Music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, lyrics by Tim Rice

April 29, 2010

Well there’s a bit of time to fill so let’s go with a couple of short stories – I guess we’re pretty much working backwards from here. No photos at this stage; there seem to be a lot of viruses about so I’m not going to be sticking my stick in during my one night in Bangkok.

1. Taking it as red

This afternoon I took a motorcycle over to Siam Square where normally you can while away hours in some of the finest shopping centres you’ll ever come across. When Nottingham’s Broadmarsh Centre sells Lamborghinis and Ferraris on its fourth floor I’ll start to believe in the top five retail destination. In the meantime let’s just settle for saying that Bangkok has even better shopping than Nottingham. Normally. This week the Siam Discovery Centre (which used to be great), the Siam Paragon Centre which put it in the shade, (such a modest name. Will it be bettered? Can it be bettered? Siam Nirvana Centre?), a bunch of other shopping centres and lots of restaurants and other businesses are closed because, as you will have seen on TV (though obviously not since GB called that bigoted Rochdale woman a bigot), the red shirted supporters of that nice Mr Shinawhatsit – who got a mention in post one all those weeks ago – shifted camp following the exchange of blows with the army and police that killed 25 plus and injured many more. Their occupation of the commercial retail centre of the city is very sizeable, there are a lot of people there making a lot of noise and there are no signs of the security forces (they are elsewhere where yesterday’s – rain interrupted – clashes and stand-off took place).

The Lamborghini and Ferrari (and Paul Smith) shops are all shut. Sorry folks, no glitzy gifts upon my return this time. According to the Bangkok post businesses are losing more than a billion Bhat a day. A couple of months of this and they will have lost as much as Thaksin had seized as ill-gotten – and about which all the fuss really.

That the FCO should issue a travel advisory saying to avoid all but essential travel to anywhere in Thailand is bonkers. Like saying avoid all of the UK because Covent Garden has been taken over and shut-down by a bunch of folks from the sticks threatening violence and Civil War with sticks (Countryside Alliance anyone?) if they don’t get their man back. That kind of advice scares the horses and sends foxes running when they really need not. (Tally Ho!). OK the pack did kick off right by Kao San Road in mid April so I can understand Middle Class Mum and Dad urging their little chickens to get out of town, but it’s a damned big town and life in most of it goes on pretty much as normal. Right now I can hear some guy in the bar next door knocking out ‘You’re so vain’ so all in the world must be well enough. To see the Kao San Road area with only ten to twenty percent of its normal numbers is interestingly weird but not interesting enough to write about at any length. Wannabe super-shoppers, road users and the business community, particularly any relying on tourists, are getting more and more pissed off with the Red Shirts. Why don’t they just go home? Before they get hurt. Which they will. Thailand’s government is no more elected than Myanmar’s; it too kills civilians.

I wonder where have all the (often-self-defined-adventure)-seeking backpackers gone at the first sign of trouble? I bet there are few beds to be had ‘on the islands’. That will have been a very Full Moon Party last night, or the night before. Or have they transferred their rabble rousing to Pub Street (no really) in Siem Riep (where Angkor Wat is, Cambodia)? . Or are they floating-stoners making their way down the Mekong on inner tubes at Vang Vieng (Laos)? Wherever they are they are being missed here.

2. Ping Pong not Pat Pong.

I met Jessica on the bus from the airport this morning. She had been on the plane from Yangon but we only spoke on the bus. Did she have a good time in Myanmar? Yes she did; she got married. Her husband was one of Myanmar’s leading table tennis players when three of them defected during a tournament in the USA. One of them was a soldier so political asylum came easy enough. Like so many immigrants to the US getting residency was harder. He’s sorted for citizenship now.

To get to his own wedding in Mandalay he had to enter and leave Myanmar illegally crossing a river to and from Thailand in the south, easing his path with ‘gifts’ along the way – including at one point ping-pong lessons. Yesterday he left Yangon at 11am and was in Bangkok only 18 hours later. I think it would take longer doing it the legal way.

His Mum lives close to the Hotel that’s my residence-de-choix in Mandalay. Jessica stayed there at the same time as me during water festival but we did not see each other before today. Maybe we’ll meet up another time we’re all in Mandalay; for sure we’ll all be going back.

Ping Pong might be a minor league sport but it gave one guy (with an out-sized head apparently) the chink of opportunity he needed to get out of Myanmar and get on with his life (and if he wants to get up at 8 every Sunday to go to the pub to support Liverpool that’s his funeral). Now Jessica and her new husband live in Miami and I wish them all the very best in their life together. Nice lady.

* The name of a sport has been changed to protect the innocent.

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