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The week that was in Thailand news: Thailand’s infrastructure: “You’ve never had it so good!”

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The week that was in Thailand news: Thailand’s infrastructure: “You’ve never had it so good!”

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It was 1950s Britain when then prime minister Harold MacMillan told his fellow Conservatives that the folks on the “scepter’d isle” had never been better off.

“Let us be frank about it……most of our people have never had it so good”, he said.

He had borrowed a previously used US political slogan.

But now in 2020 Thailand, the expression should be aimed at denizens of both the UK and the US – as well as people from many other countries – for all their whining about Thailand. Online forums including Thaivisa are full of them.

If you are not one of them, good for you, neither am I!

While the situation caused by the pandemic has caused a great deal of trouble and heartbreak, that is hardly Thailand’s fault. They have, if the truth be known, done a rather good job of keeping the population safe and have extended the visas of the stranded repeatedly.

Meanwhile they have striven to continue to improve the infrastructure of the kingdom. Work that has been ongoing for decades and has seen the country change from a third world backwater into a SE Asian powerhouse and a player on the world stage. Work that has continued unabated through the pandemic.

My treatise today is about the wholesale improvements to the infrastructure of the country. While many may lament the passing of various “golden ages” when the Thais were more innocent and foreigners were less commonplace, few would argue that Thailand has not earned its place in the 21st Century.

I’m making little reference to the political situation. I recognize this is an area of stagnation and one that needs improvement, but that is for another day.

For this columnist, after 40 years living working (and occasionally even breathing) in the kingdom the changes have been extraordinary. And many have been for the best. I make no excuse for concentrating on Bangkok as that is where I have lived since I was knee high to a “tukkataen”.

I have put my observations under some clear headings, to wit:

Transport

Back in the early 1980s even the young could remember when the capital had rickshaws. Indeed, they were still the preferred mode of transport for many on the outskirts and in upcountry towns. Nowhere else was a city. In Bangkok rickety old filthy taxis had no meter. One had to suffer the grumbling of the drivers as they got stuck idling in traffic. No one wore a helmet on a bike or a seatbelt in a car. There was no law for that. Ancient buses and green micro-buses spewed out noxious fumes making for a filthy atmosphere that covered everyone’s faces in soot until the crash of 1997 ended construction. In comparison today the air is much cleaner.

(Yes, I know Chiang Mai is unlivable for three months – get a room in Bangkok, you’d be welcome back in the land of the living, we have temples too and if you promise to wear a mask we’ll let you in to our brilliant attractions)

Flooding was horrendous and far worse than it is today as it stayed for weeks. Great efforts have been made in pipe laying and improving the roads. There was no BTS. No airport link. Intercity travel was on orange buses with chickens for companions. Forget domestic air travel, that was almost non-existent. Even motorcycle taxis that are such a boon today were only just starting. Today even the provincial cities are getting monorails and trams. A fantastic sky train extension was built outside my condo in just 3 years adding a million baht to property values. Throughout Bangkok there are sky trains and monorails being constructed – the new Bang Sue Grand Central station is a wonder of South East Asia. Thank you, Thailand!

Elegantly designed Suwannaphum (my spelling) arrived in the noughties and they even upgraded Don Muang. The journey from the airport – subject to charlatans and danger in the past – is highly regulated, cheaper and problem free (only 50 baht extra!). Thirty five baht flagfall in cabs on the street– utterly amazing value in a brand new taxi with seatbelts in the back. Sea transport – you took your life in your hands in the past. Yes, there are accidents today but tourism is 100 times bigger, there are bound to be glitches.

All trains were ancient in the past and the notion there would be plans for a high speed one would have seen you carried off to Si Thanya……the reference to Bangkok’s psychiatric hospital leads me to….

Health/Education

Mental health? Good luck with that. Even general health matters had few options. Better just not to get sick! Today world class health facilities are everywhere and dentistry is top notch and affordable. Education needs attention especially in the Thai system but a huge number of options are available and there are literally hundreds of international schools to choose from. Soi dogs still populate the streets but compared to the past there is a fraction of them. Many diseases have been successfully addressed including HIV/AIDS where Thailand was and remains a world leader. Family planning programs not to mention the 30-baht health care scheme and improvements in social security have been marvelous.

