This is the final part of our Siam Voices 2013 year in review, as we look what else made headlines in Thailand in the past 12 months – including the strange, outrageous and ridiculous. You can read the previous parts here: Part 1: Politics – Part 2: Lèse Majesté & the media – Part 3: The Rohingya – Part 4: Education and reform calls
It has become somewhat of a tradition now at the end of every year in review that we highlight all those news stories that were for various reasons not covered in the blog and mostly talked (rather more ranted) about on my Twitter feed. So without further ado, here’s the definitive incomplete look back at what else happened in Thailand, from the noteworthy to the quirky and from nonsensical to downright ridiculous.
Most unexpected pro-LGBT message of the year: During the Bangkok gubernatorial race earlier this year, the main challenger to the incumbent (and later re-elected) Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Pheu Thai Party’s Pongsapat Pongcharoen published a campaign video with an unexpected pro-LGBT message promoting sexual diversity, mainly aimed at wooing the city’s potential transgender voters. While he didn’t mentioned more details how that would have been reflected in his policies, this we saw a legislative push to bring legal equality to same-sex marriages in Thailand, which would be the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. While a survey last year polled 60 per cent to be against same sex marriage, Thailand is generally known to be tolerant (but not entirely accepted) towards diverse genders and sexual orientations. A bill would have been submitted for a vote in the later months of the year, but due to the current political crisis and the dissolvement of the House, the legislation has been put on the backburner for now.
Media failures of the year: Those who are regularly following me know that I can be admittedly harsh on my colleagues in the Thai media. But apart from the small typos or mix-ups, there were three particular inexcusable cases of failures: one of them is when Daily News posted the full ID card (with photo) of a British gang-rape victim (which as taken down shortly after public backlash), and then there was Channel 3 showing the full murder of two women, but instead blurred the perpetrator’s gun (as per regulation).
In both cases, the authorities also are partly to be blamed since it was them who released the pictures to the media, as they did in the case of a 12-year-old ethnic Karen girl that was kidnapped and tortured by a couple in Kamphaeng Phet province (who unsurprisingly jumped bail and are still at large) – in fact they actually stripped her almost naked to document her mutilated body after years of torture by the couple in front of the press. While they did not show her face, the media are the last line of defense for crime victims and should apply their own judgement, rather than to recite everything said by the police ad verbatim – the victims deserve better.
Media mix-up of the year: Channel 5 for running a picture of actress Meryl Streep portraying the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher instead of the actual Iron Lady herself. However, they weren’t the only ones who made such a blunder on that occasion as a Taiwanese TV station ran footage of Queen Elizabeth II during the news of Thatcher’s passing. Also, (almost predictably) some people also confused actor Morgan Freeman for the late Nelson Mandela…!
The worst Thailand-related article of the year: “10 Things Americans Can Learn From Bangkok“, Huffington Post, February 26, 2013. Where to start…? Nearly all 10 points in this
click-bait list are either incorrect (“SkyRail”, eh?), horribly wrong (“the red light districts are well regulated by police officers and social workers” – really?!) or sheer nonsensical (“packed with people for whom globalization is a watch word”)! But the worst part is: it unwittingly makes a case PRO lèse majesté (“Respect Your Elders”) and confuses it for quirky local folklore…!
Pseudo-science in Thai media: In June, The Nation ran a story about John Hagelin, a physicist and “1994 Ig Nobel Peace Prize winner” who proposed the Thai army to use “quantum physics and transcendental meditation let the part of brain that created negative behaviour to relax and thus cut crime and terrorist attacks” for $1 million. What they fail to mention (or to look up): 1) his theory about a correlation between “physics and consciousness” is regarded as nonsense by most physicists and 2) the Ig Nobel Prize is “a parody award presented at Harvard University” as a “veiled criticism of trivial research”.
Most celestial Thai political candidate: Thoranee Ritteethamrong, Bangkok gubernatorial candidate No. 21, came in dressed as the Chinese goddess Guanyin at the candidate sign-up and held her campaign without any billboards, but with a mandate “from heaven”. That got her at least 922 votes (or 0.035 per cent) on election day.
