Forty years on, when afar and asunder,
Parted are those who are singing today,
When you look back and forgetfully wonder,
What you were like in your work and your play,
Then it may be there will often come o’er you,
Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song,
Visions of boyhood shall float then before you,
Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along.
So begins the nostalgic school song of Harrow School, an establishment I was pleased to be associated with as a former school teacher at their International School branch in Bangkok. The song – designed as a reminder of school days forty years hence – is sung at many schools throughout the world. Even Vajiravudh College in Dusit district of Bangkok near Chitlada palace has a version. In other lyrics they refer to their proud rugby tradition rather than Harrow’s quirky brand of muddy and archaic football.
I was reminded of the song – one of few that I would ever dare to sing outside the shower – as my little waif of a daughter, aged nearly three, began classes at our local kindergarten this week. It is forty years to the month when I sat my final exams at Alleyn’s in Camberwell, London. I failed abysmally and journalism was all that was left…..
I have unhappy memories of my school days and only went back there once in the holidays to leave childish graffiti and take rude photos with my now grown up children. It was a visit I also care to forget – while larking about trespassing I got locked in by an automatic door they had installed after I left. I envisioned having to remain at school for ever until a master in for some holiday marking let me out.
My life – as I am sure many readers could relate to, especially those not born in Thailand but who have made their homes here – has been subject to twists and turns and surprises that I never could have predicted when I walked out of those forbidding school gates for the last time in 1979.
I studied French at A-level and was so poor they just gave me another O-level on completion of the course. I was alright at English getting a “B” but foreign languages were not for me. What with my hatred of school it was hardly likely that I would end up teaching an oriental language in class just 15 years into the future. But that is what befell me; rather by necessity than design as I had become a father in Thailand and was worried about the nippers’ education, something I would get for free if I was employed at an international school.
Coming to Thailand at all was never on my radar in 1979. I hated hot weather for one thing and all I could think about at that time was knuckling down and perhaps getting to Fleet Street and maybe into television. I recall that a picture of a scantily clad oriental lady in “Men Only” looked enticing but somehow out of reach….
A trip to Australia in 1981 changed all that. I had a three day stopover in Manila and Asia had me snared – hook, line and plonker. Though I have never been back to the Philippines I fell in love with Asian women in particular and Asia in general virtually overnight. Within a trice I had fallen into Bangkok where I have been ever since.
While the past forty years have thrown up a thousand unexpected occurrences, I was romantically musing this week as I took my little one up the kindergarten steps to her own Brave New World. What would the next forty years hold for her…..or even me for that matter? Now in my late fifties I’m very unlikely to see 2059….in fact it was so sweltering in Krung Thep this week I was not sure I’d even make the weekend.
I’ve seen many changes in Thailand but a lot of them are superficial. For me it still remains charming, unpredictable and a tad mysterious, all qualities that attracted me in the first place. Some might consider me a bit of an expert on the country. I don’t; I still find the country rather baffling in many respects and enjoy it all the more for that!
I imagine that Thailand will still be wracked by corruption in 2059. Can’t see any change on the horizon for the hierarchical structure that at the same time holds the society together and holds it back. I don’t hold out much hope – especially in the short term – that educational standards will dramatically improve.
My little one will need plenty of input from home to be successful in what Alan Bennett’s headmaster character in his play “Forty Years On” referred to as “schooling rather than education”. Quite fitting even in this day and age and especially true perhaps of Thailand where adherence to rules and place in society takes precedence over innovation, questions and free thought.
However, these feelings of gloom are more than balanced by my innate love of the Thai people despite their perceived failings. They are what they are and over forty years they may have got fatter and taller and even more interested in money but I still love most of them to bits. Indeed some very few I would entrust with my life.
I am not a great believer in karma – indeed Buddhism has barely scratched Rooster’s craggy surface. When asked my religion by Thais I employ a cheeky smile and reply “Sasana Footborn”. They laugh not realizing that it is absolutely true.
I am not one of them and never will be but I speak their language well, and understand their culture better than many of them. I care not to be considered a Thai preferring to be an outsider. What I do care about is having the right to live here because it is my home.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to really appreciate a culture. I was thoroughly convinced of that viewpoint after reading Paul Theroux’s “The Kingdom by the Sea” about my own homeland. An American educated me about what it is to be British. So why couldn’t I tell the Thais about themselves!
