Something rotten in the state of Thailand
Whether being compared to eating a sweet raspberry blancmange in a lavatory or French-kissing your dead grandmother, there is an undeniable stench attached to the durian.
A similar stink surrounds our award winners, be they protesters who drive fast cars or election commissioners desperate to avoid holding an election. As we said last year, like the durian itself there is a bit of complexity to the characters — they are not all bad, but they are an acquired taste that not everyone will appreciate.
Last year, we banned "the usual politicians" from the list. This year, the military junta took this idea a few steps further and banned the usual politicians from doing pretty much anything at all. Without any politicians left in the country, this left everyone eligible.
Still, we went in favour of those people who made us laugh, think or outraged with a burst of publicity. Here are your winners for 2014.
An actor charged with forcing students to perform an indecent act at a Chon Buri hotel is the first of two prizes for most caddish behaviour in the celebrity set.
Actor Witit Laet, 40, insisted the saga arose from a misunderstanding — or, as he might have put it to his wife, "This is not what it looks like".
Five tertiary students from Chon Buri complained to Saen Suk police in November that Witit and his friend, indie director Palm Rangsi, 50, tricked them into a hotel for a supposed screen test for a movie.
Their saga ended with an early morning chase through Chon Buri streets after a boyfriend of one of the young women knocked on the hotel room door, prompting Witit to flee.
Officers laid indecency charges against the pair, which they deny. They insisted the women were willing parties to what happened and only panicked when a boyfriend showed up.
"We told them that nudity was involved and they would have to take off their clothes as part of the casting test," Witit said.
"We met at a restaurant and carried on to a pub and the hotel in Bang Saen where we role-played a scene.
"They took off their clothes as we were acting our roles. However, we were there just five or 10 minutes when I heard the knock at the door and a commotion outside."
Witit admitted one of the women gave him oral sex as they were heading to the hotel, after Palm persuaded them to perform a "casting test" — taking off their lower garments — in his car.
"I didn’t ask for it and certainly didn’t force her. She asked why my belt was so hard to release and if she should take all her clothes off," he said.
"I was so excited I forgot everything, including my wife. I thought she is bound to give me sex for sure. However, later I gathered my composure and asked if we should buy some condoms. We didn’t get to have sex in the end."
Witit said he suspected the saga would have ended differently had the boyfriend not turned up.
"The complainant has attempted to sheet home responsibility to us because she was worried about getting in trouble with her boyfriend," he said. He has apologised to his wife for being unfaithful and said she is sticking by him.
The students said they thought they were in for a bit of nudity and harmless fun.
When police raided a Lat Phrao condominium in August, the whole country was knocked back by the reek of something very rotten inside. The small, largely unfurnished room was home to nine babies, seven nannies and a heavily pregnant woman.
It didn’t take officers too long to connect the dots, which all pointed back towards one man.
Mitsutoki Shigeta, 24, had fathered all 10 of the children via legally dubious commercial surrogacy services in Bangkok.
That was on top of at least six other babies, several of whom had already been smuggled out of the country.
And while most 24-year-olds with 16 children might have decided to call it a day, Mr Shigeta had no plans to end his prolific breeding.
“He freezes sperm very frequently and says he is going to have 10 babies per year and wants to make sure he has sufficient frozen sperm [as he is going to make babies even when he is old],” Mariam Kukunashvili, co-founder of a surrogacy service which provided two surrogates to the man, wrote in a warning letter to Interpol.
She said she also learned Mr Shigeta wanted to buy equipment to freeze his sperm at home. That request was turned down on the grounds that storing liquid nitrogen at home is dangerous, but more likely because it’s completely insane.
When questioned about his motives for fathering so many children, she said Mr Shigeta’s initial response was "so that he could have a big family for voting … [and] win an election in Japan”.
Instead, those babies which weren't smuggled out of the country remain in state care here in Thailand, where they won’t be able to help anyone win an election any time soon.
The case capped off an inglorious year for Thailand’s baby-making reputation. A month earlier, global media attention had honed in on the case of Baby Gammy, a twin born with Down’s syndrome to a Thai surrogate mother and abandoned by his Australian biological parents, one of whom was a convicted paedophile.
