Bangkok: I’m Getting the Last Word in Edgewise

Think Thailand

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Thinking about Thailand…

I debated about writing this post because I don’t want WLT to be taken over by Thai politics. Also, my leanings are more towards history, with a preference towards reading about politicians long dead. So political events in Thailand, especially as they happen, are in a mist of confusion because I don’t have a deep knowledge of the many arguments going around.

I will continue to make my way through the many books and resources suggested in Newley’s But it’s a slow process so I’m sure to be plugging away when the next round hits Thailand. And it will. Guaranteed.

To explain just how not up I am on Thai politics, if allowed to vote in Thai elections I’d vote for Abhisit. Why? Because he’s cute. See? (Yes, I am blushing).

The idea for this post came from Tony’s video: Bangkok Burns. I started to leave a comment, then realized that I had too much to say. Also, I wanted to write down my personal feelings from when I started taking photos of the Red Shirts parades, to the present (please note that I said ‘feelings’ and not ‘political views’). But I wasn’t quite sure if I should write about them at all. Until now.

This week a comment came via email saying that WLT presented just the one side: The Red Shirts. That is incorrect; I support all of Thailand. But after a bit of a think, I now understand where he’s coming from. My site is awash with red, but so was Bangkok. There is no denying.


Looking back through recent Bangkok events is painful…

On May 19th, when I flipped through to the different tv channels watching the Thai army go into the Red Shirt fort at Ratchaprasong, I did what I rarely do. I cried. Hard. I’m not a person who cries hard very often. But when it does happen, it always involves death: My granddaughter, grandmother, father-in-law, former husband, a marriage, the 9/11 attack on the WTC.

Without coming off overly dramatic, I’m not sure what to call this death. Do you?

On the 19th, upset and pissed off at pretty much everyone involved (as well as suffering from a rare loss for words), I ditched my idea for a ‘Heartfelt wishes to Thailand’ post. I preferred to go with Bon’s sweet From Thailand to the World creation instead. Thank you Bon.

Let me explain… During the Red Shirt parades around Bangkok I found it easy to believe that the supporters intended for their protest to be a peaceful one (btw – I quit at the symbolic blood spilling as I don’t do blood).

Banners stating สันติ วิธี (the peaceful way) were found everywhere on Red Shirt banners, trucks, vans, t-shirts and hats even. Both in English and in Thai. And the Thais I talked to insisted the same – that theirs was to be a peaceful protest.

At the parades, well-to-do Bangkokians stopped me in the streets to explain why they and their friends, all Yellow Shirt supporters, had decided to show support for the Red Shirt cause. Now, as an expat, I don’t have a dog in this political fight. But some of the reasons they stated – the need for improved education, financial support from the government, and respect – made sense to me too.

But when Terry Fredrickson started translating what the Red Shirt leaders were saying on stage at Ratchaprasong, well, there you have it.

In that very same email I was asked if expats knew what the Red Shirts leaders were saying. I imagine a great deal of expats were unaware, but were Thais? And (shamefully), even though I was reading along with Terry, I kept their peaceful promise at the fore. I wrongly assumed that the leaders were similar to football coaches. You know what I mean, where they excite their teams with pep talks dripping with: kill, kill, kill, die, die, die. But football players are not expected to kill anything. Much.

And now I’m wondering what those very same Bangkokians were thinking when they heard the Red Shirt leaders incite their followers to kill Thai soldiers and burn down Bangkok. And if they still feel the same as they professed to me. I know I don’t. I still want what is best for all Thais, but I feel betrayed.

Do any of Red Shirts feel the same? Betrayed? And for the same reasons as I do?

The Red Shirts camps at Ratchaprasong are gone and the rains have mostly washed the smoke from the burning tires away. But not quite. I drove to Paragon on Thursday and my lungs started coughing up gunk the following day. It’s especially bad when I laugh. Yeah.

The staff at Paragon welcomed everyone back with what seemed to be brighter Thai smiles. At the entrance to Paragon’s Gourmet Market we received the Thai ไหว้ /wâi/ and were handed aromatic garlands (พวงมาลัย /puang maa-lai/). All through my shopping, canned announcements warned against leaving carts unattended, asking shoppers to please report suspicious behaviour.

