I've been watching events unfold in Thailand, and I have to say I'm just in shock right now. There had been, you may recall on and off protests for the past year or so. Mostly it's based on the division between the poor rural folks in the northeast of Thailand (generally the red shirts) who support the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin and the middle/upper class urban folks in Bangkok (generally the yellow shirts) who support the current PM Abhisit (the side supported by the military, and it is rumored backed by the King). I believe most of my students were yellow-shirts... although Rayong was pretty evenly split between the two groups.
As far as I know, everything in Rayong is fine. The violence has been pretty focused on a few areas in Bangkok... and this afternoon I got a warning email from the US Consulate in Thailand (I can't figure out how to get off the mailing list) that said there's also been some violence in Chiang Mai (a city much more sympathetic to the red-shirts). About a third of the country is under curfew tonight though. And quite frankly, I'm very happy not to be there right now.
One of my favorite places in Bangkok was Siam Center... a complex of really high end malls. Just one BTS stop farther was Central World. I went there once after getting my Visa at the Vietnam consulate. Well, 'Wireless Road' where most of the consulates are, was the site of a lot of the protests, and they've now burned down Central World. Guys - this is BIG. It's not quite World Trade Center big. But it is like setting fire to a building in Time Square. Fortunately, most people have been avoiding the area for a while, and even the red-shirts had been given pretty fair warning that the army was moving in to disburse the protests. But I can't imagine the financial impact this destruction will have.
I'm just in shock about the whole thing. These are the areas where I felt safe, the NICE areas of Bangkok where I went to relax and have fun on my days off. The Thai people in general are so easy going and laid back, that this just seems unreal. But people were killed... right there in the streets, right at the BTS stop where I bought my tacky silver flip flops.
I don't have anything profound to say about this. I just wanted to bring it to your attention. It's one of the things about travel- obscure places that you only hear a 30 second sound bite about in the news become real places, places where I've shopped and eaten. Political struggles are not just among faceless others... but people I taught, shared meals with, held onto dearly on the back of motorbikes.
It seems that the immediate violence is over in Bangkok. But I have no idea if or when this situation will ever be resolved. But right now.... it's a nightmare.