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  1. The week that was in Thailand news: Thai life's a gamble - but U-turns are to be expected My first day in Asia was spent in a casino. Not just a few hours - about 24. I was on a stop-over to Sydney from London and I had three nights at the Village Hotel in Metro Manila, Philippines. I never left the hotel at all - that was exciting enough. The friendly guys on the door of the casino checking passports had joked about me having the same name as the current US president. I said he was my uncle and the guffaws of laughter instantly endeared me to Asia. But unlike General Douglas MacArthur I never kept my promise to return to the island nation. Thailand saw to that. That casino visit was a lucky one. I won plenty on that first day then - unlike many gamblers - quit while I was ahead and used the proceeds to buy pacific prawns and chips of a different kind in Australia. I fell in love with betting as a teen in England and though I was never a professional I treated it as a money making exercise. I was not good enough to beat the government's 8-10% tax on horse racing at the time but it was great fun trying and taught me many life lessons. Cheltenham and Epsom were more like homes to me than Beckenham. I named a daughter after jockey Frankie Dettori and almost cried when he failed to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Enable in Paris last Sunday. I loved the sport of horse racing and betting was but a small part of that. On my travels in Asia and afield I went to the "derbies" in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia. I was amazed that Asians seemed to gamble more than even the Irish, something I now take for granted. Thailand was no different to other parts of Asia except in the fact of being totally two faced like a coin flip they might wager their dinner money upon. Whereas the Hong Kong Jockey Club virtually ran the economy and gambling was seen as almost a public duty, in Thailand people would say one thing and do another. Everybody from politicians to the man in the street condemned gambling in public. Then put their inheritance on the lottery, Hi-Lo or two flies climbing up a window. Politicians and police have always run casinos. Everyone seems to know where they are. The wealthy nip across the border for a flutter. Later they turned to football betting and the internet. Today the national lottery and horse racing in Bangkok remain the only two avenues for legal betting. There are always self-righteous crackdowns at World Cup and Euro championship time. Yet the vast majority of Thais gamble. It seems to perfectly fit their national psyche - no helmets and no condoms and to hell with road carnage and HIV! Isn't life one big risk, after all, and won't we get another stab at it in the next life!? I bet there is one.... Many have turned to cranial and penile protection but the thrill of a bet and the prospect of turning an easy profit sits comfortably even if not publicly admitted. Figures revealed this week showed that 57% of Thais (more than 30 million) gamble and many are addicted. Actually that is 57% who own up to it - with the stigma that is still in place you can bet your last baht it's more! Three large anti-gambling and health foundations said that 160 billion baht is bet on football, 153 and 150 billion on the illegal underground lottery and state version respectively. They have voiced fears of a rise in gambling among the 15 to 18 age group....no need to wonder where the youngsters get it from. Gambling addiction is a very real problem that Thailand is right in addressing. I gambled for 40 years before giving up and was never addicted but I can appreciate the compulsion. I enjoyed the thrill of wins even though I accepted I'd lose in the long run, which I did. When I retired from teaching and Crystal Palace avoided relegation soon thereafter I knew my gambling days were over. The thrill of working out probabilities of what is likely to come out of a Scrabble bag have proved sufficient ever since. While the gambling story served to reinforce what many of us old hands already knew other stories in an eventful week on Thaivisa both confirmed and surprised us (though my calculating mind still put that ratio at about 90-10% in favor of lack of surprise!). The week began with a loss of face from Immigration regarding their "biometrics" system that is like Big Oud's pet. The chief got testy when Fido failed to nab a serial fraudster called "Sia Top" who disappeared to Hong Kong with a "pretty's" wedding money. Later in the week in front of a myriad of vinyl boards Sompong was singing his two billion baht baby's praises again having stopped three foreigners. Yes, three! He plucked a further 40,000 cases of overstayers from the ether and said they had swelled the nation's coffers