“People are gathering in the streets everywhere awaiting your arrival,” joked a Bangkok-based expat friend in a Facebook conversation asking me when Jammie and I were arriving coming back into town.
Protests and grenades
The gatherings my friend was referring too are no joke. The attempts to overthrow the government had already started around the time we flew out of Bangkok to return California for the holidays in December of last year. Since then they have picked up steam. “There have been a few hotheads firing and shoving grenades at protesters so, you need to keep your senses about you when wanting to go somewhere and do things,” said my friend.
Our empty Bangkok apartment
For about two and a half months now, we’ve been paying rent for our apartment in Bangkok that has been unoccupied. We had intended to only spend December in Los Angeles. The unpredictable nature of the protests had kept us in Los Angeles to try to wait them out.
Here’s the background: Protestors consisting of mostly urban Thais are trying to get rid of the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra claiming she is being controlled by her brother, ousted former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra who lives in exile. Since the start of it all there have been several deaths and scores of people injured in the protests.
What to do?
It was hard to know how to react. The government scheduled an election and later declared a state of emergency in Bangkok. The election took place on February 2, 2014 and because they were disrupted by protestors, they will need to be held again. There is not much of an end in sight. The flow of tourists into Bangkok has slowed. Many foreigners are staying away.
Putting it all in perspective
Having said that, Bangkok has seen a lot of political turmoil over the years. No tourists have been hurt yet since this round of protests began. So a lot of the local and expat population is continuing with life pretty much as usual, confident this too shall pass.
Part of the confusion comes from the the tone of these protests. As the people that are protesting are generally well-to-do urbanites, protest sites have take on a kind of carnival-like atmosphere, complete with celebrity sittings, pop concerts, food vendors and hawkers. The airports are open as usual. And the fiercest protests seem to be over.
Our decision… and our Plan B
We have finally bought our ticket to return and will be flying in early next week. This is certainly an interesting start to the year but we are determined to follow through with our plan to live for a year in Bangkok. We do have a Plan B though – if things get too bad we’ll head for another regional capital – Manila or Kuala Lumpur.
Overseas living teaches you a lot about flexibility. As my expat friend said: “am sticking around man … no plans to leave yet, but it’s always at the back of my mind”.