In twelve years of teaching internationally in four countries on four continents, I have never missed a day of school due to political unrest. Until today.
The Red Shirts
It has been estimated that one million members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or UDD (also nicknamed the Red Shirts) will converge on Bangkok this weekend in support of ousted prime minister Thaksin Sinawatra. Thaksin has most recently been in the news when, last Friday, the Supreme Court of Thialand confiscated $1.4 billion of his 2.3 billion fortune after finding him guilty of illegally concealing his ownership of a family company and abusing his power for his own financial gain. Ultimately, the Red Shirts plan to pressure the government into dissolving the House and calling a general election. For a more in-depth explanation and analysis of this conflict, go to Newley.com and this article from the New York Times.
Thwarted weekend plans
We had planned a beach weekend on Koh Samed with a group of friends this weekend but, as the work week wore on, the logistics for our trip grew increasingly complicated. We knew there would be an unprecedented amount of traffic moving in and out of the city over the weekend and so, on Tuesday evening, DP and I decided to stay home rather than face getting stuck on the highway. This turns out to have been a great call.
By midday on Wednesday, the Director of our school made the decision to send students and teachers home at 11:30 a.m. on Friday so we could avoid the flood of traffic that was expected to begin by midday. By the end of the day, everyone on our little Koh Samed expedition had pulled out so we cancelled the van, speedboat and hotel reservations.
On Thursday, the Director announced that school would also remain closed on Monday and that teachers would teach their classes online. While the kids celebrated their upcoming three and a half-day weekend, I felt an explosion of butterflies in my belly. I know that our Director is being cautious in order to keep us safe but this kind of school cancellation means that people who have been in Bangkok much longer than we have are genuinely concerned about the current political climate.
The Director also forwarded a message from the US Embassy Warden’s Office advising us to stock up on groceries, water and in-house entertainment. Essentially, we were advised to hunker down for a weekend at home. We were also advised to avoid large crowds. (Um, yeah!) DP and I headed to our neighbourhood grocery store after school on Wednesday where we bumped into no less than ten teachers and parents from our school. We saw a clerk at the store pricing goods and joked that the prices of everything just went up. A colleague made a comment about how much food we had in our cart. We rarely buy groceries but we took seriously our preparations for this unexpected long weekend (or possibly longer) at home. This is a notably high level of vigilance from the same couple who, on New Year’s Eve of Y2K had take-out for dinner, watched a rented movie and went to bed. We had no extra cash and not so much as a can of soup in DPs apartment.
People on a train
On Thursday after school, we went to see “Alice in Wonderland” at the Emporium Mall. As we were waiting for the train, I looked around at the people waiting. Secretaries and shop girls getting off work, students in their uniforms, and mothers with little children. I felt strangely connected to all of these people as we waited for our train inside the weird static of the waiting for the weekend’s events to unfold as they will. In that moment, I felt like Bangkok was my home.
On our way back on the Sky Train, we saw the headlights of miles of traffic, in all directions, stalled in gridlock. All of those people wanting desperately to get home… or get away from the City of Angels.
The demonstrators begin to arrive
This morning flew by as I met with students and cleared out my inbox. At noon, I walked home unceremoniously. Our soi (sub-street) off Sukhumvit Road was so deserted that one could have bowled on it. The shanty town next to our apartment building is now completely empty and I wonder where all of those people have gone and why. In fact, it’s been so weirdly quiet in the city today that we could hear kids playing in backyards and pools in our neighbourhood. I have never before heard the sound of childrens’ laughter over the noise of the city (and I liked it). I’ve been following Newley Purnell and goeast2 on Twitter and, so far, the demonstrations downtown have been peaceful. We’ll see how things go on Sunday March 14th which is the day of the actual demonstrations.
I’ll be posting here over the weekend… mostly so that our moms don’t worry too much.
Even though the photograph above is not mine, I am submitting this post to Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.