Bangkok Stories: Disgraced soap star? Rude mobiles? It's up to Buddhists to raise the tone

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The Independent Online

Landlines have become almost irrelevant in Bangkok, where people are more likely to be stranded in a traffic jam or snacking at a street-food stall than at their desks when you ring. Mobile phones are such a fetish that an entire mall is devoted to cheap cases that can transform last month's model to look like the latest on the market.

Ringtones - the ultimate indicator of cool - tend to be chopped and changed on a whim. One of the most popular with teenagers is a noisy mock orgasm, which is not only as annoying as the Crazy Frog, but has caused a Buddhist backlash.

"Some sounds seem to provoke unwholesome thoughts, such as the sound of a woman moaning in a sexual manner," complained Phra Phayom Kalayano, one of Thailand's most prominent monks. Instead, he is promoting a Buddhist alternative: not the sound of one hand clapping, exactly, but recordings of Buddhist homilies.

Modern mantras include: "It is better to sweat from hard work than cry from laziness, which encourages poverty." Or "Compose yourself before answering this call... Avoid being irascible and causing disputes." The best seller turns out to be: "Anger is stupidity, fury is madness."

Profits go to charity, while phone owners get the bonus of spreading good karma. In a city that is mobile-mad and overwhelmingly Buddhist, the scheme is a ringing success.

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Given the above, and Bangkok's notorious army of bar girls and masseuses, it is baffling to learn that Thailand's most popular soap star and chat show hostess has fled to Detroit in disgrace, after her fans learnt she was expecting a child out of wedlock.

Kataleeya McIntosh, 33, the daughter of an airline pilot from Scotland and his Thai wife, has been an icon for almost two decades. Discovered at 16, Mam, as she is nicknamed, caused an immediate craze for orthodontic braces. Her Celtic looks won her a rabid fan base in dozens of old-fashioned romances such as The Pork Vendor's Daughter, in which she would be typecast as the coy heroine.

Now it appears that her admirers believed she was the same in real life, and that her union with her property tycoon boyfriend would be a white wedding in every sense. What really seems to rankle with them is that she allowed her halo to slip in full public view.

After weeks of attributing her pudginess to a herbal cure gone awry, Mam could no longer keep mum. With her mother beside her, she announced: "The best news of my life: I have been pregnant for about the last five months, but I wasn't aware of it until my doctor informed me yesterday."

Instant infamy resulted. Mam was reviled for days on front pages and internet chatrooms as a liar and a slut. "I hate you!" raged one columnist, and her long-running variety show was cancelled. Still, fickle fans might change their tune once Ms McIntosh returns from Motown with her new baby.

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There is little hope of avoiding Bangkok's battle of the bands. Blind buskers populate the pavements around Silom Road, in the financial district, and because they must compete over the rumble of taxis and tuk-tuks, almost all turn their amplifiers to top volume.

It seemed a disaster for one girl when her amp was stolen, but she bravely improvised by clapping together two plastic water bottles. Curiously, passers-by gave her just as much money, apparently rewarding her for making less noise. In this cacophonous city, it is a trend that I hope catches on.

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