If anything good came from the story of Mr Shigeta and Baby Gammy, it’s that there will be no more stories like them coming from Thailand again. The cases provided the impetus to rush through long-stagnant draft legislation outlawing all commercial surrogacy in the kingdom.
All eyes now turn to Cambodia, where Mr Shigeta is also a citizen and no such pesky surrogacy laws exist.
Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, they “seek him here, they seek him there, they seek him everywhere”.
If only they’d known the fugitive red-shirt leader Jakrapob Penkair — wanted on lese majeste charges — was a Facebook message and one-hour plane ride away heading southeast.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s right-hand man and favourite ideologue was in the news again — albeit for not much longer than 15 minutes — when he fronted the radical idea of a government-in-exile following the May 22 coup.
The concept, first floated by Thaksin’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam, was very serious and secretive. So much so that Mr Jakrapob held forth to a Spectrum reporter at an Italian restaurant in a neighbouring capital city (not Phnom Penh) about the red resistance movement.
“We ask our people not to come to neighbouring countries, no matter how struggling and desperate they are,” he said confusingly.
Just as confusingly, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry came out to deny Mr Jakrapob was in the country. Why would they, if he wasn’t there sitting in a Phnom Penh restaurant eating spaghetti bolognese?
And so to the master plan of a government-in-exile. Without even poising to don a French beret and stripy T-shirt, Mr Jakrapob outlined his three-step plan for the “resistance movement”. First, establish a network both inside and outside the country. Second, turn political pressure into economic pressure, and third, coordinate with domestic resistance groups. Easy as banoffee pie (which he was not eating in a Phnom Penh restaurant).
When asked where the government-in-exile would eventually be located, a cagey Mr Jakrapob narrowed it down to four countries “most likely in Europe”.
Pushed further for more details, Mr Jakrapob refused to say what action his group would take but stressed there would be “human-to-human contact” rather than activities organised via social media, such as Facebook.
“The Thai people are waiting for us [to set up a movement], I’d bet my life on this,” he said confidently.
Finally, on those obviously false rumours that he was residing in Cambodia, and had been for some time, after marrying the daughter of a local millionaire, Mr Jakrapob laid them to rest once and for all.
“I’m not the marrying type,” he told Spectrum not sipping a latte, and not staring at the Tonle Sap River.
The military sent a clear message that it was serious about cracking down on social media when it raided the Ranong home of Kriangkrai Suetrong.
Mr Kriangkai’s cat Johnny became an online celebrity via a satirical Facebook page where the cat was dressed up and parodies local scandals and celebrities. At first, Johnny satirised last year’s Gold Durian winner Luang Pu Nem Kham — the disgraced monk notorious for flying in a private jet and touting brand-name handbags, not to mention the sex scandal and suspicious wealth. But in May, Johnny’s dress-ups took a decidedly non-political turn.
On May 22, police and military personnel paid a visit to Mr Kriangkai’s home after he posted pictures of Johnny dressed in a military uniform. In one photo Johnny, wearing sunglasses, poses in front of a TV screen carrying the logos of the coup-makers and in another he is perched on a mocked-up tank, Louis Vuitton bag dangling from the barrel of the fake gun.
Mr Kriangkrai said he asked the soldiers for a search warrant, but they told him none was needed because martial law had never been lifted in parts of Ranong after the 2006 coup and so they could search residences and detain individuals without warrants.
“Personally, I don’t agree with martial law,” Mr Kriangkai told Khaosod in May. “It has been in place in Ranong for eight years now, however the military has not exercised their power in full until now.”
Pol Maj Gen Yutthana Thongpan, a local police commander, said the military and police search of Mr Kriangkai’s home was not to intimidate him, but part of a sweep in the area for illegal weapons. He added Mr Kriangkai’s name was merely on a list and he had fully cooperated with the search.
The Facebook account of “Johnny the Supphalak Cat” — who according to local media is one of the 12 most famous cats in the world — currently has more than 300,000 “Likes”. Johnny’s likeness, dressed as the disgraced monk, has been turned into statues and plush toys.
