last October. Friday was her day off but we headed into the office to get her wage, in process of doing so she was bitten by the "friendly" (now past tense) soi (stray) dog that has adopted the office garden as home.

After cleaning the bites, yes there were two, we headed to our regular hospital for a quick check and precautionary vaccination.

A combination of twenty minutes of being ignored and the potential of paying up to 4,000 Baht (around £80) for this 'premium service' saw us swap the private clinic for the town's main public hospital instead.

Contrary to any hospital in London, at 7pm on a Friday night there were no drunks in Saraburi City hospital. In fact, there were far fewer patients than I expected. Most patients were old and seemingly pretty sick, a number of them lay flat in trolleys, waiting to be seen - it was certainly depressing (photos seemed inappropriate, so you just have my word on this.)

Ten minutes after registering we were waiting, again, in a room with no doctors, no nurses, no receptionists, none of the infirm patients, there were barely even seats - just us, there, still waiting.

Had we been forgotten, again?

I decided to see if I could speed things up.

Barely seconds after closing the door I was surrounded by a doctor and trainees. After impressing myself, and my audience, with my Thai we switch to England and I had found a nurse to take of the problem.

When I was asked to show the bites, I disappeared into the chairless waiting room , returning with The Missus.

The nurse wasn't too happy with my tactic but job never mind, you have to do what you do. Besides, we only needed a Nurse and we were all finished and gone within twenty minutes with The Missus safe from rabies and other soi dog nasties.

The less said about the organisation and staff the better - it was almost like watching Thai shop staff - they were laughing, chatting and hanging around while patients waited...'patiently'. On the balance of it, we'll stick with the private hospital but this trip was certainly insightful.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The social media makeover

Found this quite magnificent social media scribble via Charles Frith.

I write a fair bit about social media and in particular how businesses and companies can use it.

It's a hugely important topic. Social media has the potential to be "game changing", as the Yanks say.

All consumer communication will be turned on its head. The boot is on the other foot, consumers are enfranchised with potential to stick-it to major companies. Suddenly every poor customer experience has the potential to generate poor PR via online, viral, word of mouth.

What used to be a customer complaint letter read by a handful is now something with the power to influence, persuade, dissuade, promote, reject and hold companyies to account.

Check out the Debtors Revolt on YouTube, United Airlines breaks guitars or, on a wider but more shallow scale, there is Facebook. With more 256 million users pouring their thoughts, good/bad experiences onto the web for friends to see.

But, before we get carried away, the great 'socialist web' revolution is yet to occur. In today's market, precious few are getting close to turning this potential into value.

All too often business are misfiring and misusing social media.

They just don't get it, yet...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Earning and losing respect in Thailand

Was at the sports centre the other day when a chap pulled up in this Harley. I was pretty impressed, who wouldn't be.

"Wait. That's not a parking space, sir..."

My initial warmth for driver quickly diminished when he rode round in cycles, literally, revving the engine before parking the 'beast' slap, bang in front of the gym - well away from the designated, and empty, parking area.

He then proceeded to dismount the bike, very slowly in full view of everybody making sure that not one person was unaware that he was the owner of this Harley.

As an avid people watcher, I was hooked.

Thankfully my new pal, and entertainment source, didn't disappoint.

He briefly entered the gym, but rather than settling down to workout, he proceed to wai those inside before leaving very slowly.

Once outside he stood still, taking time to reflect, perhaps scheming his next move, before (slowly) getting back on to the bike and taking a very long route away from the sports centre.

I'd hazard a guess that his mission had been successful, not a sole had failed to see him and the bike.

I appreciate that, by riding in with a Harley he gains face as a man with money but, at what point does him being a total ass mean he loses any respect he gained? Surely he leaves with less respect than he had before he arrived.

I'm a little confused.

Oh, the lengths some Thais will go to to 'impress' others - pretty comical at times.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Bryan Robson set to coach Thailand

The BBC reports that former England captain Bryan Robson has "agreed in principle" to become the next manager of Thailand's national football team.

