Saturday, February 19, 2011

Look, the Falang is wearing a Red Shirt

I knew I was going to do this at some point.
And I'm also probably going to get yelled at. Oh well.

Walking to the khlong boat stop nearest my apartment with my neighbor, we walked through today's red shirt protest. Somehow I didn't realize it would spread that far out. Let me also mention, we were headed to dress rehearsal (if you're asking for what? you'll have to ask me personally)- wearing red and black as all the actresses are wearing. Oops. I got a bunch of smiles, thumbs up, and of course the usual:
"Where are you from?"
"United States."
"But they don't like red shirts." awkwardly in typical Thai style to diffuse tension - waiting for the traffic to stop so we can cross the other half of the intersection.
"But USA don't like red shirts," he insists several times.
Personally I wonder if he's overheard tourists complaining about red states and misunderstood whose politics were being discussed.
Further awkward smiling on my part and a smiling goodbye on his as we are finally clear to cross.

Even on the khlong boat smiles from Thais in red shirts, thumbs up and nodding and smiling as they try to speak to me in Thai I don't know. Nod, smile, giggle awkwardly, nod, shrug.

After rehearsal we made our way through a gathering I can only presume is for the Buddhist Holiday that began yesterday - careful to let the monks pass without being contaminated by brushing up against women. Then the three of us grabbed pad thai at a stall in Pratunam and caught the khlong boat back home. By now the protest, which tonight seems much more like a street festival, is even more crowded. We get off the boat and I'm getting more attention for my shirt, but not a lot. My Thai American neighbor tells me someone has said "hey look, the falang is wearing a red shirt," in Thai as we passed on the sidewalk. Glad she was able to fill me in.

We're debating about what shortcut to take to get back home through the mess; and we decide to walk straight through. Food stalls, t-shirt vendors, music, dancing, napping, how is this a protest? This seems like a festival. There is live music being broadcast on screens, rock style; people are clapping plastic hand clappers (a man claps his at me, smiling broadly and pointing at my shirt). A monk is offering blessings with what look like incense sticks that he is using to flick water on people. He smiles as I walk by and I get my own splash. Does this make up for the cockroaches of late? In any case I'm happy for an interaction with a monk that wasn't just stepping out of his way on the sidewalk or giving him my bus seat, or the infamous Khao Sarn fakes.
We walk past a t-shirt stall where the t-shirts are decorated with fake bullet wounds, fake blood and an embroidered number of the caliber of the bullet. Reminder.
We walk down a road towards our apartments, past my Thai American colleague's school.
She points out the places people were shot last spring, just in front of her school, and the spot where the Japanese journalist was shot.
It may be a street festival now, before the summer heat has peaked, while the government is only engaged in crowd control. Time will tell which direction things will go. To quote my favorite Bangkok Post Op-Ed writer: it's not as simple as black and white, red and yellow.

Next up: idiotically wandering through a PAD protest in my goldenrod Purdue shirt.

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