by 90 million baht. Next stop the TAT for this whizz with figures. Whereas many gave Sompong's larger than life predecessor Big Joke the benefit of the doubt no one gives any credence to this reincarnation at Suan Phlu. He's dour by comparison, as befits someone who was hardened by working on the border down south, perhaps. Then came a story about how the authorities were coming up with new tracking devices. This was apparently so that plod could more likely be in the right place at the right time to solve crime. Methinks the machine's mainframe may overload with reports that rozzers are at their mia noi's, the local karaoke or most likely, still asleep in their booths. Still, let's look on the bright side - new devices always mean the possibility of more corruption both in their procurement and in their operation. Corruption also figured highly when BBC Thai announced they had evidence that deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister Thammanat Prompao had been jailed for four years in Sydney for heroin smuggling. He had a different name but this hardly seemed enough to exonerate him. This is now common knowledge and it appears that Uncle Too - in a shag pile sweeping move - has advised the embattled minister to stop banging on about defamation. He had threatened 100 lawsuits but now seems happy to hope that it all blows over and he can keep his grubby hands in a new trough. And let's face it the downtrodden farmers are always good for a billion or two as leaders all the way to the top have found out since rice grew in fields. Fallout from Khao Yai National Park continued as it was revealed that 11 elephants died in the fall at Haew Narok falls. A barrier has been ordered to prevent further tragedies. Might I suggest that a few million more are ordered for the nation's balconies, especially in Pattaya? The death of another animal - giant panda Chuang Chuang - also continued to make news. The Thais said that it was heart failure and not bad diet as many Chinese had claimed. But does bad diet not lead to heart failure in pandas? Either way it seems the Thais are happy to bamboo - zle the Chinese just so long as it doesn't affect tourism. Thailand's disregard for public safety was also to the fore when a two year old perched on the lap of a passenger in a car driven by a senior policeman's relative was killed. Yes, even the cheapest car seats do cost several thousand baht but they are a sensible investment. Yes, my children ride with me on a motorcycle. That is gambling enough but they sure as hell wear helmets and sit in car seats when we are all on four wheels. Gambling with his passengers' lives was the stand-in driver of the Route 8 bus in Bangkok caught on video going through and hitting a barrier at a level crossing. He was sacked but the story revealed the appalling state of the BMTA's regulations regarding concessionaires. On this occasion the regular driver - who had a stomach ache - had let his mate take over because he needed to earn some money. He went along too, not to provide moral support but because the stand-in didn't even know the route. The BMTA fined the operator a paltry but top whack 5,000 baht. As forum posters who know this disgraceful route pointed out, it is time for the BMTA to man up and sack the organ grinder, not just the monkey. Talking of which Thailand's organ grinder Big Too has ordered his monkies - how he views his subjects - to stop drinking to mark the end of Buddhist Lent. That might be observed by a few as today (Sunday October 13th) is an alcohol free day. This time of the year is when "kathin" ceremonies are held to give new robes to monks and this will form part of the Royal Barge Procession that will be held on Thursday week, October 24th. For people who have never seen this spectacle I would recommend it. Held infrequently it is the final part of HM Rama X's coronation. I was lucky enough to witness this "Amazing Thailand" event around twenty years ago when invited to the riverside Bank of Thailand by it's then governor MR Chatumongkol Sonakul. However, I remember our meeting as well as the dozens of brightly colored boats and magical chanting that accompanies their progress down the Chao Phraya River. "Mom Tao" extended his hand and I went to "wai" then he went to "wai" and I extended my hand. East and West never did quite meet on that occasion.... Yes, if you are in or around Bangkok on the 24th don't miss the Royal Barge Procession. Top click-a-thon of the week were a whole raft of stories about Thailand introducing compulsory insurance for long term visa holders. All attempts to clarify the situation just made the issue muddier and muddier as the week progressed. That is all I am saying on the matter - go to the threads and make your own mind up! But do remember that the deadline is October 31st and the Thai