Life in Thailand – 21st Century Style.

 

Mobi-Babble

Not too much to report since my last blog.

My health is continuing to improve apace and I can now manage a 45 minute brisk walk in the late afternoon and still feel pretty good at the end of it.

The worst times are still at night, when for some reason my rib cage gives me quite a bit of trouble and I frequently wake up in a fair amount of pain. Maybe it’s the way I am lying in bed, or maybe the bones only do their ‘repairing’ when I am asleep, hence the pain. (I seem to recall reading somewhere that children only grow when they are sleeping).

I have been out a few times – once to meet my friends at a nearby bar, once to Bang Sarae with some friends for a seafood meal, and yesterday to a friend’s house for a barbeque. On each occasion, I have driven my Mobi-Mitsu – even though I have been told I shouldn’t drive for 8 -12 weeks. Noo has pointed out that whenever I drive, I have been in considerable pain when I go to bed that night. Maybe she is right, and maybe I should cut out the driving for a few more weeks.

The weather out here on the Darkside has been brilliant of late. A 50/50 mix of sunshine and cloud cover, with an hour or so of rain every day. This keeps the temperatures down to really pleasant levels, and ideal for my daily walks.

I have got back into the swing in my novel writing and managed to publish a new chapter a few days ago. I am now busy working on the next chapter although at this stage I cannot say whether it will be ready for publication during next week – I’ll just have to see how things go.

 

Life in Thailand- 21st Century Style.

I would like to share with you a little piece penned by a well-known and highly respected foreign businessman, who lived in Thailand for many years and travelled extensively throughout the country.

Here it is.

The Down-Trodden Rural Poor of Thailand

It’s not quite what you think

Here’s what you need to know about the rural have-nots of Thailand. They are the richest poor people in the Third World. And they owe none of their affluence to Thaksin Shinawatra.

Fugitive former Prime Minster Thaksin, a billionaire wanted in connection with corruption and tax-evasion on a staggeringly egregious scale, has done a remarkable job of convincing the world that he is the champion of the rural poor in Thailand, and that such prosperity as the farmer enjoys is in some way due to him. Yet all of “his” programs have been in place for decades. His well-financed public-relations machine merely invented catchy new terms for them.

In Europe and North America, farmers tend to be affluent. A comparison is therefore not at all meaningful. But take a village carpenter in Thailand’s northeast and compare him with a wood-worker in a small town in Iowa. To the American, the Thai seems impoverished, his house appalling basic, his expectations in life distressingly limited.

But the Thai carpenter probably lives on family land rent-free, pays nothing to moderate the climate, produces his own vegetables, chickens, eggs and pork, and rides his own motor-cycle to his jobs. He’s seen the American lifestyle on TV, and it’s so far beyond the range of his experience, he doesn’t feel deprived or envious.

Every village in Thailand was on the electricity grid long before Thaksin came on the scene, and virtually every village family has a refrigerator, electric rice-cooker, TV, radio and a couple of oscillating fans. Almost all rural households have a motorcycle, though it may be old and battered. In every village several families own pickup trucks. Animals are no longer used for farm work except in extremely remote corners of the kingdom. If farmers don’t have a mini-tractor of their own, they rent or borrow one from a neighbour.

The “landless peasant” class exists, but is very small when compared with the Philippines, India and much of South America. The rich absentee farm landlord is almost unknown.

Most farming families tend a small plot of land they own outright, mortgage-free (due to unscrupulous practices in the past, an outdated, paternalistic law prevents them putting up land as security with money-lenders, though they may borrow on anticipated harvests.) They sell a small cash crop through a co-operative. Their grown-up or adolescent children supplement the family income from jobs they hold in the cities.

Thailand, like the U.S., has a fallen-through-the-cracks underclass. While statistics*, as everywhere, have to be taken with a large measure of scepticism, officially 10% of the population is below the poverty line (12% in the U.S., 14% in Britain, 36% in Bangladesh). Of course, that means the poverty line for Thailand and no international comparisons are invoked. Poverty doesn’t necessarily mean doing without TV or not being able to lean a beat-up old 100 c.c. Honda Dream by the door.

