Archive for August, 2010

Maybe that’s a little over the top. But it seems like it’s a popular subject all of a sudden. We just had the new airport link open that they are calling a high speed train – at peak speeds of 100 km/hour within Bangkok city limits that is blazing. It connects Makkasan Station in central Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi Airport, sort of a baby project compared to three others I have recently read about.

There is discussion of a Phuket light rail system that seems to be inching forward with a second meeting between Chinese company Ershisanye Construction Group and Phuket government representatives. Details are sparse but it appears to be a substantial system that would connect the Phuket airport and a couple of the main destinations on the island. I’m not sure it qualifies as a high speed train but it is nonetheless interesting.

Next week we have Prime Minister Abhisit visiting China to finalize details of a Thai-Chinese joint venture on a high speed train that would connect Nong Khai with Bangkok and continue on to the south of Thailand. The plan would be to construct a double track railway between northeastern Nong Kai province to the southern town of Su-ngai Kolok. Again, not many details, although I saw one estimate of the price tag at 300 billion baht.

The third high speed train proposal under consideration is between Bangkok and Rayong. It’s estimated that it will cut the travel time from three hours by car to one hour on the train. Maybe it’s a necessity to keep all the details secret so this one also is sketch. One story says it will run from Suvarnabhumi airport to Rayong. Maybe that makes more sense than route into Bangkok city. I wonder if there will be a convenient connection with the airport link.

Actually, my biggest unanswered question is what technology they will use. Will these be all electric trains? And hey, if they are doing light rail in Phuket let’s look at doing a Khao Yai light rail system, too, as I brilliantly proposed in a previous post. It’s a natural here.

Big investment in Sanook.com

Posted: August 28, 2010 in Thailand

Sanook.com has been one of the top destinations for Thai internetizens for some time. Apparently it ranks sixth in terms of visitors in Thailand. I have stumbled upon it from a couple different paths, including celebrity news which they carry a lot of, and the curious way that eBay Thailand is integrated into it. Regarding the latter, if you type ebay.co.th into your browser’s navigation bar you are redirected to shopping.co.th and then shopping.sanook.com. When you reach the landing page you see shopping.co.th at top left with the Sanook logo and “in association with ebay” at the top right.

The website is the typical horribly messy Thai website design with junk all over the place, animated gifs, and loads of unrelated links clamoring for attention. After years of seeing these garbage websites in Thailand I’m still wondering if they are effective at all. Are Thais so different from westerners that utter chaos is effective in selling something? You know what? Maybe! Go to a shopping area in Bangkok and experience the chaos and noise – maybe that’s what is required. I still don’t know.

But in reality I think that the conventional wisdom of educated and experienced website designers is probably a better guide. Clean websites that get visitors to home in on the call to action instead of distracting them with childish flashing cartoon buttons would probably achieve the best results.

To be fair, the shopping.sanook.com website isn’t a bad as many I’ve seen. But the main page is a whole bunch of 100×100 product images linking to auction pages that look very much like ebay pages, but aren’t. Then farther down the page area ebay listings which are actually all affiliate links for eBay U.S. program. Maybe they have some deal to use the ebay logo and say “in association with ebay” on their site but in reality they are nothing more than another ebay US affiliate.

Which makes me wonder where the value is that led Chinese company Tencent to invest USD10.5 million to buy a little less than 50% of sanook.com. It must be in the raw number of visitors and display advertising they have across their web properties. The guys who track internet traffic in Thailand are truehits.com and they say sanook.com’s looks like this:

It has been previously reported that Thailand is the fastest growing (percentage wise) online advertising market. So perhaps sanook.com is really worth that kind of investment. Perhaps, but I’m not so sure. What is the online spend in Thailand? And the advertising spend? Maybe those numbers are big enough for this investment by Tencent to make sense.

The Great Stall of China

Posted: August 25, 2010 in World

LOL! I didn’t coin that. Saw it in one of the news reports about the massive traffic jam in northern China. Various reports say it is going on 10 days now and is 100 km long, almost reaching the outskirts of Beijing from northern China. The epic traffic jam of all time, for now at least. Things are only likely to get worse in China, although I would think that the Chinese government would take some draconian steps to prevent it from happening again. They aren’t bothered by individual freedoms or human rights when it comes to taking action so whatever is expeditious will be done. Will be interesting to see what that is.

Hidden inflation in the U.S.

Posted: August 20, 2010 in Economy

I keep reading stories like this one that glibly mention the U.S. inflation rate is below one percent. Disingenuous at best is what those statements are. You don’t run the money printing presses wide open without causing substantial inflation. They’re just measuring it in a way that is politically convenient.

I’ve been wondering what the real U.S. rate of inflation is and how would one measure it. For me at least, this chart is a good measure.

That’s the exchange rate for U.S. dollar to Thai baht for the past year. It shows a seven percent drop. Does that seem about right for what the true U.S. inflation rate is? It seems about right to me. It certainly hits me as inflation, making everything I buy cost more when I transfer dollars to pay for it. Thailand didn’t have a big bubble pop or experience much exposure to the collapse of the financial scam giants. It just suffered from a slow down in exports when the U.S. economy imploded which has been fairly modest since exports remained pretty strong to the world’s number two economy China. So the Thai baht has been a fairly strong and stable currency over the last few years, and useful for measuring dollar weakness against it.

