Monday, 31 March 2008

Dith Pran Dies

Dith Pran, a spirited Cambodian photojournalist who suffered immeasurably to bring the horrific truth to the world, a nimble survivor of the barbarous Khmer Rouge regime and their Killing Fields, a total inspiration, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Sunday.


Monday, 17 March 2008

Why I read 'The New Light of Myanmar'

Is it wrong to enjoy reading the online issue of the The New Light of Myanmar: the state-run daily newspaper of the Burmese Tatmadaw (junta)?

Why do I read it? Because its so damn surreal - that's why. Firstly, there's the state's four political objectives, four economic objectives and four social objectives, recapped everyday beneath the nameplate. These include:

  • "The initiative to shape the national economy must be kept in the hands of the state and the national peoples"
  • "Proper evolution of the market-orientated economic system"
  • "Uplift of the morale and morality of the entire nation"
  • "Uplift of health, fitness and education standards of the entire nation"

Try reading them while flicking through any of the UN reports, the Free Burma Rangers website or one of dozens of human rights reports. It makes for some hilarious compare and contrast.

Then there's the mind-numbing lead story. With its mile-long headline, this usually finds one of the top military brass – usually Than Shewe - heading a nebulous draft-constitution meeting, hosting a meeting for one of the country's obscure civic organizations (the Myanmar Pulses, Beans and Sesame Seeds Merchants Association anyone?), or shaking hands with the latest voracious foreign diplomat out to do business. PM Samak, seen here looking noble in Friday's issue, was the latest. Such a nice man.

Today, though, its the opening of a new piece of infrastructure that makes the lead. Not a bridge or road, but the opening of a paper machia mock-up of a Chamber of Commerce office, with PM Thein Sein in attendence. Nice one! Such progress!

Note how dour everyone looks, as if the faintest trace of a smirk would mean a indefinite spell in Insein, the country’s most notorious jailhouse. That's, erm, because it does.

Next, I click to page 2. Here, everyday, there's a diminuitive column entitled 'People's Desire'. At last, the man on the street...

... but there's something awry here - the 'People's Desire' hasn't changed in the couple of years I've been reading it. Also, judging by the pugnacious tone, everyone in Rangoon talks like a bellicose, card-carrying Maoist at the height of the Great Leap Forward.

However, it’s the daily diatribe, usually on page 7, that I always make a beeline for. Usually it’s directed against Aung San Suu Kyi, the ethnic minorities, or the Western powers of which the preceding are just "stooges"...

The current fashion, though, seems to be for turgid, lets-hype-the-upcoming constitution tirades. Todays its a piece entitled 'If in no mood to help, do not disturb' written by journo, Pauk Sa. In it the National League for Democracy is accused of "practising one-party dictatorship", trying to prevent the Tatmadaw from building a "discipline flourishing democractic nation", and "provoking riots".

It ends by trying to assume the moral highground, with a warning: "I do not think it is wise that NLD is criticizing that holding new elections is not legitimate and persists in making demands that are no longer in line with the present time and present way of life of the people. So, I would like to say that if NLD is in no mood to extend a helping hand, it does not matter, but it is requested not to disturb the processes". If only the party hadn't been emasculated, if only it could.

The New Light of Myanmar looks like a shitty socialist student rag. But it is, in fact, a carefully state-monitored 16-page web of deceit, fabrications and ego-stroking, blended with syndicated international stories to give a gossamer-thin veneer of credibility. It is propaganda of the most derisory sort. It is the world’s most Orwellian newspaper. If you want to know why I read it, you can find out here.

Know your enemy.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

A Coffee Shop Encounter

"Why is your t-shirt so small?," she asks between sips of her iced frappe.

"Because I bought it here, in Bangkok," I reply between urges to kiss her.


"Polyester.. most t-shirts here are made with polyester. A couple of washes and they're shrunk.. that's why they're so cheap."

Kings of Leon come on the stereo.

