A scene in a Bangkok flooded street. (Photos by Bob San)
By BOB SAN
AAP staff writer
During the two months I was in Bangkok, I witnessed very different scenarios at different neighborhoods. A CNN report called it A Tale of Two Cities, but I’d call it a Tale of Different Districts. Here are some of my observations for Bangkok only.
The flood of the century in Thailand has killed over 600, ravaged the lives of millions. The government of new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the crisis. The critics said she lacked experience in dealing with the flooding and said her administration mishandled the disaster.
From an outsider’s point of view, I don’t know who in Thailand could have prevented the disaster. To me the problem is that Thailand has never been known as a country with leaders who were known for good city designs and long-term planning.
Take a look at Bangkok’s confusing grids of roads and bridges that make St. Paul looks like the most organized city in the world. If these are the same generation of people who designed the canals and storm water systems, then that explains the flooding problems in many areas. So the fault should lie mainly with people in charge of designing systems to prevent such flooding, not an administration in power for only three months.
Some critics said someone who flood control experience should run Thailand, not a young person like Yinluck. Again what a joke. I think a letter to the editor stated it the best. The writer satirically wrote that perhaps Thailand should hire a local TV reporter as the PM because this reporter was always broadcasting and delivering food and supplies to people in the flooded area.
The people always heralded him, saying he, and not the government, was the only one to care for them. So he has more flood control experience than any government officials.
Yinluck choked up a couple times on TV while visiting families who lost their homes. The critics said that’s a sign of weakness and should not be seen in public. I don’t see anything wrong with a leader showing compassion for her people. I choked up when I visited my friend’s flooded home and she said to me with tears in her eyes, “Everything was floating and destroyed. I really don’t know what to do.” To criticize Yinluck for caring for her people is heartless.
Finally, the tales of Different Districts means that during the flood, some areas were flooded while others were bone dry. Critics said that’s because the government “sacrificed” people in residential neighborhoods by diverting water away from the Wall Street of Thailand and the tourist areas and into their neighborhood.
To this, Yinluck was brave and did not avoid the questions. She said hard choices had to be made to ensure the districts key to Bangkok’s economy are protected. Right or wrong, she admitted to her decisions. So while some areas had water for almost a month, the new airport, the financial district, and all the tourist areas were protected and avoided any damage.
During the time I was in Bangkok, I saw many things I will never forget. Don’t get me wrong, a huge metropolis like Bangkok is crawling with con men and scam artists and garbage of the world who run cesspools that deal sex and drugs. But the Thai people as a whole are kind and really do care for one another. During this crisis I saw with my own eyes several instances I will never forget.
Take the kids from a Bangkok technical institute. Because of flooding, all Thailand schools are closed for the months and I think they reopen around Dec. 6. One day in just one neighborhood I saw about 30 kids working on cars that were stranded by the flood. They were using their skills to try to repair those cars so the people who own them won’t have to go get new ones.
Every day when I take the sky train, I would see throngs of school children with boxes asking for donations to specifically help people in certain neighborhoods. I gladly donated because I know the money will go directly to the people and not in the pockets of corrupt government officials.
A truck driver in my friend’s neighborhood had lost his house to the flood. Instead of just worrying about himself, he would drive his truck every day, the only car in the neighborhood that could run in the high waters, to check on neighbors and deliver food and supplies and take people who were sick to the hospitals. He did that for three weeks when the water just would not recede.
There are thousands of these acts of kindness being performed every day in Bangkok as mostly young people volunteered their time to take care of victims of the flood.
While I was staying at a riverside area hotel, it eventually had to close because the of rising water. I went to look for a room in Novotel Hotel in Siam Square, a popular tourist area.
I was told there would be lots of room there because it’s a tourist hotel and not many tourists are coming to Bangkok. But I walked in and the hotel was packed with people, Thai people. I asked and the receptionist told me that the hotel owners decided to allow his employees who lost their homes to the flood to stay there for free. I was amazed. I wonder how many of the big name international hotel chains would do that?
The flood of the century has been a disastrous hit to Thailand. But Thais are resilient. Look at how fast they recovered from the SARRS madness in 2003, the tsunamis in 2004 and the political turmoil of just two years ago. I am sure they will bounce back. I just hope the flood of the century doesn’t come along soon, and I hope the Thai government can figure out a way to prevent this from happening again.