WTF?!

Tongue-Thai'ed - With 'love' from Bangkok to Beijing

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 6, 2015

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency" - Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimapakorn _____________________________

This is part XXXI of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It is no big secret that ever since Thailand's military seized power in a hostile takeover with the coup of May 2014, the military junta would face big challenges - among them, on the diplomatic world stage. Thailand just narrowly avoided becoming a pariah state among Western countries (we reported) only because it is still a (geo-)strategically important stakeholder in Southeast Asia. But all the rather soft and symbolic sanctions still couldn't avert Bangkok's diplomatic pivot towards Russia and especially towards China.

We reported back in December:

(...) it did not come as a surprise when then-army chief and still-to-this-day-junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha greeted Chinese businessmen as his first guests shortly after the coup of May 22 in an effort to woo investors back to the country and help jump start Thailand’s struggling economy. That was shortly followed by a visit of Thai military commanders to China.

Other bilateral meetings between Prayuth and Chinese leaders took place during the Asia-Europe Meeting in October, where he met China’s premier Li Keqiang and a month later at the APEC Conference hosted in Beijing with president Xi Jingping. The latter would welcomePrayuth again to the Chinese capital last week, where both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and build a “medium-speed” rail network linking the countries.

"Thai junta seeks deeper ‘China pivot’, lauds Beijing’s leadership style", Siam Voices, December 29, 2014

Since then, the Thai military government has made more advances towards Beijing by fulfilling the navy's long-held dream of buying submarines from China worth $1bn - even though the purchase is on hold for now - while around the same time controversially deporting around 100 Uighur muslims to China.

But what's strikes a bigger chord with the Thai generals is China's authoritarian one-party rule in exchange for economic propensity.

So, it came to no surprise when the Thai military's Foreign Minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn was full of praise for China again, as expressed earlier this week at an ASEAN forum in Kuala Lumpur...

At a joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn made a surprise declaration while standing on a podium with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency," he told reporters in English, much to the surprise of China’s top foreign envoy who appeared somewhat unsure how to respond. (...)

"Let’s say we are so close, we are more than friends, just say we are cousins with a long history together," he said.

"We don’t talk diplomatic talk, we talks like personal, like family, like friend," he added.

"Thai junta envoy admits crush on China", AFP, August 5, 2015

Well, that got awkward pretty quickly...

Also, why the need to change gender to express your love? There's no need to be ashamed of expressing one's man crush. And even if the probably biggest one-sided declaration of bromance on the diplomatic stage has been so far not reciprocated, this will most likely not the last we hear of it.

Compulsive loquaciousness: Thai junta PM goes off script at media gala dinner

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 30, 2015 Thailand's Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha's keynote speech at gala dinner in front of international media representatives is yet another example of the junta leader's unpredictable talkativeness, while his understanding of the media differs greatly from the international audience he was talking to.

Since seizing power almost a year ago, it appears that General Prayuth Chan-ocha is tirelessly working on something. Ever since the military coup of May 22, 2014, his authoritarian regime has micro-managed almost every aspect of Thai politics and more often than not also even beyond - and we're not even talking about the numerous detainments, media censorship, rampant online surveillance or the recent expansions of the junta's nigh-absolute powers. From the lottery system to World Cup television broadcasts to Songkran etiquette, the military junta seems to be eager to influence almost every aspect of everyday life in Thailand.

Junta leader and prime minister Gen. Prayuth himself is mostly at the forefront of these actions and doesn't seem to be tired of talking about it, especially on his weekly TV address. Every Friday evening he reaches out to the nation via television to speak on average almost for an hour about his government's progress, achievements, future plans and whatever else is on his mind, mostly in a furiously fast-paced, relentlessly off-the-cuff manner (so much so that the English subtitles hardly keep up with him). These tirades are usually delivered in a patronizing "I can't believe I have to spell it out to you" tone.

This kind of rhetoric is only exacerbated under live conditions, for example at his daily press conferences, where he constantly displays his contempt towards reporters and the media by being borderline sardonically abusive, either verbally or physically. However, the biggest verbal escalation was in March where he, visibly annoyed by the barrage of questions, quipped about "executing" critical journalists.

With that in mind, let's turn our attention to Wednesday evening, where Gen. Prayuth, in his function as prime minister, was invited to be the headline speaker at the gala dinner of "Publish Asia 2015", a regional summit for the newspaper industry. Given what we know about Prayuth's fiery no-holds-barred rhetoric, the international audience was in for quite a ride...

It seems that the problems were just getting started here...

But that didn't deter junta leader Gen. Prayuth from staying on topic - or rather straying off topic...

