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Update January - May , 2020

Thailand News
Travel Tourism
Science & Technology
Update by Thanaphon Paewsoongnern

Grapevine - May 22 - June 4, 2020

Bizarre defence 1

Some folk offer the most odd explanations of curfew breaking. A Rayong guy was stopped after police noticed he was driving slowly down the highway in the wee hours. He explained he was looking for his wife who was very absent-minded and frequently wandered off. Police then asked who was laid out sleeping on the back seat of the vehicle. You are right – his wife!

Bizarre defence 2

Police raided a “mua soom” or a group of five people drinking beer, laughing and joking contrary to the state of emergency regulations at the time. Their defence was that they were drinking from cans and bottles in the garage which were so old that the alcohol content had evaporated. One of their number then drew attention to an internet site which said exactly that. It seems you can’t believe everything you read on the world wide web. It’s a pity.

Open for booze

When the dry season ended on May 3, there was a shortage of hard information about the new opening hours for off-sales. Some stores thought we were back to the good old days of 24 hours opening. Others thought the authorities probably meant 6 am to 6 pm, or maybe 11 am to 6 pm. Then again they might have meant to go back to 11 am to 2 pm and then 5 pm to 6 pm or even to 8 pm. Or maybe a cut-off time at 10 pm to coincide with the start of the curfew. Not surprising that a suspicious public decided to stock up in a rush whilst they could.

Corona balance sheet

Many people have commented that an upside of the pandemic has been environmental improvement as smog clears over cities and the turtles come back to lay their eggs on the beach devoid of humans. Over the entire world, pollution may be down by 10 percent or so. On the downside, there has been a truly gigantic increase in the amount of plastic used in the packaging of takeaway food and temporary knives forks and spoons. Whatever happened to that campaign?

Fake news breathes

Following a comment in Pattaya Mail that one of the silliest fake news stories about Coronavirus was the one suggesting you hold your breath for three minutes, a reader wrote in to point out somberly that such a practice is dangerous as you will die rather than recover. Thanks for that. But not sure if holding your breath longtime is any more stupid than the notion from a senior American source that drinking or injecting bleach might be a cure-all. Either way you meet your Maker sooner than you might like.

Future of take-aways

Some argue that the April closure of sit-down eating opportunities in cafes and restaurants, now sort-of rescinded, means that people have now got used to home delivery of food and will not resume their eating-out traditions. Certainly possible, but let’s remember that add-on charges mean that delivered meals by motorbike can work out more expensive than taking your seat in a restaurant. The jury is out on that one.

Technology takes over

Even people who have never learned to send an email nor even to turn on a computer will surely agree the Coronavirus scare has provided some mind-boggling developments. Temperature testing by hand-held device at the entrance of the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital has been replaced by a walk-past machine which silhouettes your whole body and gives an instant temperature reading without a human pressing a button near your head. On Pattaya’s Beach Road these days you might hear a drone overhead barking out the latest orders where you can sit or asking you to move along.

Toilet paper shortage jokes

The pandemic has given rise to many jokes on that subject. Here’s a couple. “If you need 144 rolls of toilet paper to survive 14 days’ quarantine, you should probably have seen the doctor long before Covid-19.” And, “I spent yesterday trying to explain to my kids why a guy eating bat soup in China led to a toilet paper shortage in Liverpool.”

Grapevine - May 8 - May 21, 2020

Applying for Thai residency

One of the most common questions asked about Thai immigration is the procedure to apply for permanent Thai residency. Assuming you qualify – not a foregone conclusion by any means – what then are the advantages?

Well, you can live permanently here without needing an extension of stay. This is an improvement on visa extensions for one year at a time and also on the Elite visa. The latter is technically for 5-20 years, depending on the type and cost, but requires some kind of action every three months.

With residency, you can also have your name on a blue (not yellow) house registration document and can own a condominium unit in Thailand without proving the cash was brought here from abroad. Work permits are easier to obtain and you can even become a director of a Thai registered company.

The most likely candidates

But you cannot vote in Thai elections. Nor can you own freehold land in your own name. The immigration bureau handles all permanent residency applications and there is a quota system of 100 persons per country in a calendar year. Applications are made between October and December but the exact dates may change from year to year.

The next question is whether you qualify to apply. You must have held a Thai non-immigrant visa for a minimum of three years prior to application - three consecutive yearly extensions – and be in possession of one when you send in the forms.

Most successful applications in fact are holders of non-immigrant “B” (business) visas and an up-to-date work permit issued by the Labour Ministry. Tax returns and other relevant documents are part of the application procedure. Minimum income levels also come into play. After 10 years, you can apply for Thai naturalized citizenship.

There are several other categories for application, although it is fair to state they tend to take longer or even fail on technical grounds. These include a steep cash investment category, an “expert” category (although there is a separate working visa for hi-tech experts) and a special “humanitarian” group who has a close blood relationship or marriage with a current Thai citizen.

The devil is in the detail

The list of documents required depends on the category of application. The period of waiting can be lengthy, 1 to several years. If finally successful, a blue book for residence will be issued which in turn enables you to register it with the local authority and obtain a house card. Shortly afterwards, you will apply for an alien red book at the local police station (not immigration this time) which has to be re-registered from time to time.

In effect, the bureaucracy associated with permanent residency is lighter than with one year or elite visas – for example no 90 days reporting – but has by no means disappeared. Re-entry permits are always required with residency.

After accepting an application for permanent residence, the immigration bureau will grant a six months’ extension of stay from the actual date of submission. Additional periods of six months are granted until residence is granted or until the application is refused. It may be necessary to have a series of interviews with Thai immigration officers and the applicant’s knowledge of the Thai language is likely to be probed. Expect health checks too.

The actual cost of the whole process is difficult to state as there are umpteen variables. Between 250,000 and 350,000 baht would be a fair estimate - all aspects considered. If the successful applicant is under the age of 20, the charges are maybe half.

Not suitable for everyone

In summary, most expats probably won’t get into the detail as they may well not qualify or feel that the bureaucracy isn’t worth the trouble. But it is worth emphasizing again that most successful applicants are from business executives who are married or have close blood relatives who already hold the residency book.

Expats who simply like the idea of having a longer visa than 12 months are probably better suited to the Elite visa which is very flexible, easy to obtain and requires only a cash payment at the time of application of between 500,000 and one million baht.

Otherwise, it may be best to remain with your annual retirement extension or your visa based on marriage to a Thai citizen or your annually renewable non-immigrant “B” if holding a work permit.

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 - May 22 - June 4, 2020

Grapevine - May 8 - May 21, 2020

Grapevine - April 24 - May 7, 2020

Grapevine - APRIL 3 - APRIL 16, 2020