Novelist. Author of APSARAS and tales from the beautiful Saigh Valley. First person to quantify spiritual values.

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Saturday 19 December 2009

Thailand Report III

In a country of over sixty million, over ten million Thais live in and around the capital Bangkok. As in any large capital, there are areas of abject poverty. I'm always surprised how cheerful the people seem. Its probably because I only see them in the dry season, when the sun shines for days on end. Away from the capital, the economy is essentially rural. The work is hard and the rewards can be small, but the folk are happy. Or at least they were!
People are beginning to notice there is not so much 'smile' in the 'Land of Smiles', these days. Western lifestyle is spreading from the Capital.
The great divide between those that have and those that have not is huge here, although each year we come we see many more new houses being constructed in the rural regions, fanning out from the capital. Even here in Tha Phong, new houses, some built using a more traditional timber frame but more likely of brick and concrete, are constantly being constructed. Some are owned by 'farangs' or foreigners who buy the land or property in their Thai girl or boyfriend's name. Recently there has been a clampdown of this practice by the Thai authorities, particularly if the transaction is very expensive or if it is in sensitive areas such as in the famous beach resorts. One can understand why. The Thais want to keep their land for the Thai people in the same way that Welsh folk dislike the intrusion of second home buyers from England buying up cheap properties in the Valleys. Unchecked, the practice forces up the price of housing to levels the locals cannot afford.

A sign of the ecomomic decline in the last year has been the deterioration in the road surfaces. I've driven in Thailand for a number of years but this time the roads are noticeably worse. I feel that the entire highways budget has been allocated to making the new Airport links first class. The Airport is served by fast highways to the town centre but only taxi drivers can fathom out their intricate designs. Road signs are chronically ill equipped to direct strangers to the city to their destinations. It would be a help if there were some signs pointing to the City Center and if all showed links to other main routes.
The other huge investment has been the overhead 'skytrain'. Now it almost reaches the airport. Quick, clean and efficient, the 'skytrain' is a superb way of getting about some of the most important parts of the City. The new extension is due to be opened on the King's birthday in early December.

The King's health has been the subject of much speculation recently. He is the world's longest ruling monarch and is reaching old age. Recent photographs are non existent in the public domain; old ones of his younger days are used. It is impossible to convey the esteem in which the King and his queen are held here. When he does eventually pass away, there will be an unprecedented show of real and sincere grief for a monarch seen as a saviour of his people. The country will grind to a halt for weeks as a new successor is appointed. The son, with a reputation as a playboy, is not widely liked, unlike one of the daughters who is well liked.
If you are unlucky enough to be flying to Bangkok when the King's death is announced, you may find yourself diverted to a neighbouring country as Suvarnabhum comes to a halt.

Before flying back to the UK, I stayed a couple of nights in a hotel in Soi 7 Sukhumvit. It hasn't got a lot to recommend it, comprising of a few shops, a food mall, a couple of tailors who can make a suit for you overnight for a fraction of the price they can at home, a German restaurant and a large 'girlie bar'. In the street, taxis slowly cruise, looking for customers who aren't that bothered to use the meter and hawkers pushing their mobile kitchen trolleys and offering their inexpensive food.
The atmosphere of the street, particularly at night, is exciting and noisy. Lights attract your eyes from every corner and your nose is assailed with the smells of raw sewage passing, in drains, beneath your feet. Everywhere you look, though, are the young, skimpily clad girls. Sex is for sale on every street. Girls stand on the street and proposition single 'farangs' as they pass or they populate the bars, giving the eye to all the men they can in the hope of attracting a customer.
The men, some young, but mostly middle age and predominantly German or English sip their beers and check each of the girls. With so much available sex, the men can afford to be picky about their women and relaxed about the when and where. On the streets, it is not rare to see largely unattractive European men walk with girls young enough to be their daughters or younger. You ask yourself why they are here. Is it the conveneience of easy, no questions asked, gratuitous sex or are they lonely, inadequate men unable to socialise with women back home. Whatever the reason, one must remember that no matter what you feel about this behaviour, it is an important source of income for these girls. It is not uncommon that they will have elderly or infirm parents at home that will need feeding and looking after. I can also believe, but I stress without personal knowledge, that some of the more attractive girls can earn considerably more on the streets than they can in an office. This will be a plus in a society that is increasingly pre-occupied with material goods and the advent of high tech toys such as i-pods and the latest genre of cell phones.
Of course, it isn't all sordid. Sometimes there is genuine affection, as I saw in the British Embassy. Couples embarking on the tortuous path of trying to obtain a visa for a new Thai bride, incredulous at the obstacles put in their way when the Government lets in other, less deserving people from all corners of the globe.
Let me finish on a happier note. I love Thailand and the Thais. They are an industrious people, always making the most of what they have without too much complaint. I don't know if it owes anything to Buddhism or the warm sun, but even the most hard up find a way to endure their living conditions and survive. They have a strong family structure with all the family, including uncles and aunties, helping with the upbringing of children. In many respects there are parts of the country which can be considered 'third world' but to my mind the west can still learn a thing or two from this charming and happy race.

Kevill Davies is author of 'Apsaras'. Available at most on line book shops.
Read more on his Indaloblog at

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