Bangkok Staycation

Through some great bit of good fortune, this year both Thailand and the United States have a three-day weekend at the end of May.  This doesn’t happen often as the Thai holiday is a Buddhist one, which moves around based on the lunar calendar.  We’re going to take advantage of our long weekend to get away, but not very far away.  In fact, we’re just going across the river to Bangkok’s Right Bank, Thonburi.

One of the positive side effects of all this political turmoil (which has been going on pretty much since right after I moved here in 2005 – coincidence?) is that tourism has been down.  This means that the local hospitality industry is desperate to attract business, turning to locals with some amazing deals.  Now, this usually happens during the low season, which coincides with the rainy season here and summer elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.  But these deals are turning out to be a regular feature of Thailand life.  Not offered to tourists, though.  Only Thais and foreigners residing here for work or retirement are eligible.

Originally, we were going to drive three or four hours south to Hua Hin or Cha-Am.  But that’s what all the Bangkok residents will be doing this weekend, so prices at those hotels we’re nearly as nice.  We originally wanted to stay somewhere for about 2000 baht a night, about US$60.  But the options we found, while nice, weren’t super nice and would require the expenditure of gas money and time.

When I saw a newspaper ad on Wednesday from the Peninsula Hotel, Tawn and I decided to explore the offer.  The Peninsula consistently ranks as one of the top hotels in Asia and we’ve visited it many times when guests have stayed there.  Their standard rooms often go for at least US$300 a night, and usually for much more than that.


Their rate for this promotion?  Only 3000 baht (US$91) a night, inclusive of breakfast for two and a choice of either a set dinner for two or 50 minute massage for two.  The promotion also provides full use of facilities and a 25% discount on other food and beverage.  Drinks at the river bar, anyone?

It seems that if you calculate the cost of fuel and time, driving all the way down to Hua Hin doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Instead, we’re going to hunker down at the Peninsula, not leave for two days, and enjoy the luxury.  I’m also going to leave my computer at home.  No Xanga for 48 hours…

Here’s to hoping we have a fun weekend away. 

 

Returning to the Mundane

You can tell that the political excitement has faded – at least for the moment, thankfully – when I have to return to blogging about mundane topics.  After a two-week interruption because of the protests and their aftermath, I finally concluded an errand to the Nissan dealership.  Our Cefiro, pushing a dozen years old, is starting to have all the little aches and pains that accompany aging.  In this case, it was a dead window motor.

Normally, that wouldn’t be much of a problem, considering that, generally, the weather here in Thailand and, specifically, the polution here in Krunthep rarely allows for windows-down driving.  But it was the driver’s window motor that had died and at every expressway toll booth and the entrance to every car park, I had to open my door and reach over it to pay the toll or receive my parking ticket.  I felt like the driver of one of those old taxis around town, whose windows no longer roll down.

To get a new motor would have taken twenty days (shipped from Japan!) and would cost 6,000 baht, about US$ 185.  Thankfully, the dealership was able to locate a second-hand motor and installed it for only 1600 baht.  The expression “second hand” exists in Thai just like in English.  Literally, “hand two” as there are no ordinal numbers in Thai.  The dealership pointedly explained that they would only warranty “hand two” parts for seven days after installation.  What do you want to guess I’ll be blogging about in another two weeks? 

While at the dealership, I took a look at the Nissan March, a so-called “eco car” that recently had its debut in Thailand.  I have yet to figure out what the “eco car” label means as it doesn’t mean hybrid or electric.  [Okay, a little research and I discovered an eco car, the manufacturers of which receive something like a 17% tax credit, are defined as cars with a 1.3 L engine or smaller, get at least 56.5 MPG / 24 KPL, and release less than 192 grams of CO² per mile / 309 grams per kilometer.]

 

Since our car has been showing more signs of aging, we’re starting to consider what would be an appropriate replacement vehicle.  While I like the size and comfort of a midsize car, I don’t think they are very practical or economical when driving here in Krungthep.  With the amount of time one spends sitting in traffic, a hybrid would be a great choice.  Unfortunately, the Toyota Camry is the only hybrid sold in dealerships here and it is very pricey.