So is this the new signs of the times in Bangkok?

There are many unanswered questions even now (and some I cannot ask). Important questions like: Who were the mysterious snipers, were Red Shirt guards (or anyone in power) stopping the supporters from leaving Ratchaprasong, will Thais ever start talking to Thais, will all sides admit where they went wrong, will Thaksin ever be brought back, and finally… what direction will Thailand choose to go in now? Because there is always a choice.

I’m wondering if these important questions will get answered if the insistence on online censorship continues. Personally, I shake at the mention.

Well, whatever happens next in Thailand certainly won’t be boring (even without the protests, it never is). But it might just be too much excitement for me. I’ve since lost my passion for taking photos of what I see around me in Thailand. And this, from a gal with a new 7D. Sad (I know, I know… and I plan to work on my newly negative attitude).

And that’s my last word on Thai politics. Edgewise.

If you’d like to help Thailand in even the smallest way, please consider donating to Thai education via the SET Foundation. If you don’t know about the foundation, there are two posts about SET on WLT: Inciting Acts of Kindness: The SET Foundation and The SET Foundation: A Season for Giving Back.

And if you’ve stopped by WLT to see the most amazing collection of free resources for learning the Thai language instead of reading about Thai politics, then you’ve come to the right place: Learn Thai for FREE.

Note: The comments are open in this post, but I will be watching carefully for several reasons: Mudslinging and political rants bore me, and I do not want WLT to get closed down by the Thai government. So play nice everyone.

16 thoughts on “Bangkok: I’m Getting the Last Word in Edgewise”

  1. *this not on subject* i was looking for sidney leonard i’m a former pupil of his . i googled him and found him here !


  2. Sawadee kha Sidney. It’s difficult to know what to do – stay or go. Right now Bangkok is quiet on the surface. In most places, it’s like nothing ever happened. The main change I’ve noticed in myself is that I no longer feel like a tourist (one of the charms of living in Thailand is the fun factor, but the downside is it does keep reality at bay). I now walk around thinking about ‘my’ Bangkok, ‘my’ Ari, ‘my’ Paragon. And another change is that my Thai friends and I have moved closer emotionally. The invisible wall that keeps different cultures at arms length is weaker. I guess it’s because we are grieving together for Thailand. I’m not sure. I only know that there is a marked change.

    If you do come to Thailand, you will have the chance to help. Thailand needs so much, especially in the education sector. There are several small pockets of expats contributing to needy Thai schools, but not enough.

    Thank you for the kind words. WLT has turned into a project I never dreamed of when I first started collecting resources to learn Thai. I’m loving the process and wondering just what direction it’ll go in next.

  3. Sawadii Khrap Catherine,

    I am a 74 year old US retired school principal who spent one year as a volunteer English teacher at Suansunandha Teachers College in Bangkok in 1992 (also a violent time). – I married a Thai ajarn (same college) and we have been residing in the US since 1993. – Our plan was always to someday return to live permanently in Thailand; we recently spent six weeks there for the purpose of finding the best location for us to live (Hua Hin and Chiang Mai were our favorite). – Now, we are unsure about said plan. We have been following the turmoil (and bloodshed)from the beginning, primarly from the Bangkok Post (my computer home page)accounts.-I think the saddest reality in the whole situation is the great disparity between the haves and have nots that exists in Thailand, and the tragic consequences for the latter as they were lied to and used, in my opinion, to further the political causes of the former. – My wife and I feel pretty much as you do about the prospects for real equality and democracy in Thailand – hopeful, but very sad about what has happened to date in this struggle.

    By the way, I come to your website frequently as it is an excellent source I think the best, for everything Thai. Thank you so much for providing it.

    KawpKhun & Sawadii Khrap

    Sid Leonard

  4. Thanks David. By following along with the Red Shirts, I’ve learned more about the situation too.

    I have more than four posts on Bangkok and the Red Shirts, but you can track my awareness just the same.

  5. Great post, and great comments, too. I’m quite naive when it comes to the situation over there, Cat, but I definitely feel like I know more through the posts you’ve published.
    .-= David Airey´s last blog ..BP logo gets a makeover =-.

