Thursday, May 29, 2008

Any of this sound familiar?

The PAD taking to the streets to represent a minority but a significant minority's opposition? The government facing frequent accusations of legal manipulation to further their own ends? The name of "Thaksin" being thrown about everywhere? A young man being persecuted for something he said in English by people who really should know better and, in many cases, can't speak English? (And of course, there was no promoting from any ex military mean to do this) An unpredictable economy hitting some people hard and causing others to fear how they will manage to survive? Military generals making promises of non intervention, that seem to cause more whispers of the "c" word each time it happens?

I'm sorry to say that certain people are eyeing another opportunity to play upon uncertainty, confusion and people's need to feel "national security". I do not like Samak or PPP at all, but it gives me no pleasure to predict that we won't make it into 2009 with this government.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You couldn't make this stuff up!

This is why I love Thailand........

Democrat MPs staged a walkout during their friendly football match against government politicians Tuesday when controversial MP Karun Hosakul showed up.

Hope they remembered to take their ball with them!

Karun got loud cheers from his supporters during the match. And he showed to them an "I love you" symbol in sign language. In the locker room, he also challenged the opposition to begin its impeachment proceedings against him, according to a Democrat.

Before riding home on his bicycle for tea.

(As explained in the article, Karun - who has a history of dubious behaviour - aimed a kick at a Democrat MP inside Parliament building a few weeks back.) Rumour has it some Dems were waiting by the Parliament gates to get Karun at home time, but their plot was foiled when his mum picked him up by car.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Training with the Thai Tourist Police

With a Police Lieutenant Colonel

So, six months after handing in my application to join the Thai Tourist Police Volunteers, I finally received my invitation to a training seminar.

What should I expect? Well the initial application stage was fairly impressive. The staff checked my background with the embassy and the Immigration department. I know this because my interviewer said: "Oh you work at [name of my employer] my uncle is a director there". That seemed to go down well. Heck, I wasn't even recruited yet and already the nepotism was kicking in!

So with a 5am alarm call, I set off to Sukhumvit soi 5, wondering what I would learn from the boys in brown. The hotel venue itself was very decent, if nothing special. I was ushered into a large conference hall and presented with an information pack. Amongst leaflets and tourists guides there was a booklet that explained how to make a police report. The information itself was solid, but the translation was poor. I wondered how the Tourist Police could produce something like this, but I was about to discover things would get worse before they got better.

The event kicked off with a senior sergeant welcoming everybody and declaring the training session open. Suddenly some music began to blast and we all had to stand up and salute. The expression of the commander in front of me stopped me from smiling.

We then began a lecture on the role of tourism in Thailand. There was just one problem - it was all in Thai. There were about one hundred volunteers at the seminar. Less than ten of us were farang, the others were Burmese, Japanese or Chinese. Very few could understand what was being said.

Suddenly, a strikingly attractive young woman stood up and said something to a commander at the front. She then walked to the stage and was introduced as both "Miss Chicago" and "Miss Songkran", who would translate for us. And so she did, though I think some of the volunteers were a little distracted from the topic at hand.

After a coffee break, the next lecture was on "national security" and was presented by a lady called Porpharas. Khun Pornpharas was obviously a highly educated lady from an upper class family. Her speech was intelligent and articulate but the topics she addressed covered issues such as economics and the politics of immigration. For me it was interesting, but the body language of those around me told me they knew this was not exactly relevant for police volunteers.

After lunch we had a new officer and a new topic. We were treated to a slideshow of foreign criminals believed to be located in Thailand. It was interesting stuff and I was ready to blast Bob Marley's "Bad Boys" track on my iPod and hunt these guys down, but sadly our beauty queen had gone home and the talk was only in Thai. It was becoming clear now, the senior command in the Thai Tourist Police may be great people and great policemen, but they couldn't speak English.

Still, the overall feel of day one was good. This was largely down to a man call Senior Segeant Major Peter, who was almost a one man police force by himself. Throughout the day he had exchanged jokes, wise cracks, banter and pranks with both his fellow Thais and the volunteers. He had broken down the culture barrier and explained why Thailand needed foreign volunteers and how grateful the police were.

With "Peter"

Day two began on an interesting note as I was attacked while eating a sandwich at 'Subway' on Sukhumvit by a drunken prostitute who was upset that I wouldn't hand her my sandwich. Sadly, I had not yet received any training that would actually help me deal with the situation. Would today be different?

Luckily, the answer was yes. Our first lecture was in English and "Peter" explained to us the different codes that could be used on a police radio. He also threw in a few very helpful names and contact numbers that we could use when dealing with police in general.

The next talk was an exercise in incident reporting. This introduced me to Pierre, the TTP translator who explained how the reporting system should work.

After being given some more training booklets, it was time for the "awards" ceremony and some general mingling. I managed to talk with a few senior officers who seemed genuinely friendly, grateful and good natured. I also spoke with a long serving English volunteer who explained how I could receive further training and move "up the ladder" (yes, the volunteers also have a ranking system) starting with the Lions Club convention in Bangkok next month.

So after a few snapshots, receipt of my uniform and a few goodbyes, it was over.

The "awards" ceremony

The training was interesting. I got to meet some new people from around the world and make some friends in the Thai police. I do feel ready to start, but that is more down to my chance encounter with the long serving Englishman than any of the training I received.

But that seems to be Thailand through and through. There is far more focus on friendliness and welcomes than there is on actual skills training. That might suffice in most professions, but when you doing a job such as police support, you would want something a bit more efficient.

It also worried me that there was literally zero physical based training in the entire seminar. Other than a few questions on the application form about health, physical details and martial arts training, there was no defence involved at all.

However, it was clear that all applicants were carefully screened for their own backgrounds and paperwork. This was applied to everybody which I thought was good, though it was clear the Burmese contingent were being given the closest attention.

Still, I learned something, met some new people, made some friends and in time I will be able to do a lot to help visitors to Thailand. It was time well spent.