Our handout mentality is alive and well
The old adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure has proven to be true once again.
Last week, Thailand received 10 used trains, aged 20 years, as a kind donation from Japan. Another 14 will be delivered in March next year. All are free. Thailand, or the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), only has to pay for shipment.
SRT governor Wuthichart Kallayanamitr was very excited. He said the used trains will help boost revenue for the debt-ridden agency which has been hit by a shortage of carriages.
An SRT official said the trains are worth the shipment fee since they will only need a few small fixes.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is an assistant news editor, the Bangkok Post.
We will need to adjust the width of the wheelbase of the donated trains to meet Thailand's narrower track gauge and improve the condition of the carriages.
The repairs will cost only one or two million baht per carriage, which is 10% or less than the price of a new one, the officials said.
Thailand is familiar with donated items. We have been received kindness from quite a few developed countries, only having to pay for shipment and modifications, as in the case of the Japanese trains.
Remember how Belgium helped us ease traffic congestion at Sathon intersection in 1986 by donating the pre-fab metal Leopold II Bridge. It was a temporary structure built for the Expo in 1958.
In July 2014, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) accepted nine fire trucks -- three of which were made in 1990 which had done 14,000km, and one in 1999 which had done 57,000km, from Japan's Fukuoka Prefectural Assembly.
On their arrival, the BMA said the trucks were all in good condition despite 20 years of use, and were perfect for reaching communities hidden in small sois.
We have all know how strict environmental protection regulations make it necessary for owners to decommission items early in Japan.
Every three-year-old vehicle in Japan has to have a mandatory maintenance check, called shaken, which needs repeating every other year.
That means a car owner has to pay over ¥100,000 (31,500 baht) depending on the size of the car engine, for the process. That's why car owners in Japan tend to sell their cars when they turn seven years old. Yet the used cars are still in good enough condition to be exported to other Asian countries, including Thailand, on the grey market.
That explains why there are mountains of trash, umm, used engines, auto parts, as well as bicycles in Siang Gong market.
Many say these used parts and engines are still much better than some new locally made items or those imported from China.
I personally don't mind second-hand stuff as long as the item is functional, with no compromise regarding safety and cleanliness. At least, it helps the country save on the national budget.
Safety should be made top priority in this case as the trains will transport millions of people in their lifetimes.
The SRT says it has the safety issue in hand. Before this, there was a complaint that some directions were written in Japanese in trains donated several years ago. It might sound trivial not to put Thai instructions inside the carriages, but what if there are naughty children pulling the emergency brake without being aware of it?
I also wonder why the government is reluctant to spend on something that will improve the quality of life of the people -- trains, in this case -- but generous when it comes to vehicles for high-ranking officials and politicians who always get brand-new items.
And also why does the army get brand new weapons and equipment almost all the time?
We still remember the purchase of four armoured Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard sedans, worth 78 million baht, for the Prime Minister's Office last year.
Before that former prime ministers Abhisit Vejjajiva and Yingluck Shinawatra also bought a few new vehicles when they were in office.
I just wonder how long we will maintain this mentality of running the country like we are beggars, waiting for donations from rich, developed countries while spending money on unnecessary items.
The 36-billion-baht plan to buy submarines that the government defiantly refuses to drop is a case in point.
There is a bright side to the story. One day we could take all the donated items from past decades, or even the last century, and promote ourselves as the world's largest living museum, full of donated goods that will soon become functional vintage items.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.