Thailand: The Land Of Peril

The following blog/article was published in The Nation newspaper last Saturday. Here below, however, is the originally un-edited submission)

(Bangkok’s Fire services straight to the rescue…after another cup of coffee)

Pick up any national newspaper, anytime of the week and you are gonna be pretty sure of stumbling upon some ghastly story of a horrific accident. This blessed land, known to foreigners as LOS (Land of Smiles) is better known to the local population and expats alike as LOP (Land of Peril).

Besides the dangers unleashed by the capital’s bus-drivers, passenger van-drivers and motorbike-taxi guys, you also stand a decent chance of succumbing to Bangkok’s awe-inspiring river and canal boat operators. Then, outside of the capital, in regards to sea transportation, you may also put your dear life in the hands of some menacing long-tail boat, speedboat or island ferry captain who believes it is more important to spend his profits on imported whiskey than useless inflatable safety jackets.

Nothing though is as petrifying and commonplace as the ever-familiar fire. Poor-old Bangkokians are put even more at jeopardy, when half their fleet of potential fire engines are still incarcerated due to some past dodgy bureaucratic dealings. Then in the capital, there is the horrific possibility that you might get stuck in a fire which is located on the borderline of two different Fire Brigade divisions. There you are waiting patiently for the engines while your entire neighbourhood is burning down, and the two opposite fire chiefs are quarreling over which side is responsible for taking care of the matter. Then, when the fire engines do finally arrive they can’t even get to work cause the electrical authority guys, who are too busy watching some football game on the box, haven’t yet shut the power down. Alas, a few hours later, the national news headlines are advising us that 200 folk and their pet dogs have been made homeless.

After such an normal incident, the authorities in charge love nothing more than coming out with the same old boring excuse along the lines of “Well, we already told the vagabounds to move out of their slum years ago, we offered them nice new cosy accommodation but they didn’t take us up on our generous offer”. Oh yeah, just simply blame the drifters, but what the authorities fail to realize both in Bangkok and in the provinces is the simple question of where the folk are supposed to reside, while the brains-in-charge take a year or so to actually build the new residences for the destitute.

Just a couple of weeks or so ago in my award-winning town of Suphanburi, the pride and glory of a former prime minister, a huge fire engulfed one of the main streets leaving a hundred dumbstruck homeless residents sat outside with their left-over belongings stuffed in Tesco-Lotus plastic bags. On reacting to the news, some of the local officials quickly pointed their fingers at some creaky old wood store before it came to light that the actual cause was the faulty electrical power.

In the aftermath, while the authorities were sat there twiddling their thumbs refusing to be of any assistance, volunteers were lining the street appealing for donations. Best of luck to them, as local folk feel that giving a donation to some temple makes for better kharma than giving to some needy charity. And talking about temples, it was heard that a couple of them were squabbling over which would be responsible for giving the homeless a place to stay. As for the actual landowner, as typical as ever, he didn’t even bother coming to inspect the place. Let’s just hope that he isn’t like other unsympathetic landlords of the past who have been relieved to at last get the scoundrels of his land once and for all, instead of having to fight out a costly five year court battle.

(Have a happy cruise, but just make sure there are a few safety jackets on board!)

Now, just when you thought yourself nice and safe tucked-up in your flashy apartment, take sometime today to go and check out whether your gaff’s fire-escapes are actually operational, I mean if the fire doors are not bolted up. I hate to say it but there is a probable chance they aren’t. This is due to many a landlord being more worried about some ho-bo owing a month’s rent, making a dash for it in the middle of night than he is about you being able to escape an inferno. Should you dare to complain, you may be looked at like some daft idiot. Then we have the land’s luxurious department stores, well even if their escape routes are open, there is the greatest of possibilities that they are being used as a handy place for both workers to plant their stock and guards and cleaners to sit around smoking and drinking.

