18 September, 2006

Used monkey for sale. Low mileage.

This villager, Pinij Perin, featured recently in the (English language) Nation newspaper in Thailand. He is an example of many in the Thai coconut industry who are suffering from competition by multi-national business. Perin and many others are being forced to sell their palm-climbing monkeys because there is falling demand for traditional coconut-fibre pillows. These days, Thais are opting for softer and cheaper imported polyester-filled pillows from international chain-stores. Canned coconut milk is also out-selling the fresh product. Kuhn Pinij can no longer afford to feed his working monkey with all the fruit it requires daily.

There is currently a lot of resentment and active militancy against multi-national chain-stores and supermarkets like Tesco-Lotus and Big-C. There have been organized protests and a push in the media to save small local shops from suffocation. So much so that the populist Thaksin government, faced with an election towards the end of the year, has actually cancelled all new building by Lotus and others… as well as (get this!) cancelling existing building permits! This typical knee-jerk descision has resulted in a number of stores being abandoned half-built, and their construction workers suddenly retrenched. (Potential investors unfamiliar with Thailand's methods might view that somewhat dimly, methinks?)

Oddly, company managements haven’t made a fuss at all. Why? They understand the game-plan: as soon as the pesky election is over, the Rules will return to normal: the government will quietly relent on the contracts - workers will return to their construction jobs - and local shops will be back under financial pressure again. The sacrificial pawns in the power game - as usual - are the construction workers on 181 baht (AU$7) per day, who presumably can be expected to staple their families’ stomachs till the end of the year. Why don’t the workers matter as much as the shop owners? Because they’re mostly Burmese ‘guest workers’ with no voting rights. Thai construction companies exploit them because there is no union to lobby for foreign workers. These poor workers are herded, standing like vertical sardines, on cattle trucks from their company ghetto to and from the work-site.

The Nation newspaper is more centrist and critical of the Thaksin government than the pandering and right-leaning Bangkok Post (whose hero and unofficial patron is PM Thaksin). The Nation also published a photo of protesting shop-owners with red banners, whereas the Bangkok Post was stubbornly mute ...rather like the proverbial Three Monkeys.

By way of footnote, the label on the mattress in our spare bedroom has a subtitle below the Brand which reads: "Super-hard mattress suitable for the Eastern people". U-huh. Things might be changing, though...

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