Daily Archives: March 9, 2006

The Leader – Por Pibulsongkram

Field Marshall Plaek Pibulsongkram changed Siam or Thailand on a scale never seen before. Beyond a doubt, like it or not, he affected every Thai citizen, right down to their tastes, traditions, ways of life and even their souls.

Jom Phon Por as he was popularly called, dictated social and economic trends through nationalistic policy for two super powerful eras of dictatorship 1938-44 and 1948-57. The people were obliged to adhere to his slogan “Trust your leader and the country is saved!” With this in order, he issued 12 Rattha Niyom (cultural mandates) between 1939-42. Jom Phon Por’s mandates changed the name of Siam to Thailand and brought in the Western Calender (New Year used to begin on 1 April). He ordered Thais to salute the flag twice a day, learn the national anthem by heart and sing it at school, refrain from speaking any dialects (especially Chinese!) in public and to use only Standard Thai. It was asked that the people speak a politer form of Thai by using words such as Chan (I), Than (You) and Jah (show politeness).

Even though Jom Phon Por signed a ceasefire in 1941 which led to a full alliance with The Army of The Rising Sun he was an advocate of many western ways. He encouraged Thais to eat with a fork and spoon, dress like westerners, wear hats and gloves and even shake hands. He brought in new laws which prohibited the chewing of betel nut, spitting, sitting on the street, going bare-chested in public and playing any traditional Thai musical instrument! And just like the government of the present era, they supported a ‘buy only Thai products’ policy.

His government successfully laid down all the guidelines for traditional Thai formal occasions such as Marriage, Ordination and Funeral etc… Along with his wife Thanphuying La-iad, they created The ‘Ramwong’ a popular form of Thai folk dance. The couple very much believed that the family was the most important social institution (they had 14 children). Again, wanting to import some western etiquette into Thailand, Jom Phon Por encouraged Thai men to kiss their wife on the cheek every morning and to call out to her “You are The Flower of the Nation”.

This huge reformation of Thai etiquette made such a striking impact, it still affects Thais and how they behave ’til this present day.

Jom Phon Por was born on 14 July 1897 to a family of durian growers in Nonthaburi province and graduated from military academy in 1914. He went on to win a scholarship to study in France 1924-27 and it was there that he met a group of ‘progressive’ Thais who wanted a democracy, and it was them who led to the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932. In 1934, as Minister of Defense he encouraged books to be printed such as those by authoritarian European leaders, Mussolini and Hitler. After Jom Phon Por obtained absolute power in 1939 he desired to build a completely new nation (sangchat), prohibited any pictures of Rama VII and even sued the king in regards to crown property.

Jom Phon Por seemed to ignore the fact that Thais were of mixed heritage, but instead wished to believe that Thais were of a ‘Pure Race’ and so treated the Chinese immigrants with contempt. Some scholars argue that much of his economic ideology was of ‘self-interest only’ as he took over, by himself, all the Chinese businesses such as salt, tobacco and pork etc…

Jom Phon Por was ‘a leader with many enemies’ and he miraculously survived at least 3 assassination attempts including two, where he was shot at virtually point blank range. It was Jom Phon Por himself, who was center of attraction, in undoubtedly the biggest botched coup d’etat cock-up in Thai history ‘The Manhattan Coup Attempt’ when The Navy took him hostage in the middle of the Chao Phraya River in view of The Grand Palace. Even though Jom Phon Por was aboard when the airforce blew the Manhattan into smithereens, he had once again amazingly survived, by jumping out of the ship’s toilet window at the moment of the blast.

FM Plaek Pibulsongkram was finally deposed and exiled in 1957 by another powerful dictator Sarit Thanarat. Before his death in 1964, he entered the monkhood in Bodhgaya, India. His ashes were returned and laid to rest at a temple he had built for the 1932 victors – Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, in the Bang Khen district of Bangkok.

Old Patong: Bar Road: Soi Bangla, The Early Years

For what is now Patong Beachs most famous road, Soi Bangla, well, it used to be little more than a dirt path from the beach, near Patong Beach Bungalows eastward towards the rice paddy/bayou behind, before the wee village of Baan Nam Sai Yen nestled in the low hills before the eastern mountain.

In the early 80’s, after the Govt had “displaced”[torn down the many beach shacks along the beach-side of Patong]and “relocated”[only those with enough Baht to BUY the new lands AND build along Soi Bangla]some of the local businesses to the new road…Soi Bangla!

Lada had the strategic corner of the beach road and the new road, south corner, a little photo developing shop had the north corner, the old round Disco was the ONLY business left on the beachside, apart from Patong Beach Bungalows.

On the southside of the street were:

Next to Lada Bar was the German-run “Michler Bar”, the very first Katoy Show/Bar in all of Phuket Island!

The place did great nightly business, with their various “Reviews/Shows” made up of female impersonators, the show got so popular, the resident locals started complaining about the “show” and Michler management quickly pulled down their big rain tarps once the show started there after!

Next to Michler Bar was Gottlands Bar, a sorta Dutch place that seemed always busy with Northern Europeans.

The Original No. 1 was here! EVERYONE knew about No. 1, they only sold seafood, all fresh and they’d let the patrons scribble on the walls with markers! The place was friendly, the food was always fresh and good!

A little art shop was next to No. 1, can’t even remember the artist name, but he would paint the tourist either from poses or snapshots, we bought a cool painting of an old man with a “papasan hat”, smoking a long pipe, he did it on a banana leaf and then shelacked it! He always seemed busy.

