Mobi-Babble -15th March, 2015

Mobi-Babble 

It’s definitely warming up in Pattaya and I’m starting to get quite sweaty when I take my Labrador, Mickey, for his evening walk around the lake, even though the sun is setting and there is no direct sunlight.

But the early mornings and evenings are still quite pleasant, and although the humidity is rising, it is still much cooler and less humid than downtown Pattaya City.

Due to a prolonged drought, Mabprachan Lake has worryingly shrunk to about one-third of its normal size, but the plus side is that the newly exposed riverbanks have provided some wonderful walking areas for residents – especially us folk with dogs.

Micky absolutely loves it and we wander along the recently emerged sandy paths, through low undergrowth, and suddenly we come across  picturesque rocky pools.

Or, if I walk a few minutes northwards around the lake perimeter, I can take tracks which lead right down to the shrunken lake itself. There I can walk along newly exposed sandbanks which have become a sort of seashore. The edge of the lake laps right up to my ankles. Very pleasant for an early evening stroll with the gentle breezes to cool me and the water shimmering in the sunset.

Good for country walks – not so good for Pattaya’s water supply.

I will try to take some pics before the rains come – if they come….

*

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I am all alone, (save Lek’s son and three dogs), as Lek went to Nong Khai last Wednesday and will be returning tonight with her youngest daughter in tow, who has come to stay. I do hope I have done the right thing by insisting that she come to Pattaya and live with us. I feel it’s just not right for Lek’s family to be separated. The quality of life, to say nothing of the schooling, is not very good way out in Lek’s Issan village and besides, she loves her mum and wants to come here and be with us all.

So somehow, some way, I have to find sufficient income to keep them fed, housed and happy…

*

As ever, my health is so-so. Some days my stomach is so bad that it really is an effort to sit down at my computer and do my writing, and other days it is a little better.

I don’t know why , but these days, whatever time I wake up in the morning, (usually before 9 am), within seconds, I am hit with searing stomach pains and there is an enormous volume of gas in my stomach. I  have to rush to the loo to release the gas and other ‘matter’. It can become very debilitating and depressing, but what can I do? Live with it I guess.

My novel is still moving along and I am posting another chapter in today’s blog.

In addition to Lek’s daughter coming to live with us, my eldest daughter is arriving next Thursday from England for a two and a half week stay, so we will have a full house. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on my book writing and my blog, but it’s unlikely that I will complete another chapter next week. Either way I will keep you informed on Twitter.

(If you don’t follow me on Twitter, my Twitter updates can be accessed from my Home blog page on the right-hand sidebar).

*

One of the many aspects of living in Thailand that has always puzzled me is the lack of any local taxes on land and buildings. Local authorities need to raise local taxes to provide services  for the local communities, such as rubbish collection, and in particular, to repair and maintain the local roads.

I don’t know of any other country that doesn’t levy taxes on local land and buildings, usually based on the value or, as they tried to unsuccessfully tried to do in  the UK,  levy the tax on individuals.  (Poll tax)

Whatever the method, nobody can argue that local authorities need to have money in order to carry out their duties.

As far as I am aware, money for district councils in Thailand is obtained from the central government purse, which is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, not least of which is that councils who support the government politically will get the lion’s share of government hand-outs.

When Thaksin was running for re-election, he once famously (and blatantly) announced that those districts who did not vote for him and his party would go to the end of the line when it came to getting government grants for local infrastructure projects.

Clearly local authorities need to be independent from central government and not be beholden to them for their annual budget, and the only way to do this is by collecting local taxes.

I have lived in Pattaya for over ten years and have had free and unhindered use of the local roads, waste management and other services. In the days when I had money – and even now – I wouldn’t begrudge paying some kind of local and Buildings tax, but like thousands of other expats, and millions of Thais – rich and poor alike, we are not taxed at all at a local level.

Back in October, The Prime Minister stressed the need for the government to impose local land and buildings taxes but said that the matter remains inconclusive and it may take months or even 1-2 years before the taxes come into force.

He said that he understood the concern of house and building owners with the increased tax burden. But he said that he and all government officials who are also taxpayers will not be exempted and liable to taxation as well. In other words, they would all be in it together.

So a few weeks ago the Ministry of Finance announced that they had finalised the rates for the new tax

Then, only a few days after this announcement, the ministry made another announcement to the effect that they had made a mistake and the rates would be lower than previously announced and would kick in on land and properties with a much higher value than previously announced.

God help up all! I mean – they have had this local tax on their agendas for years and years – you would have thought they had enough nous to get it right first time around, instead of which, they show themselves up by being utterly inept….It really inspires confidence that they are professional and know what they are doing…

Then, a few days after this second announcement, guess what? The PM, who was the first one to tell us that this tax was coming – ‘no matter what’ – announced that he was ‘returning happiness to the people’ by indefinitely postponing any imposition of the proposed tax. You really can’t make this stuff up.

I wonder why he decided to stop the tax in its tracks?

How many times during the years I have been coming and living in Thailand, have I seen governments of different hues announce a land and building tax, only to withdraw the proposal a few days or weeks later.

Prior to the current government, the last one to do this was the Abhisit-led Democrats and just like the present proposals, it was announced, and then later withdrawn.

I will tell you why.

It’s not so much a case of ‘returning happiness to the people’ as ‘returning happiness to the vested interests and billionaires’ who would stand to lose out if such a tax was introduced. This is notwithstanding the fact that the amounts of tax they would pay would be little more than a pinprick in the overall value of their wealth.

We have seen this again and again. No-one – no matter how obscenely wealthy they happen to be – are prepared to hand over even a tiny fraction of their wealth for the benefit of their country.

