The understandable outpouring of joy experienced not just in Thailand but throughout the whole world on Monday night gave way to the grim reality that the Mu Pa team and their assistant coach are not out of the woods, let alone out of the cave.
Once again this column – written ahead of Sunday – will unashamedly focus on what has become one the biggest stories to come out of the kingdom since the Erawan and Hua Hin bombings. And in many ways, such has been the human interest behind the events in Chiang Rai it makes those tragic events pale into insignificance from a newsworthy standpoint.
Even multiple boat tragedies in Phuket resulting in the death of perhaps four dozen tourists barely succeeded in shifting the continuing cave drama from the headlines. Such perhaps is the nature of modern day news when drama and suspense takes precedence with online and TV viewers voraciously gobbling up every last snippet of human interest that the newshounds can muster.
Monday saw the discovery of the 12 boys and their assistant coach. Many were surprised – those posters who had spread doom and gloom conspicuous by their absence from the forum though some shamelessly hung to their bashing straws only to be shouted down by the sane.
It was a heartwarming and touching scene caught on video as the English rescuers were first to the group. Rooster along with many other shed some tears. The boys seemed in remarkable shape as they attempted to communicate in English with the divers. Then came the reckoning that the rescue had only just begun.
And this was rammed home in tragic fashion by Friday when one of the gallant Thai Navy Seals died while making his way back through the murky tunnels after having been in contact with the boys.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Samarn Kunan, 38, will be remembered by millions and it is hoped that his family is helped by the government. A sacrifice such as his puts everything into perspective.
Whether the group can be taught to swim and scuba dive and whether this will be deemed worth the risk as a means of getting them out remains to be seen. All the while the threat of further rains rises amid reports on an almost hourly basis that a rescue could be imminent.
The future of key spokesman Narongsak appears uncertain. It looked like he had been enjoying too much of the limelight; one of the crimes in Thailand that rarely goes unpunished. For all the heroism this is being shown no one could deny that this has been a very Thai rescue if there is such a thing.
Meanwhile the media circus continued. Grateful of the foreign assistance tourism and sports minister Weerasak Kowsurat made a big fuss of one of the English divers seeing him off with gifts at the airport as Thai Airways flew the rescuer back to Blighty hopefully for free.
One dreads to think what will happen to that circus if and when the boys make it out. Dr Wimonrat Wanpen, director of an adolescent health institute said it best when she noted: “These kids have undergone a difficult experience, so there’s no need to do any more teaching or preaching to them”.
Well said but with the Thai penchant for blaming and finding a scapegoat I fear for the assistant coach and even the boys themselves when they see the light of day. Thailand should give them space and reflect on how such problems might be avoided in the future rather than going down the blame route.
Khun Weerasak has been very quiet since he took over the tourism portfolio from the hapless Ms. Kobkarn Wattanavarankul. One of the latter’s most famous pronouncements was that she intended to make boat accidents a thing of the past with a swathe of safety measures.
The events in Phuket showed that nothing has changed. Operators of tourism vessels are clearly still setting off to sea when they shouldn’t and as usual it is all about money and not the safety of the visitors.Several boats seem to have been involved.
In this case blame is due.
Weerasak should resign immediately. If the best part of fifty tourists are going to die on his watch it is time for someone else to take over who might have the clout to make a difference. Harvard educated Weerasak talks a good game but looks weedy and unable to make any officials do their job by insisting on a modicum of safety.
Of course, the same could be said of virtually anyone in charge including the pocket general who jumps up and down but is largely ignored.
How pathetic these so-called leaders look when compared to Petty Officer Samarn.
One wonders if the generals were shifting about nervously in their khaki undies this week as down in Malaysia former untouchable leader Najib Razak faces 20 years for corruption. It is barely months since Razak issued draconian decrees designed to stifle the public and the press in the multi-million dollar embezzlement scandal.
It all looks eerily familiar to Thailand. While there is no suggestion from me that backhanders have been taken, the country has nonetheless started some of the biggest infrastructure projects in its history. At the very least I imagine there have been some shenanigans for which there may be a reckoning if the ballot box ever successfully removes some of the power of the generals to influence the courts.
An interesting story that caught Rooster’s beady eye this week were claims made by Manager that immigration and the Airports Authority of Thailand are more than happy with the long and lengthy queues at Suvarnabhumi. This is so that unscrupulous officials – by which they mean virtually anyone with a badge – can sell priority lane passes to tourists willing to pay 1,000 baht to get in or out of Thailand quickly.
We were told that the scam is worth hundred of millions of baht a year. It would be nice if “Big Joke” Maj Gen Surachet Hakpal investigated this one.
Naturally, he wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. For all the bluster and PR photos mustered by the deputy commissioner of the Thai Tourist Police Bureau he has never gone anywhere near corruption.
As my mother used to say, he knows which side his bread is buttered.
Buttering bread is a skill necessarily developed by Mrs Rooster over the years. This week was a confusing one for Her Loei-ness as she saw a side of Rooster not normally prevalent.
Readers of this column will know that Rooster is not averse to a healthy smattering of Blighty-bashing. With some of the antics of my countrymen and women in Thailand over the years it would take the patience of a saint to resist.
But this week the missus had to put up with my chest pumping out “USA! USA!- style” with the actions of the modest self-effacing characters in the cave. She was even more bemused by the tears of nationalistic pride dripping onto the keyboard.
This was followed up in sensational fashion barely 24 hours later with England’s historic win via penalties against Colombia at the World Cup in Russia. I am someone who normally puts his club a million miles before his country but with three Tottenham guys in particular helping England on their way to the quarter finals it was impossible not to get excited.
Whether by the time you read this the dream is still alive for the English remains to be seen. Writing this I am tempted to see if I can get some beta blockers just to get through the Sweden match.
FIFA secretary Infantino meanwhile contacted the Thai authorities. Like everyone else he had heard about the plight of the boys in the cave and took the opportunity to provide support and even invited the whole group of 13 to the final on July 15th.
Let’s hope they get out in time to make the historic showpiece.
And see Harry Kane score a hat-trick against Belgium.