Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chess Match

The political situation has been rather quiet the last few days.  There are still lots of protests going on, but violence has been minimal.  This may just be the calm before the storm though.

Mary had a tense moment this morning when large explosions happened next to her school.  Turns out it was just a planned building demolition.  People are tense here though.  There have been many reports of bombs going off the last two days.  As far as I know, all of them turned out to be fireworks related to the Chinese New Year (or a building demolition).

Mary also caught a glimpse of the main protest leader this evening on her way home from work.  This was not intentional, and neither of us would recommend a foreigner to go anywhere near Suthep Thaugsuban right now.  Anyway, here's the picture near her school.  Suthep can be seen on screen, and also in the red shirt on stage in the background (the red is for Chinese New Year).

I've read the opinions of quite a few political analysts the last few days. There are all sorts of ideas for how the current political chess match might play out over the coming days, weeks, and months.  Sadly not one of them is predicting a quick and peaceful resolution to things.  I have my own predictions, but you'll have to email me privately to get those.

The links below provide some interesting and informative analysis.  I certainly learned a few things reading these.

First, the background on the current conflict that (as far as I have seen ) has not been well reported by western media.  This is written by a Harvard trained political analyst who has been living in Thailand for 45 years.  It's long, but it's worth the 20 minutes it will take to read.

The next article makes some predictions.  It's a dry read, and I don't agree with all of it, but it is informative. Budget another 20 minutes for this one.

If you're to busy too read these, sorry it's supper time in Thailand, so I'm not going to summarize them.  Also, I need to pack for a weekend at the beach.

I will leave you with something that made me laugh though.  Groups from both sides of the political fence have been holding candle light demonstrations supporting a non-violent approach to resolve the current political situation.  The thought is good, but in one instance the execution was just a hair off the mark.

What do you want?  Peace... Or perhaps, a new Mercedes?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Election Sunday

A brief update on Thailand:

The Thai election commission proposed that the election scheduled for Sunday Feb 2 be delayed.  The prime minister said this would violate the constitution.  The election commission asked for clarification from the Constitutional Court, and the court said the election can be delayed.  The prime minister said the election must go ahead.  All 50 of Bangkok's election officials resigned today.

So it sounds like there will be an election in Thailand on Sunday, although folks are not sure who will administer things.  There are still significant concerns over the legitimacy of any election right now, the potential for groups blocking polls, and political violence.  Here's a maps of where early voting was blocked last weekend.  The areas in red are the locations with the strongest potential for trouble leading up to Sunday's election.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission is also moving ahead with corruption charges against the prime minister over a rice subsidy scheme.  This had been talked about in concept previously, but they are now moving forward with a formal impeachment process.

We're thinking it's a good weekend to get out of town and relax at a beach.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Australian Day

It was a bad day if you were trying to vote early in Thailand's elections.  A protest leader was shot and killed blocking a polling station in Bang Na, about 20 minutes from our condo. Most polling stations were blocked by protests in greater Bangkok.  The video link below shows the incident.  View the link at your own discretion.  It is uncut, and violent.

In happier news, it is Australian Day.  We wish the best to all or our Australian friends.  We enjoyed some food and drinks (keep quiet, it's early voting day, alcohol is banned) at a fine Aussie establishment in Bangkok this evening.

Mary managed to squish her toe in a subway escalator on the way home, and subsequently enjoyed a motorcycle taxi right to our doorstep.  It was about 1 minute faster than walking from the train station.

Mark and Kathy, Ubon Ratchithani is about 3 hours from my factory.  It has been cool, but not freezing.  The child you support should be okay, albeit chilly.  It is warming up here now. Lows should be in the upper 60's (F) this week with highs in the low 90's.

Khon Ramakien: Thai Masked Dance

On Friday night, a girl from church organized an event to go see Khon: Thai Masked Dance at the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre. I invited a friend from school to join and there ended up to be six of us for a night out.

The group of girls I know from church with the performers after the show. 
The performance followed the story of Hanuman, a monkey with supernatural powers, that while not perfect, is destined to be the Prince Phra Ram's warrior. The costumes and dance were simply amazing to watch. A friend explained that everyone's mask is uniquely made for each dancer and each night they must be sewn into their outfits. The girls I was with

The performance was divided into 8 scenes that followed Hanuman's life. Accompanied by an onstage band of Thai instruments, the dialogue was in Thai. There was scrolling marque to follow along in English. The hour and a half show went by quickly.

