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Tag: Thai Crisis (page 1 of 2)

Bangkok: I’m Getting the Last Word in Edgewise

Think Thailand

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 TopicThailand.com. 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.

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Update 2: Expat’s Eye-witness Report: Ratchaprasong

Expat Eye-witness Report Ratchaprasong

A bit more worried than before…

We are still ok! However now we are a bit more worried than before.

The 19th was hell on earth. Once the leaders gave up all hell broke loose and there were heavy explosions, gunfire, fireworks and smoke everywhere around us. Our windows were shaking vigorously with many explosions. This kept going until dark.

Ratchaprasong burning

From our bedroom window we saw with horror and disbelief Centralworld first going up in heavy black smoke, then fire, and then we heard the terrible noise of part of the building collapsing. That was a shocking moment because it sent burning debris and sparks flying high up and towards our building. At times we were completely engulfed in the smoke from Centralworld – the stench from that fire is still hanging in our apartment.

Ratchaprasong burning

Ratchaprasong burning

This morning after the curfew we went out onto the street to see what’s left. What a mess! What a tragedy! Opposite what’s left from Centralworld BigC was engulfed in flames. Later firefighters told us that it’s completely burnt out in the inside.

Ratchaprasong burning

There was so much destruction everywhere; so many shops and restaurants looted and burnt.

Ratchaprasong burning

We met poor street vendors that sold us much of the food we had in the last weeks – many of them in tears trying to rescue at least something. Some reds were searching in what was left from their tents to see whether anything of their possessions might still be left.

Ratchaprasong burning

Ratchaprasong burning

Ratchaprasong burning

Just when we went back home the street we were on came under fire from very close. We were running for our lives. Later troops were screening every corner, house, hotel and all roofs in the area from pockets of “terrorists”. We have not been allowed to leave our house for the rest of the days.

Ratchaprasong burning

All people we met are absolutely convinced that this is now only a beginning and we will witness a bloody guerilla war starting soon. Doesn’t sound good.

Ratchaprasong burning

We still heard gunfire and few explosions in our neighborhood during the day yesterday.

Ratchaprasong burning

At least it’s quiet now. Let’s hope it remains that way.

Best regards,
Bernd Mechsner
flickr: Ratchaprasong
ThaiVisa: My Neighborhood Under Siege: Ratchaprason

For the rest of Bernd’s eye-witness reports from Ratchaprasong, please read:

NOTE: At Bernd’s request, comments are closed.

RIP Bernd Mechsner. After being forced to delete an eyewitness testimony from this post, I wonder what Bernd would have said to: “the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court has now ruled that the six people who died inside Wat Pathum Wanaram grounds on May 19, 2010 were killed by shots fired by the military“.

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Jaideetv: From Thailand to the World

From Thailand to the World

Heartfelt wishes to Thailand during these turbulent times…

What a depressing month. Desperate to write about something positive (having had to cancel most of my planned posts), on Monday I sent the below to a smattering of people (apologies if you didn’t receive one):

A request – Those living in Thailand (Thais as well as expats), and those learning Thai, have put an enormous effort (emotional and otherwise) into this country. With this in mind, I’m gathering apolitical quotes for a Wednesday post. The theme: Heartfelt wishes to Thailand during these turbulent times. I’m looking for positive thoughts for Thailand. If you want to join in, I will need the comment in Thai and a translation in English. Thanks!

Right quick, I received lovely thoughts for Thailand back. But when Wednesday came to Bangkok, it came hard (I’m still weepy over it all – and I’m not even the weepy type).

Due to the mood of Thailand, I sent everyone a thanks with a promise to use the sentiments not now but later. When the time is right.

Now, you might remember back when I wrote about Bon in a post, Learn Thai with Bon: First YouTube, now Blogger and Skype. Well, this afternoon I received a timely message from her in reference to my request:

Thank you for the idea, I should say something positive about all this. I made an mp3 named Thailand to the World. Thank you Cat, please keep safe there in BKK. Keep in touch, BON

Sweet :-) Since Bon’s contribution is appropriate to the situation (and with me suffering from a rare loss for words), I’ll share it now, not later.

From Thailand to the World…

ดิฉันเข้าใจว่า กลิ่นยางไหม้ เสียงปืน คนตาย คนบาดเจ็บและความเครียดรอบด้านเป็นประสบการณ์ที่นักท่องเที่ยวทั่วโลกไม่เคยคิดว่าจะเกิดขึ้นในดินแดนยิ้มสยามแห่งนี้ แต่มันได้เกิดขึ้นแล้วโดยที่ไม่มีวันจะเอาคืนได้ เช่นเดียวกับประสบการณ์ร้ายอื่นๆในชีวิตของพวกเราทุกคน ที่หากเราผ่านพ้นมันไปได้ มันจะทำให้เราแข็งแรงขึ้นและเข้าใจโลกมากขึ้น

dì-chăn kâo jai wâa · glìn yaang mâi · sĭang bpeun · kon dtaai · kon bàat jèp láe kwaam krîat rôp dâan bpen bprà-sòp gaan têe nák tông tîeow tûa lôhk mâi koie kít wâa jà gèrt kêun nai din daen yím sà-yăam hàeng née · dtàe man dâi gèrt kêun láew doi-têe mâi mee wan jà ao-keun dâi · chên dieow gàp bprà-sòp gaan ráai èun nai chee-wít kŏng pûak rao túk kon têe hàak rao pàan pón man bpai dâi · man jà tam hâi rao kăeng raeng kêun láe kâo jai lôhk mâak kêun

