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Showing content with the highest reputation since 10/06/2018 in Blog Entries

  1. 1 point
    CULTURAL CAROUSEL By Andrew Biggs The phone call came early Saturday evening. “Khun Andrew,” came the familiar voice of my accountant. “We need to have a meeting. An urgent meeting. With you, the general manager and me. We’d like to meet with you.” “What – right now?” I asked. This was Songkran Saturday night. Who holds business meetings on Songkran Saturday night? I was wandering down a dark Ekamai soi carrying four bags of ice and a vodka bottle to a dinner party. No need to be judgmental, dear reader – surely I’m allowed a drink or two one night of the year! “It sounds like you’re busy,” she said apologetically. Well of course I am! Even we hermit types get invited out on Songkran Saturday, though it appears accountants do not enjoy the same fate. “How about Monday?” she persisted. “Monday’s a holiday.” “I see. So you can’t make it Monday.” It wasn’t a matter of not being able to make it. This has been a busy year for me. I needed a break, especially from meetings. Everything I have written so far is the lead up to what transpires next. Pay careful attention to the dialogue that ensues, dear reader, because I will be asking questions about it later. “So … what’s the meeting about?” “The company.” “What exactly about the company?” “Lots of issues.” “For example?” “The company.” “Yes, I understand it’s the company. But what exactly?” “Lots of issues.” The bags of ice were getting colder, and wetter, against my sides. The vodka was getting heavier too. “Can you just tell me what … it … is … you … want … to … meet … about.” There was a silence. “Lots of issues,” came the reply. I love my accountant. She’s an amazing lady. She is ruthless with budgets and merciless with customers who don’t pay their bills. When she isn’t noting every single baht I spend during office hours, at home she tends to ten stray dogs. What an angel. How lucky I am to have her as my accountant, and how lucky I am not to be her neighbor when I require a good night’s sleep. In short – her relationship with money is precise and tight-fisted. If only the same could be said of her imparting information of a non-fiscal nature. Like meeting agendas. “Listen, it’s really not a good time for me to talk,” I finally said. “I’m carrying four bags of ice and a bottle of – er, orange juice and I’m about to go to a dinner party. Is it really necessary we meet?” “Well yes,” said my accountant. “It’s important.” What the heck. Throw it out again, Andrew. “What do you want to talk about?” “Lots of things.” This is truly a bizarre aspect of Thai custom and culture I have yet gain full access to. As a westerner, it is like downloading the Thai Culture app, only to find a smattering of shallow features. The free ones. To understand the rest, I have to invest time and patience. I am convinced my accountant’s behavior is an offshoot — or bastard child — of kreng jai, that elusive Thai feeling that permeates so much of Thai culture. Kreng jai is consideration for others … not wanting to upset or put someone out. Its interpretation extends beyond how one behaves. It also includes how one doesn’t behave, because part of the dark side of kreng jai is fear of taking a stand — the consequences of making a decision. Clearly my accountant has some kind of problem at work that requires my attention. It could very well be serious though I suspect not life-threatening. She doesn’t want to tell me over the phone. By telling me face to face, it is going to upset me, and she does not want to be the one to upset me right now, on a Saturday night of the Songkran water festival. Hence the merry-go-round of a conversation on the way to the dinner party. One of the most vivid examples of this aspect of Thai culture happened to me seven years ago. My beloved dog was killed outside my house. He ran out onto the road and somebody drove past, knocking him to the side of the road, killing him instantly. The driver didn’t stop. But my dog did let out a yelp loud enough to evoke a reaction from my artist, who was downstairs doing some work for me. I was upstairs in my bedroom. I heard nothing. Perhaps I had music on loudly. In the end there was a knock on my bedroom door. My artist stood at the door. “You need to come downstairs,” he said. “Why?” “You need to come downstairs.” he repeated as the carousel, once again, slowly lurched into gear and increased momentum, spinning around and around, just as my accountant had done last Saturday night. “Just tell me why,” I said. “Well, if you come downstairs you will see,” he said. “Give me a hint,” I said. “It’s your dog.” “What about my dog?” “Its tongue is hanging out of its mouth.” Normally I would have come back with a rejoinder to the tune of: “And what dog’s tongue doesn’t hang out of its mouth you idiot?” But I could see an element of shock on his face. Still I had no idea the dog was dead. Upon going downstairs, there was my beautiful little dog, lifeless on my lawn, bleeding from the mouth and yes, its tongue was hanging out, slowly turning blue. I think that incident explains so much of my business life in Thailand, and I’m not being facetious. It was just too heartbreaking for my artist to blurt out: “Your dog’s dead.” Even “Something’s happened to your dog” would evoke sudden feelings of anxiety and dread within me. He didn’t want to subject me to that. It was better he led me on the path to my ultimate misery downstairs by alluding to something as innocuous as a dangling tongue. In a similar vein, my accountant has something she needs to let me know about that will, no doubt, lead me on a path to ultimate misery. Temporary misery, I am guessing, for she assented to my request for a meeting on Wednesday, the day we all returned to work, so whatever emergency she was alluding to clearly could wait. I was very proud of myself in my reaction. I didn’t fly off the handle. I didn’t rant and rave like I may have done ten years ago, demanding she tell me outright what was happening or else. I went with the flow. I was like the Pho tree under which the Buddha meditated during a storm; I bent, but I did not break. All would be revealed to me on Wednesday. I do understand it can be so maddening to work in the same office as staff who won’t give you straight answers. But look on the bright side. It’s not all of them. Millennial Thais are getting far better at telling it to me straight. As for the ones who can’t — the carousel people like my accountant an artist — they may not be able to spit out the bad news like I want them too … but they are also diligent, reliable, trustworthy and loyal. That’s good enough for me. /Andrew
  2. 1 point
    HEALTHY CONUNDRUM By Andrew Biggs “Khun Andrew, please give me some words of support. I applied for a job and wasn’t accepted. I’m soooooo upset.” This plaintive tweet arrived last Tuesday. Had it been a few short years ago it would have been an email. A few short years before that the student would have put it on paper, stuck it in an envelope, and took it to the post office to buy a stamp. Ah but my age is showing. The tweet came from a student, Suchada, and the above quote is my own translation from the original Thai. Suchada is a 22-year-old Bangkok girl who just graduated from a good university and applied for a job at a bank. She got knocked back. Her despondency was understandable; I remember when I was 17 being rejected for a job at McDonald’s Sunnybank. “We just don’t think you’d fit into the McDonald’s family,” the pimple-faced manager told me with a jowly smile. In retrospect he was right. I can’t imagine what emotional scars I’d be wearing today had I agreed to join a family where the father figure was a clown looking like something straight out of Stephen King’s It. I’d have kept the bathroom door locked, that’s for sure. But back to Suchada. Having worked in the youth media in Thailand for two decades, I have received similar letters, emails and tweets before. I am normally very sympathetic to this recurring theme but firm in my reply: “Give yourself a day to get over your disappointment, then pick yourself up and apply all over again at some other bank. And come back and see me after you’ve been rejected ten times.” I always thought that was good advice. Diligence and enthusiasm will always win out when it comes to job hunting. I believed that up until very recently, that is, but now I’m not so sure. My turnaround is all due to my friend Nut, whose predicament came to a head this week as I discovered 24 hours before