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Update January - April , 2020


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Update by Thanaphon Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
Grapevine
 

Grapevine - April 24 - May 7, 2020

Corona fake news

There is nothing new about fake news, especially in times of crisis. In the first world war, it was widely believed that the Germans were bayonetting babies to pass the time. In the second, many Brits believed that the Nazi radio propagandist William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) was accurately predicting the demise of Britain.

The Covid-19 crisis obviously is producing limitless opportunities on social media for nonsense to be published. Does this mean that people are hopelessly gullible? Not really. We are all titillated by overblown stories. So when you read on social media that you cannot catch the disease if you drink large quantities of boiling water (to stop the virus leaving your throat) or that Bill Gates financed the Wujan laboratory where the virus was being developed, you might well smile and move on. Hopefully!

A recent internet falsehood suggested that holding your breath for 10 seconds is a good test for the virus whilst another proclaimed that a product to clean fish tanks was a cure because it contained the wonder drug chloroquine. In truth, hundreds of millions of people have heard that chloroquine is a miracle drug but they are mostly skeptical pending the outcome of proper medical tests.

Is vodka a cure?

In the vast majority of cases, people either ignore the supposed curative aspects of certain substances or use them to justify behavior they want to engage in anyway. Thus, if you are a chocoholic or an alcoholic, you are more likely than the rest of us to believe that consuming large numbers of Mars bars or swallowing vodka by the bottle will keep Covid-19 away from you. The best of luck!

A reliable clue to whether you are reading fake news circulating on WhatsApp and the rest is the claimed source. So when you read, “This comes from a relative who actually works in the Chinese laboratory” or “My father works in a New York hospital so he knows what he’s talking about,” you should already perceive that what follows is bunkum.

Corona has much in common with other crisis situations. The main issue is not that people gullibly accept whatever they are told, but that they fail to carry out recommendations from authorized sources such as their government. People collectively tend to mistrust politicians which is understandable as they do tend to lie unashamedly on a daily basis. So when Boris Johnson tells people there is no shortage of food in the supermarkets he starts a panic buying spree.

Who can you trust?

Panic reactions, such as stockpiling toilet paper or pasta, reflect a lack of trust in the promise of the leadership that supply lines are safe. There is also the worry that, even if you refrain from stockpiling, maybe your neighbours and friends will be unable to refrain. Stockpiling is perfectly rational when looked at from this point of view.

The most basic point about fake news is that, when evaluating information, we first compare what we are told or have read with our existing beliefs. Fake news takes an enormous advantage here by reinforcing our prejudices. If you are racist by nature, you are more likely to believe COVID-19 is a Chinese conspiracy to bankrupt the West. If you are a drinker, it’s comforting to think alcohol is a cure for whatever.

Much of the above can be incorporated into a review of reactions in Thailand to the pandemic. Thais who don’t much care for farang believe the foreigners are responsible for Thais losing their jobs and wages. Foreigners who are sweating profusely whilst walking a short distance are especially drawn to the argument that strong sunlight kills the virus outright.

Fake news is said to have begun in ancient history. Roman pagans, in their campaign against Christianity, accused the followers of Jesus of drowning babies (baptism) and drinking blood (transubstantiation). Of course, we have come a long way since then. Or have we?


Grapevine - APRIL 3 - APRIL 16, 2020

A potted history of Pattaya water hurling

What no Songkran?

By no means everybody is disappointed by the prospect of this year’s holiday and watery Songkran being postponed. The obvious justification, of course, is the spread of the Corona virus although the water shortage may have played a minor role in the unfolding drama. Many spoil-sport expats here are likely quite happy about the City Hall abolition decision which is in line with all other local authorities in Thailand that we know of.

Ancient history

Over the years, many have campaigned for Songkran’s suspension or abolition. As early as 1997 Pattaya Mail carried a reader’s letter arguing that throwing buckets of water on passing motor bike riders merely created extra business for local mortuaries. He added that if this practice was allowed to continue, Pattaya’s tourist market would be doomed forever. Yes, so many seers have prophesied that scenario.

Medieval history

In 2005 there was much talk about zoning. This would mean that people could throw water to their hearts’ content in specially-reserved areas (Buddha Hill was one proposal and another was the then-deserted Jomtien 2 Road) whilst the residual population continued peacefully and dryly in the rest of the city. The matter was even scheduled to come up at a Council meeting before, sad to relate, a military coup in September of that year sank all such debates for the foreseeable future.

Early modern times

In 2010 another letter appeared in the local press demanding that Songkran be abolished on the grounds that mobile phones were very expensive commodities and not at all happy to be dripping wet. In 2012 a speaker at an expat club demanded action on the grounds that he had heard from a confidential source that the white powder might contain arsenic whilst the ice water might have been drawn from dirty sources too shameful to mention.

The changing scene

In spite of the failure of these campaigns, Pattaya Songkran is not what it was once. In recent years, the whole thing has been toned down. Ten years ago, the April water gun bandits were lined up on Pattaya’s Second Road as early as 8 a.m. These days, nothing much happens before lunchtime because the will to squirt has obviously declined. The reasons are likely linked to the decline of youngish western tourists and the advent of the imperious Chinese who don’t appreciate street warfare of the liquid kind.

One day wonder

Indeed, by 2019, Pattaya Songkran was more or less restricted to the single day of mayhem which is invariably April 19. But even that solitary day seems to have lost momentum. Last year, the 19th was more or less an ordinary day for business at the immigration bureau, whereas in the past very few visa extenders dared to venture into Jomtien. Contrary to popular belief, the 19th has never been a public holiday. But it used to seemed like one. No longer.

But watch out!

When we say that Songkran has been postponed this year, what exactly does that mean? Nobody knows for sure. Official celebrations certainly won’t be held, not even the gentle and historic blessings of pouring water over the hands. But the government has made it crystal clear that the whole holiday period has been postponed. One assumes that there won’t be a trace of what used to happen on splash days.

Silly Moo

If Songkran really is missing a beat, sadly some of the humour will be missed. Last year, an elderly farang was walking towards Jomtien’s beach road when an old lady drenched him with a small bucket of ice water. “You stupid cow,” he yelled. “Excuse me,” replied the lady, “I know the word ‘stupid’ but what is ‘cow’? Sadly, the historical record does not reveal what was his reply, if anything. Learning new language skills has never been part of the Songkran tradition.

Other cultures

Believe it or not, water hurling goes back a long way. Apparently, the ancient Carthaginians threw water on their elephants just before a battle both to refresh the pachyderms and to alert them to prepare to charge the enemy. Unfortunately, the Romans soon learned what to do in response. They banged their spears on their shields, made a terrible noise which caused the terrified elephants to turn round and mow down their own side.

Off to Cambodia

But if you really want to ensure a wet Songkran this year, there is always the option of Cambodia where the water hurling has got wetter as Pattaya has grown dryer. The best bet over there is Siem Reap. But nothing happens in the daytime. Drenching time starts as the skies darken. Note: The Cambodian authorities have since cancelled this year’s April festivities.

 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Grapevine - April 24 - May 7, 2020

Grapevine - APRIL 3 - APRIL 16, 2020