Shopping/Banking

Back in 1982 you had the wet markets and very little else. Villa on Sukhumvit Road opened in 1974 was the only supermarket. I had a long walk just to get a Foremost Banana Milk (forget fresh) and a 5 baht Cornetto. Bread? – dream on. Getting money was a long trip to your bank, no ATMs of course. When Central and Robinsons replaced Big Bell and Merry Kings it was like an epiphany! There was once a five hour traffic jam because Big Bell in Ploenchit had a sale. 7-Eleven? Not one. Not even one chain. McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut…yeh right. Try a 10 baht padthai or a fried rice with an egg on top. Coffee? Nescafe at a guest house perhaps. Tea? What’s tea? Even beer was far more expensive relatively than it is today as was most everything in the bars. And yet still they whinge….

Accommodation/Hotels

The concept of condos was well off. There were high class apartments but these were incredibly expensive because they were all rented by the Japanese and paid by their companies. There was a shortage. Cheap accommodation was called “flats” and was dire. The range of choice in the rental market today is incredible and it is a renter’s market due to the glut. (Sniff, sniff says Rachman Rooster crying over his 3% yield). The choice of hotels and guest houses is remarkable and with the pandemic they are all empty and crying out for customers and offering deals. What is there not to like about being in Thailand today – if you can get in that is!

Bureaucracy/Immigration

An area where the moaning is louder than ever. You think it was easy in the 80s? Try getting a tax clearance at Banglamphu every time you had to leave. They moan about a queuing system these days. Back then it would take you all day just like any trip to a government office. Noon? Lunchtime till mid-afternoon if you were lucky. Come back tomorrow, mai pen rai. No computers, no internet, no sense of public service. You’d have to consult an out of date guidebook if you didn’t speak fluent Thai (fortunately I worked on that as a matter of urgency). Today many government departments have a charter of service. DLT is a breeze, district offices well organized and convenient, immigration no problem at all so long as you get your paperwork together and have a modicum of nous. The Thais are, after all, as obliging and helpful as they always were, thank goodness.

Customer service/TV

Everywhere there is far better customer service. Delivery services abound even food meaning you don’t have to leave your comfy sofa. Where you can watch anything from anywhere around the world. Early 1980s Thailand had nothing unless you could find a million baht for a satellite dish. Cable TV. No. Netflix or live footy. Yeh right. Thai TV and the soaps were all there was. Dual language? – what would have been the point!?

Roads

Yes, the death toll is appalling but that is not primarily a problem of infrastructure. It’s a consequence of the number of cars and motorcycles, poor enforcement, poor training and the ineffectiveness of the police. There are amazing roads everywhere and the one to Korat is the jewel in the crown. The highways and byways stretch everywhere making the kingdom a glory for drivers and motorcyclists who know how to concentrate and drive defensively. Plod has even banned roadside checkpoints – a constant problem in the past no matter where you lived. Now there is even a remarkable plan to build a 100 kilometer long Gulf of Thailand bridge from Phetchaburi to Laem Chabang and there are trillion baht schemes to improve the ports and international trade between the west and China via Thailand.

Many of the uninitiated think it is worse today than it has ever been. Nonsense.

We’ve never had it so good!

Focus on that and your life in Thailand may be enhanced and more enjoyable.

Another bumper week of news on Thaivisa started with no surprise. The Special Tourist Visa that was to see hordes of Chinese visit (is 150 a horde?) was put on hold as 57% of the population according to a NIDA poll don’t want any tourists. The “best laid” plans unraveled before an incredulous yet jaded forum.

On Wednesday the security chief Natthaphol blamed the Vegetarian Festival. That would be attended by many Thais who he said needed protecting from Covid-infested foreigners. Other vegetables – the tourism minister and head of the TAT – saw their STV baby in tatters on the day the tourists were meant to finally be returning. Now the end of October is the latest D-Day (Duh-Day).

Ejan – a completely out of touch tourism source – plowed on regardless saying that Phuket was “completely ready” and passing through the airport would only take 3 hours…before the 14 day quarantine…..then the seven day wait….then….

These shenanigans are a bitter pill for Pattaya, Samui, Phuket, Chiang Mai and even Hua Hin but it was only a test anyway. Just enjoy the quiet if you live there and if you have lost your job or your business, find something else to do. Try politician or policeman – those are going concerns.

