What would you do if you knew the country you were going to visit was in the middle of a political protest? Would you travel halfway across the world anyways, or would you cancel your trip due to uncertainty? This was the very real decision I had to make prior to departing for Thailand. The week before leaving, protestors announced they would block major roads and cross sections starting Monday, January 13. Our trip started on January 9, just days before and no one could predict what would happen with the protests. After long deliberation, I decided to go on the trip, determining that regardless of what happened, I would be a part of history.
I definitely made the right decision by going. I was able to experience the progression of the protests and actually see the protestors in multiple locations. One day, we took the sky train home and we passed the protests. I stared down in wonder, and what I saw looked like Occupy Wall Street combined with an outdoor mall. There were people in tents all over the place, and in the streets were pop up stands selling everything from t-shirts to toys to shoes. It seemed peaceful, and even somewhat joyful, as people walked around with friends and children. This reflected the Thai culture since I quickly learned the people were only protesting to get attention in order to get their point across, not to harm anyone or disrupt the peace. Our trip was affected by the protests when tours were cancelled, as was one of our sight visits to Deloitte, but as the Thai taught us, sometimes you just have to let it go and say “mai pen rai”.
I quickly learned that the protests were not to be spoken of in public. They were seen as a family matter to the Thai people, and it was embarrassing for them when other people talked about their personal business. This reflected Thai culture as the people are very proud of their country and adore their king, but they have never been fully satisfied with their government. I thought the most interesting thing about the protests was that even though there were two political parties in disagreement (the red shirts and the yellow shirts), the protestors used the Thai flag as their colors for the protests. It showed me that the protests were not full of people that disagreed with certain political ideas; instead, they were full of people who cared about their country and just wanted to ensure that the people in power had the country’s best interest in mind. This changed my view of politics, since I had always thought of aligning myself with a certain party’s ideas. To support the country as a whole had never come across my mind because I never thought it would be a possibility. The Thai people showed me that not only was it a possibility, it was something that thousands of people are willing to come forward to support.
I am so happy to say that I was in Thailand during this significant time in their history. However, I am glad we got out when we did, since the protests quickly turned violent. The night before leaving for the airport Bangkok declared a state of emergency and set a curfew that everyone had to be home by. This was the point when I started to get scared, so I was relieved when I boarded the plane and flew home. I am extremely thankful that I was able to witness part of Thailand’s history and learn more about their culture, especially since the protests opened my eyes to a new way of looking at politics.