Last weekend I went to Bangkok to meet some friends who were flying in from New York. I was curious as to what I would find given all the Red Shirts in the news lately.
About two weeks ago the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Red Shirts, began to filter into the capital from all over rural Thailand. They came to protest the legitimacy of the current government and the 2006 bloodless coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin on the basis of political corruption.
I had read about rallies of 100,000+ people and dousing government buildings in blood so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The Red Shirts seemed to be having a jolly time in the big bad capital, joy riding in motorbike caravans, singing songs, and drinking with tourists on Khao San Road. Families of Red Shirts were chilling under sun shades, cooking rice and having picnics on the side of the road. Others were touring the city in the back of pickup trucks, shouting “I love you” at us in English, playing cards, or wandering the streets of Chinatown.
That is not to say they weren’t serious about their cause. Anyone in doubt need only to look to the mass blood donations to see that they are not just visiting Bangkok on holiday. But, like everything and everyone in Thailand, the protests and the Red Shirts never seem to lose sight of the fun factor. You get the sense that people here believe that life should be fun, and they look for ways to bring that into everything they do. It’s all about maintaining a positive attitude and not letting tedious activities – work, school, chores – get you down. Same philosophy seems to apply to political protests, which are for the most part conducted in good spirits and without animosity. Even the government security personnel on duty seemed respectful and amiable, and, from what I saw, were not antagonistic to the protestors, as they might have been in many countries. (Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, as evidenced by the 2008 protests which did end in violence.)
Curious about what the cityfolk thought of the protests, I began asking Bangkok taxi drivers for their take on Thai politics. Without exception, they claimed no interest in politics and began stroking their medallions featuring images of the king (who is revered countrywide) invariably hung from their rearview mirrors.
Regular readers may remember our accidental stay at the creepy, cult-ish Wararot Grand a few months ago. Finally all that red makes sense. Hopefully that stay will not be interpreted as an indication of political allegiances, as it was purely accidental and we had no idea what it was at the time. But given recent events, it is all the more fascinating in hindsight.