In the past few days, the military takeover here in Thailand has grabbed worldwide headlines. The official rational for the move is to put an end to the political turbulence of the past six months, which has seen endless street protests, the forced resignation of the prime minister and some of her cabinet, and increasing fatalities as the violence threatens to boil over.
Although the images coming out of Bangkok are replete with grim-faced soldiers and policemen, they are not actually guarding every street corner. When I had dinner Friday evening at the Terminal 21 Mall next to the very busy Asoke Skytrain Station, there were no uniforms or rifles to be seen. Just the typical crowd of commuters and shoppers along with wandering tourists deciding on where to eat. The only unusual scenes were the throngs of Thais waiting to ride the city buses, there being far fewer taxis available.
As part of the crackdown, a nighttime curfew has been imposed, requiring everyone to be off the streets by 10:00 PM. I have not found this to be a personal imposition — being fifty-seven years old, I tend to be home by that hour regardless of what the authorities are ordering. For others, however, this is both frustrating and inconvenient. Strolling back to my apartment Friday night at 9:30 along Sukhumvit Road, there was a definite tension in the air as people scrambled to find a way to get home in a hurry. I made it to my comfy studio with fifteen minutes to spare as an eerie quiet descended upon my street, broken only by the occasional car. Rather than being under martial law, it felt like the capital city had been abandoned. In a strange way, I kind of enjoyed it.
Another move the army has made is to close down various media outlets. For the first couple of days, about one third of the cable channels I used to get showed only a colorful display from the “National Peace and Order Maintaining Council”. This included CNN, though I could still get news from the BBC channel and my apartment’s internet connection was not affected.
For the time being, I am not going to make any drastic moves such as a harried midnight flight out of the country. Instead, I’ll continue to keep a low profile and follow the rules, quietly going about my daily routines like everyone else. I do not feel threatened or even inconvenienced — at least not yet — and my feeling here is that it’s best to wait and see what unfolds in the next couple of weeks.
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