authorities, rather like the drivers on the kingdom's notorious roads, have been known to make unexpected U-turns....... Tourism and Sports minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn continued his efforts in making his idiotic predecessors look like sensible and sage gurus. He mounted a two pronged attack this week to save the country's tourism - the first was to bring the "Mazu"  or Ruby Goddess from Fujian in China to Thailand in November. Hordes of Mr and Mrs Woo's are expected. Wicked our kid! No doubt this fine initiative - juxtaposed with a perceived lack of critical thinking in Thailand that was reported elsewhere - will be followed by deliveries of Delhi deities. The second masterstroke was to propose a cut in the tariffs on designer goods, probably from 1,000% to 950%. Way to go Phee Phiphat! Though Rooster will hold off on treating the missus to a new Louis Vuitton handbag just for now, could you use your influence and billions to get a few baht off Vegemite, Blue Cheese and HP? Then you'll have my eternal thanks and I might even lay off you for a week. Finally to two internet dramas on different sides of the world that illustrate how similar nonsense inspires people of different cultures to click on the news. No, it's not the continuing and disgraceful shenanigans of Tweedledumb and Tweedledork on either side of the Atlantic. In Thailand it was the far more important reaction to the break-up of facially challenged Phee Meemee and his erstwhile heart-throb Nong Bee. Bee has dumped Meemee for a more handsome alternative causing an outpouring of netizen sympathy for Elephant Man. While in Blighty netizens and news media couldn't get enough of a spat between two WAGS (wives of English football stars Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy). Essentially Coleen R claims Rebekah V leaked details to the press while Ms V insists she is the victim of a hacker. A reminder that our online data is never safe. I mention this not that I imagine anyone in Thailand is remotely interested in the story but because of The Sun's brilliant headline: Wagatha Christie - Roodunnit. Respect for quality journalism. Rooster -- © Copyright Thai Visa News 2019-10-12 Follow Thaivisa on LINE for breaking Thailand news and visa info
  2. The week that was in Thailand news: Feeling more and more like a pint of Guinness Rooster is a lot like Guinness. I don't travel well. In fact as soon as I leave Rooster Central I wonder why I bothered and can't wait to get back home again. It wasn't always like this. In my youth the whole world seemed to be out there waiting for me and I wanted to experience every bit of it. I rarely booked return journeys. If I didn't like a place or needed a change I'd just go onto somewhere else. One of my early trips outside of England was to the Emerald Isle that in the early 1980's was hardly a sparkling jewel. I went to the Falls Road in Belfast and discovered that part of the UK was at war. Hitherto I had always been told of "the troubles" and when foreign media referred to the situation as a war zone I pooh-poohed the notion. Down in Dublin I was persuaded to sample that strange black drink that back in London had made me want to vomit. The barman went down to the other end of the bar and got one that had already been mostly poured and just topped it up. It actually tasted nice so I had another, and another....I never touched it again though. My experiences in Ireland gave me an impression that stayed with me for decades, that travel broadens the mind. It seemed a cliche but real nonetheless. It is only in the last five or ten years that I have started to question this idea. Maybe it's old age setting in but I have had enough of jetting off; even just taking a train or riding off into the sunset makes me want to turn back, go home, shut the door and get out a good book or a decent Netflix series instead. Am I becoming a meaningless old git? Please don't answer that in comments. Readers of this column will know that Rooster is a dyed in the wool Bangkokian. But I have tried to get out and see the kingdom and all its many glories. This week was no exception and I pointed the Civic north-eastwards, loaded up with Campbell's soup,linguine, tinned tomatoes, children and the wife and headed for the wilds of Loei. It started reasonably enough. Shortly before Khon Kaen we dropped in on Poster of the Year "Colin Neil" a wheelchair bound man from Preston who is known to many on the Thaivisa forum for his good humor and sense despite the adversity that Thailand has thrown at him. He told me about a well endowed lady he met called Milk. I countered with a story about a former Thai student who introduced me to his Double D mother who said, as I tried and failed to keep my eyes from her colossal cleavage, that she owned a dairy farm. Appropriately, that