Readers' Submissions

Stranger Than Fiction – 3



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


Many people have admired the nice new Central store at Chidlom, only recently bettered by the massive development at Central World just up the road. Central Chidlom is new because a few years ago it burned down. And why did it burn down, even though the fire brigade arrived with their little third world fire-trucks? Because the security guards refused to let them enter the building. The reason behind that insanity (in Thailand there always is a reason, no matter how bizarre) is that apparently firemen have the reputation for stealing things while they are on the job. Amazing Thailand, umm? Rather more sinister is the fact that the gutted building was declared off-limits by the police, but the boss of the company sent workers in to retrieve some goods that were apparently not damaged. Money over safety, as usual. And one of them was killed. Guess if anyone was prosecuted.

A little further up the road the building that is now the Intercontinental Hotel caught fire the day before the building was due to open. I happened to pass by half an hour after it started and boy, was it spectacular. The Bangkok Post has huge pictures of the blaze on the wall in one of its corridors. We found out later an air-conditioning unit had exploded, having not been installed properly (!) and the little third world fire-trucks couldn’t cope with a high-rise, of course. There were dramatic scenes as trapped people were lifted off the roof by helicopter and taken to the nearby Police Hospital, many hanging on to the bottom of the helicopter. Real Towering Inferno stuff. Why was it such a disaster, when a new building should have all kinds of safety measures? Well, there was a sprinkler system installed, as the law demanded. But – there is no law saying it had to be turned on. Guess whether it was turned on.

Love it.

Let’s move on to Thailand’s third sex. I asked on a forum once why Thailand has so many people of uncertain gender, and the general consensus was it is because Thailand is so tolerant, and it’s easier for Thai guys to look like women than, say, hairy East European truck drivers. Seems a reasonable explanation to me.

I don’t know if happened, but Thailand's first gay shopping zone was planned as part of the billion-baht Tawana Centre Park in Bangkok's Lat Phrao district. The "Gay Avenue" as it was termed was to comprise of 2,400 square metres of retail space for shops owned only by gays. Okay.

Thailand demands that a certain number of young men (only men) serve in the army as conscripts. They are chosen by lottery. Transvestites and transsexuals are not welcome (who knows how many of the ‘chosen’ suddenly find they have feminine traits so they can avoid serving), so each year thousands – thousands – who dress as women or who have undergone surgery to look like women used to receive certificates of exemption stamped ‘due to mental disorder’. Many of the third sex found that offensive, so the army agreed to drop the wording.

A couple of airport stories. There are constant problems at Suvarnabhumi airport from taxi touts who apparently operate under the influence of three mafia gangs. Of course, these gangs are headed by the usual invisible mob of high-ranking military officers and politicians. ''We have to suppress them because illegal taxi drivers often rob and injure passengers, which mars the country's image,'' Police Major-General Wut said. Good words, but no action of course. Except, according to one tour agent at the airport, the police actually reduced the fines they imposed on the illegal taxi drivers. There must be some logic to that move, but it’s something only a Thai would understand.
Suvarnabhumi is, of course, an international airport. But I once went to the information counter in the arrivals area and the girl there only spoke Thai. She wasn’t alone. According to one report I read, the police unit that handles the area also has no one who can communicate with foreign criminal suspects. One policeman said some officers even had to spend their own money to hire interpreters if they wanted to process cases more quickly.

In a story that will surprise no-one, the board of Airports of Thailand found irregularities in the tendering and supply of baggage trolleys at the airport, resulting in sub-standard trolleys which have injured more than 100 passengers. How the heck can baggage trolleys injury so many people? Well, AoT rejected the obvious and sensible idea of accepting a nice German suppliers offer of free trolleys in exchange for advertising rights on the carts, a win-win situation. too simple.

Instead, they preferred to pay over 530 million baht to Thai Airports Ground Services Co (Tags), who previously supplied ground services at Don Muang. The problem was that the Tags trolleys had sharp edges that injured all those passengers. The Tags chief executive admitted the problem when it came to light, but said the wheels, sharp edges and sub-standard baskets on 3,000 of the 9,000 trolleys had been fixed. That’s okay then. No word on why they decided to spend 530 million baht instead of getting them free. It surely couldn’t have been that someone would have lost a nice little earner, could it…

Finally, for now, there’s the story of a European businessmen who returned to his house in Bangkok to find that his maid had left. He was surprised because there had been no hint of conflict or unrest, but his neighbours eventually explained what had happened. The maid had told them there were ghosts in the house. In fact what had happened was that he had installed an answer-phone, and she kept hearing voices coming from his bedroom, but when she opened the door there was nobody there. That was enough for her to do a runner.

Stickman's thoughts:

Another great collection of stories!