Land of three smiles: Today the Thai military seized power…

… and the opening ‘here we go again’ reactions of Khun Somchai?

Smile 1  

ยิ้มแหยะแหยะyim yae-yae”  : – The “I know things look pretty bad, but there is no point in crying over spilt milk” smile

“… no TV… They plan to bore us to death. But I’ve got tons of books.” (Source: My friend Ataporn Y.)

One of the first acts of the creepy Orwellian-sounding National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC), or the Military Junta, was to suspend radio and television broadcasting.

Bangkok Post 22 May  2014 Military Seizes Power

Smile 2

ยิ้มสู้  yim soo” :- The “it can’t get any worse than it already is therefore I better smile” smile.

“I think it will be better” (Source: My friend Kitiya K)

… no doubt hoping with this nineteenth military coup since 1932 that the end-game of the political crisis which has paralysed Thailand‘s political system is now in play.

Unfortunately, with Thailand now being controlled by a council of unelected officials, the illusion that what you wish for becomes true in this instance doesn’t augur well.  

Smile 3

ยิ้มคัดค้านyim thak thaan” :–  The “I disagree with you” smile.

Largely rural and working-class Red Shirts are not in any mood for compromise, once again feeling embittered that their popular mandate and Thailand‘s democracy have been stolen without elections, while the military junta will very likely suppress any defiance with force.

Thailand National Peace and Order Maintaining Council
Is your television watching you?

Within the near-term quietness it seems the risks to Thailand are intensifying.

Thailand's 19th Military Junta
Thailand‘s 19th Military Junta

An urban elephant, a street dog, a hawker, minorities, buses, durians, lottery (huay), monarchy, motosai, phuangmalai, Gucci, pollution, sanuk (fun), nana, sky train, sounds, street food, tam boon (merit making), taxis, touts, uniforms, traffic..

The Bangkok of the typical mind’s eye is a sleazy, illegal, exotic, out of the ordinary place that never sleeps. Most foreign accounts of Bangkok play to this image, or on the contrary, to an ornamented description of the city as spectacularly dazzling as the gilded mosaics of the Grand Palace, which forms the ideal Land of Smiles postcard.

In truth, Bangkok doesn’t require such seedy embellishments or historical imagery when its reality is already so uniquely remarkable.

So, how to sum up the energy that this city radiates? Rather than focusing on the must-visit attractions and monuments, maybe a few photos of the people and dynamics that make Bangkok tick will really convey a sense of what Krung-thep-maha-nakorn-boworn-ratana-kosin-mahintar- ayudhya-amaha-dilok-pop-nopa-ratana-rajthani-burirom-udom-rajniwes-mahasat-arn-amorn-pimarn- avatar-satit- sakattiya-visanukam is all about.

So what do an urban elephant, a street dog, a hawker, minorities, Africans, Arabs, buses, durians, the huay (lottery), the monarchy, motosai (motorbike taxis), phuangmalai (flower garland), pollution, sanuk (fun), Soi Nana, the Sky Train, Gucci, street food, tam boon (merit making), taxis, touts, uniforms and traffic all have in common? Well they reflect through Niall’s eyes an attempt to echo the madness, enthusiasm, sounds, smells, tastes and creative energy that shines from this incredible city.

The elephant…. An eccentric sight …. Enjoying a cool beer on the sidewalk when one of these huge animals appears from around the corner. It’s depressing to see this highly intelligent and self aware mammal being led around noisy, polluted streets by a mahout handing out bananas for money, Thais seeing the feeding of elephants as a form of merit making, with extra money coming from photographs taken for thoughtless tourists.  Of course, uncontrolled logging in the mountainous Thai border areas has meant less work for the elephants, less food supplies, with owners claiming they have no choice but to roam the streets of Bangkok begging with bananas.

The street-wise (soi) dog, or mad dog, is almost always to be found lazing way in the burning midday sun outside a 7 – Eleven, or a temple. With looks only a mother could love they are not certainly not pretty, invariably have a dreadful skin disease, and have almost zero hair. But this is part of their allure… By night they roam Bangkok’s polluted streets, relying on food from ‘merit making’ locals.

Whether its balloons, squeaky toys, floor mops, silly masks, fruit, food, coffee, ice cream, or cold drinks, just about everything under the sun, the hawkers provide sound and smell to the commotion that is Bangkok.

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Building a woman from a man for US$6,325

Staying with the marketing theme, this time with an advertising twist, here is another interesting sex-related oddity (well at least I think it is) – The “sex change” 变性倾向, for those of you who feel like women trapped in a man’s body, or who feel like men trapped in a woman’s body: Gender identity disorder, as it’s referred to in the medical world.

