Editorial: June 2018

 |  June 1, 2018

There is a lot of buzz about public transportation these days with new bus services setting up pilot projects, talk of massive international investment in a monorail system and even finally a glimmer of a promise from the central government that some funding may be heading our way to set up…well, something.

Call me cynical, but having edited these pages for nearly two decades and featured dozens of stories and breathy announcements for impending transportation solutions, I’m no longer holding my breath. Millions of baht have been given to various university departments over the years to conduct research on mass transit systems, with talks of double decker buses, trams, monorails, underground and above ground trains, electric buses and even upgrading the pesky songtaews and corralling them into some semblance of a transit system. But while the budget is always plentiful enough for the many ajarns and their students to indulge in all manner of theoretical solutions, there is never any budget for the actual implementation — Chiang Mai simply doesn’t have enough and Bangkok has no interest in giving it to us. We have also had pilot bus projects ad nauseum, and each time they fail for the same reasons: not enough marketing or information, no consistency in routes or timing, short term investment and the simple fact that we are a lazy lot here and convenience comes before any willingness to support a less-than-efficient system.

Like the cursed cable car which gets proposed, and promptly shut down, every few years, solutions to mass transit systems are not just a matter of logistics here in our fair city, they’re also a matter of heart. While we are all cognizant of the fact that Chiang Mai is an ancient city infused with culture, the efforts we make to cherish this heritage, or at least the image of this heritage, isn’t just about pride, but also about pockets, after all tourism is a massive industry. The idea of a cable car or monorail, however environmentally responsible, is simply not going to cut the mustard, what with views of our beloved Doi Suthep being blemished — just ask those judges.

So we continue our dance, navigating that line with care not to overdevelop and end up destroying our golden cow yet working to
improve the city’s infrastructure for the benefit of its many residents.

I don’t have any solutions, but I know there are many great minds working on them. On a practical level, until there is a budget, there isn’t much you or I can do except voice our agreement or protest as is warranted. One thing though is becoming clear, we are going to have to start making sacrifices. This month our intern Hana Wiles writes about our ubiquitous and lackadaisical use of plastic which has led to Thailand being one of the world’s greatest users and polluters of plastic, laying the blame firmly on our own complicit culture of convenience. Since there are a few intrepid investors attempting to set up bus systems, perhaps it’s worth taking some time to study these new offerings and leaving the car at home once in a while in support. Who knows, with a bit of effort maybe we won’t have to wait for Bangkok’s largess after all!

Citylife this month:
I am ashamed to say that apart from knowing that they exist and live in the northern region of Myanmar, I knew nothing about the Kachin people until we were approached by documentarian Ryan Libre recently asking us to do a story about the current conflicts across the border. Spending a few weeks meeting Kachin leaders, journalists, researchers, watchdogs and Thai Kachin residents, I must apologise that my feature won’t be doing these people and their complex struggles any justice, but I hope that it will be a good introduction and springboard for any of you who may be interested in learning more about the atrocities being conducted against them. This month our girl Tus Werayutwattana writes the cover story on bamboo, a seriously underappreciated plant, introducing you to its many usages and the people working with it. Aydan Stuart meets a Thai veteran from the Vietnam War who shares his harrowing experience, a perspective often overlooked in the Vietnam narrative. We hope you have a good read.