Monday, September 14, 2009

Bye bye RLT

It's been unofficial for a long time so I may as well make it official: Real Life Thailand is going into semi-retirement. I will probably return and write longer articles on an occasional basis, but I don't anticipate any regular updates, unless the writing bug hits me again.

Why? It's hard to say. I've not lost my interest in Thai politics or in studying Thai society. I've not lost any of my free time (not that I had much anyway, being married and having two kids) and I've not lost interest in writing.

So what is it? I can't give a straight answer to that, I can only give a few thoughts. First, there are so many excellent bloggers on the Thai political scene, some of them blog two or three times a day and I just can't compete with that. I wish I had the drive to blog that frequently. I do like to think that some of my articles have been deeper and more reflective than the regular bloggers, though. But perhaps the real reason is that right now, my attentions are focused elsewhere. After four years of blogging on Thai politics (I had another blog before RLT) I feel that most of what I've got to say, I've already said!

After all, blogging is, essentially, a selfish thing to do. I mean 'selfish' in the sense that the typical blogger is looking to express his or her feelings and thoughts and convince others to think likewise and feels better for doing so. There are probably exceptions to this, but I think it is a fairly reliable axiom. For me, that feeling of satisfaction borne from self-expression lies elsewhere at the moment.

In my years of blogging on RLT I've enjoyed it all, and I've certainly learned a lot as I went along. Looking back at my earlier blogs - perhaps all the way up to early 2008 - I can see that I was trying too hard. I used to actually edit my blogs to make the vocabulary more specialised and difficult to read. It sometimes created unnatural writing, without fluency. But there were some surprises along the way. Some of the articles I felt were my best got little feedback. Others - often those I did quickly, with little forethought - still generate comments today.

I've never been bothered about hit rates or readership levels and I've no idea how many visitors I get. I know it must be a reasonably high number though, because I occasionally get businesses in Thailand offering me money to let them advertise. I never bothered replying to any of them.

Likewise, since one of my blogs made the front page of 'The Nation Thailand', I've had occasional offers of media work. At first it seemed exciting but once again, it's something I've lost interest in. Unless it's something I particularly enjoy discussing, I don't bother to take the interview.

I sometimes get emails asking questions or seeking advice about Thailand. Please do feel free to keep any questios coming, I'm always happy to reply.

In closing, to anyone who's taken the time to read my blog, I thank you. Please don't strike me off your blog list. I will still blog on teaching, politics and other aspects of life out here, just not so often.

I've got a new blog I'm working on that will go live soon. Anyone wanting to follow is welcome to email me.
All the best,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The evolution of Thai football

EDIT: I've corrected several of the typos in this blog, which were caused by a rubbish keyboard (and, of course, the plonker typing the blog).

I have, in the past, made some disparaging comments about Thai football and Thai footballers on this blog. It is, therefore, my duty to set the record straight.

Whenever I've been asked about Thai football, I have told friends that it is Sunday league standard and nobody goes to the games. This is the general axiom of Thai football held not only by farangs, but a good number of locals, too. Slowly though, the tide is turning.

The Thai FA (full of allegations of corruption and incompetence) set up the Thai Premier League a few years back and since then, have very slowly set about making some of the changes required to build a successful football league.

Step one was to dissolve the provincial leagues. Nobody is going to get too fanatical about a league in which you know which teams you will play every week, and with no major awards to win. One extra benefit of this is that some of the Bangkok teams have moved to other areas and given locals in large cities or provinces such as Kanchanaburi a team to follow.

Step two was to encourage teams to adopt real names. Many teams had (and some still have) ridiculous names of private teams such as 'Krung Thai Bank' and 'Chulalongkorn University'. This would be the equivalent of UK fans supporting teams with names like 'Natwest Bank' and 'Durham University'.

Actually, the Thai FA decreed that all teams must become private entities (no doubt some money was made by someone high up with this move) but the side effect was the desired one. We now have teams like 'Bangkok United' instead of 'Krung Thai Bank FC'. New team badges and strips have appeared at the same time, all helping to add to a sense of identity for players and fans.

Finally - and most importantly - money has started coming into the leagues. Massive sponsors such as Beer Chang, Yamaha, Coca Cola and many more have poured sponsorship money into the TPL. Already the befits of improved stadia and promotion are starting to show.

There are still massive steps to be taken though. Despite the rapid changes, many Thai football fans are blissfully unaware of their local team or even the league as a whole, they still have the same impression I had. Far more advertisement and coverage is required, but efforts are being made....

I saw an advertisement for Bangkok United in the Bangkok Post (where else?) and was intrigued by the idea of a Thai team carrying a proper football name. A little internet research revealed that my local team had also become a real team, with a remarkably impressive website and an incredibly popular fan site. Last weekend I went to my first game in a sold out stadium, jam packed full of fans, of which I honestly believe at least eighty percent were wearing the replica team shirts. The noise was amazing, the loudest I've heard since Southampton's days in the EPL.

