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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.