When The Music’s Over
As things in Bangkok drag on and on, with next to nothing happening anywhere by anyone, those 100,000+ once-happy holidaymakers and businessmen might have been reading the newspapers and blogs to keep abreast of the situation. Certainly, from what I’ve read, very little information has been available from the airlines, who have rarely had to deal with such upheaval to their schedules. Thailand’s infrastructure, quite clearly, is not set up to cope. One of the complaints I’ve read is that Thai TV has done nothing to help the trapped foreigners obtain information, giving all their news in Thai only. Okay, it is Thailand and the national language is Thai and it is natural enough that they use that language. But surely someone, somewhere, could have had the initiative to offer a ticker tape of updating information on the screens for the tens of thousands of hostages marooned in their hotel rooms with nothing but the TV to keep them occupied as they wait day after day for a call from their airline. Oh, sorry, I used Thai and initiative in the same paragraph. Silly of me. It only serves to underline that, even in crisis, with the eyes of the world on it, Thailand is not really that visitor friendly. Even the Thai Airlines website news update, when I looked on Saturday morning, was only in Thai. Can you believe that? It was updated at 1.20 in the morning, and when I looked at 9 it was still only in Thai. They probably got around to translating it later in the day. I hope.
What might they have read while they could get no useful information from TV or the airlines. Well, they might have been cheered to read that Land of Smiles Police Major-General Chakthip was talking about the bombs that have been going off in Bangkok, both in the city and at the airports, some of which are only designed to cause panic (that’s okay then) up to those containing shrapnel which can kill. That’s not to mention the use of rocket launches. How the fcuk do you get hold of a rocket launcher? Amazon.com, maybe? In the past few weeks there have been more than 30 such explosions around Bangkok, with Chakthip warning that “Today, bombings can occur anywhere and anybody can become a victim.” Don’t see that on the tourist posters do we, or the figure of 3,000+ people killed in the south where businesses and schools are frequently closed because of bombings, threats and intimidation. Ah, the Land of Smiles. No-one is doing anything about that little problem, either. Been going on for years.
The peace-loving PAD are, without any authority whatsoever, being allowed to stop and search anyone who approaches the airports. These thugs are itching for trouble, and as well as banning one TV station because they didn’t like their reporting they shot at another TV station’s van as it drove away. They later said sorry and it was a mistake, but people could have been killed. Meanwhile, the last time the police approached, the PAD chased them off and to make the situation even more farcical they even commandeered their vehicles. They also took the riot shields that the brave boys in brown dropped as they fled, but then gave them back. Nice of them. The police were only half-hearted anyway. But, knowing the Royal Thai Police force never does anything unless some money is placed in the palm of their hand, how about offering them 1000 baht each to actually do the job they’ve been ordered to do.
Some countries have chosen to help in the evacuation of their citizens, with Taiwan, China, Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Australia and Spain among those who have arranged special flights out of other airports. A very notable exception has been the British authorities, who have basically told their 5,000 trapped citizens to sort it out for themselves, with no charter flights arranged and even the closing of the embassy over the weekend during this state of emergency. The British Embassy has long had a poor reputation, and they seem determined to stick the finger up to anyone who asks for their help. Many passengers, far too many for the airport, have tried to leave from U-Tapao near Pattaya, but there are tales from there of long journeys from Bangkok, horrendous traffic queues trying to get in, eight hour waits, and water being taken from people because it is a security risk while others are able to buy unlimited beer from the duty free and get plastered and start fights.
It is the Thais that, ultimately, will be suffering the most, of course, and not only in Thailand. Thai citizens and restaurants abroad can no longer get the foodstuffs that are exported daily around the world. Staff who work for these exporters, and the farmers who supply them, are losing money and jobs. I’m told 300 people have already been laid off by King Power duty free. Not surprising if there are no customers, is it? One report from a travel company in Singapore says that bookings to Thailand were down 80 percent on last year for the September to December period, because other countries in the region such as Macau, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are seen as better value. Not sure if that was before or after the terrorist attacks on the airports.
Even when the airport is finally re-opened things will never be the same. The world has seen how appallingly weak Thailand’s security infrastructure really is, when a bunch of thugs armed with little more than golf clubs and sticks can close down one of the world’s largest airports with absolutely no resistance. Imagine what ‘professional’ terrorists could achieve. One writer revealed that Lufthansa is not prepared to send its aircraft to Thailand, and it is likely that many more will feel the same way as it is blindingly obvious that they can be commandeered at any time, with no-one lifting a finger to stop them.
So how will it end? We can be pretty sure of one thing. No-one is leaving the airport unless they want to. The police and armed forces are never, ever, going to attack the protesters, who are largely made up of women, old people and more than a few children. If they do then it is likely that many hundreds will be killed, and the country will be condemned even more than it is now. The fair way to deal with the situation would be to say to those there that they have an hour to start moving out, and if they chose to stay then be warned they will be gassed or shot or beaten. Up to them. But that won’t happen of course, and even if they did decide to move out they’d trash the airport as they went. So, Thailand is closed for the foreseeable future. I’ve already taken steps to re-book a flight out to Australia on New Year’s Day because I have no confidence at all that the airport will be operating by then. If you’re thinking of coming and risking the bombs and shootings and violent street rallies and whether they’ll close down Phuket airport again as they did in August, if you’re wondering whether to hang on to see what happens, then save yourself the uncertainty. Book somewhere else. Maybe come back in a year or two when people here are begging you to take their money instead of trying to rip you off with inflated prices and double-charging.
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down
So when the music's over
When the music's over, yeah
When the music's over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
I've lost what little faith I had in the local authorities. If it doesn't get resolved by HM Birthday this coming Friday then goodness only knows when it will end…