  6. Thank you Gareth. My first attempt at describing how I felt is best left unpublished. I was spitting fire so it’s pretty raw.

    I only drove through the area a couple of times after the stage went in. The new arrivals put me off so I didn’t even want to get out and take photos. There was a marked difference in attitude between the original Red Shirts and the ones called in later (if that’s the correct word for it).

    Are you following Terry right now? Both @ulsathit and @terryfrd are translating the vote of no confidence session.

  7. Cat

    What a thoroughly well written piece. Like you, I have no sides and question any farang that takes one over the other. There is so much happening that we not completely aware of, the speeches on the red stage being an excellent example for this. There are layers to what is going on that the vast majority of us are not privy to and it appears to be a tussle for power from two elite groups. Unfortunately the original, legitimate demands made by the reds were just a side show.

    Early on, I ventured to the stage area and walked through the red camp. I had no sides to take but was concerned at the body language of the speaker on stage. I was with a friend, from the north-east, who could hardly contain her anger at what was being said. When I inquired, the answer I got was disturbing. I then found out Terry Fredrickson was doing an amazing job of translating the speeches on Twitter. The rhetoric was anything but peaceful, the language and vitriol unbearable, the threats frightening. A peaceful and well-principled protest was going badly wrong. That day I left the protest thinking the poor were being used once again, and the more I learn the more this seems to be the case.

    When the red leaders rejected the reconciliation plan on the flimsiest of principles I feared the worst. They were intent on pushing the government into a corner, a government that then sullied its reputation further by using heavier tactics than seemed necessary.

    There have been no winners in this ‘game’, and neither side has come out of it with much, if any, credibility. The only thing that seems to unite each grouping is their intent on damaging Thailand’s reputation – and it’s all very selfish.

    But let’s hope that somehow this is the start of a more reasonable discussion. But my feeling is that it’s part of an 17-18 year (or so) cycle – 1976, 1992, 2010. There are enough friends of Thailand who have visited or spent much or some of their lives in the kingdom, and I’m sure most are willing the country to come out of its current state of uncertainty, but it remains to be seen if the ‘leaders’ of the country can be brave, show initiative, and put petty squabbles behind them.
    Let’s hope they can.

  8. Hi Jay, I wasn’t worried about the coup and tanks either. The Thais took it in their stride, making a party out of the occasion. And when the bombs went off on both sides of me – Big C and by the Sax bar at Victory – I recovered eventually, because they were not continued.

    But this was different. Way different. And my Thai friends are shocked so you just might be right about Thailand waking up. I just fear that those pulling the strings behind the scenes don’t care about the casualties on either side. Note: I am not singling out any one power structure as there seems to be rogue elements in each.

    Would I opt to raise kids in Thailand? Raising expat kids is difficult enough (I know, because I’ve been one and raised one). You need to keep pulling them back to reality (no, they most likely will not have this type of lifestyle with maids and such). But growing up in a dysfunctional country would not prepare them for real life back ‘home’ (if that’s where they end up).

  9. Martyn, in reality, I would rather not vote than vote for a pretty package. It’s no good for me to take a stand on Thai politics. I know what I know (and I do have opinions), but I keep finding out more curiosities to sway the direction I’m leaning.

    It’s said that how history is written goes to the victor, but I’m still prepared to wait this one out to see. I have a lot of questions and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground being discussed. And I need the middle ground because nothing is ever black or white. The truth is often a healthy mix of both sides.
    .-= Catherine Wentworth´s last blog ..Bangkok: I’m Getting the Last Word in Edgewise =-.

  10. If allowed to vote in Thai elections I’d vote for Abhisit. Why? Because he’s cute. See? (Yes, I am blushing)…..I assume your UK proxy vote didn’t go to Gordon Brown. Cute Cameron was your man.

    I think you covered the whole red shirt Ratchaprasong affair wonderfully well. In the early days you caught the party like atmosphere…Later on Bernd’s coverage gave us a taste of life in the fast (hungry) lane. Wonderful coverage of a nation in self destruct mode.

    Like you I’m not politically minded but I’m bloody amazed at how a world leader (Abhisit) can stand up so righteously and tell the world how wrong the protesters were. Doesn’t a man of his intelligence realize the world’s media cannot see the strings above his head. I personally think the pretty duckling turned into one ugly swan.

