Readers' Submissions

Comparisons of Lifestyles – Thai v West – Part 2




Transport infrastructure:

There are a number of transport infrastructure programmes being undertaken in some of the major cities in Australia at this time with the primary emphasis being placed on motor vehicle transport. In Brisbane, there is a network of tunnels being cut in quite a few places to shorten travelling times and to improve traffic flow but it seems that construction can never keep ahead of demand for road space due to the ever-growing number of vehicles on the roads. Every city in Australia suffers from the same problem.

In Bangkok, the traffic problem can be quite horrendous at times and people are forever complaining about the volume of traffic being too great for the capacity of the road system. Actually, I believe Bangkok has a far-better road system than all cities in Australia, largely due to the fact that there are ring roads and dual-level carriageways provided to many key areas around the city area. Here in Australia we are still holding onto the antiquated practice of building common-level road systems with the inevitable consequence of bottlenecks at the large numbers of traffic signals. Yes, Bangkok has its problems with traffic signals at many common-level intersections but the time allowed for each sequence of lights is much more realistic than what is provided in Australia, generally – where you are lucky if you get 20 seconds for a sequence at many key intersections. In Bangkok there are some intersections that have 2-minute timings on the signals with a digital countdown shown to motorists and pedestrians. In Australia, if some inattentive donkey is at the head of the traffic line that could mean that many vehicles may end up missing out on that sequence with our short timings. One is prompted to speculate where many of our “engineers” obtained their degrees.

Let's discuss the Kanchanaphisek ring motorway encircling Bangkok City – a truly magnificent example of good traffic engineering. This piece of essential infrastructure connects most of the satellite regions of Bangkok so that vehicles, that do not need to venture into the more heavily trafficked areas within this perimeter, can reach their destinations without contributing to the internal congestion. In Australia, we have been screaming out for ring roads around our cities for years – but nothing has ever been done until recently because most State and Local governments are always at loggerheads over political ideologies or playing parochial games that forever seem to slow down planning and decision making. We always seem to be at least 10 years behind whatever happens in Asia, or anywhere else. Why is that so?

Take the recent activity in Brisbane, where large areas of dense commercial and residential precincts are being forced to endure lengthy inconvenience for the 24-hour construction of the tunnel networks and associated road and bridge works. When it is all completed we will still be left with the same situation at either end of the tunnel portals – because the tunnels are still common-level carriageways and traffic still needs to do the transition to the old road network. Nothing has really been done to improve the congestion – it has just been moved further along the route at great expenditure. If these “engineers” had any brains at all they would take note of the upper-level express-way system in use in Bangkok, where through traffic uses the upper level and local traffic uses the lower-level existing road system. This is vastly cheaper to construct and many times more efficient than tunnels.

Thailand is investing massive amounts of capital into transport projects, much of it designed to encourage people to use public transport where possible. The BTS project, or “Elevated Train in Commemoration of HM the King's 6th Cycle Birthday” was commenced in early 1990 but the contract was cancelled in 1992 due to disagreements over certain issues with the contractors. However, after new negotiations, the project was completed in 1999 when it was officially opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn. Current patronage exceeds 500,000 single trips per day on the network, greatly contributing to alleviating the heavy burden on Bangkok's road system. There is construction already in hand to expand the network further east from On Nut to Bearing, with further plans to extend services from Wongwian Yai to Bang Wa, from National Stadium to Phran Nok, from Mor Chit to Saphan Mai and from Bearing to Samut Prakan. Almost 56 billion Baht has been committed to the first two phases of this expansion.

In July 2004, Bangkok's subway system – the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) was opened by Their Royal Majesties King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. The system runs from Hualamphong to Bang Sue and has a carrying capacity of 40,000 people per day in each direction at speeds of up to 80 kph. What amazes me is the fact that Bangkok is built on a floodplain, with much of the land reclaimed from the old canal systems remaining as a legacy from old Siam, yet engineers embarked on tunnel construction, confident this would be accommodated. All station entrances are raised around one metre above ground level and there are flood gates provided as a precaution against local inundation by periodic flooding of some areas of the city during prolonged rain. There are plans to extend the MRT network from Bang Sue to Bang Phlat (under construction), Hualamphong to Bang Khae (under construction), Bang Sue to Bang Yai,(under construction) as well as 5 other extensions designed to provide a ring-network in conjunction with the BTS expansions. This is a massive capital outlay and nothing even comparable to this has been undertaken anywhere in Australia. More importantly, the current networks in Bangkok are efficient and reliable – unlike what we have to contend with in Australia, where trains quite often just do not turn up and commuters are left stranded – sometimes due to Union disputes or faults with the electrical system or signalling.

