IT’S all so covert it’s like I’m a character in a spy novel. I am instructed to have my bags packed ready to go for Monday morning. There’s no itinerary and my plane tickets arrive in the cab on the way to the airport. I am whisked through customs and immigration and before I know it I am on an empty Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. I have no idea what I’m doing or who I’m meeting apart from this sliver of information: “You are on a fact-finding mission for the Thai government”. My imagination gallops like a wild bush brumby. Am I being summoned to Bangkok to learn something from the Thai government or do they wish to learn something from me? I scan my mind for what I could teach them. I have become somewhat of on expert in Brisbane’s disastrous dating scene and am convinced they wish me to confirm the unbelievable tales about which I have been writing for some time. Yes, Your Honour, he really did say his three favourite things were his gun, sex and bible. No, he can’t spell. Not even his own name.
Nine hours later the plot thickens. There’s a sign at the airport with my name, and a woman checks my passport just in case I am someone else masquerading as me. A private car with a female driver, whose name I later learn is Fa, ferries me through a series of dark back alleys like we are being tailed, before we arrive promptly at the Rembrandt Hotel and I am hurriedly shuffled to the Executive Lounge and checked in.
The next morning a familiar face sidles up to me at breakfast. I realise it’s the Rembrandt’s General Manager Erik Hallin with whom I had dinner at the hotel’s signature Indian restaurant on my last trip to Bangkok just six months ago. We talk politics, the reason I suspect I am really in Thailand. Since last November, protestors disgruntled at what they say is a corrupt government run by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been taking to the streets of the Thai capital in what have been largely traffic-disrupting, but peaceful protests. Erik informs me that occupancy of his hotel is running at 70 per cent, which isn’t bad but “people are scared off by the protests”.
“You learn to walk everywhere in this city,” he says wryly.
From what I can piece together, the Thai government has called me, and three other colleagues – one from Sydney, one from Melbourne, and the other from Auckland, to write a piece proclaiming it’s “business as usual in Bangkok”. Except there’s a few hiccups with this scenario. Problems which becoming increasingly more apparent as the week wears on. The day I arrive, disgruntled rice farmers from rural Thailand have also joined the democratic protestors, claiming they have not been paid under a rice subsidy scheme instigated by the Thai government. And, less-widely reported, so have rubber plantation farmers. And they are trying to block Yingluck’s physical return to Government House with barricades established in key parts of the capital.
At first it does seem like another day in Bangkok. If anything, it’s a bit more quiet than usual, like the capital is nursing a New Year’s Day hangover. I wander down to the protest site and take some photos. But after lunch things change swiftly. A restaurant owner asks me what I’m planning to do next. “I’m just going back to my room to do some work,” I reply. “Good he says. The traffic is very bad, the fighting has broken out again. But don’t worry, you will be safe.” Given the protests have been peaceful, I take his words “fighting” to mean little more than a war of words and return to my hotel room to work. At 6pm I turn on the BBC and am shocked. At this stage, three people have been killed and dozens others have been injured when a grenade was tossed and riot police moved in on the protestors. I meet my Sydney colleague Rod Eime http://www.traveloscopy.com
and we head down to one of the protest sites and there are crowds of people, but no violence in this particular area.
By the end of this one night in Bangkok, four people are confirmed dead, 64 are injured and there’s speculation by witnesses that the police, not the protestors, tossed the grenade. Our planned visit to the “peaceful protest” site is rapidy cancelled by the Thai government, along with a press conference that evening, with “bad traffic” cited as the reason. Wading into another country’s politics, as a foreign journalist visiting for just a few days, is a risky business. You snatch a glimpse, often polished by the PR machine, and are then diverted. And the truth remains the casualty.
A local journalist, who didn’t want to be named for fear of deportment, tells me over breakfast that it is essentially “business as usual” in Bangkok, but warns me to stay away from the protest sites as things can escalate rapidly.
“I’m not concerned at all. The Thais will sort it out in their way. The best thing for this country is for the Generals to take over. Forget what other countries say. It is Thai culture, it has been happening for hundreds of years. Let them sort out what they’ve got to do,” he says.
“Today is going to be a an interesting day here. (Exiled former Prime Minister) Taksin’s ex wife saw a fortune teller in Burma who said if Yingluck didn’t get back into government today she never will.
“The Thais are very superstitious. I don’t know whether there will be more violence. But no one is particularly perturbed.”
