Saturday, May 24, 2014

Geography Lessons Anyone?

Really Vancouver, you can do better than this.  The coup was in THAILAND.
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I can't be too critical of this Canadian journalist though, we've had American friends and even relatives make the same mistake about where we live.

The Thai military has raided numerous strongholds of protest groups over the last two days.  Large arms caches have been found on both sides of the political spectrum showing just how precarious the "peaceful" political protests had become.

Today feels like another normal day in Bangkok.  Mary is muscling through her final weekend of all day Saturday and Sunday grad school classes.  After this weekend only a final project will stand between her and a Masters Degree!  Work has been extremely busy for me lately and I'm spending another weekend catching up on work from home.  We'll meet up for Mexican food and margaritas this evening and make sure to be home before the 10 PM military curfew kicks in.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Junta

Have you ever wondered how being governed by a military junta would affect you life?

Bases my experience today in Thailand, there is little impact.  Here's how my day went:

  • Get up at 5:35 AM, get ready for work
  • Arrive at work, 7AM (10 minutes later than normal, traffic was bad)
  • Work, work, work
  • Leave work 4:40 PM
  • Arrive home 6:00 PM
  • Work more from home
  • Go out to supper with my lovely wife at 7:30 PM
  • Home at 9:00 PM
  • Play Nintendo Wii with Mary until she wants to go to sleep
Today was like any other day, except my "coupmute" to work took 10 minutes extra.  I assume this is due to pent up traffic from the overnight curfew that is in place (10PM - 5AM).

To be honest, if it wasn't for social media we might not even know anything had happened.

I know some family members are concerned after watching overly dramatic reports on TV in the US. We are taking extra precautions, but there is not much need to worry about us right now.  Protests have been disbursed, and we are probably safer right now than we have been in 6 months.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

While the internet is still on

If you were going to plan a coup, how would you do it?

I must admit, this was well planned.  The military arrested almost all key protest leaders at once.

Two days ago martial law was declared.  Yesterday the military invited various protest leaders to the Thai Army Club for a discussion on how to resolve the current political crisis.  Many from both sides attended.  The discussion was reportedly productive, but no conclusions were drawn.  Key players were invited back for more discussion today.  A few key players were cautious and avoided joining yesterday, but how many politicians do you know that would sit on the sidelines while powerbrokers laid out the future political landscape?  Nearly everyone attended today.  After more productive discussion this morning it seems they found themselves locked in, surrounded by heavily armed soldiers.

And that is how a coup happens.

If it looks like a duck, and smells like a duck...'s not a duck until the Thai military says it's a duck.

It is now officially a duck (coup if you didn't catch where I was going with this).

I'm stuck on a conference call, and Mary just got back from successfully raiding local convenience stores for non-perishables.  A military curfew starts shortly.

The military is reported to be rounding up pro and anti government demonstration leaders. The head of the military (General Prayuth) is reportedly in charge of Thailand right now.

Malls, 7 Elevens, and mass transit services are reported to be shutting down shortly.  There have been isolated reports of fighting between soldiers and protesters in suburban Bangkok.

Most TV stations are off the air, although twitter and facebook are alive at well for the time being.  At least we don't have kids to entertain during the coup.  What would we we do?  Even the Disney Channel is down!

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The good news out of all this is that Thailand has more experience with military coups than maybe any other country in the world.  I'm not sure what the official count is, but it has to be close to 20 in the last 100 years.  We should be back to normal before long.  Time for friends and family to start booking trips to come see us before it's time for the next coup in a few years!

Time for me to hit the "publish" button.  The latest reports on Twitter is that internet service providers are in the process of being shut down now.  We'll update when we can.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thailand Still Under Martial Law

So far martial law seems to be working out okay for Thailand.  There are many military check points set up around the city, but so far this has just been a show of force.  Not that you would want to challenge these guys, they are heavily armed.

Photo below is from Thai PBS, one of the news outlets in Thailand that has not been shut down.  Many others were shut down yesterday.

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There have been searches at some road checkpoints, but so far I haven't personally had any problems with my commute (1 hour + by car each way daily).  I've just been waved past checkpoints by rather bored looking soldiers.  After the initial shock to traffic Tuesday morning, traffic has actually been quite light as many people are avoiding any unnecessary travel or using public transit.

International press has been generally critical of the declaration of martial law in Thailand, but people here seem relieved.  I saw poll data today that said 75% of Thais approve of the decision to use martial law to try and de-escalate the political situation here.  The actual number might be questionable as the press is being censored, but through my personal interaction with many Thais this number seems roughly accurate.

We are optimistic at this point that the military may be able to play a neutral role in calming things down.  Last night was there first night in months where there were no bombings or shootings in the city.  It's still too early to draw any final conclusions, but this seems like a positive thing right now.

For the most part life is going on as normal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Martial Law

Martial law was declared this morning in Thailand.  It's unclear right now whether the interim government or the military is in charge right now.  The feeling on social media this morning is that this is going in one of two possible directions.

