Thursday, 28 July 2016

Something cooking in Thailand’s kitchen of the world. And Britain's.

Khun Sirinya Wattanasukchai writing in the Bangkok Post makes a typically elegant point in her Michelin star comments for the Singapore Tourism Board efforts and first Michelin stars for 29 Singapore restaurants and food stalls.

But as Khun Sirinya points out it’s strange that Thai cuisine is still an undiscovered gem.

In Europe it’s often likened to Italian as one of the world’s great cuisines in terms of flavours, ingredients and regional variations – and crucially as a cultural feast.

That’s why it’s all the more surprising that the only Thai Michelin stars so far are for Nahm in London and Australian chef David Thompson, and all credit to him, and his book, Thai Food, the Encyclopaedia Britannica of Thai cuisine. And Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, but again a Danish rather than chef.

But part of the problem Khun Sirinya raises in terms of Thai cuisine being somewhat neglected and not even rated in its homeland.

And here in East Kent it would be wrong of me not to mention the Surin Thai restaurant and reviews of: “one of the best Thai meals I have ever eaten” by The Observer, and hopefully a Michelin star soon - making it the only so-accredited Thai chef and restaurant in the world. And its range of recipe books, Surin Comic and curry sauces and beer, and kitchen utensils under development.

Britain’s Thai food.

Thai cuisine is popular in Europe: the 3rd most popular cuisine in London as voted by readers of Time Out magazine, and 1,200 Thai restaurants throughout UK. No UK High St is now complete without the gentle sounds and smells of jasmine rice bubbling away.

But it’s surprising how Thai cuisine is so neglected in its homeland. I’m a frequent visitor to Bangkok and ASEAN, yet nowhere is there a definitive guide to Thai cuisine or its seafood and sushi. Although I’m more of a street-food-somtam sort of guy anyway.

Britain has for many years suffered from a reputation for awful food – some of it unfair given its delicious cheeses or pies and cakes. But the volume of Thai restaurants (the first opening in London in 1977) shows the appetite for fresh and tasty cuisine, especially from Thailand.

Yet Britain produces several guides to cuisine and restaurants, numerous cookery shows and celebrity chefs. But Thailand, has not a sausage in terms of food guides, or as worrying, the range of protected Thai foods – crucial for trade into the EU. UK has 73 protected foods eg Kentish Ale or Arbroath Smokies fish. And even Cambodia already has its Kampot pepper range protected for connoisseurs of cuisine.

The UK’s television channels are stuffed full of foodies such as Kent’s Paul Hollywood and BakeOff or Kent’s (the Garden of England and all that) Gregg Wallace and MasterChef or James Martin as was and Saturday Kitchen. And the UK’s bookshops are groaning with dozens of unknown celebrity chefs and Xmas or BBQ cookery guides.

The dynamic Asia Books certainly carries various cuisine guides, yet Thailand lacks a definitive guide to its restaurants and certainly its astonishing range of seafood and sushi restaurants. I plead ignorance on many of the food shows on Thai television, but something must be amiss if I can watch awful British farming soap operas such as Emmerdale Farm in Thailand, but struggle to find a cookery show in Thai or English?

Why is that?

The Thai Select part of the Kitchen of the World activity does highlight the best Thai restaurants in Europe, and Surin restaurant for example at one point was even recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture for use of authentic foods and techniques such as red or black rice and bamboo steamers.

That sort of culinary craftsmanship and authenticity can be taken for granted in Thailand but is hard to do in England. And authenticity must be key to promoting Thai cuisine, just as Italian cuisine doesn’t celebrate staples such Spaghetti Bolognese or tinned ravioli. And Thailand shouldn’t expect to keep reheating old staples such as Green Curry as an entrance ticket to Thai cuisine.

With my marketing hat on, what would I suggest to help Thailand?

Certainly a united effort: a Team Thailand of Cuisine if you will from BKK to London to NY with consistent messaging and promotions. As you can gather, I’m interested in Thai cuisine yet have never heard of Thai Deliciousness. It’s a rather clunky English phrase for Thai promotion which is unusual for TAT under the dynamic leadership of Khun Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul as Tourism and Sports Minister.

Certainly programmes such as The 12 Undiscovered Stars in the provinces should elevate the Thai tourism offering. And certainly there’s an opportunity for Thailand Tourism this year with the Turkish failed coup decimating the tourism industry there to almost nothing.

It’s good that Kent’s dynamic Tourism and Sports Minister MP Tracey Crouch of Chatham has been selected back into the UK Cabinet, even though on maternity leave. Indeed, as a break from the kitchen, Kent is doing rather well in the Cabinet reshuffle with Ashford’s Damian Green at the Work and Pensions dept, Sevenoaks’ Michael Fallon at Defence dept, Tunbridge Wells’ Greg Clark at the Industry dept.

