When I was in Thailand to drive and shoot the new Ford Fiesta (click here to see this month's Top Gear Philippines cover), I couldn't help make comparisons between us and the Thais. Their weather is about the same, their cuisine is very tasty like ours, and they also have plenty of traffic in their capital.
The differences are also apparent. They're a lot more advanced when it comes to infrastructure and transportation, the lifeblood of any growing economy. Based on what I saw, I would estimate Thailand to be halfway between our level of advancement (if you can call it that) and Japan's level. That's saying a lot. It's a bit sad because Thailand's level of progress now is where we could have been if we elected better officials.
I don't see why we can't have the same progress and growth the Thais are enjoying. Driving and walking around Bangkok, I was able to notice several noteworthy differences between their country and ours. These are merely observations, but they also touch on serious matters that hinder our growth. Now that we have a new administration maybe we can dream of catching up with our neighbors again.
1. An airport skyway. From the airport, an elevated expressway leads to the capital city of Bangkok. This bypasses plenty of clogged urban areas and gives visitors a strong first impression of progress. All over the world, international airports are situated away from major urban centers for safety and convenience.
Meanwhile, our airports are located in Pasay City, one of the busiest cities in Metro Manila. A good option is Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 as it is located near a Skyway entry point, but that terminal also became a symbol of the greed attracted by high-profile government projects. Up to now it hasn't reached its full potential when it is the one airport that even comes close to international standards.
2. A modern train system. Around Bangkok, a train system similar to our Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) systems shuttles commuters conveniently. But compared to the mosh-pit ambiance of our stations--with commuters lined up for kilometers in sweltering heat--the Bangkok stations are well-spaced and several machine kiosks handle the ticketing. The lines are short despite the influx of foot traffic, and it's easy to understand the system even in a foreign language.
We love our cars, but there really are times when it would be better to take the train. According to President Benigno Aquino III's State of the Nation Address, the previous crooks administration intentionally kept prices low to temporarily placate the voting public, which resulted in long-term damage to the financial health of the MRT/LRT system. Let's hope the Aquino administration can save the system in time.
3. Love for their leader. The last time we felt love for a leader was when the light of our nation passed away almost one year ago. The outpouring of support for her and what she believed in--combined with the general resentment towards the previous presidency--catapulted her son, Noynoy, all the way to the highest position in the land. We've only had a month to get used to the idea of having a leader who, at the very least, we don't hate.
But the Thais love their king. It's apparent in the billboards and pictures they erect of him in the airport and along the highways. It's impossible to drive around and not see a picture of their king. I believe having an inspiring leader is a key to progress. It rallies citizens to a common cause; without a common cause people will just work towards their own personal motives without thinking of the greater national good.
We have something worse, the so-called padrino or "bata-bata" system, a throwback to the days of vassalage where people render duty to a powerful person in exchange for patronage.
4. Following traffic rules. At first I thought Bangkok vehicle traffic would be the same as ours: hectic, busy, and filled with rude motorists. True enough a bus swerved into my lane with total disregard for right of way--and while I was enjoying the Ford Fiesta's nimble handling.
I noticed differences, too. For one, the Thais follow their lanes. There was one intersection where I was going straight and the lane was empty, the lane beside mine that was exclusively turning right was chock-full of cars. In Manila it's rare to see a full lane and an empty lane side by side. Some of the retards that pass themselves off as public utility vehicle drivers take up any free lane they see, exacerbating traffic severely. I learned that despite their busy traffic, Bangkok motorists still know how to follow traffic rules.
5. Minimal traffic enforcer intervention. There was something else I noticed about Bangkok that wasn't apparent at first glance--they have very few traffic enforcers. In fact, after five hours of driving I only saw two incidents of apprehension by traffic enforcers: one at the end of an expressway and one in the city itself. That's it. Everywhere else, there were only road signs, street signs, and traffic lights. It proved to me that when you have a disciplined motorist population that knows the rules and the real consequences of breaking those rules, there's no need for traffic enforcers in every corner. It also minimizes the possibility for corruption.
6. Great street food. Maybe in the beginning it was just the novelty of eating authentic foreign food in a foreign land, but the quality and flavor of Thai street food vindicated themselves to me in the end. Partaking of street food is a way of bonding with a city, sampling not only its sights and sounds but also its tastes. We have great street food here. I remember a memorable instance where we drove to UP Diliman and ate isaw on an empty lot beside our cars. But what's noticeable about Bangkok street food is the consistent quality, and the distinctly Thai characteristic they all have.
In our streets, we now have waffles, Chinese noodles, and buy-one-take-one burgers with 1-millimeter thick patties. It's nice to have variety, but it would be better if our street food were more exclusively Filipino (palamig, isaw, dirty ice cream, taho) and held up to better gastronomic standards. And it would be better if we didn't have to know where the best street food was because everywhere, the taste and quality difference would be irrelevant.
7. Letting animals be. In the Chonburi province where we stayed, there are plenty of wild dogs and wild monkeys that aren't afraid to go near the vehicles. Monkeys even clamber aboard the cars and sit on the roof.
In Subic, there are some monkeys that can be seen on the road, but they stay there. To say that the Thai monkeys' comfort level is a little disconcerting is like saying Mikey Arroyo made a bit of a fool of the party list process by claiming he represents tricycle drivers. While scouting for locations, Ford's Anika Salceda and I hid inside the vehicle while the monkeys were traipsing on the roof. Outside, the wild dogs sat idly on the park benches if there were no people sitting. It was nice to see animals so comfortable with the civilian populace and no one was antagonizing each other.
8. Their taxis are gay. It seems sex change operations are not limited to people.
Of course, there are some aspects in life, however seemingly minor, where Pinoys enjoy an advantage. For one thing, we have better taste when it comes to modifying cars. And more important, Filipino women are prettier (just check out our Traffic Stoppers by clicking here).
Come to think of it, there are more pretty girls in our row here in the office than in the whole MBK mall when we were there.