Seeing off “Nong Cat” I returned home arm in arm with my Thai wife tearfully reminiscing about our recent past that led to this family milestone. Then it was back to the reality of translations for Thaivisa.
There were two young kids who would never see the exciting start of a new term. Both were mown down by pick-ups and cars on the Thai roads with their mothers. The first in Krabi was horrific to watch as mum inexplicably turned her motorcycle directly into the path of a pick-up.
The second was in Chumpae involving a nine year old and her parent hit by a Benz at an intersection. It was somehow doubly sad that the little girl had just been to buy stationery for the start of term, something all parents might do at this time of year. I was glad there was no CCTV – I was trying to feel buoyed with all this “Forty Years On” nostalgia not dragged down to the realities of the daily carnage and its horrendous ramifications that will see a million more Thais cremated by 2059 unless somebody, somewhere does something.
Perhaps less concerning, but still equally terminal was the video of motorcyclist “Tonkao” on a powerful Yamaha racing his mates through the rural roads of Petchabun. He got to 264 kilometers an hour before meeting his maker courtesy of a wobble and a couple of road signs.
The story was one of the most commented upon of the week on Thaivisa, a site that thrives on the ghoulish details of road accidents. I should know – I try to make the reports as lurid as possible – it’s all I can do to try and make people realize the sheer scale of the horror on the nation’s roads and what they might do to try and avoid it. Why tone it down and sanitize it?
Posters on such stories are in broadly well defined groups. Car drivers or bike riders who brave the roads and car drivers or bike riders who wouldn’t dream of risking it in Thailand. Throw in the unpleasant keyboard warriors who get off on blaming the victims out of a sense of undeserved superiority and you get some wild threads that keep the moderators busy.
People commenting about the safety – or perceived lack thereof in Thailand – also inhabit the Thaivisa woodwork like a seething spread of termites. Their antennae were twitching in the story about a granny and her grandson caught on the railway tracks in Prajuab between the barriers of what locals said was a faulty crossing.
She just managed to flee with her nearest and dearest before the Bangkok bound “sprinter” totaled her pick-up propelling it into a field enabling the gawking bystanders to get their lottery numbers.
While two legged danger in Thailand lurks everywhere (especially in uniform) it was far more limbs belonging to an insect that inspired a great deal of comment on another story. This involved a woman in Nakorn Pathom who was bitten by a “takhap” or centipede. Several posters confused this animal – whose fangs are rarely fatal – with the harmless and much cuter “ging ger” or millipede.
I stay well away from “takhap” – I’ve learned that much in Thailand. An American buddy of mine was bitten by one in bed and he told me stories that he wished he was dead, such was the agony. But like bee stings it is probably allergic reactions that actually kill people rather than the venom itself.
Down in Pattaya an Indian man faced a danger known the world over, namely glass doors. Rooster’s “mystery surrounds” translation was a little tongue-in-cheek as alcohol – as it so often does – surely played a part in his injuries.
Rooster recalled “One Night in Bangkok” that made this formerly hard man humble. I was walking home at 2 am from Nana when I had an urgent call of nature. The Landmark Hotel was all that could save me from manuring the bushes outside and I ran up a deserted path. In my haste – and having imbibed in the local hostelries – I ran straight into a plate glass window believing it to be an open door. The manuring was now involuntary but the alcohol acted as an anesthetic. Back on Sukhumvit I got some very sustained looks that I took to be admiring glances from the area’s ladies of the night.
Until I looked down and saw that I was covered from head to toe in my own blood. Not a sight I’d wish on anybody though I was unmarried at the time so there was not the additional pain of having to explain it to the missus!
Explaining away the lack of tourists in Chiang Mai were guides and operators of all descriptions. Among the excuses were the prevalence of Chinese social media suggestions and the absurd heat – something that can always be readily blamed in Thailand. No one mentioned the smog though that seemed like a good enough reason as any to have added to the post Songkran doldrums in the north.
Also making plenty of excuses were our old friends at the Thai Immigration Bureau. Suggestions have been rife that the looming “Fast Track” scandal at Suwannaphum airport involved their officers and perhaps even led to the downfall of Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn. Unnamed officials pooh-poohed the whole idea that bent officers were involved in creaming off 4 million baht a month from the sale of premium lane passes; a sure sign that something is up.
Throw in the unpleasant VFS Global Group – whose sole aim in life hitherto was to connive with the British Embassy to keep legitimate people out of the United Kingdom – and you have a glorious Thai mess.