The March has received good reviews in the local auto press and gets high marks for value when compared to the Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz, and Toyota Yaris in the B segment and Cherry A1, Proton Savvy, and Kia Picanto in the A segment.  Technically, the March is a B segment car but with a slightly narrower body than most B segment vehicles.

At about a half-million baht (US$ 15,600) it is relatively affordable.  I think it is cute enough although not great – I prefer the Yaris.  The size is small enough for the narrows sois of Krungthep.  Still, I’m not ready to do any serious comparison shopping.  It is enough to just start thinking about potential candidates.

 

Food in BKK – Baan Mae Yui

Two weekends ago, before the Red Shirt protests came to a head, I took a taxi up to the Soi Ari neighborhood.  Because of the political situation, most people were at home and what could have been a thirty-minute Skytrain ride or a forty-five minute taxi ride took me just fifteen minutes.  Down a side soi is a cute little restaurant called Baan Mae Yui – Mother Yui’s House.  It is located in an old house set in a nice garden area.  The food is standard lunch fare – noodles, fried rice, etc. – but served in a nicer setting than you would get along the side of the street.

The dining area spills out through open doors into a covered patio.  There is no air conditioning other than the natural breeze and dozens of fans, but with the green garden just outside, the restaurant always feels comfortable.

One highlight on their menu is the satay, the Southern Thai style grilled skewers of pork or chicken served with a rich peanut-based sauce and pickled cucumbers.  The meat is basted with coconut milk, lending an extra rich flavor.

For lunch, I went with an odd choice – pan fried macaroni with tomato sauce.  This was actually a childhood favorite of one of my dining companions.  It has slices of sausage and onions mixed in and the sauce is a very sweet and vinegary (that is to say, “ketchup-y”) one.  It was a lot of fun to eat although not the greatest culinary achievement.

It is places like Baan Mae Yui that make Bangkok neighborhoods so much fun.  They date back decades and each have their own unique character.  I should write about more of them.

 

Biking through the Protest Aftermath

This morning I pulled out my bicycle and, figuring that five days had been enough time to wait, pedaled my way to the various spots that had been affected during the Red Shirts’ protest and the subsequent riots and arson. 

At 8:00 on a Sunday the streets were very quiet although there were others out.  For closed off sections of road, there were a surprising number of sightseers there to absorb the unimaginable.  This raised a question that has crossed my mind many times in the past two months: where were the police?

All in all, there is quite a mess.  The damage is a little less extensive than my wild imagination had feared after seeing selected pictures shown again and again last Wednesday while the city was burning.  But it is still a mess.  Everywhere that the protesters had burned barricades made of tyres, there is a thick layer of burned rubber, a slick that has permeated the asphalt.  Plants and landscaping are destroyed, the same fate suffered by every police box in the area.

Please let me share some photos and video with you.  The commentary may sound a little pro-government, when in fact I don’t align particularly with any side in this conflict.  But after seeing my city heavily damaged, largely by outsiders who claimed to be peaceful, I’m a bit jaded.

My first stop was the Chidlom intersection.  You can see the Chidlom Skytrain station and are looking down Ploenchit Road towards Siam Square.  There was a very large barricade here that was torched.  There are large scorch marks on the underside of the Skytrain station and you can see that the traffic lights melted.  The ground by the looted police box is slick with the residue of burned rubber.

The same intersection from the other side, with Soi Lang Suan running off to the back right of the picture.  This was the largest contingent of troops I saw.  Many soldiers seemed to be assigned to clean-up duty but this bunch was armed and definitely doing security.  The curfew is still day-to-day but the hours are being shortened.  What started at 8 pm – 6 am is now something like 11 pm – 5 am and will hopefully be lifted in the next few days.

The Ratchaprasong intersection.  Ploenchit-Rama I runs left to right through the picture.  Straight ahead is Rajadamri Road heading towards Lumpini Park and Silom.  On the back right of the picture is the police headquarters.  Would you like to ask the obvious question?  How in the world was a protest of tens of thousands of people that lasted 40+ days allowed to happen right in front of the nation’s police headquarters?  Were there no officers around to put a stop to it when it first started?

The answers lies in the complex politics of Thailand’s military and security services: it has been reported that there are many factions within the police, several of which are loyal to the former Prime Minister.

