Monthly Archives: February 2009

ASEAN summit kicks off in Thailand

BBC: “Asean opens with economic agenda

The 10-member Association of South East Asian nations (Asean) has started a summit meeting in Thailand.

They will discuss how to address the impact of declining global demand on their export-dependent economies.

This is the first summit since Asean implemented a charter making it a legal entity more like the European Union.

But human rights groups say there is still no mechanism for dealing with routine abuses inside Asean member states like Burma and Vietnam.

With some Asean members dependent on exports for as much as three quarters of national income, the global economic crisis hangs over this summit meeting like a thunder-cloud.

Rights rules?

But there is not much the member states can do to soften the blow – whereas human rights groups say they should be doing a lot more to give their new charter teeth so that fellow members can be held accountable for abuses of their citizens.

In case you’re curious about the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), you can find some background info here. ((By the way, did you know there’s an official ASEAN flag?))

Wearing red and yellow in Thailand

Time: “How Not to Make a Political Fashion Statement in Bangkok

Last year, a swarm of yellow-clad demonstrators massed in Bangkok, taking over the international airport and virtually paralyzing the Thai capital for a week. Today, the color of protest is red. As bigwigs from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began gathering at a seaside resort near Bangkok on Feb. 26 for an annual summit, thousands of anti-government protesters wearing crimson shirts congregated at the Thai Prime Minister’s office, demanding that Abhisit Vejjajiva hold elections soon. Thursday marked their third day of protest, and the red-hued demonstrators vowed not to cease until their demands for fresh polls were met.

This week’s new spate of color-coded dissent underlines not only the political instability that has marked Thai politics for several years now but also the tricky task of what to wear in Bangkok.

And:

After a new administration aligned with the yellow-wearing royalists came to power in December, the new opposition began staging its crimson protests. Local pundits kid that P.M. Abhisit is being deluged by a Red Sea. The joke among journalists who try to maintain their reportorial objectivity is that orange, a mix of yellow and red, may be the best color to wear when reporting on Thai politics.

The hijacking of red and yellow by political groups has forced some Thais to give up wearing both colors, lest they be erroneously placed in one of the two political camps. The number of people who would normally wear yellow on Mondays to honor the King has dropped considerably, not because they respect the monarch any less, but because they don’t want to be associated with the PAD. Likewise, soccer-mad Thais who would usually wear red Arsenal or Manchester United jerseys have been forced to think twice about supporting their favorite sports team.

Thai translations of Oscar-winning movie titles

Thai 101 has an amusing collection of (mostly) literal Thai translations of 2008 Oscar-winning films:

Thai titles for western films are sometimes corny, sometimes spoilery, and always entertaining. Especially when you translate them back into English. They have a style of their own. Most typically, a subtitle is added to give local viewers a better idea of the content.

Here are a few that I like:

The Reader
เดอะ รีดเดอร์ ในอ้อมกอดรักไม่ลืมเลือน
“The Reader: in the embrace of unforgotten love”

The Dark Knight
แบทแมน อัศวินรัตติกาล
“Batman: knight of the night time”

Wall-E
หุ่นน้อยหัวใจรักษ์โลก
“Little robot whose heart saves the world”

(New) anti-government protests in Bangkok

Here are some recent stories about the newest wave of anti-government protests ((The term “anti-government,” of course, doesn’t mean what it did a few months ago. Before PM Abhisit assumed office, that phrase was applied to the PAD protesters. Now it’s used to describe the so called “red shirts” — the UDD and other Thaksin supporters.)) here in Bangkok (the most recent is the first story):

AFP: “Thai protesters march on foreign ministry

Red-clad protesters marched on Thailand’s foreign ministry Wednesday, hours after the prime minister evaded demonstrators besieging his offices for a second day in their bid to unseat the government.

Up to 10,000 supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra dressed in their trademark crimson shirts surrounded Bangkok’s Government House compound Tuesday demanding fresh elections, with many camping outside overnight.

AP: “Thousands demand dissolution of Thai parliament

Thousands of protesters surrounded the prime minister’s office Tuesday demanding Thailand’s parliament be dissolved and new elections held, the latest challenge to the two-month old coalition government.

The rally by demonstrators allied with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came three days before Thailand is to host the annual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The crowd swelled to about 20,000 people as dusk approached, police said.

VOA: “Former Thai PM Supporters Hold Rally in Bangkok

Government opponents and supporters of Thailand’s former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, launched a rally by blockading the government’s main administrative building and calling for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign. The rallies appear to be part of a new strategy by Thaksin supporters to weaken the Abhisit government that came to power in December.

Rohingya on CNN’s “World’s Untold Stories”

CNN will air an episode beginning tonight (Tues., Feb. 24) of “World’s Untold Stories” dedicated to the Rohingya abuse issue. From CNN.com:

Myanmar’s Rohingya Minority

They are an impoverished and persecuted minority living in a remote part of one of the world’s most repressive nations. And they are risking their lives to leave.

Next week’s ‘WORLD’S UNTOLD STORIES’ tracks the journey of Rohingya refugees, fleeing western Myanmar where they are denied citizenship, freedom of movement, property rights, are harassed and forced into labor.

But while members of this Muslim minority are choosing to escape by sea, they are just as unwelcome in the places they wash up; Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Check out the CNN link above for more info on the episode.

