AMAZING THAILAND (FEEDING NIGERIA AND THE WORLD)
Best known to Nigerians as the source of rice, their staple food, Thailand is the world’s 21st most populous country with approximately 64 million people, and 50th in land size. The largest city is Bangkok, the capital, which is also the country’s centre of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thai, followed by Chinese and Malays. The country’s official language is Thai while the primary religion is Buddhism which is practiced by more than 90% of all Thais. Thailand is a newly industrialised country and, between 1985 and 1996, enjoyed the world’s highest growth rate – averaging 9.4% annually.
“The 2005 election witnessed widespread vote buying and electoral violence. The PollWatch Foundation, Thailand’s most prominent election watchdog, declared that the 2005 election was compromised, and accused the government of violating the election law by abusing state power in presenting new projects in a bid to seek votes. No wonder a military junta overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006. The junta abrogated the constitution, dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court, banned the then ruling party (Thai Rak Thai), detained several members of the government, declared martial law and appointed a caretaker Prime Minister…”
RED SHIRTS, YELLOW SHIRTS
There is going to be a general election in Thailand on July 3, this year. The election is seen as a straight fight between the current ruling Democrats (Yellow Shirts) and the main opposition Pheu Thai (Red Shirts) of former Prime Minister and billionaire Thaksin, now in self-exile in Dubai (cf. Billionaire and Red!). Opinion polls show the Reds leading. Thaksin is not contesting, but has nominated his youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to contest for the Prime Ministership. Many see this as a move to return to relevance. The other day, current Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva, was in a temple to ward off bad luck. Perhaps he has not failed to notice Ms. Shinawatra’s second syllable of the first name…Yingluck…What do you know! The world is such a small place…
Almost echoing Nigeria in over-representation, Thai legislature has 200 Senate seats as well as 500 House of Representatives seats. In the almost year-long political crisis that pitted the Red Shirts against the government of Thailand in recent times, the Thai Police has stated that only about 90 people died. Compare that to what the Nigerian police recently stated: that during the recent election violence in Nigeria, over 500 had died (multiply that by ten, if among the sceptics) in a matter of days…
I TOOK A TUK TUK
The best transport method to see Bangkok is precariously positioned on the back seat of a tuk-tuk, Thailand’s equivalent of Keke NAPEP (in Abuja) or A Daidaita Sahu (in Kano) or Gyara Kayanka (in Bauchi). Remember the word ‘precarious’! Scary stuff as the rider meanders between and within traffic. A thoroughly enjoyable, heart-pumping experience. Pheu! (That’s the name of the Red Shirts’ party!).
NEVER COLONISED, NOT EVEN BY CNN OR BBC
To drive home the fact that Thailand had never been colonised by any marauding power past or present, in my hotel (Ibis Riverside Bangkok, no less), they have eighty four (84) in-room television channels. Out of this 84, not one is CNN or BBC. When I complained that I wanted to see ‘international’ news, they advised I tune in to NHK Japan! Don’t we always learn!
BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI
Yes, there is a bridge on the River Kwai. And it is a major tourist destination in Thailand. Popularised by the 1957 film of the same name, the bridge, and the Thailand to Burma railway it served, was built during World War II by the Japanese using Allied prisoners of war. The railway was necessary so the Japanese could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea. Many prisoners died under appalling conditions during its construction, and the line became known as the ‘Death Railway’.
“I COME FROM SHYLA!”
Say what? I met this little lady at a Bangkok SkyTrain Station, and she was asking for directions. Studying the map, I was able to guide her to the right platform. She asked: ‘You from Aflica?’, as if it wasn’t obvious. Luckily she didn’t probe further for a particular geographical exactitude. And she? ‘I come from Shyla’, she replies. ‘Shyla?’ I asked, puzzled. ‘Solly, I am Shylese. You know, Made in Shyla!’ Of course! China!
NO HANDSHAKES HERE, WAI!
Thais don’t normally shake hands when they greet each other. They instead press the palms together in a prayer-like gesture called a wai. Generally, a younger person wais an elder, who returns it. More Thai etiquette: remove shoes when entering someone’s home; never point your feet at someone, very rude; and avoid touching someone on the head, as the Thai consider the head as the highest point of the body, both literally and figuratively.
Weighing in at 1,114kg, the world’s largest captive crocodile is in Thailand. It has since entered the Guinness Book of Records. And so, weighing in at only two Thailand Rices (100kg), your correspondent feels slim, fit and trim. Born in 1972 (ehm, er, a little my age-mate), the croc is so appropriately named: Yai!
THE HOLY BEAST OF BURDEN
The elephant is to the Thai what the cow is to the Hindu; a revered animal. It is also a beast of burden, like the camel to an Arab; it is also a utility vehicle, like the horse to the Mongol, or the Acaba/Okada to the Nigerian. When an elephant dies, there are elaborate funeral rites, and mourning!
HOLY OF HOLIES!
Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman has to give anything to a monk, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it. [Lest you be confused, the monk is a man]. And, while we are at it, public display of affection between men and women are frowned upon [and many a Western ‘enjoyist’ has been caught in a bind].
BANKGWANG PRISON (A.K.A. BANGKOK HILTON)
There is also Brand Nigeria here, but they mostly live in the notorious Bangkwang Prison, rendered famous as Bangkok Hilton by the Australian television series of the same name. Many of these Nigerians are on death row or on life sentence, most of them for drug trafficking. They mostly come from one particular Nigerian tribe, that tribe which speaks the only major Nigerian language that does not cross the nation’s borders.
HOLIER OF HOLIES!
Despite the inconsequential number of other religionists in Thailand (5% Muslim and 0.1% Christian against 94% Buddhist), I saw a Nigerian hustler from that same tribe wearing an incongruously large cross on his neck, yet conducting himself in the most un-Christian manner. “And Jesus wept.” And so did I!