Anyone remember Thaksin and his multi-billion dollar sale of the largest mobile phone network in Thailand, (AIS); the mega-transaction upon which he paid zero taxes? If the vainglorious, power crazy, megalomaniac had not been quite so greedy he might not have ignited the ire of the masses and he might well still be in power today.

He has been more than happy to throw away billions to his sycophants in an effort to buy  his way back into power, but give one Baht to the nation’s tax coffers? Never!

Just imagine how much good he could have done with all that money amongst the poor and deprived in Thailand. If he had vowed to leave politics for good, and made generous donations to the disadvantaged he could probably be back in Thailand living the good life and regarded by many as a saint….

What is it with these greedy Thai fat cats that they can’t bear the idea of losing one satang more than they have to?

Beats the shit out of me!

*

It came as no surprise to read that no Thai university made it to the Times Higher Education’s World Reputation Rankings, 2015. 

The lack of Thai academic research papers in English is one of many factors that went against them

The survey in 15 languages was sent to over 10,500 respected academics in 142 countries.

Each academic can nominate no more than 10 institutions that, in their expert opinion, they believe to be performing the most strongly for teaching and research. No Thai higher-learning institutes  received enough nominations to sit among the world’s most prestigious varsities.

The Thai institutions that did not feature in the World Reputation Rankings also received poor scores for their international outlook in the Times Higher Education’s main World University Rankings.

They were not attracting enough international students or staff, collaborating with overseas universities enough, or publishing enough research papers in English – “the global language”.

The only way for a university to improve its world reputation ranking was to ensure that “scholars across the world recognise you as an excellent teaching and research institution”.

Released yesterday, the rankings identified the 100 most prestigious universities in the world.

In the first three places respectively are Harvard University (the United States), the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford (both the United Kingdom).

The most prestigious university from Asia is the University of Tokyo in 12th place, while the best ASEAN performer is the National University of Singapore (4th place).

Thai universities do not stand a chance in Hell of getting into the top 100 until they tackle the problem of the appalling standards of English throughout the Thai entire education system.

I will digress for a moment.

A couple of weeks ago Lek and I watched a fascinating BBC series of documentaries on the Mekong river. The presenter started the first programme at the mouth of the Mekong in Vietnam, and then travelled through Cambodia, Laos  to the river’s source in China.

In each programme, the presenter spoke to local people who lived on or near the Mekong in these four countries. Everywhere she went, the presenter had no problems in finding many local folk who spoke enough English to be interviewed.

Not for the first time, Lek wondered at the ability of all these poor rural folk from one end of the Mekong to the other to speak English to a pretty good standard.

“How come they can all speak English?” she would ask me…

Anyone who has travelled the south-east Asian region will know that this is true – even the child beggars in the streets of Phnom Penh speak better English than the average graduate of a Thai university.

So we shouldn’t be surprised to read that Thai universities fall way below internationally accepted standards – after all, places at universities are often bought by rich parents, as are the degrees. I would venture to suggest that a vast majority of university professors could not hold an intelligible conversation in English. I know this for a fact as I’ve tried.

*

Now for a ‘good news’ story….

Well…the Thais have adopted it as a good news story – personally I’m not convinced that they should be congratulating themselves on this one….

But it was still was a good news story.

I love dogs and every year I love to watch the most famous dog show in the world – Crufts dog show in England – on my TV.

Every year, they have a special section where viewers vote for the ‘Friends for Life’ Award. This is for dogs (and their owners) who have done something really special and who have created a unique bond between human(s) and their dog.

Out of the 200 dogs nominated, this year’s winner was a dog called ‘Miracle’. The dog has developed an incredibly close bond with a very disabled baby boy, (kyle), who is suffering from cerebral palsy and autism and cannot communicate with his family.

There’s an unspoken language between Miracle and Kyle.When Kyle gets upset because he can’t convey what he wants to do, Miracle will go and lay at his side for Kyle to touch and stroke. Miracle seems to automatically know when Kyle needs him.

If Kyle simply wants some attention, Miracle will go over and shower him with kisses. The unique bond between man and dog is still yet to be explained fully, but Kyle seems so much happier and settled in the presence of Miracle. It’s like they’re soul mates.

This wonderful and touching bonding touched the hearts of millions of viewers and Kyle and Miracle won the prize.

What has this to do with Thailand? I hear you ask.

Well it transpires that Miracle is from Thailand – yes it’s true, the cross breed dog was snatched from the streets of northeast Thailand, and then loaded onto a truck with hundreds and hundreds of other stolen dogs, all destined for the dog meat restaurants of Hanoi.

Luckily for Miracle, the truck carrying him to what would have been a slow and agonisingly painful death was intercepted by agents working for the Thai animal welfare charity Soi Dog Foundation, who’ve been fighting the illegal trade for the past four years. The dogs were taken to a purpose-built shelter in northeast Thailand, and adopters were sought.

Kyle’s mum spotted Miracle’s photo shortly after he’d been rescued on a Soi Dog Facebook post. Devastated by his plight and the hopelessness of his situation, she inquired about adopting him. Even though she was already an owner of three rescue dogs from Soi Dog, Amanda soon had her fourth.

The rest is history: who can believe it, only hours away from an agonising death in Vietnam, and now a lifelong friend to a special boy in England.

Yes, some people have a right to be proud about this touching story – but Thailand?

‘Sorry- o’, (as they say in Nigeria).

CagedHundreds_dogs_were_rescued-ttcs
Before

 

crufts-dog-e1425650909406-660x496
After

 

MAB mini pic

 

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