Robson would, of course, replace Peter Reid, a former England team-mate of his, who left the position to return to English football as assistant manager of Premiership side Stoke City.

Robson is an interesting choice from the Thai FA. His seven year spell in charge of Middlesbrough, which ended 2001, remains the stand-out achievement on his management CV.

Robson showed initial management potential at Boro, though the close of his time saw fans turn against him with doubts over his tactics, style of play and transfer policy.

Robson did save West Brom from relegation 2004-2005, a feat that makes him the only manager to save a team bottom of the league at Christmas from relegation, though circumstance played a major part as final game results lifted Boro from bottom place to safety.

Though I don't rate Robson as a manager, his management career hasn't hit the heights of his glittering playing career, many of his former charges rate him as an excellent coach. Perhaps then Robbo, and his practical skills, are better suited to the demands of international football..

Only time will tell, but I'd like to be the first to say 'Sawasdee Krup, Robbo'.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Big Trouble In Thailand

'Big Trouble In Thailand' is a reality TV show focusing on the tourists abroad in Thailand.

The series is currently on Bravo (a minor satellite station) in the UK, though it is getting considerably more exposure on a number of Thai blogs which are discussing some of the pertinent topics it has raised - including rip-off scams, tourist behaviour and the tourist police.

The series is available through YouTube, and other internet video sites, though I've had neither the time nor inclination to watch more than a couple of snippets.

Talen, over at the excellent ThailandofSmiles blog, is doing a first-rate job of scrutinising the series.

He has already stirred a response from a senior member of the Thai Tourist Police, following some very astute comments about the organisation. His latest insight questions the the authenticity of some of the most controversials scenes and the series itself.

I won't dwell on this too much, check out ThailandofSmiles for more, but I do want to share this nugget of Englishness below.

I've been in Thailand approaching a year now, previous to which I lived and worked in London. Pricks like the guys in this video are sadly all over London, whether it is work, rest or play you can't miss them.

Watching this video helps me appreciate one of the things I love about life here in Thailand - the lack of English twats. Thankfully I live far from the beaten track of tourists.

Sure, I feel sorry for the guy who was involved in a nasty crime but the attitude of him and his friends - stupidly drunk and self-important while girlfriend floating around a police station in a bikini top - is typical of so many people back in England.

It will be interesting to see how I find the locals when we head back home for a 2 week sojourn next month.

Anyway, check out the video below, don't worry it is short, I promise.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Just another day of news as 16 year old is burnt to death

Living in Thailand can make one immune to some shocking news stories.

Atrocities, bribery, gang wars, government coups, police brutality and more, the news in Thailand regularly produces the type of news that would hold the attention of the press. Yet here, tragic news is often just another tragic story.

Take for example this story from The Nation, a newspaper which I readily admit to having little time for, reporting that Thai soldiers shot a teenage Cambodian boy before burning him to death.

What crime could possibly produce such a 'punishment', if you can call being shot and killed in the most inhumane way, that is.

Did he kill a man? Perhaps he shot at a soldier? Maybe he was carrying a bomb, or a terrorist.

It is alleged that the boy, who was just 16 years old, was chopping down trees on the Thai side of the border with Cambodia.

The governor of the Cambodian border province has rightly asked why the boy was burnt alive when he had already been arrested?

There has been no response from the Thai embassy in Cambodia, and none is likely.

This may be news those who do not live in this part of the world but Thai society is incredibly class and race oriented. Foreigners from neighbouring states like Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar) are considered to be the lowest of the low - typified by their dark skin which, in Thailand, is a sign of poverty as it indicates the individual has had a life of working outdoors and is, therefore, poor.

Of course, immigrants from neighbouring countries are not saints. But they are humans, they come to Thailand illegally, yes, but the motive is to better their lives and the lives of their families. There is no justification for what happened to this 16 year old boy.

There should be a public investigation and punishment should be given to those responsible for this atrocity.

But this is Thailand, a country in which racially motivated killings occur almost daily on the southern border, a country which is engaged in a political civil war, a country which has failed to convict activists who sieged the country's main airport plunging the country in chaos.

