more Singapore than Bangkok the general election and a slave auction

March 1992

Plans are these: i leave here on April 4 for Singapore and shall be there five weeks. I return on May 10, wind up affairs and then make the final exit on June 4. So from now on it’s more Singapore than Bangkok.
The five weeks in S’pore will be spent at Nanyang where i’m giving a course in English. The school has granted me official leave and although it’s five weeks away from the job it is in reality only an absence of fourteen teaching days as it coincides with Easter holidays so from the school’s point of view it’s not so bad. Naturally it’s leave without pay but i’ll make up for it by the better money in S’pore; in fact i gain.

Two years ago to the month i began the process of packing up and shipping out of Kuwait; now once more i’m beginning to be surrounded by boxes and bags and labels and lists. It’s a major pain but it’s self-inflicted so i can’t complain, but anyone who’s moved, and that’s virtually all of us at one time or other, will sympathise.
The february trip to S’pore was enjoyable and i made valuable contacts in the job arena, among them the Director of Nanyang who offered me the five-week stint. He may offer me a permanent post after this but i’m not sure i want it, i’d prefer to join one of the independent schools or one of the internationals. I’m keeping options open and shall explore the market while i’m there for the five weeks.

Today, a letter from Steven in Kuwait. Mail out of there is slowish, i see from the postmark it took two weeks to get here. Steven’s fine and says Kuwait’s made real recovery since liberation but points out that systems are sluggish and most people indecisive when it comes to making important decisions. The beaches remain off limits and the weekend crowds in the city are much smaller than before. At the end of february there was a four-day holiday to celebrate the first anniversary of liberation but it was a boring affair, little to do but sleep.

This coming Sunday, 22nd, is general election day in Thailand and in these final days before polling there’s a frenzy of activity with all thirteen parties chasing votes as fast as they can. Although he isn’t seeking a seat in parliament, General Suchinda, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, is tipped as the next Prime Minister. He and the army are waiting till the voting’s over before deciding their next move and if he accepts the post of PM the general will resign his military command and contest a special by-election in which he’s sure to gain the seat. This is Thailand or in short, TiT.
A few weeks back, a candidate was challenged by a reporter who accused him of openly buying votes. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ he retorted. ‘At least it guarantees a full turn-out on polling day.’
The logic’s impeccable, the politics stink.

Summer has arrived with a vengeance and the temperature has soared. Humidity’s high, too, so it’s miserable weather all round and everyone has headcolds and coughs. I heard on the BBC that schools in Mexico City have been ordered to close and 50% of the private cars have been taken off the roads because pollution is four times higher than the acceptable limit. The Governor of Bangkok, an honest man, should take note as this city is now three times above the limit, and the muck everyone coughs up every day doesn’t bear thinking about. I’ll be glad to be away for april as it’s even hotter than march.

Our school’s moving to a new campus miles and miles out of town in the sticks and the directors are busy raising money for the outfitting of the new buildings. We had a slave auction last week where some students and teachers allowed their names to be put forward and the rest bid for them. Once bought, the slave had to obey the wishes of his or her temporary owner and carry out tasks such as bearing satchels, fetching food and drinks from the cafeteria and even walking on all fours. Several owners dressed their slaves up and one boy bought by a syndicate of three girls was converted to a French poodle for the day and led around on a pink leash. The girls who bought him don’t like him – no one likes him, he’s a stuck-up little prick (just like his father) – so it was their way of getting even. His classmates set him up beautifully: two boys – with possible futures in politics i’d say – promised him that if he went forward they’d buy him and dress him up as Napoleon for the day and that it seems appealed to his vanity. When the time came the boys made a few deliberately low bids and the three girls easily claimed him. The whole thing was great fun and the humiliation of lapdog on rope instead of emperor in regal attire took a few edges off Master Wonderful. I was auctioneer and in two hours auctioned off eight teachers and twenty-five students for 40,000 baht (a thousand quid) that’ll go toward paying for blinds for the classroom windows. All the buying was done by the kids and quite a few of them had more money than sense. The highest price paid was 7,000 baht for a boy from Grade 6, quite extravagant when you consider he was slave for only a day but all in a good cause.
Dozens of other activities are planned for the next few months: bake sales, concerts, raffles, a soccer tournament, a badminton tournament and an international fair.

This weekend i’ll keep a low profile as people go to the polls. The sale of alcohol has been banned for thirty hours, starting at 6:00pm tomorrow so the city’s bars and clubs will be dark. The ban is aimed at keeping the level of violence down; i hope there won’t be any violence at all but things are pretty tense. Some believe that if the army imposes its will after the election people will react negatively and say enough is enough and there may be clashes between students and troops like there were in 1974 when a lot of people died on the streets, thirty-three on one afternoon alone. It was bloody and nasty and no one wants a repeat.

