Stickman Readers' Submissions April 23rd, 2012

In Defence Of Khun Bill

I have written often about the shortcomings of the Land of Smiles/Scams/Scowls, so it will come as no surprise that I knew I had found a kindred spirit when reading Khun Bill’s
What A Horrible Country submission. I was, though, a little surprised at Stick’s somewhat dismissive comments. I thought
Bill made many valid points. For Stick to say that other countries also have problems is completely irrelevant, and anyway many of the problems that Bill detailed are very much more in evidence in Thailand than in Stick’s Kiwiland or mine
and Bill’s UK. Or many other places.

Bill did concede that he loves the vibrant atmosphere of Bangkok. I agree. Also, he no longer feels he belongs in the UK, and I feel exactly the same way, with one caveat (later). It is not the place that he or I grew up in during the 50’s
and 60’s, far from it. When I go back to the area I was raised I feel like an alien. The place has a run-down look, quite clearly brought about by the enormous influx of immigrants who simply have different standards to the original inhabitants
of the area. And that is not restricted to the UK, but many other countries too when people of poorer nations move in. Immigration rarely raises the standard of a country; rather it tends to drag the host country down. People in the US might argue
otherwise, but I think that was then rather than now. Times, and people, change.

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The caveat is that this applies almost exclusively to the cities. The UK countryside is in my admittedly limited experience much like it was those 40 or 50 years ago. More houses for sure, but the people often have the same standards and
attitudes that we remember from the old days. Again, I’m pretty sure this doesn’t apply only to the UK, but other countries too, including Thailand. The rural areas remain largely untouched by social changes.

Let us look at some of the points that Bill made. He begins by mentioning the type of tourist that Thailand is now attracting. It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 10 years or so, that Thailand made it clear it only wanted to attract high-end
tourists, and would do its best to discourage the perceived low-spending backpackers. That backfired first with the rich Asian market when the country indulged in street riots, the barricading of Government House (resulting in the government of
the day fleeing to the old airport to set up shop) and closing of two major airports – with almost total impunity, I might add. Then, of course, we had the riots of 2010.

Now, something that Thailand has never grasped is that there are alternatives for foreigners to go to, that also have fine shops, temples and white sandy beaches. Thailand is often so insular that it and its people believe the country should
inevitably be the number one choice for everyone in the world. But westerners avoided the place after the airport shutdowns – and I still have people tell me they are wary of coming to Thailand in case it happens again – and the Asians avoided
the place after the riots. So the Tourism ministry lowered their sights to the poorer nations of East Asia and Russia, and it has been well documented on this site how reluctant they are to spend money.

He mentions road safety. We all know of the appalling driving habits of the locals, much of which they are allowed to get away with by a small donation to the boys in brown. Even the police drive on the pavement/sidewalk. A red light is treated
as a suggestion rather than an order. The driving test is a joke, and road deaths are 10 times that of the UK with a similar population. The absurd U-turn policy, which Bill mentions, causes many accidents as cars in the fast lane suddenly meet
a line of stopped cars waiting to go back the way they came. It’s utterly insane. Sure, many other countries have poor driving habits too, but Bill was highlighting Thailand.

He mentions other forms of transport, and we know that mini-vans are especially dangerous. So is the habit of people hanging on the back of pick-up busses, ready to be hurled off when it does an emergency stop to avoid a motorcycle that emerges
from a side street without looking to see if anything is there. I myself know of someone who died that way after hitting his head on the kerb. Questioning the skills of pilots was, though, over the top I feel. There are international standards.
However, I do find it interesting that Thai only uses Thai pilots, unlike many other international airlines who employ people on merit rather than nationality.

Taxis can be a problem all over the world, especially third-world countries. Thailand is firmly in that category. They often drive far too fast for safety, and they do refuse a fare. I was in one taxi when the driver put my life in danger
by engaging in a battle with a car that had cut in front of him, racing him and repeatedly stopping in front of him. He refused to stop and let me out. Can’t imagine that in NZ or the UK, Stick. You could of course write down their taxi
number and complain, but we all know that would have no effect. Often, the photo of the driver is not that of the actual driver anyway.

Pollution is a problem in many large cities, but it is so severe in the north that many are hospitalised. <I spent more than a week in the north recently and the weather was clear for the entire time and in no way reflected that errant article from the TelegraphStick> That isn’t what people desire from their holiday, but nothing is ever done to change it. I have a friend who made the mistake of going there in February and he lost his voice for several days. He won’t
be back here again. Nor will another friend, wheelchair-bound, after he found it utterly impossible to use the pavements in Bangkok because of all the obstacles. As for the noise, I have experienced it even trying to walk in the park. They have
ornate loudspeakers positioned throughout. I have a theory it is so that there is always something to distract the Thais so they will not have to think.

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Dual pricing. I have a dream that Thais overseas are charged more at tourist sites because they are Thai. I’d love that. Imagine the loss of face. But it is interesting that the aquarium at Siam Paragon, I believe I am right in saying,
is owned by an Australian company, yet they also have dual pricing. Scams. They will always continue because the scammers are supported by the police, whether it be gems, jet-skis, dropped cigarette butts or anything else. Corruption is too rife
at all levels for it ever to change. Again, these things do not happen in civilised countries.

For Stick to suggest that nowhere is perfect and that Bill should have speculated or suggested ways that things might change is, again, completely irrelevant. This is Thailand, where foreigners have zero influence and are often regarded as
a necessary evil tolerated largely because we provide foreign currency. The locals are most certainly not interested in and would not welcome any suggestions from us in how they should run their country, to right the wrongs. Everyone knows that,
including Stick, so to suggest that Bill offers such advice seemed rather odd to me.

Thais simply seem unwilling to change anything for the better and are happier to put up with inconveniences and problems than trying to solve them. Partly that is due to the distaste for confrontation, partly it is related to their place
in society in which you do not challenge your elders/’betters’, partly it is to avoid making someone lose face. But I suspect it is mostly due to a feeling of utter helplessness, that an individual can have no influence unless they
are rich and powerful, so why bother. The general acceptance of corruption is a prime result of that.


Stickman's thoughts:

I think you missed the point of my comments on Bill's submissions completely. I was not disagreeing with what Bill said per se and I am the first to call Thailand and the Thais on some of the issues in this country. The main point I was making was that Bill could have made his submission more worthwhile to the readership. Reading a 5,000+ word list of criticisms and wrongs in the country – a number of which were generalizations – on a site where said issues have been raised numerous times before really doesn't give any value to the reader. Bill, as someone who has been visiting Thailand for 33 years, could have provided a few hints on how to overcome these issues, or perhaps, at the very least, explain why these issues occur. I also thought the title of the submission was quite appalling.

Sitting around in bars that are transplants from Farangland bleating and whining about Thailand and its supposed ills is a favourite activity for many expats and frequent visitors but one which I refuse to partake in. Surely one is better off acknowledging that an issue exists, and then trying to understand why it exists and, if possible, how to overcome it. I mean, for goodness sake, which of the examples below has more value?

A. Dual pricing is common in Thailand and foreigners are ripped off or

B. Dual pricing is common in Thailand but for expats who can show a work permit, local drivers licence or simply speak in polite Thai the local price usually applies.

A. Chiang Mai and the north are heavily polluted and the air quality is terrible and foreigners should avoid the area or

B. For a few months of the year, usually from some time in February until around the middle of April, the pollution in Chiang Mai is bad because farmers burn off shrubs and plants to clear land and as such anyone who has any lung or breathing problems should consider avoiding that part of the country at that time.

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