When I last saw Central Plaza it was nothing more than a gaping black hole, now it is a superb shopping mall. I really have no idea how they have managed to achieve so much in such a short time.
The red shirt demonstration caused a great many small businesses around Silom and the Siam Skytrain station to go out of business. One little noodle bar I particularly liked managed to hold on but the watch repairer, the little lady who sold me socks and many other small independent stallholders seem to have disappeared. I hope they have managed to find new locations and are thriving but now their places have been taken by other similar businesses.
Another small indicator of the thriving Thai economy is the fact that on a recent trip on the Skytrain I realised that about 30% of the passengers were tapping their fingers on a smart phone. Whether they were sending messages or playing games the fact of the matter is that one year ago smart phones were very scarce and in the intervening time many thousands of ordinary Thai people have managed to purchase what is a relatively expensive consumer item.
On one of my skytrain trips I found myself surrounded by schoolchildren and university students on their way home. Now one of the reasons I like Thailand is that I am relatively tall here but merely of average size in the UK. It is quite nice to see a long way when I am in a crowd, rather than the head of the person in front. But when these young people crowded into the train I realised that many of them were taller than I am. This was never the case when I first started coming to Thailand some 15 years ago. I realised that at that time the young people I was now surveying were small pre-school children who had now grown up into potential basketball players.
I assume that this development is due to a better diet and the copious amounts of milk I see young people drinking these days. I suppose this is a true benefit of the globalisation of diets. Unfortunately this globalisation has a negative affect as well. A globalised diet also includes things such as sweets made from sugar, sugary drinks and other comestibles of doubtful nutritional quality.
Years ago, when children existed entirely on a traditional Thai diet, dental decay was almost unknown particularly in the first teeth. Sadly this is not the case today. The number of young children whose milk teeth have been severely damaged by sugar and similarly damaging items is reaching almost epidemic proportions. There is also a great shortage of dentists in Thailand, particularly those who are willing to work in the less well off communities; a sad state of affairs that the public health organisations are attempting to improve. I am afraid that this is not something I have observed in Bangkok it is the result of attending a meeting given by a dentist who is also involved in public health. Back to the things I have noticed.
One very obvious improvement is that many of the klongs and drains have been cleared so that they not only look better but they should be able to cope better with any flooding that takes place this year. But things are not entirely perfect, I was due to attend a meeting one night but a sudden downpour caused the Soi, in which my hotel is situated, to be flooded to a depth of about 6 inches and I was entirely cut off and unable to make the meeting.
The flood had cleared away the next morning and I was able to make a number of very interesting meetings at Government House. My meetings were with several advisers to the Prime Minister but I noticed few changes from previous similar meetings, even though there has been a change of Prime Minister. That is, except the one major development. A very splendid building that was used, until recently, by the Crown Princess, has been turned into what is now called the "Single Command Centre". Many people were quietly working away planning and reviewing the plans for water management in the whole of Thailand.
On the wall there were computer displays showing the height and state of water retention by every dam in the country and many other reports showing the state of water flows from North to South.
I gained the impression of a great many, very intelligent people, are attempting to solve a very difficult problem both by technical solutions and organisational changes. There was an air of quiet determination that makes me feel more relaxed about potential flooding in the future. I think it is possible there may be some horrific floods before their plans are finally completed and implemented because they are trying to redress the problems that have been caused over the last fifty years. I think my impression is perhaps a little more valid in that I had not been invited there; indeed I simply walked in with one of my colleagues from the Prime Minister's Department. We just wandered about the building, chatting to people, and observing what was going on.
This new organisation is attempting to coordinate water management throughout the country, this, together with the significant effort that has been put into clearing the waterways should reap benefits in the relatively near future and I wish all these people the best of luck, as they have a very difficult job. If you want to see what is going on, and can read Thai, go to the website "www.waterforthailand.com".
Almost everywhere I went I noticed that buildings were being improved. Not always because they had been damaged in the floods last year. If you know Nana station, you will remember that ghastly concrete skeleton of a building that was never finished after the financial crash about 15 years ago. That has now, at last, been demolished which greatly enhances the view from the station. Many of the buildings surrounding the site seem to be either cleaned or repainted. One of my favourite watering holes has also been and is being enhanced. I will tell you about it in case you are ever in Bangkok and would like to make use of its facilities.
The place is the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Not many people know that you can use its facilities without being a member; you simply pay a premium which is slightly more than the members, such as I, actually pay. The club has very comfortable facilities in the penthouse of the Maneeya Center, which has its own exit from Chit Lom Skytrain station. More importantly, on virtually every day the clubhouse has a very important and interesting talk or presentation from people such as the Prime Minister, well informed journalists and representatives of worldwide organisations. The food is excellent and not expensive and there is a wide range of beverages including two English bitters and Guinness. I have been a member for several years and am very grateful to the hospitality and quality of service offered by Henry Silverman and his excellent staff. What I have written seems like a bit of a plug; I suppose it is but I really do think that club offers excellent value and it was only yesterday that I realised that non-members could use the facilities and I can promise you that if you do visit the club you will be glad you did so, if only for the view from the balcony. If you want to find out what meetings are taking place the website is "www.fccthai.com".
All these changes following the disasters of the red shirt occupation and the flooding are indicative of one central characteristic of the Thai character. It is the amazing ability of the Thais to accept disaster and then rise above it. Bangkok seems to have improved significantly since I was last here and has certainly recovered from the problems, at least the visible ones. I think this resilience is one of things that makes me glad I live in Thailand.
© Colin Jarvis 2012
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