Having lived in Thailand for a number of years, I am convinced that Thai people lack the common sense gene. I love them, I love living here, but every farang here has seen many examples of seemingly stupid behaviour, ranging from sidewalks that are broken and barely usable to the recent tragedy at the Santika Club on New Year’s Eve.
I live very close to the Nana Entertainment Plaza on Sukhumvit Soi 4, so tonight I walked around before it opened at 7:00 PM. I was checking to see if that complex had any safety features. I didn’t expect much and I didn’t find much.
If you haven’t been there, allow me a moment to describe it. There is a single entrance to a U-shaped complex with bars on 3 levels. The first level is the ground floor; there is no basement. The structure is concrete, although there is lots of wood around. At the entrance, there are bars on opposite sides of the lane, and both are made of wood. I could not see any sprinkler system, fire hose, alarm system, not even a water pail.
I would guess there are about 30-35 bars, ranging from small to huge. All of the bars have decorations of some sort inside, they are not bare concrete. At the Santika, some people died because of the poisonous fumes from the burning decorations.
Wandering around on the two upper levels, and peeking into some of the bars, which had doors open, but were not operating yet (because it was before 7:00 PM), I saw zero evidence of safety features.
No alarms, no fire hoses, no sprinklers, not a single extinguisher in evidence.
And there is only one way out of the complex, and that’s through the small lane at the front. There is often a truck parked in that lane, presumably making deliveries, and there are street vendors as well.
There don’t appear to be any other entrances/exits to this complex, but I do know that there are metal fire escapes on the outside at the right. I know because I used them once when the police raided the short-time hotel in which I was passing a short time and I had to use that metal platform and climb back through a window into one of the ladyboy bars. Got some funny looks that night, as I came out of the ladyboy dressing room and walked in front of the stage in full view of 20 or so patrons. It’s one of the stranger things I have done in my life.
What happened at Santika is tragic. But if a fire ocurred at Nana Plaza, there would likely be 10 times as many deaths because it’s much larger, there’s no safety equipment or emergency equipment of any kind, and there’s only one way out.
I wonder if Bangkok city government (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) will now clamp down on safety; clearly nothing has been done so far. I suspect most commercial buildings, other than those built by Western companies, are lacking in basic safety features.
I live on a narrow soi, one lane wide. As you probably know, traffic here drives on the left. Except motorcycles, which go wherever they please. I have seen many instances where a car or truck is trying to manoeuver around the tight corners, and a motorcycle comes roaring up and squeezes in between the vehicle and the concrete building at the corner. Common sense would say, stop and wait 30 seconds until there is more clearance, but like I said, that gene is missing.
Walking along the sidewalk near Nana Plaza in the evening is a joke. In too many places, street vendors have blocked the path, leaving a very narrow space. When two Westerners approach from opposite sides, one always gives way; it’s the polite thing to do. Whenever I have done this, invariably two or three Thai people who were walking behind me refuse to stop, and squeeze through the extremely narrow opening, which is even narrower because there’s a hulking great farang coming at them. No common sense.
Today I was walking along the bike path which runs between the train tracks and a service road. My apartment is within a few meters of the service road. I discovered a while ago that it was better to walk along the bike path because it is asphalt and relatively smooth and marked down the middle with a dotted line, indicating two lanes. If you walk on the right side, bikes and motorcycles drive on the left and there is no conflict. That’s right, motorbikes use the bicycle path. This afternoon, however, I was walking along that path, keeping to the right, on my way to Ploenchit Centre. Suddenly there was a loud beep right behind me. I jumped into the ditch at the right, and looked back, and nearly fell over. There were two cars driving along this narrow bike path. No common sense.
A week ago, I was walking along the train track, and was amazed at the condition of the ties. They are very old and rotted. In many places, the spikes that hold the track to the ties are missing; the wood is in such bad condition that the spikes have simply fallen out. In this picture, taken just a few metres from Sukhumvit, the girl has her feet on a tie. Look where that tie meets the rail at the left. There should be a spike there, but there isn’t. These ties are in relatively good condition; in other places, they should have been replaced 10 years ago.
There are a dozen trains a day along this track. One wonders how long it will be before a train causes the rails to move apart an extra few centimetres and there is a derailment. Just on the other side of Sukhumvit, many people live within 2 meters of the track. If a derailment occurred there, their houses would be destroyed and many people would die.
When I first came to Thailand in 1988, the traffic was much less and the pollution was ten times worse. One day, I was in a taxi that was driving along Ploenchit at a good clip, maybe 60 km an hour; traffic was light. I was in the back seat. When we got to the intersection with the Erawan Shrine, the driver took both hands off the steering wheel, looked at the Buddha in the shrine and made a wai. This took 20 seconds or so. We’re travelling 60 kph straight ahead and he’s looking 90 degrees to the left. No common sense.
There’s no doubt that living in Thailand is an experience. I just wish the people could learn a little common sense.
About the Author:
Douglas Anderson is the author of Speak Easy Thai [http://www.Thai-Culture-Publishing.com], an easy way to learn Thai vocabulary. The software runs on Windows PCs or Macs under BootCamp and includes Fundamentals of Thai Grammar [http://www.learn-faster.org/Thai], a 350-page eBook. Speak Easy Thai uses the Internet for updates, but does not require an Internet connection during operation.
More Thai resources at Learn Thai Faster! [http://www.learn-faster.org/Thai/]