Wednesday, December 24, 2008

That time of year

Well I thought this year I would be too busy to post my traditional Christmas blog. After all, I was working until 3pm today. Oh OK, not actually working but taking part in the school's day of fun involving games for the little ones and a concert for the older kids, by the older kids. Some of them were damn good, too.

And to answer my good man Vertigo, Santa is not dead - I saw him today and last week - and he does appear to Buddhist children, at least a big portion of them.

My family always have a traditional Christmas. It's gift exchanges in the morning, followed by a big slap up lunch, then a movie with an optional nap and finally drinks and cards in the evening. Then Boxing Day was the time Dad and I would go and watch some team stuff us four or five nil.

Like many expats, Christmas is the time when I miss my family and friends back home the most. Still, at least Thai people get into the spirit a bit and we have traditional pubs and festivities going on. This year though, with my son running up a big private hospital bill - though he seems to be getting better slowly, which is what counts - and the airport hijack affecting my wife's business, we'll be keeping it lean. Never mind, younger kids don't worry about ipods or cars, they just enjoy the fun and appreciate what they get.

What will lie ahead in 2009? Well for me there will be another addition to the family. It's an exciting time, but I'll also be keeping focused on my long term plans for business and life.

For Thailand, I am mildly optimistic that as long as Aphisit can hold on for six months, he can bring some stability to the LOS and return some unity. For the UK and Thailand, the credit crunch aftershock will really be felt next year. Let's just pray none of us are causalities. That's really all we can do about that.

Enough waffle. Merry Christmas to all readers, bloggers, red shirts, yellow shirts, farangs, Thais, conservatives, leftists and Saints fans. But not Spurs fans.

I'll leave you with a message from my Saturday class. I hope the poor sound quality will not hinder its spirit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What happens next?

It can come as no surprise that the red shirts plan to rally at Sanam Luang, what is crucial here though is that it puts the army and police in a very delicate situation.

If the rally turns even remotely violent then the police or military have two choices: first, they respond with force. This will play into the hands of the reds' leaders, who can then expose the double standards of the authorities. This will further expose and pressurise the people behind them, all the while raising the indignation of not just the reds but also neutral observers.

Option two is to do nothing again. This will simply cripple the new government just like the old one, and also make people wonder just what the heck the military and police need such a huge budget for, if they do absolutely nothing. We would all hope the reds make a peaceful, democratic protest, but given their anger this may be asking a lot.

Is there anyway out of this predicament?

As an interesting aside it appears that UK politics and Thai politics are forming some friendships. PAD figures apparently met with a Liberal Democrat MP last month and Aphisit is a good friend of eccentric London Mayor and prominent Conservative member Boris Johnson. (h/t to Bangkok Pundit and Thai politico for these facts). Here is a clip of Boris at his best.

What happens next?

It can come as no surprise that the red shirts plan to rally at Sanam Luang, what is crucial here though is that it puts the army and police in a very delicate situation.

If the rally turns even remotely violent then the police or military have two choices: first, they respond with force. This will play into the hands of the reds' leaders, who can then expose the double standards of the authorities. This will further expose and pressurise the people behind them, all the while raising the indignation of not just the reds but also neutral observers.

Option two is to do nothing again. This will simply cripple the new government just like the old one, and also make people wonder just what the heck the military and police need such a huge budget for, if they do absolutely nothing.

We would all hope the reds make a peaceful, democratic protest, but given their anger this may be asking a lot.

Is there anyway out of this predicament?

What happens next?

It can come as no surprise that the red shirts plan to rally at Sanam Luang, what is crucial here though is that it puts the army and police in a very delicate situation.

If the rally turns even remotely violent then the police or military have two choices: first, they respond with force. This will play into the hands of the reds' leaders, who can then expose the double standards of the authorities. This will further expose and pressurise the people behind them, all the while raising the indignation of not just the reds but also neutral observers.

Option two is to do nothing again. This will simply cripple the new government just like the old one, and also make people wonder just what the heck the military and police need such a huge budget for, if they do absolutely nothing.

We would all hope the reds make a peaceful, democratic protest, but given their anger this may be asking a lot.

Is there anyway out of this predicament?

What happens next?

It can come as no surprise that the red shirts plan to rally at Sanam Luang, what is crucial here though is that it puts the army and police in a very delicate situation.

If the rally turns even remotely violent then the police or military have two choices: first, they respond with force. This will play into the hands of the reds' leaders, who can then expose the double standards of the authorities. This will further expose and pressurise the people behind them, all the while raising the indignation of not just the reds but also neutral observers.

Option two is to do nothing again. This will simply cripple the new government just like the old one, and also make people wonder just what the heck the military and police need such a huge budget for, if they do absolutely nothing.

We would all hope the reds make a peaceful, democratic protest, but given their anger this may be asking a lot.

Is there anyway out of this predicament?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Abhisit Vejjajiva: the new PM

Congratulations to Aphisit on becoming PM but the victory may yet be a pyrrhic one. It came via a judicial coup and an alliance with the very sort of politician Aphisit must purge if he wants to keep his promise of ending the "culture of corruption". The international perspective of Thai democracy has also suffered a setback.

I'm going to write a review of the year and some predictions for 2009, but for now let's just be glad we have a leader who isn't vile.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In other news......

I have not much to say on the banned article (as in, that edition is not sold in Thailand) except that the whole saga speaks for itself. My only further observation is that the article was banned first and then responded to (with extremely poor arguments) several days later. Priorities are as usual, then.

Thaksin's phone in last night proved to be a bit of a nonevent. Even The Nation wrote so little on it that they managed just one single spelling mistake. Thaksin informed us that the army and the courts - the people who happened to find him guilty of corruption - are interfering with democracy. It's interesting to note that most of Thaksin's speeches, the words "against democracy" or anything similar could be substituted for "have found me guilty of corruption". Still, fair play to the reds. Somebody has to keep the anti-democratic military on their toes.

The sort of people involved in Thai politics pt.6

"I regret that I had supported a wrong person. Now I am well aware that he is the one who has corrupted throughout his term,"
February 2006

"Since I was born, I've never seen anyone who is as untrustworthy as Thaksin"
August 2006

"I think I can ask him not to phone in if I am on this mission"
December 2008

Snoh (also called 'Sanoh') Thientong is a petulant child, even by the standards of Thai politicians.

This old school, godfather type politician has always been the type who is low on any ideology or policies - apart from providing a few bits of scenery for his own province - and high on histrionics and argumentative rhetoric.

Snoh was a key supporter of Thaksin in the early days until he suddenly decided that Thaksin had not given him an important enough post (chief whip). Suddenly, Snoh felt enraged and made a string of public declarations that "who stays on as Prime Minister depends on me".

Thaksin ignored the dummy throwing and continued, so Snoh become more and more outspoken, eventually becoming an outright rebel. He assisted university students as a witness in a mock trial of Thaksin Shiniwatra. He even appeared on a PAD stage in the first wave of protests.

After the coup, Snoh formed his own party. There he bored the pants off of everyone by rambling for two hours - he didn't stop, he had to be "accidentally interrupted" in classic Thai style. Snoh lamented about Thaksin's corruption and claimed he had never been involved in a scandal in his whole career.

This could be partly due to the fact that Snoh, like Banharn, has such influence in his province. Still, it seems he forgot the saga of the Alpine Golf Club. In brief: in 1990 Interior Minister Snoh transferred land that had been donated to a temple to a foundation, the foundation sold the land the same day to a company in which Snoh's wife and brother were major partners. It was later made into a golf club.

And now in 2008, with The Democrats looking to take leadership in the house and Snoh's small coalition party looking stuck without gain, our main man has suddenly become obsessively interested in a 'unity government' with a 'small party leader as PM'.

Now I just can't figure out what he could possibly be getting at with that idea, can anyone shed some light? Sadly, his high profile dinner party to show his importance in the matter didn't go to plan.

