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Thai PM believes in miracles – official
Thursday, February 02, 2012

Our Mental Health Correspondent reports: Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has pledged 6.3 billion Baht for a campaign to revive tourism and counter the effects of street protests, terrorist alerts and flooding. The news comes despite repeated claims that Thai tourism had hardly been affected by the stream of negative news in recent times. Mind you, the figures published in support of those claims never did seem very plausible. And besides, consistency isn’t one of the P M’s big things, except perhaps in the rigid state of her hair-do and her ceaseless assault on the English language.

Details of the latest project are hazy, and there’s even a question mark over the starting date: The Nation has told us to expect lift-off in March, while the Bangkok Post plumped for April. But all are agreed on the title of the publicity extravaganza: “Miracle Thailand Year 2012”.

I’m no J Walter Thompson, but this particular slogan strikes me as sure to raise the wrong kind of smile. You’ll see what I mean if you try reporting it to a friend over a drink. Admittedly, my pals are a cynical shower, but those I’ve told have all quipped: “They’ll need a bloody miracle”, or more colourful words to the same effect. Then they’ve rocked with helpless laughter and spilt half their Happy Hour tipple over the bartender’s apron.

Getting tourism back to past heights will take more than a few ideas cobbled together between now and March, or even between now and April. As the President of the Association of Thai Travel Agents has said, what’s needed is “a long-term plan… to ensure the sustainability of Thai tourism and the travel industry”.

The cruder point is that, if there is one quality you couldn’t possibly have attributed to Thailand of late, it’s being miraculous. Miraculously dysfunctional, maybe. Miraculously determined, certainly, in the case of the majority of Thais who struggled to keep daily life in tact and to stay open for business while politics and nature did their worst. Miraculously enjoyable, absolutely, in spite of everything. But miraculous, pure and simple… who are they trying to kid?

It’s not as if the title “Miracle Thailand Year 2012” is the brainchild of some lone, mad, maverick civil servant. It is the fruit of a collaborative effort involving the combined geniuses of the Tourism Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Culture Ministry, the Prime Minster’s Office, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. You wonder what was going through their heads during what might, at a massive stretch, be called the brainstorming process.

The trouble with the Tourism Authority of Thailand – sometimes more appropriately known as TAT – is that they insist on promoting the nation in such exclusively wholesome terms. Their web site recently featured a hilariously healthful word-picture of the average visitor’s day. “Wake up in a beach bungalow and go out swimming,” it began, “followed by a little bit of yoga…” I suspect that most tourists arrive in The Land Of Smiles with a very different kind of exercise in mind.

But TAT has no firmer grip on reality, or the English language, than the P M. Last year, they unleashed the slogan “Hearing The Sunshine” on an unsuspecting world. Think about it. Sunshine can be HEARD? Perhaps they were just warming up, trying a minor miracle in 2011, prior to going the whole hog in 2012.

Meanwhile, they acknowledge the rainy season only half-heartedly. If you took much notice of TAT, you’d believe we had twelve months of uninterrupted fair weather. Those deafening cracks, and those sounds of something heavy and liquid beating incessantly on your windows during the middle months of the year: you didn’t really imagine they were thunder and monsoon rain, did you? No, silly. What you can hear is the sweet, gentle murmur of sunshine!

But we need never be brought down when TAT and the rest are at their most pure and high minded. You can bet that a news story will come along to sweep away the image of a pious land, full of vegetable-munching mystics. Sure enough, at the same time as “Miracle Thailand Year 2012” was unveiled, we learned of a new fad gripping the nation: the consumption of elephants’ reproductive organs, which are believed to aid human sexual prowess.

Wildlife experts say poaching to support the craze is now so intense that the population of elephants may be wiped out. And if you’ve heard elephants are supposed to be sacred in Thailand, you’ve heard right. It’s enough to make you run out into the noisy sunshine and burn your yoga mat.

Only joking. It’s contradictions like these that make the country so much fun. Who needs sacred, when you can have sacred and profane? The mix and the mess and the muddle… they’re what make the true miracle of Thailand. Most of us will settle for that, elephants’ balls and all.

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