Hong Kong air times are as follows (subtract an hour for Bangkok time):

February 24th at 2130
February 25th at 0230
February 28th at 2130
March 1st at 0130/ 1130/ 1430
March 2nd at 0730

Thai economy slips

BBC: “Sharp decline in Thailand economy

Thailand’s economy shrank at a record pace in the last three months of 2008 amid plummeting exports and tourism.

The economy shrank 6.1% in the October to December period from the previous quarter, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) said.

This was the largest contraction since records began in 1993. The NESDB said the economy might contract 1% in 2009.

The export-oriented Asian economy has been hit by the global downturn and political unrest at the end of 2008.

Anti-government protesters shut down Bangkok’s airports, hitting tourism, one of the key sectors of the economy.

WSJ: “Thai Economy Shrinks More Than Expected

Thailand’s economy shrank more than expected in the fourth quarter of last year — its first contraction in nearly a decade — as the global slowdown shriveled demand for its key exports and domestic political unrest spooked its tourism sector.

The economy will likely continue to shrink in the first three quarters of this year, a government think tank said, with a reversal likely to kick in only in the last three months of the year.

Gross domestic product contracted 4.3% from a year earlier, resulting in full year GDP growth of 2.6%, the National Economic & Social Development Board said Monday. Seasonally adjusted GDP shrank 6.1% from the previous quarter.

Siam Sunray: Thailand’s new “national cocktail”

Guardian: “Thailand launches national cocktail to lure tourists

When tourism has taken a self-inflicted battering, the temptation might be to have a drink to drown your sorrows.

Thailand is going a step further: it has invented a new national cocktail, which it hopes will help visitors forget the hangover from the disastrous airport shutdowns late last year.

Intended as an answer to Singapore’s slings, Cuba’s mojitos and the many manhattans downed in New York, the Siam sunray is intended to give tourists an instant taste of Thailand’s charms.

At the very least the drink’s ingredients are far from bland: a shot of vodka, coconut liqueur, a dash of chilli pepper and sugar, lime juice, a few slivers of lemongrass and ginger, with the whole mixture shaken then strained into a glass with ice and soda water.

Thailand’s tourism authority formally rolled out the drink yesterday, grandly styling the concoction “Thailand in a glass: the new punch in Thai tourism.”

And here’s the official release from the Tourism Authority of Thailand: “SIAM SUNRAYS – THAILAND IN A GLASS“:

Siam Sunrays — Thailand’s new signature drink, is based on the very Thai ingredients that have made Tom Yam soup world renowned: freshly-picked lemon grass, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai lime and Thai bird chilli (phrik kee nuu). All these play a key part in the unique culinary experience Thailand has to offer, and leave the first-time visitor with a very distinct and long-lasting impression.

(I guess Siam Sunrays beat the “coup cocktails” served during the fall of 2006.)

Australian author who insulted Thai royal family pardoned

CNN: “Author jailed for insulting Thai king freed

An Australian author imprisoned last month for insulting the king and crown prince of Thailand was on his way home Saturday after receiving a pardon from the king.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, was arrested last August over his 2005 book titled “Verisimilitude.”

The book includes a paragraph about the king and crown prince that authorities deemed a violation of a law that makes it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the crown. CNN has chosen not to repeat the language because it could result in CNN staff being prosecuted in Thailand.

Mark Dean, a lawyer for Nicolaides, said he was released Friday and taken to the Australian embassy in Bangkok, where he stayed until leaving for Australia at about midnight.

“He is obviously very relieved and grateful that the pardon was granted,” Dean said.

Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty last month. He faced a term of up to six years before the plea. Video Watch shackled Nicolaides at court »

His lawyers then requested the pardon. King Bhumibol Adulydej had pardoned foreigners in similar cases in the past.

BBC: (with video) “Thailand frees Australian writer

Harry Nicolaides, an Australian writer jailed in Thailand for defaming its monarch, has returned home after being pardoned by the king and set free.

Mr Nicolaides, 41, had been sentenced to three years imprisonment in January.

The charges arose from a passage in a largely unknown novel he wrote in 2005, of which only seven of 50 copies printed were ever sold.

Mr Nicolaides was met by his family in Melbourne. He would next see his mother in hospital, his father told reporters.

Speaking at the airport in Melbourne, Mr Nicolaides thanked the Australian people for their support, the Associated Press news agency reports.

He told reporters he had been crying for eight hours, having only learnt moments before his flight that his mother had suffered a stroke while he was imprisoned.

“A few hours before that I was informed I had a royal pardon… A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank that I fell into in the prison,” AP quotes him as saying.

ABC (with a video on the right side of the page): “Tearful reunion as Nicolaides returns to Melbourne

An Australian author who has spent more than five months in a Thai jail has made an emotional return to Melbourne.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, was arrested last August and was sentenced to three years’ jail last month for insulting the Thai monarchy in his 2005 book, Verisimilitude.

Mr Nicolaides was deported from Thailand at midnight and arrived in Melbourne this afternoon.

He says he is in shock.

“[I am] bewildered and dazed, nauseous,” he said.

Audio Slide Show: Kolkata (Calcutta), India

A and I are back in Bangkok now after four exceptional days in Kolkata (Calcutta) India.

Here’s a 2 minute, 20 second audio slide show I’ve put together with some images and sounds I captured in the city. ((My previous audio slide shows about anti-government protests here in Bangkok can be found here and here.))

For more images, you can find 35 photos from our trip in this Flickr set.

(Note: Those of you reading this via my rss feed will need to click through to view the audio slide slow on my site.)