I understand that the smell of burned rubber, gunshots, death, injured people and the stress all around is the the kind of experience that tourists from all over expected to see in this Land of Smiles, but it happened; we can never take it back. Just as other bad life experiences that we have all faced makes us stronger once we get over them, we understand the world better.

สำหรับผู้รักเมืองไทยไม่ว่าจะเป็นคนไทยหรือชาวต่างชาติ ซึ่งบ้างก็ใช้เวลาเป็นแรมเดือนแรมปี เพื่อที่จะเรียนภาษาไทย เพราะต้องการใช้เป็นเครื่องมือในการเข้าถึงวัฒนธรรมที่งดงามตามธรรมเนียมไทยนั้น สิ่งที่ดิฉันพอจะพูดได้ ก็คือ เมืองไทยที่ร้อนระอุด้วยการแบ่งแยกอยู่นั้นก็คือเมืองไทยที่คุณรู้จักกันมาโดยตลอด และถึงสถานณการณ์จะแย่กว่านี้หรือดีกว่านี้ นี่ก็คือเมืองไทยที่คุณรักมาโดยตลอด เพราะประเทศไทยหมายถึงคนไทย หากพี่น้องของคุณทะเลาะกันคุณคงไม่คิดจะเดินจากพวกเขาไปและไปหาพี่น้องใหม่ที่ดีกว่า เพราะอย่างไรพี่น้องก็คือพี่น้อง นั่นคือเหตุผลว่าทำไม เราเรียกคนแปลกหน้าว่า น้อง พี่ ป้า น้า อา ชาวไทย เป็นครอบครัวใหญ่ ที่มีพ่อและแม่ที่เราบูชาอย่าง พระเจ้าอยู่หัวและสมเด็จพระราชินี

săm-ràp pôo rák meuang tai mâi wâa jà bpen kon tai rĕu chaao dtàang châat · sêung bâang gôr chái way-laa bpen raem deuan raem bpee · pêua têe jà rian paa-săa tai · prór dtông gaan chái bpen krêuang meu nai gaan kâo tĕung wát-tá-ná-tam têe ngót ngaam dtaam tam-niam tai nán · sìng têe dì-chăn por jà pôot dâi · gôr keu · meuang tai têe rón rá-ù dûay gaan-bàeng yâek yòo nán gôr keu meuang tai têe kun róo jàk gan maa doi dtà-lòt láe tĕung sà-tăan nor gaan jà yâe gwàa née rĕu dee gwàa née · nêe gôr keu meuang tai têe kun rák maa doi dtà-lòt · prór bprà-tâyt tai măai tĕung kon tai · hàak pêe nóng kŏng kun tá-lór gan kun kong mâi kít jà dern jàak pûak kăo bpai láe bpai hăa pêe nóng mài têe dee gwàa · prór yàang rai pêe nóng gôr keu pêe nóng · nân keu hàyt pŏn wâa tam-mai · rao rîak kon bplàek nâa wâa · nóng · pêe · bpâa · náa · aa · chaao tai · bpen krôp krua yài têe mee pôr láe mâe têe rao boo-chaa yàang · prá jâo yòo hŭa láe sŏm dèt prá-raa-chí-nee

For those who love Thailand, Thais or foreigners who spend months and years learning Thai language so they can use it as a tool to really get into the rich and beautiful culture of Thailand: the one thing I can say is that the Thailand that is burning of division is the Thailand that you’ve always known. Whether the situation will get better or worse, this is the Thailand that you’ve been loving because Thailand is Thai people. If your siblings quarrel, you wouldn’t just cut them out and go find new brothers and sisters because whatever happens we are siblings. The reason why we Thai people call each other sister, brother, aunt, uncle. We are one big family, we have parents we worship over our lives, the king and the queen.

