Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Working Week

Yesterday saw me finally cross the threshold of the Nation newspaper and meet with the editor, who was very understanding about my recent, unintended sabbatical. As with newspapers elsewhere, the Nation does seem in a state of crisis following the lay-off of a large chunk of the workforce last year, so they were keen to quickly put me to work.

No sooner had I stepped out of the longest taxi-ride I've ever had (the driver having to stop a total of three times to ask directions), I was back in another taxi and hurtling across town to the Thai-Japan Stadium, where a charity football match was underway in support of earthquake relief in Haiti.

Local football is undergoing something of a boom in Bangkok at present. After years of adoring European teams (in fact, football is generally the first thing anyone will want to talk to you about - it's just like home!), Thais are starting to get passionate about local teams, following a sudden sponsorship blitz. Hoping to capitalise on this for charity, the chairman of Bangkok United FC arranged four matches over two nights, with top teams slugging it out for a good cause.

Well, I assume they were top teams. As a Turkish cameraman said to me afterwards, Thai teams have a long way to go before they reach World Cup standard. Actually, that's not quite how he said it. But there certainly was a lot of half-hearted running about with only the occasional inspired twirl of the ball.

Even the crowd didn't seem that enthused, despite the efforts of duelling cheerleading squads (or men with drums and megaphones, as I call them). It was only when the game came down to a seemingly never-ending run of penalties (I really didn't realise every player got a free shot at the end of a match) that the mild-mannered man beside me started jumping and down and hurling abuse at either his team or the other. And even then everyone else in the crowd just looked embarrassed.

The highlight of the evening, for me, was hanging precariously on to the back of a motorbike taxi as it hurtled through lawless traffic to the nearest Skytrain station. Once I had resigned myself to imminent death, it was immensely exhilarating. I tried to look stoic and dignified but my eyes were watering in the smog.

Today, as there was nothing else for me to do, I was sent to observe a seminar on a new bomb-detector the Thai military has just paid millions for. This is it:

Actually, that's not it. That's a version made by a budding scientist, intending to show how the real thing is a hoax. Basically, the GT200 is supposed to be able to detect absolutely anything that is potentially dodgy, from bombs to illegal immigrants. The metal pole at the end (represented here by a car antenna), will swivel in the direction of anyone who is doing something that they shouldn't. It's hoped the device will be very useful in the troubled South (which no-one is supposed to talk about, so hush!). Each one costs over a million baht and has been bought from this UK company.

This afternoon's seminar (which was in Thai, so I may have missed a few key points) featured a panel of scientists making jokes about how unlikely it is the GT200 can detect anything, particularly given it's powered by static electricity. As the man next to me said, you'd think, for a million baht, they'd at least include a battery.

However, the panel stopped short of openly criticising the military, who stand to lose face over the debacle. Other detection techniques and their limitations were explained and then compared to the GT200, which can detect all of the following:


Ammunition, black powder, propellants, C4, C1, C2, PE4, Semtex, RDX, TNT, PeTN, Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Picric Acid, Tetryl, Hexogen, Octogen, Chlorates, Perchlorates, Slurry Explosives, Water gel explosives, Emulsion explosives, Rubber explosives, Nitroguandine, DNT, Ammonium Nitrate, AMFO, ANNIE, TATP, gunpowder, nitrate, MNX 194, PAX explosives 21/25/28/41, RSRDX, Amatol, Baratol, Comp A, Comp B, Comp B3, Comp A-5, TNB, CH6, Cyclotol, Detasheet, Gelatin, H6, HBX, Minol, Octol, PBX, Pentolite, Tetrytol, Torpex, HMX


Cocaine - Cocaine [ powder and liquid ], Crack, Cocoa Leaf, Cocaine based medicine.Heroin - Heroin, Heroin Based medicine.Cannabis - Marijuana, Cannabis, Hemp, Large tobacco shipments [ leaf and cigarettes ] Plant Amphetamine/D Methamphetamine/Ecstasy LSD, PCP, Shaking Head, Ecstasy, amphetamine, d-meth.Opium Opium based medicine, opiates, opium, morphine Poppy plant.Mesaklol. Mandrex. Kiptogan. Ketamine


Uranium Acetate, Human Bodies, Gold, Ivory, Poison, Currency, Tobacco


from a distance of 700 metres on land, 500 metres underwater and 4 km vertically. The antenna will simply swivel and point in the relevant direction. Astounding.

Now picture a serious-looking regiment carrying these devices as a bomb-laden plane flies over head.

The latest theories for how the device actually works are a) telepathy or b) quantum physics, the latter being completely incomprehensible and therefore beyond question.

I was hoping to bring you an update on my tailoring adventures today, but alas my tailor is running behind schedule. I am nonetheless assured that hotpink tweed plus-fours will be all the rage this season.