  1. Military coup to remove current interim government
  2. Leave the interim government in place and shut down the pro and anti government demonstrations
We'll see in the coming hours and days.

The declaration of martial law gives the military the following authority.
  • Take action against war or riots;
  • Use arms to suppress unrest;
  • Search, confiscate or occupy any premises or vehicles;
  • Censor information;
  • Block, search and control postal services;
  • Activate the military court to judge on crimes within the area under martial law;
  • Mobilize civilians to help the military;
  • Procure resources such as vehicles or logistical materials to support military operations;
  • Prohibit public gatherings, publications, broadcasting, transport, communication, travel, the movement of people or any action that the Defence Ministry deems necessary;
  • Enforce curfews;
  • Destroy, remove or adjust any premise or location for the purpose of military operations;
  • Arrest and detain suspects for a maximum of seven days.
  • People are not entitled to any compensation for damage incurred during such military operations;
  • Martial law can only be ended with a Royal Decree.
At this point the military is in control of most TV stations (although normal programming has continued), and traffic checkpoints are up all over the city.  If you thought normal Bangkok traffic is bad, try visiting today!  

Mary and I are both at work today and going about our lives as normal.  We will post updates here as they become available.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thailand Political Turmoil Continues

With our recent trip to Australia behind us we are back to our normal busy lives in Bangkok.  This continues to include closely monitoring the political situation here as things are still quite unstable.

This past week Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from her position as Prime Minister by the courts for abuse of power.  This ruling related to the transfer of the national security chief shortly after Yingluck came to power in 2011, clearing the way for a family member to move into the position.  Later in the week she was also found guilty of corruption related to a government rice purchase program.

This has only inflamed tension between pro and anti government demonstrators with some people claiming the courts decisions were politically motivated.  Yingluck's political party immediately appointed a new interim prime minister (another close insider to the Shinawatra family), but anti government protesters are claiming they will appoint their own government this coming week.  There have been numerous isolated instances of violence, but no all out clashes thus far.  Road closures due to protests continue to cause headaches.  The pictures below show two different instances of tourists that were forced out of their taxis by protesters blocking highways (pictures from Twitter).  That's a long walk to the airport!

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

We have also regularly seen protesters passing by our condo, often temporarily closing down the road.  Fortunately this doesn't usually last for long as none of the protest destinations have been right by our condo.

While we do spend a fair bit of time following what's going on politically, for the most part our lives go on as normal.  Last weekend we managed to slip away for three days and two nights in Phuket.  We had a wonderful and relaxing time at the beach!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Australia Part III: We live in a van, down by the ocean

Sorry this third post on Australia has taken so long to publish.  The reality that vacation is over and now we have to work has been very evident.  Mary has been working on a grad school class on top of work, and all this has left little time for reminiscing about the great time we had in Australia.  Thankfully today is Labor Day in Thailand and I am off from work, so it's time to write a blog.

After seeing the sights in Melbourne and Sydney we rented a camper van and spent the next six days and five nights exploring the Australian coast.  We picked up the van on the south side of Sydney and dropped it off six days later in suburban Melbourne.  The van was a basic minivan that had been modified to be used as a camper.  It was not luxurious, but it worked perfectly for what we needed.  The back seats could be reconfigured into either a kitchen table or a bed, and the back of the van opened up into a small kitchen with a stove, sink, and battery powered fridge.

We had a rough plan for what areas we wanted to stop each night, but no firm plans.  We stayed in campgrounds each night so that we had access to some basic facilities.  A few nights even had hot showers.  Mostly we picked campgrounds by driving through an area and deciding if the place looked worth exploring.

Day 1
Our first day took us from Sydney to Depot Beach near the town of Bateman's Bay.  The day was rainy, but the drive was still beautiful.  You don't have to go far outside of Sydney to feel like you're far from the big city.  The rain combines with the rolling green coastal hills covered with sheep really reminded me of Scotland.  We drove across the scenic Sea Cliffs Bridge, enjoyed lunch at a beach side diner, and spotted our first wild kangaroo.

Depot Beach is nestled back into Murramarang National Park consisting of mountains and dense rain forest right up to the ocean.  It also proved to be heavily populated by kangaroos.  As it was a cool rainy autumn day in the middle of the week there were only a few other people in the entire campground and we enjoyed the cool salty air and peaceful sound of crashing waves.

Day 2
On day two we drove from Depot Beach to the town of Mallacoota stopping at a number of locations along the way.  The main highway follows an inland route for much of the way, but we took a secondary road that followed the coast.  The views along the coast were wonderful, and the one lane wooden bridges across coastal inlets were charming.

We enjoyed stops in the towns of Bermagui and Tathra where we purchased some local smoked tuna, crackers, and cheddar cheese for a sunny lunch on the beach.

