My home is 750 kilometers (12+ hours by bus) from Thailand’s capital. Because of my location in rural Northeastern Thailand, I often feel very far removed from the political activity that occurs in Bangkok. In addition to physical distance, I do not have easy access to English news programs or print material and locals do not talk politics with me, so the Thailand news I do gather is usually pulled from The New York Times Global Edition.
For those of you unfamiliar with Thailand’s civil unrest (as I was only five months ago) the country is divided into two political parties: the yellow shirts and the red shirts. The former being the party of the elite (now in power in Parliament) and the latter fueled mainly by the rural poor have carried out coups in 2006 and 2008 and are constantly at odds with one another. Most of the red shirt supporters (also known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) are from North and Northeastern Thailand and they are currently staging an anti-government rally in Bangkok after a ruling on their party’s leader, ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was passed a few weeks ago regarding corruption charges.
This is a very interesting time to be teaching in rural Thailand; though politics are not openly communicated to me, I am becoming more attune to the political undercurrents here. Last month as I was making my journey back to Pla Pak after a weekend in Nong Khai with Amber, the falang (foreigner) sitting next to me on the bus jokingly warned me not to criticize Thaksin because we were in “red shirt country.” On Wednesday night I attended a going away party for a teacher at Pla Pak Wittaya (Steph’s high school) and over half of the teachers in attendance were donning red jackets. When I asked one teacher if red was their school color, she said no, and that the teachers wore red because “it is a beautiful color.” Thursday night I was helping a teacher I met at an english camp edit an application she was submitting for a fellowship in Singapore. One of the questions asked her to write about a national figure she admired and her answer was Thaksin, because of the social programs he initiated on government salaries, healthcare, and education, when he was prime minister.
Tomorrow the red shirts hold their anti-government rally in Bangkok. They promise peaceful protests and I hope this holds to be true.