This has been a very confusing week in Bangkok, and today I’m feeling especially disenchanted with Thailand. On Sunday night, after protests by anti-government “yellow shirts” turned violent, I got text messages from my co-workers telling me that the school would be closed Monday. Then Monday morning I learned that the school would remain closed for four days, re-opening on Friday. Then on Monday afternoon, I heard that our students would not return to school until Friday, but that teachers would have to work on Tuesday and Wednesday (but not Thursday because that’s the King’s birthday). Meanwhile, protests were continuing, tear gas, water bombs, and rubber bullets were being used against the protesters, the death toll was up to four, and the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was still refusing to step down.
On Tuesday morning, I went into work around 8:00AM, did a few little tasks, and then went downstairs at 11:00 to get my lunch from the fridge in the main office, only to find the office dark and locked up. The Thai teachers had been “asked” (read: strongly urged) by our school principal (a known yellow shirt) to go protest, so the entire Thai staff had disappeared. The foreign teachers were still working (or at least pretending to work) at this point. I asked the security guard to open up the office so I could get my lunch, and then I ate it and left; I do not plan to return tomorrow when clearly no one actually cared that I showed up today, considering that they left and locked the door without telling anyone!
Today’s developments with the big protest include the police opening up the areas that the demonstrators were just yesterday trying so madly to infiltrate — the police headquarters and the PM’s Government House. Of course, Yingluck isn’t there, and she still hasn’t stepped down, so it’s interesting that the yellow shirts are considering this such a victory. BBC reporter Jonathan Head described the scene as some sort of happy-go-lucky “family picnic”.
What I’ve learned over the last few days from ex-pat friends and Thai friends is that while the yellow shirts claim to be fighting for democracy*, they are just as corrupt as the red shirts whom they are fighting against. Basically, everyone is fighting to have a leader in place who will be corrupt in the way that they want. I used to think that I supported the protesters, because I do agree with their opinions of Yingluck (who is just a puppet for her exiled ex-PM brother, Thaksin), but I don’t think I agree with their end goal, which seems just to have someone in place who will pander to their side, financially and politically.
*They are fighting for democracy by attempting to depose a democratically elected PM. However, her votes were very literally bought.
Big issues standing in a fully democratic Thailand’s way: lots of poverty, lots of uneducated people who are willing to accept bribes from politicians, an odd lack of caring by many people about all of this stuff, and of course, super rich people who are in charge of everything and are only looking out for themselves.
So what did I do upon leaving before noon? I went to see Don Jon and I smuggled in homemade popcorn with olive oil, rosemary, oregano, and Himalayan rock salt and a Starbucks iced decaf soy latte; then went home to bake a pumpkin pie* for Sean and pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for some friends while listening to Splendid Table podcasts. A lovely afternoon after a frustrating morning! As for Thailand — we’re all just waiting to see what happens next.