The Skytrain started running today and will be back to a full schedule starting Monday.  The only station not open is Rajadamri due to damage to the station.

Gaysorn Plaza, on the Ratchaprasong corner, appeared to not have sustained much damage.  Louis Vuitton, in particular, seems to have come through unscathed.  Given the number of LV knock-offs sold in Thailand, I can only imagine that the shop was saved only by its immense popularity, even among Red Shirts.

The collapsed section of Central World Plaza, which was still smoldering.  This is in the Atrium section, a part of the mall that was new construction since I moved here.  The right half of the mall is expected to be reopened within six months but this portion and to the left will have to be completely razed and rebuilt.

Doesn’t that look like more damage than would be caused by a couple of Molotov Cocktails?  Sure enough, the authorities report finding at least one compressed gas cylinder amid the debris.  At the nearby Four Seasons hotel, it is reported that several cylinders were found, wired to make a bomb.

Along the Rama I side of Central World, you can see the extensive damage to the Zen department store.  No word as to whether the high-rise portion was affected, but I cannot imagine how the structure could not have sustained damage.

Down the street in Siam Square the damage was also extensive.  Of the six or seven soi (alleys) in Siam Square, it appears that two suffered extensive damage.  This building is on the corner of Rama I and Henri Dunant Roads.

I had originally heard that both the Siam and Scala theatres, the last two independent single-screen cinemas in Bangkok, had burned.  Thankfully the Scala, architecturally the more interesting of the two, survived unscathed.

However, the building housing the Siam, as well as dozens of small, owner operated shops, was destroyed.  This area is immediately below the Siam Skytrain station, directly across from Siam Paragon mall.

Extensive damage to many shops.

There are still some coils of razor wire here and there.  This is at the Payathai – Rama I intersection across from MBK Mall.  These appear to be awaiting clean-up and are not part of any current security operation.

The Metropolitan Electric Authority office in Khlong Toei along Rama IV Road (between the expressway and Asoke-Ratchadapisek Road) was completely destroyed.  There are still sections of this generally poor neighborhood that are without electricity.

The good news is that there was an important sign of the city coming together this morning, a volunteer clean up effort which drew at least 1,000 people to Lumpini Park and the Silom-Saladaeng neighborhood.  The name of the event: Together We Can.

Okay, I’m ready to put this topic aside for now and move on to other things.

As Bangkok Burned, I Baked

In times of fiery stress, we all find different ways to cope.  Nero played his fiddle (supposedly) while I turn to baking.  Truthfully, I started my baking well before the Red Shirt leaders had surrendered and the angry crowd turned into arsonists.  But I knew the army was making their move on the protest site and also knew Tawn and I would be stuck at home for the next few days, so a little bit of preparatory baking seemed wise.

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The finished products: granola, oatmeal raisin macadamia and oatmeal chocolate chip macadamia cookies, and a loaf of rosemary-olive bread.

 

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Based on a recipe for Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries in the May/June 2005 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I omitted the cherries and then divided the batch in two, half with chocolate chips and the other half with raisins.  And instead of pecans I used macadamia nuts.

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6.25 oz all-purpose flour, .75 teaspoon baking powder, .5 teaspoon baking soda, and .5 teaspoon salt, whisked together.  Mix together in a separate bowl 3.5 oz old-fashioned rolled oats, 4 oz nuts (pecans, but I used toasted and chopped macadamias), 5 oz dried and chopped sour cherries, and 4 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate.  I used regular raisins and chocolate chips in place of the cherries and chocolate chunks.  Improvise!

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Cream together 12 tablespoons of soft but still cool butter and 10.5 oz of dark brown sugar.  Once combined, beat in one egg and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

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From there, add the flour until incorporated but be sure not to over-work.  Finally, add the mixture of oats and add-ins.  Before doing this, I divided my dough between two bowls, adding nuts and chocolate chips to one and nuts and raisins to the other.  But heck, you could combine all three together!

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Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the dough, forming a ball then mashing it slightly.  Cook in a 350 F oven for about 12 minutes, rotating to ensure even baking. Take out of the oven while the centers of the cookies still look a little undercooked.  Let sit on the pan for another five minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  The cookies will remain soft and chewy this way, which is how I like my oatmeal cookies.  Cook for a few minutes longer if you prefer them crispy.  As my grandmother used to say, the world would be a boring place if we were all alike.