    Red or yellow, right or wrong I think Thailand has proved itself to be yet another country where the elite will pull out every stop and every trick to keep the poor suppressed and downtrodden. I think it might snow in Africa some Christmas time before the Land of Smiles sees equality and a truly democratic society.

    Your coverage of the whole affair has been first class but I’m glad it’s all over. I just hope the catapult factory in Isaan grows a little larger and smarter.

  11. Well written post Cat. Pretty much everything was already said and I agree with most. I just want to add my personal perspective.

    I was not worried after the coup four years ago when I saw tanks rolling down Soi Asoke on my way to work and also after the airport closure by the yellow shirts. Just this time the situation seriously worried me.

    I love Thailand and think it is a great country full of lovely people but do I really want to settle down in such an unstable environment and maybe even raise my kids there? No, probably not.

    This is just my personal part of the story.

    I agree with BritinBangkok, it will be again the poor people who will suffer. They are the first ones who lose their jobs if tourists decide to spend their time in other countries or foreign investors pull out of Thailand.

    This might cause even more frustration and desperation and we all know what this can lead to…

    I don’t want to paint the future of Thailand all black (got to be careful with colors these days anyway) and sincerely hope people wake up and realize they harm themselves along with their country by causing chaos.

    I also believe the recent tragedies have shocked many Thais and this might have been the last time the country has to go through something like this. Maybe next time the government or protesters might not let the situation escalate like this.

    How about no next time? I hope and pray for that.
    .-= Jay´s last blog ..New Website Design =-.

  12. Brit, I can understand your issues with the last 8 years and the current government but certainly you knew that Thailand has had these ups and downs for well over one hundred years. 1992 was a particularly bad year as well.

    Better countries and more humane governments are a Utopian dream…they just don’t exist.

  13. It was a shock to a lot of us. But long-time expats in Thailand have a different view of it:

    Hugh Leong: When the Bangkok Reds didn’t break up their gatherings in the face of military actions I knew there would be problems. I had seen it all before. Thailand has had dozens of coups and military takeovers and I have been here for a few of them. What you do during those times is take “shelter from the storm”…. When I see the clouds darkening and wind whipping up again, It will be time to take shelter once more. For now though, I am enjoying the beginning of the rainy season and praying for peace.

    David Long: Many, perhaps most of us live here because we have found the Thai people to be amazing. I want to say that nothing has changed. You may fear that Thailand can never be the same for you again. You’ve simply seen an aspect of the Thai that is normally hidden and reserved from your sight – fortunately. While death is tragic, perhaps we might have the grace and understanding to compare this transition to similar transitions in our own histories. They were often much more tumultuous (no longer online).

    I’ve been here six years so I’m not unused to tragedy in Thailand. But it didn’t sink in like it has now. Not really. And I’ve always known that there is no freedom of speech. So I guess what I’m saying is that everything was right in front of me. I just chose not to notice.

    Perhaps with the removal of rose coloured glasses there are many layers. Not just the one.

    As for ‘The Land of Smiles’, I now have a better appreciation of what it takes for Thais to continue smiling, no matter what. They have a long, hard road ahead before they become a democracy, and it’s going to be rough going. I don’t know if I’m going to be here for it, but I do wish them well.

  14. Many of us are seriously thinking of leaving Thailand now. No longer the Land of Smiles and with a government that’s on a witch hunt while it distorts the truth, I tell every one of my friends not to come to Thailand now and not to support this government.

    It’s sad. I’ve lived here for 8 years but cannot wait to leave now. There are better countries with more humane governments. And who will suffer in Thailand the most now? The poor. Just like always. While the rich elite keep doing what they’ve been doing.

    And how sad you don’t want political comments because you don’t want your blog ‘shut down by the Thai government’. You really want to continue living in a country like that? I know I don’t 🙁

  15. Very well written Cat. The events of the past few months have been very sad indeed. Hopefully all sides can get past this for the sake of the nation but if Thailand’s rich history has taught us anything it’s that this will happen again and again until all Thai’s are seen as equals.

    Here’s hoping that we never have to write about such things again.
    .-= Talen´s last blog .. Reply

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