When I first had the bright idea to prefix my entry titles with “Travelogue” while we’re overseas, I didn’t really stop to consider the result: that every post I make for the whole rest of this trip would start with that word. That’s an awful lot of posts. As you can see, I gave up.
It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m just finishing my work. For the uninitiated, many Thai people work six days a week, Monday through Saturday, including my wife’s family. Since everyone else is working, I figure I might as well, too. Sometimes I use this as an excuse to put in a few extra hours and make some more money. Other times — like this week — I use it as an excuse to piss away half of Friday playing games during business hours, and then finishing the other half of my day’s work on Saturday. 🙂 The little gaming setup I put together for myself here is paying for itself over and over again. It’s great to have a little slice of home here in Thailand to help recharge my batteries. I still thought I’d miss driving, but so far I don’t. Perhaps because I’ve been playing a lot of driving games!
In relatively short order, we’ve fallen into our usual routine here. Each morning, Apple’s brother and his wife and daughter leave the new house at 7:30 so they can travel back to the family business, known to me as the “print shop.” (Which is exactly what it is: a printing business, old-fashioned mechanical presses and all.) I stay at the new place with my computer stuff and do my own work for the day. Around 11:00, a tuk tuk arrives with my lunch, a specially-prepared “miniature version” of the family meal at the print shop (we’re reimbursing Apple’s family for the cost). Usually Apple goes over to hang out with her family by mid-afternoon, and returns in the evening with dinner.
On Saturdays, it’s a bit different. We’ll get up early and go to the print shop with my brother-in-law at 7:30. Getting up early this one day is not usually a big problem, but it was particularly difficult this morning for some reason. Perhaps in part because we got up early yesterday as well, because we had an appointment at the hospital for the next milestone in our fertility treatments. And I must have slept weird, because my neck is all sore. Anyway, I’m ready to go back to bed, the earlier the better. Tomorrow’s Sunday, so we don’t have to get up too early, but the housekeeper is coming to clean the new house so we’ll have to get out of the way at some point.
Through all of this, we’ve been making progress in our fertility procedures. Despite being the last woman to enter this month’s treatment regimen (her doctor only accepts a small number of IVF patients every month or two), Apple was the first to produce a set of healthy eggs for retrieval. After the eggs and a sperm sample were collected, they were brought together in a lab — and now, five of those eggs have been fertilized and are showing good progress. Soon, we’ll be ready to transfer some of those eggs back, and then all we can do is wait and see what happens. I know my fingers are crossed!
Meanwhile, down here in our little corner of southern Thailand, it’s hard to believe that this country has become the focus of some international media attention. In Bangkok, the capital city, a group of organized protesters known as the PAD (People’s Alliance for Democracy) have stormed both the international airport and the domestic airport, effectively cutting off all air travel — both passenger and freight — to and from Bangkok. They’ve taken this step because they’ve had enough of the Thai prime minister and the rest of the government, and they essentially want the government to dissolve itself so that the election process can be reformed.
The PAD view the current government of Thailand as endemically corrupt, and the prime minister as a puppet of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was convicted in absentia on corruption charges. They’re probably right, particularly because the current PM is none other than Thaksin’s brother-in-law — an astonishing development that I can’t believe was allowed to happen. The PAD has protested in various ways up until now, but have now seized control of Bangkok’s airports in what I view as an attempt to accomplish several things:
- Prevent government ministers from traveling to alternate sites of meeting.
- Cause a national calamity and bring the economy to a standstill, which in turn will
- Force the military to stage a coup, much as they did in 2006.
Simply having the military throw out the existing government and replace it won’t solve anything, though, because it didn’t solve anything in 2006, either. PAD members claim that so much of the government, elite ruling class and the voting public itself has been bought and paid for by Thaksin’s cronies, any democratically elected government would just be more of the same.
The PAD therefore proposes the somewhat socialist idea that only 30% of the government should be elected by the people, with the remaining 70% being appointed from various occupations. This would immediately cause most Americans to put the PAD in the “evil” category and leave it at that. However, as so many Americans do, that would be making a judgment without being in possession of all the facts — and without any attempt to view the situation from the perspective of Thai nationals.