เมื่อวานฉันนั่งฟังเสน์หลวงปู่ชา ท่านกล่าวว่า มะม่วงอ่อนลูกเล็ก ก็คือมะม่วงที่กำลังจะแก่และกลายเป็นลูกใหญ่ มะม่วงสุกงอมก็เคยเป็นมะม่วงอ่อนเล็กมาก่อน แต่มันก็คือมะม่วงลูกเดียวกัน เป็นสัจธรรมค่ะที่ สิ่งต่างๆเปลี่ยนแปลงอยู่ตลอด ไม่ว่าจะเป็นประเทศไทยหรือประเทศไหนๆในโลก แม้กระทั่งตัวเราเองก็ต้องเปลี่ยนแปลงในแบบที่ควบคุมไม่ได้ โลกก็เป็นแบบนี้ เมื่อประเทศไทยที่เคยสุขสงบ กลายเป็นประเทศไทยที่วุ่นวาย สะท้อนความจริงของโลก ว่านี่อาจไม่ใช่ความวุ่นวายครั้งสุดท้ายที่เมืองไทย ตะวันออกกลาง หรือที่อื่นๆในโลกต้องเผชิญ แต่การเปลี่ยนแปลงจะเกิดขึ้นอีก และเกิดขึ้นต่อไปอย่างไม่มีวันจบสิ้น ขอให้ประเทศไทยได้ภาพสะท้อนความจริงของชีวิต ให้ความจริงนี้ได้เข้าถึงแก่นใจคนทั่วโลก ให้ดูแลใจของตัวเองและของกันและกันไม่ว่าที่ไหน และเมื่อไร

mêua waan chăn nâng fang săy lŭang bpòo chaa · tâan glàao wâa · má-mûang òn lôok lék · gôr keu má-mûang têe gam-lang jà gàe láe glaai bpen lôok yài · má-mûang sùk ngom gôr koie bpen má-mûang òn lék maa gòn · dtàe man gôr keu má-mûang lôok dieow gan · bpen sàt-jà-tam kâ têe sìng dtàang bplìan bplaeng yòo dtà-lòt · mâi wâa jà bpen bprà-tâyt tai rĕu bprà-tâyt năi nai lôhk · máe grà-tâng dtua rao ayng gôr dtông bplìan bplaeng nai bàep têe kûap kum mâi dâi · lôhk gôr bpen bàep née · mêua bprà-tâyt tai têe koie sùk-sà-ngòp · glaai bpen bprà-tâyt tai têe wûn waai · sà-tón kwaam jing kŏng lôhk · wâa nêe àat mâi châi kwaam wûn waai kráng sùt táai têe meuang tai · dtà-wan òk glaang · rĕu têe èun nai lôhk dtông pà-chern · dtàe gaan bplìan bplaeng jà gèrt kêun èek láe gèrt kêun dtòr bpai yàang mâi mee wan jòp sîn · kŏr hâi bprà-tâyt tai dâi pâap sà-tón kwaam jing kŏng chee-wít · hâi kwaam jing née dâi kâo tĕung gàen jai kon tûa lôhk · hâi doo lae jai kŏng dtua ayng láe kŏng gan láe gan mâi wâa têe năi láe mêua-rai

Yesterday I listened to Luangpu Cha’s dharma talk. He said that the small raw green mango is the mango that will grow into the big ripe yellow mango. The big ripe yellow mango is the result of growing the small raw green mango…. It is still the same mango.

The truth is that things change all the time whether it’s Thailand or any other country in the world or even our own selves; changing uncontrollably. This is life.

Let Thailand that was once peaceful turned into turbulent Thailand reflect the truth of the world. That this is not going to be the last turbulence in Thailand or in the Middle East or in other places on the face of the earth. There will be more change again… and again with no ends.

Let Thailand reflect the truth of life, let this truth touch the core of people’s hearts around the world so that we know to take care of our own hearts and each other, whenever, wherever.

Bon Ratta,
Learn Thai the Bon’s way | Jaideetv
YouTube: Learn Thai the Bon’s way | Facebook: Learn Thai the Bon’s Way

Thank you Bon. And HUGS back. Hugs to everyone.

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Update 1: Expat’s Eye-witness Report: Ratchaprasong Resort

Please do not kill us

Here is a short update…

At the moment we have power most of the time. There have been only a few blackouts so far. Mobile phone signal is off mostly and the internet signal is very unstable. Lots of interruptions – sometimes for hours. Water is still running with few interruptions.

Our neighborhood is completely sealed off with the army’s “Live Fire Zones”. The government reported that 32’000 troops are controlling the area and they have got the order “shoot to kill”. The government has confirmed today that the troops are authorized use live ammunition and to shoot anyone approaching them closer than 30m.

Ratchaprasong Resort

We have absolutely no way of getting out without risking our lives.

Going near those army checkpoints is a Russian Roulette. There have been 24 deaths and about 180 injured so far in the last two days. I’m afraid that the real number might be much higher.

There have been 24 deaths and about 180 injured so far in the last two days. According to various international media reports all deaths were unarmed civilians.

No supplies of food or anything else is coming into our neighborhood; we are now living of our reserves.

Yesterday and until the early morning hours we could hear nearly constant gunfire and some louder explosions from different directions. We haven’t slept properly for many days now.

Right now it’s quiet – what an incredible relief!! Let’s hope it’s not the calm before the big storm! The only threatening thing that can be seen right now is black smoke coming from around Lumpini Park.

We keep praying for the best.

Best regards,
Bernd Mechsner
flickr: Ratchaprasong
ThaiVisa: My Neighborhood Under Siege: Ratchaprason

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Topic Thailand: Keeping up with Thai Politics

Topic Thailand

Understanding Thailand’s political crisis…

During my research for an earlier post, Staying Safe in Thailand: Streetwise Advice + Twitter, Newley Purnell introduced me to his grand new site: Topic: Thailand. Understanding Thailand’s political crisis.

