Voting Day in Thailand. Today the Thai citizenry will vote whether or not to accept the draft constitution – which if approved will become Thailand’s 18th since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
News reports indicate that the new constitution will be approved by a healthy margin, amid accusations of vote-buying and other shenanigans by both the pro- and anti-constitution forces.
Proponents of the new constitution say that the charter will pave the way for general elections by year’s end and the installation of a civilian government early next year, hopefully providing a path back to peace and stability after two years of political insecurity.
Opponents say that a vote for the draft constitution is a vote legitimizing the coup leaders and their actions. They advocate a return to the previous constitution.
Stay tuned to see how it all turns out. And whether, regardless of how it turns out, anything really changes.
Bangkok is looking more and more like Singapore
As I look out the window from our 25th floor apartment, I can see that the construction cranes at the Millennium Residence condo complex on Sukhumvit 16-20 have been raised in the past week and that the first few floors are taking shape. This four building development will literally tower over the Queen Sirkit Convention Centre and surrounding neighborhood, each building standing 51 to 53 stories.
Right: An artist’s rendering of the view of the new condo complex, as seen from my normal Sunday morning cycling venue, Queen Sirikit Centre.
The development will block my view of Phra Pradang, the open space in a bend in the Chao Phraya River that is about 10 km away. As more and more high rise developments are approved here, more thought needs to be given to these “view corridors” – a concept that the city of Vancouver, British Columbia incorporated as a core part of its downtown development guidelines.
Since Tawn and I will move to our new condo in the next few months, the blocked view won’t be my concern much longer. But preservation of view corridors and balanced development are my concerns as a (likely long term) resident of this city.
View corridor issues aside, I appreciate that there is a lot of infill development occurring here. The suburbs and exurbs are growing rapidly, rice paddies and rambutan orchards being filled in to make American-style suburbs – little boxes, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Most of the infill development, unfortunately, is high end and doesn’t help the middle and lower classes. But by developing closer to existing transit stations, the demand for private vehicles is lowered. In this congested city, that is a necessity. So it is a little bit of a good news / bad news situation, like everything else in life.
Thursday evening Ken and I went to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club to attend the annual meeting of Democrats Abroad Thailand. It was interesting and boring at the same time. As an annual meeting, all of the business aspects of the meeting (approving the previous meeting’s minutes, reviewing finances) were boring. But there was a good open floor discussion of ideas to increase participation and to educate expats about voting rights.
Of the sixty or so participants, many were long term residents of Thailand. Lots of people in the 12-15 year range with two women who had been here since the 1960s. The longest term resident is a white-haired woman who arrived in 1961. How I would love to have tea with her and hear about her life! Another woman, who has been here since 1968, still hasn’t shed her New York accent.
The meeting had a bit too much of the “This year we’re going to throw the Republican bums out” rhetoric for my taste. I don’t like it because it is a negative and defensive approach to politics and I think it isn’t healthy. Tell me about the good things you think Democrats will do, tell me about the benefits of Democratic candidates, but don’t expect to win my support just by bashing Republicans as a whole.
And I say that as someone who, as the Christianists (fundamentalist Christians – rhymes with “Islamists”) have coopted the Republican party, has been more aligned with the Democratic positions.
One aspect of Democrats Abroad that I do appreciate is their significant voter registration and education efforts. Two guest speakers from the US embassy were there to talk about the embassy’s efforts to do voter outreach. They explained that there is almost no other political organization of Americans present in Thailand and that Democrats Abroad have been very active in working with the embassy to educate ex-pats about their rights and duties when it comes to voting.
That is something I will gladly get more involved in, as I think that democracies are strongest when the citizenry is both active and informed.
And when there are no coups, of course.
Todd finally makes it to Bangkhonthiinai
Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Todd is one of the expats that has entered into my social circle. For several months now, he’s expressed an interest in visiting the school at Bangkhonthiinai and seeing the work that we do there. The problem is, Todd is decidedly a night owl. The idea of being up at six in the morning to drive 100 km to the school just wasn’t inspiring him.