On his weekly TV address and the apparently low viewership, he said:

And just when you thought it was over...

But the translators were not the only apparent 'casualties' of that evening...

Back to Prayuth himself, he then finally realized what audience he was talking to:

This remark is particularly interesting because "Peace TV", the satellite TV channel of the anti-junta red shirt movement has been permanently taken off the air by the authorities for "politically divisive" coverage that could "incite unrest".

And ending on a high note...

There's not much else to add here, other than: this is one of the rare times where Gen. Prayuth's compulsive loquaciousness has been exposed to an international audience, who got a taste of his singularly unique trail of thoughts. Some might argue that his speech might have missed its target audience, but it's not everyday that you get the wisdom of Uncle Knows Best - except for the Thai people that have been under his thumb for almost a year now.

P.S.: If you dare, here's the full video of Gen. Prayuth's speech sans translator.

No laughing matter: Thai junta leader's renewed threat to media

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 26, 2015 Thai junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha this week warned that he has power to 'execute' critical reporters. Maybe this time he wasn't joking, writes Saksith Saiyasombut

THE allegations against the four men are severe: they are accused of being in connection to an alleged ”terrorism network” plotting to launch bomb attacks in Bangkok. A blast on March 7 at the Criminal Court (where no one was injured) is being pinned on them. They were held in military barracks for almost a week without charges, in accordance with martial law that is still in force since the military coup almost a year ago.

During the detention these four men were also allegedly tortured into making false confessions, according to human rights lawyers. One suspect said he was punched, kicked and even electrocuted ”30-40 times” by soldiers during interrogations.

Unsurprisingly, the Thai military disputes these allegations as a ”distortion of facts” and army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr has threatened legal action after the accusations.

That is in essence an example of how Thailand’s military junta deals with accusations and criticism leveled against them: denial and rejection - so far, so common. But that also comes with a heavy dose of self-righteous zeal to claim the ultimate sovereignty over what they constitute as the truth.

And no one defends this "truth" more vigorously than Gen. Udomdej’s army chief predecessor: General Prayuth Chan-ocha, current military junta leader and also prime minister.

Even the most casual Thai political observer is aware of Gen. Prayuth’s frequent contentious exchanges, especially with the press, in which he is at best sardonic and at worst goes on a tirades mostly ending with threats - and coming from a military man in charge of a government with wide-reaching powers, and with no one seemingly stopping him, this makes it very problematic, to say the least.

Case in point, from earlier this week:

"Our country has seen so much trouble because we have had too much democracy, unlike other countries where the government has more power to restrict freedoms," Gen. Prayuth (…) told investors and businessmen at a conference in Bangkok today. "Even the media can’t criticize [those leaders], like they do here. I insist that today, we are 99 percent democratic, because I didn't overthrow democracy at all."

Gen. Prayuth continued, "I can’t even stop people from opposing me at this moment. If I genuinely had complete power, I would have imprisoned [critics] or handed them to a firing squad. It would be over, I wouldn't have to wake up at night like this. Today there are some people who love me, but there are also many people who hate me. But please know that I am not doing this for myself. I am here to work for the country."

Junta Leader Blames Thai Crisis on 'Too Much Democracy’”, Khaosod English, March 23, 2015

It gets even worse later this week, when Gen. Prayuth had yet another episode in which he scolded reporters for a particularly (from his perspective) annoying question that quickly escalated into a rant accusing everyone not thankful enough for the "freedoms" he permits to criticize him and the junta. But then it deteriorated even more after reporters asked what would happened to media outlets stepping out of line, to which he said this:

"We'll probably just execute them," said Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those that do not adhere to the official line.

"You don't have to support the government, but you should report the truth," the former army chief said, telling reporters to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the kingdom.

Thai PM Prayuth warns media, says has power to execute reporters”, Reuters, March 25, 2015

He went on to target specific outlets like Matichon by literally pointing at copies of their newspapers and lambasting their coverage (which you can read here in a transcript of the whole tirade by Khaosod English that is - for a lack of a better word - just amazingly mind-boggling).

If there’s still any doubt about what kind of man and what kind of mentality we are dealing with here, then there’s your answer! This is a man ruling a regime under which dissent is outlawed and the media is under constant surveillance.

In an ironically tone-deaf incident, earlier on the same day, Gen. Prayuth he blasted Channel 3 journalist Thapanee Ietsrichai for her investigative report into the inhumane slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats (coinciding with a similar investigation by the Associated Press following similar reports by The Guardian and Global Post in recent years) for the damaging the country’s reputation and summoned to explain herself to the authorities.

