I’m Standing At The Gates of The East / I Take My Pulse and the Pulse of My Friend

A few days ago we Bangkok res­i­dents (and oth­ers in Thai­land) received the most recent of the reg­u­lar trav­el warn­ings we get via email. Despite the fact it was rather mild this time, it kin­da irked me. They always do.

Whilst I under­stand that gov­ern­ments have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to keep their cit­i­zens safe, and giv­en the cur­rent uneasy sit­u­a­tion in BKK it’s like­ly wise this time around but the fre­quen­cy and ease that a few West­ern nations issue these things for places like Thai­land and Indone­sia, when they seem reluc­tant to do so for nations such as the US despite the fact that, peo­ple like, you know, Bin Laden issue threats all the time, gets to me.

I can’t help feel­ing that doing so reflects two atti­tudes. First­ly, there is the fail­ure to recog­nise that these fun­ny Asian coun­tries have most­ly caught up, and indeed passed much of the old world (mean­ing the old West­ern, white dom­i­nat­ed world) in many ways. It’s a kind of odd pater­nal­ism, like the men­tal divide Churchill was famous for, when he talked of self-deter­mi­na­tion (he said it only applied to peo­ple in Europe), stuck in the mid­dle to late 20th Cen­tu­ry, and I think it’s most­ly bred by sim­ple igno­rance from a world where for many peo­ple still civ­i­liza­tion is nar­row­ly defined by a fear of the unknown and ref­er­ence points long gone — in the same way that India and Japan still don’t sit on the UNSC (if we must have it at all but it seems we do).

The oth­er atti­tude it reflects, sad­ly, is a kind of mut­ed offi­cial racism. Although I guess that’s gonna be a hard­er sell when seen from the west, but it’s much com­ment­ed on by we guests in this part of the world and is very much seen that way by the peo­ples and gov­ern­ments of the region.

Hell, NZ even has a trav­el advi­so­ry out for Sin­ga­pore! Have those that issue these things ever been to that most safe of all sedate lit­tle lands? This just makes NZ look very back­wards and parochial as the first world torch moves east.

As I said on Twit­ter, NZ issu­ing a Trav­el Advi­so­ry for Thai­land is like Gore issu­ing one for Auck­land.

See­ing as how they’re almost exclu­sive­ly west­ern phe­nom­e­na, how about NZ issu­ing a Trav­el Advi­so­ry for NZ warn­ing of ran­dom alco­hol-fuelled vio­lence and road rage?

With all that in mind, I decid­ed to toss Welling­ton’s cau­tion to the wind and vis­it the big demos down there by Democ­ra­cy mon­u­ment.

The fastest way in yes­ter­day was via Klong Boat (the canal boat that takes me, with one change at Prat­num, from the top of my street to Wat Saket which just hap­pens to be next to Red Shirt Cen­tral).

After the boat change I realised that I was one of only two peo­ple in the ves­sel with­out a red shirt on.

So it began.

After alight­ing I wan­dered in. There was — for as far as I could ini­tial­ly see — chant­i­ng, danc­ing, cheer­ing, and some obvi­ous­ly rather impor­tant guy mak­ing a loud dra­mat­ic speech which, every now and then, enticed a huge roar and cacoph­o­nous shake of the thou­sands of rat­tles in the mas­sive crowd (around 80–100,00 they said), so much so that the ground seemed to shake when I final­ly worked my way to front of the stage.

I wan­dered for two or three hours and was hugged, smiled huge­ly at, giv­en a Mao cap by a con­cerned ven­dor who was wor­ried about my head, and a bag of my very favourite deep-fried bananas.

It was very much a car­ni­val atmos­phere and I know how these things can turn, but the com­mon wis­dom is that it takes an awful lot to turn a Thai to anger, and there was lit­tle sign of that (or much in the way of secu­ri­ty forces or police — the only cops I saw were sta­tioned next to the mass of por­taloos — which seemed to be over­flow­ing while the guys in charge of them pan­icked and the cops treat­ed it as if this was some sort of  bad joke).


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

March 30, 2010 at 6:34 am

What is going on in that 3rd to last pho­to!!!!

March 30, 2010 at 6:47 am

Heh, I know. I guess he / she is an old trans­ves­tite. I was try­ing take the shot with­out get­ting a punch or told to go away. Odd.

Of course in Thai­land no-one blinks at this sort of thing

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