Snoh apparently decided that his past feud with Thaksin meant nothing and loudly proclaimed: "I can ask to stop Thaksin's phone in the Saturday". Indeed, Thaksin's live phone was prevented, though it seems Thientong had little to do with it. If I didn't know better, I'd say Snoh knew the live phone in wouldn't happen and decided to preempt the credit for it, in a desperate bid to revive his image as a man of influence.

But, surely a man so interested in a 'unity government' wouldn't do such a thing.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The ultimate question: how would YOU make things better?

We've all had something to say these last couple of months. Lalidah said it best: blogs have been coming in like bullets from a machine gun.

It's human nature that we are quicker to criticise than praise, better at asking questions than offering answers. But let's try and turn the tide. Let me give you this totally hypothetical scenario:

By some freak of nature, you become the appointed soul who has to solve Thailand's political mess. You can introduce any reform you like within reason. What would you do?

I would dissolve both houses immediately. They have clearly become dysfunctional battlegrounds of self interest and seem acceptable to nobody. I would call new elections with UN and local observers invited.

I would change the elected/appointed ratio in the senate from 51/49 to 70/30. This ratio represents a genuinely democratic house with just enough appointees to reduce danger of any faction in the lower house from controlling the senate as happened under the TRT government.

I'd push through with Suryaud's failed promise of police reform. (In reality this would be tough).

I'd write a new constitution. Yes, another one! Why bother? Because the 1997 constitution had some great elements to it. The new one dropped some of those elements but introduced some others. I'd also set up a constitutional advisory panel with genuine influence. In that panel I'd include representatives from the PAD, the UDAD and other demographs, perhaps even a NWL blogger!

I'd strongly recommend that the new constitution clearly defined the armed forces as being segregated from politics and any coup as illegal. I'd also clearly define the role of other institutions. Moreover, I'd strongly suggest greater focus on free speech in the constitution because I feel that could alleviate tensions in Thailand.

I'd also seek expert advice on possible reform of the judicial appointments system.

I'd set up two public bodies. The first would be a project aimed at real national reconciliation - not in the fake sense politicians mean when they say those words. The project could include collaborations between the Bangkok community and rural communities.

The second project would aim at forming a federal system for Thailand's economy. This would take a lot of costly work, but I'm sure it would provide massive long term benefits.

Finally, I'd suggest a series of public referenda. Possible votes could include a chief of police, parliamentary reform, etc.

So that's my imaginary work done. Now how about you?

Are Thailand's Chinese the Jewish of the east?

Obviously, with a wife and son with Chinese blood, the post is meant to be provocative rather than offensive. I use the term "Jewish" rather than "Jew" because the latter can be considered anti-Semitic.

It cannot escape notice that nearly all the key business and political offices in Thailand belong to those of recent (as opposed to the theory that all Thais are Chinese descendents). Chinese descent. As far as I can see, at least four of the last six PM's have been Chinese, along with most of their cabinet. Whenever read the business pages, the CEIO profiles nearly always feature a smiling Chinese person.

This trend continues downwards. My last school was a government school. A disproportionate number of my best students were Chinese. My current employer is an expensive private school. The majority of students are ethnic Chinese.

There was a time when ethnic Chinese were looked upo with disdain by the upper class. Those days are gone. It seems the Chinese are the upper class.

Why is this? And what do ethnic Thais think or feel about it? I asked my wife why this is so and she told me simply: "Chinese people work hard." short answer, but quite possibly the whole truth?

In the west, the Jewish community are considered to hold a number of key business and political posts which increase the lobbying power of the Jewish community. There are some conspiracy theories concerning the Jewish groups but most people acknowledge those theories as abhorrent, which they are. (Some sections of the Jewish lobby are also unpleasant and often undemocratic but that's a different blog). After all, every ethnic group seeks to wield as much power as possible. That's just natural. I know a few Jewish people and they are friendly, everyday people like the rest of us.

Further reading:

Monday, December 08, 2008

Where are Thailand's great political teachers?

Because I teach Social Studies, and because I rant about education, it's understandable that friends and colleagues sometimes joke about me being some kind of "revolutionary" or "Marxist" teacher. My reply to the first charge is "I wish I was good enough" my reply to the second "I'm conservative".

Seriously, it would be most dangerous and inappropriate for any foreign teacher to knock the status quo in Thailand. Surely the American fiasco in Iraq has reminded us that any real changes have to born from within before outsiders can even lend a hand. I'll admit, in my old post were I was a lot closer to the students than my current job, I did have frank discussions with them. I taught about the dangers of credit cards, the importance of never being scared to ask questions and the importance of a sceptical approach to any political system. It went down very well, but I don't think I could ever repeat that performance.

My current job is not such a challenge because I teach about the political systems rather than the political people. This is easy because the system we have in Thailand - a bicameral, constitutional monarchy - is actually a good one. The problem is the people within the House of Representatives and their cronies, but I steer well clear and do not let my own opinions influence my teaching. Sometimes kids do ask me though.

So it boils down to the same old conclusion - we need better people in politics and better education for the next generation to understand them, but where is it coming from? Whoa re eh truly great political teachers in Thailand? It seems that many former TRT members have turned to teaching, is this a good thing? I don't think so.

I know Giles Unpagkorn is a Marxist but at least he fights for free speech and transparency. Who else do we have? Can anyone tell us who is molding the minds of Thailand's young to make things better?

Where are the inspirers? Where are the geniuses? Where are the men and women who make the student so full of will that they want to do like Mr Beale in 'The Network' and yell "I'm not going to take this anymore!".

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Aphisit gets his chance.

Before we address any concerns, let's get something straight: Aphisit is the best choice for Thai PM. The alternatives are the father of Duang, a guy who makes even your average politician look honest, or a guy who messed up twice before. (The last choice is an interesting aside: why do so many Thais seem fixate on politicians who were utterly useless in their prime, let alone declining years?)

Aphisit is progressive, clean, focused and confident. Yet despite that confidence, people still ask questions about his potential to steer the ship in a storm. That's a pretty big criticism because let's face it - Thailand is in a political whirlpool right now.

Questions also hang over his independence from the PAD and resistance to influence from senior statesmen. Moreover, it looks as if we have arrived at the right answer for the wrong reasons. Aphisit is not here because he was the popular choice, he was here because the judicial coup left the door open for him. The defectors who changed sides did so only because they knew that sticking with PPP/Phua Thai would just result in another court case.

So I wholeheartedly wish "Mark" the best of luck. He's a good guy and the right man for the job, but he has a lot of doubters to convince and he needs to prove his mettle.

I'd liken Aphisit's position to a football manager taking over a team at the bottom of the table with a few games left. He needs to turn things around and fast but the pressure is on. The odd good result is not enough, the country needs a long streak of victories to restore confidence. It won't be easy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I understand that His Majesty The King was unable to deliver his traditional speech due to illness. From what I can understand, the traditional speech was delivered by the Crown Prince.

I can't follow if the speech was written by His Majesty or His Highness, perhaps another blogger can let me know.

I hope the king makes a full and speedy recovery.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Chalerm for PM?

So Chalerm is tipped to be the next PM? Is that going to help the country? Chalerm is, of course, the father of this man.

Read the article. By the way, he was found not guilty.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Back patting

Since I saw Thaicrisis give himself a pat on the back for some accurate forecasts this week, I though it might the time to do the same for myself. Hey, nobody else is going to do it!

1) The class war, it’s escalation and the fallout of the Thaksin feud was predicted by yours truly back on my old blog, which is now deleted.

2) The fallout of the constitutional referendum and predictions for the previous election were called by myself.

3) As you know, the end result of Thaksin’s Man City bid were called by me.

4) And I saw the judicial coup coming early on.

Admittedly, none of these evnts required a huge amount of astuteness.