Now, let's look at the Airport Link to Suvarnabhumi International Airport – full services began operating in August 2010. This network is an elevated rail connection that provides speedy, economical transport between Suvarnabhumi Airport via two methods of travel – Suvarnabhumi Airport Express (15 minute journey) and Suvarnabhumi Airport City Line (30 minute journey). This is a Standard-gauge rail line capable of carrying speeds of up to 160 kph. The Express service runs from Airport to Makkasan and the City Line runs from Airport to Phayathai – cost of construction was estimated to be around 26 billion Baht, with future extensions planned. The present Airport Link can carry 50,000 passengers per day, generating 1 million Baht per day revenue.

Great foresight was used in laying out Bangkok's system of overhead Expressways – beginning in 1981 when construction began of the first stage Chalerm Maha Nakhon Expressway. This route carries traffic from Din Daeng to Thanon Rama II, crossing the Chao Phraya via Rama IX bridge. There is a junction just west of Khlong Toey where another branch passes over Khlong Toey to connect with Bang Na Trat Road and Burapha Withi Expressway to Chonburi. The second stage Si Rat Expressway branches off the Chalerm Maha Nakhon just east of the approach to Rama IX bridge and continues north to Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani then links with the Chaeng Watthana Tollway. Half-way along there is a branch to the right, heading east to link up with Rama IX Expressway near Asoke. Both of these Expressways have frequent on and off ramps to service local areas. A third stage, Chalong Rat Expressway, intersects Chalerm Maha Nakhon near At Narong and continues north to Thanon Ram Inthra, giving access to Rangsit, Khlong Samwa, Minburi and Nong Chok. The foregoing are just part of the interactive network of Expressways and Motorways that supplement the carrying capacity of the Viphavadi-Rangsit Tollway and other vital roadworks that are under constant upgrade and are being supplemented by newer works. I do not know anything in Australia that can even come close to the magnitude of these pieces of infrastructure – yet, here, we still fool ourselves into believing that we are more advanced than Asia. Thailand is only a small country but their planning and implementation is far superior.

Down on the ground level in Bangkok there are some problems with traffic movements but, even so, the city network of buses provides a remarkably-reliable method of transport to and from most places, provided you are not in a desperate hurry to get to anywhere – and it is cheap. Taxis and Tuk-tuks are plentiful and there is also a comprehensive network of ferries on the many khlongs around the city and on the Chao Phraya. I honestly cannot see why anyone would need to take a motor vehicle into Bangkok City area when fast, cheap and efficient transport is provided on BTS and MRT. In Australia, public bus transport is overpriced and schedules run behind due to choked roads and inefficient traffic signal co-ordination.

Law and order:

Thais have a reputation for cutting corners where it comes to complying with some minor aspects of daily responsibilities required by law – but they are, otherwise, a very law-abiding people who are proud of their city and mostly do their best to keep things looking nice, clean and tidy.

Rarely, will you see graffiti in Thailand – certainly not on the same scale as we see it here in the West. There may be the odd instance to be found but it will be the exception rather than the rule – and the reason for this is “respect” and pride in their culture and their country. Thais respect their environment [don't laugh about their love for plastic bags] – we in the West do not respect our environment. Certainly, the young, in the West, do not – they have no respect for themselves so how could we expect them to have respect for others or the possessions of others? Of course, Thailand has crime just the same as any other country and there are certain groups who concentrate on prostitution, drug trafficking and fraud but do we see armed robbers holding up a 7-11 store very often in Bangkok? No – but we see it on a daily basis in the West and it is getting more frequent, blatant and more violent. I walk back sois frequently, late at night when in Bangkok, and have never once been approached or felt threatened by anyone. I would not even think of visiting any similar place in our cities, here in Australia, late at night – it is plainly not safe to do so. Surely, this sheets back to upbringing and values – the core morals that should be instilled into children in the formative stages of life. The sad part is that we have abrogated our responsibility to the children in the West by hiding behind the banners of “child rights”, “permissiveness” and “political correctness”. We have given rights away to discipline our children and yielded to the pressure of idiots who know nothing about child management other than what they read in a book. These are the clowns who are determining the future of society. Give me the good old police system of law and order that exists in Thailand, any day. Society in the West functioned much better when the police were allowed to clip someone over the ear or give a solid kick up the backside.

I like the way Police operate in Thailand – they command respect and that is the way it should be. I was quite surprised that most Thais will avoid approaching Police in the street or in their Police box. A friend of mine, Khun Paul, is married to a Thai lady and they were in Bangkok when Khun Paul wanted to take a photograph of the police in their Police box – but his wife was horrified and pulled him away saying “No, you cannot do that – mai-dai”. There is this ingrained respect for the Police – maybe even a touch of fear. But fear is not such a bad thing. If you are stupid enough to be uncooperative or disrespectful to Thai Police, the chances are there will be consequences – not so now in Western society, particularly Australia. Even when dealing with known offenders, police in Australia are expected to say “yes Sir, no Sir – three bags full Sir” and that really angers me. How must it make the Police feel? I liked the old days in Australia when recalcitrant detainees, who made life difficult for Police, sometimes got slightly injured when the Sergeant who was “attending to their needs” may have, unfortunately, overbalanced and landed on top of the offender. Some people will do anything to get attention – bugger probably deliberately tripped the Sergeant.