And there’s not one but 3 Foreign Office ministers in Boris, David Davis and Liam Fox, sharing Chevening mansion near Sevenoaks. As well as former Cabinet members such as Charlie Elphicke of Dover at the Treasury and Julian Brazier of Canterbury of the Army dept.

But a Thai celebrity chef should be a key strand of Thai Government policy. Mere icing on the cake you say? Not really, with tourism 10% of Thailand’s GDP, and farming industries even more crucial for Thai employment and exports. As well as the hidden industry of Thailand’s restaurants and supermarkets abroad creating employment and sending money home.

A Thai celebrity chef should be a key part of Thailand plc strategy.

Whether you like Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein, Ken Hom or Gordon Ramsay or not (and I do), they provide a clarity and focus for cookery in general and different types of cuisine. To be blunt, Thailand plc in its Kitchen of the World should select a few chefs to lead the cuisine charge.

The Galacticos of the Galley if you will.

It’s especially absurd given Thailand’s strong reputation in gender equality and female entrepreneurship, female STEM scientists, and even world-leading low rates of female smokers that a female Thai chef isn’t lionised as is say UK’s multi-talented Delia Smith, both chef and Chairman of Norwich City football club.

And thought should be given to developing the Thai Select brand within Thailand and beyond to focus Thai consumers and businesses, and foodie farangs like me, on the key dishes and regions. Is it's funding enough?

No disrespect to say Patara or Blue Elephant but if Thailand cuisine is focused on such hi-so brands that are already established, especially in the narrow, expensive and swish districts of Paris or London, then how can the variety of Thai food be expressed as the Kitchen of the World?

It’s a problem UK plc faces in always concentrating its industrial efforts on say Rolls Royce and Burberry which are already successes, and least in need of extensive government support, and can make UK plc appear one-dimensional, which ultimately impacts their business as flag-bearers.

Such a rounded offering is all the more important, when UK business and parliament is combatting the monstrous sweatshop and fraud scandals around Mike Ashley of Sports Direct, and the BHS of Philip Green and Lord Grabiner of One Essex Court.

And certainly there is a massive opportunity for Team Thailand with the low-hanging fruit of developing a regional dishes strategy eg Mussaman curries from the Deep South, and so on. Certainly the latter would fit within the new Safety, Sustainability and Wealth strategy.

Anecdotally, most Brits (the largest group of tourists into Thailand from Western nations) are even, after 30 years of travel in Thailand, and numerous Thai restaurants in UK (the most in the world?) still unsure of many dishes beyond green curry. And there’s a farang fear of all the dishes being blisteringly hot, and I for one, thought all the dishes involved peanuts and satay.

And if I’m no fan of Thai desserts, as too sugary in taste and too day-glo in look, that doesn’t particularly matter but there needs to able a broader tasting menu if you will of key Thai Select dishes. Thai cuisine ingredients are now widely available in wholesalers and specialist Thai and Chinese supermarkets: air-freighted lemongrass, sticky rice and so on.

And hopefully too the Lucky Iron Fish with the good folks at Unilever and World Food Programme, will be as prevalent in UK brand and store promotions, as in Cambodia or Laos for work against malnutrition.

Thai food for thought.

Frankly, Khun Sirinya points out, it’s outrageous, beyond petty nationalism or personal taste, that Singapore cuisine is gaining Michelin accreditation but not Thai cuisine. I can think of just one or two Singaporean restaurants in London.

And 1,200 Thai restaurants in UK sliding back from 1,700 isn’t ideal for Thailand plc, whether from the recession and more recently the Brexit uncertainty and rise in, mostly minor, hate-crime and UKIP racism. Friends in the Thai Embassy are active in working with UK to loosen concerns over too-tight reactive immigration policies. The result now of a shortage of trained Thai chefs as well as of other cuisines such as Indian, Bangladeshi or Chinese too doesn’t help anybody.

And more Thai students to UK are required to increase from 8,000 to nearer the Malay total of 17,000, and a tripling of Chevening scholarships as part of UK’s active programmes with Thailand in particular, and ASEAN in general. Then, consideration needs to be given to Thai students being able to work part-time around their studies in Thai restaurants, to practice their Thai and English, earn a few quid to help support themselves, and to use their knowledge of authentic Thai cuisine.

UK needs no explanation of its very cosmopolitan and multi-cultural and welcoming nature (UKIP and Brexit rapidly receiving short shrift now so there political existence is now in doubt). And one key point overlooked in David Cameron’s open government was confirmation that a student visa can be extended to a work visa if, as graduates, the students have an offer of a graduate-level job.

I’ve raised the KORA Kent Oriental Restaurant Association
(and written before on the White Gold of Thai cuisine: )
as a support group and a lobbying organisation for Thai and Japanese and Chinese and Indian restaurants in Kent, given its Frontline status.

Frontline Kent is at the sharp end for immigration, legal or not, being near to London and the Continent with Amsterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, Duisberg and Paris, and Dover, Europe’s biggest port, and Eurostar and Channel tunnel.

