I am currently living in the one of Thailand's southeastern provinces, in a place called Trat Town. As I hear more news about the anti-government protests in Bangkok heating up, so to speak, I am surprised by how little it affects me out here.
I have heard stories about shootings, bomb threats, and Bangkok's largest luxury malls closing, but out in Trat life is just following its usual routines. I assumed that most Thai people were politically apathetic, but I am slightly astonished how little anyone discusses the protests out in the provinces. Bangkok is the epicenter of political activity in Thailand, but I assumed more people would get involved once the protests began to affect shopping.
Truthfully, I am having trouble understanding what is going on with the protests. Ostensibly, the red shirts support Thaksin while the yellow shirts want new leadership. However, what is it exactly that the yellow shirts are trying to accomplish? I understand that the current regime is corrupt, but will a new regime be any less so?
Until there is more transparency in government and a greater feeling of equality and fraternity among Thailand's citizens, I do not think a change of leadership will accomplish much. The reason Thais use the English vernacular word for corruption is because there is no Thai word for it. The closest word they have means something along the lines of defrauding the citizens without notifying the king.
The Thai people need a consciousness shift in how they conceive of themselves as citizens in a democracy. They need to stop thinking of themselves as subjects and people whose votes can be bought and begin to think of themselves as participants in the future direction of their homeland.
It's striking how little I understand Thailand, even though I have lived here for over a year. When I traveled to Vietnam, I read as much as I could on the country, its people, and its history. Though the country remains an enigma to almost anyone not from there, at least the information is available. If a person is so inclined, he or she can read books on contemporary Vietnamese politics, environmental developments, or ethnic minorities living in the highlands. He or she can also read novels by Graham Greene or Michael Herr and get a better sense of what the country was like at a particular time.
In Thailand, I find that most literature is on Bangkok's jails or prostitution industry, and most ethnographies portray the Thais as selfish and egocentric people (this may be true of some people, but many Thai people have been unbelievably friendly and helpful to me). There seems to be a clear lack of transparency into the Thai culture and mindset. To the foreigner, Thai culture and behavior remain nebulous.
Of course, I could be wrong about all this. What do I really know about Thailand anyway? To me, there is nothing more exhilarating than the process of figuring things out. However, until I learn how to decipher the code, Thailand will stay an enigma.