Suchada’s tweet. Like anywhere in the world, finding a job in Thailand can be difficult and takes a lot of perseverance. There are actually a lot of jobs out there in Thai offices and factories for bachelor degree holders. The pay isn’t fantastic, but at least it’s work. My friend Nut has a bachelor’s degree. He worked in administration for a large factory in Lad Krabang. He’s quiet and diligent and gets the job done, as evidenced by the fact he stayed at his job for eight years. As he reached his late-thirties he decided he needed more money and applied for a new job and got it. He quit his old job on a Friday and started work at the new factory in Lardphrao on Monday. By Friday he was sacked. The reason? Nut is HIV positive. And in Thailand, that means you cannot get a job. It’s not like you could tell he has HIV. He runs mini marathons and works out every day. He visits his doctor every three months for his blood count and takes his medicine; his CD4 count is very high. In Thailand you are almost always required to get a medical check-up before starting a new job, and this includes an HIV test. The new company asked Nut to get his medical test on Wednesday. Nut came up HIV positive; he was jobless by the weekend. At this point things were grim for Nut – much more than Suchada’s self-imagined quagmire – but Nut can be a pretty determined kinda guy. Within two weeks he had found a new administration job at a factory in Silom. Silom Road is the center of every sexually communicable disease known to man, and you would think a factory situated there would turn a blind eye to such things, but no. In the second week of his work he was informed by HR he would need a medical. The usual two-step shuffle ensued – Nut went to hospital. Nut was shown the door. Five times. This has now happened to Nut five times in the space of four months. One job he was even “flavor of the month” except that he didn’t last a month. He was actually “flavor of the three weeks”. It was a big toy factory here (patrolled by Rottweilers!) out in Samut Prakan and Nut was in charge of counting stock. The last person who did the job was slovenly and stole stuff on the side, and Nut did neither of these things. This was a family company and the owner warmed to him for his accuracy and diligence. When the results of his medical came in, however, the same owner went ballistic. He shouted about him being HIV positive in front of other staff. “I don’t want you infecting anybody else! Get out of here or I’ll set the dogs on you!” the owner barked at Nut, who gathered his belongings and quickly left. I called my friend Lek this week, a mover and shaker in the HR world in Bangkok, and asked him about Nut’s situation. Surprise surprise … what those companies did was illegal. You cannot sack a person because he or she is HIV positive. In fact, once an employee starts work there is no requirement for a medical check-up either. That has to be carried out before, since the act of starting work means the two parties have entered into a contract already. In the real world things are different, and such labor laws are as valid as the ones that, say, outlaw prostitution in Thailand. Nut’s only recourse is to take the company to the Labor Court, where the company will tell the judge Nut was sacked owing to laziness, or inability to carry out duties, etc. Anything but that virus coursing through his veins. Nut may have HIV, but he also has perseverance. He applied for a new job at a small paint factory and got it. The pay is good. Even better; there is no company regulation that requires a medical examination. He started work last Monday. As for Suchada, what timing to be complaining about one job rejection when my friend Nut has had five in the time Suchada took to do her finals, graduate, and go celebrating with friends down in Pattaya. I’m going to officially change my stock answer, too. No more “come back and see me after ten rejections”. Instead, it’s going to be: “Come to think of it, don’t come back and see me at all. Stop wallowing in your setbacks and get on with life.” These are words I cannot use with Nut, who despite everything refuses to give up. And as his friend I must be a pillar of support. Especially now. Last Tuesday, on day two of his work, the thinner smell in the paint factory was so bad Nut fainted. He is jobless once more. /Andrew
  3. 1 point
    BLOOD AND WATER By Andrew Biggs At my office, we are gearing up for a major new business venture starting May 20. It’s consumed all our time for the past six months. Luckily I have a core team that’s been diligent and dedicated. At last Monday’s meeting I made it clear — we were in the final stretch. This was the exciting part. Nobody could take any time off before May 20. Let’s start this project and get it up and running. Everybody nodded their heads, including my two key staff, Jasmine and San, and my artist, Song. Jasmine was the first to come in to my office. “Khun Andrew, I have to … I must … I think I have to go to Samut Sakhon with my family,” she said. “What for?” “My parents want me to help them run their business but my older brother says I can’t do it.” “That sentence made no sense to me,” I said. “I must go with my family to Samut Songkhram for a family meeting. You know, all the relatives.” “No I don’t know,” I said. Jasmine was not making herself clear. So she burst into tears. “My brother says I can’t run the business, and he is pressuring me. And my parents say I can run the business.” “What business are you talking about?” She looked up at me, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “Fish sauce.” It’s been a busy day for me. If Jasmine needs to take the afternoon off to go down to Samut Songkhram with her family, then that’s fine. But can’t she just explain it to me in plain English? “My parents have a fish sauce factory in Samut Songkhram,” she said. Despite working so closely with Jasmine, this is news to me. I am not surprised —where else would a fish sauce factory be located? Have you ever driven down to Hua Hin, dear reader? You pass the seaside province of Samut Songkhram. It’s famous for two things – the birthplace of the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng, and home to at least a hundred fish sauce factories lining the highway. You probably eat something made with Samut Songkhram fish sauce every day of your Thai experience. A pit stop in Samut Songkhram smells a bit like wandering through a cemetery of rotting fish. “And when do you intend making this trip?” I asked. “May 15,” she said. “Five days before our new project begins! And for how long?” “A week,” she said. This is a curveball out of nowhere that absolutely hits me for six and yes, that’s a baseball and cricket analogy in a single sentence. “Do you parents know that we’re launching this new project in May?” I asked, and she said yes, they did. “Are you aware I can’t have you away at anytime in the near future?” Another nod. “So what do you intend to do?” Jasmine didn’t answer. “Well you think about that,” I said, “And give me an answer tomorrow.” Jasmine left my office. Later that day I saw her deep in a conversation with Song the artist. The next day she came back to my office. At least this time she was lucid. “My parents want me to run the family business,” she said. You know what? As shocking as that information may be, at least she explained it in a simple sentence. I daresay that’s what she was trying to tell me yesterday in her own Thai way — that is, indecipherable. The timing couldn’t be any worse. She had to finish up by the end of May. “But … you’ve been doing this for so long. Your heart has been in this. How can you give it all up?” I asked. “Also, it would be great for your resume if you follow through on this. It’s a great career move.” As opposed to running your family’s fish sauce business, I wanted to add, but held my tongue. One hour later – no exaggeration – and it is San’s turn. “Khun Andrew, I have to go home for a while,” he said. Jasmine might be a central plains gal, but San is an Isan boy through and through. San’s home is Sri Sa Ket, a province famous for its pickled garlic. For a split second I wonder if San is about to tell me he has to go run the family picked garlic factory, but I remember his mother – married to a elderly Swede – runs a rice farm just out of the provincial town. “My step father needs an operation, and he must do it in Sweden,” explains San. “My mother must go with him.” That leaves his 93-year-old grandfather and 8-year-old kid brother alone on the farm. “My mother wants me to look after the farm while she’s