Friday, 25 February 2011

The tortoise turns its neck slowly to look back at us

Have you ever heard of the aged old story of the famous race between the tortoise and the hare (rabbit)? The far leading hare was so confident of victory at hand that he paused to have a nap, and ended up loser to the slow crawling tortoise.

Yes, you are right; Malaysia had been the conceited hare and Thailand the underdog tortoise. In the past when one heard that friends or colleagues were going to Thailand, he would have thought of unsavory aims of the male travelers, they were going for sex holidays, what else? And for women folks, Thailand seemed at that time a good country to shop for cheap undergarments, cooking utensils and local produces. Some older and experienced folks were warning the eager travelers before their departure to be wary of magical and evil charm that would take away their soul and senses.

The two neighboring countries have almost everything similar with regards to its natural resources like rice cultivation, tropical fruits farming, rubber planting, tin mining and fishery.

                                Rubber Plantation with rows of productive trees

Traditionally Thailand has been an agricultural country, and has agriculture as its mainstream economy norm. The government incessantly encourages discovery of new farming techniques and co-ordinates well with all departments in its quest to market its produces both local and overseas. The result is overwhelming and its economy improved tremendously. Since Malaysia tried its effort to become an industrialized nation by emphasizing on motor car industry, agricultural sector had been more or less ignored or sidelined. Within a short span of twenty years, the development of new agricultural methods and products lagged far behind that of Thailand’s.

  Pride of a nation or shame of the nation? History will tell. Right now, Introduction into Western countries and
                the US of Made-in-Malaysian cars failed miserably as the vehicles were declared unsafe.
               The country even tried barter trade  with poorer nations to sell the cars. The national cars were
               sold  dirt cheap in Mid-Eastern nations yet it cost a bomb in the home country.  
               Coupled with poor quality finishing and not very pleasing design, and with help of heavy
               duties levied on other made and foreign brands, the made-in-Malaysia cars could only be
               popular in the country.  Still it's too pricey for the Malaysian citizens.               
               The popular British TV program "Top Gear"  commented on Malaysian cars as a joke.                
               The TV presenter declared: It's a car designed and made  by someone out there to earn a quick buck.  
The export of Thailand’s well-known fragrance rice contributes some 30% of the world’s need, after meeting the demand to feed its own people. For that matter it becomes one of the world’s largest exporters of foodstuff and the world’s largest rice exporting nation. With intensive research on clone development and improvement of species, Thailand’s export of tropical fruits takes a flying leap in the world market. For Westerners who dare to sample durians, they usually choose Thailand’s species.

                         The country wanted to be industralised overnight

With regards to research in rubber industry, Thailand has surged well ahead of Malaysia too. The Rubber Research Centre of Thailand in Songkhla is the largest in South East Asia, possibly the largest in the world. All new species that have been developed and cloned by the centre will be distributed to rubber planters and farmers regularly, thus strongly enhance the quality and quantity of the valuable latex. There seems to have little news or any breakthrough of our world famous Rubber Research Institute and its achievement lately, ever since the nation switched the emphasis on agriculture sectors to oil palm cultivation and production.

                                              Pulau Perhentian Jetty

Malaysia has its fair share of island and beach resorts with pearly white sand attractions, yet we trace badly in our quest for international tourism standing. What has Tourism Authority of Thailand done that the Malaysian counterpart has not? Those returning tourists from Thailand claimed to have felt the pulsating pace of life and feeling of freedom when they set foot on Thai soil. The easy going, ever smiling and polite faces of its citizens are main factors, as well as simplification of border entries at immigration check points. More and more new island resorts were discovered, or re-furbished and marketed widely to attract foreign arrivals. Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui are fine examples. Well planned travel packages are introduced with itinerary that includes ancient archeological sites and its natural attractions, relaxed rules on night spot activities, coupled with good food and remarkable commuting systems that make tourism in Thailand a fore runner in Asia. One more thing I need to mention: Safety. Strolling along the streets of Pattaya or Phuket at 2am in the wee hours is generally safe; whereas I shudder to think what could have happened to me if I choose to walk the streets of Kuala Lumpur at 2am! With Mat Rempits and snatch thieves abound, even in broad day light , tourists should be advised how to look after themselves.

Lately the ingenious creativity in graphic designs, media and fashion industries make headlines in the world market. Young Korean and Japanese people began to appreciate the chic and hic scenes of Thai’s own popular fashion taste; that too boost Thais’ image internationally.

Malaysia began its quest into industrialization in the mid 80s with launching of its national car project. Some twenty over years later, the nation of Thailand which started much later than us now enjoys a comfortable edge over us. While Malaysia is still struggling to maintain its feasibility of the national car project, to the extent of seeking foreign partners (yet no taker), Thailand has been bestowed the enviable, coveted title of ‘Detroit of the East’.

                                        Wat Arun, Bangkok lits up in the evening

Let me continue further since I have mentioned so much of the comparisons. Let these facts be the elements of the fable (The race of the hare and the tortoise) to the future generations. In 2006 Malaysia’s pioneer university – University of Malaya was listed as no. 192 by The Times of United Kingdom; Bangkok’s Chulalankorn University was at no.161. Yet in year 2004, this leading university of Thailand could not even squeeze into the top 200. Now you tell me, who has improved in its quest for excellence? It was a leap and bounce endeavour. 

Thai traditional dancers fascinate tourists with their charm and elegance
Need I go further: Last year (2007) the World Bank announced that Thailand was listed as no. 15 as the most favorable nations for business and investment, just behind Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Japan. Malaysia’s standing was at no.24. The travel log bible as it is widely known among travelers, the Conde Nast Traveler magazine announced that Bangkok, Thailand was listed as no. 1 in the world as the best destination city for travelers. For Malaysia, I am awfully sorry, none of our cities made it to the list. Yes, there are demonstrations in Bangkok and some turmoil in the restive south, but placid life generally is still going on in Thailand amidst the endless arrival of the curious tourists, obviously the country strives on comfortably on tourism. 

                                                        The World Bank Emblem
While the haughty, self-centered, and conceited hare refuses to wake up, the slow crawling tortoise finds its pace and path easier and smoother. By the time the over confident hare opens its eyes, not only it loses sight of the tortoise, it also loses the sense of the direction.

This essay was translated by Alan Kok. Original text was published by Sin Chew Newsprint, Oct 2008.

Alan CY Kok


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