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Memoir: A Thai Newsroom
by Shane Stay

Thailand in the early 2000s was certainly a time to remember if not for the great weather, relatively stable economic flow and the drunken German bureaucrat, leaving a bad image for anyone named Fritz, who passed out on Patpong Road, dropping all his money for the taking. I was in television news at the time, writing, reporting, taking frequent cat naps. I was working on a story of a dyslexic Cambodian that stole a Thai car and tried to drive it to Phnom Penh in reverse, but wound up just outside Istanbul. He was arrested for speaking the wrong language; it’s an ongoing story; he’s still there screaming at his white rice and dancing the ritual Khmer classical ballet whenever he uses the bathroom. The Turks want to send him back to Cambodia but FedEx insists they don’t put humans in packages.

As 2001 past, we in Thailand came to a new crossroads as Thaksin Shinawatra seized control of power; he became the nation’s Prime Minister and the newsroom’s annoying uncle. As he controlled the country, and dined with the world elite, he still found time to tell us what to do. We immediately felt the burden of his leadership when unknown surveyors began coming into the newsroom, some of which forgot to wear underwear. How might I know that? To be quite honest, they told us. We weren’t used to this kind of conversational small talk but we adapted the best we could as we knew they’d be reporting directly to Shinawatra; none of use knew his taste on underwear, though I’d guess he’s a boxer man, and we didn’t want to offend him.

These surveyors were everywhere, watching our every move; they were literally on top of us every step of our day and I know this for a fact because I was typing at my desk and one of them dropped part of their Gang Dang onto my shoulder. Imagine that, hovering right over me as they ate lunch! I always knew what Rungthip’s surveyor had to eat because when Rungthip would bring a report to my desk Pad Thai, Eggplant and white rice would be in her hair! “How can I work like this?!” I asked of my supervisor. He wanted no trouble and advised me to keep pepper and soy sauce at my desk.

Luckily, I had some contacts with other journalists in the international scene. But I soon discovered they were as unhelpful as my superior. Paul, from Reuters, told me to keep a pit bull under my desk. Debbie, who was from CNN, and had a habit of changing the subject, asked me to retrieve her medical ivory powder from elephant tusks for her sore knee and Ishtar, from Star TV in India, asked me if I could get him some cheap beach front property on the coast of Hua Hin.

And our salary! I could have made more money retrieving coins from a fountain.

So you can see where my frustration, and the frustration of others like me in the newsroom, was coming from. On top of this, we heard speech after speech about how Shinawatra came from nothing and made sandwiches to get to the top. “I’d like to make him a five-knuckle sandwich,” I said to Rungthip.

“Oh, you and you’re American humor!” she would bray, as Gang Dang dripped from her hair to her dress.

Since the September 19th coup of 2006, and the ousting of Shinawatra, things have gotten back to normal, a little. A few of my old colleagues are back, the weather seems better and for some reason there are more drunken Germans laying around, dropping change from their pockets. As for me, sure times were difficult in the past but I am on my feet again, waiting on word from the Grameen Bank about my loan. Cross your fingers!