gone.” “And how long must you be there for?” I imagined his mother leaving Friday night from Suvarnabhumi, spending the weekend in Stockholm then catching the red-eye back to Thailand Monday morning. Three days? Four? “Three months,” he said. “Three months!?” I screamed. Nobody needs to be Florence Nightingale for that long! What did she think she could do in Stockholm for three months? There are only so many times one can visit the Abba museum before Dancing Queen fatigue sets in. “What about your extended family?” I asked. I travelled to Si Sa Ket three years ago for San’s ordination. I swear, his whole village had his last name — God knows how they procreate while avoiding incest charges. The only non-relatives were the hired luk-thong singers on that rickety stage the night before he donned his saffron ones, and even they had suspiciously-similar cranial features. But seriously … wasn’t there some maiden aunt in the throes of middle age who could look after the farm for that long? Or a dead-beat distant uncle who sat on a mat all day drinking lao khao plotting the murder of his sister’s farang husband? Apparently not. “When is this operation taking place?” I asked sheepishly. “May 18,” he said. I clenched my fists under the table. I made a mental note to burn all my Abba vinyl. Did that Swede time the operation to coincide with our launch? “You can’t leave on that date.” “I have to.” “How can you leave five days before our launch?” “It’s my family.” Later that day I spotted San having lunch with Song the artist. They were speaking to each other earnestly. San and Jasmine are millennials, tech-savvy and in tune with the modern world. And yet all it takes is an order from Mum and Dad, and they must race home. I only hear the convoluted story, such as Jasmine’s cryptic tale of a family business and a pushy brother, or San’s sudden requirement to run a farm in Buriram. There could very well be something else going on. Did Jasmine lose face to another member of the core team? Has San fallen in love with the daughter of a local pickled garlic establishment? Having been here so long, I no longer jump up and down, demanding to know the exact reason behind abstract tales of fish sauce and overseas operations. I do know this: As a boss I can throw money at my staff. I can throw them nice-sounding positions to put on their name cards. I can throw them love and affection and justice and mediation. I can give them special privileges. I can shovel all these things onto them as a way of thanks for all their hard work … but it all gets trumped by family. This morning Song was lurking outside my office. “Don’t even think of it,” I said. /Andrew
  4. 1 point
    CHEEK SNIFFERS By Andrew Biggs Here we are in Thailand wedged between Christmas and New Year in the season of goodwill, generous in our hugs and kisses and sniffing cheeks, regardless of race and religion. Stop right there … did I just write sniffing cheeks? Yes I did. Thailand may be the Land of Smiles but we are also the Land of Sniffs. We are perhaps the only country in the world where we sniff cheeks to show affection. The western world loves to nudge and wink and make disparaging remarks about Bangkok being the sex capital of the world. If only they knew the truth. Just this week, in a three-star hotel room in a remote B-list province up North, I had grown tired of counting those bright white cockroach eggs in the bathroom and, in an effort to suppress the sound of overpriced Singha beer cans screaming out “Drink me! Drink me!” in the mini-bar fridge, I flicked on the cable TV. There was some American sitcom, so hilarious it required canned laughter to remind us when it was funny. One of the characters expressed some outlandish point of view and her sidekick did a double take. “You want me to believe that?,” he shot back sarcastically, hands on hips, sneer in first gear. “Next thing you’ll tell me, everybody goes to Bangkok for the food.” Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! This kind of stereotyping is as unfair as it is unfunny. Thai society is extremely conservative. Take general displays of affection. It is a common sight in this country to see western men walking blissfully down the street, hand-in-hand with his new-found Thai girlfriend. He may be blissfully walking, but he is also blissfully unaware that his girl is squirming under the harsh, pince-nez glare of Thai society around her. That’s because couples can’t show displays of affection in public. Guys and guys can hold hands, since that’s not sexual unless you’re dancing to Bronski Beat on DJ Station’s retro night. Girls and girls are also very touchy-feely for similar reasons. But a guy and a girl holding hands suggests sexual attraction, and that is as frowned upon in public here as it is necessary to perpetuate that very same society. If holding hands is considered a little too intrusive by Thai standards, then what about kissing? I wasn’t aware of the total absence of kissing on the streets until one morning, about 15 years ago, as I crept along in my car at snail’s pace on Srinakharin Road. My eyes casually glanced at a young Thai couple, probably about 18 years old, standing at the bus stop … kissing. I nearly rear-ended the pick-up in front of me. No, I was not being prudish nor voyeuristic; I realized that after ten years in Thailand, that was the first time I’d spotted anybody kissing in public. It’s a cultural thing. In Australian culture we too have some things we are not meant to do in public. Picking your nose, for example. Kissing, though, is okay. Here in Thailand it’s the opposite. I once watched a man sitting with his wife on a bus as he picked his nose, carefully examined the contents on his fingers, then flicked it out into the crowded street. The three-step process took a good minute to complete. His wife didn’t flinch. Nobody did, except for me of course. Now imagine if he spent that one minute kissing his wife instead. The entire bus would be up in arms, with the exception of the bus driver one would hope – who would steer? This is also apparent in Thai TV dramas. They can manipulate, murder, scream, slap, double-cross and speak in shrill voices – but kiss? (Strangely, when we farangs perform the heinous act, be it in a Hollywood movie or HBO series shown on local TV, it is not pixelated. We swinging westerners are morally depraved anyway. Stopping us is a lost cause.) Not being able to kiss, let alone have sex, on TV dramas must cause all sorts of headaches for producers, since Thai soapies revolve around sex-hungry men and nymph-like women willing to sleep their ways to the top, then to the bottom, then to the top again. How do they get around that? The ever-resourceful Thais have invented another way of showing affection in place of the kiss. They sniff the other person’s cheek. It’s called horm gaem in Thai, and the literal translation is “sniff the cheek.” It is seen as a little more delicate, a little less up close and personal than the interlocking of lips. To show affection, you bring your nose close up to the cheek of the person in question – and sniff. Now how nice is that? Not a drop of saliva or – worse – tongue is required. Last week I watched a scene on a local soap where the starlet, playing the role of a university student, was cornered by three evil thugs with lily-white skin and Korean-style haircuts. Being a thug requires some acting ability so the producers decked these guys out in tattoos and silver chains to save them the ordeal of having to emote. One of the thugs started to attack the girl. Grabbing her arms and pinning her down, he brought his head to hers and … … sniffed her cheek. So even a sex-crazed thug remains polite in his crime. In his critical moment of unbridled passion, he went for the sniff. No doubt he performed a traditional Thai wai after he zipped up his fly. And by the way, if a kiss is bad, why is it okay to show such wanton acts of violence? Thai soap operas are full of bloody shoot-outs by tattooed thugs with weapons way bigger than their acting talents. In other words; a man cannot kiss his wife, but it’s okay for him to pull out a gun and shoot her point blank. Camera lingers on blood and grey matter on the wall. Cut to commercials – lots of ‘em. I admire the Thai ingenuity in making up an alternative to kissing. It’s just that I don’t find cheek-sniffing that arousing. You can’t slip the tongue in for a start. What if the cheeks are pock-marked? What about people with hideous dimples? Do you sniff around those? I think it’s lovely when Thai children greet or farewell their parents with a sniff of the cheek. That warms the cockles of my heart. But my cockles remain frigid in situations where sniffing the cheek is supposed to take on a sexy nature. Go to any Thai wedding and you’ll see what I mean. In Australia we have that all-important announcement: “You may kiss the bride.” Invariably a table of the groom’s best drunken mates starts shouting “SLIP THE TONGUE IN!” This is hilarious if you have already exceeded the drink-driving limit; otherwise it merely belies our convict origins. Well surprise surprise; Thailand has the same thing. At any Thai reception, as the bride and groom stand on stage, there are usually a few groom’s friends who too have overstepped the Mekhong whiskey mark. They don’t want to get off on a tongue, though. What do they wanna see? “SNIFF HER CHEEK! SNIFF HER CHEEK!” they scream lustily across the rented hotel ballroom, comments met with as much laughter as there is chagrin. Oh, do what you like, dear reader. Find yourself a cheek to sniff. If you want to sniff mine then go ahead, for when it comes to cockles, the warmer the better. /Andrew