It just goes to show: even a broken clock can be right twice a day :-)

Monday, December 01, 2008

A few interesting comments from Thaksin's Dubai ( interview:

"Do you know how many countries there are in the world? There are 197. And only 17 have an extradition treaty with Thailand," he notes with a thin smile. "Better still, only 10 of those treaties are active. So, don't you worry about me, I still have many places to stay."


"With me at the helm I can bring confidence quickly back to Thailand, and that is why we have to find a mechanism under which I can go back into politics."

What does his wife think about this? "She has divorced me," he responds, bluntly - end of subject."


"He admits that going back now would be too risky, but insists that "time is on my side"."

"But could he really be PM again? Shinawatra is adamant that it could happen.

"The coup is still there - it has been transformed from a military coup to a judicial coup," he explains."


"I don't care, though - I thank them [The UK] because I went there, I bought a football club then sold it and made some money in the process," he says. "They gave me a place to stay, even though it was short-term. My children went to school there.

One day, they will understand better, and they will feel sorrow for what they have done because they have not respected their own democratic values."


"I cannot live in my own country. There were many assassination attempts, and my family has been broken up because we all have to live in different countries. I regret the result, but not what I have done. You see, I love the Thai people."


In fairness, his swipe at the UK was not reported with 100% accuracy by The Nation.

Also, it may not be wise for me to make a link but New Mandala has a very interesting article right now.

This is the news you will read in the next few days:

1) The Constitution Court will dissolve the PPP party, meaning a new election must be held. The PPP and UDAD will be furious but will not demonstrate because they do not wish to do so during the celebration of His Majesty's birthday.

2) The PAD will hail it as a victory and disperse from the airport, citing that they wish to respect His Majesty's birthday.

There is one other prediction I would like to make but I cannot.

In future, more Thaksin proxies will be elected and the struggle will continue.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A follow on from my Peasant's Revolt post.

So I'm thinking of a country that was divided across borders and by ethnic identity and income and lifestyle. That might sound very different to Thailand but if we think carefully, is it really so different?

One group felt oppressed and ignored by the government. They pressured a nationalist politician who sympathised with their cause. He organised rallies to intimidate other factions. On one occasion he organised a huge rally to make demands for his group. The rally stopped outside the president's office (Government House) where the nationalist politician told the president: "Give us what we want or address this group yourself!". In other words: "Hands up or this lynch mob will be set on you!".

A smaller state in the nation published magazine articles criticising the group. The group responded by organising a "Rally of Truth" to intimidate the small state and its people. It wasn't too hard for them to do that, because by then the military were clearly on their side.

Another state elected their own prime minister, but amazingly he was rejected by the police force in the region who had already decided they sided with the nationalist politician in our story. The police helped to whip up a rebellion against their own regional prime minister.

The nationalist politician decided to go about amending the constitution to crush critical press and remove regional assemblies (so that he would have more power). His followers became increasingly violent and bigoted. They often organised rallies under various guises and through proxies. Each side began to viciously ridicule and mock other sides, often with dangerous propaganda.

It descended into a bloody and miserable war that lasted until NATO intervened.

It is a recent event that has many similar elements to the Thai situation: misplaced nationalism, resentment amongst citizens based on income, ethnicity and values, factional squabbles and politicisation of the military and police. However, there are differences. Thailand is a long established country and has the guiding light of a monarch, something the nation I refer to lacked.

Ian knows what I am talking about, he met the founding father of this republic.
Can anyone else tell name the nation and people involved in my tale?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Countdown to civil war

Bangkok Pundit recently rated the chance of a coup at five percent. I'd say that percentage is higher and increasing by the moment. (NB Pundit has mentioned to me that he was talking about the chances of what will happen next, he expects that the chance of a coup at some point is actually higher.)

Somchai is effectively exiled in Chang Mai. In Thailand - even more so than other countries - a leader outside the capital is greatly weakened.

The refusal of the army to deal with the seizure of the airport - the heart of Thailand's main industry - is incredible. The pledge to use the navy and air force instead even more so. No greater symbol of the polarisation of the Thai establishment could be imagined.

Nobody has absolute control or power. Nobody seems sure of a solution. A dissolved parliament will lead to re-election of the PAD's (and other people's) enemies. Dissolution of the PPP will result in a new party being formed and Thaksin's rage increased further. A coup brings the nation to rock bottom but at least returns control to one entity.

Next week is the birthday of His Majesty The King. His Majesty traditionally uses the occasion to deliver a speech that often contains guidance and wisdom for Thai people. This year, as ever, people will listen with great interest.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Random thoughts: PAD, UDD, the blogs and the future

I think it would be arrogant for any of us to pretend we have all the knowledge and all the answers for the ongoing political crisis. We all have our own questions, opinions and ideas.

I could write pages of my own, but it would probably end up a garbled, fragmented mess. So instead, I will simply brainstorm my own thoughts and opinions, and I invite others to do the same.


- Their professed goal (new politics) is a very good one. Sadly, their methods have disgraced them.

- The PAD used to be a good thing. The first anti-Thaksin protests were the right way to protest. Why did they change? Perhaps they knew they lacked support this time around, so they needed to be more aggressive.

- One of the key failings of the leaders is their failure to condemn violent attacks such as the man who purposely ran over the policemen…..

- …this has attracted violent thugs who care nothing for the country but just want an excuse to attack policemen and others. Again, we must ask why this has been allowed, and the answer seems to be that the PAD need the numbers.

- This could have been something special. The PAD could have protested peacefully outside the airports, parliaments etc. They could have made a party atmosphere, distributed leaflets and staged music shows, etc, that got the message across. They could have pushed so hard for changes. It may have taken longer but it would have gained more support.

- The PAD seem to have a bandwagon mentality. Suddenly unions, students and shop workers all jump up and “demand” the government resign, all the while trying to get their picture in the papers.

- Will the leaders flee Thailand after it’s all over? Surely any political clout they have has been crushed under the weight of their crimes. Sondhi and Chamlomg must realize that they are playing Russian Roulette with their lives now.

- This campaign must have been expensive. Who is paying? Surely not Sondhi, he admits he is broke.

- There have been innocent victims in all this, but let’s remember where real sympathy should go. Whilst it was wrong to vandalise the Chart Thai premises, do we really want to shed too many tears for an incompetent, corrupt, godfather brand of politicians who have never been anything but opportunists?

- Likewise, let's remember that we have the likes of Chalerm in government. This is not a group of all nice people.

- My wife;s business has suffered as a result of PAD protests.

- General Prem has often spoken out during times of trouble, yet he has remained very silent during all this.

UDAD / Pro-government protesters

- In the beginning, it seemed to be the pro-government groups that resorted to violence. That has changed. For the most part they have been peaceful and articulate and they deserve credit for this.

- It shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t matter, but it has been observed (please take a look as it took me a long time to dig up that link!) that there are differences between the attractiveness of pro and anti government protesters. Perhaps Lalidah, Pasninja and others can join UDAD to even the score? (Just kidding, guys!)

- Pro government groups have the democratic advantage but geography is not on their side. Most of them come from outside Bangkok.

Both sides

- Talk about compromise but seem unable.

- Should really grow up and stop prancing around with weapons they have no idea how to use.

- Profess they are the ones who “really” love the country.

- The army and the police have probably improved their image during all this.

- The army have shown great restraint (*but is it for the right reasons?)

- The police don’t have the best international image but they have also been restrained.

- However, the police appear to lack organization and perhaps don’t like having the spotlight on them so bright that they can’t bully people as they have been accused of in the past. However, this certainly does not excuse the violence against them.

The endgame

- I see no way out. I think there will be no coup but I do see a military offensive that can only cause bloodshed.

- But that is not the end. The power struggle will continue. There are still questions to be asked, tensions simmering and things that cannot be said.