Now, I love world history, but I haven’t always been fond of politics (or does my fondness stop at politicians instead?) And while I have read books on Thailand, as well as poked around a few Thai political blogs, I’m not clued in on how Thailand got from Thaksin, to where it stands now.

And after spending a month plus wading through seas of Yellows, then Reds, then Pinks and multi-colours, I seriously want to know more about the politics of Thailand.

Newley’s TopicThailand.com suits my aims:

TopicThailand.com was created by me, Newley Purnell. I’m an American freelance journalist who lives in Bangkok.

Given the complexity of Thailand’s political situation, I wanted to create a site that provides context and background information to help explain what’s happening here.

Haven’t been much of a political book hound…

Back in 2008 I did compile a shortlist of must-have books on Thailand, but the list does not cover the present political crisis. For that, I’m going with Newley’s advice:

The books I’ve linked to from TopicThailand.com are designed to put Thailand’s current political instability in context. In fact, that’s the aim of the entire site* — I wanted to help explain, in my own small way, what the current turbulence is all about.

The news media — understandably — focuses on the story of the moment. The most recent violence; the most recent speeches; the newest quotes, etc. And while this is, obviously, necessary for following the events, it can leave some folks confused, and lacking background info and analysis. (I also link to new developments when they come about, but the focus of TopicThailand is more on analysis and other big-picture items.)

So the links to the books are designed to offer people a way to delve a bit deeper. After all, what’s happening in Thailand now looks much different when you’re familiar with the history of Thailand’s political workings.

*As I say on the About page, the idea for a site designed to offer context for a big issue isn’t new. I have been inspired by TheMoneyMeltdown.com, Matt Thompson’s site about the sub-prime financial crisis.

And that’s exactly what I need: knowledge about Thailand’s political workings.

Books about Thai politics and society…

While my political stash is thin, thanks to Danny from DCO, I do have a few of the books listed on TopicThailand.com: A History of Thailand, Thaksin, and Thailand: A Short History. To get the rest I contacted Danny as he’s brilliant at sourcing books in this huge city (Bangkok).

Thailand still has a thriving English language publishing business covering not just this country but the neighbouring countries where rules on what can be published are far more restrictive. To pick out just two publishers, Silkworm Books and White Lotus have dared to publish contentious books on politics in Thailand.

So in addition to Newley’s list, I have a few more:

The Boys in Black (white lotus), by Professor Desmond Ball.

I came across this one in a Bangkok Post article: The boys in black, Thailand’s dangerous, dark influence. As it seems relevant to the times, I’ve added it here.

Are a disbanded group of specialist military rangers the shadowy figures operating in the current conflict? Here is a look at the history of the country’s hunter-fighters, a group of trained killers.

Another political book in my bookcase is Red vrs Yellow, by Nick Nostitz.

Red vs. Yellow, Volume 1: Thailand’s crisis of identity describes, both in photos and in text, the political turmoil and violent street protests that took place during the first elected administration in Thailand after the 2006/2007 coup period, its government led by the PPP (People Power Party) a place holder party of the TRT (Thai Rak Thai) which had been ousted by the military coup.

I might be a political lightweight, but with the resources on Newley’s TopicThailand.com, I’m well on way my to understanding what makes Thailand tick.

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Thailand’s Multi-Coloured Politics: Will Thais Talk to Thais?

Colourless Farang

Red Shirts, pink shirts, yellow shirts… or no shirts…

With Thailand’s political skuffels deepening, I’ve had daily rethinks about the contents of my posts. You see, there are three weeks + of product reviews waiting in the wings. And understandably, no one wants their feature to go live during a time of bloodshed.

Boggles the mind really.

Because when I started blogging, I never thought that second-guessing Thais killing Thais would be a needed skill-set.

With the aim of avoiding the wrong subject matter, or (heaven help me) tripping over a political gaffe, I’ve had to start paying special attention to twitter: Staying Safe in Thailand: Streetwise Advice + Twitter.

But even with twitter alerts, around two weeks ago I missed the boat. Just. Before I could get my intended post live, the Red Shirts preempted my talking point by throwing off their shirts (more on this later). The yellows (pinks?) did a switcheroo too.

Sure, I could have rewritten the darn thing but, but the momentum of the moment was gone.

The loss of momentum is happening a lot in Thailand lately too. Thai politicians start talking about peace, and then POOF! All gone.

I’m not any colour. Just a farang who loves Thailand…

Ok, since I’m playing the waiting game, I decided to rewrite my former post. Apologies in advance. Due to my growing disillusionment over the political situation in Thailand, the original spirit is lacking.

Anyway… here we go…

Several weeks back I overheard a condo guard telling another that I was a เสื้อ แดง /sêua daeng/ (red shirt). His assumption might have come from my early drive to photograph the Red Shirts. Or possibly from my taxi driver proudly telling one and all that, yeah, ฝรั่ง เสื้อ แดง /fà-ràng sêua daeng/. No matter.