So there I was the other morning, lying on my Bangkok [http://wp.me/p15Yzr-12 (or Krung thep maha nakorn boworn ratana kosin mahintar ayudhya amaha dilok pop nopa ratana rajthani burirom udom rajniwes mahasat arn amorn pimarn avatar satit sakattiya visanukam) hotel room bed when a copy of the Bangkok Post newspaper quietly slips under my door.

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325 - Bangkok Post Saturday July 24 2008 army chief urged to act
The Bangkok Post, Saturday July 24 2008 – “Army chief urged to act”

Glossing over the front page, muttering to myself not much has changed since my last trip back in January, with talk of a military takeover and all that…., when my eyes set upon the banner advertisement at the bottom of the page: “Sex change  1,625 us$”

Bangkok Post Saturday July 24 2008 - Army chief urged to act  - sex change anyone?
The Bangkok Post, Saturday July 24 2008 – “Army chief urged to act” and by the anyone want a sex change?

Building a woman from a man for US$6325 Sex change Kathoey Thailand

Not exactly the kind of advertisement you’d find of the front page of the Irish Times, the Financial Times, or Washington Post (well perhaps on Singapore’s Straits Times), but then this is Thailand and even for such an eminent newspaper as the Bangkok Post advertising sex change operations just adds to the endless clichés, quirks and idiosyncrasies associated with life in this teeming, chaotic metropolis of ten millions.

The advertisement would appear to support the perception by a casual observer (i.e. me) that kathoey, or transgenders (“the third sex”),  are  fully accepted by Thai society.  Previously, an enlightened (sic) Thai friend and former colleague,  explaining the Thai Buddhist principles with respect to tolerance and Karma, declared “being a kathoey is the result of wrongdoing in past lives”, which therefore vindicates the consideration that kathoey are deserving of pity rather than blame.

Hmm…. well, such a mind-set may be true if you look at the ever smiling drag queens working in Bangkok’s famous cabaret shows, and the more traditional female occupations such as make-up artist and hair-stylist.  However, I’d be in doubt about how such sentiments would play out in my native Ireland where its ok to be gay, but tough to be trans!

Yet, in truth the road to normal acceptance by society can be rougher than a poorly-honed breast enlargement (“silicone implants ranging from  1,125 us$, mammoplasty with Mentor/ES prosthesises included” as per the advertisement).  It is very unlikely you will meet a kathoey with a job in a bank, school, corporation, or in government.  They face many social and legal obstacles:  Legal recognition is non-existent, and they are not permitted to change their legal sex.  Trouble can also occur in relation to access to amenities such as toilets [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7529227.stm], while a wayward kathoey still has to stay in an all-male prison if convicted of a criminal offence.

So about that advertisement….. What sort of English reading / speaking foreign “woman” trapped in a man’s body would, after reading the Bangkok Post advert, be motivated to pick up the phone to dial 02 2545888? A cross-dresser already taking hormones?  Nah, likely someone who wants to meet the drop-dead gorgeous Miss Tiffany Universe 2007… only to find out that Khun Tanyarat is actually a guy!

Now that’s a misleading advertisement if there was ever one.

Note: My calculator informs me the total cost of untrapping the woman from within the man is 6,325  us$ and counting!

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325 - The famous Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret show in Bangkok
The famous Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret show in Bangkok

Jet lag and a visit to Banality

How to deal with jet lag

Constipation, clammy sweat, diarrhea, disorientation, dry cough, dry eyes, dry skin, ear ache, fatigue, headache, hemorrhoids, impaired coordination, impaired vision, impatience, insomnia, insecurity, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, loss of libido, low blood sugar, memory loss, nausea, reactions to drugs, sore throat, susceptibility to illness, and swollen feet. And this is just a partial list.

So at present my biological clock is a little screwed up, but not that screwed up! Can’t imagine having constipation and diarrhea, let alone all these symptoms of ‘jet lag’ at the same time….

Having departed overcrowded Dublin Airport Monday morning, and following a 14 hour flight (and +6 hours) time-zone eastwards and I find myself in Bangkok. Along the way the Etihad Airways aircraft touched down in the “Father of the Gazelle”, or Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. Considered by some to be the richest city in the world I was at least expecting an airport matching the accolade, having no time between flight connections to amble around the city.

What of the expression about first impressions counting? How true.

Banally, the enduring image of the satellite-shaped Abu Dhabi Airport, with its green and blue circular tiled jelly mould-like centre, was the lipstick counter in the Duty Free’s cosmetics department congested with Arab women who, dressed in an assortment traditional Jilbab, Burka, Abaya and Chador and trailing behind their white thobe dressed men folk, were loading up on multi-coloured lipsticks by the dozen.