I can imagine coming to a show at the theater back in 1933 when it first opened was quite the event. The 50 or so people in attendance for the show on Friday did little to fill the massive auditorium, however it was in excellent condition. This is just one of the many venues hurting from fewer tourists being in the city because of the massive protests.

If you're planning a visit to Bangkok and want to experience a night of traditional Thai dancing, I would recommend visiting. Shows are every Friday night at 7:30 and the theatre is just a short taxi ride away from the Hua Lumpong MRT train station exit 1.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


It's been a rather quiet couple of days here in Bangkok.  Yes, there are still massive protests, but they've been mostly peaceful as of late.  Just to keep you current, here's a short list of semi-relevant Thai political items from recent days.
  • Some gun fire has been reported late at night in a few locations around Bangkok.  Nobody injured.
  • "Red Shirt" leaders (supporters of the current government) are calling for nation wide demonstrations on Jan 29 to show support for the current government. 
  • Northern rice farmers (traditionally red shirts) are protesting AGAINST the current government over  lack of payment from a government rice purchase program.  The program is out of money and rumored to be plagued by corruption.
  • A red shirt leader in northern Thailand was shot up by a machine gun drive by shooting.  He's expected to survive.  It's not clear which side shot him.
  • An election is scheduled for Sunday Feb 2.  We'll likely find a nice quiet beech that weekend in case things get ugly in Bangkok.
Moving on to the real danger going on in Thailand.  The cold.  Today was the coldest day in Bangkok in 30 years!  It was 59 degrees Fahrenheit when I got to work this morning.  Many of you reading this will not understand, but people in Thailand are actually dying from the cold.  Bangkok has been cool and comfortable, but northern Thailand has been colder.  Some places even saw frost this week.  The Thai government reported there have been 63 deaths from the current cold snap.  That's roughly 10 times the number of deaths caused by the protests so far!  The government has declared a "cold disaster zone" in 45 northern provinces.

Protesters and motor cycle taxi drivers have been spotted warming themselves by campfire in Bangkok's streets.

Mary and I enjoyed burgers at a local open air restaurant tonight. Yes, Mary has a sweatshirt on.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Q&A Time, Plus an Emergency Decree

I've received questions from a few of my US coworkers who are planning to travel to our factory in Thailand in the coming days and weeks.  I sent personal emails back to those of you that contacted me, but as others may be wondering the same things, so I'll answer a few questions here as well.

Q: Is it safe to come to Thailand right now?
A: Yes.

Q: Is the airport safe?  
A: Yes.  The airport is not in Bangkok.  Political violence has been contained to protests in Bangkok and Nonthaburi provinces.

Q: Is the factory in Ayutthaya safe?
A: Yes.  Ayutthaya has seen some small pro-government demonstrations, but nothing large and no violence.

Q: Should I cancel my trip to Thailand?
A: That is up to you, but I do not see any reason to cancel a trip right now.  On a side note, we're currently experiencing the most pleasant (cool) stretch of weather that I have ever experienced in Thailand.

Q: Is it okay to rent a motorbike, ride to Bangkok, and join the protests on the weekend?
A: No.  Driving a motorbike here is very dangerous.

Other news:
The government declared a state of emergency starting Wednesday Jan 22, effective for 60 days.  The decree covers all of Bangkok, and parts of Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, and Samut Prakan provinces.  This gives the government the power to impose curfews, censor media, detain suspects without charge, ban political gatherings of more than 5 people, and declare parts of the capitol off limits.

Q: What does this mean for people coming to Thailand?
A: It's best to stay out of Bangkok.

Q: What does this mean if I'm traveling to Ayutthaya or other parts of Thailand?
A: Nothing, besides stay out of Bangkok

Q: What does this mean if you live in Bangkok?
A: I'll let you know tomorrow.

Last but not least, I like to include pictures in my blog posts.  So here you go.  Bangkok's dumbest tourists:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekend Update

Mary stayed home from work on Friday recovering from food poisoning that managed to wipe out a good percentage of the staff and students of the Australian International School.  This combined with the current political situation encouraged us to just chill at home on Friday night.

