Chiang Mai FeMail
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Food price inflation - the real reason?

Frazzled farang lady warns about the dangers of Chiang Mai…

News in Briefs

An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

 

Welcome to Chiang Mai FeMail - slightly smaller this week as the main story was pinched for the front page! Never mind… “Focus on food” seems to be this week’s theme, retail prices, wholesale prices, and the penalties of eating too much. But even government nutritionists seem not to want to mention alcohol in the same breath as obesity and poor health. Of course, we women know the score on that reluctance - so, wake up and smell the coffee, guys!

Food price inflation - the real reason?

Tess Itura
A few weeks ago, FeMail carried an article about the high rate of inflation of food prices - at present 12% - and the effect it might have on all of us, both Thai and farang. An article published in this week’s issue on page 4, describing the European Union and the World Trade Organisation’s problems with Thailand’s arbitrary upward revaluations of declared import invoice prices, may give a clue to why this is happening, particularly with “farang” foods, which are invariably imported. The WTO’s complaint, following some months of unsuccessful bilateral talks between the EU and the Thai authorities, is that Thailand’s actions breach WTO regulations, to which Thailand has signed up. This issue affects goods from the countries of the European Union, particularly foodstuffs, wines, etc, and has been a cause for concern since September 2006. The issue is simple, upward Customs revaluations of actual declared commodity prices attract higher import duties, leading to higher retail prices.
Interestingly, a shopping trip today to a major Chiang Mai supermarket, Carrefour, tended to confirm the thrust of the article, and provided an insight into how this practice is affecting stores across the Kingdom, as well as their customers. Searching for our usual brand of butter, sold last week at 47 baht per pack,(after a recent rise from 37 baht…) we were amazed and extremely annoyed to find that the stated price this week was - wait for it - 75 baht! As were all the other brands available, representing an increase of some 60%. Standing near the display was a representative of the supermarket, who, having overheard and obviously understood our disgusted and somewhat explicit comments, came over and spoke with us. After a pleasant but rather “to the point” conversation in English, the supermarket’s head office was called, and an explanation of the huge price increase was requested. Whilst we were waiting for head office to call back, another customer noticed the price increase and made it very clear to the world in general what she thought about it - in Thai! As she stomped away, pushing a trolley loaded with at least three weeks’ groceries, the words “and I shall never, ever shop in this store again” were heard…
At that point, I was beginning to remember the WTO article on page 4 - yes, it does occasionally help getting advance notice of what’s in the CM Mail this week - and, sure as sure is, when the information came in, its interpretation by the representative of the store was exactly what I had expected. The news got worse as it was explained to us that a number of other products had not been stocked for some time as the price increases were considered too much for customers to bear. Negotiations, we were given to understand, are continuing between international suppliers of affected products and Carrefour itself. We received the strong impression that the situation was going to deteriorate still further, and also begin to involve imported staple foods as well as “farang” foods. We were told that the store was concerned about low-waged Thai customers being seriously affected, which was, at least, good to hear. At the representative’s request, we filled in a complaints form to be sent to the head office, and were also invited to visit the store group’s website, where an email complaint/comment form is available. Carrefour has 25 stores around Thailand, and we also understand that other major supermarkets are in a similar position regarding this issue.
We would suggest that everyone who has internet access and is concerned about the implications of the above visits Carrefour’s website at www.carrefour.co.th and makes their views known by email. After the conversation with the representative of the stores, who has asked not to be named, we do have the feeling that Carrefour itself has recognised not only the threat to its business, but the potential problems that continued and basically government engineered price rises of this magnitude will cause to its customers, both Thai and farang.

 

Frazzled farang lady warns about the dangers of Chiang Mai…

J. Harcourt
Now, I’m talkin’ sober here!!

Even if you are sane, vigilant, and used to your blended lenses, you have a dangerous enemy in Chiang Mai. It is the “off road” terrain of the city sidewalks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “take care of yourself.” I like adventure, surprises, and uncertainty. Fortunately, or unfortunately, all of this is found in one block of walking in Chiang Mai.
Check out the foreheads of taller farangs. You can see scars ranging from years ago to yesterday. These are due to innocent looking awnings that allow Thais to walk under, but not farangs. If the victim is from the Netherlands, the scars are on his upper lip.
Eyes must be on the ground at all times. One friend went to Warorot market, and carelessly rounded the corner by the fruit stands. Falling off the curb, in her new hiking sandals, she sprawled into the street. Several fruit vendors, seeing her demise, rushed to her aid. Before she knew it, she was lying behind the piles of durian, with Tiger balm being rubbed on her ankle. Thai kindness, in Chiang Mai, is over the top at times.
One sidewalk around the corner from Kad Suan Kaew had a metal cover over a large square hole. In the middle of the metal was a hole the size of a softball. It was jagged, like a gaping mouth. I always looked at it carefully to see if there were strings of human flesh hanging on the jags. One day the cover was new, no hole!! What prompted the repair? A broken leg, ankle, amputation,…death?
And, then there are the tiny steps you don’t notice until you have stepped off. The massive rush of blood through your veins as you step/fall only 2 inches, is amazing. With a bleeding tongue and dislocated shoulder, you look back to see a VERY small step. You glance quickly behind you to see if anyone noticed.
Even the classiest places can be perilous. One of Chiang Mai’s most “hi so” hotels has many floor level reflecting pools. It’s very feng shui. One of my friends daintily approached the dining room, and fell into the wading pool. With wet shoes and pant legs, she hoped to slip away unnoticed. To her dismay, an efficient 5 star team came rushing to her aid, with large fluffy towels and Thai sympathy. This created the scene she was hoping to avoid.
Most of the time, Thais seem to float along safely, talking, laughing and not looking where they are going. They do this in flip flops and tiny high heeled, backless shoes. But ONCE in a while, I hear a clack, a sputter, a slam, and see a Thai regaining her composure. A sly little grin creeps over my farang face.
One dark and stormy night, one of our friends was seen sneaking into the guesthouse, with a black eye, scraped arm, and a slight limp. But of course, we’re not talkin’ sober now!


