I’ve never before woken up in the morning to learn the country I live in is is in a state of ‘Martial Law’. I can only say this in an American accent, ‘Martial. Law’. I know very little about what it actually means. I’ve been learning from Twitter and Facebook articles my fellow expats have shared. Thing is, I could get swept away with the drama provided by social media so I’m training myself to look only once in the morning and once in the evening. My new goal is achievable considering rumours that social media sites will be shutdown. Really? If that’s the case, Mr Mainwaring may well start to panic. I read on BBC World News that twelve TV channels have already been closed and several radio stations. If Twitter goes me and plenty of other people will be left in the dark, that’s a frightening concept.
What’s it like for me on day two of living under martial law? I haven’t noticed a change, it’s hardly house arrest and no curfews have been imposed… yet. I suppose I’m not in downtown Bangkok, I’m in privileged Expat Bangkok. Not the Bangkok you see on television; grubby streets where the massage girls wear mini skirts and the street vendors sell insects, it’s not all like that. Nor have I seen any soldiers on the school run, at the sky train stops, or at my local park like during the protests. I’m not next to government buildings or airports, so I can get about easily enough, but despite feeling ‘safe’, I can’t help but twitch at the thought of what will happen if the opposition do have a go at the military and there is fighting on the streets. Not that I’d blame the country, at least it’s action over inaction.
The recent protests caused some disturbance but barely impacted on our lives. I didn’t enjoy passing the sandbags at the protest sites, the noise of blowing whistles and intermittent loud cheering irked and alienated me in the midday sun. I didn’t understand how the protestors could take weeks off work, how could they afford to? I felt intimidated by the crowded trucks driving down the blocked streets shouting over megaphones in Thai, even though at times it felt more like a celebration than a protest – smiling and non-threatening. I didn’t like that I had to pass a major protest site on the school run with my 4 year old, “look at those divvies”, I’d tell him pointing at the tourists stopping to buy themselves a whistle or a t-shirt to commemorate the political unrest. The protest sites soon transformed into marketplaces selling protest paraphernalia and then any old tat.
Then there was the bomb that went off at the supermarket the day after we’d passed by on a pointless trip to buy the kids a toy, and I thought, lets just stock up on beans and bread, stay in for a bit, but we didn’t have to. Common sense dictates, if one doesn’t feel safe outside, one stays inside. Soon after this the roads were opened, which was much more convenient for me. I could take a taxi home with a tired child instead of a school bus, a sky train, and a Tuk Tuk. My afternoons of trying to be positive and alert while listening to the complaints of a tired whiny boy, oblivious to the potential danger, were on hold for the time being. Abe’s only question was why on House Days he could no longer wear his red shirt to travel to school, “it might upset the people in the yellow shirts” only confused him.
Its not that I felt unsafe all the time, it was more inconvenient than anything. How awful. A country is in crisis and I’m inconvenienced. I have a lot of compassion for Thailand, I don’t really understand what’s going on or what’s going to happen, like most. I know Thailand is mostly a Buddhist nation, one of peace and that this is massively unsettling for everyone and the loss of tourist income will have a huge effect on the countries reparation. James and I talked to Wandi about it in the kitchen, she peeling my under-cooked boiled eggs while I made a salad wrap. Wandi says she just wants it to be over, the troubles, the fighting, the threats. You can’t argue with that.
I had a Facebook chat with my ‘man in Cambodia’, he said his political science lecturer at the university where he works imagines it will flare up in the next two days. I tell him I’m due to have a wisdom tooth out on Friday, I hope I can still go ahead with my minor surgery and felt like I was a character off Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads again. He said he was here in 2007 when it kicked off and he couldn’t leave his condo for 5 days. We have books and a full freezer, we’ll be fine in that event, right? I don’t know where all the families living in the building sites will go, and how safe the people I pass on the street everyday will be.
I contacted my friend at the embassy, ‘we don’t seem to be hearing much’, I said, ‘nobody knows what’s about to unfold’ – the fear of the unknown. She told me not to panic, which I wasn’t, we’re “business as usual” she said and it came as a relief. I messaged James at work, he said we’re either fearless or foolish. I hear other nations are rather more cautious with their advice and I don’t know which is the best approach. I prefer the ‘don’t panic’ line because it’s comforting and then I can sing the theme song to Dad’s Army in my head.
Are we, the British, foolish or fearless? And the violin played while the ship went down. A colleague of James has 300 British students coming to Bangkok shortly. He said he anticipated 300 emails from anxious parents but instead he received queries asking whether to increase their travel insurance policies, seems like a familiar British response to me, one you can’t help but smile at and dare I say take a little pride in.
My email pings as I’m mentally processing martial law, trying to work out my views. It’s Topshop telling me “It’s time to party!” There can’t be a civil war, I don’t have the right shoes, but flicking through their web pages I could opt for some camouflage prints. No, it’s all a distraction to take away from the real issues. But these issues are in a country that I don’t belong to.
While I’m a bit worried about what’s occurring I’m at least feeling like a change is finally happening for this nation, albeit very slowly and hopefully with as little violence as possible. I’d rather the fights on the street remained water fights at Songkran. Clearly I’m no expert, I’m out of my area where Thai politics is concerned, but at least there is action, ‘the people are revolting’ in their own Thai way. I read sarcastic quips on fb about UKIP and I ‘like’, but where is the action to stop the racist arsehole that is Farage? Perhaps it’s going on, and I haven’t read about it, likewise people at home hear little of Suthep or Shinawatra, that’s the power of the media, be it social or anti-social.
Perhaps if you believe in prayer or the power of positive thought you can send us a bit of peace to sunny South East Asia, I’ll send a bit of sun in return. Thailand is a Buddhist nation, a country of peace, isn’t it? I’m questioning whether it is but I’m hopeful for a resolution without a full blown revolution (I believe I wrote a similar poem like this after watching Ghandi at school).
Meanwhile, if social media does go down, I’ll update you, my friends and family on this blog, that’s if I’m not looting sweatily in a balaclava at the 7/11 for some beige meat sandwiched in rice from a glass oven.
Or, if you want to join my friend Graham by doing impressions of me from last week’s Brits in Bangkok, as I xenophobically reacted to the supermarket’s “soft shell turtle” and my loneliness with a “fucking shrimp”, feel free. Or just spare me the embarrassment and don’t watch channel 5 on Friday at 11pm
Mind you, if last week’s episode is anything to go by the answer to my question ‘are the British fearless or foolish?’ could be answered, neither, how’s about delusional and rude, though I daren’t speak having yet to see my episode. Gulp!