My fellow Thais, it is now more than two weeks since horror once again struck the pristine shores of this paradise we call home, and no culprits have been found – certainly no Thais involved -- as the reports grow faint.
I am, of course, referring to the debasement of this country’s reputation in the eyes of the international community after an – admittedly unfortunate – incident on the island of Koh Tao, located in the scenic Gulf of Thailand and world renowned for its diving facilities and the fact that translated into English its name is Turtle Island.
Our country’s hospitality is the stuff of guidebook legend – the Thai smile is known fondly from the Sudan to Sarasota and yet it is incidents such as these that cheap international tabloids feast on in their incessant efforts to sully our international reputation.
“Paradise Lost, Fallen Idyll… etc, etc,” these are the headlines that we read via an increasingly corrupt international press. Why not: “Thais still smiling?” “Pearly whites aplenty,” and “Bright Smiles prove this is a good place for teeth-whitening and other forms of medical tourism?”
Tanes Petsuwan, Tourism Authority of Thailand executive director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, captured this frustration when he said: “We do hope white-collar people in Britain who are planning to visit Thailand will not change their minds but will instead focus more on the interim government being formed than on the crime.”
And yet when they do choose to feature Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the May 22 coup and subsequently installed himself as the country’s leader, they do not focus on the succession of good works he has accomplished since his time in office and the fact that he attained 97 percent of the vote to become PM, so is as democratic as bloody Churchill.
But rather they take what was meant to be fatherly advice about the dangers of strutting about in a bikini when you are in any way attractive totally out of context.
To spare my beloved Thailand’s image from suffering any further indignities at the hands of unscrupulous reporters and expatriate internet forum enthusiasts, the following points of guidance have been prepared for the use of local authorities in the event of an untoward happening involving foreigners.
The press conference: Rule of thumb: If you hear about it over noodles, it’s news. You must be proactive and speak with the measured tone and confidence of a kamnan (village chieftain) defending his pillaging of village funds as you tell the world that the perpetrators of this crime will soon be the star players in an official re-enactment of the crime as officers point on in pride.
Do not betray in the slightest the fact that whatever tenuous grip you may have had on the evidence is loosening as you speak and potential witnesses are scattering to the four winds.
Crime scene? Let’s all have a look: Even the most novice gumshoe knows that when it comes to investigating a crime, two heads are better than one. And the heads of everybody around wearing a uniform as well as some guys who don’t have any actual status, but want to have a look-see, well that’s even better. “Contamination” is such an ugly word – let’s call it “scene enhancement”.
Blame the victim: Thai culture’s glorious roots date back generations and for years we have celebrated and upheld the virtues of modesty at all times and even get a kick out of that mask dancing you see sometimes at temple fairs. Unfortunately foreigners do not share these traits and as such they often fall afoul of the cultural tenets we hold so dear. It is important to consider these failings when explaining the incident at hand.
Blame it on other foreigners: As a senior policeman noted in a report filed by the BBC’s Jonathan Head, no Thai would ever commit a crime like that one on Koh Tao. While our country is not crime free, no Thai would ever commit heinous offences that would put you off your morning rice congee upon reading of them.
Protect the tourists: Now our inventive Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul says she believes hotels should hand out wristbands to help identify tourists that get lost or into trouble. Perhaps electronic ankle bracelets like the ones they issue to felons on probation in the United States would be even better!
With Thais ruled out, the equation becomes simpler: foreigner = culprit. But determining which ones is tricky.
If the victims are young and own backpacks instead of suitcases, were they staying with others carrying similar luggage and perhaps drinking alcoholic beverages in defiance of the Kingdom’s guidelines?
Ask yourself as well whether the Burmese or other migrant laborers responsible for building and servicing many if not all of the tourist businesses in the enclave in question were within a one-kilometer radius of the crime scene.
Then starting rounding ‘em up.
Blame a Thai: This is a last resort and only applicable when it comes to some Thai who is so poor he might as well be Burmese or Cambodian. Even in that case, the psychic damage that could be done to our nation by openly admitting to such an aberration of Thainess outweighs all other concerns. In that respect, every effort must be made to blow smoke around a situation, lose and/or compromise evidence and intimidate witnesses into toeing the official line.
Mai Pen Rai and Move on: Fortunately time heals all wounds, metaphorically speaking, and when it comes to the country’s image it works the kind of wonders that cosmetic surgeons at our international hospitals perform on a daily basis for the tens of thousands of delighted medical tourists we welcome every year.
When you get the sense that all is about to blow over, announce that you have increased protection for tourists in whatever backpacker enclave the crime took place. Maybe even have one of your heavier officers who needs the exercise take the occasional “patrol” as a visible sign of change. Then step back and breathe a sigh of relief as you, and the long-entrenched network of families who run everything in these places, can finally put this terrible incident behind you. Indeed, thanks to the above, it is quickly fading away.