Both airports have been closed, suspending all flights in and out of Bangkok. People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrators have been camped out in the departures wing for two days. The army chief has called for fresh elections, but the prime minister refuses to step down. And he has just declared a state of emergency. Life as usual in Bangkok?
It seems that the royalist demonstrators, in their yellow shirts, were ready to up the ante when almost all had dismissed their cause as unwinable. Their activity at the government offices in the past few months seemed to be dissipating. But their goal of forcing the resignation of Prime Minster Somchai Wonsawat, the brother-in-law of disgraced former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and a man they see as a proxy for the exiled former leader, is one they will not abandon lightly.
Thousands of travelers have become stranded in this tropical city and fellow Americans will miss Thanksgiving _ and their turkey comas (not this American incidentally. I happily write this with a belly full of turkey, mashies, cranberry sauce and stuffing). Despite the turmoil though, life in Bangkok continues as usual. There are no yellow-clad PAD demonstrators on the streets. Nor are there groups of red-shirted pro-government demonstrators. One unaware of the crisis would not find evidence of it in daily life.
But the confrontation is not one that will abate easily or quickly. Tonight there have been rumors that pro-Thaksin supporters would demonstrate on Sukhumvit, a main drag and a popular neighborhood for expats. There have also been rumors that the army will start deploying tanks in the streets to keep order if conditions worsen. And rumors of another coup, like the bloodless one that ousted Thaksin in 2006, abound. There is no telling how or when this upheaval will be resolved. The democratic election of Somchai is being vigorously challenged and PAD demonstrators say they will not abandon their cause unless he steps down.
The truth is, this is a vicious pattern. My fellow Bangkok residents hope the situation will abate, but it is indicative of a larger class divide and deep anger on both sides. We are safe for now, but the uncertainty over how this crisis will be resolved is making even the most non-alarmist among us a bit nervous.
On another note, I promise to post about my China trip and my climb up Mount Tai Shan in the coming days. Unfortunately my blogging capabilities in China were, err shall we say, hindered by the good People’s Republic’s ideas of media freedom.
T-shirts declaring “Bangkok for Barack” were made. T-shirts with Obama’s name were printed in Thai and sold at street stalls from Chiang Mai to the capital. People had buttons and bands. And all of his supporters were at the Roadhouse BBQ on Election Day (Wednesday morning to be more accurate) to celebrate his historic victory.
The celebrations in this part of world couldn’t compare to the carnival-like atmosphere in New York City or the emotional outpouring of relief and ecstasy in Grant Park in Chicago. But those expats here who are of a more liberal bent have had absentee ballots mailed in for months, have volunteered with Democrats Abroad and have kept a close, if not nervous eye on the election.
The relief and jubilation at 11 am on Wednesday morning was immense. The early drinkers raised their beers high, friends hugged, and high-fives were exchanged among friends and strangers. Some even cried.
Of course, the early election results were a bit anti-climactic for many (especially those of us who had to work afterward) but the ecstatic moods had not diminished later that night. Even a DJ Shadow show featured videos and a tribute to our new president, a presentation that was met with applause and whoops from a celebratory audience.
I have traveled quite a bit in the last eight years and have hung my head because of my American heritage, making apologies for an administration that has diminished the respect and admiration of our great country around the world. I was nearly thrown down a flight of stairs five years ago by a woman at a London bar so infuriated at me because of a benign conversation about American politics.
But we can now usher in a new era, one where we can once again feel proud of our country and the steps we are taking not only to repair our damaged relations, but the dramatic change we have effected in electing an African-American president. If our country can reconcile our sometimes crippling prejudices to elect a true leader, there is no telling the progress we can make in the next four years.
I’ve wasted over three months in Bangkok fretting over dinner choices, running out at the last minute to grab some chicken green curry, or making due with scraps from the fridge. I knew that some restaurants, like so many at home, had to deliver. But unlike NYC, no one in Bangkok magically litters your front door with menus. It was only sheer desperation on a Friday night with a friend over, a torrential downpour outside and nothing in the house that forced me to Google “food delivery in Bangkok.” I never dreamed those four words would change my life.
The first entry pops up. I click. And it’s like opening up the door to the secret world of Narnia.
Food by Phone is a Web site where you can order food online from over 60 different restaurants, confirm your order within minutes and pay only a 60 baht delivery charge ($1.72). Not only that but you can order beer, wine, flowers, cigarettes, spirits and DVDs. You can even order shoe polish and razors. A similar service is offered in NYC, but it doesn’t offer proper meals.
Another delivery service that, surprisingly, isn’t offered in the States is Burger King. That’s right, you can order heart attack-inducing junk, and in case you wanted to cut out the exercise portion of actually getting the food, a man on a motorcycle delivers the burger and fries to your place.
I know that my rousing endorsement sounds a lot like selling out. But that’s just fine with me. If I can get online and order Indian food, a couple of beers, post-it notes and some deodorant, then I am a happy Bangkok resident. Nothing beats one-stop shopping; get your food and run your errands. Done and done.