When talking to Kaewmala about her post The Reigning Vocabulary of Thai Colored Politics, we got onto the subject of neutral expats and the themed shirts of the time: Red, Pink, Yellow, and Multi-coloured.

I threw out an idea for a catchy slogan, but Kaewmala’s (no surprises there) was the keeper:

ไม่ ใช่เ สื้อ สี ใด
mâi châi sêua sĕe dai
Not any shirt colour.

แค่ ฝรั่ง รัก ไทย
kâe fà-ràng rák tai
Just a farang who loves Thai(land)

ไม่ใช่เสื้อสีใด แค่ฝรั่งรักไทย has a lovely lilt to it, yes?

At MBK, the gal behind the t-shirt counter gave the slogan a thumbs up and a smile. Returning home, my condo manager did as well. But when I flashed my t-shirted teddy at my Thai teacher, she came close to bursting into tears.

Khun Phairo explained how distraught she’s become over the violence and tension in her country; over Thais killing Thais. She went on to say that she wants everyone to stop the killing and hatred. And she wants it NOW!

I do too. And we are not alone.

Disdain. Disgust. Vitriol. Violence. Hatred. Suspicion. Ill Will. Paranoia. These are what fill the air and are spreading like viruses in Thailand at the moment.

No wonder I’ve been feeling so ill of late with headaches that would not go away – not a normal occurrence for me. But it’s not a normal time in the Land of Smiles. What a misnomer now: “Land of Smiles.” It feels more like “Land of Hate.”

The transformation of the Thai national character from a gentle and friendly people to a tribe of venomous and bloodthirsty misanthropes was so swift and drastic as to stagger even the most sober person.

Go ahead and read the rest of Kaewmala’s post: Harmony and Hate: The Strange Thai Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As usual, it’s quality.

Political resources to cruise…

Kaewmala’s post on the ongoing Thai political situation is a classic, so please pass it around:

The Reigning Vocabulary of Thai Colored Politics: I have compiled a set of Thai vocabulary in the current political discourse (วาทกรรมการเมือง waa-thá-kam kaan-mueaang) frequently used by protesters of various colors, government officials, mainstream media, and commentators of all stripes in new media platforms.

Some expressions have been around for some time, others are new. Some are official, formal concepts and terms, others are new concoctions and slang.

The ThaiVisa Thai Forum is getting into it as well: The Thai Political Word Thread.

New Mandala has several posts on Thai signs: “Thailand want ยุบสภา”: Red signs in English and PAD’s last day at Government House.

On a similar subject is my previous post: Red Shirts in Bangkok: Signs of the Time.

Saving this bit for last…

If you can read Thai, Kaewmala twittered:

A baby step: Sensible Yellows & Reds get together & talk on Facebook เหลืองรู้ทันอำมาตย์ แดงไม่เอาทักษิณ:

So now we have Thais talking to Thais. And on Facebook of all things. It’s a good start, right?

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Staying Safe in Thailand: Streetwise Advice + Twitter

Twitter and Thai politics

What’s going on with Thai politics…

Some westerners in Thailand see the Red Shirts as an inconvenient pain in the butt (but so are volcanoes). Others feel that the Red Shirts have a valid point (a number of Pink Shirts believe that too). To top it off, knowledgeable expats plugged into the mainstream of Thai politics cover the full spectrum of Thai colours.

But politically savvy or no, what most people want is to get on with their lives. As safely as they can.

As a curious resident in Bangkok, I’ve been known to rub Red shoulders and a few Pink ones as well. But when all that rubbing broke out in a rash of danger, I stepped back.

No, I am not hiding out on my sofa. I’m (mostly) staying away from the designated Red Shirt areas. That’s it.

Newley Purnell, a freelance journalist in Bangkok, describes the situation spot on:

People who live in my apartment building are still coming and going to work. Vendors on the street are still serving soups and noodles. The motorcycle taxi drivers are still delivering people to and fro. But people seem more and more, worried about how everything will end.

Some Thai people on my street support the reds, and sport red bandannas now. Others tell me that the protests are crazy, and that they wish the reds would go away. But no one wants to see violence.

Unfortunately, that’s already happened.

Keeping safe in Thailand…

Now, I’m not streetwise, but I do depend on commonsense. And not being streetwise, I went looking for outside advice about safety in Thailand. My search led me to those covering Thailand’s news: Journalists, photographers, photojournalists, and an aspiring filmmaker. All on twitter.

The first question I asked was: Besides telling everyone to stay home, what safety tips do you have for those in Bangkok?

Andrew Marshall, British author and journalist | web: Andrew Marshall | twitter: @Journotopia

My advice is pretty obvious. Stay well away from the main protest site, which includes not only the shopping and business district of Rajaprasong, but also the upper part of Silom Road and (sadly) Lumphini Park. Also, stay away from all demos elsewhere in the city, whether they are staged by red-shirts or by the increasing number of protesters who publicly oppose them.

I am still recommending my family and friends to come to Bangkok and Thailand. Those who have already booked holidays shouldn’t change their plans, especially if they’re passing through town to other Thai destinations. But they should keep an eye on their trusted news sources, because things can change quickly.