"You look like Tom Hanks in Big", she says.

"I know.. "

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Dude Sweet 'Made in the Kingdom of Siam' Party

I adore the West-influenced fashions and architecture of the King Rama V-era. I always get thoroughly trashed at maverick club night, Dudesweet. And I like their head honcho, Note, very much. So this themed party, ‘Made in the Kingdom of Siam’, is all go for me. Oh, and the drummer from junkie UK post-punk band Babyshambles is DJing. That’ll be the cherry.

Note is a lithe, smart, opinionated scenster/graphic designer with a great flair for fashion, music and art. If you’ve seen him prowling Bangkok’s streets, slavishly handing out flyers for his next event, you’ll also know his success is down to nothing less than bloody hard work. This party should be a lot of fun, what with everyone jumping around like its 1899.

Time/space: Saturday 5th April/Club Culture

The Fake Ferrari: Thailand finesses the fine art of forgery

Who was it that said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Well, would someone please tell the Authentics Foundation, a London-based NGO who have just kicked up a shitstorm of world publicity with their first ‘global anti-counterfeit summit’ in Brussels.

I mention it not because I laughed so hard on reading model Yasmin Le Bon, who’s fronting the campaign, preach at the pauper on the street from her ivory tower. ("This is something that really affects me because I'm in the fashion business," she, someone who hasn’t payed for cosmetics or luxury items since shoulder pads and Duran Duran were cool, gushed).

No, I mention it because a Made in Thailand counterfeit, no less, was the guest of honour. And not just any old fake Rolex, or Gucci knock-off but a fake Ferrari 1967 P4, knocked together in a back street factory. Cue The Guardian: “Replicating the original in every visible detail, the car is a startling example of the genius for counterfeiting that is flourishing worldwide”.

Is this supposed to make Thailand look bad? I’ve long admired the Thais' inimitable knack for imitating things. And this, surely, is proof the country has, inbetween feckless coups and endless political squabblings, quietly been finessing the fine art that is forgery. Bravo. I, for one, look forward to the day when I can shunt my newly acquired fake Silom bounty – DVDS, shoes, tshirt, chiseled ladyboy– home in a Pontiac 2008 G6 convertible. Pray tell, Authentics Foundation, where do I order one?

Friday, 7 March 2008

Thailand turns upscale Gangster Paradise

I get confused sometimes. Is Thailand the world’s rice bowl, or the toilet bowl? It certainly attracts a lot of shit. And who’s the latest guest to further enhance Thailand’s reputation as a refuge for naughty farang? Not a world-class perv, surprisingly, but somebody with, if not much more class, then a lot more money.

I speak of Viktor Bout, international arms dealer par excellence. This chubby Eastern European is, according to reports plastered all over the web, a very bad man. Not just any old gun-toting, Soviet-era has-been but the almost apocryphal ‘Merchant of Death’, the world’s most wanted arms trader, a man who's sold weapons to Al Qaida and Farc rebels.

But no longer. After a tip-off that originated deep in the jungles of South America, he was tracked down to Bangkok’s Sofitel Silom Hotel. Here, while stuffing his face with dim sum in the Chinese Restaurant, this real life James Bond Villain’s years of unscrupulous profiteering, came to an unseemly end. Busted! There he was on the BBC this morning, eyes cold and steely, as he was paraded, Middle Ages fashion, by the Thai police.

“One day someone will write a book about him,” an American policeman gleefully told the BBC, “and it will be up there with the best Tom Clancy – only true”. Quality. It seems Thailand is moving up in the world. I mean this guy has (or should I say had) a fleet of private jets to his name, not just the usual: a troubled childhood, porn-filled laptop and fake teacher’s certificate from Khao San.

Instead of a predictable predilection for toffee skinned teens, he had a penchant for “luxury homes around the world and luxury cars”. Forget all the marble malls and girls tottering about in Jimmy Choos, here's proof that Thailand is truly going upmarket.

Independent Story