As amusing (and admittedly cathartic) as it is to laugh and ridicule the general’s verbal outbursts and this junta’s ineptitude to deal with criticism (as we have extensively chronicled it), it’s no laughing matter and perhaps we should stop treating it as such.

Maybe we should stop portraying Prayuth’s outbursts as amusing one-note anecdotes about somebody’s public anger issues, but rather as the dangerously misguided delusions of somebody who knows no other way to exert power than by abusive force - and more worryingly, is in a situation and position powerful enough to actually do it.

Gen. Prayuth’s mere mention of considering the use of execution against critical journalists - twice, no less! - crosses yet another line after so many other lines have been already crossed. Maybe it is time for others to take Thailand’s plight under the military junta more seriously.

Tongue-Thai’ed! - When human rights are too "extreme"

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 4, 2015 This is part XXX of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It is hard to deny that the human rights situation in Thailand has sharply deteriorated since last year's coup which brought in the authoritative military government and its repressive measures to curtail dissent and criticism against their rule.

We have extensively reported on heavy media censorship, hundreds of arbitrary detentions with some allegations of torture, the relentless prosecution of lèse majesté suspects at home and abroad (two young theater activists have been recently sentenced to jail), the junta's increased efforts to spy online and its intolerance for any kind of protest or mere criticism, especially from abroad. And all that for the junta's often-claimed maintenance of "peace and order", while the country still is under martial law. Whoever isn't keeping calm is being "invited" for "attitude adjustment".

To say the situation is abysmal would be an understatement. Human Rights Watch said in its annual report that Thailand is in "free fall" and Amnesty International stated that the junta's actions are creating "a climate of fear". Meanwhile, the biggest worry of Thailand's own National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) is not the human rights situation itself - even when student activists are being harassed almost right in front of its chairperson - or an impending major international downgrade, but rather they are more concerned about their own existence amidst proposals to merge it together with the Ombudsman's Office.

With all that in mind, the Thai military junta's foreign minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn went to Geneva earlier this week to attend the annual regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Granted, its current member states are also not all what can be considered shining beacons of human rights, but nevertheless Gen. Thanasak didn't have an easy task representing Thailand (which is not a council member at the moment) and its situation to the world.

Thus, his opening statement (which you can see a video of here and read the transcript here) was more on the safe side with commitments to contribute to the work of the UN Human Rights Council. It would have been a rather unremarkably insignificant speech weren't it for these two excerpts:

Human rights exercised in the most extreme manner may come at a high price, especially in unstable or deeply divided societies. It may even lead such societies to the brink of collapse. And in such situations, it is the most vulnerable in societies who suffer the most.

What in the world is the "most extreme manner" of human rights, anyways?! Wouldn't the most extreme form of human rights be that actually ALL people can enjoy the same level of respect, dignity and legal fairness, regardless whoever they are?! And how could that bring a society of collapse?!

It gets even better, when he said a couple of moments later:

Freedom of expression without responsibility, without respect for the rights of others, without respect for differences in faiths and beliefs, without recognising cultural diversity, can lead to division, and often, to conflict and hatred. Such is the prevailing situation of our world today. So we must all ask ourselves what we could and should do about it.

Yes, those are all valid points, wouldn't it be for the pot calling the kettle back.

Thailand could, for example, introduce an official language policy that promotes the cultural diversity of its ethnic minorities, instead of just emphasizing the similarities.

Or it could also investigate a protest of roughly 1,000 Buddhists against the construction of a mosque in the Northern province of Nan earlier this week, while everybody's claiming not be against it for religious reasons, but also showing concern about "noise pollution", "different [read: incompatible] life styles" and potential "unrest and violence" once the mosque is built.

Or what about all those times when Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha lashed out against the media for still being too critical again and again or otherwise be utterly cantankerous and highly sardonic towards members of the press (if the junta is not censoring it, of course)? And what about the things that the junta says in general?

You see, it is not "extreme" human rights or freedom of expression that is the problem here, it is the blatant disregard of it that brings societies to the brink. The "extreme" version is to have a population that is not afraid of prosecution or any invisible lines for whatever they are saying and where the responsibility lies with society as a whole and not few powerful ones dictating it.

But then again, what isn't too "extreme" for the Thai military junta?

Tongue-Thai’ed! - Tough week for Prayuth ends in another tirade

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 30, 2015 This is part XXIX of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It's been quite an eventful week in Thailand and a challenging one for the military government. Not only did it feel the need to assert its sovereignty after it was "wounded" by the critical remarks by Daniel R. Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, on Monday (we reported), but also by summoning "inviting" the US Chargé d'affaires W. Patrick Murphy to express its "disappointment" (we also reported on that).

