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.