Monday, November 24, 2014


By Mansor Puteh

Have you been to Betong, the small border town in South Thailand before?

I had not been to this place in a long time since I first heard of it from some friends who had been there countless number of times, until last September when I went there with a friend.

But I went there with a special reason after being told that there was a former Malayan Communist Party (MCP) camp which is now known as the Friendship Village for former communist cadres who had been rehabilitated after the MCP agreed with the Malaysian and Thai government to close shop in 1989.

And at the camp there is a tunnel where they hid themselves and to cook for about 200 personnel.

The tunnel is now called the Piyamit Tunnel and it is opened to visitors at five ringgit per adult person and two ringgit for children.

I was lucky to have managed to get to the tunnel which is on the top of the hill now that they had constructed a walkway leading all the way from the entrance to the tunnel.

Earlier some of my friends had gone there and had to trek through the woods on ground that had not been paved so they took a lot of time and effort to finally get to the tunnel.

Piyamit Tunnel is about eight kilometers from Betong.

And it is about Betong I am writing this piece about.

I was surprisingly shocked to see such a small border town like this one to be very clean and the people actually living here and they are disciplined who do not park their vehicles indiscriminately.

I had been to other cities in Thailand such as Hatyai and Golok and also Bangkok few times and did not realize the cleanliness of these places until I arrived in Betong.

You can see the cleanliness of the country the minute you cross into the border from Malaysia.

In fact, even before you do that you can also see the cleanliness of the small towns and rural villages of Malaysia which are equally clean and tidy.

The largest town near the Malaysian side of the border is Gerik. It is a new town with just two rows of shops at the either side of the road and the whole town is tidy.

I returned to Betong in November and was welcomed by such pleasant weather so that even after a few days of staying there some of my friends in Kuala Lumpur would remark how I had become fairer.

They thought I had just returned from visiting America or any other country in Europe. I had not. I had just been to Betong.

Betong is a Melayu word for a type of bamboo.

And being in the Yala district close to the border with Malaysia, it is not much of a surprise to see how Melayu the whole district and also Betong is.

Many local Thais and Malaysians were not aware of the origins of the name of the city, and also of Phuket Island, which is from the Melayu word for ‘Bukit’ or hill the Thais called ‘phuket’.

I liked to stare out of the hotel room window on the forth floor every dawn just before the sounds of azan is heard from the nearby masjid to look at the few street sweepers doing their job.

I saw them just walking along the street trying to see if they are any litter for them to pick. There is almost none.

And all that they could do is to walk along the side of the road with a small pan and perhaps sweep small pieces of litter and push them into their small pans until they are too far away in the foreground until I lost sight of them.

The street sweepers of Betong must have what must be the easier job in the world.

And the garbage trucks are also clean; and they can pass through the streets without anyone closing their noses.

Unlike the garbage trucks in Malaysia and mostly in Kuala Lumpur which are so dirty and also smelly that if you drive with your windows down and a garbage truck overtakes you, you will have to bear the strong stench of dirt and garbage thrown by Malaysians who did not care for their personal hygiene and the city authorities who did not know how to discipline the garbage collection companies to clean up their acts.

What the city of Kuala Lumpur officials including and mostly their mayor ought to do is not to waste their time and the people’s money by conducting field studies in Europe or America to learn how to keep the city clean.

All that they need to do is to just cross the border in the north and go to Betong for a day to find out of the city does the trick.

And Betong does not even have a cleanliness campaign to force anyone not to litter their city. But it is already clean.

Maybe if there is some pieces of litter, they must have been thrown or discarded by tourists especially those from Malaysia who habitually go there for pleasure.

But even this is not possible because they know if they do that they can be summoned of fined.

So why do visitors from Malaysia who would often throw litter everywhere including from inside the cars they are driving onto the streets discipline themselves when they are in Betong?

Betong does not have an army of personnel to monitor the situation so anyone can escape persecution for littering yet, no one here does that, even the many visitors from Malaysia who knew better not to do that, whilst they are here in Betong or the whole of Thailand.

But when they return to Malaysia they will resume their dirty job of littering the streets and not looking after their garbage bags.

The worse case of neighbor indiscipline in Malaysia happened fairly recently when a case of a Chinese woman who was mowed down by a car driven by another Chinese man who was chided for putting two plastic garbage bags in front of her apartment on the ground floor of a building.

The Chinese woman died over two garbage bags!

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