Wednesday, September 22, 2021

perspective

Chaos and Khao San Road: LET IT BE


Thais appreciate orderliness but happily live in a general mess. Perhaps the junta expects too much

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The government, being rooted in military discipline, prefers to keep everything neatly in order, but tidiness isn’t always beneficial to the economy, which is after all getting some needed jolts from the “disruption” so trendy these days. 
The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) is firmly on the junta’s side, however, and its latest push for orderliness is aimed at Khao San Road, the city’s world-famous destination for budget travellers. In cleaning up the bustling little street, it’s draining the street of life.
Khao San Road, which has attracted pilgrim backpackers for decades, has by day been a lonely place since last week, when the BMA swept away the vendors’ stalls along the footpaths and imposed a 6pm-to-midnight limitation on trade. The plan is to set up distinct zones for the sale of food, clothing and miscellaneous items and for massage services. 
The vendors didn’t give up without a fight. On the first day last Wednesday, more than 70 per cent of them defied the ban, earning threats of fines of up to Bt2,000. The cops sat back, reasoning that the hawkers were only clogging the pavements, not the traffic lanes.
Chaos and the clutter that comes with it have always been part of life on Khao San. Crime slips in among the souvenir carts and tattoo stalls – you can buy fake ID cards and Oxford University diplomas there. But it’s usually a lively place and well worth a visit, especially with historic Bang Lamphu all around. But by emptying the sidewalks and barring vendors in the daytime, the BMA is choking off its life.
Nor is the ambition realistic. There’s nothing stopping the hawkers evicted from the 400-metre-long road setting up shop elsewhere nearby and spreading out the chaos and mess that so rile City Hall – and yet are integral elements of Thai society in general. Thailand does have room for orderliness too, of course, but perhaps the junta has pushed too far since seizing power in 2014. It’s prodded the BMA to sweep away street food and straighten the collars of motorbike-taxi drivers.
The junta handpicked Aswin Kwanmuang, a former police officer, to govern the capital in the expectation that he’d be tougher on rule violations than Sukhumbhand Paribatra. He’s had his campaigns and they haven’t been impressive. Bangkok remains a mess in all regards – and that’s not all bad.
We don’t need a tough administrator or half-baked initiatives, but rather a proper examination of what constitutes social order. Most residents would say it shouldn’t be expected of Khao San Road, which foreigners obviously loved just the way it was – shabbily kinetic and cosmopolitan. Most would also empathise with vendors who earn their living on the streets in the only way they know how. And if their ways are chaotic and their wares grubby, then so be it – these too are part of the City of Angels’ charm.
We hope that Deputy Governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul will see matters in this fairer light this week when he meets with relevant agencies to discuss the row with the hawkers of Khao San Road. Officials from the Army and Metropolitan Police will be there, as will representatives of the Tourism, Commerce and Social Development ministries. We look forward to hearing what consensus they agree on.

Published : August 07, 2018

By : The Nation