Most unjustified flip-out by a Thai official: There are couple of well-known public figures well-known for their temper (*cough*Prayuth*cough*), but this one takes the prize this year: Interior minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan blew his lid when an assistant village chief made headlines about his unusual birthday – February 30 – and didn’t get it fixed for 53 years. Instead of showing empathy with him (after all he couldn’t open up a bank account for example because of this bureaucratic mistake), Jarupong accused the low-ranked official to be a fame-seeker and should “die out of shame” he brought onto the Interior Ministry. Unfortunately, the assistant village chief resigned because of the minister’s apparent lack of EQ, but at least gets to officially celebrate his birthday now on every February 1.
Worst impression on the new colleagues at the first day of the new job: After losing his position as deputy prime minister for national security and being transferred to the labor ministry in the last cabinet reshuffle, Chalerm Yubamrung was crying foul play behind this move and that didn’t stop on his first day at his new job, when he reportedly “spent more than an hour complaining about his transfer” after introduced himself to his new
subjects co-workers – team confidence building, it isn’t.
Insensitive and oblivious moments in Thai advertisement: A Thai woman in blackface in a commercial for a whitening-drink (!) actually becoming pale-skinned? Dunkin Donuts promoting their new ‘charcoal’ doughnuts with a Thai woman in blackface? A cosmetics brand offering ‘scholarships’ for the ‘fairest’ student? What could go wrong? A whole lot, actually!
Best Thailand-related viral video of the year: “Never Go To Thailand” by Brian Camusat. If only the Tourism Authority of Thailand would have even nearly as much swagger as this video – but then again it wouldn’t possess the irony to title it like this…!
Most unconvincing suicide case:
CHIANG RAI [PROVINCE] – An unidentified foreigner is believed to have committed suicide in a bizarre way, putting his head in a water-filled plastic bag and then sealing it with a copper wire around his neck, in a field near the Myanmar border, reports said.
“Foreigner commits bizarre ‘suicide’“, Bangkok Post, January 4, 2013
Strangest robbery of the year:
A robber made off with 2,200 baht [$71] in cash from a convenience store in Phuket province on Tuesday, but minutes later returned a 10-baht coin [$0.32] before escaping a second time.
“Store robber returns 10 baht“, Bangkok Post, June 18, 2013
Most ambitious promise by a Thai politician:
The Ministry of Transport is expected to improve the entire public transport system within two months as several issues, such as passengers being rejected by taxi drivers and illegal parking, remain unresolved.
“Public transport issues to be solved in 2 months“, National News Bureau of Thailand, July 15, 2013
Remember when Thaksin enthusiastically pledged to “free Bangkok of traffic jams in 6 months” back in the 1990s…?
Strangest dare of the year: After persistent rumors of ‘chemically tainted’ packed rice (which have proven to be not true), the president of the Thai Rice Association announced whoever eats one of their products and dies because of it will get 20 million Baht…!
Best costume: Deputy-prime minister Plodprasop Suraswadi as the 13th century Lanna King Mangrai…!
(Un-)honorable mentions: Wirapol Chattigo, the defrocked monk formerly known as “Luang Phu Nenkham”, embroiled in a sea of scandals starting with being filmed on a private jet plane sporting luxury items, followed by accusations of money-laundering and child molestation and reportedly at large abroad. Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya, who is suspected to have killed a police officer in a hit-and-run case in 2012, failed to show up to hear charges in early September because he’s on an “overseas trip” and still hasn’t returned yet. Chalerm Yubamrung (yes, again), for saying it’s okay for “police officer to ask for money during Chinese New Year” since that’s “not a bribe” and for setting off a terror alert against the US consulate in Chiang Mai and then announcing the suspect “has left the country” unhindered – and all that based on a mere “sniff”…!
And now, the strangest story of the year, from the “Best intentions but poorly executed”-category:
Thai officials say a man who was high on drugs was arrested after attempting to donate methamphetamine tablets to help flood victims at a relief center. (…) [The man] told the volunteers they could sell the drugs and use the money to support the troubled families. The volunteers were actually from a civil drug suppression task force.
“Thai man arrested for giving meth to flood center“, Associated Press, October 15, 2013
Final words: I’d like to thank my co-writers and editors at Siam Voices and Asian Correspondent for their contributions and hard work this year. And a special thanks to YOU, the readers, for your support, feedback and retweets! We wish you a Happy New Year 2014 – let’s just hope that there’ll be more stories to write about for all the right reasons…
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and reports for international news media like Channel NewsAsia. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.