Again, to be blunt, work needs to be done by UK to develop the range of Thai and ASEAN study courses and languages through the UK's 24,372 schools and 130 universities and 438,000 teachers and 8.2M pupils, with potential for say court or police translators given the existing 50,000 Thai population in UK, lacking a voice, and undoubted increase in Thai students and tourists who will no doubt decide to return to UK in future.

Britain should be more active in setting the table for Thailand.

While, more short-term, Brexit has unnerved the 130,000 EU citizens who work in the NHS, many of whom will no doubt decide to return to Poland or Spain. I certainly wouldn’t advocate Thai doctors and nurses being plundered for the NHS but closer links could be established with UK and Thai hospitals for exchanges and work programmes and learning English, given its status as the 2nd language of ASEAN. And certainly UK could learn much from dynamic universities, hospitals and NGO’s such as Mahidol, Bumrungrad and Operation Smile and Thai Red Cross.

While specific issues such as say 105,000 Myanmar refugees on Thailand’s borders or the presence of 10,000 Wa Army troops in the Southern Shan region around the Thai border, could be developed with say the UN Refugee Agency based in London. Food crops would be a key part of reducing opium crops that sustain that frontline.

Or there’s seafood issues, with sterling work by the Thai Royal Navy in improving people trafficking and fisheries sustainability, now rolling backwards a little with Tesco’s announcement this week of removing Thailand and Liverpool’s John West products from their shelves.

And easier, more frequent, access to Brussels, Interpol and an ASEAN office could no doubt be gained with such activity.

Food for health and nutrition science is an open goal waiting for Team Thailand to tap into the back of the net. Just this week Saint Louis University published research on phytochemicals in food such as turmeric in curries preventing cancer cells spreading. While even the redoubtable Public Health England is currently discussing the value of a low–carb diet (essentially Thai food without the rice) in preventing diabetes. 80,000 UK citizens found their diabetes improved in just 10 weeks with diet variants from that previously promoted, and a further 120,000 signed up to the UK Diabetes website.

The blend of food and science is important, whether cataract research, or given the 2.7M UK citizens with type 2 diabetes (no doubt similar problems in Thailand given the same size in population and ageing society and rise in Western fast food), and 750,000 UK citizens undiagnosed with diabetes who will cost the NHS £8.8BN in diabetes. Certainly dynamic organisations such as TDRI and TRF should be part of that debate, with say Imperial College, feeding through into research activity with Kasetsart, Mahidol and SPU.

While the cultural aspects of Thai cuisine shouldn’t be overlooked with say an extended roster of events whether a Khundrum festival, perhaps even a Khon dance-off between Thailand and Cambodia, or an ongoing ASEAN Bolshoi programme. Even a UK-Thai joint celebration of The Beatles Sergeant Pepper 50th anniversary next Summer would be fun – a Morlam version of say Strawberry Fields Forever would be apt to season some of the revitalised work for the Kitchen of the World.

Tim Garbutt is director of Sincerity Advertising and PR agency, launching in BKK soon, a somtam freak, and is standing for UK parliament to highlight Thailand and ASEAN issues.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Misc articles updates: July 2016

* Sincerity article: Thai Foreign Minister, Khun Surin Pitsuwan and Thai-UK trade:

* Misc points:

* Thai rice white gold:

* Sincerity core client aims:

* Sincerity article: Soda Wars go pop

* Surin Charity: Malaria a brief thought:

* Sincerity article on Coca-Cola:

* 21st century Britain Agenda article:

* No Tobacco Day, Smoking Sincerity article:

* EK Remedial points 2016:

* EK strategy 2016:

* Time for a Free Economy article:

* Surin restaurant review: top Thai restaurant in Kent:

Surin Thai restaurant the best Thai restaurant in Kent and one of only 45 of any cuisine in Kent according to KM:

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Climate Change from Kent to Thailand worsening as TDRI forecasts

Khun Wichsinee Wibulpolprasert of TDRI writing in The Bangkok Post last Wednesday is right to be alarmed at Thailand featuring in the Top Ten (or rather bottom ten) of nations facing Climate Change problems. Certainly Bangladesh and Vietnam are there as they’re already cited by the UN for the most Climate Change danger due to the flooding of their heavily-populated deltas. And Philippines is no doubt in the list due to acting as SE Asia’s windbreak and bearing the brunt for ever more deadly typhoons such as Haiyan.

While Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua especially, face the storms of the Caribbean and Pacific. Khun Wichsinee is right that Thailand is also best-placed though, as the wealthiest nation in that Climate Change top ten, to be able to throw money at the problem of Climate Change - especially given c.200BN THB or c.$100BN in damages since 1989. But Thailand resolving the deluges of Climate Change sometime soon, may be akin to standing in the shower and tearing up £20 notes – or rather 1,000THB notes - if such monies are not invested wisely. And, further afield we’re seeing South Sudan slipping into famine through Climate Change and war with UK and others evacuating their citizens last week. If not Sudan and Somalia and Ethiopia and Eritrea also following that horrific path and ending up in refugee camps such as the Calias jungle.

