Chiang Mai Walking early in the morning along the moats surrounding the old city with the monks and hookers both sharing curb space in the city, it is somewhat overwhelming to think of piecing together all of this for others. The triteness of a new world with internet hookups, Starbucks, and the ubiquitous 7-11 stores with a powerful constitutional monarchy and daily reports on the health of the King on the front page of the national newspapers makes everything a puzzle with misshapened pieces.
One advice we got repeatedly was not to criticize the King or the monarchy, therefore we did not. We also did not come to understand it, because an abundance of caution chilled the questions.
We also did not wear either red or yellow, not that we would have been mistaken for political actors here. Red shirts predominate in these areas in north for supporters of Thaiksen, the former premier. Yellow shirts were the hot item in Bangkok. The politics seemed to still boil down to how you saw the man and his political ambition and legacy. The New Party launched while we were here and in fact the newly elected deputy chair, a long admired human rights and labor figure, was on our dance card but the election crowded us off the program at the last minute. Corruption charges are hurled at all sides. Parties are ordered disbanded. Health care reform came with the Thaiksen earning him support among the poor, but the yellows believed he was converting the country to a corporatist Singapore wannabe. I’m not sure that we came closer to the facts here, even though we heard the arguments pro and con. The questions of voting on charter changes to the Constitution will be yet another referendum on the future and the past.
At least it was easier in Mae Sot to know where we stood vis a vis the military junta and its repression. There was a hard clarity there that the mess of democracy obscures. Asking about Senator Webb’s initiative to normalize relations because the embargo of Burma has not worked did not produce clarity. In the main after much discussion people would say, keep the embargo, but there was unease everywhere. Nothing was working, and there was close observation about what the famous dissident, Aun Sun Suu Kyi, since she was also seemingly debating with others what her position should be in advance of next year’s election.
I found a copy of a book about the Assembly of the Poor, a rural social movement, that we had barely missed meeting in a Chiang Mai bookstore. I was sorry we had missed them. There were many people everywhere that wanted to visit, but time ran out. We could stay for weeks and not get a better grip on this though. We are going to have to watch this area of Asia closely to see what it teaches us in coming months and years.