12 April 2010

Bangkok Story – Part 3 曼谷物語-下卷

Last month I took a trip to Bangkok for work. It was right around the time when anti-government protestors began entering the capital city to open yet another chapter in the country’s bloody political history. Frequent visitors to Thailand such as myself have long grown accustomed to its political crises that ebb and flow roughly on a biannual cycle. At best, Bangkok is an epicurean paradise where foreign vacationers and the local working poor pass each other by on the streets like ships in the night. At worst, the city is always one political misstep away from becoming the epicenter of the next social upheaval, military coup and inevitable bloodshed.

And so it started all over again on the hot, breezeless March day when a recent Supreme Court decision to seize the assets of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra triggered mass demonstrations by an army of 100,000 Red Shirts...

Read the rest of this article in HONG KONG State of Mind, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong, on Amazon and at Blacksmith Books.


  1. I wonder what next. OK. Dissolve the Parliament and let everyone vote again.

    Will that solve the problem/issue or whatever the poor are facing and struggling everyday?

    Will voting in a new Parliament help to ease the gap between the "Poor" and the "Rich"?

    Is "Voting" or "having the right to vote" the "penicillin" to solve all the issues? That is what I always wonder myself when some people in Hong Kong are arguing so often about "their vote".

  2. Thanks, Phil. Interesting comparison between the Red Shirts and our de facto referendum next month. I don't necessarily agree with your views but it is food for thought.

    P.S. I think you mean "panacea" instead of penicillin.

  3. I have much more time for the Red Shirts than you do. Thaskin, for all his faults, did bring in constructive measures to relieve rural poverty, hence his support among the masses (it's always a mistake to attribute mass support merely to brainwashing).

    And Thaskin wasn't deposed because of his "corruption" (which is no more egregious than that of most other Thai politicians) but rather because of the belief that his policies threatened the priviliges of the Thai elites and the right-wing oligarchy that controls the country.

    When the conservative middle-class Yellow Shirts of the People’s Alliance for Democracy paralysed the country not a finger was raised by the security forces to stop them.

    When the poor try the same tactics the streets run with blood.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I might have appeared more sympathetic toward the PAD than the UDD. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I just don't trust Thaksin.

    I am not, however, more sympathetic toward the yellow shirts. Both groups of protestors (red or yellow) are hired by the political titans behind them to put on a show. For instance, PAD-supporters are supposed to be "middle class" urbanites but none of the yellow shirts sitting in the airport in 2008 resembled anything close to middle class.

  5. Thanks for the article...it helps me understand the situation in Thailand better. I agree with your point that the international media generally tends to "idealize" the motivations and aims of insurgents and protesters in conflicts that take place in developing countries (I've experienced this in Latin America too).

    In reality, a lot of times the protests and social unrest in developing countries are not primarily fueled by people's discontent with rights violations but by the money provided by a group of powerful people who are mobilizing the poor in order to further their own agenda: to erode the legitimacy of the current government.

  6. Thanks, Isabel. I know I (and my readers) can always count on you for a Latin American point of view!



  7. Look forward to reading your columns when i can, esp on changing or forever changed Asia. The film "Unique Pleasures" by Jia Zhang-Ke explores China's changing landscapes and it's effect on youth and their futures. Highly recommend watching and for Jia's commentaries also.


  8. Very good article, Jason


  9. Thank you Jason for correcting my error.

    I hope the Thai people can come to a good resolution soon.

    Personally, I want them to settle it ASAP so I can fly to Bangkok!!!!

  10. To mobilize people for a seemingly koshered cause for a political revolt, altruism is never seen merged in the agenda of the boffins behind these red clad groups.The Monarch as one element that unites Thailand seems an oblivious and yearned presence in recent struggle.

    With a little responsible governance, the nonconforming will possibly be continually oppressed, and the nation will stay in her sickbed. As I wish it, let not this Thai radical discourse be a model for other cities to pursue.


  11. I am saddened too that the largely smiles supposed to be seen on Thais are replaced by pain and anguish.

    Tripped somewhere that writes about Philippine military capturing the Thai radical discourse model post May, the national election. Filipinos are tired of seeing revolts that seem defiant to its true cause. Hope rises that it won't ring true.

    As for HK, a place I have grown to like with ease, I wish for her a continued peace. Something I won't trade for any radical actions.

  12. Great analysis. You've definitely done your research!


  13. Dear Jason,

    Just read your new piece on the situation in Bangkok, synopsis of my comments:
    1. brilliantly written as usual (if only I can write 1/1000th as well as you do); and
    2. I felt awful... did feel a bit teary but I think I have learnt to choke back my tears better by now.

    My image that flicked across my mind on receiving the news over the weekend was, not another "Tianmen Square Incident", pray don't let it be so. It has already degenerated into one whether we like it or not. For some reasons all these political squalls in recent years always remind me of the revolutions centuries ago, surely homo sapiens should have evolved to a more mature mindset to sort things out rather than to bring on another French Revolution or Russian Revolution like drama?

    And the part about the peasants being used like pawns, we haven't come a long way from the ancient practice of burying the living with the dead, right ? Respect for life, it's something as alien to them as Neptune's moon Triton, right ? True, you can say that even in more developed countries true "life" has been sapped out of the lives of many, in their work or in other aspects of their lives. But to conjure up a list of prices for the acts these peasants are willing to do, it is like paying for another to ascend the guillotine for one's crime, when all that these people are hoping for is to bring an extra dollar back home for their families. It even remind me of the film "Eight Below" or 南極物语 if you have watched that many years ago, the nonchalant attitude towards another living being.

    As an irrelevant (and probably irreverent aside) how come there are so many charismatic leaders from top-class universities coming to rule in recent years, Obama and Abhisit. Pity that I never made it to Oxford to read law, not that I would have wanted to engage myself in politics at all.

    Know not what to say anymore, really enjoy your piece but felt too sad (sentiments streaming too haphazardly through my conscience to make writing logical in the least, apologies if this is taking up your time to make sense of what I am writing ((know what it is like when it is deal-close time)) ). Anyway, let's hope that the situation does not get more out-of-hand (if it can at all) and that I'll respond to your next piece on a more positive and coherent realm.


  14. What I feared earlier has materialized, and it has escalated to such a state. It wouldn't surprise me if the bombings or even more drastic events persist. The first thought that flew into my mind this morning on watching the news was, were the three dead the pawns mentioned in your article? Were they paid to be killed or to deliberately hover around the sites where the bombs were planted? So they are bringing home not an extra dollar to feed their families but to pay for their funeral expenses (and one less pair of hands to earn the bread for the family apart from losing a dear one).

    Disturbing thoughts (and maybe a blessing in disguise to me as I ponder on them coz' I'll focus less on my own worries and work and on myself).


  15. Very insightful thoughts on the situation in Thailand. It baffles me how a country can keep repeating itself every few years of recovery then bust and still stand on its own feet. There’s a reason why the country is still considered an emerging market in the eyes of foreign countries for this reason. But it saddens me to see this kind of rift in their country. As you and I both know, the Thai people are generally the kindest and peaceful people around.