Are five showers too much in one day?

Today is officially the hottest day of the year in Thailand, with the sun directly over the country. It does beg the question though _ where the hell has it been before this?!

I know you all think you know what hot is. Americans get some scorchers; South Americans sweat it out when the mercury rises; South Pacific nations are accustomed to sweltering temperatures; and the Middle East sets records with its suffocating desert heat. But none of you have ever felt heat like this.

(OK, admittedly I haven’t actually traveled to the requisite number of countries to actually make this comparison, but I’m the one writing this post so let’s just call me the expert for the next 200 words or so. Then you can go grumble about your pitted out shirts and perpetual sweat mustache all you want.)

Bangkok heat is blazing. It hangs in the air, making you feel as if you are perpetually standing inches away from an exhaust pipe. It causes your body to freak out at all hours and start seeping sweat like a like a fat man in a sauna. Clothes that are so thin and minimal they are approaching inappropriate aren’t enough to combat this heat. And it never goes anywhere without its fun friend, humidity.

But as the temperatures peak, we all look ahead to usher in a new season. A glorious season of streets flooded with fetid water, torrential downpours that render tall buildings invisible and perilous stumbles down slippery stairs … say at the grocery store, in an unseasonable rainstorm, where you end up on the bottom stair with your dress around your waist, a wet butt, exploded balsamic salad dressing that stains a favorite frock and a crowd of onlookers. For example.

Pilgrim Tweet: Police paraphernalia

I keep noticing a strange trend: Thai people wearing t-shirts, jackets and hats that say “POLICE” in big white letters. I’ll see men on motorbikes with regular old black jackets on that say it across the back who are clearly not officers of the law. And stalls selling “POLICE” t-shirts and hats abound on Silom Road. Most don’t even try to resemble a uniform or an official piece of gear. Often times it is a simple logo t-shirt that has the word randomly emblazoned on it, as if it were an afterthought.

I wish I could provide an intelligent explanation for this but it baffles me.

Pilgrim Tweet: The brilliance that is 7-11

Booking a flight to anywhere in the region is usually as easy as going online, picking a flight and booking. Done! But a recent effort to buy a flight to Macau for next week proved a bit more difficult. Two different credit cards were declined for reasons I cannot understand as both were usable (and I have several receipts to prove it). So when I called up Air Asia again to figure out how I would pay, I thought a $20 trip to the airport was inevitable.

Instead, I was once again mesmerized and ecstatic to learn that 7-11 is indeed Mecca in this town. With just a few codes, I went to my local branch and paid for the ticket.

Can 7-11 do my laundry and deliver my groceries too? Too much to ask, I know…

Protests end … for now

Tuesday saw an end to the violent demonstrations that have gripped the country for the past few days. The already reduced group of 2,000 surrounding Government House have packed up and gone home to celebrate Songkran with their families. Overnight fighting resulted in the deaths of two people after protesters clashed with residents angry over the disruption. And at the end of the day 123 people were injured.

Despite their apparent defeat by the military _ a usually ineffectual bunch who used “soft” means to quell the unrest _ protest leaders have vowed to keep on fighting to force the prime minister’s resignation. It is likely they will regroup at some point and take to the streets again, but the red-shirts hold very little sympathy from the Thai public after plunging their city into chaos.

The turmoil does have an upside _ for Thais. The Buddhist New Year holiday has been extended to give authorities time to ensure the safety of citizens in the capital and to clean up the piles of burnt tires that have littered the city. It’s not such an advantage for expats such as myself, who have to continue to work during this time. We also suffer the inconvenience of getting sprayed by happy revelers while getting lunch in your work clothes and of having to function normally while many shops and services are closed.

But I’m not complaining too much. The holiday has kept smiles on the faces of so many in the midst of so much unrest. And I will not be left out! I plan to put on my dingiest clothing tonight, purchase a $3 super-soaker and get everyone who got me. Look out.

Chaos intensifies in capital. Water fight!

Chaos and crisis are the two words most frequently used to describe the anarchy that has besieged the capital. Another word, uttered more quietly and with reserve, is revolution.

Monday in Bangkok saw early morning clashes that have continued into the afternoon between protesters and the army in several main intersections of downtown. Soldiers have opened fire on the crowds of demonstrators, who have responded by throwing gasoline bombs (Molotov cocktails) and setting at least one city bus on fire and sending it toward a line of troops. There have been no reports of casualties thus far, though at least 74 people have been injured, mostly because of tear gas fired by the troops.

