Getting away from crime?
For those of us who are non Thai, we all have our individual reasons for staying here, as we all had reasons for having left our homes. For many, I am sure, it is the general calm that this country suffuses in its inhabitants and the lack of stress compared to the West. When you stop making eye contact with the man in the street, when you start fortressing your house doors with cumbersome steel locks, and when the local news is more frightening than anything Hollywood could ever muster; well, maybe it's time to get out.
man killed after drunken argument with friend
The Land of Smiles: Down the escape shute we whizzed and came out here, in this, our Utopian Neverland that is Thailand. Not only the pot at the end of the rainbow for an avid culturist and geographical voyeur. On top of that Thailand is a homely, friendly, cordial refuge with lots of glorious sunshine and eclectic entertainment. With positive 'jai yen' action and a zero tolerance to losing your head in public, we have found ourselves cloistered in a womblike peacefulness and can forget about those past fears of getting our heads pulped because we are vulnerable, have the wrong accent, or support the wrong religion/football team.
So it came as a surprise when I found out that we actually lived in one of the most dangerous countries in the world when it comes to crime.
Consider how unusual it is to see a street fight here. Despite the obvious class disparity, people seem to get along pretty well without jealousy and resentment of those with more material wealth. On top of that, so many Thai males seem so mild mannered; and the women, well, it's hard to imagine the Citylife staff (many lasses) blemishing their untainted and ruthlessly clean record of virtue. Yet Chiang Mai residents listen up, because statistically you may have exited a reasonably safe country and landed in a virtual Wild West saloon.
Some stats for you first: Number of deaths by firearms throughout the world: 1. No surprise is South Africa with just over 31,000 in the two year study. 2. Columbia with almost 22,000 (again, this is not surprising.) Number three . . . Well you'd think Russia, USA, China or India. They all have large populations and high crime rates. But no, number three is Thailand, even with the omnipresent jai yen big brother it managed to reach 20,032 murders by firearm in two years. It's worth noting though, that non firearm murder rates see Thailand ranked at 8th in the world with 5,140 murders, USA, 6th with over 12,000 and India topping the charts with over 37,000. It's also worth noting that some of the stats might be unreliable in countries that have inferior law enforcement and governments that don't have the resources to collect statistical figures. These facts were taken from the Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 - 2000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention). By the way, there's a heavy drop off for fourth place in the murder firearm rate, which is the USA with only 8,259 deaths, and when you consider death per capita, Thailand is much, much higher than the US.
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You can't even blame the media and popular culture for the violence: there are few gangster movies in Thailand, and guns are hilariously censored out. Even the rap and hip hop singers here don't mention killing, violence, bitches and crack . . . they talk about how much they love their mums! The murder with firearm rate poses an irony few appear to see, in that the Thai tourism authority's marketing ploy extols the people's innate cultural kindness and warm heartedness ad nauseam. We are all too familiar with the ostensible good nature of the people, because it is repeated to us like a mantra. So with this irony in mind, I went in search of the main factors and reasons for the apparent cultural aberration.
It is quite disturbing to find out how many people die as a result of violent conduct world wide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has this to say about our feisty sphere. "The death and disability caused by violence makes it one of the leading public health issues of our time. Violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15-44 years of age, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females. On an average day, 1,424 people are killed in acts of homicide, almost one person every minute." They also pointed out that the cost of violence can take up as much as 5% of some country's GDPs.
Violence: nature or nurture?
Why is Thailand ranked so high? Where in Thailand are these shootings and murders happening? Looking at the facts, it is more than astonishing that such a small country with such a seemingly benign reputation can have so many murders. Are Thai people more violent? Is it suppressed anger, a result from all that 'not losing face' and respect of elders? Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland of the WHO, said that violent conduct is not merely instinctual reaction, but it is imbedded in society, in our values and culture. She added, "Violence is a complex problem related to patterns of thought and behaviour that are shaped by a multitude of forces within our families and communities, forces that can also transcend national borders."
We all know that most Thais are Buddhists, a religion that condemns violence on all levels. You could go as far as to say that we live in an almost pacifistic society. Or at least, this is the myopic view. But if you pick up the local newspaper just about any day of the week you'll find multiple murders. As I write this article, today's papers feature a photograph of a twenty year old dead girl - shot by her boyfriend because she wanted to break up with him. The most disconcerting detail is the newspaper's sympathy towards the man because he had cried and gone straight to the cops feeling contrite.
