We all have a favourite mistranslation. Personally, I have always cherished ‘poitrine de culottes’ as an endearingly ingenuous rendition in French of ‘chest of drawers’. But mistranslations can have more serious consequences. In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then President of Iran, said that Israel ‘must be wiped off the map’. Cue a chorus of condemnation from all corners.
In the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, the Thai government claims that its hands are tied. They can do nothing. They are only following the law, protocol, the judicial process – anything but justice and common sense. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on 6 February which absolved themselves of all responsibility. Once they received the Interpol red notice (since withdrawn as invalid) and the request for extradition from Bahrain, ‘legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed’. But they never had to start.
Well I never. One Facebook post and some questionable statistics (ultimately from the Bank of Thailand) and suddenly economic equality is the new buzz. Thailand is, according to just one source, Number One in the world for economic inequality. And the powers that be are not happy. Before now, almost every comment on the national economy health and well-being has been couched in terms of GDP. A random sample of recent articles in One Of The Bangkok Newspapers reveals how.
On the morning of 9 August, a bus stopped in the market area of the town of Dahyan in northern Yemen, close to the border with Saudi Arabia. People at the scene reported that warplanes had been circling the area for an hour or so, a common occurrence. The area was crowded with civilians. Well, it is a market.
The tourist had left his mobile phone in a Bangkok taxi. This kind of thing happens on a daily basis so you would think that when he reported it to a police station, they would have a procedure in place to deal with it. And they do. But it’s not what you might think. First there is the rigmarole of the bai chaeng khwam, the police report. Did you note the licence number of the taxi, which is helpfully stencilled inside the cab? Of course not. Did you note the driver’s name on the dashboard card? Even less likely.
So who are we talking about?
There is growing linguistic turmoil in academia. To understand why, you need to recognize the growing importance of academic publications, both for individual scholars and for educational institutions. The average workaday university teacher has two major academic responsibilities: teaching and research. Good teaching, which you might think was the core competence of a teacher, is difficult to measure in a reliable way. Student ratings quickly become beauty contests and measuring by exam results can be skewed by the incompetence, or recalcitrance, of the students.
The concern of the Department of Land Transport for the safety of road users can be gauged by the ‘training’ component in the process of getting a driving licence. 60-70 applicants are seated wall-to-wall in a room to watch an hour-long video. And to make sure no one skips the ‘training’, the official locks the door on the way out. If ever there was a fire, it would be a death trap. The video itself is very informative. Not about how to drive safely on Thailand’s roads (that seems to have been abandoned as a lost cause) but about how Thai society works.
The Good Samaritan may soon be extinct in Thailand if the police response to a recent road traffic accident becomes the norm. It all started with a run of the mill hit-and-run. A tinted-window Mercedes (is there any other kind?) side-swiped a bicycle that was dutifully trundling along in the gutter, bringing down both rider and machine. Nothing life-threatening and the bike was damaged but repairable. Not that the Merc driver knew. He was long gone.
Stephen Hawking got to the Pearly Gates only to discover that entry control had been outsourced to a Thai company. The entrance to heaven had been transformed into an excessively curlicued arched gate as rococo as any you’ll find in a gated community in a Bangkok suburb, connected on either side to a nondescript wall adorned with razor wire, broken bottles and hastily scrubbed out graffiti of a black leopard’s head.