First off, let me get the Bangkok section out of the way before moving onto the Hua Hin bits. Therefore, here I go. As the whole world has seen, Thailand has a new prime minister -- I suppose I should be feeling proud or at least gratified at being proved right. Last week, as my regular readers (singular or plural?) will recall, I mentioned an English-born and educated Thai politician named Abhisit Vejjajiva as a potential prime minister of this kingdom. Yesterday, the 44-year-old Etonian was indeed named as Thailand's 27th and youngest ever prime minister. However, I can't help feeling its too premature for anyone who cares about this beautiful but blighted country to feel gratified. The young Mr Abhisit is taking on a classically poisoned chalice. He will be taking over a country with a wrecked economy and a deeply polarised population. It is a hopeful sign that the yellow-shirted 'patriots' of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have not yet protested or re-occupied government buildings or airports, but the red shirted supporters of the ex-PM, Mr. Thaksin, did try to interfere with the vote, so the political fighting isn't yet over. Maybe I am biased, with the new man being a British public school boy, but it is ironic that a man who leads a party called the Democrats is becoming PM via a much less than democratic process. However, if there were an election, Thaksin's mob (and I use the word advisedly) would almost certainly win and that would disgruntle the despotic idiots of the PAD, leading to more damage being inflicted upon the Thai economy and reputation. So for me, as a resident of Thailand, this is most certainly the least awful scenario. I sincerely wish Khun Abhisit the very best of luck as he leads his disjointed coalition (united, so it seems, by nothing more than a strong dislike of Khun Thaksin) into government – he is most certainly going to need it!
There was a very readable commentary in Sunday's 'Bangkok Post', in the 'Post Script' column, about what is laughingly referred to as the cool season here. The writer, who clearly has a Thai wife, was saying how surprising it must be for a European to see and hear how the Thais feel this season to be so cold whereas, as he put it, "it's the sort of weather that would have people in Britain sprinting for the nearest beach." Down here in Hua Hin, where sea and mountain breezes can sometimes make it cooler than in Bangkok, it is common to see locals going around wrapped up in sweaters, jackets and even scarves. When I lectured at the local rajabhat university, many of my students wore such wintry garb even in the classroom – while I strutted around wearing a polo shirt! This isn't a purely local phenomenon, as the Thais do genuinely consider this weather to be cool. Sunday's weather forecast for the Central region in 'The Bangkok Post' (I very rarely read its rival 'The Nation' since its owner became so prominent in the PAD) read "Cold 18C-30C." Can you imagine any newspaper in Europe or North America printing such a bizarre oxymoronic description? However, it does reflect local feelings, and so every clothes shop in the kingdom is now selling sweaters, fleecy jackets and boots, which the buyers will wear for less than one of the following 52 weeks! However, when one ventures away from the urban areas (if a town of 60,000 like Hua Hin can be termed urban), the cool season can get closer to earning that name. I recently read that some villages in the Hua Hin Amphoe (administrative district), which covers over 839 km², had been declared a disaster zone after temperatures fell to 10c. Now before you scoff about weak Thais, please bear in mind that the residents of those villages, which lie about 70km southwest of central Hua Hin, in the mountains that eventually reach to the Burmese frontier, have no electricity. What, I hear you cry. A community located less than 2 hours drive from a royal palace, from a tourist haven, and yet they have no electricity? What is the 'Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand' thinking of – isn't this the 21st century? Well, don't blame the electricity authority too quickly, for it wasn't their decision to deny those citizens electricity. This decision was made by the military dictator who has a museum in nearby Pranburi (see this Blog's Sept 30th issue), Field Marshal Sari Thanarat, the half-Laotian prime minister of Thailand from 1958 to 1963 and head of a coup-appointed military regime referred to by one source as "the most repressive and authoritarian in Thai history". You see, he decided to make that district a "military safety area," where electricity is not allowed. You might well ask why being a "military safety area" means you can't have electricity. I wish I knew! Yes, the area is close to the Burmese border but what's the link with electricity? Maybe he was hoping the lack of modern power might convince people to move away, leaving the army and border police to work unhindered. Who knows! However, as local district staff and charity workers distributed coats, blankets, and relief supplies to the neglected villagers (who also lack any good transport links with the rest of the area), I doubt if there were plans for them to visit the Field Marshal's museum, or pay homage at his monument (shown right). Then again, this being Thailand, anything's possible!