It is a surprisingly peaceful day but despite the obvious casualties, there is another victim in this scenario: tourism. Thailand relies heavily on the tourist dollar, particularly from Australians who have long held a love affair with the Land of Smiles. Mark Armsden, a mate and former colleague from our Gold Coast Bulletin news reporting days some 20 years ago, now lives in Bangkok and handles the PR for Tune Hotels. He’s passionate about how the situation is impacting on Thailand’s key income earner: “If you think the protests are having little effect on tourism, speak to hoteliers, tailors, restaurants and bars and other local businesses between Sukhumvit 33 and MBK. Then speak to the thousands of young working Thais who rely on the service charge they earn to supplement their income – this nonsense has been devastating on the “spine” of Bangkok tourism….and that’s before you get down to the river and all the businesses that rely on tourism there as well. You should also check on how devastating it has been on the flag carrier (Thai Airways) as well.”
Mark’s opinion is one echoed all over Thailand. Perhaps it’s our isolation as a nation, but Australians adopt an interesting approach when it comes to violence overseas. We hear there has been conflict in a city and we avoid a country altogether. We’re strangely conservative like that. But the reality is somewhat different. Even in Bangkok, while the protests were exploding in some parts of the city, it is business as usual in others. We dine at the exquisite Naj restaurant on high-end Thai food while the protestors are outside. Attend a Muay Thai boxing class. And there’s plenty of parts of Thailand that remain unaffected. Along the ravishingly beautiful River Kwai, a tour guide tells me the situation is having a massive impact on tourism, far away from Bangkok.
“It’s high season here and we should be full but we’re not. This is how we make our money, from tourism,” he says.
On Saturday afternoon and back in Bangkok in a beauty salon, I ask the girls whether there has been any more strife since I’ve been down in the remote River Kwai. They laugh and talk to each other rapidly in Thai, the only word I can understand is “farang” which means foreigner and I ask them what they are saying. “Farang knows more about Thai politics than Thai people,” they giggle. I fly out midnight Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon the situation has changed again, when a woman and child are killed, and 22 more people injured, in a grenade attack near a popular shopping area. In recent months, a total of 19 people have died and hundreds more have been injured. As far as I know, none of these have been foreign tourists.
But as we know, perception is everything. After the 2012 Bali bombings in which 88 Australians were killed, we all boycotted Bali. But we were also the first nationality to return. We may be a conservative nation but we are also resilient. So spare a thought for Thailand and those who are dying in the name of democracy, whose livelihoods rely on the tourist dollar and do what Aussies do best. Bounce back. Your neighbours need you. I’ll certainly be back, apart from the fact I love this city, I’ve got a Brisbane dating report to deliver to the Thai government.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways, Rembrandt Hotel, Bangkok and the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. For more information go to http://www.tourismthailand.org
IF such a thing exists, it’s a “bad champagne day”, according to Kirsty Patten, who is steering a boat through a windy patch on the Noosa River. But while the weather is cool outside the vessel, the talk inside is steamy. You see Kirsty, co-owner of Noosa’s new luxury electric boat business Malu-os, is also a member of the Australian Sex Party. And so passionate is this woman about the Party formed by her sister Fiona Patten, Kirsty ran (unsuccessfully) for a Senate seat in the recent Federal Election. And so our conversation, like the boat, zig zags between her new business and sex. It’s as simple as that.
“Our main platform is your body/your rights. It’s about marriage equality, euthanasia, abortion. We believe the church and religions should be taxed like any other organisation. We think marijuana should be legalised,” Kirsty says.
“When the Party first started, former Australian Democrat leader Don Chipp said ‘your biggest challenge is going to be getting noticed’. So Fiona called it the Australian Sex Party.
“I don’t get the whole concept that sex is bad but violence is acceptable. I think sex is a fantastic emotional thing that we should be enjoying because it makes us good.”
Kirsty, the former principal at the ten-child school at Hayman Island, established Malu-os three months ago with her business and life partner Linda Boyes, a former special education teacher at Proserpine High School. There’s three luxury electric boats – 16ft duffys – from which to choose – the Lady Anne, Lady Isabella and Lady Mary – named after an 86 year old Noosa woman. The business name, Malu-os means seahorse in the Torres Strait, where both Kirsty and Linda worked. And it’s fabulously fitting for this eco-friendly tourism business.
“We came down here on a holiday and just liked it. Noosa felt big enough for opportunities but still had a small country feel. I’ve always had this love of boats,” Kirsty says.
“We knew Noosa wanted clean and green and found these three boats in Sydney. And all of a sudden our lifestyle is so much nicer. I want people to enjoy the river at a non-frantic level.