Just don’t do what Mr Chow from Singapore did – be drunk and disorderly and naked in the street while on a five year overstay. There are limits.

Chiang Mai Airport 2 – not an infrastructure success story – looks like taking another 20 years. But the monorail in Pattaya moved a step closer even if the denizens are throwing so much litter that the drains are overflowing every time there’s a shower. At least it’ll be high up rather than a street-level tram – you’ll be able to see the flooding from above. Amusingly after big storms in QUOTES the deputy mayor called his minions together for a brainstorming session.

Bless! He said the pipes were too narrow and suggested nets to catch the trash before the floods washed the multi-million baht sands away again.

Fallout from the scandal at Sarasas schools continued. Around a dozen from Witaed Ratchaphruek were taken to court and bailed. Sickening lawyer Decha claimed that one of his clients – a cruel nanny – was just joshing when she put a black bin bag on a little mite’s head. Disbar this monster and jail the teachers who have so betrayed the trust of parents and our little ones.

It was also good to see a police probe call in executives from all of the Sarasas branches. But the time is ripe to not let the situation of child abuse in schools end with action at Sarasas even if it does go to the top. Strike now nationwide and rid the nation’s school system of violence in the name of class control.

Later in the week the new Labour Minister demanded that the credentials of all 11,200 foreign teachers working nationwide be checked. Do they have background checks, work permits and the correct visa? Fines and deportation await illegals and the agents can be sent to jail.

This is a new minister flexing his muscles and a knee-jerk reaction to one Filipino at Sarasas perhaps abusing children but certainly working on a tourist visa.

In international news the antics of the incumbent in the US and his Hollywood production team would have had the North Koreans exclaiming “wow” at the choreography and self-aggrandizement.

(Rooster was hounded by the “rabid right” on Facebook and when I stood up for the bullying of Greta Thunberg a stranger on Messenger threatened to kill me moments later!)

In the UK Labour called the testing system shambolic and the Eton Mess promised a “bumpy (ride) through to Xmas”. Ho, ho, ho!

Two legends of the music world died. Revered guitarist Eddie Van Halen of the band that bears his name died of throat cancer aged 65 and reggae singer Johnny Nash, famous for “I Can See Clearly Now”, succumbed to Covid complications at 80.

In sports a sensational super Sunday in the EPL saw Aston Villa demolish champions Liverpool 7-2 and Spurs see off Manchester United 1-6 at Old Trafford. In Paris Enable under Frankie Dettori failed in a bid to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the third time. Victory went to the French trained Sottsass.

Back in Thailand a Japanese tourist found out that ganja growing is not yet legal and his 2 million baht investment in hydroponics did not…er…hold water.

Six primary schoolkids were savaged at breaktime by two stray soi dogs that got into the campus in Sri Racha. The forum went ballistic calling for mass culling.

Ambulances were in the news again. A trucker hindered the progress of one in Nakhon Sawan drawing the ire of netizens while a uni student in Bangkok drew praise for going into the road to make a path for another ambulance crew.

This begged the question as to why her actions should have been necessary. The arrogance and rudeness of many on the roads is appalling. The fine must be increased from 500 baht to 5,000 and the police must prosecute all ambulance blocking infractions.

Meanwhile the shocking shooting of a state official in a meeting at Songkhla Zoo continued to be investigated. It appears to concern a barking deer.

In Chiang Mai a 33-year-old Thai wife said that her “lively” 85-year-old American husband fell from the 7th floor while cleaning the windows. He was found dead and the police said they would be interviewing the young wife again.

In Pattaya, Manager reported that the 108 million baht Bali Hai port development had been a total waste of money due to lack of maintenance. They took a swipe at the NCPO who had “returned the area to the people”. Even the dancing fountain was bust. Mayor Sontaya has demanded standards, whatever that means.

Finally, the Nobel committee decided to award the Physics prize to renowned scientist Roger Penrose of Oxford University. He got half of a large cash prize that he shared with Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their collective work on black holes.

Rooster is the kind of person that marvels at the brilliant insight of these people who can describe things that they cannot see using mathematics, intuition and dogged technological research. I often fall asleep to YouTube videos about the cosmos.

Having failed yet again to grasp what it all means.

Rooster

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