This diplomatic spat with the United States also kept Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha busy, who retaliated declaring that "Thai democracy will never die, because I’m a soldier with a democratic heart," and that it "It saddens me that the United States does not understand the reason why I had to intervene and does not understand the way we work."

Those who expected that things would calm down for the rest of the week were also disappointed, because that's when the military junta really just started to get going. Within 24 hours it summoned four former ministers from the cabinet of toppled former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (Surapong Tovichakchaikul, fmr Min. of Foreign Affairs; Nattawut Saikua, fmr Dep.-Min. of Agriculture; Chaturon Chaisaeng, fmr Min. of Education; and Pichai Naripthaphan, fmr Min. of Energy). This followed their public criticism of the military government, especially after the retroactive impeachment of Yingluck last Friday.

And then on Thursday, the junta ordered the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation to cancel an event scheduled for Friday. The German political NGO intended to present their annual report on the state of the media in Asia.

Given these developments, there was a lot of questions for the military government. So, at a press conference on Thursday, the media were asking General Prayuth about the summons - and this is what he had to say:

Unlike last year's summons, the orders given to the four politicians in recent days were not written into official documents or publicly announced on television.  Junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha explained today that formal notices are no longer necessary. "No need. The [junta] directly contacts and invites these people," Gen. Prayuth said (...). "I don't want it to become big news. When we invite them, we use telephones to call them for talks." (...)

When a reporter asked whether anyone who publicly comments on the political situation in Thailand will be summoned for "attitude readjustment," Gen. Prayuth shot back, "Is it the right thing to say those things? Is it appropriate to say them in this time? That's all. You keep making this a big issue with your questions."

"Thai Junta Renews Summons Orders to Quash Criticism", Khaosod English, January 29, 2015

And this is where Prayuth really got started...

When the reporter pressed Gen. Prayuth to answer, the junta chairman launched into an angry tirade.

"You will be summoned too, if you keep asking many questions like this," he said. "You ask unconstructive questions. I want to ask you, is it a right thing to do, challenging my full power? Even though I have such full power, these people still challenge it like this. If there's no martial law, what's going to happen? You all know the answer. Do you want it to happen?"

He continued, "I know that the media wants it to happen, so that they can sell news ... I am [the head of] the government. I have full power. Is it the right thing to challenge it like this? I have relaxed my power too much already these days."

Responding to a reporter who noted that the NCPO seems to be intensifying its crackdown on criticism, Gen. Prayuth shouted, "So what? So what? In the past, you said I was incompetent. Now that I am intensifying, you are angry. What the hell do you want me to do?"

Swiftly changing the topic, the junta chairman also scolded the media for publishing a photo of him inadvertently pointing his middle finger, which appeared in Post Today.

"I am not mad on power. You don't understand it. You keep picking on me," Gen. Prayuth said. "Yesterday, for instance. How can you photograph me like that? I was pointing my finger. You bastard. You chose to photograph me pointing my finger. This is what they call a lowly mind."

"Thai Junta Renews Summons Orders to Quash Criticism", Khaosod English, January 29, 2015

Just to give you a general idea how much of a tirade it was, just take a look at this video of the aforementioned press conference. As regular readers know, General Prayuth's relationship with the media is always a tense one with the former always being sardonic - but this here takes the cake!

Note: If anybody knows a better translation for the Thai swear word "ไอ้ห่า", please let me know!

Bizarre Hitler scene sneaks into Thai junta propaganda movie

A screenshot from the short film '30' shows students painting a picture of HItler. Pic: AP. A bizarre and brief scene depicting Thai students painting a picture of Adolf Hitler has made its way into a propaganda short film financed by the military government. "30" by director Kulp Kaljaruek is part of the "Thai Niyom" ("Thai Pride") movie aimed at promoting the "12 core values" drawn up by by junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha shortly after the military coup of May 22, 2014.

These commandments "12 values" are essentially the junta's guide to becoming a "good" Thai citizen. It includes values like showing respect to superiors, resisting the temptation of "religious sins", upholding "Thai customs and traditions", and sacrificing oneself for the good of the country. School children (and sometimes even adults) are advised to recite them daily, and to further push their agenda the military junta has financed short films based on said values.

And so we have the short film "30", about a spoiled brat young, wealthy and neatly-kempt Thai boy and his underachieving, goofy (and darker-skinned!) best friend in school (a private school, mind you!), learning about friendship and acceptance. This would all be as expected if it wasn't for that intro sequence stylized like a children's coloring book showing the different school activities,  one of which involves the protagonist standing in front of a  portrait of Adolf Hitler during art class, while winking suggestively at the camera (0:54 min. in video below).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFu5whDYq-Q]

The movie was uploaded to YouTube and was unsurprisingly removed from official channels after a sufficient amount of baffled outrage on social media at the odd inclusion the scene. As usual, bootleg copies have popped up elsewhere already. This not the first time that there has been outrage at the insensitive or just simply misplaced use of Nazi symbols and Adolf Hitler depictions. In the past unsuspecting school and university students (and certain Bangkok hipster shops) have been criticized for their trivial use of such images.