- I hope I’m wrong, I hope somehow this works out but I think things will get worse before they get better.

- In the very long term, I’m sure Thailand will be OK. As I’ve said before, it’s easy to look at the UK and say we are “democratically mature” but that’s because we went through stuff like this centuries ago. We still have problems now, but we get by. So will Thailand, but I’m not sure if it will happen in my lifetime.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The truth about Thaksin's swipe at the UK

Thaksin’s interview in the Arabic media is remarkable for two reasons. First, he’s let his anger (some might call it arrogance) get the better of him again. Those who do not reside in Thailand might misconstrue his “feel sorrow” comment. I’m certain this is a face saving exercise for the former PM. Thaksin is used to being looked upon as a man of great power. He took a gamble by praising the UK as “democratically mature” during his asylum bid, the obvious intention was to send a message saying: “Look, democratic countries want me! That shows how badly I was treated in Thailand!”.

Therefore his cancelled visa no doubt caused a great loss of face to him. His jab at the UK was his measured yet angry response. The little snipe at Britain will receive far more press in Thailand than the UK, and can fool his followers into thinking Thaksin is as influential in England as he is at home. The reality, of course, is that the UK government really isn’t concerned at all. Thaksin is page seven news at best for most Brits.

The other remarkable fact about Thaksin’s interview is that he directly states he will return to politics and discusses conditions for his return. These conditions are very frank for a sensitive topic in Thailand.

But even in absentia the former PM’s aftermath is still being felt, as tensions rise by the minute in Bangkok.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teacher's Diary: dealing with complaints

So it just seemed to be a normal day until my boss called me in. I know the problem as soon as I look at her desk and see the exam scores for class nine C.

Nine C has been a headache all year. It's such a shame because I used to be very close with them but somehow they went from my top class to my most difficult class. I find the majority of them inattentive and several of them downright nasty.

But that's not the problem, the real problem is twofold. Firstly, a lot of other teachers don't have a problem with nine C. Some classes are universally "difficult" and others equally "good". But every teacher has an exception and nine C is mine, so any complaint arising from this class will attract attention.

Secondly, I've found many Thai administrators in schools lack a sense of proportion. If you have a class of fifty students and one complains, it's not: "One student complained", it's: "This class complained". The reverse is true, I've lost count of the number of times I've been told "This class really likes you" only to discover it's two or three students (ten percent) who have actually voiced an opinion. This loss of balance also applies to other topics. So we hear: "This class wants to focus more on listening skills" etc.

Anyway, back to my problem: a 9C student's parents have complained about her low test scores in my class. They objected on grounds that she has no problems in other classes - hence the reason for the first of my twofold problems I just mentioned - and that she has a very good notebook.

I look at her scores - she has indeed scored considerably lower for Social Studies than any other subject in all four areas (speaking, listening, reading, writing) and this isn't the first complaint to come out of the class. I'm starting to feel the strain here;this is my own fault because I've been too honest and made life difficult for myself.

In private schools in Thailand, the understanding is that nobody fails. Most teachers are happy to play along with this and give blanket high scores to everyone. Some teachers simply give one hundred percent to every student in every class. I don't do this for two reasons: not only is it dishonest, but it draws attention away from the gifted students who have worked hard to actually achieve high scores.

But the parents of this particular student are venting their anger. I explain the reasons for the low scores to my boss and to her massive credit she not only listens but actually tries to understand my view, but she's worried about any further confrontation with the parents. I offer to meet the parents but they can't speak English; so instead I offer to "review" the student's score (i.e. give the parents the score they want to forget this whole darn episode). This seems to go down well, until the phone call comes in from mum saying that her daughter will not and should not have to test again.

I investigate further. It seems that I've compounded things by giving the girl the wrong grade for her written work, it should indeed have been higher. I arrange an amendment and apology but her speaking and listening scores are correct;she couldn't answer the questions I gave her (about the Chakri Dynasty).

Mum and Dad are still unhappy. My boss arranges a chat with the student. She asks the student the same questions I asked in the test. The student confesses that she cannot answer and then agrees to confess that to mum and dad. Hopefully, the episode is all over.

What saddened me was that mum and dad's complaint never really seemed to centre around the progress of their daughter, but rather the idea that teachers should not have the right to give honest grades.

For some time I've been somewhat of a "grading rebel" but perhaps now it's time to toe the line and keep everyone happy, since my circumstances have changed yet again....

For when I get home today I'm greeted with some news that shocks me out of my chair. My wife is pregnant once again!

BTW As an aside I was saddened to discover that of my 130 grade nine students, a grand total of one could tell me the correct birthplace of HM The King.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Psychological warfare 101 - portray your opponents as terrorists, create vague, hazy, fears that get the public nervous and looking to you for protection.

As endorsed by George W Bush, one of the worst presidents of all time, now endorsed by Somchai Wongsawat.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The REAL answer to the crisis

Thailand lies in a state of disrepair. The foundations of democracy lie in a brittle state, looking as though one more shock might cause them to disintegrate. Not only do the three pillars - executive, legislative and judiciary - stand ostracised and mistrusting of each other, but they are also internally fractured. Senator battles senator, MP frames MP and lawyer cheats lawyer.

The public have followed suit and split into gangs. Each one has a name - indeed it seems that Thai people love nothing more than forming a group and giving themselves a name - a colour, a theme and a love of attention. Each one has an answer: be it "new politics", a "fight for true democracy" or "national reconciliation (via transfer of money)".

The problem is that none of these sound bites provides a real answer. None of them are good for the country in practice, what they all amount to is manoeuvre and counter manoeuvre. Thaksin is sent into exile, so he organises a rally. PAD take Government House, so Somchai revives old TRT policies to help Isaan people, people who criticise a certain senior statesmen seem to have a run of bad luck, the list goes on.

There are two notable traits running through every move in this political chess game: one, they reek of self interest for certain sections of society; two, they are increasingly myopic. "Bring back Thaksin" will not help Thailand, it will simply infuriate his opponents. "New politics" sounds great but talk of votes depending on "how much tax is paid" is highly revealing. Need I go on?

I'd like to offer my alternative. Forgive me for offering an opinion on Thai politics, and forgive me again for stealing a quote from a UK political party but the answer is: education, education, education.

This is not a rose tinted, Disney style answer. It is a genuine, long term solution to the problem. Likewise I am not suggesting that most people are uneducated or stupid or that I am a model of good study or teaching (I am neither), every country in The World, including England could benefit from higher quality of education.

Education empowers the masses on so many levels. The obvious benefit is that it gives greater awareness of one's society, government and practices. By bringing education to the people, we can eliminate this psychological divide between the so called 'poor people' and "Bangkokians". The feud between these groups always seems to boil down to a row over the charge that 'poorer' people may vote purely for monetary reasons and lack the information to make an informed vote. Universal education can destroy that argument.

Education can also breed confidence and opportunities. It grants independence to the student by allowing them to enter new fields of employment and find new opportunities for self finance. Such solutions are far more effective than village fund schemes or loans. These plans always keep the borrower reliant on the lender.

As a consequence of this, education can eliminate the class divide that is so evident in Thai politics. Indeed, that same divide also seems to reflect not just differing income, but differing values, culture and ways of solving problems. No greater victory can be won for transparency, fairness and democracy than by having far more people educated about any academic subject. Learning breeds curiosity and awareness on many levels, regardless of the subject being taught.

Why has education not been discussed more as a solution to the ongoing crisis? Simple; it gives no short term benefits. It doesn't generate hordes of cheering supporters, it doesn't create impassioned, nationalistic speeches, it can't provide immediate kickbacks (apart from building contracts) and perhaps worst of all: it doesn't give people the opportunity to parade around in gang colours, pretending they are going to hit someone with a plank of wood.

