The Land of Smiles

I lined up at the “Asean Lane.”  Gazing at longer queues thronged by Europeans and Americans, I felt fortunate for once to have a Philippine passport.  As I was waved through with a smile, I felt more welcome in Bangkok than in Manila.

The immigration counters at Suvarnabhumi Airport were all open:  some for “all visitors,” others for “visitors and Thais,” and one for “Apec.”


Thais passed swiftly through the unmanned biometric lanes, like those in Hong Kong and Singapore.

It’s probably too much to ask Naia to create similar express lanes, but it is disturbing that Pinoys have to queue up way longer than foreigners at immigration.


OFWs truly deserve a special lane, but when I left Manila earlier that day, the Apec lane had virtually no one, yet ordinary Filipinos could not use it.

It is shameful for us to wait way longer than foreigners to get served on our native soil.   Hopefully, Naia opens double, or during holidays, triple the number of counters for Filipinos, which is what we deserve.

A real expressway

I went to Bangkok for a Unesco Asia-Pacific consultative meeting on ICT challenges to the youth. The last time I was in Thailand was more than a decade ago, for a math conference.  Traffic then was horrendous (similar to that in Metro Manila today), so I braced myself.

But Bangkok Airport now boasts a Rail Link aboveground, and for 50 baht (P65), you can reach the city in 30 minutes.  I was about to do this when a friendly Thai personnel advised me to take a taxi instead.

“After Airport Rail, you have to connect to another line and walk to the hotel.  The taxi costs less than 400 baht (P515), and you will get there shortly. Traffic is not bad at this time.”

I walked over to the taxi stand. The smiling personnel handed me a taxi lane number stub.  “Keep this with you,” he said, and I felt safer.  Taxis waited at their respective lanes, and before long, a smiling driver greeted me.


The highway would cut travel time but meant an extra 50 baht, the driver warned.  I told him to go for it.

Unlike SLEx and NLEx, where traffic flows in the middle but creates bottlenecks near the exits, the expressways here are built purposefully.  They have their own entrance and egress, far from the usual areas, creating an alternative route.

In 25 minutes, I reached the hotel.  The ride cost 370 baht (P475), with the highway toll included.


Similar to us

The Unesco meet was productive and insightful.  Outside it, not everything else flowed as smoothly, but since I was used to Filipino ways, these hardly mattered.

City traffic was still heavy, but not as bad as ours.  The smiling ladies at the front desk could not find my reservation, even after photocopying my passport.  Salespeople in malls followed me around for 20 minutes, but shook their heads when asked about products, smiling all the while.

“For Thais, human relationships are far more important than whether someone forgot to do a task. [Thais] are usually more concerned with making sure their bosses are happy.  Putting in long hours or working weekends are some things that Thais know are expected of them. Quantity is often a more important factor than quality,” says Tom Tuohy in his book “Watching the Thais.”

Many Thai family businesses are reminiscent of Filipino firms. “While family members generally fill almost all of the upper-tier positions, middle and even lower-tier positions are typically filled by those who have connections with family members,” says HR practitioner Sununta Siengthai.

Thai culture is collectivist more than individualist, with respect for hierarchy and saving face.  “Subordinates do not feel comfortable making decisions.  Decision making is their superiors’ duty,” say researchers Theerasak Thanasankit and Brian Corbitt.

But cross-country data show that Thailand is dealing with progress a lot more effectively than the Philippines, as evidenced by better infrastructure and a sounder business climate.

Like Filipinos, Thais are warm and friendly.  When a Caucasian berated a waiter loudly, I was surprised to see the latter still smiling although nervous.

Daniel Fraser, head of a travel firm, says, “In Thailand, smiling is a form of subtle interpersonal message which runs deeper and perhaps more accurately than language or syntax.

Thais are adept at performing no less than 13 situational-specific smiles. Many are used to relieve tension, calm nerves, seek forgiveness. One particular smile translates as ‘smiling in the face of an impossible struggle.’”


The author is on the board of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center.  Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail [email protected])  E-mail the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: APEC, Ateneo de Manila University, family business, ofws, Suvarnabhumi Airport
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