Capital tour, fit for a billionaire

Capital tour, fit for a billionaire

Bill Gates embarrassed authorities enough to claim they intend to bury some of these cables, but what if Mr Gates got a look at the real Bangkok?
Bill Gates embarrassed authorities enough to claim they intend to bury some of these cables, but what if Mr Gates got a look at the real Bangkok?

I had never considered Bill Gates a wizard in the way the rest of the world sees him until last week when a photo on his Instagram account, showing a pole with messy electrical wiring in Bangkok -- a familiar sight to us all -- led to a lightning response from officials.

That Instagram photo which came with a short comment prompted my prime minister to order authorities to put the wires underground within a time frame of five years. For some, a five-year period may still be long, but at least we have a deadline.

I cannot help thinking how wonderful it would be if Mr Gates came to visit the City of Angels and caught a glimpse of our capital, which is run by governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, with his famous motto: tuk cheewit rao dulae -- or "We take care of everyone". Just a day trip would be a worthwhile experience.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai is an assistant news editor, the Bangkok Post.

Imagine him stepping out of his hotel and trying to hail a meter taxi on a heavily jammed road. How long would it take him to find a driver who would agree to take him and turn on the meter?

If he wanted to have a more thrilling ride, he could try our motorcycle taxis, which are always ready to break the traffic laws.

A trip on a public bus in Bangkok during the rush hours is also highly recommended. These rides would offer Mr Gates a new experience and reveal how Thais enjoy a cheap mode of transport that seems to last forever and ever.

While in the city, Mr Gates might spot a city train operated by the century-old State Railway of Thailand (I hope he won't mistake it for a mobile museum).

I then came up with a list of "not to be missed" places for our special visitor.

A real tour of the old town should start with the Khlong Ong Ang and Pak Klong Talat where the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has successfully reclaimed public space from street vendors. (The tour guide should bring a couple of old photos, to demonstrate how the BMA has successfully turned the lively old market, full of history, into an empty, meaningless space.)

The next spot should be the old community at Pom Mahakan Fort which will soon be gone after City Hall has evicted some 50 families from the site and turned it into a sort of Disneyland park in its plan to make the capital spotless, without people and life.

Strolling through the city, I am sure Mr Gates would be impressed by how the canals in this city serve as open sewers. Take Khlong Lot Wat Thep Thidaram, just a stone's throw from City Hall.

Like other canals, it is full of plastic bags, tin cans, drink bottles, and some unidentified objects that looked like sand bags. Don't forget that the governor has assured that his staff have already worked hard to dredge all the canals and waterways to improve the city's drainage.

And to give him the real Bangkok experience, there should be lots of rain.

It's a pity Mr Gates had to miss the 39.5-million-baht light show extravaganza featuring about five million hand-made lights at the plaza in front of City Hall.

The show stood in sharp contrast to the ubiquitous small, dark alleys where no street lights can be provided to the communities. But if Mr Gates wanted to explore those areas, he should feel safe because City Hall has installed more than 30,000 CCTV cameras around the capital.

Mr Gates should wrap up his tour with some shopping. The ideal place would be the pavement in front of Siam Square. If he's lucky, he might bump into some local mafia, who provide protection to the rich vendors who occupy the city pavements.

Going on my tour, I hope the billionaire will appreciate the capital by seeing how the locals actually live - different from a short-time visitor's perspective.

However, I'll urge him not to post any photographs of the places he visits on his Instagram account or on any other social media channels. That would be an embarrassment to the government as well as City Hall.

But in doing so, maybe some of the age-old problems would melt away like that messy electrical wiring.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai


Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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