Education truly is a big part of the answer, but that doesn't mean we build more schools and universities and say: "Right, we're done!". We also need reform. Government schools need younger teachers who are trained in teaching methods that actually work. With great respect to many well intentioned, knowledgeable Thai teachers, too many of them rely on the old "water into a glass" teaching method which has proven ineffective.

We need teachers who understand effective teaching methods. We also need the love of discipline in Thailand to be matched by the love of giving opportunities and freedom of thought to students. We need qualifications to really mean something more than: "I can afford to go to this expensive university". Only by setting standards for teachers, students and exams can degrees in Thailand gain international recognition.

It doesn't just stop at schools either. Learning can come in many forms including books or computer games, yet the only reading I see with most people in Thailand is comic books. How often do we see someone reading a newspaper on the BTS or a non-fiction book while their shop is quiet? Comics are great for learning to read but not for further education. Likewise, computer games are massively popular here but Thai kids seem to plump only for "Call of Duty 4" violence based games. Again, COD is a great game but where are the strategy games, the historical epics or conversation driven role players? As for TV I don't watch a lot so perhaps someone else can address its quality.

We need education to be high in quality and availability. Right now we have a lot of universities that are well intentioned but unable. My wife once asked me how it was that more Thai students had university education than English students. I tried to explain but I found my answer was actually rather rude: a degree in England means the student has passed a certain standard of exam. In Thailand, it means the student paid the money and turned up at least sometimes. People who have never been to Thailand often think I am joking or being metaphorical when I tell them nobody fails in Thailand. But of course it's utterly true, which completely invalidates the point of passing.

All this change will take years, maybe decades, but I do believe it will happen and when it does, I hope that Thailand will reap the rewards. Many systems in Thailand are based on UK models, I just wish education was one of them, because then Thailand could pass through this stage of immature democracy that England passed long ago and move on to better things.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dinghy sales with me and Weerasak Kowsurat

A journalist once told me that you can measure the arrogance of a celebrity by how many questions and comments they give to people in conversation. The less questions, the greater the arrogance.

I think it's true, so I now know that Weerasak Kowsurat, minister of tourism and sports, is actually a very modest, down to earth man. I know that because today I sat on a small dinghy with him as we darted around the Chao Phraya river.

The day was dull until then. The Tourist Police had a special ceremony which involved a whole lot of police, a display of force via police cars, Harley's and mountain bikes and no less than one hour and twenty minutes of talking, while we had to stand in the same spot. But then the day became surreal.

By chance, I was stood on the pier as Minister Kowsurat and the Tourist Police elite left the stage after their speech and headed to the pier. I moved out of their way as the entourage - surrounded by all kinds of media - stepped on board a small boat. Suddenly, the police commander said something about getting a foreign volunteer on the boat. His subordinate looked around, saw me, and literally grabbed me and pushed me towards the boat.

Before I knew what was happening, I was on board with some of the most important policemen and one of the most important politicians in Thailand. With all seats taken, I crouched on the floor next to Kowsurat, as the commander of the Tourist Police pointed out a few Loy Khatong sites to him.

It was less than five minutes before a motorised dinghy pulled up next to us. The commander told me to get on and I gladly obliged, feeling glad that the awkward moment was over. But then something happened that truly amazed me.

For reasons that I have not yet had explained to me, Minister Kowsurat suddenly jumped on to the small dinghy next to me. It was just him, me and the two drivers. Kowsurat instructed them to head to the next pier. He smiled at me, but didn't speak. So, still wondering if I was dreaming, I figured I'd start the chat.

"Have you had a good day minister?"

"Well yes, but it will be a long day, I'm flying to England this afternoon"

"But Thaksin isn't there any more"

[Thankfully he realised that I was joking and laughed]

"Yes but I'm going to see the princess"

Then our dinghy pulled up on a pier. I realised that I was supposed to distribute some of the tourist police leaflets to tourists, so I stood up on the wobbly dinghy and called out to some tourists.

They do what any self respecting tourist does when accosted in Thailand and ignore me. I turn to Kowsurat and say: "They think we are salesmen". He laughs and agrees. I explain we are just tourist police. The tourists realise we won't go away until they take our leaflets, so they take them.

I figure this incredible incident is now over, but Kowsurat instructs the driver to take us to another pier. As we move upriver I spot senior police, media and other people who are waving, filming and taking pictures.

I start another conversation and ask about the effects of the recent trouble on tourism. He explains tourism has dropped about twenty percent but that the worst seems to be over. I comment that the international coverage has been somewhat alarmist. He agrees and explains that he has invited ambassadors and media to visit him so he can show that the problems have not affected foreigners.

We stop at another pier. Once again I try to greet a few tourists and give out leaflets. Once again, I'm blanked. Kowsurat helps out by explaining: "we are not selling anything we just want to give some information". The tourist turns around and says something very, very rude in German. I don't know if Kowsurat understood but I did. Luckily another tourist takes our bumf and we leave.

Kowsurat asks about me. I talk about my family and my son and he does likewise. He then asks about my job and seems impressed when I mention my school. "it's a very good school" he says (my school is owned by a well known former minister). He even asks about my subject and what grades I teach. He asks which town I'm from, and mentions that he is visiting Manchester next week to meet some Thai athletes who will partake in the next Olympics. "I'm thinking of building a new pier at Sathorn" he tells me next. I respond by asking about the sky train route to Bang Khae. "It's planned to start next year" he says, "but" he grins; "you know it will take a while!".

Then our dinghy pulls up back at the main pier and we are pulled off the boat with media and other people looking at Kowsurat and wondering who the farang is with him. I thank Kowsurat and make my way home.

It's strange that of the phu yai I have met in Thailand, Weerasak Kowsurat and Sittichai Pookaiyaudom have been the least arrogant. Yet if I were Thai, I'd be opposed to them. I also note that the real phu yai in Thailand are a lot less domineering than some of those below them - such as headmasters and office managers - who seem to feel less secure about their authority, so spend more time displaying it. That trait, however, seems universal to me.

Life can be strange like that, especially in Thailand.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Note to self: proofread more.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chris says it all

Substitute "PAD" for "Republican" and "UDAD" for "Democrat" and Chris Rock gives the perfect analysis of the current mess in Thailand.....

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The sort of people involved in Thai politics Pt.5

It just doesn't get any better for Sodsri does it? Remember the (taxpayer salaried) election commissioner's various predicaments? She couldn't vote in the Democrat MP case because she "had" to take a (taxpayer funded) trip to the US.

Well lo(w) and behold, Sodsri is back! But wait....she still can't make the meeting because....errr....she's only just back....:

" .......chairman Apichart Sukhagganond said the panel met yesterday with four out of five commissioners present. Therefore, they decided not to rule on the case in which Mr Vithoon, a Democrat list MP, was accused of buying votes with movie tickets ahead of the Dec 23 election last year.

The absentee commissioner was Sodsri Satayathum who could not attend the meeting as she had just returned from an official trip to the United States. " (source)

I shall have to try that one myself! 'Hello, work? Err, sorry I can't come in to school this week, I've only just returned from Phuket....."

Sodsri isn't the only one who appears to be a cymbal short of a drum kit though. Former (taxpayer salaried) Pol Gen Salang Bunnag who threatened to besiege PAD members at Government House and spoke of a "special weapon" to use against them is now trying to Jedi mind trick the entire nation and international press by denying he ever said it....

"Pol Gen Salang Bunnag claimed that he has never spoken about the plan to seal off the Government House to cut off food supplies of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters.

He insisted that he has never talked about anything like that.

Pol Gen Salang then blamed it on reporters, saying they made the news up themselves to cause rifts in the country. " (source)

I guess this report is made up, and this one too , as is this article. and this picture of him weeping as he speaks.

Interestingly, PAD leader Sondhi claims Salang owes him 60 million baht.

Salang also headed a foundation that distributed an "aids pill" that has been declared useless.

