Sunday, June 4, 2017

Bangkok: a precarious lizard, scarcely any stars

Last week I returned from a UNEP meeting in Bangkok. I took the airport express each way; coming in it was great. However, returning proved very difficult even on a Saturday afternoon, even though the station was only 4 kms from my nice hotel. 

First, I had to find a taxi driver who could understand the word "airport link". I asked for one at the hotel, but none appeared after about 5 minutes, and the doormen seemed to have disappeared. Fearing that I might have been forgotten, but confident I knew the direction, I decided to find my own transport. But all the taxis that passed me were full. Eventually I reached a red light, where a motor bike rider offered me a lift (including my suitcase and computer bag) .. but I declined. Crossing a canal, I headed in the same direction. Just past the canal, I finally found an empty taxi. He seemed to understand my request. But I was alarmed as he immediately went at 90 degrees to what I thought was the correct direction (and which in the end proved to be the right direction). 

At first, I gave my driver the benefit of the doubt. The traffic on the original street I was walking on was fluid, but on this diversion at right angles we quickly reached parked cars masquerading as moving traffic. I watched the meter rise from 35 Baht (flagfall) to 49 Baht while we moved about two car lengths (in what seemed like 5 minutes). I watched him study the map I showed him (with names in English and Thai) in ways that increasingly convinced me he could not read a map. Beginning to panic, I gave him 60 Baht and got out of the taxi, immediately speeding my progress by a great deal.

Eventually I found a tuk tuk driver who seemed to understand (and who soon proved he did). 

The 4 kms took me 60 minutes, I walked about half way. 

The inefficiencies in downtown Bangkok traffic are immense, although outside downtown I know it is better. How many person hours are wasted in traffic? Not to mention fossil fuels? How derelict were the planners? (Though, finally, a metro system is developing.)

In my week in Bangkok the people were almost entirely beautifully graceful, patient and polite.

But I scarcely saw or heard any birds. The air was perpetually gray. Due to pollution from dust, smog and light whole generations of Thais living in Bangkok must scarcely see any stars, let alone the wondrous Milky Way. Air pollution damages lung, heart and brain health

For me, the brightest spot was seeing a two foot long monitor lizard (smaller than in the picture) which had successfully crossed a wide road. How heroic, I thought, and how precarious.