Monthly Archives: September 2010

David Thompson, foreigners, and Thai cuisine

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A much-discussed story here in Bangkok at the moment is this IHT piece about David Thompson, an Australian chef known for his cuisine at the Michelin-starred Thai restaurant nahm, in London. Thomspon recently opened a branch here in Bangkok.

The lede:

It’s been a rough year for Thailand. First there were the images of deadly street battles between soldiers and protesters beamed around the world. Then people living in neighboring dictatorships snickered that Thailand was a democracy in decline. Foreign tourists wondered whether it was safe to travel here.

And now this: An Australian chef has the audacity to declare that he is on a mission to revive Thai cuisine.

Can non-Thais really understand or appreciate Thai cuisine? Can foreigners actually cook authentic Thai food? Do they even know what “authentic” Thai food tastes like?

For a good summary of the media response to Thompson’s new restaurant, I suggest checking out this post at Siam Voices by Saksith Saiyasombut — whose father, as Saksith’s bio says, was a Thai chef for more than 25 years. The post is called “If you are farang, don’t meddle with Thai politics – or their food!”

I have followed this story with interest because, as you may recall, I put together an audio slideshow (embedded below) for CNNGo last year, when Thompson was in town to give a cooking demonstration.

For what it’s worth, I was impressed by Thompson’s knowledge of Thai cuisine — and culture — and did not find him to be brash in the least. He seems to have a genuine interest in sharing one of the world’s great cuisines with people. And that’s it.

(Emphasis mine.)

Photo credit: Austin Bush.

Prachatai’s Chiranuch Premchaiporn arrested

A quick note to point out that Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of the independent Thai news site Prachatai, was arrested Friday and held for several hours for allegedly running afoul of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act and committing lese majeste, or insulting the royal family.

The charges reportedly stem from a 2009 complaint that offensive comments — though they were subsequently removed — had been posted on the site. Chiranuch is now out on bail but faces a 50 year prison sentence.

AP has a story — “Rights groups denounce arrest of Thai webmaster” — and Andrew Marshall has a blog post called “A Dangerous Woman.” And here’s a Bangkok Post op-ed by Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak in which he touches on her case; the piece is called “Thailand and its hybrid authoritarianism.”

I suggest checking out all three items.

Readers of my recent Chronicle of Higher Education story about Thailand will recall that Chiranuch weighed in on Thai universities.

Thailand’s 3G saga (cross-posted to Siam Voices)

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Note: This is cross-posted to Siam Voices, a new group-run Thailand blog at Asian Correspondent.

Arguments over stipulations in the Thai constitution. Court rulings. Frustrated investors. Beguiled local people.

Sound familiar?

No, this isn’t the Map Ta Phut industrial estate case. It’s a different snafu entirely — but one with certain similarities.

This high-tech imbroglio has to do with Thailand’s lack of a so-called 3G mobile network. In short, 3G — or third generation — technology allows cell phones to use more bandwidth. This is useful — and some would say necessary — as people increasingly use Web-capable smartphones like the iPhone and Google’s Android phone for work and play.

Most of Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbors already have 3G capabilities, and 4G is already being used elsewhere in Asia.

But on Thurs., Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled to halt planned bidding for 3G licenses, resulting in a major setback in efforts to bring a faster mobile network to the country. The Bangkok Post has the details, and Thailand’s official MCOT news agency says:

Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court on Thursday upheld the Central Administrative Court’s injunction to suspend distribution of the third generation (3G) wireless service, saying the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was not authorised to award the 3G licence.

The Supreme Administrative Court reasoned that the NCT’s criteria for granting 3G licences was illegal and the auction process, if continued, could cause severe damage.

It also pointed out that the 3G service which was in its first phrase could be offered to a small, limited network and that it takes at least four years to cover the whole country, so that suspending it currently will not be an obstacle to the future use of the technology.

The court ruled that the 3G auction should be held after the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is set up.

CAT Telecom filed a complaint against the NTC to block its 3G auction last week. The three bidders–Advanced Info Service (AIS), DTAC and True Move–have been informed of the court’s decision.

The Central Administrative Court earlier handed down an injunction to halt the 3G licence bidding process until the NBTC was established as prescribed under the 2007 Constitution, saying the NTC was not empowered to allocate the frequencies.

Got that? Indeed, the issue is complex.

As Bloomberg explains, the current impasse — like the Map Ta Phut situation — reflects, to some degree, the ongoing unintended consequences of the 2006 military coup:

Thailand’s failure to auction licenses for high-speed mobile-phone services this week may have been sealed four years ago, when the military ousted Thaksin Shinawatra from power and began drafting a new constitution.

The nation’s highest administrative court yesterday said a constitutional review is needed to decide whether regulators have authority to conduct a sale, causing phone company stocks to fall on concern revenue from new services will be delayed. Last year, shares in industrial companies slumped after a similar decision halted 76 projects approved by the government.

And:

“This just highlights the economic cost of the coup and the legacy of military rule that the country is still paying for,” said Andrew Yates, head of foreign sales at Asia Plus Securities Pcl, Thailand’s third-biggest brokerage by market capitalization. “The biggest loser is the customer.”

And finally:

“The problem is that the laws to implement the constitutional arrangements haven’t been passed,” said Alastair Henderson, a Bangkok-based partner at Herbert Smith LLP. “The broader impact is foreign investors looking at Thailand and saying these legal uncertainties make me wonder whether that’s the place I want to put my major Southeast Asian investment.”

Some estimates indicate that at this point, 3G may not be implemented in Thailand for another two years.