Salang was once charged with having his officers act unlawfully when they shot dead six alleged drug traffickers. Salang said his men acted in defence:

Friday, October 24, 2008

""I believe in the Thai justice system, especially the court system. Normally in justice systems everywhere, a person is innocent until proved guilty."

Before the trial (link)

`They don't use the rule of the law as evidence, they follow the politics,'' he said. ``They try to use the court to manage politics. I think the British people and the world understand that isn't democracy.''
``I'm very happy for her, but my wife has done nothing wrong and is not a politician, This court is for politicians _ it's not a normal court.''

After the trial (Potjamon was convicted on other charges). (link)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Phuket and the Baiyoke Sky Tower

My parents, the wife, Dylan and I have recently returned from Phuket. We stayed at The Amari Coral Beach resort which is probably one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. Not because of the top notch room service, the very welcoming staff or the stunning views of the sea and the fishermen within......

.......not even because of the beautiful walk through what would have been jungle just a few years ago towards the jetty. On this jetty, visitors can feed the fish and watch the tropical fish instantly swarm towards the food. Swordfish and various coloured cichlids are on display. The area itself features a natural stream, rare insects and a horde of angry crabs.......

No, the reason it was the best hotel ever was because of the breakfast. Everything from pancakes to chicken tikka, cornflakes to fresh fruit, bacon to boiled potatoes. It was culinary heaven.

There are two swimming pools in the complex. Dylan enjoyed swimming......

..........but he also spent a whole lot of time with this half Chinese half Japanese girl who followed him everywhere. People watched them everywhere they go.

On our return to BKK, we stopped by the Baiyoke Skytower. This is the tallest hotel in Bangkok and features a revolving platform that provides a stunning view of BKK. It's an exhilarating experience that makes the viewer feel fortunate to live in a time when we can enjoy such privileges.

We had a lot of fun and I can heartily recommend the Amari Coral Beach resort, the Crystal Grill in Baiyoke Tower and the Pratumwan Princess to anyone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another prediction

Following Anupong's clear hint at Somchai today - don't underestimate the amount of pressure the army chief can apply with just words - and the planned march of PAD supporters from National Stadium (at the top of a popular tourist section of Bangkok) I am predicting Somchai will be forced to dissolve parliament within a week.

You heard it here first.

Unless it doesn't happen, in which case I'll delete this blog :-)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My latest reads

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Dawkins' first book remains popular for a reason. While pretty much every great scientist of the age is eventually found to be fundamentally wrong on at least one point in future times, Dawkins probably represents the best and most comprehensive argument for Darwinian evolution theory in our era.

The book is not particularly difficult to understand in terms of scientific jargon or understanding - the author wisely avoids that pitfall - but it does take a certain amount of abstract thinking on the part of the reader. Dawkins is aware of this and as he describes the reason for greater promiscuity amongst men, the concept of selfishness being a survival trait and so on, he constantly reminds the reader that he is talking from a strictly genetic evolutionary standpoint.

As such, this work from the seventies is still as fresh and valid as ever and offers a tremendously convincing argument for how we humans came to be and why we do the things we do, and it's accessible to anyone. Dawkins is one of those scientists who reminds us that reality can be as mind blowing and fascinating as any religious fiction, and I think he is right.

Early Childhood Education by Eva L. Essa

A modern, comprehensive and well designed book. ECE is a large guide to all aspects of teaching young children. The book covers topics as wide ranging as the history of ECE, theories of ECE, laws governing child care centres, theories of play and the benefits of toys and the challenges that lie ahead for the field of ECE. The book is designed for Americans but as we all know, children across the world all have common needs and characteristics, and this book covers them well. It also has some excellent bonus material such as a list of useful web sites for teachers. While this book is very highly rated, its size, its price and its scope mean I can only recommend it to someone who is a teacher or at least seriously interested in ECE.

Speeches that Changed the World
An excellent compendium. This book contains exactly what its name would suggest. Each speech is proceeded by a short explanation of the situation and the person involved. Naturally the book is somewhat western biased but this is not a major drawback. There will be lines in here that pretty much everyone will know ("I have a dream.....") but there will also be many that are less popular but no less important. Each oratory is but a few pages long and since the book starts with Jesus Christ and ends with George W Bush, the reader can open it at any page and be entertained with a great speech from a random era. Easily readable for anyone and highly educational.

The English by Jeremy Paxman
Jeremy Paxman is known for being the presenter of the very famous "University Challenge" show and is known for getting impatient and ordering students to "Come on! Come on!" when they are slow to answer. In this book, Paxman looks at the history and the modern state of the English people and their culture. He is a funny and witty writer and his work makes light reading at times, but he also addresses serious issues such as the Notting Hill Carnival riots and the current confusion over the English as a nationality and identity. Definitely entertaining for anyone interested in English people.

The Seven Ages of Britain
Let's face it, most of us employ the logical fallacy of looking at history from the point of view of the major players - Kings, Queens and explorers. But most of us are not related to royalty or noblemen, we are related to common people who saw events in their time from a very different perspective. That is the great thing about this book which is based on a TV show, it tells us about history through the eyes of my ancestors, common people who managed to survive and reproduce through several different ages on Britain.

This book is, for me, gripping and highly educational but perhaps it only appeals to British people. Let me make this point though: wouldn't it be great if people from every national could learn about history through the eyes of their common ancestors - the people that got us here - in addition to the history of the small group of elites?

My next planned purchase is Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilisation" but I really should read my way through my backlog of twenty odd books first.

A few thoughts and questions

Photo from

It's hard for me to comment on the ongoing crises as so many other bloggers do it much more promptly, often I would be simply recycling their own links and comments. That's why I tend to stick to longer, more thoughtful blogs where I can at least add my own considered opinions into the matter.

It seems to be a generally accepted fact in Thailand - even more so than elsewhere - that politics is played out behind the scenes, while the general public just get to see small parts of the script. Whilst there seems to be a large debate concerning excessive police force and the possibility of grenades being used, I see this as - in one sense at least - specious.

Don't get me wrong, I abhor violence and violent people. Yet the fact is this - the protesters knew what was coming. They had been warned and they responded by surrounding themselves with arms and security guards. Regardless of whether the PAD are right or wrong, the fact is they knew that their ideology and demands meant they had to challenge the police and receive a police response. Still, the guy who drove that car at the policemen should be locked up.

A more intriguing question for me lies in the thoughts and actions of General Chamlong. Nobody can doubt he knew he would be arrested but what were the circumstances? Were the police tipped off (if so, by which side?) or did they follow him? Did Chamlong strike a compromise? Did he even want talks with his long term acquaintance Chavilit to be successful? Did he want the PAD response to be violent? Did he expect so much bloodshed?

Thai politics is always a complex, tortuous affair, but it seems to be particularly exacerbated by intrigue right now. Yet throughout the twists and turns, I struggle to disagree with the person who observed that it boils down to a struggle between just two people. Yet even if we can accept such a simplification, my mind echoes with an even greater thought: what are their children thinking?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Teacher's Diary: final day

The "big" news that hits me as I turn up for breakfast (yes they provide breakfast! not a bad place, this!) is that last night there was an accident right outside school. A power cable had been knocked out by a swaying tree and had been ripped right out. It fell down through the hammock - luckily nobody was in it at the time - and the resulting power surge blew various pieces of equipment in the serviced apartments. The apartments in question have a very high teacher occupancy rate. It turns out the swaying tree had been an obvious threat but the local authorities had only cut it down yesterday after the accident, and apparently there is no buildings insurance to speak of. It remains to be seen what will happen in way of recompense.

Today is a 'marking day', with no classes for me. I get my marking done fairly quickly and once the peer checking is completed, I announce scores to the students. On the whole, I'm delighted. Scores were far higher than I expected for many students. Either they, or I, or all of us have exceeded ourselves. It gives me a boost for the rest of the day.