Unemployment in Thailand is 1.4% — among the lowest in the world. Here it has to be cautioned that employment statistics are notoriously unreliable. Even in advanced countries, economists cannot agree whether to include the under-employed and those not actively seeking work. But unskilled work, if not well-paid, is not hard to find. My Bangkok apartment building has had a “security guard wanted” sign out for weeks.

During the dry season, many farmers supplement their income with construction work in the cities. But some prefer to do without extra luxuries and live the slow-paced, well-fed rural life. Two or three years ago, I found it impossible for several weeks to find a plumber to put in a new bathroom. Many “peasants” have become self-employed entrepreneurs and done well for themselves. Thaksin’s policies had no discernible impact on the labour force.

There is no population pressure in Thailand, since each female, on average, gives birth to 1.6 children in her lifetime. That is well below replacement level, so the population will in time shrink unless immigration is vigorously promoted. Reduction in family size was achieved through education and the perceived economic benefits of smaller families, the same way it was reduced in Europe and Japan. This got started in the 1960s.

Wealth distribution in Thailand is no more extreme than in most industrialised countries. The poorest 10% of the people of Thailand own 2.6% of the nation’s wealth. The richest 10% own 33.7%. In the U.S., the comparable figures are 2% and 30%, in the U.K. 2.1% and 28.5%.

These statistics may not be wholly reliable, but distribution of wealth is unquestionably much more equitable than in China, India, Brazil or South Africa. Even isolated Thai villages, especially in the central plains, would seem very prosperous to rural Pakistanis and positively utopian to most Nigerians. Thaksin’s much-vaunted “village revolving development funds” financing local enterprise had their antecedents in the 1970s.

All main roads in Thailand are paved (close to First-World standards), and most secondary roads are surfaced, as are a good many of the tracks that lead into remote villages, even in the poorer north and northeast parts of the country. It was like this when Thaksin was still a bankrupt ex-cop.

There are slums in Bangkok, but you have to go out of your way to find them. Since almost everyone is employed, squatters on state land in the cities often live there by choice because it is rent-free. You certainly do not have to go out of your way to see red-light districts. Incomes from the sex industry (obviously denied to those lacking looks and personally) exceed factory wages fivefold or more. The blind and maimed can apply for state aid, but street begging is often more lucrative. One sets one’s own moral priorities.

There was care at government hospitals and health clinics long before Thaksin came along with his fancy $1 scheme. Treatment is not world-class but it is medical care nonetheless. People in need of operations get them for small fees, and if they have no money the charge is written off. No one is turned away from emergency rooms at government hospitals. Doctors who went through medical school on state scholarships owe as many years of modestly paid service in rural hospitals as they had in tuition.

Almost no Thais are unable read & write. Girls on average get 14 years of schooling and boys 13 years (note that girls are ahead). About 1.75 million post-secondary students (over 20% of their age group) are enrolled in universities (ranging from world-class to barely respectable), two-year colleges or vocational schools. Bright kids from poor families get government scholarships, so up-by-the-bootstraps success stories are so common as to be unremarkable. This high rate of upward social mobility goes back at least half a century.

Infant deaths per 1,000 live births in Thailand tallies 17, compared with 180 in Angola, 153 in Afghanistan and 6 in the U.S. Life-expectancy at birth is 73.1 years (78.1 in the U.S., 66.1 in Russia). HIV-positive people make up 1.4% of Thailand’s population (0.6% in the U.S.)

With a population of 66 million, Thailand has 62 million registered mobile phones and 7 million landlines. Service is as reliable as it is in Europe. One-fourth of the people regularly use the Internet. Thaksin’s own company, which prospered prodigiously while he was prime minister, had one-third of the nation’s mobile-phone customers. He sold the firm to an investment arm of the Singapore government (and paid no income tax).

