Things aren't looking so good for Thailand, my second favorite country. The Prime Minister's vehicle got trashed at the ASEAN economic summit in Pattaya Beach while the rest of the world leaders attending had to get evacuated off the roof due to throngs of angry protesters. Bangkok Pundit has up to date news on the state of emergency and Austin Bush has some excellent photographs of the military being dispatched against the protesters and a bus that got burnt to a crisp. Thai New Year festivities (Songkran) got cancelled in Bangkok, which totally blows. Imagine if a bunch of Code Pink types were able to stop the ball from dropping in Times Square on New Year's since they blocked off a bunch of intersections with some "Impeach Bush" puppet show.
Matt Yglesias and the NY Times have a simplified background for us en-edumucated Americans that's helpful if you're not up to speed on the political situation in Thailand. It has to do with supporters of the ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin (supported by the "red-shirts") trying to take down Prime Minister Abhisit (supported by the "yellow-shirts" who shut down the airport last year)...I think. Thaksin's base is primarily in the rural upcountry areas, and everyone I talked to in Bangkok (including working-class folks that his populist stance is supposed to appeal to) thought the guy was a corrupt piece of shit.
But as a farang, you pretty much don't get into any political diatribes unless you want your visa revoked. A simple "Long Live the King" and you should be golden. Also, subtly pulling for whatever side the military is on is the stance you wanna take to avoid trouble if shit gets outta hand, which is good advice for any foreign country.
Supposedly, it's easy for some pasty-skinned, fanny-packed farang like me and Michael Yon to avoid the political calmity in Thailand just because none of the protests have been anti-Western in nature, but, nevertheless, the tourism industry is getting clobbered. This is especially true in Pattaya, which is kind of like Sodom and Gomorrah except with neon and better looking women. From AFP:
"Now in the bars there are only bar girls, no tourists. People are walking around but not spending money. Where before a guy might have drunk six beers, now he will have only two."A bartender in Pattaya once told me there was about 25,000-50,000 working ladies in town. That's enough to start a small, mini-skirted army and rid the streets of protesters, but that may be a bit unorthodox. Ironically, many of the working women are from the more rural Isan area and send a lot of their money back home. So while the red shirts may be fighting for more prosperity in the upcountry areas, they're simultaneously killing a huge cash cow by scaring off potential tourists. Whatever, democracy never makes sense no matter which country you go to.
Norton, also a regular visitor to Pattaya with 15 visits under his belt, said he was now forced to haggle with the working girls.
"Haven't they heard of the credit crunch? They think they've got problems, you should see the problems I've got. The pound used to be worth 75 baht and now it's only 50 baht," he said.
The working girls say that bar takings are down as much as 50 percent and that while regular sex tourists are still around, newcomers have been scared away.
Kaew Yoowan, who like most of the bar girls is a farmer's daughter from Thailand's impoverished northeast, said the hoped-for surge of customers from the summit -- which drew delegations from 16 nations -- never materialised.
"I know there is a big meeting here but it is not helping business. They are not coming out," the 28-year-old said sadly.