Regarding Surachate, the man has his admirers and detractors. Thaivisa Poster of the Year “colinneil” is a detractor and nothing will convince him otherwise. I feel far more positively inclined towards Big Joke. I think that the silence surrounding his demotion is deafening meaning that it is not connected to a royal figure but is because BJ stepped on some serious toes.
Colin pointed to alleged claims in the Thai media that BJ has a rather large bank account in Singapore. I prefer to believe that the Lt-Gen’s mini-crusade against corruption is what got him into trouble and that one day he will be rehabilitated when those at the trough have melted sufficiently into the farmyard scenery. And the bank account? If it exists it could easily be explained by dark forces out to discredit BJ with the usual Thai smoke and mirror deflections.
The sea figured in many stories this week. A mystery foreigner with a ring engraved with “Joy” drowned in Hua Hin.
While the “seasteaders” of Phuket continued to remain elusive and out of the reach of Thai authorities. Having viewed their ghastly platform tethered to the seabed off the Thai coast I wondered why anyone would want to live like that. The male part of the couple couldn’t have made much from Bitcoin if that was the best he could do for his Thai wife “Nadia”.
One of the pleasures of having children – and a second lot like Rooster – is how much we can learn from our offspring. My son visiting from the UK had introduced me – somewhat belatedly I admit – to the wonders of Netflix. When not glued to the World Snooker Championships this week I have been poring though some of their best series and I like what I see.
The beautifully filmed “Our Planet” series narrated by David Attenborough left me thoughtful and in awe of our changing natural world while Ricky Gervais’ latest tour-de-force “After Life” inspired both tears of laughter and sadness. Here were other reasons to think about the next 40 years and what we are both destined to lose and which we might still hang onto.
Netflix this week signed a deal that will see them film a series about the experiences of the boys and coach of the Mu Ba academy who were stuck in the Chiang Rai cave last year. I am sure they will do a sterling job but the BBC’s Jonathan Head this week raised questions about who exactly will be seeing the lion’s share of the rights’ money.
Nothing is proven but methinks that someone high up in the government is being about as transparent as the depths of that murky cave. Many posters are still banging on about the boys profiting from their mistakes. Good luck to them I say – I wish I could have profited more from mine when I was their age! Equally forum curmudgeons are still confusing libel with rudeness in the case of Vernon’s spat with Musk Melon that is now set to be heard in the US of A.
There is a world of difference in calling someone a “paedo guy” and telling them where they can shove their submarine. I am tempted to say ask Oscar Wilde but the analogy is not a good one. Hopefully there is absolutely nothing in our Vern’s past that a clever lawyer might exploit.
And so to a few Rooster awards. The “Soi Dog Survivor of the Year” award goes to Boonrod who was found by staff at a Chevron drilling platform 220 kms out to sea last month. Boonrod, that means survivor in Thai, is now recovered and has found a new home in Khon Kaen with one of his rescuers. I wonder who’s going to get the movie rights to that one….
The “Roll One Up For Rooster” award goes to the opportunistic folks at the aptly named Thailand Tobacco Monopoly. They want to not only get into growing the formerly demonized “reefer madness” drug but actually roll up some spliffs. They are unlikely to contain much THC but a good dose of CBD oil might bring some relief to cancer sufferers if they can’t get their hands on the better stuff.
The “Darwin Award For Complete Lack Of Service To The Gene Pool” goes not to the Yamaha guy racing at 264 kmph (who was second) but to the hotel employee in Pattaya who robbed a Big C based gold shop of 2 million baht of jewelry. He used his own motorbike complete with plates and was thus traced in a matter of hours. If and when you get out please, please resist all compulsion to procreate.
Thirdly, the”Don’t Worry We Believe You Luv” award goes to the Thai woman who several Kerry Express staffers embarrassed by displaying a damaged package of sex toys for all the world to see and then named her in comments.
The award is based on what I read in print media that the lady in question had “let a friend use her address”. Bless!
The sacked staffers wai-ed and grovelled in apology and were forgiven. If that prevalent Thai habit is not going on in forty years time then Rooster is not a cock!
Finally, Thailand was surprised and delighted when His Majesty the King married on Wednesday ahead of the coronation ceremonies that are expected to enthrall the nation this long weekend. Thailand’s newest member of the Royal Household was named as Queen Suthida who before taking on palace guard duties was a humble member of the flight crew on Thai Airways.
May the Royal Couple be very happy and have a long life together and long may His Majesty reign.
Song Phra Charoen.