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A Week in Review: July 31 - August 6, 2010

Open defiance of the law and false national pride continue to detract from Thailand’s real problems. This is Thailand: a week in review pulls no punches. Read here to find out who we are upsetting this week… 

With Phuea Thai MPs lining up to defect over to rival parties, Chalerm Yubamrung rallied the red shirt troops by promising to bring Thaksin back to Thailand if Phuea Thai wins the next election.

Meanwhile, the government’s medical compensation bill continued to be opposed by doctors, nurses and various medical staff who are worried that they may lose their untouchable status and be made accountable for their mistakes.

While there is every sympathy for overworked medical staff and we do not want to end up like America with ambulance-chasing lawyers, patients who suffer at the hands of incompetent doctors deserve some protection.

The vast majority of diligent and hard-working medical staff would have nothing to fear from this bill. It would, however, weed out the charlatans who are more interested in earning high commissions from expensive drugs than curing the sick, as well as those with questionable competence.

When I was teaching English, I once had a student who was a fully-qualified doctor. We were discussing CPR and I asked him if he had ever given the “kiss of life”. In disgust, he replied that he never would in case he caught AIDS!!!

But the big news last week was the open defiance of the government’s ongoing State of Emergency (SOE) in Bangkok by both the red shirts and the yellow shirts.

Red sympathisers have been holding small weekly gatherings for a few weeks now without making any headlines. Having gathered at their former stronghold of Ratchaprasong for a couple of weeks, they moved on to Democracy Monument – another site that their supporters had previously occupied and damaged.

Not to be outdone, the yellows decided to step back into the spotlight by staging their own rallies. Galvanising support under a nationalist banner, their main rallying cry is the protection of Thai sovereignty. The yellows claim that a Khmer temple, which was built by Khmers on Khmer land and which has been administered by Khmers for centuries, is Thai.

Apart from occupying the disputed Preah Vihear temple and removing several relics in the 50s, Thailand’s main contribution to the UNESCO World Heritage Site appears to have been in 2009 when 66 stones at the temple were damaged by Thai soldiers shooting from across the border.

Looking at the facts objectively, it is hard to see what legitimate claims Thailand has to Preah Vihear. Nevertheless, nationalism is a powerful ally of would be politicos and it has added fresh impetus and direction to the yellow shirt movement.

The irony is that while Thailand is fighting for sovereignty over Preah Vihear, it is clearly failing to look after its own World Heritage Sites.

It was reported last week that the former Thai capital of Ayutthaya is in danger of losing its status as a World Heritage Site because of poor site management and disregard for conservation. The crux of the problem is that hundreds of unlicensed traders have encroached onto protected areas to sell tacky souvenirs.

If World Heritage status is revoked, the local economy stands to lose hundreds of jobs and millions of baht in tourist revenue. However, the traders have stubbornly refused to move to an alternate site further away from the historical temples.

Chalermpol Polmuk of the humanities and social sciences faculty at Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Rajabhat University told the Bangkok Post that the locals were keener on taking advantage of Ayutthaya's world heritage status than trying to preserve the site.

"Traders think only about how to make money, and local politicians think about how to keep good relations with the traders rather than preserving the place's historic value," lamented Chalermpol.

From a foreign perspective, it is utterly amazing that the Thai authorities are either unwilling or unable to enforce laws that would ultimately benefit the local residents who resist them. However, as has been seen all too often recently, mob rule reigns in lawless Thailand where the ineffectiveness of the police force is breathtaking.

There was further bad news for Thailand’s battered tourism industry with the announcement that many of the country’s once pristine beaches have been downgraded in the most recent survey conducted as part of the Pollution Control Department’s (PCD) Chai Had Tid Dow (Star Beach) campaign.

Only 6 of the 233 surveyed beaches received the maximum 5-star rating with another 56 earning 4-stars. The survey considers environmental protection, pollution management, natural resources preservation and tourism management.  

The popular tourist destination of Phuket, whose beaches have been one of its main draws for decades, produced some of the most alarming results with 13 out of the island’s 14 beaches scoring a grade of 3 stars and 1 beach earning only 2 stars.

Worasart Apaipong, PCD's deputy chief, told the Bangkok Post, "In many places, untreated waste water has been released into the sea, leading to poor quality sea water."

Discarded rubbish is also a problem. The sea off Nai Han beach was found to contain an average of 2.23 kilogrammes of garbage for each 100 square metres of sea.

A Beach in Phuket Yesterday?

Once again, short-term gain trumps long-term stability. Unfortunately, it is something of a recurring theme in Thailand.

The Thai nationalists would be better advised contributing to the protection and preservation of Thailand’s outstanding natural, cultural and historical resources than arguing over who owns a very non-Thai temple.

Paul Snowdon – August 7, 2010

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28 Nov 2015, 04:23
Acting on a touch of remorse that I wasn't seenig enough of my family, I organised what was supposed to be an impromptu, calm week away from everything in Thailand for us all. We arrived and the whole place went mental.The day we landed in Bangkok, the Red Team was rioting and trying to get rid of the Yellow Team. Thai politics is pretty simple as they wear colour-coded uniforms, making it a lot easier to understand for the visiting spectator.There was a lot of hullabaloo about it on all the news channels but it's quite difficult to get nervous about Thai riots. In somewhere like South Korea you get students tooled up with Molotov cocktails and setting themselves alight before hurling themselves on to lines of heavily armed riot police. In South Africa, mobs might stone police while putting opponents into tyres before setting fire to them. The most the Thai Red Team could do was set a bus alight and even for this they looked quite embarrassed.Thais are not really cut out for violent protest – this is, after all, the Land of Smiles. It's difficult to riot with a big smile: it just doesn't sit right. We hotfooted it up north to Chiang Mai; not for any cowardly reason – it's just a lot cooler up there. Unbelievably however, as our car left Chiang Mai airport, we were attacked on numerous occasions. Luckily for us, the assailants were only throwing water bombs.We'd landed right in the middle of Songkran, the Thai New Year festival. Since this takes place in the hottest month of the year it used to be traditional for people to spray each other with water to cool themselves down. In Chiang Mai this has been taken to another level – a three-day urban water assault that is quite extraordinary. Scores of pickup trucks roam the streets with huge barrels of water in the back and seven or eight youths hurling the stuff at everyone and anyone. Meanwhile, gangs wait on street corners with buckets and hoses while moped drivers weave in and out of the traffic with the pillion passenger using huge water pistols to deadly effect. After five minutes or so you relinquish any hope of staying dry and focus on finding the best weapon you can buy for defence.We stopped at a petrol station and bought four huge Super Soakers. Continuing onwards towards the hotel, we executed several very successful drive-by shootings. By now, the kids were completely in love with the country and wanted to move here as soon as possible.My four-year-old son, Jackson, was all for getting out of our vehicle and engaging in some hand-to-hand combat, but we were tired and the lure of falling into a cooling pool was successful. We settled in quickly and any thoughts of revolution quickly faded as we tried to switch off from everyday life. Then my eight-year-old daughter, Parker, made friends with a girl who lived in Bangkok and came back that night full of alarm: Dad, did you know that if you stepped on a coin with the Thai king's head on it you could go to prison? I replied that I didn't know that but that I would be very careful in future when handling money. Also, Dad, if you put a statue of Buddha underwater then he can drown and you can be arrested for that as well. I assured her that we had no statues of Buddha but that, if we did, they would be kept very dry.Later that evening, on the telly, I watched the Thai riot police use water cannon on the Red Team down in Bangkok – and it wasn't for Songkran. It seems that you can't drown the Buddha, but Buddhists are fair game.
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