But was this just yet another lapse in judgment and a show of ignorance stemming from a rather dismal education system? Or - given the apparent winks and nods throughout the whole short film (e.g. rich, spoiled, overachieving boy living in mansion attending a private school) - is this part of an almost satirical subtext undercutting the whole "12 core values" and the military junta's re-imagineering of what makes a "good" Thai?

(MORE: Thailand’s junta brings its message to the silver screen)

Whatever the case may be, it must have somehow flown over the heads of the officials - Thai junta Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth and several other ministers are credited in the movie as sponsors before the actual cast and crew - and thus found its way to an astonished general public. Certainly not what the generals had in mind.

UPDATE [Dec 9]: The colleagues at Khaosod English have talked to "30" director Kulp Kaljaruek and he seemingly shows no regret or remorse or any deeper meaning at all:

"As for Hitler's portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It's even considered a fashion. It doesn't mean I agree with it, but I didn't expect it to be an issue at all." [...]

When asked whether "30" was an attempt to poke fun at Gen. Prayuth's Twelve Values in a subversive way, Kulp insisted that he did not intend the film to be political at all.

"Director Defends 'Hitler Scene' in Thai Junta Film", Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Just as much as Hitler is sometimes being treated as a pop cultural icon in Thailand (see above), his production company "Kantana Motion Pictures" (and part of one of the largest TV and film companies in Thailand) also seems to like some of the same motifs and color schemes...! The director continues:

"[Hitler] is the character of this child," Kulp explained, [...] "He's always been 'number one,' and he's selfish. Hitler is also a 'number one,' in a bad way," Kulp continued. "He was good at persuading a lot of people, but he refused to listen to the majority. He was always arrogant. That's why the war happened."

"Director Defends 'Hitler Scene' in Thai Junta Film", Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Apart from incorrectly stating almost any historical fact about Hitler and the Third Reich (is he suggesting that Hitler started World War 2 out of arrogance and there was widespread opposition against him? Really?!), he has absolutely fumbled artistically justify that scene other than making a shrewd reference to the dangers of a charismatic evil swaying the population - which is further supplemented by a military junta spokesman:

Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd, spokesperson of the Office of Prime Minister, admitted that he has not had time to see the film, but offered a possible explanation of why the Hitler cameo was included. "If I were to make an uneducated guess, it may have been intended to say that democracy has good and bad sides," Col. Sansern said.

"Director Defends 'Hitler Scene' in Thai Junta Film", Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Uneducated indeed, since Thai ultra-conservatives - including the anti-government protesters, whose actions this and last year have paved the way for the military coup - like to often play the "Hitler-also-came-from-elections"-card in order to denounce democracy as a whole, as we have previously discussed here, here and here.

UPDATE 2 [Dec 11]: The Prime Minister's Office Minister Pannada Diskul told Reuters, after apologizing for the understandably upset Israeli ambassador, that "The director had decided to make changes to the film even before it made news to ease everybody's concerns." That's rather surprising to hear since, as seen above, the director initially said that he  "didn't expect to be an issue at all"...!

No, the Tour de France is still NOT coming to Thailand!

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 25, 2014 The Tour de France, the world's long-running, most prestigious (and somewhat plagued) cycling race, will start its 2016 edition from Manche in Normandy, France, with the rest of the route to be revealed on December 9. I might be going on a limb here, but I'm pretty sure that the last stage will be again on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Now, why would I write something like this on this blog here? Regular readers may remember this:

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is in talks with Paris-based Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) for the possibility of staging the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France, in Thailand in 2015, the year when the entire Southeast Asian region will integrate under the ASEAN Economic Community framework. (…)

[TAT Governor Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik] added, “By playing host to a world famous cycling race as the Tour de France, we are saying that Thailand is ready to host any international sporting events of all types and sizes. (…)”

Tour de France to be held in Thailand next year“, TAT press release, October 2, 2014

The TAT jumped the starting gun on this one, issuing the press release after just one meeting with the Tour organizers (we reported). While it is nothing new for the first stage of the event to be held in countries other than France - there have been many starting locations, including this year in Utrecht, Netherlands - moving to an entirely different continent is quite a big stretch, which made the TAT announcement - which has vanished from its website - far more unbelievable.