  5. 1 point
    CRICKET BALLS By Andrew Biggs Today is day one of the first test cricket match of the Australian summer. It’s Australia versus India at the Adelaide Oval. Australia is still reeling from the ball tampering scandal in South Africa last year, and they face the world’s number one test playing nation, India, who have never beaten Australia in a series here. Australia’s two leading batsmen are not on the team, having been banned for 12 months after the ball tempering scandal. One is the captain, and since that controversy Australia has lost heavily in all forms of the game. On top of this, just last Tuesday there were allegations against the brother of the sole Muslim member of the Australian side, who was arrested when it was discovered he was involved in a terrorist plot against Australian politicians and landmarks in this country. Okay, let’s stop right there. All that above information I gleaned from my little brother, who now sits transfixed before the TV set as the cricket test begins, a microcosm of the entire country of Australia. I did happen to ask him: “So, what’s this cricket test?” and I was met with a stony silence until the ad break, when he turned and imparted the knowledge I used at the top of this column. Once the ads were finished, I returned to my invisible state and any attempt at verbal communication was sacrificed for cricket. I’m in my hometown of Brisbane for a week. People often ask me what Australia’s national religion is. I answer: Sport. Forget Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. We worship cricket. There aren’t many things that drive red-blooded Aussie men to the brink of orgasm, but I would hazard a guess and say Miranda Kerr, Kylie Minogue and Shane Warne would rank in the top 3 and not necessarily in that order. I am Australian in so many ways, but my confession is I can’t stand cricket. Try as I might, I cannot get myself aroused at the sight of eleven men dressed in white spending five days — yes, my American readers, five long days — on an oval playing one single game. I was born into a family of stark raving mad cricketers. My childhood was a mix of worshipping Jesus Christ and some obscure New South Welshman named Donald Bradman, while my mother went weak at the knees at Max Walker and the ubiquitous Chappell brothers. My older brother Stephen had a shrine to Dennis Lillee in his bedroom while younger brother Egg spent hundreds of hours on his bed poring over cricket book statistics in an era long before the internet threw them up in your face in a millisecond. Then there was Andrew. Strange dark Andrew, the Wednesday child, full of woe, disinterested in cricket and favoring writing short stories and reading books. “He’s a strange thing,” it was whispered behind the melanoma-spotted palms of my extended family. It was perfectly ok for Egg to hole himself up for hours in his bedroom deciphering cricket statistics. Woe betide wacko Andrew who wanted to while away the hours reading Charles Dickens and Somerset Maugham. Let me tell you it was hard being the literary one in a family that put streamers up when Kepler Wessels announced he would bat for Queensland. Later I became a journalist writing feature articles for the Queensland Courier-Mail, even picking up an award, but on a scale of one to 10 my career rated a 3 next to brother Egg when he was selected for the Queensland second eleven for one brief week back in the early 1980s. He never went out on the pitch to play, but if I mention that I am accused of “always wanting to spoil things”. When we were barely out of diapers, my father registered our three names on the waiting list for the Melbourne Cricket Club. The MCC is the most hallowed of clubs to belong to for any Australian with a waiting list of 30 years. “Just think,” my father would say during our primary school years, “In another 25 years you’ll be able to enjoy matches from the Long Room at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.” Any reply from me such as “but we live 2,000 kilometres away from Melbourne, Daddy” was greeted with a clip around the ears. “Not long now,” my father would say as we hit senior school. “Another 15 years or so and you’ll have that coveted membership in your hands.” We had hit puberty so my brothers were able to get a tingle in their loins at that thought. For me it remained the equivalent of erectile dysfunction. “Almost within reach,” my father would say in our college years. By this stage I was writing short stories and even novels, not that anybody knew. Meanwhile my family could recite Egg’s latest score on the field as his cricket career blossomed. Then, a terrible turn of events. In 1984 I was sent down south as Melbourne correspondent for The Courier-Mail. It was a two-year posting and I had to send stories 2,000 km back to Queensland. It came with a number of perks, such as free cab fares, subsidized rent … … and free membership to the MCC. Upon hearing the news, my family went ballistic. The irony did not pass over them that the one family member who loathed the game was the only one who was able to saunter in and out of the MCG whenever the mood took him. “Had a good night in the Long Room last night,” I would say on one of my many infrequent calls to my brothers and parents. “Spoke to one of the Chappell brothers, not that I knew which one it was.” More heretically, I was using the pass to fulfil my new-found interest in Aussie Rules – salt in the wound in my family’s eyes. Suddenly my brothers took an interest in me. Egg, who, had he been on the TItanic would have packed his favorite cricket ball and groin protector before going off to save women and children, was down visiting me in a flash. “Where is it?” were his first three words upon my greeting him at Tullamarine airport, hand outstretched. I obediently placed the membership badge in his hand and didn’t see him for the rest of his visit, except on rest days. Two years later my time was up and I moved to Sydney. The MCC badge was handed on to the person who replaced me, and I was non-compos-Andrew once again in my family. In 1989 I moved to Thailand and it was around then I got the phone call from my father. “Just to let you know your MCC membership has come up.” Then, a little sadly, he adopted his father-to-10-year-old tone with me. “And you know I think you should take it up. You never know when you’ll be in Melbourne and –“ “— and what, Dad? Suddenly develop an interest in cricket? It ain’t gonna happen, Dad. You have to face it … I just won’t ever turn. Please. Understand that.” And then, really pathetically, I added: “I’m sorry.” Family dynamics can be trying things. Just when I think mine is the most dysfunctional on the planet, I learn that just about every other family feels that way about their own. For me, I may continue to perform, write, host and produce things of quality and distinction, but because I lack that all-important gene, I may as well just sit at home scratching my cricket balls. If I had any to scratch. /Andrew
  6. 1 point
