Our Bangkok correspondent H. Numan sends a gloomy account of the situation in Thailand as the coronavirus “pandemic” winds down.
Thailand, land of the no more smiles
by H. Numan
I’ve got bad news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want to hear first?
Let’s start with the bad news. Thai International Airlines is on the brink of declaring bankruptcy. The airline has been very badly managed, long before the Chinese Virus struck. Countless efforts have been made to revive the company. You can read as: every executive lined his pockets. Thursday the axeman will arrive. The government stated it will not support Thai Inter. The decision of the shareholders should have been reached last Friday, but they asked for an extension.
It’s a pretty big deal here. You can see that because… everybody pretends it is not a big deal! Loss of face, you know. If KLM goes belly up, the Dutch would be up in arms. Thais are the most chauvinistic people on the planet. Their national pride goes down, and it’s not really important? Come on!
Thai International is the national carrier. A long time ago, one of the very best airlines in the world. The food was excellent and the service superb. The problem was that they didn’t make any profits. Why? Well, everybody working in Thai Inter got free flights. And their family members. And friends. And the royal family (always first class, of course). And their staff. And the friends of the royal staff. And most government officials. And their friends. You get the idea, I think. That can work in a well-managed company in a strong economic climate. It doesn’t most of the time. Thai Inter was never well managed to begin with.
That was no problem when Thai Inter was a government-run airline. After privatization this continued and became a serious problem. One of many. They did cut costs, but that took much of the shine off the airline. The last time I flew Thai, it showed. Food was not too bad — but that comes from me. In other words: from a garbage can with very low gourmet standards. If I find food mediocre, people with higher standards, beware!!! Entertainment was dated. Chairs were visibly well used. Staff was still friendly, but clearly overworked.
It’s a very big deal for Thailand, as it is the national carrier. The reason of the postponement is to put more pressure on the government to cough up something. Which they won’t do. Currently, the offices on Vipawadee Rungsit Road are for sale. The company staff works in rented space. They were able to sell off their old Boeing 747’s. However, that is not enough. Thai bought a lot of big Airbuses 340 and 380 — which nobody wants. Those planes are brand new, and can only be sold for scrap value. That really hurts.
That was the bad news. Now for some more bad news. Thailand survived the Chinese Virus pandemic relatively unscathed. The first two waves, that is. Until third wave hit us, hard. The death toll rose from under a hundred for a whole year to 614 in a matter of weeks. It’s still pretty good, compared with other countries. Thailand ranks 117, whereas The Netherlands ranks 27, with +17,000 deaths. As Thailand has four times as many citizens and is a third-world country, that’s actually pretty good.
I live in the dark-red zone, being Bangkok. Dark-red is an euphemism for black… One of the reasons is the outbreak of the virus in Thai prisons. Especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Thai prisons are notorious all over the world. One can, with good reason, call it Auschwitz in the tropics. Cells are vastly overcrowded: 40 men to a cell with barely room to move. Prisoners are kept in their cell from 3pm until 7am. With one jar for a toilet. No air-conditioning and all the mosquitoes you want. Thai cuisine is served: the cheapest rice possible with meat (cockroaches) or vegetarian (without the roaches). Water comes from a nearby canal. The guards differ from the ones in Auschwitz in that they don’t speak German. You won’t be surprised to hear that medical care and especially hygiene are matching. Hence, 6,853 cases in just the Bangkok prisons.