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OCTOBER 12, 2010 10:41AM

Hot Thai Media Ambivalence

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Many expats cheered when Dan Rivers left Thailand for another assignment. I may have even clicked 'like' when the news came up on my facebook feed. The story of last May's Thai turmoil being turned into a class warfare story was offensive to informed people that live here. It was simplistic and smacks of America projecting its economic woes onto Thailand. Dan Rivers became the face of that because of his high profile and the fact that he should know better as an expat himself.

After living and teaching in Thailand for six years and a coup and a half, a set of in-jokes developed with expat friends. “They get snow days, we get coup days,” was the line after a few days off due to political unrest. Bangkok always seemed to function normally outside of a few hot spots: direct payroll deposits were made, pizza could be delivered and the odd elephant could still be walked in the streets. To be worried was a sign of inexperience then.

Strangely worrying banner in Bangkok

A strangely worrying banner recently hung in Bangkok

Last April, razor wire went up on Silom Road, the commercial center with the infamous Patpong district was flanked by baby-faced soldiers carrying enormous guns. A bamboo and tire barrier was put up by the Red Shirts and people gathered at the other side to scream and throw things over it. Still wanting normalcy, we took a taxi through the chaos to go to a nearly empty gay karaoke lounge; it was us and some British Airways flight attendants stranded by the strike. The next day a grenade was lobbed about 100 feet from there. 

Photoshopping this makes it seem more accurate and oddly more comforting.

A quick Photoshop seems to make this seem more convincing.

One of the Red Shirt leaders, former General Seh Daeng, was shot while speaking to a Western reporter which made bigger news in the West than here. Friends in the US thought this was bad news while many people here saw it differently. Weapons had been stolen from the military during the rallies and it was a popular opinion that he was the culprit. Some believed the trouble might subside after his death. It didn't.

Damn, that sidewalk was just fixed after the last elephant incident.

Red Shirt Rally, Bangkok, April 2010. Expats respond, "Damn, that sidewalk was just fixed after the last elephant incident." 

Reality slowly crept in, which is an oddity in Bangkok. This time was different. Soon, I took in a friend that lives on Silom Road and her two cats. Determined to keep reality out, we were drinking cosmopolitans and pretending it was a grown-up slumber party while only leaving to get the last groceries from the supermarket. Facebook and Twitter were the best sources of news and rumors, and between DVDs we checked constantly for updates. Every other expat post was about how CNN, BBC and mainstream news were skewing the story.

Balcony view

View from my balcony, Rama IV intersection, Bangkok, May 2010 

Finally, most of my friends and I left town for 'vacations' last May and watched the news from outside the city. Watching the Central World mall burn and listening to foreigners on the news incite the violence was nothing that could be made into a joke. We wondered if there was a safe future for us here and many families pleaded for expats to come 'home.'

Soon after the overseas media began leaving while things slowly got back to normal. Some people thought that Thailand had pulled itself back from the brink and had learned from it, others believed that it was just the beginning of violence. Politics is unpredictable at best and does not work in ways that can be related to the West; ultimately anyone that claims to foresee the future is delusional or a reporter.

Bangkok 10-10-10

About Seven thousand people showed up in Bangkok to rally on 10-10-10 

It hasn't been in the news much lately, but the Red Shirts are back in Bangkok. Some NGO workers here have said that the local media has been told not to cover this in the news-- a statement that I can believe when thousands of people show up to rally without warning in the news. In April, we checked news every half hour but now there's almost no news to check.  Now the political situation seems murkier now than it was last spring. It's an awful choice between a caricature of the situation with some information or hardly any news at all but it seems those are the only two options.

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thailand, media, dan rivers, cnn

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Comments

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Thanks so much for posting. I was in Thailand last spring, at the beginning of the redshirt rallies, when mostly they were parading around Bangkok and singing songs and riding in trucks. Everything fell apart about two weeks after we left.

I know so little about Thailand other than how to order a drink in a hotel. I don't understand what the protests are about.

Can you blog about it from your perspective? What are they protesting? Why? I really truly don't understand and would like to. Wikipedia just makes me feel more confused.
I'll second froggy's request. I have traveled to Thailand many times both for business and for holidays and truly enjoy the country. But, I do not understand what is going on with the protests and would appreciate any insights you can share.
I'm sure stuff will start leaking out soon. Impossible to keep info bottled up today. Rated.
this blog need a moderator
I get that the media is simplifying (I write about Mexico, which has its own script), but like those who comment above, I'm curious about the nature of the complexity itself from someone with a different (from the apt. pic, clearly quite good) vantage. What is Rivers, et al., missing? Why the caricature? What scenarios contradict this narrative? I would love to read more!
As others have asked, please write a blog about what exactly is going on: explain it to us please, we don't understand the politics or the issues. Thanks!
@marc meier given that this blog writer is an expat living and working in Thailand, there is a considerable time gap. She's probably sleeping as we (and the spammers) are all posting (or I hope she's sleeping). It's 3:19 p.m. on the 12th here on the Pacific coast, it's 5:19 a.m. on the 13th in Thailand. I'm sure she'll answer when she's had a chance to wake up, go to work, and then have some "down time." Be patient. And remember the international date line.
Thanks everybody and I will follow-up on your questions. As Froggy posted, it's nearly opposite the east coast time wise. The explanation about the rallies is a long one, so it might not be until the weekend.
For those interested in the Thailand political situation, I would recommend the following for some background reading (just for starters):
"Thailand Unhinged" and "The King Never Smiles"
I am posting a follow-up today. It focuses more on what lead up to the rallies than the rallies themselves. I think that this helps fill some of the void, although I'm no reporter myself.