    TURD SACK By Andrew Biggs I once had a student who was preparing for a trip to Australia. He was a 30-year-old engineer from Chiang Mai who’d won a three-month scholarship to Melbourne. His English wasn’t great but he was a fast learner and diligent. Anyway, it wasn’t his English that bothered me. It was the way he spelt his name: Turdsack. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t immediately jump up and slap my knee and look to the heavens as I guffaw over a name worthy of an Asian bus conductor out of a Carry On movie. Actually I am perfectly at home with a name like Turdsack; the last syllable rhymes with “truck” anyway, and both syllables are stand-alone Thai words with magnificent, almost elegant meanings. The problem was he was on his way to Australia. As a native of that country it was my civic duty to inform him such a spelling of his elegant name might render otherwise civil Australians speechless or, at worst, stifling giggles at his first Melbourne function. “Do you, er, have any other names you go by?” I asked bespectacled Khun Turdsack as he sat opposite. (This is not such a ridiculous question in this country. My artist is known as Banjerd to his family, Vichien to his work colleages, and Black Ant to his mates. I suspect his plethora of names has more to do with dodging loan sharks than auspicious sounding names, however.) He didn’t. His name was Turdsack and his nickname was Sack. Neither was going to bode well in Melbourne. “Look, I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to be frank with you,” I said. “You have to change the spelling of your name.” “Why, Ajarn Andrew?” young Turdsack enquired, leaning forward, and I told him in no uncertain terms. At first he tried to remain calm but soon his eyes widened. “A sack is a big bag?” he asked. “And a turd is …?” “Yes,” I said, adding that colloquially it also meant a nasty person. I blame Thai linguists, who have decided that a transliterated “a” sounds like the “u” in “truck”, hardly a common way to pronounce it in English. That aside, the trouble is that Turdsack sounds really nice in Thai. “Turd”, for example, means respect for somebody, while “sack” is power or ability. One of the joys of learning a language thoroughly is that after a while you begin to hear the nuances; the beauty of words as they tumble out of your mouth. No better example of this is “Porn”, the popular woman’s name. There is a richness, a beauty about this word in Thai, and so it should since the word itself means “blessing” or “benediction.” Tragically we in the West associate those four letters with something on the other side of the linguistic playing field far detached from richness and beauty (unless you find Hustler Magazine a blessing … tell me you don’t). Every night the sounds of thundering male laughter echo across Patpong as foreign guys learn their new friend’s name is “Porn” or some derivative such as “Porntip” or “Somporn.” Hilarious. It’s a travesty, I know, that one of the Thai language’s most beautiful words ends up trashy in English. In my first month in Thailand I stayed for a few nights at “Porn House” in Chiang Rai. Much to my surprise there were no neon flashing lights, windowless walls or Gideon Bibles as you find in more seedy establishments. It was guest house run by a friendly 30-something teacher named Porn. On the second day I was there I made a really stupid comment, as Miss Porn was making me a cup of coffee and Vegemite on toast. “Do you know what your name means in English?” I asked. The change in Porn’s face was clear. From a sunny morning disposition she juxtaposed into dull resignation, albeit quickly, until she forced herself back into sunny disposition. The only thing missing was her rolling her eyes. “It means something bad,” she muttered. “Would you like one toast or two?” At the time I thought she’d been offended by my mentioning a rude word in English, but no, of course not. What really happened was a brief disclosure of her tedium at hearing Farang #5,987 enquiring about her name, and all the titillation that accompanied the enquiry. I wasn’t any different from the rest of them after all, she was no doubt thinking. Once again the official linguists are at fault. More than a hundred years ago they decided that a “P” sound in Thai should be rendered as “PH”. We have Russian tourists right now referring to Phuket as “Fooket”, or the already-unpronounceable Ko Phang-ngan as “Ko Fang-nygngygngan”. At least that’s how it sounds to me. And yet … the one Thai transliteration that SHOULD be spelt with the silly PH rule ends up as Porn. Why isn’t it Phorn, or, even more distantly, Phon? We in the know could still pronounce it correctly, but at least it would wipe the smile off the drunken faces of Nana Plaza sex tourists. More than a few Thai women bearing this name have sent me emails about this as they travel overseas. Should we write it a different way? I am torn between two camps. Why attempt to alter something that is so majestic in its mother language? At the same time, Thai women already undergo brutal treatment at the hands of foreign customs officers, not to mention the pervading overseas reputation of Bangkok as a sex capital. Isn’t having a name like Porn just going to exacerbate things? I wish the Porn question was more cut and dried, such as my friend Go who spelt his last name in English as Cun-ta-vichai. The two hyphens I put in myself. He dispensed with them, and the result was more than I could remain silent on. “But it’s spelt like that on my passport!” he protested. “Change your passport,” I said. Such are the landmines embedded in our travel across languages, and by the way it is a two-way street. Simple English words we use on an hourly bases (here, he, yet) have vulgar meanings in Thai if spoken with the right — or wrong — intonation. If your name is John, it means “poor” in Thai. Bob is a scary Thai ghost with a pinprick for a mouth. Tom is a lesbian. Tim means “thrust” or “poke,” while Mark is betelnut. My own name sounds a little like the Thai word for “cute”, which is all well and good and breaks the ice at parties. But if you switch the syllables around, as Thais like to do for fun, it means: “Show us your … private parts.” Of all the nerve! I’m changing my name to Turdsack! Speaking of my bespectacled student, the story has a great ending. Young Turdsack returned for his next English lesson having done all his homework. At the end of his lesson he said to me: “I took your advice.” About what? Nobody ever takes my advice! “My name. I changed the way I spell it,” he said. And he brought out his notebook. On the cover he’d crossed out “Turdsack”. In its place? “Turdsuck.” /Andrew
  7. 1 point
    BYE BYE BRUNCH By Andrew BIggs This week marks the end of an era at the Bangkok Post, as we bid farewell to the part of the paper known as Brunch. It has been my home for almost ten years, since I began writing this weekly column in the first week of 2009. But do not despair (or rejoice); neither I nor the Bangkok Post is going anywhere. It is just a cosmetic change. Compare it to your getting a new haircut, or changing your predominant clothing color, or emblazoning a new tattoo of fire that licks up the side of your neck to your chin, rendering you unemployable at least anywhere around me. It was the Lord Buddha himself who called on his followers to embrace change. He called it anicca. Things are constantly in a state of flux, the Lord Buddha explained, and thus one cannot tether oneself to anything in this world, including Sunday magazines with the name Brunch attached to them. Unfortunately, to describe anything like this as merely cosmetic is not entirely telling the truth. The media on the whole is being turned upside down by this current massive technological tidal wave, and it’s not just Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman who are feeling the brunt of it. Every single one of us is witnessing changes at a rate never before experienced in the history of man. I just finished reading Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, a fascinating account of we humans from 200,000 years ago to the year 2018. There are events that dramatically changed humanity’s course, such as the cultivation of wheat, or the taming of electricity, or the invention of the printing press, or embarking on voyages of new world discovery. These changes were at a snail’s pace when compared to how our lives have rapidly altered by the internet which, incredibly, had only been with us extensively for a little over a decade before this column began in Brunch. The internet has changed us technologically, economically and behaviorally. Of the last category, in academic circles there is concern about how to educate Generation Alpha, children born after the year 2010, who no longer view tablets and cell phones as objects separate from themselves. They are perceived as appendages like arms and legs. Nor can they concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes. Why do these children need to learn anything, when the collective knowledge of