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A Bitter Man

You’re twisting my melon, man.

Ronnie is Bangkok’s angry not-so-young man, and like the lemon in his tea, he’s bitter and twisted. He loves nothing more than to climb on his soap-box and rant about everything that’s wrong with the world to anyone who’ll listen. You are what you drink, and Ronnie’s a bitter man. Let’s see what’s twisting his melon this month.

In an effort to counter rising alcohol consumption in Thailand, especially amongst the young, the powers that be have taken drastic steps. However, in a typically Thai approach, they haven’t sought to educate the youth to make informed decisions and take responsibility for their actions, but rather have introduced various Draconian, and often bizarre, laws that affect not only the target group but also many responsible adults, both Thai and farang.

First, was the introduction of licensing hours. When I first came to Thailand, most pubs and bars would close at around 2am, while nightclubs would stay open until 3am or later. A proposed midnight closing time for all bars and clubs was only dropped at the last minute after intense lobbying from bar and nightclub owners and employees fearful of losing their jobs, but 1am became the norm.

Until recently, the UK had the strictest licensing laws in the world. This was a legacy of World War One munitions factory workers blowing themselves up after late night drinking sessions. And what was the result of almost a century of pubs closing at 11pm? Did it discourage drinking? Absolutely not. Generations of Brits turned into binge drinkers as they raced to consume as much as they could before last orders were called. As an unwanted side-effect, cases of violence increased as hoards of drunks were discharged onto the streets at the same time.

Thailand relies heavily on the tourist dollar. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website, there were 13.8 million tourists in 2006, 55% of whom were return visitors, generating 486 million baht in revenue. Tourists do not want to be kicked out of bars at midnight or 1am and many will go elsewhere to relax and let off steam.

The only true beneficiaries of stricter licensing laws are the bent cops who take backhanders and turn blind eyes as bars on their beat rise above the law for a few thousand baht per month.

The most recent step in the crusade against the evils of drink has been a blanket ban on advertising alcohol. I don’t particularly have a problem with this one. There have even been short public information films aired on TV between the moronic chat shows, game shows and soap operas to show us all how stupid the drunkards are. They should probably do the same about people who watch the chat shows, game shows and soap operas if they want to be serious about saving the moral fibre of the nation.

It was also proposed that the age limit for buying and consuming alcohol be raised from 18 to 25, although they seem to have settled on a compromise of 20. Making something illegal simply makes it more attractive to young and inquisitive minds. I don’t know about you, but if, as a teen, I was told not to do something, I would go out of my way to do it, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Many young Western tourists would also be affected. Of course, some will either be ignorant of the law or choose to ignore it. Those that do risk making impromptu donations to the bent cops’ benevolent fund.

Probably the most bizarre action has been the ludicrous plan to reduce alcohol consumption amongst schoolboys. While nobody could argue with the motive, the method is baffling. The law now prohibits the sale of alcohol in convenience stores and supermarkets to anyone between the hours of 2pm to 5pm and midnight to 11am. What genius thought that one up? Now it may seem a tad radical, but why not just not sell alcohol to schoolboys at any time of day? There’s nothing more patronising to a mature and responsible adult than going to the supermarket on New Year’s Eve and piling a few presents, some food, beer and spirits into his trolley ready for the evening party, only to be told at the checkout counter that he can’t buy the alcohol because it’s 2:30pm.

It is a sad indictment on a nation that places such emphasis on the family unit that many parents have called for and endorsed these measures, relying on the nanny state to dictate what their offspring can’t do rather than accepting the onus of raising their own children to be responsible citizens. What next? My son doesn’t do his homework, so I want the government to introduce a 5pm curfew and close down all TV and radio stations and the Internet. Come on people. Accept your responsibility as parents.

The whole problem has been dealt with in a typical authoritarian manner that not only fails to address but also completely ignores the cause of the problem in favour of dictating castigatory measures. Unfortunately, this is a part of the Thai psyche that I cannot accept as being euphemistically explained away as culture. Thailand has a rich and deep cultural heritage that it can rightly be proud of, but shooting itself in the foot in an attempt to kill a pesky mosquito should not be promoted as a part of its ethnic identity.

The only saving grace about these ludicrous laws is that this is Thailand, where laws are for the obedience of fools alone.

Ronnie Ranter – March, 2007

Related article – Taking the Piss

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