This news is likely to receive little attention with the country focused on Saturday, the 3rd anniversary of the coup which ousted then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Happy birthday to me

A year is a long time, as they say, and it really is.

This time last year I was seeing my 26th birthday in with, what I can remember, a pretty brilliantly drunken night in London with a load of mates. Alas the day was without my heavily pregnant girlfriend who had arrived in Thailand having, only days before, waiting for me to finish up with my job and get on a flight out of Blighty too.

So, I'm a year older and my day has been a relaxed affair with fantastic weather, a trip to the weekend market and precious time with the family. 

Evening entertainment is remarkably more sober, watching my team, Arsenal, trying to overturn a half-time deficit against the multi-millionaires of Manchester City - two of whose players were sporting our red and white strip a year ago. 

From where I now sit: the change of scene, pace and responsibility is fantastic. I can't turn the clock back, but even if I could, I wouldn't.

So here's to another eventful twelve months, though the significance of my 27th year will take some beating.

Well, we could start with Arsenal coming out and getting the three points - perhaps things don't change so much after all?

And before I'm accused of being an old git already, my birthday bash is later this month - photos and report to follow...

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The good side of Thai people

It’s been a while since my last update, not that I’ve been short of stories recently.

Last week, what is usually a routine and enjoyable trip to Future Park, a shopping mall in the Northern Bangkok suburb of Rangsit, became a story which illustrates some of the positive things about living in Thailand.

First we have the ‘only in Thailand’ scenario.

We routinely entered a petrol station for a fill up, with The Missus diving out of the car for the loo while I continued on to be served by a young Burmese lad, who looked well under the legal age for working.

The lad managed to ‘accidental’ serve an extra 30 baht of gas. Although The Missus felt it was an honest mistake, I suspected it to be his way of supplementing his daily wage (which is probably only around 100 baht), made possible when he spotted a lone foreigner pulling in.

Despite a lack of loose change to hand, we poured out the shrapnel and gave him an extra 30 baht to prevent it being taken from his wage.

I didn’t mind this, I regular tip staff and would happy have tipped him a little extra, but this wasn't the only influence on our day.

After a normal journey we pulled into our destination car-park with the car beginning to spasm and repeatedly stall. We quickly pulled into a space, realising that the lad had filled our diesel car with unleaded petrol.

I’m quite sure giving us the wrong fuel was an honest mistake however, given the type of damage this typically causes, I began to wonder how much our fill up would cost beyond the extra 30 baht.

The Missus called her Dad who, as the senior office at one of Saraburi’s police stations, is a well very connected and influential man (the significance/important is a separate post itself). He made a few calls to sort it telling us to go off shopping and return in a couple of hours.

After shopping, meeting up with FIL and waiting some time in the car park, the police mechanic arrived to fix us up. We had blocked a number of cars in but, in true Thailand style, they were not bothered and, along with an assortment of security guards, cleaners and Future Park staff, they got stuck into helping us out.

The security guard, mechanic (in standard Thai crap shorts) and a passer-by get to work

While back home, most people are concerned with themselves, “you’re blocking me in, I need to get out”, it is always refreshing to see the attitudes of Thais who often help each other out.

A snapshot of the pandemonium we caused

Once the vehicle was winched up, we were taken back to the mechanic's garage (aka his house) in Saraburi where we were treated to food, beers, whiskey and sparkly conversation, in Thai of course.

The car was fixed within two hours and, inclusive of the 2 hour tow from Rangsit, including labour, petrol, etc, the grand total was a incredible 4,000 baht (£100). I’m not sure about prices in the UK these days but I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t even cover the tow back, let alone any work.

Add that we had been entertained and fed, and the amazing attitude of those around us and you can almost say the money was not so badly spent after all.

Much as I often berate Thai people for gossiping, staring and a lot of other things, they (outside of major cities, in particular) can be are incredibly kind and well meaning. At times, life in this country can be refreshing - just don't start me on the idiots I bump into at Tesco Lotus though.