mankind is available to them at the tap of a finger? But we are talking about changes to the media. Now that we are all connected, we have an insatiable appetite for news. And yet the traditional and authoritative news sources we have relied on for decades, or even centuries, now feel the heat. The thirst for news has moved online. Circulation figures for newspapers in their traditional form — that is, printed on paper — is a shadow of figures from 25 years ago. When I first came to Thailand, Bangkok had 16 daily newspapers. I counted them one morning. Sixteen! The majority have gone … and yet the number of people reading news may indeed have tripled or quadrupled since that time. I am a child of the printed medium. I was part of an intake of cadet journalists who were also on the cutting edge of technology; the paper I worked for had just been computerized. Gone were the hot metal racks of letters being lined up to print the daily paper. How modern and technologically forward we were! Back in those days, we cadet journalists were lectured on the importance of objectivity. We tried our hardest to distance ourselves from the facts and present something that was as objective as possible. This was fraught with difficulties. The fact we had to choose the most important part of the story to make the lead paragraph meant we had to suspend objectivity for a moment. And of course, we were all racing to get the best, most sensational story and there were many times we didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. But at least we had that ideology. At least we had that goal. Another important difference was this; what we wrote was passed to a chief of staff and editors for editing and to choose what should go on page one, where the most important stories were found. Such was the gate-keeping role within the media organization. That era is long gone. The whole notion of objectivity and news selection has flown out the window. Nobody wants to wait until the morning to check up on the news when it is available, live and streaming, read by breathless raconteurs, 24 hours a day on websites. Gone, too, is the middle man; the gate-keeping component of journalism since anybody, and I mean anybody, can set up a news website these days. This new era of journalism is about opinions and stand-points, as odious as they may be. Fox News has cleverly tapped into the fears and bigotry within the hearts of a large swathe of the under-educated American population. Meanwhile over at CNN they are making celebrities out of their anchors and reporters, rather than focusing on their jobs of relating the news in an objective manner. Then we have despot leaders like Donald Trump who shout “fake news” at any news organization that prints the facts about him, demeaning the traditional press, confusing the general public even further. And with such freedom in shouting opinions to millions, the insidious element creeps in; Russia appears to have infiltrated the American election via news boards and news sites, swaying opinions and leading constituents to vote in a particular way. This could never have happened in the olden days, when alcoholic chiefs of staff cast a blurry eye over the day’s copy and decided what was good for publication and what was not. I am not against what the Buddha said. I am happy to embrace change. But I do regret some social change, and not just the move from paper to online for our news sources. We are no longer coagulated as a society. We have stopped passing around the same newspaper to read at the breakfast table, after which we could discuss more contentious news items. We have stopped sitting down as a family to watch the same TV shows at night time, to discuss the next morning at the water cooler, choosing instead our own personal Netflix to go sit in our rooms and watch on our own. We have stopped flicking on the radio, collectively getting excited when some ear-worm jumps to number one, choosing to make our personal playlists instead. Try as I might, I can’t find anything social about social media at all. Last Sunday I found myself sitting in the brand spanking new Da Nang international airport in Vietnam, waiting for a flight home to Bangkok. I had an hour to kill, but luckily I had a book in my bag. Half an hour into reading it, I looked up. I realized of those many dozens of people waiting with me in the lounge, every single one of us had our head down staring at things in our hands. Every one of us. There was absolutely no verbal interaction going on. And it was me, only me, among those dozens of people clutching a book. Yes, Lord Buddha, all things must change. But at this rate? See you next week, dear reader, which may come a little quicker than you think! Yours, Andrew -- เว็บไซต์: https://forum.andrewbiggs.com ไลฟ์แชท: https://lc.chat/now/10033960/ อีเมล์: hello@andrewbiggs.com เฟสบุ๊ค: https://www.facebook.com/andrewbiggsacademy/ ทวิตเตอร์: https://twitter.com/andrewbiggs ยูทูป: https://www.youtube.com/user/khroochang Official LINE: @andrewbiggs
  8. 1 point
    SCREECHING NUMBERS By Andrew Biggs The phone number was not one I knew, but still I took the call. “This is Immigration Police … we’d like to make a time to see you.” Would such a phone call initially have given you a chill down your spine as it did with me? I may live a life as chaste as Mother Teresa but I still feel a sudden surge of guilt. It’s a bit like getting a phone call from the Revenue Department, or the Supreme Court, or the Narcotics Bureau. A shrill voice from the back of my brain immediately screams: “I didn’t do it!” before the voice of reason slaps that shrill voice down. I do not have much to do with Immigration Police other than my annual trek to Chaengwattana for my re-entry stamp in my passport. It is not an unpleasant task. There’s always a great OTOP market in the central part of the building and I make it a point to get there early in the day with the latest New York Times bestseller tucked under my arm. The service is streamlined and I’m out within an hour or two. I have no complaints. Bar one. There is an automated voice service that permeates the atmosphere of Thai Immigration. This is the female voice that announces whose visa applicant’s number is up, and to which counter the applicant should make his or her way. Only this woman doesn’t announce. She barks. She spits out numbers the same way I spit out fermented fish when I accidentally eat it . “Number … NINETY-THREE … at counter number … EIGHT.” That NINETY-THREE and subsequent EIGHT are laced with anger and betrayal. It is the voice of a woman who has just discovered her boyfriend has been messing around with her best friend. She’s livid. And she wants revenge. If she is indeed human, then she needs therapy and she needs it now before she even thinks of issuing any further recordings for public broadcast. And it is not the kind of voice one wants to hear when processing an application. Seriously. We need to hear Sade or the Brandenburg Concertos or — and I never thought I would ever publically state this — Kenny G’s Greatest Hits. Instead it’s Scorned She-Devil. It’s almost as if Immigration wants a foreboding atmosphere. What new terror awaits ticket number ninety-three at counter number eight? A monster? Worse, her voice ricochets across that vast Immigration waiting room since there are speakers strategically set up so that sometimes she can be heard somewhere to the left. Then to the right. Then ahead. Then behind. It’s Dawn Of The Dead when the zombies surround the house; inescapable, trapped and terrifying. In the 1970s there was a spate of disaster movies such as the Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno. I was but a child and yet fascinated with them — what child wouldn’t love the thought of a ocean liner flipping upside down or a skyscraper on fire? Then came Earthquake, a movie starring Charlton Heston in which the city of Los Angeles was reduced to rubble. Well that movie came with a theatre gimmick called “Sensurround”, which in hindsight was just the bass turned right up. The entire cinema would rumble and shake as if you were right in the middle of a real earthquake. That was 40 years ago … so why would Sensurround suddenly pop back into my head after four decades, sitting at Immigration at Chaengwattana with my Zadie Smith? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it … this woman’s voice is just like Sensurround. It permeates every nook and cranny of the place. It is designed to shake and cajole. I know nothing about the woman who makes these announcements, although I have a feeling I know her older sister. From 2006 to about 2010, when Suvarnabhumi airport first opened, there was a woman’s voice that could be heard every time you took one of those people movers. As you approached the end of it, the woman’s voice would say in Thai: “Rawang sinsut tang leuan.” Be careful stepping off the people mover. It was a soft Thai voice, clear and polite. Then she would say it again in English: “End of the walk!” She didn’t just say it. She blurted it out as if you, the passenger, had tied her up and forced her to watch as you murdered her parents in cold blood with a Chatuchak hacksaw. “End of … the walk!” she screamed at you, the word “walk” revealing she was possessed by the devil incarnate. Why did this pleasant Thai voice have to become so intimidating and insidious when shouting at foreigners? And which high-ranking Airports of Thailand official signed off on it? “Hmmm, I think this one sounds the best,” an AOT executive in a badly-fitting Robinson department store workshirt said, nodding to others at a meeting back in 2006 before the airport opened. Do you see the common thread here? Immigration … Suvarnabhumi … foreign tourists to Thailand may be increasing in number, but who knows how long that will last whilst we are barked at and subliminally vilified at every mandatory checkpoint in the country. You know who I feel sorry for the most? The Thai Immigration officers. They must sit at their desks from 8.30 am to 4 pm every day listening to her. Does it ever go away? A friend who lives near the airport says he doesn’t hear the planes any longer. Could an Immigration officer work efficiently with that screeching going on, relentlessly, throughout civil service hours? Two years ago, I ran into an acquaintance who worked at Immigration. She asked me how I felt about the service and whether there was room for improvement. I told her everything was good except for that hideous voice. There was an ever-so-slight roll of the eyes, suggesting she too was tired of the voice. She explained that the voice was Chinese since it came with the purchased announcement program. “What you need,” I explained, “Is a softer voice. One that’s a little more polished around the edges. You know, friendly and inviting and yet at the same time very clear. A voice that reassures people that everything is fine, and that isn’t too grating to the ear. And preferably a native English speaker.” Like my own, I heard myself say. That was two years ago. Well today, dear reader, you are in for a surprise. Say your final farewell to the voice of that avenging female. Off with your head, Cersei Lannister of Chaengwattana! Begone, oh grievous voice that summoneth foreigners to numbered counters! Your services are no longer required. That’s because a new voice is here; a voice whose tone is as calming as it is dulcet. Soft and yet strong, it is a voice that could send babies to bed, and it’s male. With a twinge of Antipodean. And … it’s me. Yes, dear reader, that was the reason for the phone call from Immigration. I had done nothing wrong; and last Thursday, I entered a Sutthisarn recording studio and laid down some tracks, as we say in the business, which entailed counting from one to 900 and telling people to visit counters with numbers. So next time you’re at Immigration and find yourself in Australian Sensurround, don’t be too harsh in your condemnation. Remember the alternative. /Andrew
  9. 1 point
    NOT DEAF, VERY DUMB By Andrew Biggs There has been a commotion this past week in the media over the appearance of two attractive young westerners begging for money at a Khlong Toey intersection. Just four days ago The Bangkok Post published a photograph of one of them, a woman, clutching a bunch of Thai flags and trying to flog them off car window to car window. There was a man as well. Why were they begging? Why were they so attractive? And most importantly to the authorities — did they have work permits? It wasn’t just the Bangkok Post that spotted these two. Your favorite columnist came face to face with them almost a whole week before they hit the media! It was Friday morning, December 1, and I was on Kasemrat Road waiting for the lights to turn red at the Rama 4 Road T-junction. I was sitting in the back of my stately automobile while my driver and personal assistant sat in the front. My PA was playing a popular luk thung song over the car stereo system. Normally I would never allow the likes of hired help to control my own car’s playlist, but he was playing one particular song because he “thought I might be interested in it from a language point of view.” It’s a song sung by a young Thai country singer who bemoans the fact he cannot speak English and thus cannot pick up western girls. To rub salt into the wound, all the pretty Thai girls he knows aren’t interested in him on account of their desire to hook up with foreign men. (A terrible cop-out; this singer, even dressed up in his glittery rhinestone-studded jacket and posing to a camera with gauze stretched over its lens, has a face only his mother would love. A little less kabuki make-up along with a jar or two of protein powder may yield better results than an English conversation course.) The name of the song is Ai Khui Bor Khaeng which is truly ingenious, revealing the Thai people’s wicked sense of humor. It means “I Don’t Speak English Well,” but really it is a lewd play on words. When sung quickly, it sounds very much like “My Penis Isn’t Erect”. To date it has racked up nearly a million hits on YouTube proving that toilet humor is universal. That is how I remember the sudden appearance of the western beggar. “I Don’t Speak English Well” was blaring out of the speakers, my PA explaining how one particular Thai vowel turns the linguistic lament into a paean to erectile dysfunction, when I was aware of the appearance of a street beggar clutching paper Thai flags. He was in his early twenties, looking healthy, and much better-looking than the runt singing that double-entendre country song. He looked as though he’d hopped a bus from Khaosan Road to Khlong Toei. And he stopped at each car lined up at the red light, handing over a Thai flag with a small slip of paper. “Wind down the window!” I bellowed at my driver. “And turn down that godawful song!” Both orders bore instant fruit. As my driver wound down his window, the smiling young >>farang<< passed a Thai flag to my driver along with the slip of paper before walking off. In perfect Thai, the printed message read: “Hello. I’m a deaf man. I’m selling this flag for 100 Baht so I can save up enough money to buy a hearing aid. Can you help me?” A deaf guy? Saving up to buy an earphone? Yeah right. And I’m a Saudi prince. “He doesn’t look deaf,” said my PA immediately. “He’s too handsome to be deaf.” There was no time to berate my PA for his un-PC views on the disabled, even if he did have a point. I was more offended by anyone, regardless of aural affliction, flogging a 20 baht Thai flag for five times its price. Within 30 seconds the allegedly hearing-impaired beggar was back. “Hand it back,” I barked to my driver, to which he wound down the window and obeyed. The man took it back and was gone. I do regret that last order; had my stinginess and outrage over the inflated flag not marred my judgment, I would have purchased it then and there to use as evidence for this column. But that wasn’t the end of it. As the lights changed and we moved forward onto Rama 4 Road, I realized the guy wasn’t alone. There was another foreigner peddling the overpriced flags — a very attractive blonde woman. “Look at her!” my PC exclaimed as we whizzed past. “So many attractive deaf people today!” It really was a jarring experience on so many levels. We foreigners do behave badly over here so often. Didn’t we just have two gay guys baring their buttocks at a temple? Now even the deaf ones are playing up. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve spotted westerners standing on the streets of Khlong Toei doing things that people of sane mind would never think to perform. Now and again there are religious types, foreigners who stand on the side of the road with a loud speaker attached to a long pole, blaring out messages about how we should repent our sins and turn to Jesus because he is the Lord. It takes a special kind of nutcase to stand in the blazing heat amid petrol fumes, holding a pole with a speaker extolling the virtues of Jesus — or rather, the peril of not doing so. These poor souls have nothing going for them; being religious types, they naturally don’t possess the physical beauty we saw in those two faux deaf backpackers. Anyone lacking sexual appeal needs something to clutch onto in life, hence the religious poles. They may be wacky, but the fresh-faced youngsters clutching flags are worse. They are taking advantage of the kind nature of Thais. Here in this Buddhist country there is the notion of “making merit”, or doing something altruistic in order to create good karma. My next door neighbour, for instance, is a very elegant lady with never a hair out of place and always immaculately dressed. I just found out she spends one morning each weekend cleaning out the toilets of the local temple. It’s something she does for no other reason than to perform a good deed. Buddhism promotes this kindness and self-sacrifice. So when young people get it into their heads that it would be great to play on the generosity of the locals by faking a disability, I get a little angry. I’d take it one step further; even if they are deaf, what right do they have milking motorists of 100 baht in exchange for a cheap flag? How upside-down is this modern world! Thais are convinced westerners are rich and Thais are poor. But did you notice the cute juxtaposition in the news this week? On the day these two impoverished foreigners were out plying the streets, deputy prime minister Pravit Wongsuwan was being held to task for being photographed wearing a Richard Mille wristwatch. It retails for up to 10 million baht. These two deaf foreigners want hearing aids? They should quit their street side antics right this minute and join the Thai army. /Andrew
  10. 1 point
    A SWINE OF A FLU By Andrew Biggs It’s been a busy two weeks for your favorite correspondent, who has managed to travel to eight different provinces in ten days. No, not adjacent provinces either. It was down to Songkhla, then up to Chiang Mai, then across to Nakhon Ratchasima, followed by Nakhon Nayok, Chonburi, Khon Kaen … et cetera. The result? Today, deadline day for this column, I am sick with the flu. Feeling wretched, sorry for myself, and lacking in wit and wisdom. It had to happen. One can’t sit in an airplane with 200 strangers and not expect to pick up something other than worthless frequent flier miles. It is also very bad timing; there have been news reports of a resurgence in swine flu with Livestock officials on guard against the African strain making its to Thailand again. Remind me to pray that doesn’t happen … again. In 2009 Thailand was hit with swine flu. What a horrible time that was to catch the simple flu. The country locked down as it tried to prevent the flu sweeping across the country. Anyone who caught the dreaded flu was not met with any sympathy or suggestions to drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. You were not considered a patient; you were treated as a leper. I know; I caught the flu right in the middle of the swine flu outbreak of 2009. Everybody was paranoid about catching it, because some 44 people succumbed to the disease that year and official figures show just under 5,000 people caught it. That was a mortality rate of just 0.88% but at the time we were all dead scared. In that climate of fear I came down with the flu. It was clearly just a regular flu, or at least that’s what my doctor told me, but he was just one opinion. The general population rushed to their sheds at the back of their houses to retrieve their ten-foot barge poles whenever they saw me coming in my regulation mask and pallid complexion. I remember jumping into the back seat of a taxi and coughing. No, not a thunderous, phlegmy, guttural cough from the depths of my lungs. It was more of an acceptable, almost foppish “a-hem” but the driver – who I might add had just extinguished a cigarette as I got into his nicotine-stained carriage – immediately wound down his window and stuck his nose out into the Bangkok pollution, as if that was somehow going to save him from the dreaded farang in the back seat. Lung cancer, mai pen rai. Farang flu, not on your life. Anyway I survived, and the odds are clearly in the favor of that taxi driver too. My trip to hospital during those scary times was not the usual happy experience. Happy? Oh yes. Visiting a hospital in Thailand always reminds me of my youth. Every August in Brisbane, Australia, we had what we called the Exhibition, a gathering of Queensland’s best of all things agricultural, if not cerebral, for one glorious week. It was the one week of the year the state’s farmers donned their best Akubra hats and stood in circles comparing the sizes of their horse studs. Going to the exhibition was an assault on your senses – the smell of beer, sawdust, horse manure, sheep, horse manure, fried foods and horse manure. But this is not why it reminds me of Thai hospitals. As a kid you had to go to the Exhibition pavilions where you bought what we called “sample bags” full of colorful cheap and nasty games and chocolates. I am reminded of those sample bags every time I go to hospital in Thailand, as I am about to explain. During swine flu of 2009, it was a different story. When I arrived at the hospital the usual young man in a suit escorted me over to a nurse who took my blood pressure then placed a thermometer in my mouth. “I don’t have a temperature,” I said rather pathetically as her hand, sensibly ensconced in rubber gloves, guided the mercury under my tongue. “38-point-five,” she said in a tone of voice used for axe murderers. “You have a temperature.” She may as well have said: “You’re the weakest link. Goodbye.” The suited young man whipped out a surgical mask and handed it to me. “Wear this,” he said curtly, and then, as if his arm had been twisted: “Khrab.” He, too, donned a mask as he guided me into the antiseptic depths of despair known as the waiting room. There, dozens of other masked folk sat waiting for their names to be called. After depositing me there he shuffled off in the direction of the bathrooms, no doubt to shed his suit in preparation for a full-body hose and scrub down. It didn’t take long for the cattle to be herded in, one by one, and soon I was face to face with a doctor who, in my allotted three minutes, told me I had a flu but “probably not swine flu”. That’s because my temperature hadn’t reached 39 degrees. He figured I wasn’t at risk. This was at the tail end of the epidemic, and the doctor explained that being tested for swine flu would cost me 4,000 baht. This was back in the era before private hospitals got greedy, and 4,000 baht in 2009 would be equivalent to about 23,650 baht in today’s climate of fleece-what-you-can-from-the-patient. “Get plenty of rest and come back if your temperature goes over 39,” he said. I was then led to the cashier and drug dispenser where I received an exciting array of colored pills in little plastic bags. This is the medical equivalent of the Brisbane exhibition sample bags. And like those bags from my childhood, each little bag promised so much but ultimately delivered so little. “TAKE TWO EVERY SIX HOURS” one little packet sternly read. When I opened it, it was Tylenol. How disappointing — imagine my excitement had it been Diazepam or Cerepax! Now you’re talking, doctor! I spent four days in bed. Nobody visited. One of my friends, as a (literally) sick joke, told everybody I had swine flu. Ha ha, very funny, you may as well have bricked up the door to my bedroom. I would have gone crazy from the solitude save for one saving grace. I watched Seasons One and Two of the old 1980s prime time soap opera Dynasty. The day I was strong enough to return to work I ordered Season Three from Amazon because I didn’t think my life would be fulfilled if I didn’t find out what happened to Fallon’s baby. Since then I have always associated Krystle and Alexis with lying sick in bed all alone for a week surviving on rice porridge and Tylenol. The world has changed since 2009. Hospital fees have doubled, and I no longer have to order soap operas off Amazon thanks to Netflix and Pirate Bay. But the flu is still no fun, so I apologize for leaving you early this week to go get some further rest. Next week when I am feeling better I promise to regale you with hilarity and share with you more pearls of wisdom — pearls before swine in the very truest sense. Stay healthy, dear reader. Please comment below! /Andrew -- เว็บไซต์: https://forum.andrewbiggs.com ไลฟ์แชท: https://lc.chat/now/10033960/ อีเมล์: hello@andrewbiggs.com เฟสบุ๊ค: https://www.facebook.com/andrewbiggsacademy/ ทวิตเตอร์: https://twitter.com/andrewbiggs ยูทูป: https://www.youtube.com/user/khroochang Official LINE: @andrewbiggs
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