The school is eerily quiet though, as only the upper grades are here. Now I have nothing to do, I take some time watching other teachers finish their work. With no classes to attend, the teachers become more talkative and the room echoes with three distinct languages.

There are three "groups" of teachers in our establishment: Thais, Filipinos and westerners. It would be nice and idealistic to think of it as a multicultural working wonderland, with everybody happily mucking in together but this is not how life works, at least not in any country I've been to. Each staff room can be almost literally zoned off by the three groupings, despite the fact most teachers can sit where they wish. Naturally perhaps, each group tends to stick together and have the occasional whine or spat with the other groups. That's not to say it isn't harmonious mind you, on the contrary, Englishman especially are often happiest when they are complaining. We sit and moan about the noise from the Thai staff, who sit and moan about the laziness of the westerners, who moan about the cliques of the Filipinos, who sit and moan about the arrogance of the westerners and the bossiness of the Thais.

For the most part, it's pretty harmless and I can honestly say that nearly every teacher will put petty differences aside when it comes to doing anything to help the students. On occasions such as Christmas, everybody works and has fun together. What's more, there are plenty of relationships that cross the imaginary divide.

Working in Thailand is rarely boring (though today comes close due to lack of work) and often rewarding. Some teachers become so bogged down in day to day grumbles and gripes - just as we all do - that they forget the bigger picture. We are the guests, and we can be grateful or get lost.

And that's all for the teacher's diary, bar the occasional 'one off' perhaps. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 03, 2008

The sort of people involved in Thai politics Pt.4

"I am ready to apologise and get fined. But as a media professional, he should have ethics."

Chuwit Kamolvisit, candidate for Bangkok Governor after punching and kicking a TV anchorman. (link)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sodsri at the grindstone again

Good old ECC member Sodsri Sattayatham is setting a shining example of professionalism to everyone yet again. We already know about her tragic illnesses that occur at times she is due to face criticism, and her refusal to apologise for blatant (some might say slanderous) false statements and of course her threats to do......nothing. We know all that already.

But today, when the ECC was due to rule on the conduct of a Democrat MP - a case that could have huge implications for Thailand - the group could not reach a quorum because Sodsri "had" to go to the US embassy to apply for her visa.

No, she couldn't go yesterday, tomorrow, at 7am this morning or next week (apparently she left it until today to apply for a visa she needs before October 7th) , and no she couldn't "rush" back in time.

Hey, let's be fair here. Sodsri needed the visa to go to the US to "observe preparations for the presidential election". No Disneyland, Empire State Building or Grand Canyon required, then.

It wasn't clear if taxpayer funds will be used to pay for the trip, but I'm sure the benefits of "observing preparations" for the US election will be of huge reward to the Thai political system.

Teacher's Diary: day five

It's Saturday, and Saturday means two things: one, my favourite team will slide further down the Coca Cola Championship and two, it's private school day.

Yes, on Saturdays I work at a private language school. The most expensive one on the "shopping mall" market in fact. I was offered the post of Head Teacher at this school about eight months ago. I accepted the job and then changed my mind, causing problems for some staff there that I liked and admired very much. Since then, I've done my best to do whatever I can to help without complaint. Whatever they ask me to do (on Saturdays), I do. I don't mind, I'd just be out spending money otherwise and extra cash is always welcome.

My first class is hardly a break from the strains of teaching teenagers: it's a small group of eight and seven year olds. The usual pattern for this class is that in period one, the students will arrive throughout the fifty minute class and we will do some speaking. In period two, we will do some activities from the workbook to keep them calm and in the final period, we will play some games.

One girl turns up late and in tears. It transpires another boy ran up behind her and pulled her skirt. She spends the rest of the class interrogating the boys in the room who all profess innocence and I believe them. As I try to resolve this, another girl decides that today, the fun should start early and decides to beginning hitting me with her metal pencil case. This is regular occurrence from this student and she certainly enjoys inflicting damage, I sometimes wonder if she has been paid off by an ex-girlfriend or something. After I have persuaded her to disarm, we return to the topic. Today I'm teaching the kids about disabilities.

"So students, if I cannot see, I am blind, If I cannot hear, I am deaf. But if I cannot walk, what am I....?" is my question.

One student jumps up out of his seat and is bursting with pride as he belts out his answer...."A FISH!" he yells at the top of his voice.

We continue on. The first two periods go well and the third is typically rowdy. At this age, children have natural concentration spans and the lessons go beyond that time. The trick is to save something fun for the final period and find a way to reward them for speaking English during that time.

The afternoon class is very similar. A group of ten children. The only difference is that this class has a hyper confident girl named JJ. JJ is an only child who has been taught English since she was born. She can speak English better than any of her friends and she knows it, and frequently remind her friends of it. JJ will often talk over me in class and demand that I do certain things at certain times.

The best response I have found is to give her extra responsibility. I periodically remind JJ in private that she is my "super student" and that if she speaks English, the other children will copy her and she can help me so much by setting a good example to the others. This ploy typically works well for some time before it wears off towards the end of a class. Today, I call JJ over for our regular chat:

"JJ Are you going to be a good girl today?"

"Teacher I want play Bingo!"

"Later JJ, but are you going to be good today?"

"I love mum and dad a lot but I love teacher little bit" (I guess this is her way of telling me mum and dad have already warned her today, but they aren't here to warn her now! This kid is smart!)

"OK but if you are good today and help the teacher, we can play bingo in period three, OK?"

"OK But I can I do one thing now?"

"OK JJ, what is it?"

"Give me a chewing gum"

She saw the pack of gum in my shirt pocket!

The class survives without any casualties and I'm done for the day except my final, adult class.

My adult class are brilliant. If you could design your own class, you wouldn't go very different from what I have here: two university students and two working adults. All excellent at English, all with great attitudes and all seem to trust me, which makes it easier when introducing new ideas or tasks.

I have to consciously stop myself from teaching too much grammar: it's good for me because after a day of crowd control, I want to get into something semi-academic, but it's not what the students want from me, they want to study pronunciation and vocabulary. Today's class includes the classic "balloon debate", the scenario is several characters are on board an overloaded hot air balloon, the students must debate who is to be thrown out. They vote for the politician (naturally) and the priest.

And so my day is done. Working a six day week is a little tiring but I'm so lucky to do a job that I nearly always enjoy and is not physically demanding. I ave my areas for improve marked down: these days, I should perhaps spend less time working and more time preparing lessons and thinking up new concepts and ideas. Apart from that, things are going well. I'm looking forward to my holidays though.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Reforming Thailand's Politics: an evening at the FCCT

The FCCT event was entitled "Reforming Thailand's Politics".

Before the night started, I overheard a discussion involving a colleague of Jonathon Head and discussing the recent charges against him. As it was personal, I will not discuss the conversation but it made me feel very sad for a number of reasons.

The night started with JH introducing the speakers:

- Kasit Piromya, former Ambassador to Washington and Tokyo, and now a supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy. Also a Democrat shadow cabinet minister.

- Korn Chatikavanij, Deputy Leader of the Democrat Party

- Chris Baker, author and lecturer on Thai politics

JH invited each speaker to discuss their views on the PAD and the proposals for new Thai politics.

(My usual disclaimer and a note: I am not a journalist, I can't do freehand. For the sake of clarity I have paraphrased and edited out less interesting parts of the discussions. Also note that tonight's forum was particularly unfocused and verbose at times from both the speaker's and the questioner's sides. If speakers seem to jump from topic to topic and be a little disjointed, it's not just my editing to blame, that's how it happened)

Kasit: "I'm impressed that so many Americans are here supporting democracy. After all, their own government can design a totally fake war and keep it going while their economy collapses as their regulators look the other way." (Murmurs from the audience).