Almost naturally - after a sufficient amount of buzz and ridicule - there was this unsurprising statement by the Tour de France organizers ASO:

ASO, however, believes something was lost in translation.

"There are talks indeed but not to bring the Tour to Thailand," a spokesman told Reuters upon hearing about the claims from the TAT. "There are discussions to settle in Thailand via a criterium, just like we did in Japan with the 'Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France'." A criterium is a one-day race held on a circuit or though a city which often attracts the Tour de France winner but has little sporting value.

"Thailand off course on Tour hosting plans - ASO", Reuters, October 2, 2014

It's not the first time Thailand has attempted to attract a world-class sporting event, and its not the first time it has run into problems: the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2012 became a fiasco when Bangkok failed to build the main arena in time, and an ambitious bid to host a Formula 1 race on the streets of Bangkok ultimately came to a screeching halt when the city rejected the inner-city circuit. Both incidents were examples of unhealthy, unrealistic ambitions and dodgy dealings by the Thai authorities - which would normally be perfectly acceptable in the world of sports.

It still doesn't excuse the outlandish announcement by the TAT. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports (a very popular portfolio for would-be ministers for political and financial reasons), which the TAT is attached to, could for example attempt to better promote and support regional and local sporting events like the "Tour of Thailand" instead of thinking too big.

So, in case there are any doubts: NO, the Tour de France is still not coming to Thailand!

Tongue-Thai'ed!: The 3 most ludicrous things said in Thailand this week

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 3, 2014 This is part XXV, XXVI and XXVII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It's been a while since this section has graced this blog and while the past couple of months were not lacking in ridiculousness both in verbal and non-verbal form (but mostly the former) thanks to Thailand's military junta's hostile takeover (like this most recent example by the Thai junta leader and PM himself), the circumstances and consequences of these many announcements were mostly no laughing matter, regardless of their ludicrousness. It takes some special effort to top the mind-boggling developments that are not coming directly from the Thai junta.

This past week, there were three such cases. In descending order of ludicrousness, here they are...

3. Safeguarding Thai cuisine - with a robot?!

A couple of years ago, we talked about the ugly side of Thailand's world-famous cuisine: food chauvinism. The general message by self-proclaimed guardians of Thai food is that nobody will ever be able to create genuine Thai dishes unless he or she has grown up with it in the motherland - so foreigners shouldn't even bother attempting to cook renowned and popular classics like green curry or Tom Yam Gung.

That doesn't stop Thai institutions from finding ways to monopolize what they think Thai cuisine is and also attempt to prosecute those eateries abroad that seemingly violate the mostly unwritten rules of Thai cooking. For one such self-proclaimed guardian, the culprits are pretty clear:

“There are many Thai restaurants all around the world that are not owned by Thai people,” said Supachai Lorlowhakarn*, an adviser to the National Innovation Agency, which is in charge of the Thai Delicious program. He added, almost apologetically, “They are owned by Vietnam or Myanmar, or maybe even Italian or French.”

"You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge", New York Times, September 28, 2014

Even though there are some god-awful pseudo-Thai places out there, that opinion ignores some genuine Thai restaurants owned by actual Thais bringing Thai food to the masses worldwide, while trying to compensate for the fluctuating (but steadily improving) supply of more exotic ingredients.

Nevertheless, they are still going ahead methodizing and standardizing Thai food. One such effort was been presented earlier this week in the New York Times:

A boxy contraption filled with sensors and microchips, the so-called e-delicious machine scans food samples to produce a chemical signature, which it measures against a standard deemed to be the authentic version. (...)

The [National Innovation Agency] has spent around one-third of its budgeted 30 million baht, around $1 million, on Thai Delicious, including around $100,000 to develop the e-delicious machine, according to Sura-at Supachatturat, a manager at the agency. (...)

The machine evaluates food by measuring its conductivity at different voltages. Readings from 10 sensors are combined to produce the chemical signature.

"You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge", New York Times, September 28, 2014

The project was launched in July 2013 after then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (and presumably many other officials) were dissatisfied with the Thai food options abroad. But the problem with the very notion of this device is the mindset of Thai authorities that Thai cuisine - and by extension Thai culture - needs to be "protected" from foreigners "diluting" the dishes, while many are (deliberately?) oblivious that the origins of Thai cuisine aren't without foreign influence either (namely chili being introduced by Portuguese missionaries).

*By the way, if the name Supachai Lorlowhakarn sounds familiar to some of you: he was director of the National Innovation Agency and convicted of plagiarizing his PhD dissertation after a long legal battle against the original author and a foreign investigative journalist. So, looks like he's still attached to the NIA...

