This is my fourth trip to Bangkok. I am not staying downtown near the river like in my previous visits. I am attending the East Asia Regional Council of Schools teachers conference and it is hosted by the International School of Bangkok (ISB). It was an one-hour ride through heavy traffic yesterday from the airport to the Ibis Impact Hotel where I am staying. The hotel serves the IMPACT Muang Thong Thani, which is a huge convention center, arena, sports facilities, etc.
ISB moved from the center years ago to gain space for a gorgeous purpose-built school and campus. An expatriate gated community has grown around the school. It is an oasis from the noisy, litter-strewn and busy streets that make up most of the city. I am happy to be in the tropics again. Winters are cold in Japan and houses are not insulated so one feels the cold both outside and inside. It was refreshing to walk in the heavy, tropical air last night. The hotel is a 20 to 40-minutes taxi ride from the school, depending of course, on the ubiquitous traffic of Bangkok. Much like Los Angeles, it really drives peoples’ lives, and you need to be aware of travel times and routes. The city desperately needs better public transport.
The neighborhood around the hotel is being built up with a new mall that is in the process of opening. There are many Chinese-style, huge apartment buildings and so the street life is quite lively. There is much construction projects in progress and the vacant land is rapidly being developed.
After a six-hour flight and the taxi ride, it was refreshing to take a shower and have some Thai spring vegetable rolls and bubble tea at the mall. D
Day 2 – After the first day of the conference I got back to my hotel room and went for a walk so I could feel refreshed and stay awake. I forgot that I was not in Japan and much of the developing world, including Bangkok, is not a place conducive to pedestrians! My goal was to walk about an artificial lake near the hotel and loop back around to the local shopping mall. It was difficult to go over traffic barriers, unpleasant to smell the odors coming from an open sewer and dodging traffic to cross streets. It is a shame because it is so nice to walk in the silky tropical nighttime air. I take it for granted in Japan to have easy and safe walking/cycling paths everywhere in the city and countryside.
Day 3 – This morning I read in the Economist that Thailand is the country with the most wealth inequality in the world. Something like 1% of the population owns a large percentage of the wealth. They are holding the first national elections tomorrow in 9 years. The previous government was interrupted by a military coup in May of 2014, the 32nd coup in Thailand’s history. A junta of military generals has controlled the country ever since. They have a parliamentary system and the prime minister, Prayuth Chan Ocha, is vying with some other parties to gain a majority. The eldest sister of new King tried to run for the former party in power, UDD, but she was not allowed. UDD is backed by a telecommunications mogul who was ousted from power in 2006 and his sister was taken out by the military in the aforementioned coup in 2014.
You can see many signs and campaign rallies around the city. After nine years of no elections, commentators are predicting almost 90% turnout. The military is selling the idea of peace and stability and all parties are talking a lot about anti-corruption. I am curious to see if they will have a result and what direction the country will go in. Thailand is a kingdom and the royal family, especially the former king, is revered and beloved by Thais. His son recently took over after the death of his father. He was a bit of a playboy living in Germany, but he seems to be fulfilling the role as monarch.
Traffic is a disaster here in the city and signs of poverty are everywhere. I hope the leadership of Bangkok and Thailand can help the poor here in this very friendly and colorful country.