As an MP candidate in UK, with a focus on Thailand and ASEAN issues, it gives me no pleasure to say that Britain has undergone, and failed, similar Climate Change stress tests for floods in recent years. Britain may be cold and rainy for much of the year, but the precipitation is nothing like as dangerous as the deluges or droughts that Thailand or Vietnam or Bangladesh face. And yet, year in and year out, Britain reports flood after flood, so that the countryside of Keats and Wordsworth – or Dickens and Darwin here in Kent - is so often underwater as to be a testament to both Climate Change, and the failure of the Environment Agency, one of UK’s worst government departments.

The UK’s loss of farmland for food production and damage to roads and railways and costs in police and army helicopters and boats to rescue stranded civilians, and the billions of dollars in insurance claims, is I hope what Thailand and Vietnam and Philippines will not face for much longer. Rather, UK could learn from Thailand and Vietnam in their expertise with tsunami protection given the new Early Warning System in place after Phuket’s tsunami, and Vietnam having the lowest in Climate Change disaster casualties due to excellent organisation: usually no more than a dozen or so deaths in VN compared to hundreds form Morakot in China or Taiwan or the appalling mess in USA with Hurricane Katrina.

Britain’s north eastern coast is crumbling into the sea with tidal erosion and storms that sensibly-managed flood defences could reduce, as well as creating jobs now and in the future. Bristol and Cardiff two of UK’s largest cities face a flood danger with the second highest tidal range in the world. And the increasing use of the Thames Flood barrier used upto 50 times in 2013 to protect London. And, the English Channel coast here in Kent, and near neighbours Belgium and Holland, faces similar mini-tsunami tidal surge and floods that killed hundreds in 1953 and 1978, and even more damage way back in Tudor times. And, Thailand’s rice sector, loss of mangrove forests to hold back floods, concreting of Bangkok’s klongs for roads, are all similar contributors to Climate Change problems. And the new Bangkok Metro is a miracle of engineering, as per London’s new tube and Crossrail, but the city is slowly sinking, a test that HCMC faces too. A need for Dutch experience in water control – it’s not called the Low Countries for nothing – could be ideal for Thailand, UK and NL, and wider ASEAN in the Disaster Control programme, Khun Wichsinee mentions- and EU Disaster Control ERCC with its various field offices in Asia. At the very least, Cycling could end up being a useful spinoff benefit from drier roads in all 3 nations as Tokyo2020 nears.

UK experience in parks and gardens and food retail and wholesale could also be of use, with less floods from Loch Lomond to the Lake District to the logistics hub of Leicester, the home of the Siamese Foxes. As well as reallocating water from the rainy North to the drought-ridden South whether by pipelines or desalination projects. If anything though, UK is too centralised in the logistics hubs around Leicester, that could prove damaging in Disaster Control emergencies. That’s a situation that Thailand would be advised to plan around, as the almost constant flow of refrigerated vans for 7-11 and Tesco Lotus become too much for its roads requiring more efficient road haulage systems with or without electric and selfdriving cars. While reducing the extremes of water flow, and dangers of open sewers and health benefits of monsoon-proof sewers and sewage systems (even agricultural management of the barays in Cambodia) would be worthwhile Climate goals for Thailand along with potable tap water as in Singapore.

And if Thailand contributes only 1% of carbon outflows as Khun Wichsinee says then that could easily be maintained and improved through a cohesive programme of solar panel installation and electrical car charging posts – something UK blows hot and cold on, bizarrely even cutting incentives for solar manufacturing and use.

Indeed UK has largely stalled on Climate Change programmes after the passing of laws back in 2008 – a blockage that hopefully the new PM could loosen. (While writing this article, new PM Theresa May has indeed done so, by flushing away the whole DECC Climate Change dept). Similarly UK’s management of fisheries has been abysmal over the years with the North Sea, previously teeming with cod and Dover sole and seabass, almost completely dead. The recent spate of whales being beached and starving to death along the North Sea coast is a testament to the lack of fish in that sea. And the ruin of the fishing industries, that hopefully aquaculture reseeding will revive, has barely begun amidst the Brexit kerfuffle over EU fisheries and agriculture policies, and Thailand is proving more diligent in managing both fishing and trafficking. Chaopraya promenade and such as Yodpiman heritage walks would be a superb addition to both water management and the beautification of Bangkok – as happened in London with the iconic Victoria Embankment along the Thames, and Parliament visible through the mist of air pollution and roar of traffic.