Another extreme danger in the Land of Peril are open man-holes which construction workers on the advice of the authorities, have more of a tendency to sit and look at than actually bother covering. Beyond a doubt, there have been countless foreign tourists who after enjoying a night out on the town and strolling back to their hotels, have been unfortunately found the next morning by some office workers, with a broken ankle, howling up from six-feet under. Should he be hoping for compensation of any kind, the authorities will kindly advise him that he shouldn’t have been out so late and ought to have been watching were he was going.

One of the latest thieving fads upcountry to scare the living daylights out of motorcyclists especially, is the nicking of steel drain covers. Come dusk and unless you have your radar sense on, there is a decent chance that you will soon be six-foot under – permanently. A while back after having realized that some delinquent had stolen one from near my house, I called up a law-enforcer acquaintance of mine to see whether he could assist on getting the darned thing replaced or at least post up some luminous tape around it. No chance. I was informed that such a task was the duty of the local municipality authorities and should the police get involved, they would be getting a hounding down the phone stating that it was none of their darned business. Alas, only after using the influence of a connected person, did the authorities actually come and do anything.

While Bangkok’s pedestrians fear the possibility of having a huge billboard falling on their heads, those in my parts are more petrified of some massive tree bunch crashing down on top of them. One of the most astounding ideas of local authorities to beautify streets around here is to constantly cut down wayward branches poking out in the middle of the roads. What the local authorities unfortunately forget to mention to the chaps in charge of the searing however, is to be aware of pedestrians walking past when they do their chopping. Again, should you be on the end of a big piece falling down on your nut and knocking you unconscious, then it is your fault for not looking up and being more careful.

For sure, Thailand is a fun place to live, even if it is at your own peril, but the local authorities in charge and those with the power could make living just a little bit safer, if they actually got around one day to really thinking about the average population for a change. Life is already valued cheap in Thailand, so what we don’t need therefore, is for the influential to constantly make it even cheaper.

12 responses to “Thailand: The Land Of Peril

  1. What you described happens everywhere.

    I hope you never come to the US. We have everything you described and more. The worse part is they are highly paid jackasses that will start a union dispute, or throw it right back in your face for calling them out for incompetency. They whole time hiding behind a phrase like “that can’t happen, this is america.” What a crock of shit.

  2. I remember, on my very first visit to Thailand, asking someone what the garlands of flowers sold to motorists in Bangkok were all about.
    “Thai seatbelts” was the earnest reply!

  3. What Steve described in his blog happens just as regularly in the US does it? I highly doubt it. The litigious culture in the US means that an open manhole, for example, could turn into a potential money pit of thousands of dollars if left unattended. The differences are night and day in almost every respect.

    One point here which I can attest to as being spot on is the issue with firetrucks arguing over jurisdiction. This delayed firemen from attending to a fire in my neighborhood a couple of weeks ago, which was a slum fire as Steve quite accurately points out it often is. Who knows how many people lost their homes unnecessarily due to this haggling.

    Nope, that sort of thing doesn’t just happen everywhere.

  4. Enjoyed your last article Stephen , good one. Some of the people who also comment are wsie to how Thailand compares to America. In America people fall down open manholes all the time and their lawyer only tells them to watch where they are going.
    You should also remember that in America no-one complains about blocked fire-escapes ar faulty electric lines.
    Like Righttt says comes to America, its much worse than Thailand. hee…hee

  5. No way is the US as bad as Thailand. The lawsuits would be insane. The only similarity is that the wealthy people in charge (WPIC) don’t care about the rest of the population; they only care about maintaining their status quo. Though the WPIC in the US at least pretend to care about others when the situation requires, or if it will save them/or get them a few more dollars.

  6. Thailand is one of many developing countries where corrupted goverments and their officers roam freely as they’re pleased. value of the poor is less than dirt. Crimes against humanity are committed every minute in many forms. No one can compare these countries with the country like USA; that would have been the greater crime, I think. Value of life is subjective. In USA, people put old folk in the nursing home, do they not? In Thailand, they simply don’t even think about that horrid act. The safety issues in Thailand are common in every place where people are less educated, less opportunities, less affluent. Still richness is also subjective, isn’t it?

