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).