While closer cooperation between UK Met Office and Thai Met office for early warning of typhoons and floods and droughts must be key along with flood and coastal defences, whether SCB and SCG—ADB funded, to manage KH and Mekong flows through to the Tonle Sap and Mekong Delta, the Laos—China river patrols, and increased use of cloud seeding for rainfall in China, are at worst a precursor of the water wars that could also affect India and China, and Central Asia and Russia. Kent has faced similar problems of Climate and food, despite being The Garden of England. Over 90% of orchards lost (remember the bucolic Darling Buds of May television show and the fields and harvests it depicted?) since WW2. Such orchards and hedgerows secured top soil (as well as bees now declining rapidly) and managed water. While excessive housebuilding on flood plains that unsurprisingly then flood, and weak road and flood policies/defences and disaster management plans have been dismal.

Climate Change is a hidden factor in the healthy eating debate in UK with Sugar as the New Tobacco. Battle-lines are being drawn between the Big Sugar Businesses lobbying on pricing - and the implicit right to get fat and sick. And consumers and government are too-slowly, reformulating products, banning children’s advertising, and pricing-out the ill health of diabetes and obesity, yet to run its course with 4.9M deaths globally. While how dynamic Thai companies such as Tipco are supposed to plan for fruit crops – as well as benefit from the boom in healthy eating in the UK and EU - in the face of Climate Change is beyond me. The boom in coconut water in UK is a market worth $100M complete with advertising by Rihanna and Madonna, and bamboo water as another super-drinks segment. The elaborate claims of such drinks aside, UK supermarkets haven’t yet grasped the possibilities in phasing out SSPiF foods: salt, sugar, processed and fat, for a greater variety of fruit and healthier foods from suppliers such as Tipco.

Gone are the days of pineapples, melons, coconuts, or pomegranates being superfoods in cranky health food shops. Nor why Britain lags behind Canada and Japan with 5 a day fruit rather than 10 a day. Older readers may even remember the rarity of bananas and oranges in Britain during WW2 and for a decade afterwards, due to a too –narrow reliance on Empire/Commonwealth sources and Uboat attacks. Air pollution too is proving a massive killer in UK of at least 40,000 people a year with the smog of warmer summers, and heat-stroke deaths as well as the horrifying 3,000 extra Winter pensioner deaths in colder winters already. Plus almost 3,000 deaths in road accidents – all woefully feeble for the world’s 5th largest economy.

Certainly a joint UK-Thai Road Safety programme as a minimum would be useful given Thailand faces carnage of 40,000 deaths each year – especially over the peak Xmas holiday and tourism season.

And, Coastguard and RNLI charitable institutions are key in UK in saving lives in ever stormier seas – here in Kent winning not one but 12 US Presidential medals in the nineteenth century for saving American shipwrecks and sailors. And over 140,000 lives saved in UK since 1824 by RNLI. Presumably along with relevant use of helicopters and airlift cargo helicopters for people, livestock and food aid. While I was horrified to learn from the Amateur Swimming Association that 20% of UK adults cannot swim and 69% cannot swim more than 100M. This in a country surrounded by water, and with compulsory swimming lessons (and road safety) at schools for decades. The death tolls will be even higher in say Vietnam with few swimming lessons and 9 deaths a day already. Even in the aforementioned Mekong Delta only 35% of children can swim.

While, longer-term, such existing UK Resilience and Disaster Management Plans don’t even consider the potential for a minimum longevity plan of say 100, and all its implications, beyond inching along at 2 extra years per decade. Khun Wichsinee is right that Climate Change is both real and increasing, so the more effectively Thailand and ASEAN can manage its problems the better, and the more UK and Netherlands can help the better.

Tim Garbutt, Director of Sincerity Advertising and PR agency

* Sincerity article: Thai Foreign Minister, Khun Surin Pitsuwan and Thai-UK trade:

* Sincerity article: Soda Wars go pop

* Surin Charity: Malaria a brief thought:

* Sincerity article on Coca-Cola:

* 21st century Britain agenda article: * No Tobacco Day Smoking Sincerity article:

* EK Remedial points 2016:

* EK strategy 2016:

* Time for a Free Economy article:

* Surin restaurant review: top Thai restaurant in Kent:

Surin Thai restaurant the best Thai restaurant in Kent and one of only 45 of any cuisine in Kent according to KM:

Friday, 15 July 2016

Bill Gates for an ASEAN digital future?

Khun Sirinya Wattanasukchai is right to raise concern in her Bangkok Post article last week over Bill Gate’s concerns at the tangle of telephone cables in Bangkok last week.

The cables are unsightly and must be dangerous especially in the rainy season. But is Bill Gates being a little unfair to Thailand's infrastructure and digital plans?

Here in UK we have a similar debate over unsightly electricity pylons, and the cancer dangers of mobile phone masts and the difficulty of the last mile of providing hispeed fibre cable for internet and telecoms and television. Here in Kent for example there are the problems of windfarm pylons on land linking to Belgian windfarms (despite East Kent hosting the world’s largest windfarm that powers much of London). And links through to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pegwell Bay (the latter landings for Julius Caesar and St Augustine of the Church of England) and Canterbury Cathedral, the Bagan of England if you will, with not one but 3 heritage sites in one city. Possibly only Sukothai may rival such a proliferation of culture. But in the 21st century, shouldn’t Bill Gates be more concerned over the Digital Divide than some unsightly cables? Here in UK we still have 12.5M people not on the internet or with computer skills – and even 18% of UK university students without a smartphone.

