Vol. VI No. 14 - Tuesday
May 29, - June 4, 2007
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Life in Chiang Mai

Life in Chiang Mai

Temporarily on holiday in England

Mark Whitman
My local newspaper had a screaming headline last week about a middle aged guy who had just returned to Britain after about 12 years: LOCAL MAN RELEASED FROM THAI HORROR PRISONS. The story also hit the national newspapers since he complained not just about the bad time he had in various Thai jails (including the one called the Bangkok Hilton) but because he thought that the British Foreign Office had not ‘done enough’ to help him.
Quite what they were expected to do was not clear since he had been convicted of drug dealing and any fool knows that this is the last thing a foreigner should contemplate in any Asian country. Since he claimed to be a businessman and was no youngster it seems hard to be sympathetic even if you have any experience (second hand admittedly) of conditions in such places.
I first visited an inmate in the central prison in Nakhnsowan which is – from Chiang Mai – quite a way down on the route to Bangkok.
Even the visit in those days was horrendous. Families crowded into one large room with a whole gaggle of young men lined up behind double wire mash. The noise and heat was unbearable and communication almost impossible. On more recent visits (to another person) it has become much more civilised, with glass partitions and seats on either side with telephone hand sets to talk into. Even so Ko, the person in question, shares a huge room with over 20 other youngish men and after eight years is hoping for a Royal ‘release’ later this year. He is in for manslaughter so may get out quicker than someone who dealt in drugs. As a rider to this I might add that today the official figure for those taking heroin in the U.K. is 100,000, a number that surprises and appals most people. I wonder what it is in Thailand with a very similar population of around 60 million.
There was, as expected, no need for a contest for the job of the incoming Prime Minister in Britain. Gordon Brown was always going to win but no opponent could even muster the 45 nominations to mount a challenge.
The other big discussion point has been whether Prince Harry (younger son of Charles and Diana) should serve as a soldier in Iraq, as he wished. Well that’s also been decided. He won’t. The sensible argument against that idea being that he will endanger the men around him as he will be a prime target. Nobody has dared mention the fact that he is not likely to be of any more use than anyone else out there. One soldier more or less on a doomed mission is not going to make any difference. Blair leaves in five weeks and Bush in 18 months. Can it go on any longer?
One of the undisputed joys of being back in the UK (possibly the only one) is being able to catch up on or see movies that would be impossible see in Bangkok, let alone Chiang Mai. In the past few weeks I have seen well over 20 films. Probably the best was the German political thriller, The Lives of Others. We can only hope that it is one of those selected for the EU Film Festival when it surfaces in Chiang Mai in November.
And finally a few words on driving. A few weeks ago I wrote about driving in Chiang Mai (and Thailand in general) and mentioned that I had not seen much evidence of road rage. No doubt it does exist but I can say with confidence after a while back home that it cannot be as widespread as in England. Driving is very aggressive over here and one sees and hears examples of it every day, just another reason to be in Thailand perhaps where stress levels seem at least to be less in evidence. Or is that an illusion?



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