With the clock running out on the teaching – this coming Friday will be our last day – Todd put on a brave face and was up before the sun to join Ken and I on our trip to school.
Right: The students take turns introducing themselves to Todd. “Hello, my name is ______. I am a student/boy/girl. Nice to meet you.”
Todd says he had a really good experience and may even join us again next week.
I found out over lunch that Ajarn Yai had already informed the students that the English lessons would be concluding the next week, instructing them to remain polite and respectful to their farang teachers in the meantime. It was hard to tell if they really were aware of the impending end; nothing was different in their demeanor although their wais seemed a little more sincere.
Tune in next weekend to see how the final day played out. Ajarn Yai has something up her sleeve, I know, and I’ve compiled a treasure trove of items to raffle off for the children. This week I’m going to print up copies of all the pictures I have of students and will give each one an envelope containing prints of their pictures.
I’m also going to let anyone who wants to, fill out a card with their address and I’ll send them a post card from the United States. That should be a nice souvenir for them.
Tawn and I got a lot accomplished Saturday by starting early and just pushing through to get everything done. I like Saturdays which work out like that because I can then enjoy a Sunday free of “to-do” items. While running errands, I saw some interesting things:
The first was on the back side of the Conrad Hotel / All Seasons Place complex on Wireless (Whittayu) Road. As we were cutting through the parking lot from Soi Ruamradee to Whittayu, I noticed that a security guard and some maintenance workers were painting statues of elephants and zebras from the property’s spirit house, below.
Maybe they selected the most artistically gifted staff members for this task? In either case, they seemed a bit amused that I wanted to take pictures of them, but readily agreed. I wonder whether there was any debate about color choices?
The second thing was this truck (below) over-loaded with clay planters, unloading at the nursery on Ekkamai. We stopped there to get some professional advice about one of our flowering plants that has looked quite sickly as of late. Not enough water and fertilizer, we were told. While there, I saw this delivery truck and was amazed that it arrived with its load intact and unbroken!
It just doesn’t seem very stable or well-packed, does it?
Condo remodel update
Finally, we stopped by Raintree Villa to see this week’s progress. Tiling in the bathroom is moving along nicely and the plumber has started work on the new sink faucet location: the tap will come out of the wall instead of the counter.
A large portion of the ash wood floor has been laid, using a herringbone pattern with – I’m not sure of the technical term – edges that are cut at a 45-degree angle so they meet flush with each-other instead of 90-degree edges that overlap.
The pattern looks nice although I was a little shocked: I thought the rows would be laid length-wise in the room rather than width-wise. I guess there isn’t much to be done about that now!
One thing I like about the herringbone pattern is that it reminds me very much of apartments in Paris. When we have the darker honey color stain on it, it will look very beautiful.
One thing that made me a bit grumpy is the quality of the work: looking closely I can see that the pieces have not been cut consistently so the seams do not come together in a straight line. I’m not sure if this is a reasonable expectation or not, but Tawn is going to follow up with Khun Guang, our contractor, and let him know that we don’t find this acceptable.
If he says that it is just the reality of a herringbone pattern floor, then we’ll live with it. Otherwise, they’re going to be pulling up some boards and relaying them.
Left: Look at the seams in the upper half of the picture – they do not line up as I think they are supposed to.
Of course, it is not a floating floor but is glued down. So anything they pull up will be damaged and, thus, unusable. I hope we don’t have to buy additional wood.
Saturday afternoon we also stopped by the showroom for SMEG appliances. Of the different brands available here in Thailand, it seems only SMEG sells a 4-top induction hob that is all induction. Electrolux and Siemens sell hobs with 2-2 or 3-1 arrangements of induction and standard ceramic burners.
I have read a lot about the benefits of induction but neither Tawn nor I had ever seen induction in use. The lady at the showroom used a demonstration stove to boil some water for us. She filled a small saucepan with about a half-litre of water and put it on the stove. She set the stove to level nine (the highest level) and not thirty seconds later the water was already steaming and close to boiling. But then she lifted the pan and put her hand on the glass: it was cool to the touch! This is great technology! I can’t wait to start cooking with it.