This in the world’s top 5 economy – vagaries of Brexit aside – and the birthplace of the inventor of the world wide web in Tim Berners-Lee that helped to increase Microsoft’s and Bill Gates’ fortune. And further back, UK led on the invention of the telephone and postage stamp and post office communication devices. And, Thailand has a very vibrant mobile phone market with True for example, as well as a vast range of the latest handsets and unusual permutations such as a Manchester United handset that isn’t even available in Manchester nor the rest of UK. Thailand also leads on innovative government policies such as the Yingluck computers for every schoolchild, that UK hasn’t achieved as yet. As MP candidate in UK, with a focus on better UK-Thailand links, I’ve shamelessly copied such an innovative policy for UK.

And in my advertising role, it’s worth highlighting that, despite the innovative Raspberry PI and Microbit computers, UK policy still hasn’t even attained say tablet PC’s on loan in schools and libraries – let alone 3D printers, graphene machines and VR headsets. And wifi is still far less advanced than in Thailand with its range of cafes and malls and outside free hotspots. While, from my film marketing role, digital cinema and IMAX and film showcases are far more prevalent in Thailand too.

It’s not all doom and gloom in UK though – there’s a vibrant Creative Industries of c.$125BN in revenue - with a large part of that IT and software especially computer games. And an ever-expanding series of Tech Parks such as Silicon Fen in Cambridge, Silicon Thames Valley with Bill’s European Microsoft mega-base, Silicon Roundabout in London, and the Silicon Coast from Brighton to Margate. And UK’s universities are world-class and supported by a wide range of schools, business colleges, 6th form colleges, adult education colleges, language schools, and the Open University, all with a wide range of IT and digital courses, and computer programming now a school course, and compulsory schooling extended to age 18. In an international nation, such as UK, and a globalised economy surely that last point is ideal for some sort of compulsory Gap Year or Gap Summer Exchanges with work experience or volunteering mixed with schooling abroad and foreign languages and digital expertise?

Keeping Britain’s schoolkids in school longer, given longer lifespans, is one thing but they need to learn from The School of Life too. Surely it’s an ideal programme for Thailand and ASEAN to grasp on the back of the Chevening scholarships to UK tripling? A formal Chevening Gap Summer? Japan and Korea do hothouse schooling badly in damaging their schoolkids while USA does volunteering well with the JFK Peace Corps. Unfortunately Britain, so far, dithers between the two. Let’s hope dynamic new Education Secretary Justine Greening fresh from success at DFID grasps the opportunity or at least reverses the UK’s appalling state of foreign language education. And just over the Channel Netherlands has become the first Internet of Things nation with a LORA network for Rotterdam port, Schipol airport and numerous Smart Cities. One for UK to aspire to.

While the latest ASEM Summit in Ulaanbator is underway this week between 53(!) Asian and European nations. Surely that’s a too-large and too-infrequent and too-transient talking shop, especially given the permanent EU offices in BKK, as well as the embassies of all the European nations? And unfortunately the ASEM has nothing to say on the digital future. The US-ASEAN Summit in California at the very least allowed Microsoft and the other US tech giants to highlight their tech to Thailand and the other 9 nations. Perhaps though rather than scoffing at a few cables, Bill Gates and such tech giants could take lessons from Thailand and ASEAN on the digital future?

Tim Garbutt is standing for UK Parliament for closer UK and Thailand and ASEAN relations, and is director of Sincerity Advertising and Surin School Charity with the first school already built in Isaan: @timg33

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

UK plus ASEAN/LatAm misc points

B. General

47. 112
48. Royal Road Siem Reap/TH
49. Left is Life, and blood/organs
50. OneGov
51. Solomons/Guadalcanal/Truk
52. LatAm: 50 violent cities, Falklands, Chile VW
53. Jeddah bridge/UAE Rail
54. ASEANRail
55. Gib Bridge
56. Cork-Dublin-Belfast-Glasgow rail/bridge
57. Cape2Cairo: Kenya-Egypt gap
58. Bering: Shanghai-Vancouver overland
59. ASEAN expansion: PNG/Timor/Solomons-Fiji, Aus/NZ
60. Commonwealth: Caribbean and Pacific groups
61. ASEAN expat blood types
62. Armada Day
63. Magellan 2019-21 Anniversary

64. Operation Masterdom and Long Thanh
65. 007 Route
66. Richboro – Roman – Landings
67. Dunkirk: Nolan movie
68. HS2/HS3: Hitachi
69. Sports Diplomacy: UK footy, swim, cycling, volleyball - TBC
70. TH-Nov Road Safety Day
71. Child Soldiers; Red Hand Day: Feb
72. TBC