2. Le Tour de France in Thailand?!?!

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has knocked out this unbelievable press release - unbelievable as in: I literally do not believe this!

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is in talks with Paris-based Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) for the possibility of staging the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France, in Thailand in 2015, the year when the entire Southeast Asian region will integrate under the ASEAN Economic Community framework. (...)

[TAT Governor Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik] added, “By playing host to a world famous cycling race as the Tour de France, we are saying that Thailand is ready to host any international sporting events of all types and sizes. (...)”

"Tour de France to be held in Thailand next year", TAT press release, October 2, 2014

It seems to be a bit of a forgone conclusion by TAT that the Tour de France will certainly come to Thailand. While the prestigious annual cycling race had stages outside of France (namely the starting locations) all across mostly central Europe, it sounds very unlikely that the organizers are willing to lift the entire race to a different continent. What could be possible though is that the TAT (which operates under the Ministry of Tourism and Sport) might have asked the Tour de France-organizers ASO for help to hold a high-profile cycle race in Thailand - which still doesn't explain the deliberate overstatement by the TAT itself - without any apparent signed deal - apart from creating buzz at all costs, risking widespread ridicule.

This wouldn't be the first attempt by Thai authorities in recent years to bring in a world-class sporting event to Thailand. After a disastrous FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2012 when Bangkok authorities failed to build an arena on time and strong efforts to host a Formula 1 race in the Thai capital were ultimately killed off after the proposed inner-city circuit failed to get official approval, confidence in Thailand's ability to host an international sporting event is reserved to say the least - and it certainly doesn't help when the Thai authorities are already foolishly setting it in stone already.

UPDATE: As expected and reported by The Guardian, the ASO has dismissed the TAT's claim noting that "something was lost in translation" and indeed (as predicted) were in talks about merely organizing a one-day cycling race in Thailand.

1. Safety for tourists - with ID-tags?!?!?!

And today's "winner" is the Thai junta's Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. After the recent murder of two British tourists two weeks ago and following messy police investigation that resulted in the rather suspicious arrest of two Burmese men, the minister's idea to increase tourist security was this...

Under the new plan, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said hotels would hand out wristbands to tourists on check-in that would show a “serial number that matches their I.D. and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying in”. It was not immediately clear whether tourists would be obliged to wear the wristbands. (...)

Minister Kobkarn added Tuesday: “The next step would be some sort of electronic tracking device but this has not yet been discussed in detail.”

"Thailand considers ID wristbands for tourists", Asian Correspondent, September 30, 2014

This just defies any explanation and almost rivals the recent comments of her boss in sheer outlandishness...

Thai PM apologizes for 'bikini' remark after Koh Tao murders

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 18, 2014 Following widespread outrage and condemnation after his flippant remark in the aftermath of the murder of two British tourists on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao, Thai military junta leader and Prime Minister Gerneral Prayuth Chan-ocha has apologized for suggesting that the behavior of the victims is to be blamed for the crime and tourists wearing bikinis are more vulnerable to attacks.

"I am sorry that my statement caused uneasiness. I affirm that I did not look down on or criticise anyone. I simply wanted to warn them to be careful at certain places and certain times," Prayuth said.

"Prayuth issues apology over bikini remark", The Nation, September 18, 2014

As we reported yesterday, Gen. Prayuth rhetorically asked during a televised speech if tourists "can be safe when they wear their bikinis," which was then followed by a flippant "unless they're not beautiful!"

The remark was quickly picked up by the international (and mostly only by the international initially) press and has sparked criticism and condemnation, especially by the UK press - the country of the two murder victims - as exemplified by the front page of Thursday's The Daily Mail accusing Gen. Prayuth of "insulting" and "smearing the murdered Britons".

Some readers have been asking about the complete context of his remark. Here's a clip of yesterday's speech that includes his controversial remark:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UOHrWwlQYs&w=480&h=360]

Translation:

[Starting at 0.09 min.] "...safety...tourists! We always have problems with that! We have to see it with their eyes: They think that our country is beautiful and safe and can do whatever they want, wear bikinis and go anywhere...I ask you: will they make it through [as in "be safe"] wearing a bikini? Unless you're aren't pretty. [laughter] Everyone here is pretty! Well, it's dangerous and we have to tell them that! [We have to tell them] two things: [that we have] the law to protect them and that they have to be careful, that after [September] 18 they shouldn't go there [but] we have security there and there looking after...because that negatively affects the tourism there...at Koh...which is it...Koh Chang? What island is it again? Ah, Koh Tao! Yeah, that's [???]. No tourists coming because they're afraid. [...]"