News in Briefs

Surely everyone knows that Pat Pong is the centre of Thailand’s “world’s oldest profession” industry? The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals - Asia-Pacific, certainly do! Their latest advertising campaign is based on health warnings about too much meat protein causing cholesterol build-up which can, in turn, cause a loss of blood flow to - you know where - in the average male’s anatomy! Their posters, which will be put up in the men’s toilets in bars all over Pat Pong, show a guy who obviously has this embarrassing problem at exactly the wrong time, together with the slogan “Eating Meat Got You Down? Get It Up - Go Vegetarian!”
Having had a good laugh at the above, perhaps we should remind everyone that, in the main, animals bred for consumption, are treated appallingly, not just here in Thailand, but all over the world. Maybe you just can’t give up on meat altogether, but Thai traditional recipes use a lot less meat than farang food - at least that’s a start!
Still on a “food” theme, you may have read elsewhere in this week’s issue that onion farmers in Chiang Mai district are up in arms and making waves about the fall in the price per kilo they receive for their crops. Apparently, last year they were getting 7 baht per kilo, this year only 2.50 baht per kilo. Not good. Selling at a loss is a disaster, and we hope they get it sorted. But - for us farangs, if we can’t afford butter, at least we can afford onions!
A leading government nutritionist has been holding forth about the dangers of obesity, a growing problem amongst Thais, (as if we hadn’t noticed - at least they’re now making clothes in larger sizes) and is recommending that certain foods be avoided and daily calorie limitations should be adhered to. Very sensible, we know it makes sense - but - why didn’t he mention alcohol??????? Answers on a postcard, please…


An American Redneck in Chiang Mai

At the end of last year, fancying a brief change of career, I took myself off to the Grandview Hotel to answer a casting call for the latest Rambo movie, Pearl of the Cobra. They needed some foreigners to stand around pretending to be tourists. I can do that. I’ve never been handsome. However, I believe extras are only required to have interesting faces. Yeah, I have that. Thank you, old age. I also wore the most touristy shirt I own, first time ever and I’d had it for ever. It could blind people.
Noiy introduced herself and asked where I was from. I told her North Carolina. She said, “What took you so long?! We’ve been looking for people from… oh… from Colorado, not Carolina.” After that loss of face, she busied herself at her desk and refused to say another word or even notice that I was in the room. And why should a Thai know the difference? I probably do sound more like Colorado than Carolina since I lost my drawl. It only returns when I talk to Daddy on the phone. Big Jim Drake, Voice Coach to the Stars. I saw a Thai guy with no arms and one leg. His arms were severed above his elbows. His shirt sleeves were closed off with rubber bands - was that intended to draw attention to them? He hopped away, but I didn’t look to see how much of his leg was gone because that’s just bad manners. Now there’s a body type one would expect to see in a Rambo movie. Land mines.
A chalkboard said “Casting” at the top. With a list of three items below, all hand-written. Burmese, Karen villagers, Pattaya hookers. Of course. No Rambo movie set in Thailand would be complete without them. Right on. Let’s be as culturally and politically insensitive as possible and highlight this nation as a freak show.
I filled out a form with my name, contact info, visa status, acting experience (none) and special skills (can lick my eyebrows). Then a girl wrote my name on a small whiteboard with my phone number below it. I held the board just below my face, like a prisoner ID, for photos. Face shot, middle body shot (slight smile, please, never mind that I never learned how to smile), full body shot. Measuring tape for my vitals. Packaged, processed, piece of meat. Next! But hey, it’s easier than a Chinese physical. The pay is below U.S. minimum wage but 5 or 6 times standard Thai laborer wages. If they choose me, I was told, they’ll call at the end of the month.
“Don’t call us, we’ll call you, love ya, mean it, get out.”
I knew that if they actually chose me to appear in the movie, I’d spend hours reading a novel while waiting for five minutes in front of the camera, repeat as needed. I’d have done it more for the experience than the money. A “novel” experience… Some while later, having got hold of a short (very short ) synopsis of the story, I chose not to get the “experience” when asked, because of my surgery, my recovery, my editing schedule, and the miserable heat. Not because the story was rubbish. So was the title. That was just a coincidence.
Michael LaRocca, http://www.chinarice.org