Kids Kingdom

 

Despite my do-all-better colonialist mindset let me tell you that there is no better place in the world for children (and mothers) than some South-East-Asian countries, namely Bali and Thailand.

Bali tradition prohibits children to touch the ground or be alone until they get the first teeth. That means babies must always be carried around and are never to be let alone. No children “crying-it-out” in their lonely bedrooms. Especially fathers are held responsible to take care of the very youngest. In dense family compounds children grow up as responsible members of their micro community.

Children represent the gods. Mistreating them is bad luck.

In dog-eat-dog Bangkok one never sees a child being yelled at, let alone hit, never ever. If somebody raises his voice against a kid there is usually a foreigner involved. Whenever a mother with child enters a cramped bus in Thailand adults jump to offer their seats to the child. I think that is just the other way around in Europe.

Taxi drivers love to take pregnant women to hospital hoping for an early birth, because that means good luck for the driver. Police officers have basic skills in child delivery to help if the occasion arises, which is not too rare because of the bad traffic.

In the West, it may be easier to find a flat with pets than with kids. In Bangkok, having kids is a sign of reliability and gets you a much higher score with picky landlords.

Thais are simply wonderful with their kids, tolerant, patient and caring. They take them to work and let them do whatever unless they hurt themselves or others.

And you know what? These kids behave much better than the little blue-eyed expat devils. I can’t say whether that is in the genes or some sort of early conditioning. While Europeans kids kick their nannies to get what they want, the Thai kids smile and achieve the same.


Beggars

 

Many soft-shelled Westerners are shocked when first confronted with the seemingly unlimited suffering on the city streets of Asia or Africa. Men without limbs lie on streets holding plastic cups with their lips, pregnant women wail for alms, little children with sad eyes roll in the mud and blind mongoloids play heartbreakingly bad on some ancient instrument. Yes, it is terrible… but look twice before you donate. 

I remember a little girl with her two puppies: She slept on the busiest piece of sidewalk in town, right next to the stench and dirt of a roaring six lane road. People might have stepped on her or the dogs at any time. If you love kids and puppies, like most humans, seeing them helpless and without shelter in the filth seems too much to bear.

But, when passing that area more often, you will realize that she sleeps there only on Tuesdays and that the puppies change every month or so. Also, the dogs are strangely calm, not like normal puppies at all. 

One Tuesday you will see the girl sneaking out of a taxi a couple of hundred meters up the road. In the car sits an elderly woman with three or four other girls and a lifeless heap of puppies.

They are professionals. The girls and the dogs are being used by a hard-shelled mother (if one may call this a mother). The puppies are probably drugged and die regularly, the girls never get to see a school and learn to sleep in the dirt as a profession.

The worst thing, in a twisted way, is to give them money for their performance.

Better leave a tip with that taxi driver. At least he works for a living.

Then, on the other hand, try not to harden too much and keep an eye out for people truly needing help. They are often the ones who don’t ask.


My Shame in Babel

When we opened an office in Thailand I started learning the local language, as I always do when new to a country. Because Thai sounds like voice-over on a Donald Duck movie, I hired a teacher for one-on-one lessons.

As most “small” language Thai is not well documented and any word will have various translations depending on which book you open.

Thai doesn’t have many words, hardly any grammar; it has no articles, no inflection of noun, and no declension of objectives, no variation of verbs in regard to gender, number, tenses or cases and many other simplifying no-rules. A sentence like “If I would have known, I would have had the chance to use past perfect.” does defy translation.

Furthermore Thai belongs to the group of tonal languages. Tonal languages, as opposed to the non-tonal Indo-Germanic languages, root meaning in tone, not in grammar. Hence the same word may have a myriad of meanings depending on how you pronounce it while the written form remains identical.

“Leo” for example means “beer”, “right”, “quickly”, “come” and “here” and some unidentified food. Imagine you want to say:  “Quickly, come here with the beer.”

My teacher described this tactfully as a three-dimensional language concept but I smelled the competitive disadvantage of a nation, especially when one realizes that the locals do not understand each other very well. 

In my lessons, I focused on simple sentences of importance (like the one mentioned). After four weeks of study my teacher deemed me ready to order my favorite dish “Fried rice” which is “Khao pad” plus “Nung, krap” which is “One please”.

Confidently I walked up to a fried rice vendor and said “Khao pad, nung krap”. He looked irritated and called his wife.

By the time I had said “Khao pad” about eight times, the fried rice vendor and a group of spectators had organized someone who supposedly spoke English. He didn’t understand me neither.

Exhausted I pointed at the fried rice, said not a word and gestured “one”. That went through like a revelation. “Oooh, he wants fried rice! Man, why doesn’t he say so? God dammed foreigner.”

The bi-lingual Thai laughed, padded my shoulder and called out: “Yuu wiht eiis on.” and meant “You fried rice, one.” 

I took another 6 months of private lessons, and then I gave up. Now, when in Bangkok I never say a word in Thai except a Buddhist “Mai pen rai.” which means “Never mind”, I hope.