The U.S. government is inflating at a pretty high rate with all these bail outs and cooking of the books, all the while talking about risk of deflation. Mustn’t let housing prices decline or the stock market turn south. It’s go go go, growth growth and more growth. I wonder what end game the planners have in mind? Endless growth? That’s not an end game.

Goofy Thai restaurant names

Posted: August 18, 2010 in Calling 'em out

Why is it that so many Thai restaurants in the U.S. have to give themselves some goofy name that is a play on words? I saw an announcement of a new restaurant opening at the northwest corner of the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and R Street, Northwest (in what city I don’t even know). They call it “Beau Thai”. Well, that’s a little more original than some of the others, like:

  • My Thai – trying a play on words with the name of a mixed drink
  • Thai One On – bad idea naming a restaurant/bar after the act of getting really drunk
  • Thai The Knot – more of a marriage agency name
  • Thai-licious – really poor effort but it is the name of an actual restaurant

There are lots more that I’ve seen and forgotten and just about all are trite. Beau Thai at least seems a little bit original.

We had that big uproar about the very ill conceived plan to widen Thanarat road from Mittraphap all the way to the entrance of Khao Yai National Park. It was such a bad idea that the motivation for the project must have been based in corruption – every major public work in Thailand is rife with corruption. Kickbacks are standard practice.

Any common sense would tell you that solving the traffic problem on holiday weekends doesn’t involve enabling even more cars to reach the park entrance more quickly. There is no place for them to go once they get there.  The number of cars allowed up into the park is limited. All those extra vehicles would be jammed around the entrance of the park. So on top of ruining the natural environment on the drive to the park a huge traffic congestion problem would be created in the area.

Instead of widening the road to encourage more traffic into the area why not do something that would reduce the traffic. How about a light rail line that runs from Mittraphap Road to the park entrance? The land for the rail is already available – the very wide shoulders on both sides of the road allow plenty of room for the rail as well as small stations. That’s the same land they were using to widen the road to a ridiculous width, destroying large old trees in the process. The rail line would have a much smaller impact – fewer trees would need to be removed. High voltage power already runs along the road so there should be plenty of power to run an electric train. The only additional thing needed is a large plot for train stations at each end of the line. There is land available at either end, expensive I’m sure but there are no structures in in place.

I think it is a brilliant idea. It would preserve most of the large trees along Mittraphap Road. It would improve access to the park for people while reducing vehicle traffic and pollution in the area. And it could become an added attraction with smart. Smart businesses will pop up along the route. I can picture half a dozen “Palio Station” type stops that would be very popular.

Brilliant idea I think. How to get the Thai government to consider it?

I was reminded today that my wife is a genius. It’s easy to forget sometimes. Her physical beauty, charm and grace make me sometimes forget everything else. But now and then I ask her opinion about something and her laser accurate wit hits right to the point.

Like today.  I was reading the front page story in The Nation newspaper, an interview of Dr. Prasarn Trairatvorakul, the new chief of the Bank of Thailand. He’s a pretty important person, being in that position. What he thinks is likely to have a big impact on banking and the economy in Thailand. So I thought I’d learn a little about him, and read the interview, and got to this quote:

He concedes populist policies are good by nature, designed to help the underprivileged because most wealth goes to entrepreneurs,  not to the workforce.

OMG. Let’s parse that – “populist policies are good” and “most wealth goes to entrepreneurs, not the workforce”. Again, OMG. Ok, let’s not panic. Maybe there was something lost in the translation to English. But he did say at the beginning of the interview that his term as BOT chief will be guided by four key “pillars”, one of which is “income distribution”. At another point in the interview he says that a coordinated government response is needed to reduce the country’s uneven distribution of wealth. So yes, he is saying what I think, that populist policies are good and those fat cat entrepreneurs are getting too much of the wealth they are creating and more should go to the “workforce” (since entrepreneurs don’t actually work I guess). If Dr. Prasarn has any influence on public policy I’m afraid Thailand is going to fall even further behind in the near future.

After reading that I was contemplating the consequences of Dr. Prasarn’s views when my wife sat down next to me. I turned to her and asked her what she thought of populist policies. “Mai ruu rueang,” she said (I don’t understand). Ok, that’s not really fair because English isn’t her first language and whenever she has deep discussions on politics or the economy it is in Thai with her Thai friends and family. So I explained that populist policies are when the government gives the voting public something for free, like a bonus check, or easy low interest loans, or a new benefit like free health care. “Oh, you mean like Thaksin did,” she said, referring to the famous programs like the so-called “30-baht” health care plan and easy loans to farmers that they can’t pay back.

“Yeah, those are populist policies,” I said. “What happens when you have populist policies like that?”

She replied, “It makes people wait.”

Now I’m sitting there trying to make sense of her answer. Even though we both speak each others language fairly well we still often have communication mishaps. I asked her to explain that and she said that people who get free stuff regularly know that they just have to wait a while for another handout to come along. They know they don’t have to work very hard, or sometimes at all, just sit around and wait, maybe join a protest if the wait becomes too long, but mostly just wait.

Brilliant, she is, my wife.

Another example of how brilliant she is: Some time ago I saw some weird comment posted on a forum by someone who was just trolling for readers’ reactions. He asked “If I eat myself, will I become twice as large, or disappear completely?” Yeah, it’s just a weird little mind game. Being sort of a jerk that I am I asked my wife that question, thinking I would get her mind twisted in a knot. Instead she promptly answered “Neither, you can only eat half yourself, so you will stay the same size.” OMG