Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I've dealt with many issues in Southern Thailand, most of them positive, but in two years of residency here, a major issue has been pressing hard on my psyche.

Approximately five months ago, I was approached by one of the Thai teachers at my school, telling me one of my grade three students had been struck by a car on the main road in my village. I was shocked by this news, but surely not surprised, as Thailand's roads are known to be some of most dangerous in the world.

I continued to inquire about the little girl and tried to picture her, but I just couldn't put a face to the name. On the average, I teach over one thousand eighty students in any given week. All these students have names such as Pajaree Narinthaporn, Wontawut Kaewphibool, or Sirima Prakopkaew. Try remembering those three names alone, not to mention over one thousand of them. I do remember a phenomenal amount of my students, but most of them are the ones you'd never forget even if you tried.

This little girl was described to me as one of the more out-spoken, and vivacious, who had a deep voice, but still, I just couldn't picture her.

Two weeks later I was informed that she died on the Thursday after she had been hit. Her class was on a Wednesday afternoon, and for months, her empty place at her desk haunted me. The accident was a hit-and-run, which is highly common in Thailand, and the driver was never found. Not surprising, considering the current state of Thailand's police force.

I've dealt with death thousands of times in my past, both professionally and personally. I worked as an autopsy assistant for several years during my medical career, as well as a procurement technician for the New England Eye Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, harvesting corneal tissue and whole eyes from cadavers. I "bagged and tagged" numerous patients during my long medical career that spanned over twenty-two years. I also buried both my parents and numerous relatives and friends.

But, a kid is different.

I don't care what anyone says or thinks. The death of a child is always the worst. Children are innocent and full of fun, nonsense, jauntiness, games, wonderment, and joy. They are at a stage where independence and responsibility is just out of their grasp. They look to us, the adults, for safety, consolation and dependence.

Whoever hit my little student and ran, trying to escape punishment, should suffer. I personally hope that they suffer endless guilt and despair for the rest of their lives for selfishly taking the life of this little girl.

All this brings me to my main point. Although I haven't lived in Thailand a full two years yet, I have witnessed over twelve major accidents on the outlying roads, at least twenty minor accidents, and an uncountable number of near misses. Two of the major accidents I witnessed had obvious fatalities. At least five of the minor accidents had the potential to have been fatal, and I won't even get into the near misses.

As a pedestrian, either a motorcycle or a car has almost struck me on at least five occasions, possibly more. On one occasion, I was struck by a large truck backing up, which (luckily) knocked me into a ditch. Here in Thailand, the pedestrian DOES NOT have the right-of-way, no matter what the written law may or may not say. It is unbelievable what drivers of motorcycles, cars, SUV's, buses, trucks and the like, will do once they are on the road here in Thailand.

Many, if not most, of the drivers in Thailand are inexperienced, untrained or poorly trained, yet they hit the road every day, zipping in and out of lanes, passing other vehicles at high speeds, traveling the wrong way on a one-way lane or street, merging in any direction, driving drunk or severely incapacitated, driving vehicles that should have been junked eons ago, babbling incoherently on mobile phones instead of paying attention to the road, or just changing lanes without even looking. Just to mention a few of their many infractions.

People die. People continue to die. Numbers of road casualties continue to escalate, but is anything done? Not to my knowledge.

Of late, although I try hard NOT to be a politically motivated individual, it seems that the governmental system in Thailand needs a serious overhaul. Corruption is rife, which is something about Thailand that the whole world is aware of, not just a select few. Government leaders appear to be faithful about empty promises, while very good at pocketing illicit cash and delving deep into graft practices that serve the governing parties.

I remain hopeful that Thailand will "wake up" soon, to the many issues about their country that need "fixing" by a capable leader who carries the people's interest in the forefront of his or her mind, rather than personal and private interests that only serve to undermine the greater good.

As "English Bob" once put it in the Bangkok Post news bag, "Let's not forget," an article heralding the current PM's insulting and prejudicial comments about Western aid sent to relieve the victims of the recent tsunami...

"We don't want farangs to walk around Phuket and say they built this building or that building."

I seriously doubt that the current PM would have made similar comments on his "ass kissing" missions into other Western countries on his Thai financed jet airplane, lest he lose other forms of much sought after aid, in both monetary and material forms.

The current political attitude is the type of attitude that destroys a country, not one that builds a country. Prejudicial thinking, smug remarks, slanderous comments, are not makings of a good leader. This country needs a good leader who doesn't just make empty promises, but rather fulfills them.

Deaths on the highway can be seriously dealt with, if Thailand inaugurates a leader who can move the country beyond the disarray it is currently in, and begin methodically unraveling the dense weavings of corruption and evil that exists in the country today. A good leader will focus on his or her underlings, who command the various departments responsible for the major problems in Thailand, rather than try and combat troubling issues by his own.

Dumping a bunch of folded paper birds upon an area rife with Muslim insurgent violence is not a solution to the problem, but rather a silly, poorly planned action that buys time for an embattled leader who doesn't have answers because he just doesn't care.



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