With the rising culture of drug-and-alcohol-fuelled violence in the West we need to be coming down hard on these cretins who run on testosterone highs and a belief in the invincibility of the “alpha-male”. This term “alpha-male” and this culture must be mercilessly crushed and eliminated from our society – it belongs in the stone-age with Neanderthal man – some of the “specimens” even look like Neanderthals with small brains to match – obviously so by their actions. Let's give Western Police the powers to smack them down – out with those truncheons boys, let's have some fun – bit of blood and guts – well fix the buggers. Let's get rid of those parasitic and meddling do-good-civil-rights “ambulance-chasing” lawyers, while we're at it.

Any contact I have had with Thai Police has always been pleasant and they have always been helpful and efficient. The only time Nat and I have needed to call them by telephone for help, at our apartment, the response was prompt and two officers arrived on the scene within 10 minutes. You would be hard-pressed to get such a quick response in Australia because the Police are so badly-understaffed and their workload is excessive due to the steadily-rising crime rate. And why is the crime rate rising? Because there are no consequences for actions in Western society and this trend begins in the nursery, continues in the home, in the school and when they are adults. The Court system in the West is far too lenient in the sentences handed down – they hardly ever reflect the severity of the crime or offence – I really believe in “an eye for an eye – and a tooth for a tooth”. What you do is what you should receive. One has to wonder if the Judiciary has been told by Government to avoid jail sentences because of the high cost of maintaining prisoners in detention. But, of course, we can afford to keep “Illegals” in detention when they should be shipped right back to wherever they came from, without question.

Then we come to the standards of detention in prison. In Australia, criminals are treated to a better lifestyle in prison than most law-abiding citizens enjoy in general society. The amenities provided are bordering on 5-star accommodation – and we, the public, are paying for this twice – the first time as being victims of the crime and the second time with our wallets to maintain this scum in the manner that they now expect. The Thais have got the right idea – we, in the West, should be replicating some of their conditions, in Klong Prem, Bangkwang and similar institutions, as a deterrent to discourage the idiots who imagine they can get away with crime in our country and be rewarded for it. At present they are – and that is wrong and must be changed, urgently. Governments should make sure there are no luxuries like TV, Internet, air-con, comfortable bunks – make it a place that's very uncomfortable – and bring back forced road-gang work with meagre rations. Get rid of the incentives for anyone who may want to be in jail – and ignore the civil-rights, bleeding-heart activists.

Social welfare:

Oh yes – Australia the bountiful, where you can sit on your bum from the day you can walk and the Government will pay you to do nothing, probably until the day you die – if you play your cards right. Why wouldn't “illegals” want to come to Australia? We treat them better than we do our own citizens. All you need to do in Australia is to walk into a Centrelink Office and tell them you are sick, pregnant or stupid and they will start to pay you – and once you are on the system, the chances are you will be there for life. There is nothing like this in Thailand and people there do not expect it. If they want money they work for it and I respect them for that. How can anyone respect dole bludgers or single women who deliberately get themselves pregnant just so they can get a “baby” grant of $AU5000 from the Government and a guaranteed payment for the child and herself, probably for life? These people are perpetuating the rip-off cycle – they are parasites and it should be stamped out. Quite often this same woman will do the same thing several times (with different partners) and the Government keeps coughing up the cash. This wouldn't happen in Thailand or any Asian country – nor should it. Welfare is breaking Australia's economy and it should be revised quickly – and hopefully in the coming budget for 2011/12. At least that's what is promised – but that remains to be seen.

Thailand has a very good hospital system, with skilful doctors, surgeons and nursing staff and Thai people are well cared for under their system. As a Farang, I have had excellent treatment on the occasions that I have needed to attend – and at more-than-reasonable cost. Australia has a good health system also, with excellent facilities, medical and surgical staff – all provided free of cost to citizens and permanent residents. Unfortunately, since many private-practice medical centres have stopped bulk-billing patients, the system is becoming overloaded and underfunded and the cost of private health insurance has gone through the roof, resulting in defectors from the health funds rushing to the public hospital system like lemmings. They go to Emergency for a sore toe or a sniffle, causing needless waiting time for others who really need to be there with far more serious complaints. I really don't know what's happening in the West – we seem to be breeding a rash of mindless morons who appear to be incapable of any original thoughts or consideration for others. The education system and society seem to be hell-bent on accelerating a general “dumbing-down” in all forms of education and eradicating common-sense and self-reliance. I hate to think what the legacy will be in 10 years' time.

In summary, it appears to me that Thailand wins hands-down in most areas mentioned – not so sure about Social Welfare – but, considering the negative spin-offs associated with Australia's very liberal welfare system, I think I have more regard for the way things are done in Thailand. If you do not have to work to live, you never understand the value of money and never learn ethics that are so necessary for a society to function well. The other thing you never learn, coming from a background like that, is respect.