tickled old Colin, who drives the fastest disability scooter in the East.... The children loved the dogs and Mrs Rooster enjoyed meeting Colin's faithful and charming wife and soon all seemed at peace with the world as a huge orange Isanian sun dropped below the horizon and we contentedly completed our drive to the village of Non Somboon. On a patch of earth where I held eggs and was covered in string and anointed with mud fifteen years ago, there now stands a five bedroom house that I mostly paid for and my brother-in-law mostly built. It is surrounded by weeds and plastic bags and the dilapidated failure of a restaurant out front. The in-laws - decent people who are rather infirm these days - have been abandoned by their other daughter and son-in-law who have even dumped their children on them. Muggins helps pay for it all. They were pleased to see me and I them and I resolved to try to clear up some of the mess inside the house setting forth with gusto the next morning on an internal kitchen area next to where the serious cooking is done under corrugated iron outdoors. I knew I had to tread carefully - it's not my home and despite the mess these were their possessions. The microwave didn't work - the mice had chewed through the cord - but it couldn't be thrown away because they kept things on it. I suggested putting things on the worktop instead but this foray into rocket science was baffling. The gas stove had never been installed and the holes and what remained of a sink that had never been used were covered in what looked like a sheet of asbestos. Gran baffled me saying that food tasted better when cooked on an open fire made from wood and charcoal, though they rarely barbecue using aluminium pots instead. Several huge bins were gathering dust. They contained vast quantities of fermented fish covered in seething maggots. Mrs R said that mum really ought to throw out some of the maggots while Gran countered that each vat was worth 1,000 baht! I was warned off vocalizing what I was thinking. That a bio-terrorist would pay a lot more than that. Those fish could poison the whole of New York if someone tipped them in the water supply. I swept the daddy long legs away though Gran wondered why, made the fridge look like new again, scrubbed the floor and walls and changed the light bulbs that were too high for anyone else to reach. It hadn't occurred to anyone to use the ladder that was being trampled over and coated in poop by the chickens and ducks. (My what a terrible noise they made when I was trying to sleep in every early morning, the only time when our room was not like an oven). Within a couple of days my tidying was fast returning to what it was previously and I wondered why I'd bothered. I retreated to a bedroom to watch prerecorded TV and tried not to sulk. The dustmen came but didn't take the mountain of trash I'd collected. Perhaps they thought it was not their place. And why would Gran be throwing out rice sacks? We made a few side trips with the children. One to a water park was not bad though the som tam for lunch was horrible and the chicken one of those unpleasant "gai baan" things that reminded me why I hate anything organic. A visit to a lake and lunch on a "raft" was curtailed by a violent thunderstorm that terrified the children. The relatives bought their own fish and sticky rice and I made do with an unpalatable fried rice. I'd just read a thread about the folly of ordering prawns in Isan. I never learn and after annoying the missus counting the crustacea I started to count the days and the hours when I would get back to the sanctity of Bangkok and McDonald's. Friday's trip to a limestone cave high up in a mountainside near the town of Erawan was perhaps the highlight of the week. This cavernous space filled with Buddhas, stalagmites and stalagtites also scared the nippers witless and sent their mother into a spiral of vindictive hatred (actually caused by being tired and almost 80 seconds late for the next meal). On the way to the bus station I let rip at the mess and the ungrateful local kids who had not said a word of thanks for being taken out despite Gran's urgings to say "khop khun" to uncle Rooster. She backed me up - I have a lot of time for Gran - and even had a go at her own daughter. Happy Families! I was glad to be alone at the bus depot and finally on my way back to Bangkok. The knowledge that I would soon be in my own condo helped to overcome the fact that the bus was two hours late, broke down again en route, the man in the next seat was so big he had half of my space too, it took 30 minutes (twice) to fill up with LPG and was as uncomfortable and as long a trip as I'd once made from Lake Toba to Bukit Tinggi in Sumatra. Seeing my chance when a passenger alighted, I fled before Mo Chit and got in a taxi. I tipped the driver handsomely