“I think they are a great product for Noosa. They’ve got a little bit of class but they are also environmentally friendly. They have zero emissions while on the water and cost about $1 a day to charge the batteries. There’s no wash, no swell and they are quiet.”
The number of strong, smart, sexy and spiritual women in Noosa these days is building into the mother of all swells. Along Hastings Street, you’ll find the sassy Miss Moneypenny’s – a spunky restaurant and bar with an impressive cocktail menu. Miss Moneypenny’s is the only place in Queensland to source authentic coconut cream – coco lopez – used in original pina coladas. And if you are looking for a grand dame here, stroll to the original French Quarter which has a new mantra, quite literally. Six months ago the Mantra group took over this accommodation and it’s now the Mantra French Quarter. You won’t find French fuss here, rather the colour and cheer of the coast captured in its one and two bedroom apartments which are punctuated by a central pool.
Want to meet another superb Sunny Coast sheila? Wade over to Noosa Stand Up Paddle and meet Donalee Halkett who started this empowering enterprise six years ago.
“This is a great way to get out on the water and get back to nature. You are getting fresh air and sunshine and it’s very meditative,” Donalee says.
“It’s not like going to the gym and thinking you have to work up a sweat. The thing that I’ve loved about it is that everybody can do it. You see some people quite fearful and they overcome that.”
Such a great teacher is Donalee that she not only got The Global Goddess to her feet but to the point of being able to do a one-legged yoga pose on the board, while floating. (Regular readers will remember I have no physical balance and once smashed two vertebrae in my back simply from tripping over my own feet, so this was quite an achievement).
Donalee also works with a local psychologist and uses her Stand Up Paddle trips to assist others relieve anxiety and deal with issues such as eating disorders.
“With these sorts of issues there is a lot of fear involved. Being in nature is quite healing but it also builds confidence. A lot of women are quite fearful and don’t have any self-esteem,” Donalee says.
“This goes much deeper than the paddle itself. It is very spiritual.”
But unfortunately, not everyone likes the idea of women paddlers.
“I had one experience out in the surf one day and some bloke was trying to shake me off my board,” Donalee says.
“I knew the board I was on was too small for him, so I offered him a go and it was like a bucking horse, he just kept falling off.
“I thought that was pretty funny.”
Donalee, who has always worked in the health sector, is about to turn 50 (stand up paddle boarding is clearly good for you), and is currently penning a book 50 Fabulous Things for women in their 50s.
“Every day, every minute, we have a choice. We can choose the negative or the positive. Life can be a blessing or a curse,” she says.
“I’m celebrating life.”
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa and stayed at Mantra French Quarter. http://www.visitnoosa.com.au and http://www.mantrafrenchquarter.com.au. Visit Malu-os at http://www.malu-os.com.au and Noosa Stand Up Paddle at http://www.noosastanduppaddle.com.au
FOR those of you who have been hiding under a rock or overseas this week, and believe me, you’ve been very, very lucky, news broke that Queensland Parliamentary Ethics Committee Chairman Peter Dowling has been caught with his pants down. And by this we don’t mean unable to answer a Dorothy Dixer. Well, there was a dixer, but not the Aussie slang for a pre-arranged question by a member of his own side to which I refer. We mean a bloke who thought it was acceptable to cheat on his wife. And as if that’s not bad enough, he decided to sext his mistress using tawdry techniques such as sending her a picture of his penis…dipped in a glass of wine.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of wine and on occasion I have also been known to appreciate a penis, but from where I’m sitting, the two just don’t go together, no matter how many salted peanuts you’ve had beforehand. Which leads me to wonder: what, exactly, was going through this politician’s head? (And I don’t mean the one in the wine glass).
Are you just sitting in the Parliamentary Annex one night, a bit lonely and tired from reading about this crazy business we like to call ethics here in Queensland, and you think, mmm, I might put just my penis in my Pinot? Were the showers not working? And what the hell did the caption say on the text? “Thirsty?” Worst of all, given he was texting this, it means he was on his own (hopefully, or some parliamentary secretary is being severely underpaid) and therefore was then going to drink that same glass of wine. As a male friend pointed out, “mmmm, nutty undertones.”
At this stage I have to confess no matter how drunk or stupid I have been, I have never, ever possessed the desire to put my vagina in my Verdelho. I’m not even sure how that works. And the fact he not only did this, but then sent a picture of his sausage in his Shiraz, is almost enough to put me off wine for life. On the upside, at least it didn’t fit in a shot glass. On the downside, if you were really trying to impress the mistress you strange, weird, little man, you might have chosen something more impressive – like a brandy balloon.
