Saturday, June 5, 2010

Vice and Virtue

A couple of recent developments in Thailand, while certainly not indicating that the societal rift there is coming to an end any time soon, at least feel more like the Thailand those of us who crossed the Pacific and passed through the looking glass know and (used to) love.

First is the re-entry into politics of Chuwit Kamolvisit, the former "massage parlor king," pictured above in what was his natural environment until he decided he had a mission to serve the country.  (On a completely irrelevant note, as an old Thai hand, I would bet a substantial quantity of good money that two of the women posing with Chuwit didn't start out that way.)

In 2003, Chuwit wiped off the soap bubbles and ran for the governorship of Bangkok on an anti-corruption ticket.  Who knew more about corruption, he asked publicly, than a guy who paid the cops US $300,000 a month to keep them from busting his places of business?  He flashed around a Rolodex thicker than Remembrance of Things Past, claiming that it contained the names of corrupt officials at all levels of government, officials whom he would expose once elected.  He claimed further that only a copy of the Rolodex, hidden somewhere really crafty, kept him from being assassinated by the cops.

As it turned out, the cops left him alone but the voters assassinated him.   Believing that he'd lost because people still thought of him as the Tycoon of Touch (understandable for a man who estimates that he's employed more than 20,000 women), he decided on a grand gesture to sever ties with his past.  In 2005 he had a jacuzzi bathtub hauled onto the pavement in front of the National Assembly and smashed it to pieces with a sledge hammer.  Allow me to note that this is a tactic unlikely to be employed by a politician in any other country in the world.  Ever. Hard as it may be to believe, Chuwit lost again in 2008.

Now, boasting a more serious -- not to say frenzied -- image and a more frivolous political party name, "Love Thailand" (Chuwit is the only member), he's tilting at the Big Windmill again.  And I for one am glad to see him back.  He talks like Jerry Lewis on helium and he's probably the only candidate for a major political office in the last 20 years who decked a television reporter on-camera, a tactic I think would be more effective in the US than smashing a jacuzzi.

Welcome back, Chuwit.  You're a breath of -- well, maybe not fresh air. But you know those scented cardboard pine trees some taxi drivers hang on their rear-view mirrors?  A breath of that.

The other person I'm happy to see in the news is a small girl with a large name, Lapassarada Mung-Opas.  Lapassarada, who is only four, won a contest to name the new baby koala at the Chiang Mai zoo.  With literally thousands of entrants, Lapassarada won in a walk with -- no tittering in the balcony -- "Prong-dong," which means "Reconciliation."

And as sweet as the koala is, and as touching as its new name is, what I'm most taken with about this story is that when the Associated Press called Lapassarada at home to ask how it felt to have won the contest and where the name came from -- and all the other condescending drivel a reporter would ask a child in that situation -- Lapassarada said she didn't want to talk because she was watching cartoons, and she hung up the phone.

That's my Thailand.


  1. As to your bet, I doubt anyone will take you on. Three beauties compared to the bookends make you a sure winner.

    Lapassarada is 4, still in the perfect stage of knowing everything and being willing to make her opinions known. She knows what is important and she is confident in her right to express her opinion. Education and the reticence imposed by what is supposed to be good manners will, unfortunately, soon rob her of her confidence if not her belief she has a right to an opinion.

    Reykjavik elected a comedian as mayor. If Bangkok had a governor who admits to being corrupt, both places could make a claim to having the only honest politicians in the business.

    The oil spill (?) in the Gulf is a tragedy which may change the ecology of the area forever. When Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal goes on television multiple times a day, pleading for the federal government to come to the aid of his state, he is sincere. Louisiana needs help, especially since it never recovered from the loss of New Orleans in Katrina. But Bobby Jindal is a Republican who hates big government and is actively pursuing the Republican nomination in 2012. He hates Obama but he keeps pleading for his presence and the money he wants him to bring.

    Jindal talks movingly about the end of the lifestyles of the shrimpers and fishermen whose families have worked in the Gulf for generations, lifestyles that are the victims of the oil spill. He also speaks movingly when he pleads with Obama not to enforce the moratorium on off-shore drilling because Louisiana depends on oil, too.

    At least Jindal didn't call the catastrophe "an act of God" as did Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. Anyone who threatens oil, threatens everyone in that state. Maybe if drilling in the Gulf is permanently halted, Texas will at last make good on their plan to secede from the Union. It would have been nice if they had done it before the 2000 election.


  2. What do we win for guessing correctly which of the two women started out otherwise?
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  3. Chuwit (pronounced Chew It?), what a fun guy. "Jerry Lewis on helium!" We are laughing out loud in my house. All politics seem to decend into the realm of the absurd, but it's only fun if it's farcical. THANK YOU. We needed a laugh, with the stock market tanking and the pelicans dying.

  4. BETH -- It's not a surprise when professional politicians posture for position even over natural disasters like BP -- but Mary Landrieu, the Democratic senator from Louisiana has been every bit as shameless and hypocritical as Bobby Jindal -- she's been agitating for more drilling for years, and suddenly she's an environmentalist. But I don't know what else we can expect from a class of people whose only aim in life is to be re-elected.

    What I liked best about Lapassarada is that her parents LET HER hang up on the Associated Press. If that child had been American, she'd have been on OPRAH by noon the next day.

    PETER -- A date? The name of their stylist? A shot to sell that Rolodex on eBay? (The two at extreme right and left would be my guess, by the way.)

    Annamaria -- So glad to know you laughed. I laughed out loud when I thought of "The Tycoon of Touch." Really, it's best when politicians aren't ashamed of farce, seeing as how it's their natural mode. But if I'm going to vote for someone who's corrupt, I want someone whose corruption is as obvious as the rings on his fingers.