John Le Fevre, photojournalist | web: Photo_journ | twitter: @photo_journ

Well I guess the best advice I can gave is to view comments coming from either camp with a degree of skepticism and to keep an open mind. The often quoted comment by the government and many expats that this rally is solely about returning Thaksin Shinawatra to power and restoring his fortune is probably the greatest piece of misinformation bandied about.

Many of the protesters I have spoken to really couldn’t care less about Thaksin or his millions, but what they are concerned about is the future of their children and grand-children. The lack of opportunity, the lack of equality, the poor medical and education opportunities in the rural areas. While many have a soft spot for Thaksin, it’s because he’s the only PM Thailand has had who ever gave the rural poor anything.

I think the best advice is that things are not always as they might at first seem. There are more players in the game than just the red-shirts, yellow-shirts and the government. The situation is rapidly deteriorating as these other players become more active. From what we’ve seen the yellow-shirts and people opposing the red-shirts are more prone to violence than the red-shirts and some of these factions are not at all concerned about who they target, or who gets in their way.

Terry Fredrickson, journalist | web: Bangkok Post | twitter: @terryfrd

With the most of the city and country functioning normally and the potential for violence largely confined to the rally sites, I’d say the average person has little chance of death or injury. Find out where the various parties are rallying and avoid them, especially in the evening and at night. This has become more important now that rpgs have entered the equation.

Tony Joh, aspiring filmmaker | web: Thai Faq.com | twitter: @thaifaq

This may sound silly but my suggestion to anyone who does go down to the protest area is to slap on their big Thai smile. At every protest I’ve been I haven’t had a single person not return a smile when I smiled at them first. Even the most dodgy looking guys standing guard in the early morning hours warmed up to me after I smiled first. I found it to be a key icebreaker for me, especially as my knowledge of the Thai language is limited.

Richard Barrow, photographer, journalist, and more | web: richardbarrow.com | twitter @RichardBarrow

Travel advisories from various Western Countries suggest that you stay away from protest sites and large gatherings. That is very good advice. It may feel like a temple fair at times but it can quickly change into something far more sinister if the police or army decide to start a crackdown while you are there.

Richard, you’ve done a fair bit of running around Bangkok, covering the political events. Having witnessed the demonstrations firsthand, what are your concerns?

I am concerned that we have now entered a new and more worrying phase in the protests. The stakes are getting higher and the leaders are getting desperate for a result soon.

I have said before that I have taken pictures at both the yellow shirt and red shirt rally sites and that the Reds win hands down for everything. It doesn’t mean that I support them, it just means that those yellow shirt guards really scared me. I personally witnessed yellow guards beat up people walking by that they thought were spies.

However, from what I have seen recently, the Reds are now going down that same road. If they do, then they will start to lose a lot of support. As far as the threat of a civil war goes, I still say it is unlikely, but, the chances of it happening is far higher at this moment than in the last many years of Thai history.

Is it safe to travel in Thailand at the moment?

I have seen nothing but white sandy beaches and Thai smiles the last few days in Thailand. The only Reds that I have seen are foreign tourists who have been out in the sun too long. Thailand is a big place and if you are coming here on holiday then it is easy to avoid Bangkok and just go straight to the beaches or up north to Chiang Mai.

Who to watch? Who to read? Who to follow?…

When I want real news in Bangkok, I don’t grab a newspaper or turn on the TV. I head to twitter instead. To stay current with recent Thai events, I keep an eye on twitter’s real-time results for #redshirts.

For instant Thai-to-English translations on twitter, Terry Fredrickson (@terryfrd) and Tulsathit Taptim (editor) from The Nation (@tulsathit) are the guys to follow. And when the Red Shirt leaders are speaking from their stage, you can bet either Terry, Tulsathit, or both are there. Translating. When PM Abhisit is giving a speech, ditto. And what one doesn’t catch, the other does. Fabulous.

I asked Terry: Some of the translations from the Red Shirt stage are quite the eye-openers. Which ones stand out the most?

What you hear on the red stage is classic indoctrination — the same talking points repeated ad nauseum and virtually all red-shirt supporters can repeat them.

On the positive side, there is that constant exhortation to protest peacefully and most reds take this seriously.

On the negative side is the constant demonization of the opposition and the fictional aristocracy (amataya). Dr Weng repeatedly condemning Abhisit as being worse than Hitler or even Pol Pot is way beyond the pale. Weng would likely have been executed under either government.

This type of talk makes eventually reconciliation all the more difficult and a fair election in the short term almost impossible.

Terry, do you have any plans to compile the translated speeches for future viewing?

I’ve never thought about compiling any of this. The translations are pretty rough because you have to absorb what is being said, type it quickly (not that easy for me) while keeping up what is being said next. The language from the stage is not so bad because there are frequent pauses for applause, but interviews and announcements can be tough. Abhisit, for example, can go a mile a minute when he gets worked up.
I do a lot with the red stage because I think it is important — and very interesting — to see what is being said and to be aware of what the red leaders say they are going to do next, so people can be prepared.