It was comfortably warm in the sun, but the wind off the water kept things cool enough to keep us out of the water.  Tathra had also recently suffered their first fatal shark attack which further discouraged us from taking a dip.

The campground in Mallacoota was a bit of a disappointment.  Mallacoota is located on a dead on road about 30 minutes off the main highway.  The road continues about 15 km past Mallacoota along the coast, and we had planned on continuing on this road to the isolated campground at Shipwreck Creek, however about 2 km outside of Mallacoota we realized the road was best handles with a burly 4 wheel drive off-road sort of vehicle.  The camper van just wasn't meant to go to Shipwreck Creek.  As it was starting to get dark we settled for Malacoota.

Day 3
After a delicious breakfast at a water side cafe in Malacoota we headed out to find our next stopping point.  We had originally planned a long driving day to somewhere along 90 mile beach, just past Lakes Entrance.  Perhaps we would have found something wonderful there, we'll never know.  We had planned to explore some beaches near the town of Marlo on the way, and after driving only about an hour we stumbled across a lovely and almost entirely deserted campground at Cape Conran (not a town, just some rocks sticking out into the ocean).  We decided it was worth staying.  We did still have to make a 30 minute drive to the nearest grocery store in Orbost, but the drive was scenic and we still had plenty of time to explore the beaches and inlets around Marlo and Cape Conran.

The park ranger told us there was lots of wildlife in the park and campground, but we mostly just saw kangaroos and bushy tailed possums (that were very interested in our dinner).

Day 4
We planned to spend our last two nights in Wilson's Promontory National Park, and after our short drive the day before we had a long way to go on day four.  The day was rather rainy, so we were okay not making many stops.

We did commit to one stop though, and that was to find a true Australian style hamburger.  Many people many not know this, but Australians take burgers very seriously, and a true Australian burger comes with quite a pile of fixings
  • Hamburger
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato
  • Fried onions
  • Bacon
  • Fried egg
  • Beetroot
  • Cheese and pineapple are also common, but are not must haves
We chose a local place in a small town that looked like it should have a good burger, and it did.  The Club Hotel in Yarram was not a high class establishment, but the burger was amazing.  The place turned out to be more of a pool hall and gambling den than a restaurant, but oh was that burger good.  It was affordable too.  Restaurants in Australia are generally quite expensive, but for $10 we were able to enjoy a large delicious burger and a beer.  Well worth the stop.

We arrived at our destination in the late afternoon just as the rain was moving out.  We spent two nights at Wilson's Promontory ("the prom" as it called by the locals).  I would have happily spent 10 more.  What an amazing place!  Mountains, forests, grasslands, beaches, rivers, and loads of wildlife!

We had time our first night for a hike before it got dark.  We did a two hour hike from the campground along the coast to another nearby beach.  For a short while we even had a wallaby leading the way.  Every time we would take a step, he'd hop on down the trail.  Perhaps this would not be as much fun if you're from Australian, but animals that bounce are just so new and fascinating to us, especially seeing them in the wild!

The campground was decent.  It was rather crowded, but the sites were a decent size and the facilities included hot showers.  As it's autumn in Australia it got dark rather early, around 6 PM.  This left us plenty of time to cook in the evenings after the sun went down.  We don't cook much in Thailand (street food can feed us both for $2-3 per meal), so it's a treat to cook for ourselves once in a while.  We mostly stuck to our favorite recipes, but I decided to get creative for one night.  Lamb chops with a plum / mint / red wine reduction sauce turned out to be delicious.

Day 5
We had a full day available to explore Wilson's Prom, and explore we did.  We hiked a lot.  Three different hikes in total.

The first hike was to the worlds southern most mangrove forest at Millers Landing.  This also proved to be a superb bird watching site and we sat on a rock for quick a while just watching all the different water fowl.

From the mangrove forest we hiked directly up to the top of Vereker Overlook.

Our last hike was along the Darby River out to a beach where we enjoyed a picnic lunch.

Over the course of the three hikes we saw quite a bit of wild life.  Kangaroos, wallabies, all sorts of birds (including emus), jellyfish, and even a feral cat.

While all those animals were fun to see, the best animal spotting had to be the echidna. As some of you know, Mary's classroom name at the Australian International School of Bangkok is the echidna class.  While we hoped to see an echidna while in Australia, we did know they are quite rare.  Many Australians we know have never seen one, so we did not really expect to see one ourselves.

Mary spotted it first, screaming "AHHHH, WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT" while jumping up and down and stumbling backward.  She then proudly turned around, and with a giant grin announced, "It's an echidna!"  A peculiar creature this was.  It looks like a cross between a porcupine and anteater.  And when it sits still, it looks just like a bush.

Day 6
Our last day with the van meant we had to drive back to Melbourne to drop off the van by 2PM.  After a delicious breakfast of English muffins topped with avocado, eggs,and smoked cheddar, we had time for one last short walk near the campground.

What an amazing trip.  We hope to be back someday to explore more of this amazing continent!