A small tailor shop was here. He made mostly “safari jackets” in those days, but was an expert tailor, many of the expat who dropped off his old favorite pair of levis and the tailor custom made new jeans that fit like the old ones!!!

Next to Valentines was the goofy and extremely friendly Kangaroo Bar, this place was run by two fun loving Aussies that NEVER slept! These guys would be going strong, selling beer and such to their compatriots until ALL supplies were exhausted! The Kangaroo Bar was always a fun place full of pranks and good times!

The little Valentine Market, Mr Singhs sister, her husband and their son Dang ran the market after working at Mr Singh’s Valentine Bungalows, where they ran a small cafe for about a year before Mr Singh sold off to Canadian Bruce and Mr Bill.

Jims Wine Bar was between the Valentine Market and Kangaroo Bar. Jim was a salty Brit who peddled wine, an oddity in Patong in those days when the only wine was local stuff, available in very small bottles, either red or white, I tried them both, ONCE, fortunately, Jim had better wine, mostly imported from Singapore or BKK, but nothing really special, it was just nice having a change from Mehkong and Singha in those days.

Jim always appeared low key, he resided just up the road at the newly built Baan Sukothai Bungalows. There were always Brits hanging out at Jims place, he later sold the place and his bungalow and even a pickup truck to a nice Brit couple, CASH before the sale, only for them to find out that Jim had skipped the country with their Baht long before they arrived later during the tourist season! Jim had evidently been on the lam from Old Blightey, the rumor went, after having taken the fall for some bad boys there and done some time.

These things continued to happen, with bars/businesses being sold to the unsuspecting more often that you’d believe!!

Next to Jims place was Ninas Boutique, Nina was a local Gal that made good, she owned several buildings and some land around Kata also, Nina was a good designer and had local seamtresses make about anything feminine needed.

Past Ninas was where a new side Soi would later be,we never knew the name of it, just called it the “Bakery Soi”, cause there was a bakery on it, as well as a few small boutiques, more shops and Bogarts Bar!

Bogarts Bar was the FIRST airconditioned bar in Patong Beach[not counting the big Patong Beach Hotel].

Bogart was a wiley Aussie and he installed an ear deafing stereo system and was the first bar to offer “shooters”, not sure what these drinks were, maybe a mixture of grapefruit juice, mehkong, vodka and they’d be served by leaning your head back and a nice waitress would quickly pour the entire drink in your mouth, it was like liquid fire, all but the hearty drinkers could take no more than 2-3 before the floors and walls started spinning.

Past Baan Sukothai Bungalows was..nothing! Just the end of the dirt road, going into a small path that led straight into the rice paddy and towards the mountain.

Crossing the street and heading back towards the west was:

On the Northside of the road was a small beauty shop where they offered a strange massage, now quit thinking THAT WAY, it was a massage where they covered you with…TALCUM POWDER!

Just east of where the beauty shop was, a slick city boy from California named Brian started a shop/bar, Brian always had some scheme involving investing and “part owner” etc, I hear that Big Bill is around that area now, Big Bill used to run a small restaurant next at Paradise, he could cook a flip flop and you’d think it was GREAT! As for Brian, word quickly got around that you’d best keep any financial dealing with him to a minimum.

Next to the beauty shop was the original Patong Beach version of the Hard Rock Cafe!!! The sold Hard Rock singlets and tee shirts, and everyone had one then. This was a goofy little shop, they had a very very LOUD stereo and even had this strange looking COVERED WAGON infront of the place. When the music got too loud, we’d amble out and sit in the wagon and have more beer! Run by Mac & Deja, the Hard Rock was a cool place! We became good friends with them and they even showed us how to prepare various Thai delicacys from time to time.

Copying the quick success of the Hard Rock Cafe, right next door sprang up the Purple Haze Rock Club! The first time I entered the place,[ started and run by the guy that ran the bank money changer next to Patong Beach Bungalows], I enquired “Mee Rock N Roll”, the owner beamed a big smile and welcomed us all in, we would often go their and stay to the wee hrs of the morning, many of the local musicians would stop by after their shifts and the local hotels and waterspots and we’d jam and sing into oblivion! Guitar Noi was a regular, so was the expert singer/guitar “Saey”, Saey could sing “Sultans Of Swing” and play and sound just like Mark Knoffler! The Purple Haze was a good joint indeed!

Next to Hard Rock was a little restaurant run by a superb chef that had formally worked at some of the BIG hotels in BKK, Mr Tum of Tums Restaurant, he made the BEST pepper steak in the world and could cook up that fancy French chow without a bother! We became regulars there!

Next to Tums was the wildly insane GONZO! Gonzo was not like any other place, it was a BIG thatched roof open style place, run by a crazy Scandanavian, he offered plenty of loud rock n roll, dancing, some bar snacks, noodlecart stuff mostly and he designed some cool looking jean jackets. He was soon run out of town by the “mafia”, but who knows, they later put a bar soi there which is now called…SOI ERIC!

Next to Gonzo was OddJobs bar, run by the old ex police sgt, he resembled OddJob of the 007 fame, his bar was always good for a little gambling,etc, when he passed away, they closed down the soi and gambled and partied for about 4 days straight! OddJob was a good guy and when he was around, there was never any trouble.

Next to OddJobs Bar was the Swiss Chalet, good food, mostly German. A few boutiques/gift shops to the corner at the original Patong Photo Shop.

Soi Bangla, what a play, evidently it STILL IS! We used to go there mostly around midnight, the crazies seem to haunt the place then, we’d tried all the shops, bars, restaurants and miss the good fun.