musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Yingluck Shinawatra’

Politicians, Friends, and other Delights

Blink and you missed it. Barack Obama made a whirlwind tour of the region earlier in the week, spending a half-day in Bangkok, about six hours in Yangon, and the better part of two days at an ASEAN summit meeting in Phnom Penh. Hillary Clinton also put in an appearance at each location, but then had to fly off to the crazy lands — The Middle East — in an attempt to pacify the Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, and possibly other aggrieved nationalities. Does that woman ever get any sleep?

 

It would be an understatement to say that Obama’s visits to Thailand and Myanmar were met with great excitement — and approval — from the populace in each country. People in Asia really like him. And it doesn’t hurt that he has a great smile. Obama himself appeared to be delighted by the warm reception, and looked like he was enjoying the visits. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck “I Love Democracy” Shinawatra couldn’t keep from beaming in every photo that I saw, looking like a schoolgirl getting to meet a famous pop star. And then there were several photos of Obama in Yangon, hugging and kissing Aung San Suu Kyi … uh, rather fervently. The Lady appeared a bit taken back from such an overt display of affection from Barry, but hey, it’ll certainly sell more newspapers in Yangon and give the fellows in the teashops something to talk about. And it sure beats having some creepy overweight dude, wearing a snorkel and flippers and carrying a bible, showing up on your doorstep late one night, dripping lake water and asking to spend the night. That’s one incident — and in case you missed it, yes, it really happened — that I’d love to know more details about.

 

Obama made visits to such sacred sites as Wat Pho in Bangkok and Shwedagon in Yangon, but by contrast, once he arrived in Phnom Penh he didn’t stop for any temple tours, but headed straight to the ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting, where serious business was discussed. The tone was set when Obama greeted Hun Sen — Cambodia’s Prime-Minister-for-Life and don’t you dare think otherwise — with a firm handshake, absent of any back slapping or pleasantries. Even if it was “Give a Thug a Hug” week, I don’t think Obama would have lowered himself to embrace Hun Sen. And good for him. Hun Sen is one of the creepiest “leaders” in the region and it’s about time people started standing up to him. By all accounts, the meeting with Hun Sen was “tense,” Obama giving the old Khmer Rouge foot soldier a dressing down on the subject of land seizures, human rights, freedom of speech, and other such sticky issues that the Cambodian government brushes under the bamboo mat. Despite the millions of dollars in foreign aid money that floods into Cambodia each year — it reportedly receives the highest percentage of any country in Asia — poverty in the country is still rampant and infrastructure well behind that of Thailand. It’s the same old broken record: the rich get richer … and they drive SUVs and get away with…

 

On another Cambodian note, I’ve been flooded with phone calls from friends there this week. The subject of Hun Sen and/or Obama never came up, however. Nowadays, my Cambodian friends have more important things to worry about; like paying school tuition, paying hospital bills, and affording to eat. I talked to three of the Tri brothers, and also Chamrong in Siem Reap. His wife just gave birth to their first child, a boy, but the baby was born one month premature, necessitating a multi-week stay in the hospital for mother and child. Rong took off from his job at the airport for over a full week to help take care of them. Happily, they are all home now and Rong is back at work. Another friend, So Pengthai has also had to help his wife and children recuperate from various illnesses. Blame it on the rainy season, which thankfully, now appears to have run its course.

 

Yet another Cambodian friend from Siem Reap, Chiet, has been calling me almost every day … from Thailand! He’s working in another province as a welder, trying to earn some extra money, Hell, trying to earn any money at all. He’s had a problem finding steady work this year in Siem Reap, so somehow he got hooked up with a job broker that brought him to Thailand. I don’t think he has legal working papers, which makes him one of thousands (perhaps the number runs into five or six figures … or more?) of Cambodians and Burmese who are working in Thailand without proper documents. Not exactly slave labor, but don’t think these people are getting paid a fair wage either. Whatever the case, Chiet is working every day of the week — no days off — and is quite tired, but in pretty good spirits overall. There is another Cambodian working with him, but the rest of the workers, I gather, are Thai. He’s obviously lonely, being away from friends and family, so I’m one of his few daily social contacts, albeit one that’s on the phone. If I can figure out exactly where he’s working — trying to get him to distinguish Sakhon from Nakorn and Pathom from Phanom and other similar words is a difficult task — I may visit him next month. He plans to work here until mid-April, the annual Khmer — and Thai — water festival period, before going back to Siem Reap. In the meantime, we talk each night, which is helping to improve my rusty Khmer skills; word and phrases I haven’t used in years are coming back to me. We joke about eating grilled dog for dinner, plus he’s learning some Thai words too, which he is thrilled to impress me with. I only hope he doesn’t fall into any bad habits — drinking and drugs come to mind — during his exhausting labor stint in a different country. It ain’t an easy life for people like him.

 

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Prayers and Pathetic Politicians

I woke up one morning last week and realized that Yingluck Shinawatra was now the Prime Minister of Thailand. Pinch me. Slap me. A bad dream becomes reality. Is this another episode of that absurd soap opera known as Thai politics, or a harbinger of worse things to come?