Ironically, Apple’s new iPhone 4 — the successor to the iPhone 3G — went on sale here in Thailand on Thursday night, and eager consumers snapped up the new gadgets.

For further reading on 3G in Thailand, there’s this Bangkok Post story from Sept., 2009; this Bangkok Pundit post that explains the situation and the players involved; and this Reuters story.

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image via the Bangkok Post.)

A few news stories about Sunday’s red shirt protests

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I’m a few days late with this, but I wanted to close the book — for now, at least — on Sunday’s red shirt protests. Here are a few news stories worth checking out:

I will be monitoring developments, naturally.

Update: red shirts gather here in Bangkok

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An update to my previous post:

I spent several hours at Bangkok’s Rajaprasong intersection today, where thousands of red shirts gathered to mark the anniversaries of the 2006 military coup and the May army crackdown. At various times, the crowds of protesters nearly shut down the intersection, though single lanes of traffic were still able to creep through.

It was striking to see so many demonstrators back in the very place they’d occupied a few month before — and the burned portions of Central World shopping mall visible in the background, as well as an impromptu shrine to those killed in the dispersal, served as a reminder of how things ended.

A few quick observations:

  1. Many of the people with whom I spoke were surprised at how many red shirts turned out. I was expecting hundreds, not several thousand.
  2. The gathering was, in many ways, similar to the previous demonstrations in Bangkok. There was a sea of red; there was dancing and screaming and clapping; there was red shirt merchandise for sale; and — of course — there were snacks. Many snacks.
  3. All of the protesters were clearly in violation of the state of the emergency, which is still in effect here in Bangkok. That makes gatherings of more than five people illegal. The police stood by, looking on sheepishly. They were vastly outnumbered, after all.
  4. While many of the previous red shirt demonstrations had an angry feel — particularly toward the end — today’s gathering felt positive, up-beat, and lighthearted. There was some chanting against the government, but the mood today was more like: “we’re back, so let’s sing and dance — we haven’t gone away.”

For more details on what I saw, check out my Tweets from today.

And here are some images I posted to Twitpic:

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Rajaprasong intersection

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A T-shirt for sale

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Releasing balloons

Red shirts gather in Bangkok

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As I mentioned in my last post, Red shirt leaders have planned several events here in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai to mark the anniversaries of the 2006 military coup and the May 19 army crackdown.

Above, via Twitpic, is an image @RichardBarrow posted not long ago from Rajaprasong intersection, which the red shirts shut down during their previous protests.

Also tweeting are @Dany_k and @wayne_hay. And you can check out my Thailand Twitter list for more.

And of course, as always, I’ll be tweeting at: @newley.

Stay tuned.

Red shirts to protest this weekend

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Sunday, Sept. 19 is anniversary of the 2006 military coup that overthrew ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. And Thailand’s red shirts — many of whom still support the fugitive billionaire — will be rallying to mark the occasion.

WSJ: Thailand Braces for Anniversary Protests:

Thai security forces are gearing up for a weekend of antigovernment protests to mark the fourth anniversary of a military coup that ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra from power and ushered in an era of instability unparalleled in Thailand’s modern history.

Police estimate that several hundred so-called Red Shirt protesters massed at a Bangkok prison Friday morning to lay red roses at the gate of the facility and demand the release of several leaders detained on terrorism charges amid the bloody aftermath of an antigovernment rally in Bangkok in May. Organizers and authorities expect thousands more protesters to join other events around the country in the coming days as antigovernment Red Shirt protesters attempt to raise their profile after months of relative calm.

And:

The center of the weekend’s protests is likely to be a large convoy scheduled to leave Bangkok and drive north to the city of Chiang Mai, Mr. Thaksin’s hometown, where the state of emergency already has been lifted. Organizers expect thousands of supporters to participate.

Bloomberg: Thai Opposition to Test Stability With Gatherings to Mark Coup:

Thai anti-government protesters plan to hold nationwide events this weekend to mark a 2006 military coup, testing the nation’s ability to cope with demonstrations after clashes left 89 dead four months ago.

Supporters of ousted ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives overseas after fleeing a jail sentence in 2008, will lay flowers, light candles and release balloons in Bangkok, according to organizers. Protesters will also gather in Chiang Mai, Thaksin’s home province.

There’s also this, from the Bangkok Post, which includes some photos from this morning’s gathering: Authorities brace for coup anniversary rallies.

(Emphasis mine.)

Economist Stephen Roach: “America has lost its way”

I suggest checking out this sobering IHT op-ed from economist Stephen Roach, who’s now at Yale after having been non-executive chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.

The Asian Way:

HONG KONG — What a contrast! After three years living in Asia, I returned to the United States a couple of months ago, with enormous respect for how Asia has pulled itself together after its own devastating crisis in the late 1990s. Now I was back.

Bouncing back and forth only deepened my conviction that an important shift in the gravity of global economic power from the West to the East could well be at hand.

It’s not just the Asian miracle that reinforces my belief in such a possibility. America has lost its way. In the years I was away, it has become a very different place. The despair of chronically high joblessness is sapping the nation’s sense of self and poisoning the political debate.

(Emphasis mine.)

Roach points to problems in the U.S. such as rising unemployment rates and an overarching sense of entitlement. Meanwhile, Roach says, Asian governments have focused their policies on encouraging stability following the region’s own economic hardships.

Worth a read.

(Via D.)

WSJ on mobile banking in Cambodia

From today’s WSJ: Mobile Service Targets Cambodia’s ‘Unbanked’:

How do you roll out a banking service in a place where most people don’t have bank accounts?

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. tackled that question in developing WING, a banking and payment system it launched in Cambodia early last year.