Jet lag and a visit to Banality - the richest city in the world

The lipstick samples were, naturally, left untouched, it being considered ill-mannered for an Arab lady to expose her lips in public. Otherwise, from a people-watching perspective this was was just another congested, stuffy airport transit area featuring rude and abrupt officials acting like cowboys herding cattle into transportation enclosures. Suffice to say that on this particular evening I could have been in any airport in the Gulf States (previous characterless transit stops have included Sharjah, Bahrain, and Muscat). Dull. What’s the attraction of getting posted to this part of the world?  Oh, yeah…  Money!

Anyway that was characterless Abu Dhabi. I have digressed as I am now safely ensconced in a Bangkok hotel room.

What’s with the swollen feet, dehydration, disorientation and memory loss? Where am I? Where are the lipstick ladies?

Apparently, jet lag is easier to cope with flying in a westward direction compared to flying eastward. Science tells us that our body rhythm adapts more quickly when the day is artificially lengthened, which is what happens when we travel westwards. Personally I don’t buy this theory. Jet lag is cycle logical not psychological, and if you cycle over 6,000 miles across several time zones in one day, no matter the direction, you’re going to be extremely tired for a couple of days.

So it’s going to take a few days to adjust to being back in Asia, and where better to adjust than on a beach in Thailand. I’m hungry!

Welcome back to Asia Niall. Year #19 has begun.

JC come back and we’ll play a different tune

JC come back and we ll play a different tune

Those who knew JC, and who should have known better, didn’t pursue him, they left him alone. They said JC has gone away to Thailand with his buddy J, wait for another day, he’ll come home. That was in 1996. J never came home. I took charge of his funeral in Bangkok.

JC was all about reassuring the people who knew him “I’ll see you soon” … “I’m going away to find a place to stay, I’m going to dance on the Moon” … “One of these days when I change my ways, I’ll come back home”.

I have finally deciphered JC. His purpose of being in Thailand is to be a nobody in the way of a terminal alcoholic. Such a role is too stressful back in his utopia of origin up North. Blind to the fact that it is his addiction and its consequences that are making him miserable, JC falsely believes that the drink is the only source of comfort and security available to him in a cruel, cruel world.

You see JC has been telling me for three years that he is perfectly aware he has a drinking problem, that he does not intend to let it get out of hand, and that he will be taking steps to control it. He has been adamant that he can and will deal with it by himself rather than seeking any kind of professional or support group help.

Yet, as an alcoholic JC still doesn’t understand the nature of his alcohol addiction and still supposes his recovery to be merely a matter of will power. He doesn’t have the courage to ask for help from others for what he feels he ought to be able to do by himself.

In Thailand JC always has a cheap bottle he can turn to, and he has been turning every day… Long hard drinking.

The bottle doesn’t take effect the way it used to and he’s hurting in old familiar ways. It has let him down and JC has gone beyond the point of no return. He has lost his self-esteem and just can’t find the will to stop.

Toward Kenya at 28,000 Feet

This is going to be a strange blog. I am somewhere 28,000 feet up in the air between Hainan Island and the coast of Vietnam bound for Kenya in Africa. Well I hope not. Qishi the plane I am on, KQ 321 (Kenya Airlines) is heading for Niarobi, but they are dropping me off in Bangkok. It is slightly weird. Beside me is Miss X from Shenzhen (qishi Zhengzhou, Hunan) and in front of me is Khun Ittaporn, the slightly left of centre Thai steward. Ok he is a very camp… a womanly soul looking for self-expression in a man’s body, but I have nothing against guys who like guys.. I am sure he would confide such a moral dilemma to me if he had the time, but he is busy running around like the white rabbit, making a fuss, his gestures exaggerated in the tradition of his tribe.. you know what I mean… Nevertheless, I am going to devote this blog to Khun Ittiporn and Miss X (who is now asleep beside me).

I have ingested two miniature bottles of South African Merlot, and have asked for a third. And why not? Being leashed to a plane seat represents a bit of a break for me, and it’s going to be another 48 hours before my feet touch terra firma in Ireland. The rest of the flight will be spent musing over Khun Ittaporn, the Thai, Miss X, the Chinese, and Niall, the Irish.

When I arrived at seat window seat 11H there sitting at ease in my seat was a 60+ year old Chinese man … In next to no time he was classic bu hao yisi pleading with me to transfer to his seat at the back of the plane. Of course, I just stared him out… with that penetrating ‘this is not a countryside train, nor bus in China’ look, where the seat number allotted is never actually the seat one ends up relaxing ones sphincter muscles in… He was gone in a flash.  I sat down, glanced out the scuffed window (“how old is this plane?”, being my first thought) and then over to my left. There seated alongside was Miss X.. Her dolphin and heart tattoo said it all, but still I was curious ….