On Saturday we did manage to get out quite a bit though.  I headed out with some friend in the morning to explore a protest-free area of Bangkok that I had never visited.  Sadly Mary had a meeting with a parent of one of her students on Saturday morning and wasn't able to join.  She missed a great time.  We can see the nearby Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park from our condo, but have never been there mostly because it is on the other side of the river and is not particularly easy to get to.

12 of us met up at 9 AM near our condo and took taxis down to the river.  We caught a long tail boat across the river and rented bikes to explore the area.  It was amazing!  It felt like we were biking through the jungle hours away from the city!  We also explored a local floating market, and had lunch and a few beers at a beautiful riverside restaurant (beautiful if you ignored the oil refinery across the river).

Later in the afternoon I joined back up with Mary and headed out for an evening of bowling to celebrate one of her co-workers birthdays.

We continue to be cautious of protest areas.  There was another daylight bombing today near the Victory Monument protest site.  28 people were injured, some seriously, when two Russian RDG-5 grenades were thrown.  This is the same type of grenade that was used in the blast on Friday that injured 30+ and killed 1.  This is about a mile down the road from our church.  We did still go to church tonight without incident.

Friday, January 17, 2014


The tension in Bangkok has been turned up significantly in the last 24 hours.  There were numerous reports of shooting and explosions last night.  One incident involved a hand grenade quite close to our condo.  We walked through the blast area only 2 hours before the grenade went off.  Fortunately the roadside landscaping took the brunt of blast.  The fact that no body was injured in this incident is actually quite remarkable.  In fact it is so remarkable that I have to wonder if it may have been staged to try and bait the military into getting involved in the current conflict.  I'm not going to discuss that in any more detail on a public blog though

Until recently most violence has taken place late at night, but there were at least two different violent incidents in broad daylight today.  First opposing groups of demonstrators opened fire on each other in Northern Bangkok.  Shortly after that a group of protesters marching through Bangkok was hit by a bomb attack injuring dozens of people, some critically.  This will likely even make the new back home in the US.  There were also reports of another small blast near a protest side on the north side of downtown, but nobody was injured.

Mary was home with stomach issues today and spotted protest groups marching past our condo a number of times.  They even blocked the toll expressway for a short while.  Fortunately this was wrapped up by the time I came home tonight.  We are making a point to stay away from any protest activities whenever possible.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The New Normal

It doesn't look like the protests will be ending any time soon and the city of Bangkok seems to be settling in to a new sort of normal.  Avoid certain intersections (or you will be stuck in traffic), don't stay out late at night (more shooting and bombs last night), and life can go on more or less as normal.

The huge daytime protest crowds from earlier this week have dwindled (people do have jobs), but large crowds are still coming out in the evening after work.  The pictures below are morning and evening shots at the Asok intersection near Mary's school.

Traffic patterns are still different, but overall congestion is returning to normal levels as people head back to work.  Note the 8 lanes of Rama IV Raod below now terminate at the intersection with Sathorn / Wireless Roads in the distance rather than continuing on through the Lumpini rally site.  This has created a traffic headache for me, even at 5:45 AM when I leave for work.

In many ways things are not all that different from normal though.  Mary and I went for a walk this evening in Lumpini Park.  People were out jogging, playing badminton, attending zumba class, and enjoying the sunset.  The southwest quarter of the park is also home to a protester tent city.

We continue to get regular news updates from our favorite blogger, Richard Barrow.  He has a new toy, a drone mounted camera.  The pictures below are from him.  Check out his twitter feeder for ALL the latest protest details and additional awesome photos.

Also, if you haven't yet figured out what to buy me for my birthday in June, start looking at drones.

Finally, one more set of pictures from twitter.  New today are the military bunkers set up on elevated walkways around town.  As always, we will keep you posted with any new developments.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bangkok Shutdown: Day 3

This morning when we woke up we discovered that the second night of the protests were not as peaceful as the first. While there were no fatalities and only a few injuries, there was one shooting and a bombing overnight. The bombing targeted a democrat leader's home and it's unsure who was the target of the shooting. Needless to say, the tension in the city rose just a bit. Here's articles from the news about each incident: Bombing, Shooting

Despite these incidents of violence, we still feel very safe at home and comfortable with our commutes to work. Mine has taken me a bit longer since I stop to take photos or just to people watch. Even though my school is very close to one of the main protest sites, it's nestled back into a very quaint neighborhood. Most of my students walk to school. So, as the protesters marched down the main road today-just a quarter mile away- we could only hear the faint sound of whistles.  