Thailand routinely exports more than it imports. It is attractive for foreign direct investment. It therefore has enormous foreign reserves, and even though the country has few natural resources to sell abroad, its reserves, at $138 billion, are the 10th highest in the world. (Britain has $56 billion, Australia $45 billion). This means plenty of capital for employment-creating new manufacturing jobs, which entice rural folk seeking work in cities. The Thai currency is so strong that even recent political troubles have not budged it.

Contrary to a widespread perception, the country’s main exports are not agricultural products, but cars & trucks, motorcycles & vehicle parts (made by foreign-owned subsidiary companies). Exported pick-up trucks, the biggest single-selling item, contain negligible imported parts.

One Japanese manufacturer sources its world-wide production of one-ton pickups, including those sold in Japan, from its Thai factories. Machinery is another big export, as are components for computers and other electronic goods, textiles, garments & footwear, processed food and animal fodder. Way down the list of foreign-currency earners are rice, sugar and tourism.

Over the years the Thai government has routinely produced a trade surplus, a current-account surplus and (though not this year) a budget surplus.

Since 1960 (when Thaksin was 11) no “developing” country has exceeded Thailand in average annual per-capita GDP growth. The farmers are still poor by western standards, but they’ve had their share of this rising affluence, and they are better off than rural folk in any other nation on earth for which we reserve the term Third World. 

 

* All statistics quoted in this article were independently cross-referenced from at least three of these sources: UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank, Asian Devt. Bank, IMF, CIA, WHO, Bank of Thailand, Thai National Statistics Office. In no case is a figure quoted from purely Thai sources. In addition, plausibility comparisons were made with the statistics of a number of other countries.

The only thing I would add to what I personally believe to be an accurate and excellent article, is that it must be a few years since the writer travelled to Issan; for these days you would be very hard put to find an ‘old and battered motorcycle’ as they are virtually all of the ‘shiny new’ variety.

I believe that with each year that passes, you can see more and more signs of a country that is rapidly upgrading its infrastructure and the material well-being of its people. Even when I travel to the poorer areas of  a province such as Nong Khai, I see increasing evidence of ‘middle class’ luxuries, such as air-conditioned homes, fenced off, well- tended gardens and even a growing numbers of sedans – saloon cars – parked up in covered driveways, instead of the ubiquitous pick -up trucks that have been the standard method of transport for decades.

It is all a long, long, way from the Issan I knew back in the 70’s.

The Ancient order of Things

Many years ago, when I was a kid in the boy scouts, one of the enterprising scout leaders, who had a literary bent and an over-active imagination, invented a special ‘secret society’, the membership of which could be earned by achieving a certain level of literary prowess – i.e. writing an article or  poem and having it published in the  leader’s monthly scout magazine.

I wish I could recall the name of this society, but I do remember that it was the ‘Ancient Order’ of something or other. Members would receive a ‘parchment’ certificate inscribed in an ancient English script.

Naturally, there was an elaborate initiation ceremony when the Grand Master of the Ancient Order would preside over an archaic initiation ceremony, the climax of which would occur when a large ‘golden’ medallion, emblazoned with indecipherable runes, was solemnly placed around the neck of the newly initiated member. This would be followed by secret handshakes, the exchange of secret passwords, and the chanting of ‘olde rules’ of sworn allegiance till ‘death doth us part’…It was all good, clean, harmless fun.

For some strange reason, I was reminded of  all this the other day when I read about a similar ceremony taking place in Scotland which, it seemed to me, was not a million miles removed from the kind of hokum pokum I had enjoyed as a wee lad back in the 1950’s.

This 21st century version of my ‘Ancient Order’ ceremony took place at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh when Baldy Prince Billy, who will one day ascend to the throne after Lizzie and Charlie pass on, was installed as a ‘Knight of the Thistle’, apparently, the highest honour in Scotland, and is second only in precedence in the UK to the Order of the Garter.

The event was attended by the Queenie Liz, accompanied by Phil the Greek, Horsey Anne, and, of course, sexy Kate.