"We would like to see a Thai model based on the Finnish model of politics or even the Chinese or South Korean models. The Democrats are the closest we have in Thailand."

"New politics is coming to Thailand and everyone should be represented, including hill tribes, disabled people, poor people and others."

"Some of our ideas for new politics include the concept that anyone can take a complaint to court without having to go through police or other civil servants. There should be complete press freedom in a similar style to the German model, however the monarchy is above politics and should never be discussed negatively."

[How can he advocate both 'total' press freedom and having a monarchy above politics?]

"Police chiefs should be regionally elected and under the jurisdiction of a local governor.The Ministry of Interior would be downsized. De-centralisation would be made more powerful under new politics."

"All parties and their candidates must sign a code of conduct agreement. They must promise their candidates try to control local mafia bosses and serve the people. Any breech of the COC would result in automatic disqualification for the candidate without the need to wait for a court decision."

Korn Chatikavanij: "
The Democrats have come under pressure especially here [at the FCCT] for allegedly not being vocally opposed to the coup. Some people have suggested that the PAD are undemocratic purely because they took Government House. I think this view is narrow minded."

"I believe there is a consensus that change is needed in Thai politics.. The PAD's 70/30 proposals [that politicians should be 70% selected by an official body and 30% elected by popular vote] seemed unpopular, now they have a 50/50 proposal, I wouldn't necessarily oppose this."

"My party want both the lower and upper houses to be one hundred percent elected. I personally oppose this. If both houses are fully elected, you will get the same type of people in both houses. Often they will be related, literally. I would like the upper house to be scrapped. I understand there is debate on this in the UK, and nobody accuses them of being undemocratic."

[I think he's
referring to a debate on upper house reform in the UK, I'm not aware of any debate for upper house abolishment, which would be a terrible idea].

Compromises on the electoral system can happen and don't have to be undemocratic, it could help democracy by pushing a free press, etc."

Chris Baker: "Kasit makes 'new Politics' seem so exciting,but I want to know: how do we establish the legitimacy of all this? Moves such as scrapping the MOI are big moves, how do we give authority to such a move?"

"The other speakers talk of a consensus, we all know there are very few consensuses in Thailand right now. The opposition against 'one man one vote' (OMOV) is nothing new, it is an old idea. We should also be careful when discussing 'middle class' , it is hard to define 'middle class' in Thailand.

"These days, people are more politically educated thanks to moves by the Chuan government and TV. "

[I disagree with him there]

"Some people either don't understand or fear the growth of a mass electorate. Vote buying does not explain why people get elected. People do consider the candidate. Buying politicians is a far bigger problem than buying votes, and Thaksin massively increased the budget for buying politicians."

"A genuine crises is coming. In the past we had The Democrats as a reasonably liberal party on one side, on the other side we had the old 'godfather' parties. There was a real difference in ideology. Then came Thaksin with a philosophy of 'me as leader and no need for human rights , democracy or opposition' etc. This idea did have some appeal. The Democrats' response to this new philosophy is to support a group that - however much they talk of democracy - really boil down to hitting people with golf clubs. I think that is sad."

Kasit responds: "
As a democrat, I feel the change in political culture is a moral response to Thaksin and his methods. I have been talking to many people about this. I note 60 - 70% of PAD activists are women. This could be because they have a more moral grounding against behaviour such as that of Chalerm Yobramrung and Samak's verbal abuses. This is about morality."

JH -
Korn, why can't Democrats get more votes in the north east?

Korn - "I could talk about that all day. Northerners are less politically active and money politics is more prevalent there, and we have less money than the PPP. However I agree with Chris, money is the price you pay to play the game but it doesn't decide if you win or lose. In some areas
Puea Pandin outspend PPP by three to one and still lose. "

"Our predicament is this: do we leave the system as it is and hope that it will improve and evolve as many people believe [including me] or do we reform it? I'm a pragmatist, I support the later idea but I don't support removing anyone's vote." (Whoever said you did, Korn?)

Floor opens for questions.

Question 1
- (Pravit, The Nation):

Why did the PAD make the 70/30 proposal? Second question - could Kasit be accused of being a Democrat proxy or nominee for the PAD?

70/30 idea was floated simply to get a reaction and spark debate. I've always been open about my dual roles. I never mention The Democrats when I'm with PAD.

I used to be Thaksin's ambassador in Tokyo. During that time many Japanese companies complained to me about corruption at
Suvarnabhumi Airport. I sent many letters to Thaksin but they were all ignored.

That's why I fell out of friendship with him and joined the PAD.

Question two - Chris Baker, do you think The Democrats have not been firm enough about their democratic values during the political upheaval?

Chris - I agree, I don't like people suggesting the Chinese government has a 'democratic model'.

Korn responds: We will not back away from OMOV. The reason why so many Democrat supporters also support the PAD is due to frustration. they have tried to stick with Democrats and get reform but they cannot. So they take to the streets to make their point more directly. We ourselves are still here, supporting democracy.

Question three - What are your thoughts on north eastern politics, especially in relation to Udon [Thani]?

Kasit - The incident [of fighting between pro government and pro PAD factions] at Udon was not from real Udon people. The [pro government] people came from Bangkok and were trained near a military base. They were paid.

Question four - I was shocked to see Chamlong suggest disenfranchising seventy percent of the people that he fought so hard to protect in 1992. I want to suggest a more powerful senate with regional representatives that can control the government's budget.

Korn - But how can you complain about disenfranchisement and then support a more powerful unelected upper house?

JH - What about a more powerful elected senate?

Korn - We are discussing this. We also like the idea of an EU style regional assembly.

Question five - Chris, do you see the military as the ruling force in Thai politics for the foreseeable future? Do you believe Anupong [ the general who says there will be no coup]?

Chris - You can never rule out another coup, but right now the army are at a low point due to their poor government. They have low political capital right now so there should be no more coups at least for now.

JH- Kasit, do you support the PAD's call for more military involvement in politics?

Kasit - The military believe themselves to be guardians of democracy and Thai values. We can't reconcile that with true democracy, though.

Question six - [introduces herself as a "trained lawyer". Why is it that whenever someone introduces themselves as a 'trained lawyer' or something similar, my BS detector starts going off?]

I can't accept the criticism of the US made earlier, the PAD have timed major events to coincide with SET crashes. Why are they working outside the system?

Kasit - We don't have the sophistication to work in tune with the SET, only Sonthi worries about the SET.

follow up - Concerning your idea every complaint can go to court, how do you legitimise this? Wouldn't the court get clogged up?

Kasit - It's just an idea at this stage. People feel helpless because true complaints are purposely blocked by bureaucracy. People feel angry and hurt.

Question seven: (Andrew Burke) You have discussed making politicians up from professional associations, etc. how would you choose them?

Kasit - We are undecided. It could depend on how much tax they pay, for example. (gasps from the audience)

follow up - So you are saying the richer people get to choose more politicians?

Kasit - It's just an idea, we need to do more research

follow up - But you have so many ideas, don't you need to explain some of them?

Kasit - In time we will, now they are just proposals.

Question eight - (Mirakim, North Korean reporter for South Korea.)

[She starts with a strange set of comments including the statement: "There are only three countries in the world without a constitution - UK, Israel and New Zealand" which is totally wrong]

Can we get Thaksin back to court in Thailand?

Kasit - The government are scared to do so, Somchai is his brother in law. To extradite, we need to send an official letter to the UK. This letter has not been sent.

There are further questions but I'm tired out. The night was interesting, if uninspiring. All parties seemed slightly unfocused. Kasit had some nice ideas but no substance behind them, Chris took a role as "critique" of the other two so couldn't offer a lot things we hadn't heard before, but I was particularly unimpressed with Korn. Not only did he have little to offer but his duplicity was remarkable. Throughout the night he displayed clear support for the PAD and their proposals, but also tried to walk the Democrat's official line without ever being honest about where he stood.