 

Rosemary Olive No-Knead Bread

I love making no-knead bread.  It turns out every bit as nice as artisanal bread and it fills the house with a wonderful aroma.  Oh, and it is easy because you don’t have to knead it!

I make mine with 20.5 oz of flour, roughly and even split between bread flour and all-purpose flour.  You could substitute whole wheat for about half the flour, but up the yeast a little.  I mix into that a scant 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and .75 teaspoon of yeast.  I stir it thoroughly and also add the chopped leaves from a few sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Dried rosemary does not work here.  Next, add one can of cold beer and stir the dough together.  You may need to add a little extra water, but only enough to pull together a pretty dry and stiff dough.  At this point you can add about a 1/2 cup of chopped olives, preferably kalmatta.

The secret to no-knead bread is time.  I fold the dough over a few times just to make sure there are no dry pockets and then coat it with a little bit of olive oil.  Put it in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap, a lid, or aluminum foil.  Then put it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, folding it over once during the time.  This is when all the magic happens.  The dough kneads itself, forming beautiful, elasticky protein strands. 

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Then, take the dough out of the refrigerator, turn it over on itself another time or two, then place it covered in a cool room for another 8-12 hours until the dough has doubled in size.  Shape the dough into a loaf, deflating gently, and place on a parchment lined pie pan or oval casserole (if you want an oblong shaped loaf).  Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature for another 2 hours or so until doubled.

Preheat a 500 F oven, preferably with a pizza stone in it to moderate the heat.  For the best effect, preheat a Dutch Oven (with lid) in your oven and, when ready and working very carefully, transfer the parchment paper with the dough into the Dutch Oven.  Spritz a half-dozen times with water and then place the lid on, returning to the oven.  After ten minutes, lower the temperature to 425 F and cook for another 30-45 minutes or until an instant read thermometer measures 210 F in the center of the loaf.  If you don’t have a Dutch Oven just cook it on the breadstone or on a baking sheet.  Will still turn out nicely but probably not as crispy a crust.

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Use extreme caution when handling the Dutch Oven as it will be very hot.  Lift the finished loaf out using the parchment paper and let cool on a wire rack. 

 

Granola

A few years ago when I was still living over on Asoke Place I got into a granola-making kick.  It is easy to make and relatively healthy, especially because you can control what goes into it.  Tawn wanted to have some granola and yogurt as a change in pace to our usual breakfast of oatmeal, so I pulled up Alton Brown’s recipe from the Food Network and made a few changes.

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Mix 3 cups rolled oats, 1 cup slivered almonds, 1 cup cashews (which I substituted with pecans), and .75 cup shredded coconut.  You can also add wheat germ or other whole grains here to have some variety.

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In another container, mix .25 cup vegetable oil, .25 cup maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener, I suppose), and .25 cup brown sugar.  I realized later that the brown sugar is supposed to be mixed with the dry ingredients but it seemed to work this way, too.  Please note that Mr. Brown’s recipe called for an additional 2 tablespoons of both sugar and syrup, which seemed a little too sweet for me.  In fact, you could substitute a little orange juice for some of the maple syrup to good effect.

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Pour the sugar-oil mixture over the dry mixture and stir for several minutes with the spoon until the mixture is evenly moistened.  Note that it will still seem pretty dry; you don’t want it sopping wet!  If you would like, you can sprinkle on some cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or ground clove to give it a little spice.

Then bake in a 250 F oven on some baking sheets, stirring every ten to fifteen minutes, for about 75 minutes or until there is a nice even golden color.  After the mixture has cooled you can mix in 1 cup of raisins and/or other dried fruit to taste.  Store in an airtight container once completely cooled.

 

Well, some might criticize me for doing something as trivial as cooking in the midst of Thailand’s worst political crisis in fifty years, but it seems to me that there is only so much depressing news a person can take.  After a while, it becomes an echo chamber and you just get overwhelmed by the rehashed images, sounds, and stories.  Best to do something productive in the kitchen, which nourishes both your soul and your body.

