Wednesday, August 31, 2005

City transport planning: BKK style

When I first came to Thailand in 1998, the first phase construction of the Skytrain (BTS) was nearing completion and everyone was really looking forward to being able to travel around the city with ease. When I returned on holiday last year I used it for the first time and was amazed that a journey that used to take 2 hours in a car could now be done in 15 minutes and cheaply to boot. The city now also has a subway system that interconnects to the BTS and the new airport being constructed in the east of the city will have a direct light-rail connection into the city. Now all this has, and will make living in Bangkok all the easier but the reality is still a long way from the original grand visions for the transport network..

This map shows a commonly referenced city plan for public transport, the BTS lines are marked in light (Sukumvit line) and dark green (Silom line) the existing MRT subway is marked in dark blue and all the other lines are planned extensions to MRT/BTS and the now under construction light rail link to the new airport (pink line). One of many transport headaches in Bangkok is the cross river traffic- the original intention was always to provide Thonburi on the west side access to both BTS lines. However, the Silom line ends abruptly at the Chao Pyra river- despite the bridge and the causeway for the tracking already being in place right the way into Thonburi!

Last month everything became clear when a public announcement was made canceling all Skytrain extensions, the main reason being that the ruling party Thai Rak Thai do not want the Democratic party (whose allies own the BTS private company) to gain any political advantage by completing the extension. The planned purple and orange MRT lines have also just today been cancelled despite the government pushing these as one of their main policies during the recent re-election campaign. It remains to be seen whether the red MRT line survives to finally provide a cross river link, but perhaps now the best chance for the ever-suffering car drivers of Thonburi is in waiting for a change of government and the subsequent rapid completion of the Silom extension.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A mixed bag for Japanese remembrance

As well as the anniversary of the atomic blasts mentioned in a previous post, this week also saw the anniversary of the Japanese 'liberation' over the Russians. This naval and land victory in 1905 signaled to the world that Japan had truly arrived on the world political stage and the change of influence from Russia to Japan in Manchuria caused China to reassess Japan as a strategic threat. Manchuria has been battled over and disputed for centuries and these conflicts are certainly still felt today with the tensions on the Korean peninsula and public Chinese-Japanese animosity.

The above history came to my attention as I have been in Japan working for the last 4 days and the unique culture of Japan is certainly tied in with its recent past. I was lucky enough to have time during my trip to stop-by the Ofuna Kannonji temple in Kamakura. The building of this temple on a small hill overlooking Ofuna commenced in 1929 and the temple's highlight is the beautiful white Buddha statue with a serene meditating face (which I believe is originally an Indian form). Ironically for a temple devoted to eternal world peace, the construction was discontinued due to heavy bombing during WWII and it was not until 1961 that the statue was finally completed.

Returning from Tokyo last night I spent most of the flight reading various opinions on the decision by Prime Minister Koizumi's not to attend Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine which is widely opposed in Asia from the opinion that this shrine commemorates war criminals. Whilst I feel that Koizumi's move should be applauded, I still think that more needs to be done to find a way forward to ease the political friction between Japan and her neighbors. Japan is already playing a key part in the growing Asian markets and with tighter integration and co-operation would really help the whole region as it takes on the Western powers once again, this time in peaceful but aggressive economic battle.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What lies between Teheran and the bomb?

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News (UK) asked yesterday, "So what lies between Teheran and The Bomb then?" The answer he got was "Oh, about ten years." –

Iran announced yesterday that she has started uranium conversion for energy production purposes at its Isfahan facility (Photo from AP). Washington in particular believes Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons- Now how long it really takes, the reasons and the eventual repercussions of Iran’s nuclear ambitions are all up for debate.. What is sure is that the announcement comes from a new hard-line Government at a time of great change and rebalancing in the middle east. Also worthy of note is the role Iran and Syria are playing behind the scenes in Iraq and the pressure that is starting to mount on them both from the US and its allies.

As a reflection on all that, today is the anniversary of the last atomic explosion used in anger (and I hope the last ever) over Nagasaki in Japan. Sometimes the limits of mankind’s destruction seem boundless, I have seen that in the cemeteries for war victims (including of the Japanese invasions of WWII) and equally in the instant vaporizing of 140,000 human beings by atomic device. I certainly believe in a world free of the nuclear threat but I also believe that hypocrisy will not stop proliferation, but rather the countries that have arsenals should set the lead and give them up.

“(Aug6) Hiroshima's Mayor Akiba delivered an eloquent plea for the abolition of nuclear weapons. "The city of Hiroshima," he stated, "along with the Mayors for Peace and our 611 member cities in 109 countries and regions," had declared the period through the following August a "Year of Remembrance and Action for a Nuclear-Free World." The goal would be the signing of a Nuclear Weapons Convention in 2010 and the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020.”

Monday, August 01, 2005

The underground jungle of Bangkok

So another week starts and still the weekend has not totally finished- at least not for my poor sleep deprived brain cells. On Friday I went to a as-yet still unopened club called Astra that has been getting increasingly popular and checked out some of the English drum and bass DJ's who play in SE Asia. Astra could not be any more different from the other places it neighbors on RCA and is doing a great job of creating a venue for an up and coming local scene. The atmosphere at this club is always lively and makes a really welcome change from the obligatory commercial hiphop that is blanket played across the city. In contrast to UK drum and bass culture, people really seem to go out to nights like this in Bkk for the fun, music and to meet other like minded people- certainly not because of any 'attitude' that tags along. I strongly suggest you take a look at for reviews and details of similar events.