The first statement from her to me: Ni de zhongwen hen bu cuo? —Yeah right! — followed by .. Where will you stay in Bangkok?

Ok, I have been in Bangkok numerous times, geeez I used to live there, in my innocence, above the office of ResearchAsia Bangkok… for 5 months… that is another story… But seriously, what is a girl from Shenzhen/Zhengzhou travelling alone to Bangkok for?

OK a few more questions are in order…. “Curiouser and curiouser” said the White Rabbit…. Do you want to know what the genuine story is? It will clarify why the 60 + year old guy was suffering hormonal overload.

Yep you guessed it, nothing to do with the intoxicating cultural and historical icons that the City of Krung Thep (the Thai for Bangkok, City of Angels) holds… Miss X is going to Bangkok to chase Lao Wai and she reckons in five days she will gross enough money to pay for her flights and have a sufficient amount of change to live a comfortable existence in Shenzhen for the next three months, which I guess also explains the nature of her February holiday in Singapore.

OK, I don’t get it, but then I am not Miss X. Then again maybe I do. My last glimpse of her: she is strategically positioned at the arrivals exit waiting for a suitable well-ripened bloke, radiating loneliness, inadequacy, and wealth to emerge, when out comes the 60+ year old codger who wanted my seat. Oh yeah, Miss X knows all about that primeval human need for animal warmth and comfort.

Khun Ittiporn is the only Thai-speaking crewmember on this Kenya Airways flight …. Now how shall I describe him? I am wondering if he has piles or haemorrhoids, or a spring mechanism in his ass. I have been tracking him, and while he looks extraordinarily busy, he is doing zippo (nothing).  All of a sudden, he appears to have some sort of inferiority complex. Is it because I am staring him out? Oh! He has a petite notebook in front of him, and he looks seriously unnerved. Grabbing the microphone it’s his turn to articulate a few words in Thai about safety procedures and the weather in Bangkok…. I just keep staring at him (Oh, there’s the coast of Vietnam below… 12.08 am in Hangzhou) making him uneasy…. We lock eyes again, He closes his eye, takes a deep breath….  He can’t speak. Eyes scowling at me, he reveals a series of agitated expressions that only a twitchy Khun Ittaporn can display before waving his hand at me and effeminately flipping his hair back. Unable to face me any longer he rushes behind the curtain where he unloads in Thai vernacular…. Khun Ittiporn, while very camp, has the voice of an angel.

And to the point of this blog……

Well here it is: Two minutes before boarding this Kenya Airways flight (I was the last to board) I bought a book: Bangkok Haunts, by John Burdett, considered one of the leading writers of thrillers alive.. I have read his highly acclaimed Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo. The Guardian Newspaper’s review of Bangkok Haunts reads as follows: “The real star is Bangkok, a city in mutation, capital of sex and gender surgery.. a strangely tender book” . Well maybe this book from 28,000 feet up will be quite a read. I already encountered the characters Miss X and Khun Ittiporn…. Landing in 20 minutes. PS Sai Hua, wo hen ai nin

UCD ALMA MATER MAGAZINE No.6 1995 – Our Man in Hong Kong

“Niall O’Reilly BA ’88, planned to sojourn in China for one year and then return to Ireland. Six and half years later, he is still living in Asia. Subsequent to his graduation, the Chinese Government awarded him a scholarship to study Chinese Mandarin language at a University in Beijing [Beijing Language Institute].

Despite the ‘Tiananmen Massacre’, which provoked a hasty departure, Niall returned for a second year, this time armed with both a second Chinese Government scholarship and additional bursaries from the Jefferson Smurfit Foundation and the Industrial Development Authority of Ireland.

UCD ALMA MATER MAGAZINE No.6 1995 - Our Man in Hong Kong

Upon completion of his studies in China, Niall worked for the IDA in Taiwan, before relocating to Hong Kong in 1991 to take up a position with ResearchAsia Ltd, the leading information technology market consulting company in Asia. While with ResearchAsia, he has lived in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

UCD ALMA MATER MAGAZINE No.6 1995 - Our Man in Hong KongIn November 1994, he joined Dataquest Asia Pacific (Hong Kong) Ltd, a company of the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, as a Regional Industry Analyst for Asia Pacific.

Niall is also a director of two companies. One company sources consultants, financing and investors for private enterprise and public projects in Kazazhstan, while the other aims to assist Irish companies seeking to penetrate the burgeoning markets of Greater China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is also the Chapter President of the UCD Alumni Association in Hong Kong.”