 

The Day After the Fires

Thursday evening, the second night under curfew has started.  The government has announced that these will last through the weekend.  There were very few reported incidents today apart from a brief confrontation between about 100 protesters and a few police officers up near Victory Monument, and an arson attack on another bank branch.  Relatively speaking, things are calm both here in Bangkok and in the provinces.

To be certain, no long-term fix has been found to the political situation.  But for now, at least, things are calmer.

Lines around lunchtime at the local Villa Market were twenty deep as residents of the Thong Lor neighborhood and beyond rushed to stock up on supplies.  With all the malls closed and many of the supermarkets, the Villa Markets in the mid-Sukhumvit area have been some of the few proper supermarkets that are open.  We are stocked up enough to get us through the weekend.

This afternoon, Ajarn Yai, the retired school director pictured below for whom I volunteered as an English teacher a few years ago, called and expressed her concern.  Her worry?  How bad these events will make Thailand and the Thais look in the eyes of the world.  She wants everyone to know that this isn’t Thailand and this is not how Thai people are.  So there you have it, from her lips to your screen.

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One of the most useful sources of information in the past 48 hours has been Michael Yon, the freelance American writer, photograph, and former Green Beret.  With loads of war zone experience he has been reporting from Bangkok and has provided a near-continuous stream of information and updates through his Facebook page.  Hundreds of locals have started following and commenting on his feed as he has provided a unique insight both in terms of quantity and also in terms of providing his military knowledge.

Best of all, he has been very generous in giving permission to people to use his photos.  All he asks for is attribution and a link to his page.  Here are some pictures:

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Northeast corner of Rama IV and Ratchadamri looking down Rama IV towards Sathorn.  Lumpini Park in the foreground with Silom subway entrance visible.  The large barricade has been removed and there is a small army of city workers who have been cleaning the park.  Still a lot of debris and damage to the pavement.

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Damage to shops (possible a bank?) at Siam Square.  On the far right of the picture is Siam BTS Skytrain station.  From what I’ve heard, both the Siam and Scala cinemas were destroyed.  Many small shops were also destroyed, ruining the livelihoods of the independent owners of those businesses.

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Michael and a Thai reporter he was traveling with spoke with one of those owners, who went into her shop trying to salvage inventory.  As you can see, things are pretty well destroyed here.  Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) reports that because of the damage, the buildings that house the cinemas and shops (Siam Square Sois 5 and 6) will likely need to be demolished.

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Damage at Central World.  This is the front side, the Zen department store that faces Rama I road.  From what Michael reports, it looks like the damage was limited mostly to the department store and this end of the mall.  The remainder of the mall looks like it might be okay.

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Same building but around the corner looking back towards Rama I Road and Siam Square.  The central structure of the department store collapsed after the fire.  BMA also says that because of the extent of damage, this structure will need to be demolished.  Now, the reports are that the BMA is saying that Central World will have to be demolished, which I would interpret as the entire mall.  However, this doesn’t seem to jive with the firsthand reports from Michael so we’ll have to wait and see what the truth is over the days and weeks to come.

The seven-story Big C superstore and mall across the street from Central World also was destroyed by fire and will need to be torn down.  The first floor or two of that is filled with small, independently-owned shops.  Anger vented at “elites” managed to do more damage to “common people” than anything else.

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Finally, not from Michael’s website but floating around from various Thai bloggers, this picture that compares a clip from Resident Evil 4 to the real skyline of Bangkok yesterday.  The film shows downtown Los Angeles, the other City of Angels, on fire.  Eerie, isn’t it?

 

Don’t Blame Dan Rivers

In the past week I’ve written about my concern at how foreign media is covering the events in Thailand.  At first my concerns were focused mainly on the way they made the entire city look like a war zone which, at the time, it wasn’t.  My growing concern has been how the foreign media is making the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (“Red Shirts”) look like the struggling underdogs fighting against a repressive government. 

I’ve also read some people’s comments saying things like, “Oh, how awful – the government troops firing on those poor unarmed protesters!”  Let me tell you from the perspective here in Thailand that that isn’t an accurate representation of this conflict.

Of all the networks, it seems like Al Jazeera English has actually done the best job of covering the story in a balanced manner.  While Americans are often quite skittish about Al Jazeera, they are an excellent source of journalism that will give you quite a different perspective on the world than you’ll find from US media.