36 thoughts on “more Singapore than Bangkok the general election and a slave auction

  1. It seems civility is a low demand social commodity in most societies. Even in an area where I had imagined peaceful social relations were the norm rather than the exception. Further confirmation it would seem that politics is an essential ingredient in human strife. Love the fine brush details John it defines the painting my friend.

  2. ‘Several owners dressed their slaves up and one boy bought by a syndicate of three girls was converted to a French poodle for the day and led around on a pink leash’


  3. What Karen said – very interesting to learn more about your life John! 🙂 I hope to have an interesting life as well, my writing can sometimes give the impression that I’m not essentially under self-sentenced house arrest, shying away from the places I used to go. I’m getting my car battery charged-up again this week, and going to make more of an effort to get out more again. It can get rather maddening, alone with one’s thoughts all day in the same place. Hopefully when the weather is nicer I can get a job nearby. My car is on it’s last leg, and I need suitable weather for walking if I have to! I didn’t know it was Summer there this time of year. That means Samhain must come in the Spring there! Interesting how the seasons are different the world over, at different times of the year. I knew this in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until I started blogging on WordPress, that I started making friends around the globe, and had my “horizons broadened” in a sense, in my understanding of world culture! I would like to be a world traveler someday, and perhaps I can apply myself to those ends, before my life reaches its!

    Best wishes as always my brother!


    • Once you crank up the motor, Ry, and the weather grows warmer You’ll be out and about again. I can understand how the cold can cause a bit of cabin fever.
      Keep on writing, that’s the main thing.

      Always with my best


  4. Fascination post, John, about a side of the world I know little about. I hope you will stay in touch with all of your followers and let us know about your travels. Be safe!

    • Those were good days in Bkk, Noelle, and I look back on them with affection. Now that I’m permanently settled in Singapore and no more travelling I have time to relate adventures of other times.
      Big hugs


  5. Some fascinating detail into a slice of life that is rarely seen by those ‘outside’. So often it seems we are presented with either a sanitised version of other cultures or one aimed to terrorise. Thanks for this.

    • ‘Sanitation’ is often the case, Chris, you’re absolutely right, what the press agencies want to tell us so I agree personal accounts however limited in their own way do convey the reality.

      Thank you once again for your excellent support.


  6. You sound like a warrior goin’ off to battle, John. Good for you, hold your shield high and stay inside when necessary.

    No doubt you will have lots o’ fun and enjoy your friends. Don’t work too hard.
    blessings ~ maxi

  7. Brother John – fascinating to read of your experiences. When I was in the army all the lifers wanted to go to Thailand. They thought they could get rich in the blackmarket. They were the military police, too. Look forward to reading your next installment.

    • Brother David,
      Thank You.
      You must tell me more about those experiences of yours.
      Have you considered starting a blog here on WordPress?
      It would certainly be worthwhile.

      Love to you and Diane.
      Your Brother


    • Pepperanne
      As ever, kind with your response; I never take you for granted, please know that and I appreciate each and every comment you make.
      Always with the greatest affection


  8. A fascinating life it must be John. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail. I have a current client who is writing two books about her and her husband’s diplomatic tenure in the middle east for years…quite a story. I have often pondered at the prospect of a career on foreign soil. Best wishes on your journey.

    • When i look back on it now from my settled permanent life in Singapore
      i remember fondly and with no regrets. My travels are over for sure, age and certain disabilities have caught up with me – osteoarthritis and very poor eyes –
      but it’s nice to write about other times.

      Thank You, Don


  9. Have a fruitful time in Singapore John. I like Singapore – especially the Chinatown area 🙂
    I always wonder about the alcoholic bans during the election, same thing happened in India. Hope it will be fine in Bangkok!

    • As it turned in that year 1992 the election in Thailand didn’t go so well and the results upset many – i’ll write about that later..must dig into the diary again.

      Thank you, Dear Indah..
      Big Hugs


  10. Wonderful piece, John, full of interesting detail.
    Winnie and myself love the auction and the conniving youngsters.
    We think you’re right about them being future politicians.
    Great read.
    Winnie and Harry

  11. This is the first time I’ve visited your blog, John. This first story of part of your past whetted my appetite for more. I’ll be visiting your blog often. Glad to hear you’re happily settled in Singapore with your family now. I haven’t done much traveling, sad to say, but our son has spent two separate years in China, one in Chengdu and the second in Shanghai, trying to learn Mandarin. His ability to find his way alone in a completely new culture from time to time fascinates, amazes, and makes me a bit fearful, simultaneously. Thanks for this post.

    • Linda
      Thank You so much for visiting the blog and for reading so many pieces, I appreciate deeply the time and effort that took, I never take for granted.
      Don’t worry too much about your son, if he’s managed to survive two years chances are he knows how to take care of himself.

      Once again, Thank You.

      Big Hugs


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