Many things can be said about life here but one thing’s certain, it’s never dull. Now that we’ve had the Runt of All Retreats and Kuwait is in slow recovery mode Thailand decided it was time for its own upheaval and on saturday morning we had a military coup.
The very mention of a coup usually generates a certain frisson, adds extra chili to the everyday dish but had the local radio stations not gone off the air and had there not been an increase in the number of soldiers on the streets one wouldn’t have known anything had happened. Not a shot was fired except by a passing tuc-tuc and citizens, agog with indifference, went about their business as usual. If they bothered to comment at all it was to express moderate joy that PM Chatchai Choonhaven had been removed from office. He’d been in power through the boom years, ’87 to ’90, and had done a great deal for the business community but the average salaried worker didn’t feel his lot had improved; if anything, it had deteriorated.
The new junta has been given the blessing of His Majesty who, by the way, was out of town in Chiang Mai when the troops took over Government House and arrested Chatchai at the airport. Now that the army boys are ‘legal’ they’ve sworn to hold elections within six months; meanwhile, they introduced legislation today to cut personal income tax. That move was met by cheers, including one from yours truly. Not that i pay a lot, but the less the better.
Patrick telephoned from Ireland on monday. The last time i heard from him was Christmas Day when he called from Amman. He said then he wasn’t at liberty to talk and would phone from London on Boxing Day but not a word till last monday. The reason for the silence was simple, he has been held in Jordan for two months because as the authorities there put it, ‘papers were not in order.’ When they released him last week, he said, not a scrap of paper had been deleted from or added to his collection and he’s at a loss to know why he was detained for sixty days. Maybe they didn’t like the look of him. Anyway, he’s back in Ireland and has every intention of returning to Kuwait once it’s appropriate to do so. He’s preparing to come to Bangkok and estimates he’ll be here in two weeks as he wants to start recruiting Thais for work in Kuwait. The Asians in general should do well, jobwise, in the new Kuwait as the Palestinians won’t be offered anything.
Patrick’s bad news, and there was a lot, was grim. As soon as the Iraqis invaded, some of our former Palestinian ‘friends’ joined forces with them and not only did they lead the Iraqis to the homes of prominent Kuwaitis but also to the apartments of expats. He confirmed that the apartment in Fintas where i lived for five years was raided. He sneaked into my building before he left Kuwait in December ‘just for old times sake’ and saw the mess. The Iraqis smashed down the front door and even pulled down the ceiling in the bathroom thinking they might find me above the panels, but this bird, luckily, had flown the nest. Anti-Western slogans were sprayed on the walls of the livingroom and the only living things inside the flat were mother cat and her latest litter and a colony of cockroaches. Early in the invasion, the upper part of my building was severely damaged by the Iraqis to get a sniper out but my mulhaq (ground floor apartment) survived the attack.
Reports of torture, he said, are quite true but many cases exaggerated. Some of the worst were people shot in the lower spine with a single bullet and left to die a slow death, and one or two extreme cases of men being nailed to walls by their upper arms. On the Fintas flyover he counted 6 hanged men one morning. Gruesome. Because of its strategic importance, Fintas saw some of the worst of the early fighting between the Iraqis and the Kuwait resistance.
On a much happier note, there were marvellous celebrations here in February to welcome the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ram, Goat or Sheep, depending on which particular Chinese interpretation you want to follow. Whichever animal it is, the Chinese here really let it all hang out. JJ (he of the ‘beautiful people’) took me to Chinatown and although i had to work next morning he insisted i stay till the wee hours. In fact i didn’t get home until six and only had time for a quick shower and a change of clothes before going to work. The celebration which kept me out all night was in the company of JJ and fifteen of his Chinese friends and colleagues. The Chinese here have a tradition of drinking cognac at New Year and my hosts killed about twenty bottles in the all-night session, it was an orgy of Hennessey and Remy Martin. I couldn’t manage more than a few glasses of the stuff but they just kept pouring it for me anyway. I had a splitting headache for 48 hours after. Never again! Well, not until next New Year.
I’ve decided to stay on here next year and have given a commitment to the school; California and Taiwan are on hold. The kids are fantastic and i love them and that has swayed my decision. I’ve learned to avoid colleagues i dislike. Anyway, the place is so big it’s easy to do that so i suffer no inconvenience or distress.
Over the past few weeks, JJ and i have been doing the rounds of the Thai restaurants in the city. I’ve had the tastiest roast duck i’ve ever had in my life and the most succulent goose, and at a fraction of the price one would pay in a European or American restaurant. The roast duck, accompanied by superb duck soup and a dish of crisp asparagus and celery, came to three dollars a head. The goose cost even less. Of course these aren’t the fancy tourist restaurants but the ones where locals go. There may not be Irish linen tablecloths, newly-pressed napkins and atmospheric candles but there is excellent food and for me that does it.
Have just heard on BBC that Saddam’s decided to leave Iraq and ‘retire’ to Algeria. I’ll believe it when i see it. Can’t help but feel sorry for the good ordinary decent Iraqi people and for the thousands of unwilling soldiers who served threadbare, hungry and virtually shoeless, their notions of the land of milk and honey now a sour and bitter memory. And for the thousands who served as cannon fodder.
I can’t watch the footage Thai television puts out nightly on the devastation of Kuwait, it’s too upsetting. I want to remember Kuwait as it was.