While it's pretty clear that he's focussing on tourist safety and that he's concerned about the negative effects it will have, the flippant remark meant as a half-baked joke is still inappropriate at best. Paired with his comments earlier this week asking to "look into the behavior of the other side" (meaning the victims) and his overall tendency to run  his mouth, one can think that Gen. Prayuth is (unwittingly) blaming the victims. (Note: also, doesn't it come across as a bit rude that he so nonchalantly forgot where the crime took place?).

Nevertheless, this is a lesson for the outgoing army chief, junta leader and prime minister that he is now under much, much more public scrutiny now that he has took (over) this position and that he has to choose his words more carefully.

So, now that we've cleared this we can move on, right?

Translation: "Prayuth insists that he didn't mean to offend. Tone [of remark] only because he wanted to remind to be careful, as there are many unregistered migrant workers there."

Oh boy...!

Thai PM after Koh Tao murders: 'Can tourists be safe in bikinis?'

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 17, 2014 The murder of two British tourists on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao has raised questions about tourist safety in Thailand. Hannah Witheridge (23) and David Miller (24) were found dead on Monday morning half-naked and with severe wounds to their heads. Local police initially (without any substantial evidence) suspected migrant workers on the island of the crime, before turning their attention to a British backpacker, who was a roommate of one of the victims and another British man, who has been asked not to leave Thailand before the investigation is complete.

The murder case is another setback for Thailand's struggling tourism industry, which is facing declining numbers this year due to prolonged political protests that set the stage for Thailand's military to launch a coup in May 22. One of the military junta's initial goals is to kickstart Thailand's tourism industry again and make the country attractive for visitors again.

Thus, it was critical that the Thai military government's of outgoing army chief, junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, reacted to this murder case with the appropriate sensitivity in order to show the world how serious his administration taking this bloody crime.

Unfortunately though, it didn't quite turn out that way...

"There are always problems with tourist safety. They think our country is beautiful and is safe so they can do whatever they want, they can wear bikinis and walk everywhere," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also the army chief, told government officials. But "can they be safe in bikinis... unless they are not beautiful?" he said, addressing the issue of tourist safety in a speech broadcast live on television.

"Thai PM questions if 'tourists in bikinis' safe after murders", AFP, September 17, 2014

For those unfamiliar with Gen. Prayuth, he has a long record of running his mouth before the coup (see one example here) and even more so since the hostile takeover of power a couple of months ago (another example here) and spearheading nearly everything politically for the foreseeable future. His remarks often range somewhere between "father-knows-all" during his weekly TV addresses and deeply annoyed and sardonic during press briefings.

Thus the latest flippant remarks about tourists' safety correlating to beach attire appears to be brash, and for many even misogynistic that's hinting at victim blaming. According to a tweet by Bangkok Post military correspondent Wassana Nanuam, it appears that Prayuth's rhetorical question was half-baked at best before steering away and saying: "Everyone in this room is beautiful!"

Translation: PM worries about tourists, orders them to be looked after. "In Thailand, can they wear their bikinis? Unless they're not beautiful," making sweet eyes before teasing [the crowd], "Everyone in this room is beautiful!" 

A day earlier in his initial reaction to the Koh Tao murders, Gen. Prayuth said this, again unwittingly suggesting bit of victim blaming:

"I have been following this matter very closely," Gen. Prayuth told reporters as he arrived at Government House this morning. "We also have to look into the behavior of the other side [the tourists]. (...) This case should not have happened in Thailand at all. I think it will affect foreign opinion of our country."

"PM Tells Police To Hasten Investigation of Koh Tao Murder", Khaosod English, September 16, 2014

Indeed it will affect the foreign perception of Thailand as a tourist destination and its safety during a visit. But what also affects this is how sensitively locals and officials are handling this murder case. A half-thought flippant remark by the junta leader and prime minister - who by the way hasn't expressed his condolences to the victims' relatives either - doesn't help to improve Thailand's image.

UPDATE: The British UK tabloid The Mirror reports:

Hannah Witheridge's local MP has responded to comments made by Thailand's prime minister in which he appeared to criticise the behaviour of the two tourists.

MP Brandon Lewis told the Daily Express: “I have not seen anything indicating any blame on the victims. I hope the focus will be on bringing whoever committed this barbaric crime to justice.”

Mr Lewis's comments come after Thailand's prime minister said: "We have to look into the behaviour of the other party (Miss Witheridge and Mr Miller) too".

"British backpackers murdered in Thailand: Updates as police hunt for killer", The Mirror, September 17, 2014

UPDATE 2: Unsurprisingly, the UK press has jumped onto Prayuth's ill-advised quipped as it's being reported and criticized by several outlets, including Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent and the Huffington Post UK.