Readers' Submissions

The Danger Within




Residents here know that Thailand often appears not to be playing with a full deck. Sometimes it means the country and the people can be endearing or amusing. Or it means things can be frustrating as, no matter how you look at the situation, there is no logic to something. Such as no selling of alcohol between 14:00 and 17:00 (unless you go to a small local store, where like most Thais they don’t give a rats fart about the law), or the skytrain selling you a multi-ride ticket but insisting you use the machine to buy a single ride ticket. Or a thousand other things. Or often things happen that are just downright dangerous. Are Thais often too lazy to do anything right, or simply too stupid? I still haven’t really worked that one out, but so little is done properly here. Stick recently referred to someone he knew, a Thai, who admitted that if you have a property built you have to watch them like a hawk to ensure they don’t screw up or cut corners. As a Korean colleague once said to me after working here, the standards are just so low.

Take driving. Absolutely nothing would get me to drive in Bangkok because, most of the time, if an accident happens we know who is to blame. And even if everyone agrees the farang isn’t to blame, then they also agree that he / she can pay for any damage because all foreigners are rich and all Thais are poor. Many Thais are poor because they are lazy, but that’s another thing to address later, perhaps. Anyway, with taxis so readily available, why risk life and limb and the bank balance?

Why is driving such a risk? With roughly the same population, Thailand has six times more people killed on the roads each year than the UK. Because, in Thailand, you don’t actually have to be able to drive a car in order to get a license. At the most, I’ve been told (you can correct me if I’m wrong), you might need to drive around the test centre car park. I know of someone who didn’t need to do that because it was raining, so they just issued the license. But mostly it’s a matter of answering a few questions. And even if you get that wrong it’s nothing that a few baht in the palm of the hand can’t correct. Why don’t they learn to drive properly? Too lazy or too stupid? Even so-called professional drivers are to be avoided. We’ve all seen the bus races, haven’t we, with many drivers far too intent on beating another bus than actually stopping to let passengers on or off, an inconvenience to be avoided if at all possible.

According to the Prince of Songkla University's Accident Research Centre, there are more than 4,000 road accidents involving passenger buses each year, mostly in and around Bangkok. That’s 11 a day! One every couple of hours. I wonder what the rate is in London or New York? A study by the National Health Foundation of 600 bus drivers found only 7% of them went through a driving school. Look at that again. Ninety-three out of 100 bus drivers have never been to a driving school. About 48% said they were self-taught. I have no idea what happened with the other 45% who neither went to a driving school or were self-taught. The article didn’t say (more sloppy low standards, this time of journalism). Anyway, those figures explain a lot, don’t they. Plenty of people get killed or injured each year by these maniacs, but of course nothing is ever done to raise the standards and ensure that drivers actually know how to drive.

Again – too lazy to do it, or too stupid? People get the same pay whether they do a good job or bad, so why put yourself out to do a good job. Getting rid of people who under-perform is rarely done (confrontation must be avoided at all costs in Thai society), and even if someone is fired they can usually pick up another job fairly easily. Of course, they might need a degree or diploma of some kind to help, but that can be obtained easily enough for a few baht. I’ve seen police standing right beside stands selling fake licenses and diplomas, making no move at all to arrest the culprits, even joking with the owners.

Sometimes, as I said at the beginning, the attitudes here can be downright dangerous. Safety is paramount to most airlines and everything is done to ensure the highest standards. Unless, of course, you are too lazy or too stupid to do the job properly. Phuket Air were banned from Europe, and now One-Two-Go (what a stupid name for an airline) are banned from flying after many of their pilots showed up with fake qualifications that the airline was too lazy or too stupid to check. And people died. Hopefully, the airline won’t be allowed to fly again. Will anyone be prosecuted? Will it snow in Bangkok on Christmas Day?

Just last month it was revealed that a former Bangkok governor, Chirmsak Pinthong, had sued Nakhon Si Thammarat airport and Nok Air after he discovered that check-in staff there had not searched passengers for weapons. The director-general of the Civil Aviation Department said he had asked the airport about it and was told that the local Walailak University had borrowed its walk-through metal detector for use during its graduation ceremony. Excuse me? What? The airport said it was okay though, because they used hand-held scanners. No, that isn’t okay. And anyway, wouldn’t it have been more logical, and infinitely more practical, to keep the airport scanner in the airport and let the university use the hand-held scanners? Too stupid to think of the easy solution? No, not on this occasion. I’m sure, aren’t you, that someone got paid for the hire of the scanner.

While we’re on the subject of airport security, don’t you find it more than a little worrying that recently PAD supporters were able to close down three airports, including a major international facility at Phuket, after they gained access to the runway? WTF! If they can do it, anyone can do it. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Thailand can never be secure because it is deeply ingrained into Thai culture to avoid confrontation (unless you join the PAD). There’s a pretty high chance that if you brush past a security guard and ignore him, you will not be challenged. I’ve done it, after I was picked out after several Thais were allowed to pass unhindered (The racist thing. Only foreigners are troublemakers, all Thais are innocent). I’ve also watched as people walked in through the exit doors at Siam Paragon and Central World, so avoiding the security searches. Did the guards do anything? Is it going to snow in Bangkok on Christmas Day? It is not a matter of if, but when, because people are too lazy or too stupid to do their job properly. I hope I’m not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stickman's thoughts:

I can certainly relate to all that you say. For many things the standards in Thailand don't compare that well with elsewhere…