Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mixed Signals

Sustainable Thailand harbors Conspicuous Consumers!

Look past the police and you will see sharks fins hanging blatantly in the display window. (Click on image to Enlarge)

I do not know how to respond to such images when there are posters, publicity and propaganda touting a sustainable Thailand. I guess the practised reality is a clearer truth than a scripted one.

This was found on a bridge leading to the major shopping centres downtown.

Of course, contrastedly, the sharks fin shop was found at an area that was for wholesalers. Hide the ugly truth eh? Of course they are not going out of their way to hide it, it is just not in the main upclass shopping area but just beside. Not even very far away, only 10minutes walk through the busy international trading area. This Watergate Market area where Bangkok Sharks Fin is found is an area that is for international traders. People from all over the whole come here to purchase things wholesale to Europe, America, Asia and even Africa! There are shipping companies concentrated here, ready to ship out at minutes notice. So even if the Sharks Fin is not consumed there, this is the point where it becomes distributed worldwide, feeding into the consumption of Sharks Fin on a global level.

So what is sustainability? Is it from green buildings, better living environment, high standards of living, clean rivers, clean air or high rates of recycling?

Even if people do not consume sharks fin but are part of the global supply chain of feeding the consumption of sharks fin, they are still just as guilty even if their immediate environment is sustainable. Of course there are more examples of this than just mere sharks fins.

Thailand is trying to clean up its rivers which is so polluted I'm afriad I would have ingested parasites just by having its waters splash on my face during a boat trip. It reeks and its colour impossibly dirty. But most of the people in Thailand live in slums along these klongs. A colleague told me today that if he was the city planner of Bangkok, he would clear the whole place and build over. Of course that is not possible but then he is just trying to say how much of a mess the place is.

I'm sure it's not all bad, even if our onboard climatologist informed us that the air pollution in Bangkok is worse than Los Angeles and just a step behind Mexico City.

So they have horrendous water pollution and as we stand by the river we spotted blatant water leakages from the pipes spanning the river. Of course air quality and urban heat island phenomenon is outrageous. There are abandoned buildings all over Thailand. The traffic is ridiculous. Consumption of sharks fins, and possibly other illegal wildlife trade is not uncommon. Of course there are mostly Thai Chinese in Bangkok so nothing curious about the sharks fin bit. Restaurants in Bangkok sell Sharks Fins and Bird Nest ast there prime culinary items. So what is sustainable in Thailand?

I think I feel consoled that there are many NGOs very active in Thailand. On board with us is a Thai lady (well she's my age so that makes this monkey a lady too hah!) who works with the university in Chiangrai with the hill people. She told me she has many friends who were university classmates in Chiangrai who now work with NGOs in bangkok. Over dinner, I also met a girl who just graduated from the top law school here in Bangkok and has applied to go up north to work with the NGO in getting citizenships for displaced hill people. Of course there was robert, an american that gave us a talk in Singapore who works in the NGO here in Bangkok. So NGO is aplenty here as compared to in Singapore. People ARE working hard to improve the environment and quality of life in Bangkok.

This morning, there will be a talk from one such person who works with an NGO here helping sex workers to reduce AIDS in Thailand. Maybe then I will have more insights on how the battle here is faring.

See more photos from Day 3.

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