The standard of football itself is not world class, Chonburi's star player is a Welshman released on a free transfer by Northwich Victoria for example, but there is a good pace to the games with moments of skill thrown in. The ticket prices for every team are ridiculously cheap, unlike the English leagues, the Thai leagues are still looking to attract fans rather than bleed them dry.

So if you're a footie fan in Thailand,google (or wiki search) for "Thai Premier League 2009", check out your local footie team and go and watch. You might not be blown away by the skill on display but you'll be impressed by the passion, devotion and friendliness of the fans and players. You'll also be doing your bit to help out a league that is trying hard to expand and improve. More people should know about Thai football.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The many faces of Thaksin

Well I guess you don't become a billionaire by being dumb, inflexible, unresponsive or unresourceful. It's no surprise that Thaksin Shiniwatra's 'big surprise' touted at his birthday bash yesterday was the formal announcement of the launch of his own media channel. The ex-PM pledged to employ reality TV (covering Thai poverty), news and sports shows. All this in addition to his new Facebook and Twitter profiles.

What is more surprising, perhaps, is that this (dis)information barrage seems to have been a final resort. Thaksin's many faces have attempted several other forms of engagement since he was ousted in 2006.

1) The 'appeal to sympathy' approach.
Thaksin portrayed himself as almost naive, telling foreign TV channels of his shock at his removal, his exit from politics, his disgust at interference with the media, (apparently forgetting his own extensive and brutal actions in that area) and his hurt at being declared corrupt. This approach was not entirely unsuccessful.

2) The demagogue

This tactic followed from, and complimented tactic number one. Mr T purchased Manchester City and "promoted" both Thai culture via a night of Thai food at City of Manchester Stadium and Thai sportsmen by hiring three Thai national players. Of course they never made the first team, were treated embarrassingly and on occasion were not even paid. They were sent back as soon as their propaganda use was outlived. Requesting the Cityfans should 'treat me as one of them', Thaksin pledged to open sports schools in Thailand.

Sadly the dream was short lived. As his 'sympathy' charade began to fall apart, Thaksin decided to quit City before he failed the FA 'fit and proper person' test.

3) The moral superior (also known as the 'Jedi mind trick')

He knew better than everyone else. He was moral and pure, tireless and dedicated, victimised and heroic. Anyone that disagreed with him was simply wrong and misinformed. Soon they would realise the error of their ways, but he would forgive them anyway.

How does he convince us of such things? Why, simply by telling us of course! This aproach often gave way to incredible irony, such as his constant reminders that the UK welcomed him because it was "democratically mature". Of course, when his UK visa was cancelled that changed to: "They will soon feel sorrow". Likewise, he praised the Thai courts and told the people: "I believe in the Thai justice system" though after being found guilty, that changed to "a political decision and an unfair court".

4) The militant

The true angry face of the great one showed itself when the end game began - the powers that be started to talk about confiscating his already frozen assets.
Talk of "raising up" and "fighting for justice and democracy" (Jedi mind trick time again!) became more and more frequent, culminating in the Songkran riots. When the riots proved ultimately unsuccessful, the rhetoric died down remarkably quickly. One can only wonder if Thaksin was informed that, wherever he may be, certain forces would ensure he faced the consequences if he continued with his actions.

After a period of relative quiet, we now come to face five - the benevolent sage. Now Thaksin - out of the goodness of his heart - will cover the plight of Thai people. He will offer scholarships, solve problems, spread the word and empower the people. The strange thing is, all seems to have a familiar ring about it.

It may well be true, it may well be beneficial.It may be done with at least some genuine feeling. But surely I am not the only one wondering why Thaksin rarely, if ever, discuss what will happen to his frozen billions when talking to his people, why he seems to have changed tack so many times, why he refuses to accept any fault in his past, and what his ultimate goals are. Perhaps the biggest question of all remains as: what will Thaksin do if this latest change of approach does not work out?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My top class are doing a project on the constitution of Thailand. Because they have enough ability and initiative to do so, I asked them to tell me what parts of the constitution they thought were particularly important and/or needed to change. It was enjoyable experience because it gives me an insight into the finest minds of Thailand and a glimpse into the future. My role of course was not to give a 'right' or 'wrong' response but merely to listen and ask any questions to test how ell they had thought out their argument.
Student one told me that he thought the age limit for free education (as guaranteed under the constitution) should be raised to age fifteen. He felt taxes should be raised to cover this.

Student two felt likewise, but felt the limit should be raised to eighteen. Student three felt the same again - I guess it's easy to understand why fifteen year olds would focus on this point - but felt it should cover the whole of a student's university life. He felt Thailand should adopt a student loan scheme, similar to that used in the UK.

Student four had an interesting idea. He felt the constitution should introduce a law saying all women can carry a weapon to protect themselves when travelling alone at night times. When I pressed him on this, he stated women should be forced to carry pepper spray by law, and the government should cover the cost for each female.

Student five wanted the issue of ID cards to be delayed to age eighteen (it's currently fifteen). She felt too many students lose them, because at age fifteen they have no real use for them yet.

