Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why its great to be a single man in Bangkok (and New York City)

In both of those cities there are many many more women - and therefore more single women - than men. The supply and demand of this means that men are able to be either more selective or much more poorly groomed and do quite well for themselves. It means that we can be slack and indulgent in a land of plenty while the other team gets vicious on a barren gaming field.

In both cities the reason might have to do with migration patterns. American women who are better educated these day then their male counterparts, flock to cities for jobs and husbands. They want guys of comparable education and earning potential, say Richard Florida, author of the Creative Class. According to Florida's singles map there are 210 thousand more single girls than guys in the New York-Northern Jersey area.

When their are fewer options those options start looking a lot better.

In Bangkok this situation is even more wonderful (from a guy's perspective). There are 547,000 more women than men in the marriage year between 20 and 44 - that's a huge number when the group we are talking about has less than 3 million.

This enormous gap (500,000!) is due to a massive in-migration of women into the city and a flight out of BKK by the men according to a report from the Economic Institute at Kobe University. Bangkok is a service economy of finance, hotels, and restaurants - all areas where women are thought to better employees in Thai eyes.

Bangkok's men (who like American men are less educated than their female peers) often leave the city to work in heavy industry and manufacturing.

This leaves the city incredibly gender lopsided - walking around Bangkok ourists often wonder - where did all the men go? The images of the protests were so female dominated that it felt like you were looking at a women's liberation movement instead of an anti-goverment rally.

But that's just Bangkok.
Did anyone smell a bra burning?
And its for that reason that you hear the same complaint from women there that you do here in big NYC - all the good ones are taken and the rest aren't too good.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Western observers helped to create Thai crisis

The news in Thailand is bad and getting worse and those in the international community who voiced support for the movement against Thaksin carry some of the blame. In 2006 it seemed that the Bangkok elite and the student protesters were working for liberal values - fighting for human rights and against authoritarianism.

When Thaksin fell and the military took over in the 2006 bloodless coup - the army was in the streets of Bangkok. But so was a sense of optimism, as tourists posed in photos next to tanks, and food vendors brought sweet tea and sticky rice to soldiers wearing yellow scarves.

It felt that there had been a catharsis in Thai society. In the days after the coup, many thought the rift between the country Thais, who elected Thaksin by a giant margin, and a Bangkok elite fed-up with demagoguery and cronyism, could be healed. After a brief period of military rule, this reasoning went, Thai governance would be renewed, under a new improved constitution and the whole sequence of events would be thought of later as growing pains in the process of creating a stronger Thai democracy.

More than two years later with Thaksin going into long-term exile, the opposition's ostensive goal, the PAD has seized the Government House, invaded a state television station and is trying to push Thailand into war with Cambodia over Preah Vihear. PAD is claiming the right to use all means to overthrow any leadership with whom it disagrees and is pushing for a violent response from the government justifying renewed military rule under the royal banner.

Most disturbing is that international observers seems to have set the stage for what could well evolve into a deadly crisis. By delegitimizing Thaksin's party and sympathizing with the royalist elite, whose education and culture were mistaken for liberal bearing, the international community signaled that it was ready and willing to be taken in by the most authoritarian of forces, provided they use the language of human rights and democracy to justify their seizure of power.

Now, far to late, Thai and Western media and human rights groups are backing away from the PAD. But it seems that this time, the years of international discomfort with Thailand's democratically elected government might have already helped to take the situation past a point of no return.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Preah Vihear conflict is unlikely to conclude with elections

The consensus among the Phnom Penh expatriate community seems to be that this recent iteration of the ongoing Preah Vihear conflict, now in its second week, will quickly fizzle out after the Cambodian national elections this weekend. This notion is shared by Thai Prime Minister Samak who said earlier in the week "I think the dispute will ease and can be resolved more easily through negotiations after the election." Given his role as one of the central provocateurs of the recent drama, this is heartening. But its possible that those thinking the conflict will end without bloodshed are underestimating the stakes for both sides.

The Thai government, which has been teetering from the same forces that toppled its predecessor, is under intense pressure for having allowed Cambodia to win its petition to list Preah Vihear as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A misstep here - any sign of backing down on what the opposition has seized upon as an important symbol of Thai sovereignty, will surely be used as a final tipping point for the already bloodied PPP.

In order to further entangle the Thai government and limit its options, the opposition has deployed protesters, or "pilgrims" as they are calling themselves, to the temple site in order to "take back Thai territory".

Given the position of the Thai government Cambodia is in a better position to give a little, especially after the election are held. But "a little" might not be what is called for. The recent conflict started over a listing by a cultural organization - no real territorial watershed. The question is what is the minimum that the Thai opposition would accept given that they only gain from the conflict continuing? Delisting of the site? A permanent stationing of troops on the Cambodian side of the border?

The Cambodian opposition, which has also siezed on the Preah Vihear issue, are not yet able to muster street demos that could cause Hun Sen to blink. But it should be remembered that in 2003 the alleged suggestion that Ankhor Wat should be under Thai territory by a television star sparked riots and an attack of the Thai embassy. Hun Sen knows, that election or no election, a sign of weakness on this issue could quickly be used by the opposition to get people into the street. And he has also seen what has happened in Thailand and would not want even the beginnings of it here.

It is dangerous for Hun Sen to stand on this issue but he might see it as more dangerous to yield too much. On the other hand, with the Thai opposition already having the upper hand, the Thai government cannot afford any compromise if they want to stay in power. This dynamic on both sides seems unlikely to allow for an easy settlement and provides the possibility for a real shooting war.

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