Terry and Tulsathit, thank you for your fabulous service to the expat community in Thailand (and out). A special thanks also goes to Newley Purnell, Andrew Marshall, John Le Fevre, Tony Joh, and Richard Barrow for their reporting, as well as helpful advice on weathering the present situation.

Psst… Terry was interviewed on WLT: Successful Thai Language Learners: Terry Fredrickson.

Thai politics on twitter…

Below are a few people to follow for political news and views on Thailand’s latest kerfluffle. I’m not a political twitter expert, so please add your favourites in the comments or send me an email. Both will do.

Note: You can even follow Abhisit(@PM_Abhisit) and Thaksin (@Thaksinlive). I don’t.

A few websites to follow too…

There are many websites that discuss Thai politics. Some are blocked, others are not. Due to tonight’s time constraints, I won’t list everything here (not right away, anyway).

But I will take the time to mention Newley Purnell’s new site on Thai politics: Topic: Thailand Understanding Thailand’s political crisis.

And I just have to mention my ‘ole favourite: 2Bangkok.com.

It looks like twitter is heating up on the subject of clashes on Silom, so I gotta go…

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An Expat’s Eye-witness Report: Ratchaprasong Resort

Ratchaprasong Resort

What I see in my neighborhood…

I live in an apartment right in the middle of the Ratchaprasong area, so I am able to give a firsthand report about what I see. Several times a day, my wife and I go on the streets around the Ratchaprasong intersection, out among the reds.

From our windows we can see and hear the action 24/7 – we can also feel the windows vibrating from the hundreds of banks of loudspeakers and the noise of the crowd. In order to get on with our lives as normally as possible, we have no other choice than to dive into the red masses from time to time.

Ratchaprasong Resort

No matter which side it comes from, we keep a neutral attitude, ignoring the political lies and propaganda. To be honest, I see far too many deviations from the truth, and too much propaganda from all sides involved in the conflict.

Ratchaprasong Resort

When we are approached by friendly people, we don’t care what color they wear. With this attitude and putting the propaganda aside, it is actually a pleasant experience to dive into the red crowd to taste the hundreds of varieties of food they offer from all parts of the country, listen to some music sometimes, and watch the many people dancing and cheering with so many just being happy. We do all of this while ignoring the political propaganda around.

Now they are celebrating Songkran, and it’s like a mega-party in front of our house.

Ratchaprasong Resort

People are warm and friendly and many approach me to apologize for the inconveniences they are causing. They also offer specialties from Issan, drinks, ice coffee, etc. Even after the terrible events that happened at Phan Fah on Black Saturday, the people around my neighborhood are still friendly, happy, and mostly smiling.

Ratchaprasong Resort

Should we sit like sad victims in our apartment, complaining about the noise and the mob? Or should we stay out of our neighborhood and hope that the government sends troops to “enforce the law” and spill blood in front of our doorstep? We have chosen not to do that. Without politically joining any particular group, we are making the best out of the situation.

Ratchaprasong Resort

Ratchaprasong Resort

In one sense we have no other choice than to connect with the rally and the people when going out for food and entertainment. But we are certainly not joining the political propaganda rally – we are not wearing red.

Welcome to Ratchaprasong Resort!…

In the beginning it was more of an open street party. Now it is developing into something like an independent village in the heart of the city. People are installing themselves more comfortably, and the infrastructure is developing. The markets are getting diverse; the selection of street food is getting better by the day; the number of tents, shelters, street pharmacies, open air massage parlors and so on are increasing constantly. I even heard the red leaders calling the area “Ratchaprasong Resort”.

Ratchaprasong Resort

Ratchaprasong Resort

Ratchaprasong Resort

Ratchaprasong Resort

Sometimes I feel like I am close to crying. I like Thai people – no matter what color. When I retreat into my apartment, the positive experience of the human warmth and friendliness fills my heart and mind. If during such a moment I start thinking about the terrible but real threat of an army marching in violently, I fight hard to hold back tears. It’s an awful emotional roller-coaster.

Ratchaprasong Resort

As a foreigner I have no rights to be involved in politics in Thailand, but I still feel that I would like to help somehow. That’s why my wife and I gave pillows to needy toddlers and old people sleeping on the pavement. It’s not because we want to support the Red Shirts, it’s because we are human beings with hearts.

Ratchaprasong Resort

Ratchaprasong Resort

I regularly capture what is going on around my neighborhood, so I started a flickr account to share my photos. Please stop by.

Bernd Mechsner
flickr: Ratchaprasong
ThaiVisa: My Neighborhood Under Siege: Ratchaprason

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Bangkok’s Pink Shirts at Victory Monument

Thailand Pink Shirts

So, am I Red, Yellow, Pink. Or Blue even?…

Thailand is awash with colour: Red, yellow, pink and blue. And as most everyone knows, on Mondays we used to watch seas of Thais heading to work wearing yellow shirts. But now the wearing of yellow is no longer seen as just supporting the King because yellow has taken on a different meaning. To some, the wearing of yellow is fighting words.