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So this is what pro-democracy demonstrators look like?

Yesterday, The Nation blogger and Bangkok Symphony Orchestra conductor Somtow Sucharitkul wrote an entry yesterday about how we can’t really blame the foreign media for getting it wrong.  As a communication major, I found it to be a pretty insightful analysis of the situation.  I put the link on Facebook and was going to share it with you here. 

Unfortunately, it seems like the link has been severed and instead of his column there is just the picture of a verdant leaf.  Censorship from within Thailand?

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This is a shame because I think you would benefit from reading this analysis.  Thankfully, another blogger posted the full text of the column, which I will go ahead and share with you here.  It is a  bit long, for which I apologize.  The bullet points are the key points – the ones that the foreign media has largely not included in their coverage.  I would encourage you to read them, to provide some perspective to what you have read and/or seen on your local media coverage.

Originally posted at this link on Somtow’s World:

Don’t Blame Dan Rivers

Now, let us consider the redshirt conflict.  Let’s not consider what has actually been happening in Thailand, but how it looks to someone whose worldview has been coloured with this particular view of history.

Let’s consider the fact that there is pretty much nothing being explained in English, and that there are perhaps a dozen foreigners who really understand Thai thoroughly. I don’t mean Thai for shopping, bargirls, casual conversation and the like. Thai is a highly ambiguous language and is particularly well suited for seeming to say opposite things simultaneously. To get what is really being said takes total immersion.

When you watch a red shirt rally, notice how many English signs and placards there are, and note that they they are designed to show that these are events conforming to the archetype. The placards say “Democracy”, “No Violence,” “Stop killing innocent women and children” and so on. Speakers are passionately orating, crowds are moved. But there are no subtitles. What does it look like?

The answer is obvious. It looks like oppressed masses demanding freedom from an evil dictator.

Don’t blame Dan Rivers [CNN reporter who has come under some criticism for his coverage], et al, who are only doing what they are paid to do: find the compelling story within the mass of incomprehensible data, match that story to what the audience already knows and believes, and make sure the advertising money keeps flowing in.

A vigorous counter-propaganda campaign in clear and simple English words of one syllable has always been lacking and is the reason the government is losing the PR war while actually following the most logical steps toward a real and lasting resolution.

If the foreign press were in fact able to speak Thai well enough to follow all the reportage here coming from all sides, they would also be including some of the following information in their reports. I want to insist yet again that I am not siding with anyone. The following is just information that people really need before they write their news reports.

  • Thaksin was democratically elected, but became increasingly undemocratic, and the country gradually devolved from a nation where oligarchs skimmed off the top to a kleptocracy of one. During his watch, thousands of people were summarily executed in the South of Thailand and in a bizarre “war on drugs” in which body count was considered a marker of success.

  • The coup that ousted Thaksin was of course completely illegal, but none of the people who carried it out are in the present government.

  • The yellow shirts’ greatest error in moulding its international image was to elevate Thaksin’s corruption as its major bone of contention. Thai governments have always been corrupt. The extent of corruption and the fact that much of it went into only one pocket was shocking to Thais, but the west views all “second-rate countries” as being corrupt. Had they used the human rights violations and muzzling of the press as their key talking points, the “heroic revolution” archetype would have been moulded with opposite protagonists, and CNN and BBC would be telling an opposite story today.

  • The constitution which was approved by a referendum after the coup and which brought back democracy was flawed, but it provided more checks and balances, and made election fraud a truly accountable offense for the first time.

  • The parliamentary process by which the Democrat coalition came to power was the same process by which the Lib Dems and Tories have attained power in Britain. The parliament that voted in this government consists entirely of democratically elected members.

  • Noone ever disputed the red shirts’ right to peaceful assembly, and the government went out of its way to accede to their demands.

  • This country already has democracy. Not a perfect one, but the idea of “demanding democracry” is sheer fantasy

  • The yellow shirts did not succeed in getting any of their demands from the government. The last two governments changed because key figures were shown to have committed election fraud. They simply did not take their own constitution seriously enough to follow it.

