We were starting to get worried about Bangkok. As our doorway into Asia and the first stop on our journey, Bangkok’s tourist-friendly amenities were supposed to ease our way from one mode and into another.
But four months before we got here, anti-corruption protests broke out and with each week the reports grew more alarming. In a place where devotion to the king united practically everyone, there was little agreement on how who should actually run the place.
Things reached a crescendo two weeks before we got here. Protest sites scattered around town were in lock down mode to resist nightly attacks. There were shootings and grenades. A child was killed. Tourists were staying away and businesses were closed in many quarters.
Political violence doesn’t quite fit with my view of Thailand as a resolutely Buddhist society. But let’s be honest: as an outsider looking in my view is largely irrelevant to life here. The forces of change and resistance to change will engage in struggle regardless of what tourists think. Order breaks down and then is formed and breaks down again. That’s how we live as humans.
We can look inward, to look inside ourselves for awareness of how we think and feel, and we can seek to master that. But politics is an expression of the world outside. And despite all our holiest attempts to master ourselves, at the end of the day we still need to get along and there are an awful lot of things to disagree about.
As a visitor, it’s tempting to take sides. Or shake our heads in exasperation. Or expect something else. But being an outsider means not fully understanding. The best we can do is note what we see and ask ourselves how it applies to our own lives. How are we managing the tension between mastering ourselves and living in conflict with others?
Two days before we arrived the good news broke that the protestors were changing their tactics. They would take down the barricades and tents that were scattered at different sites around Bangkok and consolidate them at Lumpini Park – a victory for tourists but a disaster for joggers and kite flyers, one presumes.