73. Tube 24/7 – bus hopper project and air pollution
74. WW1 Asian memorial: TH, VN, China, JP
75. Royal Mint/GPO: TH-UK – Siam flags, Kent orchids stamps/coins
76. Margate: Crimea/Magnitsky – Armada
77. 39 Steps: Broadstairs
78. Arlington House demolition
79. Turner £20 Note
80. Will Hay, Contraband
81. TH: Ayutthaya centre – NL

82. Digital Kent
83. ASEAN Kent
84. MegaTransport projects 85. Surin Rice centre
86. Bagan
87. TBC
88. Meiji: JPF: Jpop, Kpop, Tpop – Hello Kitty
89. Kurile and Sakhalin – Aleutian

90. 2016: Somme
91. 2017: 50 - Sgt Pepper
92. 2018: Spanish flu/Berlin airlift/Asia
93. Roman invasion/Cuba
94. TBC
95. Liberation Route Europe
96. Landfill mining
97. SS Richard Montgomery
98. Cuba: sugar/tobacco-Malawi

99. Graphene
100. Stillborn/cotdeath
101. OAP Winter death
102. Expat/Tourism size
103. G20 0.7% aid
104. FCO £400M: DFID
105. TBC ASEAN London Embassies activity
106. Space junk/woman Mars 2030


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The waters of Puay Si should flow through Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United Nations.

Former ASEAN Secretary-General, and Thai Foreign Minister, Khun Surin Pitsuwan writes eloquently in yesterday’s Bangkok Post feature on Thailand’s thwarted efforts to gain a seat on the UN Security Council, narrowly beaten by Kazakhstan. While Team Thailand has anyway been active in reversing the EU’s concerns of overfishing and trafficking from Tier2 status in Human Rights Watch. And Thailand is active in the UN this year as Chair of G77. He’s right to point out that it’s no reflection on The Land of Smiles or Team Thailand’s diplomatic efforts – it may merely be the UN Disease of Buggins Turn over Value, as Kazakhstan comes before Thailand in the (Latin) alphabet.

Thailand’s long-term efforts to gain the seat will not have been greatly affected by military rule since 2014 –especially with the introduction of the referendum on the new Constitution this Summer to begin to return Thailand and its peoples back to full democracy and happiness. Thailand and UK together. 1984 and sandwiches and Hunger Games must surely be so last year for the New Normal of Thailand emerging from its “cocoon of comfort” for renewal again with over 60% of Thailand’s 14TN THB GDP linked to foreign investment and market. Indeed the UK is keen to move forward to help Thailand with Thai FDI down 70%, and Thai investment in UK down 35%, symbolised by the BCCT and Collier’s Chairman Simon Landy awarded the MBE for services to Thailand-UK trade in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours last month.

Thailand and UK and ASEAN reforms.

And the UK is keen to support Thailand’s near-neighbours in Cambodia and Laos and Myanmar, with Princess Diana figures such as the dynamic Princess Soma of Cambodia capable of working with and translating between Western and Eastern cultures. Or there’s plans to reinstate UK aid to Cambodia of $20M aid – DFID 0.7% GNI aid a UK world-leading initiative - but bizarrely aid to Cambodia one for the world’s poorest and malnourished regions, floating amidst a sea of rice, and not yet buoyed by exciting innovations such as Lucky Iron Fish. And action is needed in New Myanmar and the Shan state heroin that floods the UK streets, and yaba that washes through Bangkok’s streets, as well as support for Rohingya refugees stranded at sea and on Thailand’s borders.

Kazakhstan is no benchmark for Team Thailand: in recent months facing concerns in UK over royal scandals in trade contracts and how far such Central Asian states on Europe’s borders (and no doubt eventual EU accession with Russia and Turkey and North Africa) will move towards peace, prosperity and democracy. And, the UK views its own permanent seat on the Security Council, as if not a white elephant, then of no great value to discussions between the nuclear club of USA and Russia. And that due to fade amidst calls for zero nuclear weapons – unfortunately a Chernobyl or Fukushima or Damascus, USA accident - more likely than a Hiroshima.

21st Century ASEAN and UN.

And along with the risk of nuclear accident or missile misfires as in Taiwan recently, certainly for ASEAN a Haiyan disaster is ever more likely with Climate Change. Or the minor and old-fashioned colonial spats that litter the Caribbean and Pacific of the 21st century such as Falklands or Gibraltar or Spratleys, Kuriles, Senkaku and Paracels. As well as tighter UN restrictions, on bio-chem weapons such as phosphorous, the cost and use of submarines is a cause for concern for the UK’s taxpayers, as they are for Thailand’s taxpayers. The same sort of military bloat and excess such as UK’s aircraft carriers or new F35 jets that as well as being too expensive to fly, could be better spent on fast-forwarding the $200NB NHS and cancer research, TB, obesity or DNA programmes.