Music company workers shot after asking shop owners for lisence to sell company products
Recently The Nation featured the sentencing of Pannada Laoruang, 38, who had married a British man called Toby Charnaud. They bought a bar and had a kid together; then later they divorced after Charnaud couldn't cope with his wife's gambling and drinking. Subsequently he was killed by five of her male relatives. "The men tried to shoot Charnaud but the gun failed to work so they beat him to death with an iron bar and burned his body on a stack of charcoal . . . they said they were provoked because he interrupted their whisky drinking," said The Nation. It is thought that Laoruang hired the men to kill Charnaud for his cash.
Missing farang and dubious suicides
I don't have the numbers, yet I have been assured this is not specious: apparently the amount of farang deaths in Pattaya is inordinately high; scores of men are falling from their balconies and crashing into lamp posts. Luckily most have considerable wealth to leave behind for their grieving wives and elegiac in-laws. Earlier I had spoken with Andrew Drummond, a British journalist who has been in Thailand for 20 years and is presently correspondent for The Times, UK. "A Westerner dies every week in Pattaya, not all murders of course. There are a lot of suicides, I suppose it's the kind of lifestyle some people live down there," he told me. "But what about these mysterious deaths I've been hearing about, is that just myth?" Without hesitation he answered, "No, there have been a number of mysterious deaths, a while back quite a few men, at different times, were found suffocated with plastic bags on their heads. The police deduced that it was suicide, you have to ask yourself, who commits suicide in such a way? In fact, one of the men had had his hands tied, too." We had earlier talked about the high murder rate. "One of the reasons is that Thai people don't have faith in their own system and so often take the law into their own hands. They have a distinct lack of confidence in their police force." He also suspected that the fact that the police and forensics departments were combined was detrimental to this lack of confidence. "It has a dramatic effect because the police can do anything with a DNA sample. Thailand was also going to introduce the DSI, which would have been similar to the American FBI, but it never happened."
On the same day as my conversation with Drummond, Gary Jones, an imprisoned Brit in Bang Kwang jail (Bangkok Hilton), had written to me about the police officer who horrifically shot a tourist couple dead in Kanchanaburi last year. "Pol. Sgt. Somchai Wisetsingh, murderer of Adam Lloyd and Vanessa Arscott," he wrote, "openly brags to the inmates, 'If I had had any sense, I would have emptied some sugar into the slut's handbag'". Somchai is now doing time in the notorious jail. You might hope this lovely decantation of his only regret the night of the murders does not reflect the police's stringent hiring policy.
Drummond continued to expand on the problems; "recently a New Zealander was shot to death in broad daylight; his girlfriend had hired a hit man." When I asked him for a definitive reason behind high amount of murders, he told me, "It is extremely difficult to give an exact reason, there are many factors. Life is definitely cheaper here. People die over smaller matters like land disputes, look at Thaksin's war on drugs when 2,500 people were murdered. It's hard to say, people really should think more about the consequences of their actions."
Back to the ironies: Drummond ended the conversation by telling me, "Some of the parents of murdered kids/backpackers in Thailand still said they were very fond of the country and its people."
What the police think
I had the chance to talk to Police Colonel Saravoot Chandrapprasert whilst labouring in my confusion on Thailand's mostly unheard of murder problem. One very salient point he made was this, "You see, people kill each other over very small matters. Just an argument, that's it and bang. Then one person dies and the other spends their life in jail." He went on to tell me that internecine encounters such as these are extremely common in Thailand. Saravoot, is the investigation centre superintendent of Chiang Mai and the north. I told him of my recently gleaned facts, feeling inexplicably proud of our bronze medal for murder and I asked him what he thought about Thailand's high murder rate. He explained, "Firstly, it's not so difficult to get a gun. Guns are smuggled in from neighbouring countries and it is very difficult to stop this. Also, there have been many wars in the past and guns still remain in the area." "What about buying a gun, if I want a gun can I buy one?" I asked. "No you can't. First you must have a responsible position in society and then you must apply for one which then has to be certified by the district chief. You could get one on the black market, but you'd have to know someone; it would cost anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 baht for a gun, most of the black market guns are shotguns."