In those heady few years after my divorce I dated a lot of men and suffice to say, I was sent plenty of unsolicited photos of penises which always baffled me. It was a bit like running an online butcher shop. Did they not realise how ridiculous their schnitzel looks attached to their body, let alone unattached in a text message? Talk about laugh with my gay boy friends at the penis owner’s expense. At one stage, I had so many snaps of schlong of my phone I thought about staging an abstract art exhibition: Creatures from the Deep.
Apart from the abhorrent act of cheating on his wife, and his obvious lack of imagination, is the fact that apparently Queensland tax payers have been footing his affair. Which is kind of interesting. Last month I was out in Queensland wine country doing a series of stories on what a consortium of wine makers call their Strange Birds wines. Many wineries are starting to plant and harvest some of the exotic Italian varieties which are better suited to the Queensland climate. Think Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbero, Nebbiolo. And they are indeed top drops being produced by innovative, intelligent and hard-working wine makers.
Unfortunately what’s not so tops is the thought of a Queensland politician dipping his nib in my Nebbiolo or his testicles in my Tempranillo. Peter Dowling, get out of my Parliament, get down on your knees and beg your wife and the tax payers of Queensland for forgiveness. (Please, please, just don’t send me a bottle of wine). And for God’s sake man, keep your wiener out of my vino.
The Global Goddess makes no apologies for any egos which have been bruised in the compilation of this post.
SEVERAL commentators have likened the recently-announced Australian federal election campaign to a seven-month pregnancy and I have to admit that was one of my first reactions as well. Actually, my first reaction was one of excitement, as I actually misheard the Prime Minister and thought she said Australia would be having a long erection. Could you imagine it? Your local member (pardon the pun) standing on the street corner, and instead of handing out how-to-vote cards, giving out free Viagra.
Alas, she did say election and it really is like the obstetrician has just told us we are having twins – a boy and a girl. For the sake of this story, let’s call them Julia and Tony. Now, apart from thinking I could make a handsome profit if I whipped up to China and got 22 million “Is there a 3rd option?” t-shirts made, I think I have solved the problem for the Australian electorate. My advice: vote exactly how you did in the last election, and keep a hung Parliament. Why? As the past few years have proven, the country actually trundles along quite nicely, some say the envy of the western superpower economies such as the US and Europe, while our two twins, Julia and Tony, bicker.
It’s a bit like being in the toy aisle at K-Mart and Julia and Tony have spotted a boat on the toy shelves horizon. Tony immediately grabs a toy gun and starts shooting at the boat, demanding that K-Mart send the boat back to where it was made. In this instance, Indonesia. Julia, seeing Tony’s reaction, runs into the doll aisle and grabs Burqa Barbie, plonks her on the boat, and a struggle ensues. What’s interesting about this scenario is not Julia and Tony’s reaction but that of you, the parent. You’ve already moved on to the outdoor camping section of K-Mart, because all you really want is a holiday and a happy life.
But bear with me. My hung Parliament theory has legs – unlike Burqa Barbie which Tony has ripped off in to the argument with Julia. But before I give you the third option to lead Australia, I’d like to canvas some other candidates. We could look at some of our Aussie exports who’ve clearly done well overseas. What about Kylie Minogue? Her campaign slogan: “I should be so lucky” would clearly be a catchy hit, and she’s a certainty with the pink vote. Olivia Newton John would be rather convincing with romantic Australian voters if her slogan was: “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Hugh Jackman? All-round nice guy who everyone loves. Just as I’ve never met anyone who actually liked or voted for John Howard, I don’t know anyone who hates Hugh Jackman. And just imagine when the latest round of refugees arrived on our shore, Hugh would be standing there and clutching that same line he used on Nicole Kidman in the movie Australia he’d swagger: “Welcome to Australia.”
But my secret plan for the person to be next Prime Minister of Australia is Barack Obama. I’ve worked it out. He’s only got four more years left before he must stand down as President of the United States. Our election is almost another year away. Which means we’ve really only got to sit out another hung Parliament for three years before we elect Obama. I presume the Australian Prime Minister must have Aussie citizenship and I’ve sorted all that out too. I am prepared to marry Obama so that he can become Australian and save us from ourselves. Say what you will about me, but never let it be said I’m not prepared to take one for the country.