You’ve seen a lot of the colour red on this blog, so some of you might be wondering about my political leanings. I mean, I haven’t taken many photos of the Yellow Shirts. And yeah, I totally missed the Pink Shirt rally at Lumpini Park. My bad.

Well, it’s simple really. Until this weekend, the other factions haven’t been in my sights. Also, my driver is a Red Shirt (most are in Bangkok). And while he has been known to nonchalantly detour right through the Red’s stomping grounds (which is where a lot of my photos come from), he’s not about to make the mistake of visiting the opposing side.

Do I know how lame this sounds? Yes. I do. And I apologize. Seriously.

Friday, on my way home from Kao San Road, I got an opportunity for a change of colour when driving past the Pink Shirts surrounding Victory Monument.

Btw – Only expats call it Victory Monument. Thais (and taxi drivers especially) call it อนุสาวรีย์ชัยสมรภูมิ à-nú-săa-wá-ree chai sà-mŏr-rá-poom/ or อนุสาวรีย์ชัย /à-nú-săa-wá-ree chai/ for short. The monument is a great place for protestor watching (since I’ve been here it’s mostly red, but the others look to be catching on).

So here you have it. Finally. My adventure with the Pink Shirts:

Going ’round in circles with the Pink Shirts at Victory Monument…

Thailand Pink Shirts

Thailand Pink Shirts

Thailand Pink Shirts

Thailand Pink Shirts

Thailand Pink Shirts

Just look at all those cheerful people…

As we were driving slowly around Victory Monument, Khun Pissout was muttering darkly:

Do you see them? They are all rich people.
Only hundreds protest, but the press will report thousands.
Those kids, do you see them? They are students with rich parents.
Poor Thai kids can’t afford to go to Chula.
Did you see all those Chinese faces?

So, did I see Chinese faces? Or did I see Thais? Dunno. What did you see?

Khun Pissout’s comments outlined the basic resentment from the Reds (who apparently have nothing) towards the Yellows (who are supposed to have everything). Since I wrote this post, I’ve been told that his statement shows a lack of knowledge, as poor kids in Thailand can and do go to Chula on scholarship. Yeah Chula!

In response to the video, a friend mentioned translating the signs. But there really is no need as the Pink Shirts have translated their main sign into: English, German, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew and Arabic.

My personal hope? That this latest political kerfluffle will free up a Chula education for all Thai citizens. North. Central. South. All. Because until the North gains access to decent education from toddler times on up, there will be no Chula in their future.

Btw – I cruised around Khao San Road too. But what I found etched on the walls by the Red Shirts was depressing. As I’m wanting a break from sad, I’ll save it for later. Maybe Sunday. Or Monday. Or never. We’ll see.

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The Red Shirts. A Sofa Rant. Of Sorts.

Red Shirt Rant

A rambling rant…

Due to the deaths in Bangkok this weekend, my time-stamped posts for Wednesday and Friday have been rescheduled for a more peaceful time. Instead, you get the below: A ramble, a sofa rant, of sorts.

But before I get into it, please let me offer condolences to those who lost family members in this weekend’s tragedy. Red, Yellow, and otherwise. Because if you’ve spent any time on WLT, you’ll know that my sympathies are with the Thai people. All Thai people.

The displays of violence – from both sides? three sides? – was deeply disturbing. It was especially so for me because I’m not into blood (which is why I bailed out of taking videos when the gathering and splattering was introduced).

Some say that even with promises of peace from both sides, the bloodshed was inevitable. And I agree. But Thais killing Thais is tough to take, no matter what.

Finally fed up and fussing…

The tension from the Red Shirts didn’t start right away with me (mid-March). But by the first week of April, I was in full seething mode. I’m sure that a part of my temper was due to the heat of the season, because it has been HOT, HOT, HOT!

But what finally set me off was listening to my favourite vendors and business owners talk about their miserable loss of revenue over this past month. Their anger is aimed at the Red Shirts, but with an odd twist. When it comes to their clients, confusion enters into it too. And after thinking about it, I understood.

Now, these particular vendors are not located in high Red Shirt zones. They are based in areas out of danger. So basically, there are Bangkok residents choosing to stay home and out of the way.

With the dramatic news being reported, living on a Bangkok sofa sort of made sense. But for most of this past month the reports were way over the top. Daily we were treated to alarming headlines, with nadda happening.

Sure, there are Red Shirt hot spots around town. But the hot spots, we know about. For those of you who don’t, it’s easy enough to get a twitter account and follow tweets tagged with #redshirt. That way, you have a better chance of discovering which breaking news is reliable, or not.

Some expats have been treating the Red Shirts as a holiday out (and it’s now Songkran, yes?) Fair enough. Others are waiting it out in the quiet. But amongst it all, there are Bangkok businesses being unnecessarily harmed.

With a little advanced planning, I’ve been able to make my way around Bangkok, doing what needs to be done: Grocery shopping, dental work, getting highlights and a cut.

And with careful thought, all without putting themselves in harms way, others can too.

Previous Red Shirt posts…

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