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The Men Who Cried Wolf

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Phuket Gazette. Posted: 21st Jul 2012

Sometimes I lie awake in the early morning and reflect upon life.

The older I get, it seems, the harder it is to find the zone - that magic spot where the night is whisked away like a welcome mat being pulled out from under your feet, and there you stand at dawn.

Of course the big sleep will come soon enough, so frankly speaking, I'm grateful just to wake up alive on most days.

These days, those anxious nighttime hours are often spent dwelling on the state of things in Phuket and even the entire landscape of Thailand.

I'm not sure where the tipping point was, as in the early years all my time and energy was spent chasing women and fast times.

I miss the simplicity of that agenda, as it was all about living in the present.

Unfortunately, running a business and having responsibility means looking towards the future. For more years than I can recall I've remained a seasoned optimist about the island, albeit at times slipping onto the bar stool of dark humor and what some would call cynicism.

Though critics often write to me about the latter, they are often European and perhaps are not familiar with a Coen Brothers mentality. The English appreciate dark humor, so I'm not sure about what's gone wrong on the continent. Let's leave that for another time.

Lately the headlines are blaring out about yet another land scandal up in Nai Thon Beach, over the soon-to-open, upscale, Pullman Arcadia Resort. Photo opportunities abound of men in uniform as news helicopters fly in the sky and there's the click, click, click of media.

What is it about the sensationalism and ultimately the doomsday of land problems that make headlines here? For me the entire deluge of stories simply made me yawn, but again I'm a tainted cynic at heart.

Over the years the prophecy of the grim reaper's imminent stranglehold over large-scale revocation of land titles, throwing foreign property owners to the wolves, and in general just stirring up the pot of uncertainty, has not followed a straight line but more like a dance session. Going from a tango up to galloping across the floor in a flash of excitement.

About a decade ago, when I worked at Laguna Phuket, both the local newspapers and the Bangkok press raged on about illegal land titles at the destination estate. The last time I checked, the multiple hotel and real estate structures are still standing.

While islanders and close followers of all things Thai understand the drill, what is missed is the damage these political grandstanding events do to quality investments in Phuket by overseas and institutional investors.

Often my nights are filled with horror, as I look at a future where the island is driven to an urban cluster of concrete structures, endless rows of shophouses, shoebox condos and same-same three star hotels.

While we tout ourselves as a world-class destination, have we pulled off the expressway for a quick snooze? A few weeks ago, I attended a real estate conference in Jakarta where the mood was positive and sentiment strong, as was attendance from a wide variety of investors. What's so different these days between Indonesia and Thailand? It's always good to understand the Thai perspective and during a meeting in Bangkok with a former national political advisor and leading businessperson I probed into exactly what the state of the nation is at present.

In a pragmatic way, the gentleman responded that the country's political landscape was making a dramatic transformation from the old to the new. He said this would take time and thought that the next 3-4 years would still be pegged as a work in progress.

Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but it gave insight into the way of doing business here. It's a longterm proposal; stay calm, don't over react and in reality you are a passenger rather than the captain of your own destiny.

Business in Thailand somehow manages to find its way forward, perhaps akin to a blind man in a closet, realizing there is no door out, but just figuring out what's inside the enclosed space.

We can apply our own values, rage against the machine and raise our voices about what is desperately needed to be done to solidly increase business and infrastructure issues in Phuket.

But the reality is, the island remains a small part of something larger and perhaps even more arcane.

A work in progress? Perhaps or perhaps not. I'm not sure my nights are going to be filled with sleep anytime soon.

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