EXPATS LIVING IN THAILAND
In the midst of a seemingly never-ending cafe order of frozen fruit slushies, iced cappucinos, mocha frappes, and any other heat-abating concoction we can consume from the relief of air conditioned havens in this sun-beaten land, we wonder to ourselves “Will this brutal summer ever give way to a cool, rain-soaked season?” Thailand can be a parched country—in more ways than one—and there seems to be no end in sight. In one of the hottest, most drought-forsaken summers on record, Thai citizens are feeling the heat from all angles.
Most people are at least dimly aware of the political strife in Thailand, though few—even those residing in the eye of the storm—really understand the full scale of the civil unrest. The country appears to be bitterly divided, and there is not much hope that an amicable solution can be reached. There is too much at stake for both sides, and no one seems willing to compromise their positions, so a stalemate, or much worse, looks like the inevitable fate for this country.
Thailand has a long history of military coups and civil unrest, more than 17 coups since 1932, when the first constitution was drafted and the first semblance of democracy came into being. Obviously, the Thai people take political participation seriously, and frequently flock to the streets in order to protest. What it is they are actually protesting is not always clear, though the power struggle has focused on the Taksin-backed “red-shirts” and the royalist “yellow-shirts” groups since Taksin’s tumultuous and divisive rise to prime minister in 2001. Luckily, most of the coups are relatively bloodless (with a few notable exceptions, the last one in 2010 being unusually violent) and have focused on the same two groups locked in a death-grip duel for power.
Depending on who you talk to here, Taksin is either worshipped as a demi-god or condemned as worse than Satan. He brought Thailand to the forefront of the South East Asian economic community, opening Thailand’s borders to foreign investment and business, and enacting laws which saw Thailand’s economy thrive and the lives of the poorest Thais improved considerably. However, his years as prime minister were rife with corruption charges, and there was a bitter struggle to oust him by the opposition, until finally he fled to self-imposed exile in 2006. His enemies claim that he still mans the controls from his exiled home in Dubai. In fact, his niece, Yingluck, until recently, has been the prime minister of Thailand since 2011, and the opposition claims that she is Taksin’s puppet. After more than 6 months of protests and a “Shut Down Bangkok” campaign, the Yellow Shirts were successful in unseating Yingluck from her position as prime minister in the current caretaker government. For more information on Thailand’s political history, as well as current events, please view these websites:
I find all of the politics here more than a little confusing, and the emotions sparked as soon as the topic of politics is brought up is surprising, especially considering what a non-confrontational and generally pacifist country this is. I’ve seen a father and his children alienated and on non-speaking terms, the father a staunch red shirt and the children in Bangkok, blowing whistles on behalf of the yellow shirts.
I don’t want to go into too many details, not only because I don’t feel well informed enough to comment intelligently on Thai politics, but I also don’t want to take any risks in getting involved. Thailand has made it clear that it does not welcome foreigners wishing to participate in politics. I will stay in my haven in Hua Hin, and drink my ice cold coffees, and contemplate the relief from the heat.
In fact, more than a few people have said that given its status as the official residence of the King, Hua Hin is probably one of the most insulated and safest places to be within Thailand in the event that the political situation takes a turn for the worse. This seems to be true so far, as life continues to go on as usual, at least from our vantage point in this idyllic bubble far removed from Bangkok. Even our good friends in Bangkok say that their daily life has not been much affected, apart from the occasional traffic jams that they can expertly avoid with advanced planning.
Amazingly, our business has not seemed to suffer much (knock on wood!), with clients still booking rental holidays in the near and not-so-near future, and sale clients still purchasing properties in the Hua Hin and surrounding areas. Granted, most of our sales have focused on the Pranburi area, south of Hua Hin town center, perhaps because people feel that this area is quite isolated, peaceful and safe. As I sit here in my favorite cafe with a direct view of the beach and a strong sea breeze in my face, a group of Bangkokians enter. Seven people walk up to the counter and order various chilled beverages; pleasantries with the proprietor are exchanged, and the customers marvel at the quiet atmosphere here. Like most people, they have probably stumbled upon this gem by accident, but are quite pleased to have found this oasis. I hope the Thailand that we know and love remains, despite the political strife only 200 km and a world away, and I hope we are here to enjoy it for much, much longer.