The Thailand you have always known.


We’ve all just lived through a very difficult and for many, unbelievable climax to a very prolonged demonstration by the redshirts. Many have died. Buildings have been burnt down and billions of Baht worth of property destroyed.

I expect that many of you are feeling uneasy about what this means. Has Thailand changed? It will be impossible to ever recover that place it held for you. You may wonder what did you miss – how could such a wonderful people, so gentle and kind as they’ve always been, become so agitated as to purposely destroy each others’ lives in such an extreme way.

At 8 AM and 6 PM every day, the national anthem is played. Have you ever listened to what it means? Thais love peacefulness. But when there’s a reason – they will fight without reservation. I think we’ve just seen such a fight. Don’t begin to think that the Thailand you’ve loved and known has changed. Things aren’t coming apart. We have now seen a crisis that has bubbled through to the outwardly happy surface of Thai society, revealing the depth and seriousness of Thai values.

We are here as guests in another’s house. And it’s up to those of the household to sort out the difficulties. It’s not my purpose to bring up the politics or even really discuss the issues that are at the core of the matter. I would like to pass on a couple of thoughts from some Thai friends that I’ve found personally helpful.

There is no birthing process that takes place without struggle and blood. The struggles are a necessary part of growth and learning. As democracy continues to develop here, and as people grow in their understanding, knowledge and involvement, it’s inevitable that clashes will occur between democratic government, the powers that be, and the powers that want to be. In most of our countries, this process has been extremely bloody. Thais it seems to me, are moving through this process with much more care and regard for human life than many of our own countries did during the growth of democracy there.

Many of you weren’t here during the time of this article. Notice the date.Things will get back to normal.


Much of what we’re seeing in Thailand today, is a continuation of the growth of democracy. Certainly there are non-democratic issues you might say. I’m sure there are but they all seem to stem from a lack of aspects of democracy, such as the fact that money has always been used to buy votes. Such as the fact that a large proportion of the society has traditionally relied on what community leaders said in order to be informed and largely never cared if it didn’t appear to affect their daily lives. In order for Thailand to change quickly in some of the ways that many foreigners have suggested would require nothing less than a complete revolution of education, government, finance, and the very social fabric that makes up Thai society. We are living in a country that has been operated by mostly benevolent ‘elder rule’ for centuries. One can see this in every family unit, locally owned business, as well as nationally in every reference to the King.

All of a sudden, a great number of people want to be involved in politics. This can’t happen quickly without major upheaval and loss. Whenever the democratic process advances, stress and conflict will rise. Much of what has brought this ongoing struggle to a head, has been the fact that a growing number of people have become involved in issues that they’d have never thought about as little as 5 years ago.

Many, perhaps most of us live here because we have found the Thai people to be amazing. I want to say that nothing has changed. You may fear that Thailand can never be the same for you again. You’ve simply seen an aspect of the Thai that is normally hidden and reserved from your sight – fortunately. While death is tragic, perhaps we might have the grace and understanding to compare this transition to similar transitions in our own histories. They were often much more tumultuous.

The balance demonstrated throughout this crisis, between a firm stand, and a willingness to listen to opposing views was educational. Typically there have always been games being played on all sides. The big picture, the underlying question that will continued to be answered is what is the best path for the future. It is in the interest of the Thai people to stay united, so while the path to greater unity and broader involvement may not be smooth, it will continue to progress in an overall positive way.

(You can read Part 2 at:


David, I agree with you. Let’s let those with “jai yen” prevail.

I do think on the whole, societies move towards greater complexity and participation. Let’s hope that historical process continues here. I also have been in the thick of events, as, as many of you know, I work as a photographer. It has been tempting, almost impossible to resist the urge to side with one group or another. When I have found myself doing so, terrible events brought me back to my senses. I was at Democracy Monument on April 10 and more recently at Silom, when grenades were launched into anti-Red protesters with horrific effect. Now I have witnessed and recorded the remarkable and terrible events of the last few days on both sides of the front-lines. In war, people behave in the worst and best ways. I know, whatever position I have momentarily taken, has been based on partial information and the fury unfolding around me. In the middle of conflict and death, it is possible, even desirable, not to cling to opinion. Time will prove it limited and wrong.

We are guests here. It can be unique vantage from which to view other human beings from the distance of our own cultures. Perhaps it can give us insight into our own hearts and the bias we carry. In the midst of chaos I have been treated with great kindness, sleeping on the floors of strangers and lifted over barricades by helping hands to safety. All this as a guest in the house of another. It has taught me much about Thai culture – most of which I am sure to realize at a later date.

Looking forward to seeing everyone back in class, Terry


I HOPE!!! It’s becoming America with the TWO sides. Whatever happened to “Sa Bai Sa Bai”? I hope this is not a reqiem for a dream…Thailand is a wonderful place, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to travel. REGARDLESS of the turmoil.


A very thoughtful article David and I concur with what Terry has said.

However, I am more pessimistic than most because the fundamental issues that were present before the protest began are still extant, only now the hatred is more deep seated. The only “resolution” there has been is the fact that the protest site has been broken up; as far as I can see, all other issues plus hundreds of dead and wounded, remain.

But you are right to remind those of us from a western liberal culture that our own struggle through to relaising basic democractic rights has often been a bloody and violent one. This itself raises the question as to whether true democratic progress from basically a feudal state can be achieved without bloodshed and violence? Elites rarely give up the status quo voluntarily.

Throughout this past month or so, I have had unfailing courtesy from all those I have met on both sides of the divide, as has my mother Irene. And on a crazy night a few days ago, I was taken into safety nearby Petchburi Road to save myself from my foolish attempt to get up Sukhumvit “the back way” at 11 o’clock at night! Thank you to those kind Thai persons whoever you were.

Thailand has been good to me since I stumbled into the country in 1996 and I hope to stay a lot longer.

See you all early in June after my short trip to the UK with Irene.



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