A midday speech by the prime minister promised that the airports, train stations and major ports would be secured. But faith in his leadership is waning quickly as security forces struggle to contain the raging mob.

Another concurrent event that could also be called chaotic? Songkran _ the Thai water festival that ushers in the Buddhist New Year during the hottest month of the year.

On some Bangkok streets, you would never know there is political upheaval of this magnitude. Everywhere Thais are jubilantly dousing each other with hoses, buckets and squirt guns filled with water, and covering their bodies with white powder. Oh and dousing the foreigners despite my pleas to spare me (I got a big bucket of cold water down the back just 15 minutes ago).

It also might be helping to mitigate more severe disruptions, as many Thais use the extended holiday to see their families in provinces around the country, creating the emptiness we might experience in the States on Labor Day. Lines of cars aren’t parked on the side of the street and traffic jams have been minimal (which is a huge feat for this city). The lack of people in the city until Wednesday means that the intersections blocked by commandeered public buses and lines of troops to stem the tide of demonstrators won’t create disruptions of the magnitude it might on a regular weekday.

In a country so plagued by instability it is refreshing to see Thais still take the time to enjoy this revered national holiday. Now if only the protesters would join in, maybe some of the fires and anger could be doused.

Music by Andre Rieu & The Johann Strauss Orchestra and Byron Stingily.

Pilgrim Tweet: Protesters take over APCs

Protesters have now taken over several Thai Army armored personnel carriers in central Bangkok close to the Siam Paragon shopping mall. This is a major weekend hot spot for locals and tourists, especially during hot season. It is also quite close to my apartment and office.

Check out Yahoo news for some incredible photos.

Political crisis goes into overdrive

The government has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok. Thousands of violent protesters stormed the Interior ministry and attacked a car carrying carrying the Thai prime minister. And now there are reports that armored vehicles have begun patrolling the city’s streets.

The chaos that has been steadily intensifying for the last few weeks is becoming a very real threat, not only to the government officials who are being attacked, but also to the people of Bangkok. Rumors are circulating that yet again the airports might be overtaken (though the protesters have denied they will take such action) and that the protesters could turn violent. There are also murmurs that there will be a military crackdown, a possibility seemingly supported by the armored vehicles on the streets.

This kind of political turmoil is commonplace in a country that has had 18 military coups since the 1930s. But the recent unrest has even some seasoned expats concerned that the protesters this time around are playing by completely different rules.

Yellow-shirted pro-royalist protesters _ who shuttered Bangkok’s two airports for eight days _ demonstrated to have allies of disgraced and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra removed from power. A court then ordered the removal of Thaksin’s allies and the Parliament installed current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Red-shirted protesters _ who are responsible for the turmoil in recent weeks _ are now arguing that Abhisit came to power illegitimately. They are also backed by Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He has been calling in daily from exile to encourage the red shirts to continue their protests. And thus a vicious cycle continues.

The difference between the protests last year and the recent demonstrations is the lengths to which the red-shirted protesters are going to make their point clear. They want Abhisit to step down and for new elections to be called, and they refuse to stop until it happens. But with the prime minister refusing to step down, the protesters have upped the ante and made it clear that they are a serious threat.

On Saturday, they stormed the site of the East Asia Summit in Pattaya, where leaders from 16 Asian nations were meeting to determine how best to deal with the global economic crisis. They smashed windows, swarmed the lobby chanting and waving flags, and forced the evacuation by helicopter and sea of the Asian leaders. On TV, military personnel could be seen standing aside to let demonstrators pass. The red-shirts declared it a victory. Observers declared it an embarrassment.

Now, with the streets of Bangkok filled with a regrouped mob and armored vehicles, it’s a waiting game to see how far the protesters will go. The police and the government have been completely ineffective in stopping both the red and yellow shirts and there is little faith that if the military steps in, they will be able to do much to quell the unruly group.

Updates from me will come as I get them, especially on how daily life is being affected by this crisis. For now, the reaction among my colleagues and friends is that it is just another step in Thailand’s political turmoil. But many have given a slight pause and the doubt in their face makes it clear that this time around, no one knows what the outcome will be. Tourists, however, have taken note and there are reports that this latest bout of disorder will further cripple the country’s already battered tourism industry. To those hoping to visit soon, I would wait and watch.