A National Embarrassment
I make a conscience effort in my life to never stereotype, way too often stereotyping is born out of ignorance and/or fear and ends up making the speaker look like an ass. There are exceptions to every rule and this submission is going to be one of them and it’s going to touch on the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport and then bring in some other examples to illustrate my point. My point? Yes, Thai’s are doomed to mediocrity because they either don’t know better or the people who do know better are too damn greedy to care. Thai’s do very little better than anyone else and most things they do are done to such a low level of competence that they really embarrass themselves to anyone who knows better. Suvarnabhumi Airport is perhaps the most expensive example of mediocrity of all time.
For over the last year I’ve had limited access to the Suvarnabhumi site while it was under construction and getting ready to open. Virtually EVERYONE who wasn’t Thai including the Japanese firm who were the architects for the terminal (and more) knew the airport wasn’t ready to open and that it wouldn’t be long until major errors and other failures surfaced. Anyone reading the Bangkok Post this last week now knows that they’re considering shutting down the new airport and moving operations back to Don Muang while repairs are effected. This would be the right way to do things and is perhaps the only way to do it safely and properly. One of the things needing repairs are the runways that have huge meters deep cracks in them. I’ve seen the serious cracks (more like crevices) and I’ve seen the less serious surface cracks which the authorities are trying to pass all the cracks off as. Shutting down the runways will be necessary and having labourers on the runway will also be necessary. A good mix while jets taxi about? Shutting down the airport and completing proper repairs would be the western way of doing things. There would be investigations and if there was wrongdoing people would be punished and soon we’d have the problems fixed. The Thai way of doing things is to first pretend it’s not a problem because saving face takes priority over everything else. Finally they’ll find the cheapest and quickest way to fix it even if it means it will have to be done again next year. The scary part is that these are serious safety issues for plane loads of people.
The general design of the “shopping mall” and other concessions were made to extract as much of your money from you as they can while doing as little for it as possible. Bribery (here in Asia we call it ‘graft’ or ‘tea money’) is an ugly word in the west but is common in Thailand. It’s also been used to award every contract and concession at the airport. The greed was so great that they forgot about simple things like restrooms and signs in their haste to have more floor space for shops and to ensure people walked through the shops as they wandered around the airport trying to find their way around. Bribery might seem cool for things like getting out of a traffic ticket, but if they’ll let you walk for 200 baht when you get caught speeding do you ever wonder how much it takes to get out of a DUI? Thailand has more people killed on their roads on a per capita basis than any other country in the world and the overwhelming majority of contributing factors is driving while intoxicated. Will you be thinking of this as your plane sets down on the runway? I know I will.
What about their healthcare system? Has the greed and graft system invaded even their showcase tourist hospitals? Many people think so. Paolo Hospital the Mecca for plastique surgery for Thailand’s well heeled has also been investigated many times and we don’t even want to consider the numerous plastic clinics popping up all over Pattaya and in shopping malls everywhere. How about their pathetic mobile phone system which is often so congested during peak times that it takes hours to send a SMS? The slow ADSL system touted throughout Bangkok which is marginally faster than dial-up services? Why are they still using antiquated equipment and protocols?
Public Works? Has anyone noticed that Bangkok smells worse than most major cities in third world countries? I’m sitting here trying to think of a city with worse smells and the only place that comes to mind is Mogadishu in Somalia and they’ve been in civil war for well over a decade. Sewer and garbage smells in Bangkok are normal, consistent, and so common that people think nothing of them. Why? What does it take before those responsible for the city look around them at the electrical wires bunched up like rats nest above their heads, smell the raw sewage backing up into their homes, see the pollution invading their homes. See the pollution? Yes, SEE the pollution. I live about a 100 meters up in a high rise building and I enjoy keeping my windows open 24/7. The cost of keeping my windows open is that for a year now I’ve been cleaning a very fine dust off of everything in my condo. No doubt this dust is inside my lungs and it makes you wonder what other things that we can’t see we’re breathing in 24/7.
This mediocrity is apparent in the photography I’ve seen from Thai photographers and the way their prints are made, to almost all products we use on a daily basis. Produce and fresh meats in the supermarkets? Restaurant food? Almost all of it is substandard and much of it isn’t safe to consume. Even shopping at the Villa market and paying very high prices for “USDA Beef” nets you worse than you’d find in the lowest quality supermarket back home. Have you tasted the veggies? No taste. No substance. The only thing that counts is extracting the money from your hand and the system is purposely designed so you can’t complain or do much as a consumer at all. The television system? We pay more for cable here than in our home countries and get half the quality and less than 10% of the programming. Virtually everything we use and enjoy on a daily basis is a product of mediocrity.
Why? Because most Thai’s don’t know better. They still eat fish sold on the streets (and I mean laying on the street on top of a bit of ice) and vegetables stacked on top of tables and street surfaces that haven’t been cleaned since time began, so I suppose it’s too much to expect the average Thai to recognize what a good steak looks like much less explain the difference in texture and taste. Most Thai’s are living in third world conditions so expecting them to care about the speed of the internet is asking a bit much. Not all Thai’s are so ignorant, anyone who’s lived in Bangkok for any length of time knows there are quite a few very rich and well off Thai’s. They isolate their entire lives with money so they don’t have to live/work/eat/exist in the same breathing space as their fellow countrymen. This allows them to look down at those they have the responsibility for protecting, those they make their money from, and those who they look at as little more than soi dogs.
The average Thai was very proud of their new international airport and they flocked to it during its opening months like tourists to the beach. They camped out along the roads leading into the airport and did whatever they could to get a chance to walk through the terminal and be part of its grand opening. Contrast this to the rich Thai’s who have traveled to many other international airports and could see at a glance what a joke this new airport was, and who only regarded the airport as yet another way to extract money to further build their wealth. It’s ok to take as much as you can from your home country and its people, so long as you get to travel to other countries to spend it.
I’ve come to really love the Thai people and I could write much about why, and in my own country I’m probably regarded as a staunch conservative. Yet in Thailand I’ve developed total disdain for the “Thai ruling class” who willingly rape their country and oppress their people, and have learned to do it so well that the average man on the street actually thinks someone is looking out for him. The military coup shouldn’t have stopped with Thaskin and his cronies just like America shouldn’t have stopped short of Baghdad in 1991. They should have kicked them all out of the country, perhaps stripped of their assets and sent off to Laos or Burma. The Thai people badly need quality representation and leadership and it’s not going to come from within, not when those with the money to pull it off are all part of the problem. In my dreams a very rich foreigner comes to Thailand and sponsors some honest Thai people into the political system and in the process educates the masses. Many things happen in my dreams though..
Until next time..