Chadchart Sittipunt: The ousted minister of transport hasn’t been turned into a statue, yet, but he was the politician with the year’s best internet meme after turning up to give alms with bare feet and bare arms. Mr Chadchart was soon photoshopped into all manner of outrageous situations, fans replicated his dark shorts and sleeveless top in low-cost cosplay and one Facebook fan page called him the toughest transport minister in the universe. Not tough enough to stop men with guns, though.
Like the dog that caught the bus, election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn wasn’t sure he should have sunk his teeth into organising the Feb 2 national poll. Critics say that he didn’t, that he failed to fulfil his job description.
What cannot be denied is that he was happier yapping about elections than conducting them. He said so himself. “The Election Commission must arrange elections,” Mr Somchai said. “But we must be sure the election benefits society.” He came out against the date of Feb 2, arguing instead for a “suitable time”.
Given that Mr Somchai has a history of unflattering comments about former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra — including an undignified swipe at her private life — many assumed that “suitable time” to be some point in the future when she had no chance of winning. While Mr Somchai was, thankfully, called out for his crude comment on national radio, he retained his job.
When Feb 2 came around, the result was certain. Ms Yingluck and Pheu Thai were going to win the votes, but because 28 constituencies had no registered candidates there would be not be enough MPs to hold the first session of parliament and a government could not be formed.
Having come close to holding an election, Mr Somchai and his cohorts weren’t exactly bursting with energy to hold a re-run for those 28 constituencies. They were happy to keep barking as the bus drove away.
Given all that has happened since the court-quashed poll, with the coup-makers hinting ever more strongly that a fresh election is years away, you might think Mr Somchai would be happy going back to his old job. Not so. Instead, in September he took the time and taxpayer money to visit Scotland to learn about referendums. (It’s important to know the theory.)
Rocker Sek Loso, who shrugged off beating his estranged wife, takes the prize for the most caddish behaviour in the celebrity set this year.
Police are taking legal action against Sek after his estranged wife Wiphakorn "Kan" Sukpimai in October released a clip of him beating her outside their home, capping weeks of angry exchanges between the pair on social media.
In response, Sek lodged court action seeking 200 million baht against Kan — plus an extra 2.5 million for releasing the clip, which he says was intended to damage his name.
Kan also released pictures of herself with a bruised lip, which she said stemmed from an unprovoked attack on her as she slept. She has since left their home, along with their three children.
"Here’s an example of Sek’s handiwork. Does society really regard this as acceptable, as just a family matter?" she asked.
She was responding to Sek’s comments when, asked by a reporter, the rocker admitted assaulting her, but brushed off such incidents as commonplace between husband and wife.
The year ended with Sek’s 40th birthday concert going down poorly with fans, and news of the rocker also suing the doctor who treated him three years ago for his hard drugs habit.
Sek is angry after Kan escorted the deputy director of the Thanyarak Institute in Pathum Thani, Angun Pataragorn, to the couple’s home to retrieve his gun.
"I shut myself in the studio, and called one of my soldier friends for help, as I am sure the doctor wanted to grab me and give me one of his injections," Sek said. "If I had taken my gun down with me I would have shot the lot of them."
Former Miss Universe Natalie Glebova played a supporting role in the unfolding Sek drama.
Natalie appeared by Sek’s side on Oct 11 to promote a song they intended performing together at his 40th birthday concert in Bangkok.
The two also planned to film a music video for the song at Si Chang island in Chon Buri.
Their intimate encounter prompted reports that she and Sek were an item, and that the Miss Universe 2005 was taking his side in his marital rift.
In fact, Natalie says she knew nothing about his marital woes, and promptly pulled out when news finally reached her ears.
Natalie, former wife of tennis star Paradorn "Ball" Srichaphan, said she was taken aback to see a large throng of reporters when she turned up to promote her song.
When she found out they were really there to report on Sek’s marital dramas, she cut her contract ties with the rocker.
"Sek and I get along well, but I doubt there’s anyone who wants to work amid such negative news," she said frankly.
Insisting the pair were not even friends, she claimed she was not worried about her embarrassing role in the drama, as she had cleared the matter with her boyfriend.