Any newspaper article that begins by referring to my hometown as "continually evolving" and "never short of lively events" is sure to get my attention, and that's what I read in the 'Bangkok Post' back on Friday (Dec 12th). The article was about a new entertainment event called 'Black Vanilla', which is taking place at the misnamed Sheraton Hua Hin Resort & Spa's @ Black Vanilla nightclub – misnamed as it is actually located north of the airport, making it part of Cha Am rather than Hua Hin! According to the PR stuff put out by those behind this event, the show-cum-dining event will showcase a 3-hour series of world-class circus, pantomime, dance and musical acts by international performers, complimented by a 4-course meal. Amongst those performing will be a contortion and unicycle show from the Ukraine. All very different to the sort of entertainment presently available in Hua Hin, that's for sure. This extravaganza will cost you "a little over 2,000 baht (inclusive of dinner and free flow non-alcoholic drinks)," according to a hotel spokesman, which isn't too bad when you consider that the hotel claims this new venture cost them over 5 million baht. What's more, if you attend the afternoon performances, where dinner isn't included (but soft drinks are), of course, the cost will be only 1,150 baht. Now I don't expect I shall be going myself, not just because anything that includes dinner being a waste of money for me due to my shrunken stomach but also because the wife and I are not really the nightclub types, least of all since our boy popped into the world. However, I wish the venture every success, as anything that helps this area is good news. The idiots in Bangkok have done their best to wipe out Thailand's tourism business and as Hua Hin is a tourist town, their allegedly patriotic rioting has hurt this place. If this new idea at the Sheraton helps make up for that, great. So if you're interested in visiting Black Vanilla, please do – you might even give me your opinion of the thing. For more information or to make a booking, visit http://www.at-black.com.
Remember TV for schools? I don't know about where you grew up but I still recall watching educational programmes on a large black-and-white TV in my classroom, usually introduced with Handel's 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', guaranteeing that music a special place in my affections. Well, Thailand has its own version of school TV called DLTV, or Distance Learning TV. This admirable service, established in 1996 with 15 educational channels going out to more than 17,000 schools across the country, operates from right here in Hua Hin. To be exact, the programmes are broadcast from the Klaikangwon Palace School, located (as the name would suggest) opposite the King's palace on Petchakasem Road, about 2 or 3 kilometres from where I live. If you live in Thailand and use one of those big, FTA satellite dishes, you may have seen DLTV listed amongst the channels – well now you know where those programmes come from. The school itself was originally created by King Prajadhipok in 1938 for the children of noblemen but I was told by a Thai fellow-teacher that it was later changed in order to provide a good education for poor children, part of HM the King's many charitable activities. However, there are rumours within the Hua Hin educational fraternity (which I belonged to when I taught at the awful Hua Hin School on the Khao Hin Lek Fai Road) that admission to the school is now more slanted towards who you know rather your family's income. All I know is that traffic on Petchakasem Road almost comes to a standstill when that school finishes, as the pupils pour out and board the trucks, coaches, minibuses and whatnot that take them home. I do remember one of my worst pupils at Hua Hin School, an intelligent but totally insubordinate and mischievous boy with the nickname of 'Jack' (all Thais have a nickname, which is handy for foreign teachers who might have trouble pronouncing their multisyllabic Thai names), transferred to that school, and unless he has graduated onto a reformatory, may well still be there. I don't envy whoever has the task of trying to make him use that brain of his!
Not long ago (on November 25th, to be exact), I referred to the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course hosting the Thailand Junior World Championships, the first ever world-class amateur golf tournament held in this country. Well, that tournament is now over and as it is rather unlikely that your local newspaper carried details of the result, I might as well bring you up to date. The overall title was won by a 13-year-old Thai girl, Ariya Jutanugarn, a former Junior World champion who embarrassed her male counterpart by blasting a blistering final round of six under par 66 for an aggregate of 282. Indeed, Thais dominated the event, without a single foreigner featuring in the final honours list. I had rather hoped that the solitary Zimbabwean participant might get something – even an honourable mention – but it was not to be. The golf club that hosted this event, the Royal, is probably one of the most conveniently located in Asia, being just across the tracks from Hua Hin's famously quaint railway station. Apart from being Thailand's oldest golf course, it was also used by HM the King, in the days when his health allowed him to chase a ball around 18 holes. I used to practice my swing at the Royal's range, which I chose for two good reasons. Firstly, it is one of the very few golf driving ranges in Hua Hin to provide shade, most being fully exposed to the sun, which seems pretty stupid in a tropical locale like this. And the 2nd reason? Simple – it's one of the cheapest golf venues in the Hua Hin district, charging (when I last played there) a mere 20 baht for a tray of balls. They also have a rather nice restaurant located upstairs with a splendid view over the greens. OK, the menu is very limited and you never need to make a reservation, but sipping a cold beer (Singha only, alas, as the brewery owns the course!) as you watch someone sweating over the last hole is a pretty nice way to pass the time!
Well, having given you proof that life (and golf) continues as normal here in Thailand, despite what the sensationalist press coverage of the recent political problems might have led you to believe, I think I shall conclude. Next Tuesday, I shall be returning to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok for my regular gastroscopy examination, which means I shall be away from my computer the whole day. This trip requires me to be at the minibus terminal downtown at around 7~7.30 and judging by last time, I won't get back to Hua Hin till well after dark -- and I won't be feeling like creating another masterpiece like this! I haven't yet decided whether to do next week's blog on the Monday or the Wednesday, but I'll have to see. Rest assured it will be done, so please feel free to pop round next Tuesday. If the link hasn't been updated, then try again on the Wednesday, OK? Sorry to mix up your schedule but it isn't for the sake of pleasure, believe me! Anyway, as I write (at around noon), it is currently 29c (84f) and sunny, with a very tolerable 58% humidity reading and a 10% chance of rain – which, if comes at all, will doubtless be civilised enough to wait till after dark! Today's a holiday in South Africa but wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I hope you are all fit, well, happy and healthy. Take care, see you next week, and May the wind be always at your back.