Left- Asoke in the AM, Top right- Asoke Mid-Afternoon, Bottom right- Asoke evening.

As my students were eating snack and working on math, this was going on up the street. A co-worker of mine took these. The man on the far left is Suthep- the leader of Bangkok Shutdown- accepting money from a supporter.

Greg reported that his drive to work was longer than normal and his drive home was nearly normal. The main intersection where he makes a U-turn to go back down and enter the expressway was being manipulated by protesters to set up a block using sandbags and tires. Judging from the traffic flow and pictures on twitter they succeeded. We were content we both got home safely and we found our local grilled chicken and sticky rice lady for a nice dinner at home. 

Rama IV Road- just down from us. Lumpini Park is on the right behind the red fence.

As always, please for Thailand and it's people. Good night :-)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bangkok Shutdown: Day 2

The covers of the two major English papers in Bangkok 14/1/2014
As we woke up this morning, we discovered that the first night of "Bangkok Shutdown" was peaceful and uneventful. As I walked to school this morning, I saw tents pitched where there are usually street food carts and more people than cars at the main Asoke intersection. With low's in the upper 60°F's, I hoped people brought enough blankets.

Good morning

The left picture was taken this morning around 7:15am, the other about a month ago around the same time. 
We have kept and will keep up to date on the protests as best we can via news websites and twitter. The pictures you see here are from twitter and from me. The groups today may have seemed less dense, but it was reported that many of the groups did marches out to specific government buildings during the day. The group down our street at Lumpini Park walked by our building to and from the Thai Customs Building near the port. The crowds at all locations were expected to swell again after the work day concluded.  Judging by the pictures posted tonight, those predictions were true.

Around the Asoke intersection this afternoon. There was no shortage of people selling whistles, arm bands, stickers, you name it with the Thai flag. 
Left- This afternoon around 3:30, Right- Around 7pm this evening
Greg's commute today was more normal than yesterday's, but still not as heavy as an average day. With the lighter traffic overall, the cooler temps even have the air feeling much cleaner than usual. It may even dip down below 60°F one evening this week!

As we pray for the peacefulness to continue, we will try to get this updated. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bangkok Shutdown

Day 1 of the "Bangkok Shutdown" is coming to a close.  Tens if not hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bangkok closing many major intersections.  If you needed to get to any the occupied areas today you were plain out of luck.  The pictures below came from twitter and show a number of the protest sites.

Our condo is close enough to the Lumpini and Asok protest sites that we can hear the whistle blowing protesters, but the protests did not block access to our condo.  Mary stayed home today with no school (although she does still have school scheduled tomorrow).  I had no problem traveling back and forth to work and even made record fast time coming home this evening.  It seems the threat of terrible traffic was enough to keep most folks off the roads today.  The picture below was the view from our condo at 5PM tonight.  Not your typical Bangkok rush hour.

This could last anywhere from a few days to a few months.  We'll keep you updated as things progress.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bangkok Protest Update

A quick update on the continuing anti government protests in Bangkok:

In case you hadn't heard, there have been anti government protests going on in Bangkok for the last few months.  So far protests have not been located in our neighborhood and haven't had much direct impact on our lives.  That might change tomorrow.

A large number of protesters are planning a "Bangkok Shutdown" to try and get the prime minister to resign.  Their plan is to occupy major intersections in central Bangkok to more or less paralyze traffic.  A number of the intersections are close to our condo which could make getting around town rather difficult.

The graphic below from the Bangkok Post shows the approximate areas where traffic will be impacted.  We live on Rama IV Road in one of the "Crucial Impact" areas.

Mary's school is close to the Asok-Sukhumvit intersection which will be occupied by protesters, and classes have been canceled for Monday.  The status of classes later in the week will depend on how things go on Monday in Bangkok.

I am planning to get out of town early tomorrow morning for work ahead of traffic (same as every workday).  We do live very close to an expressway which should remain open, so I'm optimistic that I may be able to get home tomorrow night.  I'll check with Mary before heading home.  If things are really bad I will just get a hotel near the factory for the night.

We'll keep the blog updates with any new information.