Baldy Bill’s Dad, the would- be ‘Charlie the 3rd’, was the only royal Knight of the Thistle to be absent, as he was busy on his estate  in Gloucestershire, entertaining certain Dr Luis A Coloma, a scientist from Ecuador, to discuss work in ‘helping to protect his country’s rainforest’!!??!!

(I mean, after all, the well-being of rainforests on the other side of the world must always take precedence over family matters. God forbid that his absence had anything to do with the privileged git being upstaged by his son …)

Never mind, thousands of ‘commoners’ crowded on to the Royal Mile to catch a glimpse of Billy and Kate – known as the Earl and Countess of Strathearn while in Scotland – and other royals as they made their way across Parliament Square and into the cathedral.

The installation ceremony, conducted by the ‘Dean of the Thistle’, Rev. Gilleasbuig ??!!? Macmillan, took place within the internal Thistle Chapel and was broadcast through speakers to those in the cathedral.

Lizzie said: “It is our pleasure that His Royal Highness the Prince William, Earl of Strathearn, be installed a Knight of the most ancient and most noble Order of the Thistle.”

(Excuse me but can someone tell me what these people have done to deserve such honours. I wonder – did they write an article for Phil the Greek’s award scheme magazine?)

Earlier, the Queen’s bodyguard in Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers, mounted a guard of honour at the cathedral entrance while the Royal Regiment of Scotland pipe band played.

The service, which included prayers, readings and hymns, and the choir sang Psalm 122, as the Order of the Thistle procession re-entered the main part of the Cathedral. The Rev Macmillan called on the audience to celebrate “the leadership the Queen continues to give”.

The service concluded with the national anthem before the procession left the building. There followed a special parade down the Royal Mile, featuring 400 pipers led by the Lothian and Borders Police band who marched from the City Chambers to the Scottish Parliament, opposite Holyrood Palace, where traditional folk music, Highland dancing and the pipers played for the crowd.

The parade was watched by large crowds who lined either side of the Mile, many waving Union Jack and Saltire flags.

But in spite of all the magnificent ‘pomp and circumstance’, I still reckon it wasn’t a patch on my own ‘Ancient Order’ ceremony, that us kids used to enjoy, all those years ago….

Is this the world we created?

The great Freddie Mercury once sang:

Is this the world we created?

What did we do it for?

Is this the world we created?

We made it all our own.

A few days ago A Florida lifeguard, Tomas Lopez, was fired from his job after leaving his beach zone to save a drowning man. In the incident, a beachgoer asked Lopez to help a drowning man on an unprotected part of the beach. After running to help the victim, Lopez swam toward him, double-hooked him, and brought him ashore. An off-duty nurse tended to the swimmer’s water-filled lungs before paramedics arrived.

He was then duly sacked by employer, Jeff Ellis & Associates, after his heroics on Monday at a Beach, 18 miles north of Miami, as according to the company rules, he was not supposed to leave his area of jurisdiction. But it was not until Lopez filled out an incident report that he was fired.

The company stated that due to legal liabilities, the company had a policy of firing any lifeguard who rescues someone outside their jurisdiction.

“We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area,” supervisor Susan Ellis said. “What he did was his own decision. He knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do.”

Later, when the furore had hit the headlines, Jeff Ellis & Associates reconsidered their hasty decision and offered Lopez his job back. But Lopez refused, as did most of the nine other lifeguards, who had either quit in solidarity or were fired for stating publicly that they would also do as Lopez did.

What kind of world do we live in where an American Company thinks that it’s OK to let people drown, because it might impact their liability insurance?

I know I keep saying it, but honestly… you couldn’t make this kind of thing up could you?

If there’s a god in the sky

Looking down what will he think of

What we’ve done,

To the world that he created?

BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I  Don’t give a Hoot…

2 thoughts on “Life in Thailand – 21st Century Style.”

  1. One wonders why the educationaly subnormal offspring of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Battenberg dynasty never managed a German language ‘O’ Level between them. I’d have thought eidelweiss rather than thistles would have been more of their thing.

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