Battling schools where violence is the vocation

Bangkok's warring technical college students have long been a bane of inner-city existence and finally there may be hope in getting one of them out of here, but not everybody's happy with the solution

Samut Prakan is an eastern province adjoining Bangkok. There is no giant "Welcome To Samut Prakan" sign as you enter, since the province is practically invisible.

That's because Bangkok has swallowed it up. Bangkok segues into Samut Prakan the same way a Rihanna song can segue into a Beyonce song, which then segues into a Ke$ha song, without the listener ever knowing the difference.

Still the province is not without its tantalising attractions. It boasts the world's longest elevated tollway. We have some lovely malls out here full of KFC and Chester's Grill restaurants, signposts of glorious development in this country.

It's also home to a tantalising crockpot of humanity, such as suburban families, enigmatic columnists, military folk and factory workers.

Oh did you spot "enigmatic columnists" amid those inhabitants? That's because I have lived there for 20 years, longer than I spent growing up in Sunnybank in my hometown of Brisbane.

I like it here because it's quiet, not far from the airport, and far, far away from the warring vocational students of the turbulent inner city of Bangkok. And that is where we land this week, dear reader.

It was exactly one year ago that I used this column to vent my spleen about vocational students.

I'm not going to repeat what I said and not because of any journalistic integrity. Rather, I've got too much I want to say this week.

Inner city vocational students and I have had a very public and unfriendly relationship for more than 20 years now.

This is not just because of their brainlessness. I don't begrudge anyone for being the fruit of cerebrally challenged loins; besides, some of my dearest friends are duller than a Pratunam kitchen knife set.

What bugs me more is their propensity to inflict violence in the name of the dignity of their college. And the worst offenders are those white-shirted Attilas the Hun that study at the inner city college known as Uthen Thawai.

How lucky I am to live a good 30km from Uthen Thawai, situated next to Chulalongkorn University across from MBK.

At Uthen Thawai, there are boys aged oh, 16 to 18 years old who learn from Day One of their college experience that any student from nearby Pathumwan Institute of Technology is the enemy.

PIT students need to be viciously attacked, preferably on public transport like buses and trains. The more stitches required, the better. Killing the student? Your name immediately goes up on the college hall of fame.

Meanwhile, over at Pathumwan Institute of Technology, there are boys aged oh, 16 to 18 years old, who learn from Day One of their college experience that any student from nearby Uthen Thawai is the enemy.

Uthen Thawai students need to be viciously attacked, preferably on public transport like buses and trains. The more stitches required, the better. Killing the student? Your name immediately goes up on the college hall of fame.

This situation showcases a level of stupidity as intriguing as it is staggering.

Some of these kids happily graduate together from the same high school before becoming instant enemies by enrolling in opposing schools.

Every year somebody is killed, either a student or innocent bystander on a bus, thanks to this violence. Just two weeks ago we had the news of a schoolboy who had his finger sliced off because a dozen vocational college students attacked him _ only to realise, after the finger was well and truly detached, that they'd attacked the wrong guy.

A subsequent police station meeting of the 12 students who were involved in the attack revealed a dozen apples not falling far from their respective trees, with dullard mothers and fathers professing ignorance as to what their children were doing, along with opposing their children's arrest. It's just not right to slice off a kid's finger and be arrested for it!

Another news item from earlier this month had a man in his twenties arrested for manufacturing and selling firearms via Facebook.

The enterprising man in question said most of his customers were vocational students because yes, it's imperative to have a gun when you're studying. And they think America has a problem with guns!

I haven't sat quietly on this issue. A few years ago during a news show I tried to start a campaign whereby employers simply refused to hire anybody from these warring campuses until they stopped the violence.

Hit 'em where it hurts, I figured. What was the point graduating from an institute from which nobody would hire you? My campaign fizzled, mainly for fear of being murdered, one of the few skills the Uthen Thawai students master with unfailing dexterity over any other subjects.

There was a movement to send warring students to the three southern provinces where Muslim separatists let off bombs every day. The southern provinces themselves protested; they didn't want to be known as the waste bin for society's litter and who can blame them.

I suggested closing down Uthen Thawai and turning it into a museum, an idea that was quickly shot down for fear of the general public becoming informed and educated.

Another technique was to have all the institutes of technology call themselves, well, Institute of Technology. Get rid of the Uthen Thawai and Patumwan monikers; no more special campus names. Or make them all wear the same uniform.

Still the Neanderthals refuse to die out.

In recent years I had given up hope of any solution. Until this week.

It turns out Uthen Thawai sits on land owned by Chulalongkorn University, and the lease on the land ran out in 2005.

That's right. Uthen Thawai is merely a tenant on land owned by Chula! Their 70-year lease _ beginning in 1935 when the school first opened, is done.

Chula wants the 20 rai prime property back to build an "innovation centre for a sustainable community". No, I have no idea what that means either, dear reader, but it sure sounds better than "college for murderous dimwits".

For seven years Uthen has refused to budge, until this week.

Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana says he is going to facilitate the move, ensuring everything goes smoothly between landlord and tenant.

How thrilled am I? I have felt like partying all week long. At last, an institute where violence takes precedence over getting an education is being forced to close, which means no more fighting between it and PIT.

Close? Did you say close? Not close, Andrew. Move.

Wait a minute

Where exactly are they moving to?

Oh my God.

Samut Prakan.

The Treasury Department has set aside land in Samut Prakan's Bang Phli district.

But that's the district where I live!

Surely not. Surely they can move to Nong Khaem or Min Buri or somewhere equally unpalatable. Uthen Thawai students moving into Samut Prakan?

Terrible news for all the province's enigmatic columnists.

Is there a housing complex going up in that "innovative centre for a sustainable community"? I can be innovative if I'm paid enough ... I'll even promise to sustain _ just let me move there!

Be careful what you wish for, dear reader. My prayers have been answered in the worst way possible.

And to think there was a time there when I thought there was nothing worse than to call these students "violent dimwits".

As of next year, I am calling them something far more frightening _ "neighbours".

About the author

Writer: Andrew Biggs
Position: Writer