Thailand’s Inequality: the smile is a lie

There’s nothing like a crisis to reveal your true self, and COVID-19 is such a crisis.

The 5 June article by The New York Times, “After lavish nights of clubbing in Bangkok, a Covid outbreak,” quoted former politician Chuvit Kamolvisit, who captured the essence of the unbearable hypocrisy in our culture:

“In Thai culture, we can smile and lie at the same time.”

The article pinpointed Thailand’s inequality. A tale of supercars, fancy malls, and the wealthy and powerful who strut about with privileges and the “I can get away with anything” attitude. Then there’s the contrast: cardboard-box hospital beds and every news media’s favorite stock photo of the poverty-stricken Klong Toey neighborhood.

From swanky nightclubs and hostess bars to clusters in poor areas, the article quoted Sittichat Angkhasittisiri, a neighborhood chairman of Khlong Toey:

“The rich people party and the poor people suffer the consequences.”

The COVID-19 pandemic in Bangkok is due to many reasons, one of which is urban planning or lack thereof.

The city center is full of high-rises and overcrowded and unsanitary slums, such as Klong Toey. Take a walk inside a slum and find the living conditions that every government in Thailand, past and present, including the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), should be ashamed of for not doing better by the people.

Not so many minutes away from these slums are office buildings and shopping malls with the luxury to rival any in developed countries. It’s a tale of two cities, both ugly and hypocritical.

And when there’s the COVID-19 pandemic, it is our inequality that exacerbates the crisis.

The slums provide Bangkok’s workers. They are the staff in snazzy clubs and fancy malls, the cleaners in offices and homes. So when there’s an outbreak in the playgrounds of the privileged, COVID-19 inevitably makes its way to the poor neighborhoods where the workers return to each day. Overcrowded and unsanitary, invariably, these neighborhoods become clusters.

Inequality in Thailand is a matter of culture, which Thisrupt has discussed many times and will continue to do more. As for this article, our urban planning is a symptom of said culture.

There’s nothing wrong with fancy buildings. There’s nothing wrong with more parks, greeneries, and gentrification. But there’s everything wrong that, at the same time, our fellow Thais live in poverty-stricken conditions and will continue to do so.

Development is the privilege of the few. The poor are left behind. The famous Thai smile in and of itself is a lie

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