Everyone in Apple’s family is a staunch supporter of the PAD, with some having made financial contributions. Indeed; much of southern Thailand is of this mindset, because the south is home to most of the educated and business-class community. Thailand’s north, by contrast, is home to the most rural areas, devoid of much technology or infrastructure. It’s these people, southerners claim, who have been duped into voting for Thaksin’s corrupt party time and time again on the basis of empty promises and political favors. Without the means to make an informed decision, and indeed, in the complete absence of any opposing points of view, the northerners eat up Thaksin’s saccharine promises over and over. And so this is how the corrupt elite continue to win power, election after election.
As an American, I myself have heard many times — particularly in the last eight years — that if someone is so stupid that they can’t even fill out a ballot correctly, their vote shouldn’t count anyways. Similar sentiments have been expressed about revoking the voting rights of ignorant Americans who don’t even know what year 9/11 occurred, much less anything about the issues they’re voting on. In a way, we’re having the same kind of discussion in our own nation as the PAD is having with Thais — although we’re going about it in the usual Western fashion, which is to bitch and moan about it endlessly while not doing much of anything.
In Thailand, by contrast, the time for bitching and moaning has expired and people are now taking action. That action will be seen as reprehensible to many of us from the West. And if I were a tourist who was stranded at one of Bangkok’s airports, I doubt I’d be all that forgiving of the PAD — particularly if I’d never heard of them or their agenda until now. Indeed; most people outside of Thailand probably view the PAD as a group of malcontents who want to overthrow the legitimately elected government. And that is, after all, exactly what PAD wants to do. But when you come to understand their reasons, and see the economic and social havoc that Thaksin’s policies have wreaked on this nation since he came to power, you can probably begin to see their point of view. In a sense, they’re doing what Americans might do if, despite three legit elections, another member of the Bush family became president every time and continued the same colossal stupidity for yet another term.
And to friends and family who might be worrying about us here, there’s nothing to be concerned about. If we wanted to leave the country, we could either fly out of Hat Yai International Airport and into one of the nearby nations, like Singapore, to catch a further flight home. Or, simply drive across the border into Malaysia and depart from there. Because, again, the PAD’s intentions aren’t to cause harm to tourists. The strandings and delays are actually collateral damage brought about by their main objectives, which I listed earlier. Although I doubt they relish causing all of this inconvenience for innocent tourists, I think these people are so fed up that they don’t care anymore.
At this point I’m trying not to take sides. Despite my American upbringing, visiting other parts of the world has given me vastly different perspectives on how things work outside of our home country. Part of the problem with America, its government and its people is that we all seem to think that what’s good for us is automatically good for everybody else. That if we duplicated our form of government in every country in the world, each one would immediately improve a hundredfold and the people living there would thank us. This kind of colossal ignorance is what’s gotten us in trouble with so many nations and, indeed, has fueled the terrorism which now cites the West, paradoxically, as the leading cause of evil within the world. I actually believe that America does what it does with the best of intentions, but the problem is how it has remained curiously blind to the effects.
So while Thailand’s PAD actually wants to at least partially dismantle the pseudo-American electoral system that’s been in effect here, to simply classify this as wrong-headed would be entirely too simplistic. American democracy only works when a majority of people want to be a part of it, want to stay informed and get involved. If only a small fraction of a population participates, the results of each election will reflect the will of only a small subset of the people. If a large fraction of the population cannot or will not become informed, they are open to being manipulated by corrupt politicians and elites who fill their heads with lies or buy their votes via bribery. This sort of thing exists even in America, but on a small enough scale (I believe) that it does not taint our system to the point of complete ineffectiveness, as it has in Thailand.
This experience has reminded me, again, of the importance of gaining a wider picture of our planet by traveling and interacting with other cultures. Americans who stay closeted in their own realities are fostering a dangerous generation of ignorant simpletons who cannot think objectively and who will not listen to opposing points of view. We’re seeing the beginnings of this already, in the increasingly foul and violent opposition that has resulted from clashes of Democrats and Republicans in various parts of the United States. As much as I disagree with some policies of each party, I am glad that we’ve elected a man in Barack Obama who will, I hope, serve as a galvanizing force behind whom Americans can once again find something to believe in, and with a sense of optimism rather than discouragement.
Even as we make progress toward mending the fabric of society and our world image in turn, we’d do well to keep in mind that other countries may wish to make progress in their own way — and have the patience to let them try.