  • The red TV station has a perfect right to exist, but if foreign journalists actually understood Thai, they would realize that much of its content went far beyond any constitutionally acceptable limits of “protected speech” in a western democracy. Every civilized society limits speech when it actually harms others, whether by inciting hate or by slander. The government may have been wrong to brusquely pull the plug, but was certainly right to cry foul. It should have sought an injunction first. Example: Arisman threatened to destroy mosques, government buildings, and “all institutions you hold sacred” … a clip widely seen on youtube, without subtitles. Without subtitles, it looks like “liberty, equality, fraternity”.

  • The army hasn’t been shooting women and children … or indeed anyone at all, except in self-defense. Otherwise this would all be over, wouldn’t it? It’s simple for a big army to mow down 5,000 defenseless people.

  • Snce the government called the red shirts’ bluff and allowed the deputy P.M. to report to the authorities to hear their accusations, the red leaders have been making ever-more fanciful demands. The idea of UN intervention is patently absurd. When Thaksin killed all those Muslims and alleged drug lords, human rights groups asked the UN to intervene. When the army took over the entire country, some asked the UN to intervene. The UN doesn’t intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign countries except when requested to by the country itself or when the government has completely broken down.

  • Thailand hasn’t had an unbreachable gulf between rich and poor for at least 20 years. These conflicts are about the rise of the middle class, not the war between the aristocrats and the proletariat.

  • Abhisit, with his thoroughly western and somewhat liberal background, shares the values of the west and is in fact more likely to bring about the social revolution needed by Thailand’s agrarian poor than any previous leader. He is, in fact, pretty red, while Thaksin, in his autocratic style of leadership, is in a way pretty yellow. Simplistic portrayals do not help anyone to understand anything.

  • The only people who do not seem to care about the reds’ actual grievances are their own leaders, who are basically making everyone risk their lives to see if they can get bail.

  • The King has said all that he is constitutionally able to say when he spoke to the supreme court justices and urged them to do their duty. The western press never seem to realize that the Thai monarchy is constitutionally on the European model … not, say, the Saudi model. The king REIGNS … he doesn’t “rule”. This is a democracy. The king is supposed to symbolize all the people, not a special interest group.

The above are just a few of the elements that needed to be sorted through in order to provide a balanced view of what is happening in this country.

There is one final element that must be mentioned. Most are not even aware of it. But there is, in the western mindset, a deeply ingrained sense of the moral superiority of western culture which carries with it the idea that a third world country must by its very nature be ruled by despots, oppress peasants, and kill and torture people. Most westerners become very insulted when this is pointed out to them because our deepest prejudices are always those of which we are least aware. I believe that there is a streak of this crypto-racism in some of the reportage we are seeing in the west. It is because of this that Baghdad, Yangon, and Bangkok are being treated as the same thing. We all look alike.

Yes, this opinion is always greeted with outrage. I do my best to face my own preconceptions and don’t succeed that often, but I acknowledge they exist nonetheless.

Some of the foreign press are painting the endgame as the Alamo, but it is not. It is a lot closer to Jonestown or Waco.

Like those latter two cases, a highly charismatic leader figure (in our case operating from a distance, shopping in Paris while his minions sweat in the 94°weather) has taken an inspirational idea: in one case Christianity, in the other democracy, and reinvented it so that mainstream Christians, or real democrats, can no longer recognize it. The followers are trapped. There is a siege mentality and information coming from outside is screened so that those trapped believe they will be killed if they try to leave. Women and children are being told that they are in danger if they fall into the hands of the government, and to distrust the medics and NGOs waiting to help them. There are outraged pronouncements that they’re not in fact using the children as human shields, but that the parents brought them willingly to “entertain and thrill” them. There is mounting paranoia coupled with delusions of grandeur, so that the little red kingdom feels it has the right to summon the United Nations, just like any other sovereign state. The reporters in Rajprasong who are attached to the red community are as susceptible to this variant of the Stockholm syndrome as anyone else.

The international press must separate out the very real problems that the rural areas of Thailand face, which will take decades to fix, from the fact that a mob is rampaging through Bangkok, burning, looting, and firing grenades, threatening in the name of democracy to destroy what democracy yet remains in this country.

But this bad reporting is not their fault. It is our fault for not providing the facts in bite-sized pieces, in the right language, at the right time.

Originalkly posted by Somtow Sucharitkul (S.P. Somtow) at 3:41 PM