Last October, while trekking in Nepal’s Annapurna range, I fell into conversation with an expat living in Thailand. I mentioned I had worked as assistant professor at the Asian Institute of Technology (1984 to 1988) on a bridge-construction contract with the Belgian Development Cooperation (then called ABOS). He mentioned that more bridges had been built in Bangkok following the so-called Thai-Belgian bridge.
Some time after my recruitment, the head of ABOS in Bangkok called a meeting with other Belgian technical assistants – there were four of us at AIT – and asked us to come up with ideas for development projects.
Recalling that a bridge in central Brussels had been disassembled and that the metal building materials still had a long life expectancy, I wrote a technical proposal based on two ideas:
Let us donate a bridge to the city of Bangkok, to be erected with materials then stored in Belgium.
If the bridge proves to be a success let us try to commercialise the idea and sell such materials for more bridges.
Clearly, the proposal emanated from ABOS and not from the commercial section of the Belgian Embassy, as mistakenly reported by The Nation.
Two locations were proposed by me, one of which – the Rama IV and Sathorn-Wireless Road intersection – was the one ultimately chosen.
Eventually, in early 1988, I learnt that the bridge would be erected, that a ceremony would be held and that the original promoter would not be invited for the opening ceremony. Now, why had it taken so long from the moment the idea was formulated to the bridge being built? Insider information suggests that issues had arisen over re-engineering work needed for the heavier traffic the bridge in Bangkok would carry. Also, reportedly, no budget had initially been granted by Belgium for the bridge’s foundations, so funding had to be found.
At the official opening ceremony in April 1988, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn awarded certificates, signed by the Bangkok Governor, to a number of protagonists in the bridge project. Due to a twist of fate, I was ultimately invited to the ceremony.
On a final note, the Belgian community in Thailand has always considered the Belgian ambassador at the time, Baron Patrick Nothomb, as a “Grand Monsieur”.
Yves G Van Frausum
Dr of Economics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Published : November 19, 2018