This blog isn’t a commentary on the macro-politics, macro-economics, or macro-culture of Thailand; rather it is an ex-pat view of daily life in Bangkok. I have to say, that now there has been a military coup, the reality of our daily life is a lot easier in this central corner of Bangkok.
Because the daily grind under the protests had a real impact on the Diplomat, Isla, Joshua and I. For nine months now we have been living near to Lumphini Park where the culmination of the protests meant three months of inaccessibility to this verdant lung of Bangkok. It has meant months where traffic jams were a daily pollution, rickety-banged-up trucks blaring either music or opinions (sometimes both) rolling up and down our streets, the odd grenade getting lobbed in the park, the closed-to-traffic streets that weren’t protest sites but impromptu markets selling anything that could have a “protest logo or flag” pasted onto it…the list went on. Then, once the park became the hub for the protests, the mess got so bad vegetation started dying and the famous monitor lizards moved out in a state of high dudgeon to who knows where.
Happy times? Hardly.
The army has taken control and, irrespective of whether you think that is right or wrong, the streets of Bangkok are suddenly quieter, cleaner, more orderly…as they were when we first got posted here. Sure, there’s a curfew from 22:00-05:00, but for parents with kids who aren’t here to party, it’s a blessing. The roar of sports cars down our street at “stupid-A.M.” has gone and we can hear morning birds chirping again. Lumphini Park is recovering…every day I see dozens of workers repairing the grass, clearing the sewers. Each morning hundreds of joggers have returned and the atmosphere is no longer oppressive. Taking Isla to school in the morning is back to being a 7 minute run in normal traffic, not an hour grind.
I also don’t see the reams of soldiers that the likes of Sky News and CNN would have you believe. The other day I was unable to cycle up Wireless past the US embassy because it was closed off due to a “protest against the coup.” If you watch this stuff on morally indignant Western media you’d think Bangkok was about to become like Kiev a few months back. I spotted a journalist in a flak jacket doing a report. It wasn’t protecting him from anything…just making him sweat more in the blistering heat. The reality of the situation was a sole protestor with a placard, about twenty journalists, and traffic jam of good-natured Thai people waving and smiling. Sure, if you want to find trouble you can (like in any city) but Bangkok is a city where trouble isn’t looking for you. I still feel safer here than on the streets of New York or London.
In times of upheaval the great human mass tends to cling ever more tightly to the order and responsibility of our daily lives whilst a peripheral storm of those who thrive on change gains more energy – and, unfortunately, more airtime. People have frequently asked me ‘what is going on in Bangkok?; how is it affecting me?; is everything safe?’. Others are more prescriptive…telling me what’s going on and how to behave based on knowledge gleaned in front of Sky News or CNN.
The honest answers from this ex-pat is that daily life is better at the moment. Whether that might change is pointless speculation best left to social commentators, not the likes of me. If you truly want to follow sensational images then look at Ukraine, or Syria, or other places. Trying to group Thailand’s current situation under the media catch-all of “Civil Strife” just isn’t applicable here. I put this mentality down to the shift in Western media culture to “Reality T.V” where, as consumers, we want more and more sensationalism. The kind we are then fed with programmes like TOWIE, Jersey Shore, Made in Chelsea, Duck Dynasty, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Big Brother, X-Factor etc.. I get the feeling sometimes that the media are trying to compete with those shows to grab our attention. This results in the reporting presenting an image that isn’t reality for the majority, just a tiny snapshot of a street corner in a few seconds. We’ve got our bread and circuses alright. It’s just the circuses are trying to pretend to be reality and influence us. Don’t believe everything you see in the papers.
So…when you next look at CNN or the like, think more critically and ask yourself: ‘Are those “protestors” just that? Or are they just curious crowds?’
At least the Lumphini Lizards have their home back…they must be delighted.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?