  7. I think Righttt and Jerry have been away from the homeland for too long. I know a guy who tripped on a tree stump that was hidden by snow after being improperly removed by city officials back in North America. He was just a high-school kid with a fractured elbow that would have kept him away from his p/t job for a month, but the city still settled with him for nearly a grand, just so that he wouldn’t sue.

    Think that sort of thing doesn’t have government officials back home paranoid about open manhole covers, low-hanging electricity wires etc? When’s the last time you heard of a billboard collapsing and killing a pack of pedestrians?

    Erynnbanks does raise a good point though. As dangerous as it may be here in some respects, I’d sooner grow old in this country than back home. Odds are unless you’re plain unloveable (and the standard to determine that does not appear high — check out Steve’s blog on Thai moms for more on that) that your children will look after you when you’re old and even insist on you staying with them… That beats the old folks home back home which if you don’t have enough cashd on’t differ too greatly from a low-security prison

  8. This line of comments is especially interesting to me because I noticed the lack of safety concern when I was in Thailand in 2006. I paid from my trip from a portion of the fee I got from settling a client’s case for tripping over a rock from a landscrape island in a mall parking lot.
    The right to sue for personal injury or property damage comes from the common law courts. All that started in England and transferred to the US and Canada (imagine New Zealand and Austrial too). It is the same concept of law that enforces contracts, holds parents responsible for paying for their children, ect. In other words the law tries not to let one person (or company, or government) take advantage of the other and leave the other financially destroyed.
    Margret Thatcher observed that it is this concept of law that supports fair human interaction and works to create wealth. Why go to market if you might get robbed, cheated or phyically damaged. Without the trade in the market the farmer has only what he can grow. But in the market we all become richer from the selection.
    Its not a matter of rich nations deciding to be more fair. The expectation of fairness(or call it rights) helps foster trading and thus the growth of wealth.
    Yes… I am an American lawyer. “So sue me.”

  9. Steven, come to my place, and then you will never write an article about Thailand again. LOLz.

  10. Thanks for letting us in for the short history of ‘why we file a lawsuit’,of course! we love to follow the common laws…not that we are greedy and see the rare opportunity..LOL Anoth ^_^ Another aspect is Thais don’t see death and life as something abnormal. They are just parts of being human living on earth ( dirt or marble floor), so they don’t really think so much about safety issue. The stuffs for protecting a baby from bumping his/her head are all come from Western idea of children are the prince and princess of the world. Thais don’t think and see the safety issues the same way as westerners do, period. In their mind they probably wonder , Geezz, what the fuzz about being broken ribs, they do heal, you know..?”^_^

  11. A wise expat told me when I first came to Thailand: “Here, you have learn to be MORE responsible for your own safety.” True.

    So, I check for life jackets when I get on a tour boat. I refuse to ride with a song-taow driver who endangers his passengers (yes, I stop and get out and take another song-taow). I stay alert for holes in the ground (manholes). I DON’T step on manhole covers (85% of which are tipsy). I watch for low-hanging awnings, and electrical wires. I look both ways TWICE when crossing the street, and THAT’S when the walk like is green. I take up-country buses as little as possible and opt for the train or airline when at all possible.

    Yeah, seems time consuming at first, and the natives do laugh, but becomes habit and second-nature after awhile. When I think about the time and inconvenience to lead a more “guarded life,” I just consider what the trade-offs are (higher probability of death or maiming).

    It’s called reducing the probabilities of peril in the Land of Peril.

  12. Imagine eating noodles at the roadside stall and a huge signboard fell and crushed someone to death… it’ll be funny if the signboard is about public safetly…. funnier if this never happened at all.