All that I know about George Carlin is that he’s a dead American stand-up comedian, and he had a famous monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. If he were still alive the monologue would be somewhat shorter, for it seems that one four-letter word beloved of the coprolaliac is now acceptable on the airwaves.

A few days ago I was watching a quiz show on the BBC and one of the contestants told a joke along the following lines:

“A few days ago I went to a Zoo. They only had one animal – a dog. It was a Shitzu.”

Though Lord Reith would undoubtedly not have approved, any perceived humour is in the mind of the listener. More objectionable is the explicit use of the obscenity in popular music. In the space of a mere quarter of an hour, whilst listening to the wireless, I heard the word used repeatedly in three songs – not bleeped out. The offending and offensive oeuvres were:

Jason Derulo, “Solo”: “Now I got my s**t together, yeah”.
(It appears that collecting and organising coproliths is a hobby of his.)

David Ghetta, “Memories”: “All the crazy s**t I did tonite”.
(Not only can’t he spell, he defecates in the evening. Fascinating. The fact that his faeces are insane is a little disturbing, though.

Travis McCoy, “Billionaire”: “Adopt a bunch of babies that ain’t never had s**t”.
(Singing about constipated newborns. Equally fascinating.)

Of course, it’s not just the crude language that I find offensive. Other songs have quite inappropriate content. Whilst impotence is for some a serious problem, and for some penis size is a cause for insecurity, neither is a subject I want to hear Rihanna singing about on the airwaves:

“Come here rude boy, boy
Can you get it up?
Come here rude boy, boy
Is it big enough?”

Is it a song you would even wish your wife or your servants to listen to?

“Quamdiu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?”


One of the Thai government’s money-spinners is to charge 1,000 Baht (a little over twenty pounds) for a reentry permit to allow one to leave and reenter the Kingdom. Without a reentry permit your visa is automatically cancelled when you leave. Until recently getting a permit was a simple affair of turning up at the airport, handing over a completed form, a photograph and a pile of bank notes, then waiting about 20 minutes. Then the immigration department, in its wisdom, decided that that was too simple and closed its operation at the airport. Now one has to go to the immigration department Bangkok.

In the past the department was in downtown Bangkok and could be reached by skytrain plus a 15 minute walk. Then the immigration department, in its wisdom, decided that that was too simple and now directs applicants to its new offices in the far north of Bangkok, miles away from the nearest skytrain or metro service. In fact, the nearest bus route passes almost a kilometer from the immigration department. Fortunately, I have a car, so after a 55 minute drive I reached the department.

The building, which houses several government departments, is very striking.

Bangkok immigration department

It features what is perhaps the largest atrium I’ve ever seen.

Atrium at Bangkok immigration department

I hate to think what the cost of air conditioning such a vast volume must be. I was, however, amused to see on the top floor the offices of the government’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Organisation. Practice what you preach, anybody?

Anyway, the actual process of getting the reentry permit was pretty quick – less than half an hour – and department seems to be much better organised than before, so, despite that inconvenient location, things do seem to have improved.


Yesterday the latest installment of the Harry Potter saga was released in Thailand – that’s before the UK and USA releases. I find the whole Potter thing rather tedious. The story-telling is so linear and formulaic. Still, I had my arm twisted to see Harry Potter and the Dreary Hallows, or whatever it’s called.

It’s hardly a spoiler, since everybody knows that Dobby (an ugly elf with a nauseatingly obsequious manner) is killed off in this installment. Normally such an event would be cause for celebration, but for Harry Potter fans it is, apparently, a moment of incredible tear-jerkingness. As those around me fought back the waterworks, I had to struggle not to laugh at the sight of Daniel Radcliffe cradling a rubber doll. Does that make me a bad person?


10. November 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Burma

Of course, it’s an oxymoron: there’s no such thing as Burmese democracy. The elections have come and gone and the same brutish military families hold the reigns of power. Nothing will change. There will be no justice for the people of Burma.

I was reminded of an article written back in 1996 by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi commenting on Burma’s kangaroo courts, which ignore the law and simply implement the will of the junta:

“The sight of kangaroos bounding away across an open prairie can sometimes be rather beautiful. The spectacle of the process of law bounding away from accepted norms of justice is very ugly at all times.”


The Thais have a word for it: khorapchan – though quite why they needed to borrow an English word when corruption’s a deeply embedded tradition in the Kingdom, I don’t know. In a recent poll of more than 4,000 people, 95% said that corruption was Thailand’s biggest social ill. It’s said that 25% of all tax revenue “disappears” though graft, and that a staggering 90% of all flood relief aid (billions of Baht) has been syphoned off. In an audit of 373 randomly checked projects, 274 (73%) showed signs of corruption. Well, at least there was no corruption in 27% of projects – or if there was, it was well concealed. (A similar audit of about 2,000 roadbuilding projects a few years ago revealed corruption in every single one of them, so perhaps things are getting better.)

And the good news just keeps on coming. The National Anti-Corruption Commission has just announced that it will make Thailand corruption-free within the next few years. Oh look! Is that a pig flying past my window?


A few months ago Thai banks imposed a 300 Baht fee for withdrawing cash using a foreign debit or credit card. That’s about ₤6.35 per transaction. In theory cartels are illegal in Thailand, but that didn’t stop every single bank imposing exactly the same exorbitant charge within a matter of days.

Nationwide Building Society (motto: “Proud to be different”) used not to charge for overseas withdrawals. Earlier this year they introduced a 1% charge on such transactions, and they’ve just increased that to 2% – plus an additional ₤1 per transaction charge for cash withdrawals. So, if I were to withdraw 5,000 ฿ (₤105.78) the Thai banks would take ₤6.35, Nationwide, would take ₤3.12, and I’d be left with ₤96.31. In other words, the banks between them would have taken 9% of my money, and that’s for a service that until recently they provided for free. Such usury is iniquitous. But what can one do is the face of the greedy, grasping banks?


“English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.
English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.
English Teeth! HEROES’ Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.
– Spike Milligan

British teeth have something of a bad reputation, particularly in America where our gnashers are frequently the butt of a joke. One does wonder whether our colonial cousins have chosen this particular target because it’s the sole area in which they feel superior. But no! Americans can also claim superiority in the field of torture, even if that fool of a Bush thinks that waterboarding isn’t torture.

Yesterday I discovered that Thai people are pretty adept at torture, too. I was forced into an uncomfortable position, blindfolded, injected with drugs, repeatedly found myself choking and struggling for breath, and had my teeth drilled à la Marathon Man by a non-communicative masked woman. Of course, here in Thailand we call it “a trip to the dentist”.