The couple’s rift now appears to be easing, with Kan writing an emotional plea to Sek last week, urging him to get help. She said their eldest daughter, Kwang, is worried about his "bipolar disorder", and is happy to look after him.
Since the internet didn't have enough teenagers uploading videos complaining about how difficult their lives were, Satun's own Khanitha Chansawang came to the rescue.
Nong Laila, 15, won hearts and caused more than a few chuckles with her strangely endearing and expletive-ridden YouTube rant about the sticky rice and fried chicken that was stolen from her in front of a convenience store. Laila had left 30 baht's worth of sticky rice and chicken in her motorcycle basket when she entered a 7-Eleven. When she walked out, her food had gone.
"Can't you afford to buy 30 baht of sticky rice and chicken? You can't afford it and steal from others. I'm very, very angry," she said in a southern accent the rest of the country found adorable.
“I want to tell the thief, don't let me know who you are or I'll shove sticky rice and chicken down your throat. Remember that. I'm under a lot of stress because my sticky rice and chicken are gone.”
But it was not just the accent that made Laila an internet sensation. She used a few choice phrases best left untranslated along the way. We suspect even Chalerm "I'm f**king back" Yubamrung — where did he go, again? — may have learned a new term or two.
At any rate, Laila’s clip received hundreds of thousands of hits overnight, with the audience largely sympathetic to her plight.
Her clip inspired many spin-offs, with one producing a rap song and others quick to remix it. One even went so far as to claim he was the one who stole her food and ate a chicken wing, broadcasting from an undisclosed location.
Laila’s clip not only went viral online, but also caught the attention of the national media. The most-watched TV news, Channel 3, sent reporters to Satun to find the whereabouts of the missing chicken. Satun's governor bought Laila sticky rice and chicken to comfort her, and she was promised free food for life from the vendor. Then she won an advertising contract.
The incident was a slap in the face for police. They were embarrassed into pulling up all the footage from surveillance cameras in an attempt to find the culprit responsible for such a serious crime right under their noses. Finally, justice prevailed. After intensive forensic examination and witness testimony, police concluded the sticky rice and chicken was stolen by a dog.
The suspect is believed to have committed similar offences in the neighbourhood, and he was seen licking his lips on the day in question. No charges have been laid, since the crucial piece of evidence is presumed to have been destroyed, and presumed to have been delicious.
Mr Suthep was far too busy at the start of the year to deal with matters such as the multiple charges of murder and treason he faced — after all, there was a city to shut down, government offices to besiege and a government he didn't see eye-to-eye with to overthrow.
The boisterous leader of the strangely-named People’s Democratic Reform Committee initially took to the protest stages to oppose a blanket amnesty bill that would have allowed for the return of his long-time nemesis, Thaksin Shinawatra.
But when the bill was defeated and some of his supporters started running out of puff to blow their whistles, Mr Suthep took a deep breath and continued on. Instead of handing himself in to confront the charges he faced, Mr Suthep sniffed victory and went after the Pheu Thai government with a bigger whistle.
Getting a second wind after being cheered on by rowdy mobs and being praised in the media, he promised that what was supposed to be the end of the fight was actually "just the beginning". Mr Suthep left quite a few gasping for breath when he claimed he had plans to achieve democracy by scrapping elections, and more than a few spluttered for air when he claimed he would gather “a million people” to support his cause in what increasingly looked like an appendage-measuring contest, as government supporters staged cautious counter-protests on Bangkok's outskirts.
After at least 20 “final battles” to topple the government, the former Democrat Party MP was finally able to breathe easy and rest his vocal chords when men in green uniform stepped in and took the reins.
After months of decrying the alleged excesses of those “bad people” in power, Mr Suthep now had reason to celebrate, and he did so in style — with a military-themed party at 4 Garcons, an opulent French restaurant on Thong Lor Road.
Some attendees wore camouflage shirts with "Burapha Phayak" emblazoned on their backs. Burapha Phayak, or Tigers of the East, is the name given to soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Regiment, which includes coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha.
At another dinner, Mr Suthep claimed he had been advising the junta chief on how to root out the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies since 2010, a statement that made Gen Prayut gasp for air before quickly issuing a denial.
