Last Call

September 10, 2001

The city that never sleeps is being forced to go to bed early these days thanks to strict enforcement of laws regarding the sale of alcohol in Thailand. When this new initiative was first talked about, most probably didn’t take it very seriously. I know I didn’t. Elephants aren’t allowed in Bangkok but I see them every day. Speed limits are ignored by most. I certainly was not the only one who thought these new regulations would fall into a gray zone. Nightlife was so large it seemed invincible. Wrong. You better make sure your drink is finished and you’re out the door on time these days, and I am not kidding.

Prime Minister Thaksin’s campaign slogan was “New Thinking, New Ways” and the rules as laid out by Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun certainly help illustrate this motto. “Entertainment venues must close at 2 a.m., venues which serve alcohol must close at 1 a.m., and food shops and stalls must stop serving alcohol at midnight.” (Bangkok Post, August 28,100901k1.jpg 2001)

Although underage drinking is the main point of concern and discussion, all venues regardless of whom they cater to are being patrolled nightly. Bustling nightlife is biting the dust. Terrified establishment owners will come around and whisk your glass right out of your hand as police stand outside the door. Fines are being handed out left and right for violations. Urine samples have been collected on the spot and tested for drugs.

Government officials believe that by strictly enforcing these laws they will help restore social order, reduce crime and underage drinking, and promote a more positive image of Thailand to the rest of the world. Nighttime hotspots have been fingered as areas that promote crime and drug addiction among Thai youths. Because of rebellious teenagers, everyone has been grounded.

This is a real shock for Thai and foreign nighthawks alike who are used to having the option of staying out all night if they choose to. Now when I go out to100901k2.jpg watch live music, the musicians spend as much time looking at their watches as they do the crowd.

New zoning laws are underway to limit the number of entertainment venues and determine their permitted locations. Licensing fees are going to increase, and strict enforcement of the ‘under 18, no entry’ law is planned. I wonder what the plan is for entertaining all of the bored teenagers (and adults) once this is all successfully carried out.

Some wives and girlfriends may now be pleased that their men come home much earlier, and those who don’t like to go out at night don’t really care about the crackdown - YET. The financial impact of the new policy is immense. Establishment owners and employees, taxi drivers, and street vendors have already felt their wallets getting lighter. No one can spend money if they are sound asleep in bed, Thai and tourist alike.

I figure if this keeps up, bored and/or broke voters are sure to strike back in the next election. If the100901k3.jpg tourists stop coming once word gets out that the party is over, Thailand is going to miss them no matter how much it likes to complain about their misbehaviour. You don’t miss something until it is gone, especially when it comes to income.

Can you actually picture Thailand being an organized place? New York City without yellow taxicabs? Venice without canals? Paris without baguette? Bangkok without its nightlife? No more karaoke until dawn. No more dancing until the sun comes up. No more all night blow out rock concerts. And trust me, most that are out dancing, singing and/or drinking aren’t rowdy teenagers nor are they in it for drugs or crime; they are in it for fun.

Having fun (‘sanuk’) is a priority in all aspects of life for Thais. If markets and shopping centres in Thailand have a cheerful party-like atmosphere, you can imagine how festive it is when everyone really lets his or her hair down. Being tossed out on your ear just when the night is revving itself into high gear is definitely not ‘sanuk’. Fun for Thais is a very organic and spontaneous occurrence that knows no clock.

New thinking and new ways are often easier said than done. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra now “wants his interior minister to reach a compromise in his campaign for social order…He ruled out a public hearing but said an academic study would be suitable.” (Bangkok Post, September 2, 2001)

Sure, everyone is catching up on sleep but taking a late night tuk-tuk ride in the city has lost its vibrancy. The late night hustle and bustle is gone and the streets have a quiet and eerie feeling to them. Making an entire nation head home early so that teenagers keep out of trouble is drastic indeed. For some the level of curiosity about how this situation will turn out in the end is certainly as high as their level of boredom.

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