Indeed it’s apt that here in Kent, the German water cannon for London’s previous riots are to be scrapped post-Brexit discussions and no doubt recycled for car parts. While industry, pulls hard on the Brexit reins to ensure a greater economic growth in UK and EU, whether the IT and digital and finance and retail excellence of Silicon Roundabout, Silicon Fen, Discovery Science Park, WPP Group and Common Ground with UNSDG30, Vodafone, HSBC, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and City UK etc. Both Thailand and UK have few if any real enemies and many friends – not least each other. An Asian Special Relationship at the heart of ASEAN if you will. While with a possible although unlikely Brexit, and political upheaval in UK, the UK and French Security Council seats may be merged into a general EU seat to more fully include say Germany, and Italy of the reinstated EU28 again. And G77 questions need raising over the need for the 1945 Group of UN Security Council members that doesn’t include say India, Brazil or even an ASEAN seat in the 21st Century.

UK Brexit and Thailand.

Indeed with almost complete political collapse in UK in the last few weeks of Brexit and such a narrow, almost irrelevant, margin of victory (and for an advisory referendum at that), it might be best for UK to invite PM’s Prayut and Yingluck to advise on a government of reconciliation in Westminster not Dusit. If not, Minister Khun Surin himself, and a UN and ASEAN advisory team, reminiscent of the IMF help to UK in the dark days of the 1970’s. Indeed Scotland and Northern Ireland –and London – have faced calls for independence for UK anyway, and now specifically to remain in the EU rather than the United Kingdom and to secure a greater share of UK trade. The flood of post-Brexit applications for Eire, or eventually Scottish, passports, has also been met by Germany calling for UK citizens in EU to be given German citizenship to stem a European brain drain.

And surely it makes sense for Team Thailand and Team UK to be active in working together on other more meaningful links such as MegaTransport connectivity of ASEAN Rail to Cambodia and Myanmar, and bridges across the Mekong with Vinh and Vientiane connectivity, and doubling Thai students to UK from 10,000 to 20,000 (Malaysia has 17,000 students and China 89,000 students). And Thai Chevening scholarships to UK have already tripled at UK’s 130 universities and the myriad of language schools and business colleges. Thailand’s education potential and use of English as an ASEAN 2nd language could be hugely improved with UK support, say Open University or BBC TV and radio and internet with its new and innovative reforms, rather than just the Commonwealth in Asia of Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Papua New Guinea or Solomon Islands. And with UK compulsory education reformed this year to age 18, and expanded foreign language learning, then the potential for systemic Gap Years to ASEAN is huge – the UK’s students now are the tourists and investors of the future. Kent and Thailand tourism and trade.

Indeed, UK and Kent were the first Europeans to establish diplomatic relations with Thailand in 1619 in Margate – albeit by accidental shipwreck on the way to France and the ambassadorial team being robbed. A fate unlikely now, but best for UK-TH work for reforms with a UK Tourism Police fashioned after 1155, given Thai visitors, tourists and students, are the 3rd highest spend in UK. While Deputy PM General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Chairman of Thailand’s National Film and Video Committee, and dynamic Sorts and Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, a Cultural Team Thailand, have revealed at Cannes 15% increases in film and new production, and tourism incentives for filming in Thailand, especially beyond the beaches to the Hidden Thailand of Isaan etc, as expanding UK-TH tourism, sports and trade must be vital to success for both nations.

Such a passport to success should include expanding tourism for all ASEAN’s citizens, given the new mega-cruise ships of Royal Caribbean or Princess Cruises eg Harmony of the Seas launching from Europe and USA into the Pacific through the expanded Panama Canal. Or there’s Thailand and Myanmar’s jungle treks without the fear of the Iron Harvest of landmines. A vicious harvest experienced not just in Greater Mekong Region but Kent and Belgium from the Somme, remembered this week, onwards. With Thailand’s contribution of Allied blood in Flanders in 1918 - and Kwai in 1943 - dimly remembered, but not forgotten here in Europe.

A New Thailand and UK.

A potential for an expanded Team Thailand with the dynamic NACC anti-corruption activity, stretches beyond the UN-SC to a New Thailand of Sports Diplomacy and Cultural Diplomacy. Whether that’s the Thundercastles, Police United, Toffeemen or Morlam, London Fashion Week, wildlife and arts protections and Thai silk, BBC, Shakespeare or Khon – the latter surely a TH-UK joint initiative in the UN Cultural Heritage programmes with Cambodia? And Climate Change activity of droughts and floods, with Mega-treeplanting, and weather satellites and space junk activity. A seat on the Security Council may be worthwhile but, as Brexit has shown to UK - and Thailand and much of ASEAN has experienced in previous years - such baubles are worthless without such unity stemming from the waters of Puay Si.

Tim Garbutt is Founder of Sincerity advertising agency, Surin Village School Charity with the first school built in Isaan, and standing for Parliament in UK to build better links between UK and Thailand, and ASEAN.