Some commentators suspected a lack of oxygen to the brain from blowing too many whistles and too much time on the streets under the blazing sun had led Mr Suthep to claim he had chatted regularly with Gen Prayuth and his team via the Line messaging application.
It was a line that didn't go down well in military circles and earned the PDRC leader a swift rebuke from the general, who warned Mr Suthep to “stay low” from then on.
After seven months of testing his lung capacity with whistles and his vocal chords with endless speeches, Mr Suthep shaved his head and sought sanctuary behind a saffron robe.
This pair of pampered young rich kids taught us two important lessons this year. First: If you're going to help steer civil unrest, the only place do it from is the front seat of a 1973 Ferrari. Second: Do so only while affecting your best British accent.
At the height of the PDRC’s "Bangkok Shutdown" protest, Thanat "Nat" Thanakitamnuay and Victor Kritsanaseranee attempted to prove their grassroots ties and royal devotion by taking Vice News on a tour of the besieged capital.
They took in all the local sights that any ordinary working class Thai would appreciate, from a personal garage full of luxury sports cars to exclusive bars with one-month waiting lists.
But this pair wasn't all about life in the fast lane — they were also about the politics. And so while PDRC supporters were busy facing down bombs and bullets on the streets, Nat and Victor were quick to point out what the whole campaign was really about. Spoiler alert: it's sports cars.
“Driving around a city like Bangkok in your precious little pony, that's about as good as it gets. That's exactly what we fight for. The small moment like that makes it all worthwhile,” Victor said from the passenger seat of one of Nat's many Ferraris as it drove at high speed without licence plates along one of Bangkok's tollways.
It wasn't the first time Nat had caused a durian-level stink in a multimillion-baht European sports car. Four years earlier, at age 18, the heir to the Noble Home Development fortune rammed his Porsche 911 into a group of red-shirt protesters. “I was just taking a joyride,” he told Vice nonchalantly when recalling the incident.
No need to feel sorry for old Nat though — he avoided any legal repercussions from mowing down the group of protesters and "even though the car was beat up, we ended up selling it for a profit".
But really, it took bravery for these two fearsome protest leaders to fight the good fight, and they made sure to put that bravery on full display. "That is one thing I love about you," Victor professed to Nat. "You have a number of Ferraris, but not even one in red colour. It takes a lot of guts for you not to get a red Ferrari."
To be fair, the duo probably don't want to be seen inside a red anything — but given the stink this durian caused among even their supporters, they might want to put off buying that yellow Lamborghini for a while as well.
When the world was looking to its favourite holiday destination for reassurance after the murder of two tourists on Koh Tao, the tourism minister responded with an idea that took everyone by surprise. Wristbands.
After the imposition of martial law, the coup two days later, and tourist arrivals plummeting at least 10% in some months, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul had to do something. But the idea of wristbands was something else entirely.
“When tourists check-in to a hotel they will be given a wristband with a serial number that matches their ID and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying in so that if they’re out partying late and, for example, get drunk or lost, they can be easily assisted,” Ms Kobkarn said.
“The next step would be some sort of electronic tracking device, but this has not yet been discussed in detail.”
This produced mixed reactions — about one part laughter to four parts confusion, with a dash of outrage thrown in for good measure.
The Los Angeles Times, hardly the most sensationalist rag on the planet, ran with the headline: “After coup and slayings, Thai authorities ponder tourist-tracking.” The Mirror put it this way: “Tourists to be electronically tagged.”
Either way, it sent a strong message to potential visitors: Go to Bali.
The brain snap caused enough of a stink to earn the Gold Durian in its own right, but it wasn’t the only one of the year. The other brilliant idea from the Tourism Authority of Thailand was to host the Tour de France.
As far as the organisers of the world’s most famous bike race were concerned, there were only preliminary discussion for holding a criterium. This did not stop TAT governor Thawatchai Arunyik from saying: “We’re not sure yet how many stages we will hold, whether it is one or two stages or the whole competition. This is something that still needs to be discussed.
“Thailand is the perfect location for this highly prestigious competition.”