"So, I have heard of the Thai mafia, what is that? Who are they?" The colonel had lived in the states for many years and his reply was testament to his learned lexicon, "There is no real mafia, it just means someone with clout." In response to my avid questioning we went on and off the record a number of times and he informed me of some interesting facts. Apparently, the 10,000 baht to have a Thai and 50,000 to have a foreigner knocked-off is urban myth. Even though he did say hit men existed, they were usually friends of powerful people rather than pay-rolled killers. He said that very few farang get murdered in the north but that Pattaya was definitely the most dangerous place to live for foreigners. Then he added, "you see in Thailand there's no 1, 2, 3. There's only a 3. In some countries you have a shouting match, then you have a fight and sometimes it goes to murder. Here, you can get into an argument and the next thing you know you have been shot." His advice, "Don't get into arguments." "Alcohol is to blame much of the time; people drink and they get violent and do something stupid. Not long ago a group of youths in Chiang Mai attacked a boy in a telephone box, they hacked him to death with swords. They had no reason, they didn't know him; they were drunk and wanted to make a point." This correlates with what I had earlier found on the WHO website while reading a diagnosis of violence, "Research shows that drunkenness is one of the situational factors found to precipitate violence." And you may also take on board another stat: Thailand is ranked 5th in the world for alcohol consumption! Per capita that is, and seeing as many females abstain, that puts a lot of pressure on the male caputs. How many of us walk down the streets only to be stumbled upon by old men with tattered faces, stinking of booze and looking like they have a week to live? Alcoholism is ubiquitous in Thailand. Contrary to what most people believe, it is not ya ba consumption (low grade amphetamine) that is cause to be most concerned about.
Looking at the statistics above, you can see that only seventy-five homicides occured in two and a half months. But according to the UN statistics, 21,000 firearm murders -in two years, country wide equals about 30 a day. Something wasn't right. I asked the colonel where he thought all these murders were taking place. "There are much higher rates for murder in other regions," he replied, "We have problems in the south, and there are also many murders among minority groups - labourers coming from different countries who live in poverty. They have an argument, and well, life is cheap. They think nothing of killing each other. Only last night two men had an argument and the man stabbed his friend in the head. He died. Whenever I ask the murderers if it was worth it, to now spend all their life in jail, they always say no and they don't know why they did it. They are often drunk when the crime takes place." "OK," I said, feeling I was getting to the point, "but why Thailand? Are Thai people seemingly more violent than say, Americans? Thailand is just below Columbia in the stats and Columbia is renowned for violence, corruption and drug cartels." "To be honest, I don't know. There are many reasons and it's difficult to say. People don't like losing face, and it's not so difficult to get a gun if you know the right people. These are main factors. This shouldn't worry foreigners, this happens in groups that are not concerned with foreigners." "Do you carry a gun?" "Yes, I do. I have to." "So then you feel it's a dangerous place." "Well people expect me to uphold the law and protect them; to do this I have to be armed."
Mistress kills her lover
Longevity and sour fruit
He did tell me that crime had decreased from three years ago, which is closer to the time the study was done. "I've lived in New York, which is a dangerous place, but often people have a fight and that's it. Here an argument often leads straight to weapons." "And what about corruption?" Asking a cop about corruption felt quite uncomfortable - a bit like asking my dad about sex. He smiled and said, "There are some bad apples on every tree, they use power the wrong way. That happens everywhere."
And so we come to the end; that terminal juncture where we can not say anymore, because we just don't know. And the conclusion, well, our surrogate home is full of surprises and it's probably prudent to walk out of any arguments we become embroiled in. As detective Saravoot says, "There is no one or two." It's straight down to that finicky business of mortality. Three. Probably not a good idea to marry poor girls working in bars, for the most part they only want your money and sometimes they have to cross over your dead body to get it. Jai yen must work on different levels for it to work at all, if you are no longer a proponent when you broach a matter and have an argument or get into a car, then it's a waste of time clouding your true feelings in other situations.
If you are wondering about the title to this piece, it's a song by Cat Stevens and it goes like this, "I'm gonna get me a gun, and all the people who put me down, better get ready to run!. . ."
by James Austin Farrell
Thailand news, views and comments
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Here is the original story with photos....enjoy
Often I do some pretty dumb things and don't use my brain. Is that justification for me to be murdered ???When I read of the many falang deaths in Thailand,I can't help but think that most could have been avoided by the falang using his brain!
The simple fact is, Thailand can be a pretty dangerous place to live.
C'est vrai as the french would say.BKKSTAN wrote: I didn't say it was a justification,you obviously read it that way!I think ,in relationship to falangs living here,Thailand is not a dangerous country relative to most countries
I guess this is why my Thai gf is always telling me to Jai Yen yen. It's not about losing face - it's about looking after me, and making sure that I don't get into trouble.