Where are former colleagues from days in Kuwait? One in Karachi, two in Oman, Roger and ‘pleath thoo meeth you’ Arnold living virtually cheek by jowl in Jiddah, others back home in India, Australia, Kenya, France and America. Wherever we go, whatever places we venture to, we’ll always regard the eighties in Kuwait as our formative years as expats. We can never get away from those days nor in lots of ways do we want to.
From this tropical outpost, this far from barren frontier, there’s much to relate and then again so little when looked at from the perspective of World Order. A summary of conditions here is captured in the following: a gentleman driving down Silom Road, heart of the clogged city, espied a friend walking along and pulled over and offered him a lift. ‘No thanks,’ came the quick refusal, ‘i’m in a hurry.’
I was out of town while the IMF circus was performing. I gather from those who were here that hardly a genuine Thai was to be seen anywhere, peasants of all persuasions were relocated together with their stalls, trolleys and assorted paraphernalia to the north and north-east and ordered to stay there till the shooting match was over.Visiting delegates encountering free-flowing traffic and unblocked streets must have assumed their flights had been diverted to the Channel Isles.
When I got back to town on the night of October 16th, the show hadn’t quite finished but certainly the worst was over. A climax of sorts, however, awaited me on return. The night I got back there was live on Channel 9 TV, the government channel, an address by the current Prime Minister to the world press at a lavish reception in the newly-opened and frightfully expensive Hyatt Regency on Rajadamri Road. The PM spoke in English the entire time and his command of the language is excellent. In the question-and-answer session afterwards he answered searching questions by some quite sharp reporters from England, Holland, Australia and France; they didn’t spare him or the country. His frankness was astounding and he went up in the estimation of everyone watching. He was asked head on – confrontational tone – about police corruption, drugs, prostitution and social and economic inequality and in reply admitted freely these were major problems. When he was asked why the people over so many years have allowed the military to dictate politics and government he was in a tight corner but acquitted himself well though not with the same candour as earlier. After all, a bullet could have found him the next day. Overall, an A for Mr Anand.
The rains that threatened to swamp us in September and October fell on places other than the city and we were spared having to wade and disappear down holes. Two weeks ago, however, we had the most spectacular downpour of the entire season and everywhere went under water for a few hours. The accompanying thunder was so fierce my windows vibrated with each clap. Now the cool season has arrived. That doesn’t mean the rains are finished entirely, but almost, and the mornings and evenings before and after sunset are delightful. I must be getting used to the tropics, yesterday i had to wear a sweater on the way to work, and in Bkk a sweater on a non-Thai is pretty rare.
Off to Singapore next week for the SEATTCO conference; nice when the school is picking up the tab. Ten of us are travelling and we’ll be staying at the Mandarin, no hole in the wall. Looking forward to a spot of pampering.
The 21st sees the celebration of what i consider the most beautiful of all Thai festivals, Loy Kratong, the day when Thais send their sins floating away. They craft elaborate miniature boats and floats and decorate them exquisitely, and place small flowers and pieces of fruit inside. The centrepiece is a lighted candle shielded from the wind and as dusk falls they float their creations down the rivers and canals. The sight on the Chao Phya is breathtaking, hundreds and hundreds of tiny glowing barges floating downstream carrying with them the sins of the people.
Had a letter from Clive, my Gandhi lookalike friend who sails around the world for a living. At present, he’s radio officer on a vessel plying the high seas between China and New Zealand. His comments on a short stay in Kiwiland hit the spot: ‘We had a few days during which we took a car to the volcanic area of Rotorua: steaming mineral lakes, mud pools, 100-foot high geysers and lush vegetation. It’s such a green and beautiful country and yet it’s socially sterile and has none of the buzz or energy of the Orient, it’s typical traditional British. The most exotic meals are steak ‘n’ kidney pie and chips.’
His most interesting comments come when he talks about the Dutch crew of the ship:
‘I have nothing in common with these guys and find them spiritually dead, it’s much more stimulating to sail with Arabs, Indians, Malays and Filipinos than with these guys. It’s the old story common to most North European countries where the guys consider themselves all-knowing and lack any curiosity about other cultures and consider others inferior because of their comparatively low level of material prosperity. You and i have different considerations because our values are different. If i had to summarise that difference i’d say they are overly yang and as a consequence they’re inhibited and fail to perceive the more subtle things around them and can’t admire beauty. Each port we visit is assessed by the price of beer and how modern the buildings are.’
The vulgar fun of the incident where some persons of the night got into a tizzy and in the ensuing affray lost a wig or two and decapped the security guards was topped by a much less funny incident exactly a week ago. I was woken up at 4:00am by gunfire upstairs. It was a frightening experience, one to be missed. I counted ten shots accompanied and followed by shouting and screaming and people running up and down the fire escape and then the arrival of wailing police cars. Pandemonium for about five minutes and then two gentlemen were escorted handcuffed from the building by the boys in brown, dumped in a cop truck and taken away. No one knew the real story for twelve hours and the place was buzzing with rumours of the most fantastic nature. Nok (Little Bird), our best receptionist downstairs, gave me the true version of events the next afternoon. An Indian gentleman who lives on the 11th floor with his wife and two children had a row with his brother who was visiting from New Delhi. The dispute was over money (what else?) and the man, it seems, lost the cool and started firing his gun – out the window, thankfully – to intimidate his guest. All quite bizarre. The two men have since returned from the cop shop and have been given their marching orders by the building superintendent. Everyone feels sorry for the wife and children as they are particularly nice. Testosterone-fuelled ego is a curse.
Didn’t do anything special on my birthday but i did celebrate in a quiet way the night before with half a dozen friends who came round for drinks and then dinner at a local restaurant, a modest place with clean white tablecloths, heavy cutlery and excellent Thai food. We could afford to stay out late as 23rd October is a national holiday in Thailand, not i assure you in honour of my birth but to honour the man considered the greatest monarch this country has ever had, King Chulalongkhorn. He was indeed a great and wise king and almost singlehandedly brought Thailand into the 20th century. It just happens we share a birthday.