Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 312: Bangkok ... Business as unusual ...

"For almost seven weeks, Red Shirt demonstrators have brought the commercial heart of Bangkok to a complete standstill". That’s what you’ll read in Thailand’s English language newspapers, The Nation and the Bangkok Post. It’s probably also being reported that way by the BBC. "The commercial heart of Bangkok?" For a tourist perhaps, but for your average Thai it's the centre of absolutely nothing.

The shopping centres of Zen, Central World, Erawan and Siam Paragon are all closed for business, as are some of the more exclusive International Hotels, but does your regular Thai give a flying crap about that? Probably not. For your average Thai, the above mentioned places are vanity venues where you might go to impress a new date. They'll go there to window shop for Prada, Louis Vuitton, Burberry or even a Porsche before heading off to their own markets to buy a locally made copy ... well perhaps not the Porsche .... mai pen rai

These shopping centres are certainly not where you’ll find most Thai’s spending their hard earned Baht. No, these places are simply money magnets for the tourists. If protesters in London closed down New Bond Street for a few weeks, would your own life be dramatically bent out of shape? Probably not, and in that respect the Red Shirts have chosen their location quite wisely.

As you walk the streets within the encampment, aside from the many Thai owned 7/11 Mini Markets, every recognisable 'Western' retail outlet is closed, but every 'Thai' outlet is open for business as usual. The Red Shirt’s have no need, and no money, for the delicacies and trinkets offered in the Western shops. They can live without their skinny latte’s and the things that they do need, they tend to make for themselves inside of the encampment.

Here, a Thai girl is making quite comfortable sleeping mats from discarded plastic water bottles. The intricate weaving pattern provides an amazing cushioning effect. Mine for 50 Baht (£1). I’ve slept on one for two nights and have absolutely no complaints. Behind her you’ll see waterproof blankets made from discarded noodle packets. The seams are welded together with a hot iron and while it’s not Gore-Tex, it’s a hell of a lot better than the so-called 'waterproofing' on many Western products. Again, mine for only 50 Baht (£1). This is Thailand and absolutely nothing is wasted ... mai pen rai

Red is the colour of the protesters and "Truth Today" their slogan. Within the encampment you can buy an amazing range of regalia. Headbands, tee shirts, big-clappy-hands, big-wavy-fingers and even washable diapers. The official protest patches are available from a makeshift store and business is really quite brisk. I can’t help but smile to myself when I notice that the ‘Official Regalia Store’ is surrounded by similar stores all selling underpants. Being a diplomat, I try to keep the irony to myself …… mai pen rai

There are certain things that any tourist must understand before coming to Thailand. Always smile, don’t ever lose your temper and never point the sole of your foot towards another person. For Thai’s, the sole of the foot is the lowest part of the body and pointing it at another person is the worst insult imaginable. On another stall I find flip-flops for 40 Baht. On the soles of the flip-flops are the faces of members of the current government, including Prime Minister Aphisit. I didn’t buy a pair ….. mai pen rai

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