How flat is that Mr. Friedman?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Andesine takes Gold in Carat Scamming

Olympia. Thank God. It is over. Finally! And well over too.

 

Congrats to the Chinese people. No major loss of face. Some expropriated and arrested grandmas, some faked children, some underage athletes, yes, yes, but nobody is perfect, especially not a big country.

 

What remains? For me as a gem trader one thing stands out: 50.000.000 carat of Andesine.

 

It turns out Andesine has won gold in scamming this year, even in the highly competitive field of gem traders.

 

For those who are not informed: Some, probably Chinese, mastermind bought 50 tons of pretty worthless Mexican feldspar years ago, artificially colored it red and created a new brand called “Natural Tibet Andesine”. Great name. Great origin. Especially for making it the Olympic gemstone and sell it to unsuspecting tourists at $500 per carat instead of $5, which is what it is actually worth. 

 

Well, well, in the gem trade such a plot is no novelty; it has been done many time and it will be done in the future. What makes this case so refreshing is the scale of publicity. While Omega and GE have paid millions to be associated with Olympia 2008, Andesine’s mastermind just spread rumors and engraved the five rings into the gem.

 

So, we have a fake gemstone sold in millions as fake Olympic gem. That is gold in all scamming disciplines.

 

China, we forgive you. Nobody is perfect.

 

 


Stealing is Bad

Why is stealing no good? I wasn’t really sure, besides a vague moral feeling, until I was mugged last week. Now I realize stealing reduces the value of goods.

 

From an evolutionary point of view it is as easy as that. After the Vikings visited a French village there was not much left except what little the Vikings could carry away. The rest was broken, spilled, burned, dead or traumatized. The village, as a value producing entity, was worth more than the plunder the Vikings dragged away. However the French had little to say to the Vikings until somebody came up with the idea of giving away the whole village and renaming it Normandy.

 

On my smaller scale some Sri Lankans climbed over the roof and into my unprotected office. They emptied a tray of gems and ran. Nobody got hurt, no window was broken, and yet the loss for Sri Lanka as a whole was much greater than the value of the stolen goods.

 

Without certificates, without grading reports and with no international sales channel those gems are now worth only a fraction. Sri Lanka as an exporting country has suffered a loss.

 

I think our bible-writing forefathers knew that for society as a whole stealing is a bad deal.

 

There may also be a reason why organized international theft is much less frowned upon that stealing somebody’s workshop tools in the village. While the latter damages the same society that also punishes the theft the former causes damage to a remote and powerless entity. The reaction of society varies thus from hacking off hands to praising the homecoming conqueror.

 

That is why stealing is bad and the UN is such a good idea. 

 


Jail for Bangkok

Some may have followed the drama of Thaksin, the Thai politician, voted for persistently by the Thais but on the run in England for tax evasion.  If tax evasion is a reason for jail, then three quarters of Bangkok needs to go to jail, and the other quarter would have to go if they had any taxable income.  

 

Though you will find many Ferraris and Bentleys in Bangkok, nobody seems to pay taxes to build the roads with, or to organize law enforcement to keep people from driving like mad hogs. Traffic police here drive motorbikes that should go directly to scrap metal and earn a living by coercion of other, equally poor, motorcycle drivers.

 

Sure, it is abominable if a super rich politician evades taxes in a country with daily power cuts and a sewer system that makes its capital smell like wet dog or worse. But it is even more abominable how the Bangkok elite use the bad-business-men narrative to oust a legally voted Politician who doesn’t fit in their inherit-never-work power structure of last century. No good.

 

BTW: Did you know that in Thai jails the inmates get no food? You need friends on the outside to bring you food or you go hungry. Not that Mr. Thaksin will ever suffer this fate but if you buy some weed on a fullmoon party in Phuket you might get yourself a free diet with it.

 

 


The West’s Romance with Poverty

Sri Lanka's Stilt Fishermen

Yesterday I watched a report about Sri Lanka on discovery channel: The usual images of beaches, temples and smiling people.

The report closed with a longing sunset scene of those uniquely Sri Lanka fishermen sitting on sticks in the water.  The commentator’s fade-out comment: “Here in Sri Lanka, where work is still a pleasure.”  Beg your pardon? I have tried to sit on those sticks and managed to stay up there no more than ten minutes. The sun burns brutally from the sky and the water. Thus grilled from both sides, one sits there, the shaky stick-structure digging into the flesh while the sea salt eats at your skin. It is terrible.
Even with lots of training it will never be a pleasure. Sure, one gets used to everything but why then abolish torture? 
Those men sit there every day of their lives, from the age of eight or ten when they are old enough for their own “stick” to the day they are too old to climb upon the stick and die. No retirement fund there.   On the other hand I have seen the TV teams in the luxurious resorts along the coast. If they do not enjoy their work, then who will?

It seems somewhat ungrateful to envy the fishermen. Poverty is not romantic, nor honest.
It has bad teeth and dies early.”