as he had brought me to my door in peace and safety. Travel? Never again I thought, and this time I might start to mean it. Seeing the lives people lead on Facebook (and all those annoying travel v-loggers) is starting to revolt me. The constant search for somewhere better than Thailand for the down at heel expats. The jet-setting around the world of the affluent "Scrabble Community" to play in tournaments. I'm even starting to give credence to the buzzword of the year coming out of Sweden namely "flygskam". The thought of shaming people for flying would have been unthinkable years ago but now the airline industry is accepting that concern over environmental damage is very real and will surely impact their business. I still feel two-faced but I haven't flown for a year.... Now it's part of the reason I won't be going to the World Championships in India this month. Another is the complicated visa. Another is the expense and poor prize money. Another is the possibility of having to go all that way from home and play a cheat. I'd sooner play with myself..... But the overriding feeling is I don't want to go anywhere anymore. I've had enough. My enthusiasm is shot. And so my week's holiday came to a blessed end. Those who followed the Thaivisa forum might have thought it a dull seven days of news. I'll be back translating again next week and, hopefully, that will improve my mood. Having taken up more than my fair share of the reader's time here is a brief synopsis of the stories that I found of some interest on the Thaivisa forum this week: Hapless tourism minister Phiphat said that the nation and ASEAN's bidding for the 2034 FIFA World Cup was in line with PM Prayut's policy. The whole idea is completely pointless unless one considers the junkets for officials and the waste of money as positives. China will be awarded the next Asian slot and then the continent will have to wait two more decades, so why bother. CP Group have until October 15th to confirm their interest in the three airports, high speed rail project. The $7 billion dollar plans could yet be as dead as the dinosaurs at the State Railway of Thailand who are haggling over what they can screw out of the deal in land use agreements. King Mongkut Institute of Technology have come up with a robot that cooks street food. Might I suggest that these loonies do something worthwhile instead. They could attach the existing vendors - those that are left after the crackdowns - to electrical jolts when they fail to wash their hands or pick their noses while preparing food. Cost effective and useful. Bloomberg said that the "surging baht" had shattered many an expat dream in Thailand. What was once affordable is out of the reach of many retirees. Methinks many of these are Brits who find themselves paddle-less up Excrement Creek. I wonder how many now regret those Brexit votes? As Bangkok suffered some unpleasant toxic air Uncle Too promised to come down hard on vehicle emissions. Has he not considered that his own hot air is merely exacerbating the situation? The Chinese were expected to spend, spend, spend this "Golden Week" as yet more pie-in-the-sky figures came out of the tourism authority woodwork. Vegetarian festivals in Phuket and Pattaya were top of the agenda; hopefully the incense sticks won't be too big and add to the haze. Pattaya villain Reece Vella got a comeuppance of sorts after getting a four year sentence for drug dealing in England. Vella, 27, was on the balcony in QUOTES when his girlfriend Wannipa fell to her death during "strange and extravagant sex". Forum curmudgeons were delighted that Mr Vella would likely be the recipient of such sexual favors in Strangeways, or wherever he ends up doing his porridge. The Ministry of Public Health are now "allowing" prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies outside the hospitals. Some of us have been doing this for years with the connivance of doctors to circumvent the money grubbing hospitals. Good to see that the MOPH are on the ball.... As if to reiterate what a lousy week of news this was, the BBC came up with nothing new in a feature about the Saudi Jewels' Case that dates back three decades. This murky story of personal greed, corrupt customs and police, murder and palace intrigue is an all time classic if you have never heard of it. If you have, give the BBC story a miss. Finally, apropos Rooster's Sunday sermon about travel, the news threw up one cautionary tale about visiting foreign lands. A Thai drug mule woman who said she had been paid a meager 20,000 baht was caught with 18 million baht's worth of cocaine stuffed in bags in her "winter coat". It was apparently a hot day. Rooster -- © Copyright Thai Visa News 2019-10-05 Follow Thaivisa on LINE for breaking Thailand news and visa info
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