Student six was he most controversial in my opinion. He wanted the legal age for marriage to be raised to age twenty five. Anyone below that should require parental consent in his opinion. He said this is because people under age twenty five should be studying.

It's such a privilege to deal with students who have enough motivation to bounce their ideas around. Sharing, questioning Ned refining ideas is what real teaching is about, after all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The computer teacher in my school is a highly gifted and intelligent character. I sometimes wonder why he doesn't work at a more prestigious location but he seems happy where he is.
This semester, he was told he should teach C++ to the students. The teacher immediately informed his superiors that C SHARP might be more appropriate. C++ is a dated language and C Sharp is in far greater demand. It would provide drastically more career opportunities for the students to learn it.

His superiors agreed but told him he would have to prepare the worksheets himself. He duly agreed and spent the next three days working flat out to prepare a curriculum. On the day he was due to begin teaching, the message came in. 'Head Office' had informed him that he was forbidden to teach C SHARP and should return to teaching C+++ immediately. Somebody somewhere was offended that the curriculum had been questioned. The career prospects and knowledge of the students had been flushed down the toilet to save face for someone senior.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Not from me but from a colleague I work with closely:

My first year in Thailand teaching Economics to Thai 8th Graders proved somewhat difficult in that not only did I have no English text book (I still don't), it proved singularly difficult to find the right definitions and explanations for the jargon of Economics in Thai. After several months of looking, however, I finally stumbled across and 1600 page tome in Asia Books (Thailand's answer to Borders) in that temple to conspicuous class-conscious consumption: Siam Paragon -- a shopping mall that defies comparison: let’s just say on the 4th floor of just one of their massive buildings you will find dealerships for Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Alpha Romeo, and Porsche ... for sale in a country where the road quality and traffic conditions even on "the best" highways make it difficult to maintain a speed of over 60 for more than a few seconds.

At any rate, there in Asia Books I started thumbing through this English-Thai dictionary and quickly noted that it had not only detailed Thai definitions of Economics and Business jargon, but also multiple examples of use and myriad compounds and idioms for almost every word. Sure that I had struck the mother lode, I shelled out the 1800 Baht (~$50) for the thing and gleefully took my prize home.

As time wore on, I gradually began to note a striking ideological bias in the cited examples of use. The 2nd example on "capital" is what first struck me as somewhat curious: "capital is created from every drop of sweat from the brow of labor." But when I looked up "relationship" and found the first sentence was, "the relationship between the people and the army has never been stronger," the light went on, and when I read under 'family,' "the farmers and the workers are one family," it was absolutely clear what I had unwittingly purchased - and what was no doubt unwittingly sold - in that theme park of consumerism in this the most anti-Communist nation in Southeast Asia.

Indeed, there is nothing in the title or any of the front material to lead one to suspect that this Mao's Little Red Dictionary was anything other than a fairly exhaustive English-Thai dictionary for academic, artistic, political, business, and technical usage. But one doesn't have to read beyond the first entry to see which way the author dresses:

a, an: art.: ... a united front ... an underground worker ... a foreign guest ... a high building ... a deep hatred for the enemies of the Revolution ... an ice cream ... a Comrade Lin is looking for you... a complete Lu Hsun ... a profound lesson in class education...

Each example was painstakingly translated into Thai.

I have gotten literally hours of very odd, sardonic enjoyment out of this work, and now I intend to share it with my friends. Every day I'll be posting yet another priceless example of the none-too-subtle attempts at indoctrination from this dictionary to my FaceBook Wall, so if you're interested and have a similarly twisted sense of irony as my own, please check in and take a look at the daily entries.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thaksin and justice

They say that if you tell a lie for long enough, it becomes the truth. If that's the case, then it must be true that the Thai authorities are desperately trying to bring Thaksin Shinwatra back to Thailand to face punishment for his crimes.

After all, we keep hearing that Thaksin narrowly escaped police swoops in various countries, we hear every week of a 'request'' from Thailand to some other country for his extradition and let us not forget the likes of The Nation publishing unfounded rumours, anonymous sources telling us where the man is hiding right now.

It all seems a little strange when you consider the real facts: he was allowed to leave Thailand  immediately after his wife was found guilty in court. That's right, the door was left wide open for Thaksin to leave Thailand to go to the Olympics in China the very day after Potjamo was sentenced. Imagine how hard it must have been for the powers that be to act surprised when the billionaire decided to remain overseas instead of coming hoe and facing possible jail time.

There are other points to consider too: is it really politically beneficial for Thaksin opponents to bring him home? His political and financial muscle seems to have passed its peak. The Song Kran riots achieved little, his phone ins have become dull and even Thaksin himself asked his supporters to cancel his birthday celebrations out of fear of reprisals. Bringing him back to the country and sentencing him in court would run a certain risk of bringing all the emotions and fanaticism of his supports back to the surface, kicking off a new wave of clashes. It's clear that his opponents fear being unable to control Thaksin, but it would be far more damaging to lose control of his supporters once more.