 

You know, it would be a marvelous thing to celebrate the fact that Thailand now has its first ever female prime minister, a sign perhaps that Thailand is growing up and that government is no longer just another good old boys club. But the fact that Yinkgluck’s party was elected by Thai voters is no sign of anything, other than sheer nepotism and the return of a dubious cadre of well-connected politicians.

 

Yingluck is unashamedly a proxy for her older brother, the controversial ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. She was even referred to as “my clone” by Thaksin himself during the campaign. I’ve heard it said that it’s a shame that Yingluck won’t be allowed make decisions on her own without consulting big brother. But maybe that’s for the best. Yingluck is a political novice who has never held elected office of any kind. She has held staplers and fashion magazines. As an “executive” in the Shinawatra family’s telecommunications and property development businesses, it’s not clear what she exactly did. But hey, whatever it was, it’s apparently enough to make her a valid head of state in the eyes of the voting public.

 

As frustrating and silly as things can get here in Thailand, I keep thanking my lucky guavas that I’m not living back in the USA, where citizens are trying to salvage their sanity — and bank accounts — amidst the latest crippling waves of political and economic turbulence. Barack Obama seems keen on proving that he can be just as awful a president as George W. Bush was. That may sound like an absurd statement, seeing as how Bush was one of the very worst US presidents ever, but the reality is that Obama is doing a pretty awful job of his own so far. Granted, he has been hamstrung by obstructive Right-Wing Republicans and misguided Tea Party loonies, but his inability to prioritize job creation, his well-intentioned but horribly-executed health care plan, and making too many concessions to the Republicans in the recent debt ceiling fiasco, all make for a fairly miserable report card. What happened to Obama’s vision, his hoped-for leadership, and his ability to inspire? At this point, the silver-tongued fellow in the oval office can’t inspire anyone more than his wealthy core of campaign donors. (Read this week’s excellent opinion piece by Drew Westen in the New York Times for more on the “missing Obama.”)

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/opinion/sunday/what-happened-to-obamas-passion.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&src=ISMR_AP_LO_MST_FB)

 

Meanwhile, the US economy continues to sputter, millions remain unemployed, and yet the profits of big corporations are soaring and the wealthy elite are paying a paltry percentage of taxes. There is an ugly, ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in the US, and a lot of citizens are very angry. Will people really be shocked when London-like riots erupt in American cities in the near future?

 

Obama would be looking very much like a one-term prez at this point except for the incredibly lame lineup of Republicans who have announced their candidacy for the 2012 race. One of those potential candidates is Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas. This guy is so off-the-wall that he makes Sarah Palin look normal. But he’s a born-again Christian, so that explains the weirdo angle. Yes, another one of those crackpots who dismisses the threat of climate change and thinks that prayer is the answer to solving any problem. A column this week by Timothy Egan in the New York Times provided an excellent look at Prayin’ Perry. Here is one excerpt:

“ … Perry’s tendency to use prayer as public policy demonstrates, in the midst of a truly painful, wide-ranging and potentially catastrophic crisis in the nation’s second most-populous state, how he would govern if he became president.

Perry: “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’” he said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation’s most serious problems could be solved.

That was a warm-up of sorts for his prayer-fest, 30,000 evangelicals in Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday. From this gathering came a very specific prayer for economic recovery. On the following Monday, the first day God could do anything about it, Wall Street suffered its worst one-day collapse since the 2008 crisis. The Dow sunk by 635 points … given how Perry has said he would govern by outsourcing to the supernatural, it’s worth asking if God is ignoring him.”

 

Sure, it’s easy to make fun of kooky politicians like Perry, but he’s already served three terms as governor, so most of his constituents must be happy with the job he’s doing (which includes executing more prisoners than any other state in the country). And the sad truth is that unabashed Christian politicians, the so-called Evangelicals, like Perry are the norm not the exception in the USA. In fact, if you are not a bible-toting, Jesus-loving, happily married, family values kind of guy — or gal — you have zero chance of being elected to the highest office in the United States of Amnesia.

 

Having faith in a higher power is one thing, but when those religious beliefs lead to bullying people and making illogical decisions based on “faith”, then it becomes a problem. An emotional crutch for one person becomes a danger to others. It should be obvious to any sane individual that religion should be kept out of politics. So why is it that so many people support religious zealots like Perry? Maybe it’s just the sobering fact most of the voting public are religious zealots themselves and have no qualms about their leaders being similarly delusional. They certainly don’t seem fazed when their elected leaders resort to voodoo-like superstitions like praying, expecting to receive divine guidance for answers. Personally, I would prefer my elected leaders to think about matters intelligently, using facts and logic to come up with solutions. They’re going to pray about it? That should frighten people. In God We Trust? There’s your problem right there.

 

You hear all this talk about respect for other religions and tolerance for those with different beliefs, but I think it’s better to turn that notion around: there should be zero tolerance for religion in politics, and zero tolerance for religious groups who attempt to impose their hackneyed beliefs on others. As the wise philosopher George Clinton once said: “Free your mind … and your ass will follow.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/rick-perrys-unanswered-prayers/?ref=opinion

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