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Post 313: Removing the Barricades? .....

Just when I was beginning to think that there’d be no swift solution to this political unrest, once again Thailand might have surprised me. It seems that Prime Minister Aphisit Vejjajiva will soon announce that a compromise has been reached with the Red Shirts. To understand the significance of this, if indeed it’s true, then it‘s important to understand that ‘Compromise’ in Asia has a slightly different meaning to ‘Compromise’ in the West. Here in Bangkok, ‘Compromise’ probably has as much to do with ‘Saving Face’ as it does to ‘Saving Lives’.

Aphisit’s term as Prime Minister was due to run until 2012 but the protestors had originally demanded that the government be immediately dissolved and new elections be held within one month. Even if this demand had been both logical and achievable, it would never have been accepted. By accepting, Aphisit would have appeared weak and therefore he would have lost face. Aphisit countered the demand with a promise to hold new elections within 12 months, but by accepting this first counter proposal the Red Shirt’s would also have lost face. Whatever compromise has actually been reached will result in both sides walking away from the turmoil each looking as if they’ve won a great victory. The reality of the situation matters little, it’s the perception that's all important.

Face is similar to what we would call ’Respect’, but it’s far deeper than that. ‘Face’ is all encompassing, more important than money, more important than love, and in many cases more important than life itself. ’Face’ and ’Respect’, as the Thai’s would say, are ’Same same but different’. That’s one reason why you’ll seldom win a fight and never win an argument with a Thai. It’s something that I’ve discovered to my own cost, but I’m slowly learning to go with the Asian flow. If a Thai tells me that my Triumph Tiger is painted a shade of blue, I’ll agree with him. I’ll then delicately drop into the conversation the fact that although he’s absolutely right, in a certain light it also turns to a deep shade of orange. We’ll both nod, smile and share another beer. Everybody is happy, nobody is wrong, everybody saves face …. mai pen rai

Last night, there was none of the gunfire of the previous evenings. The masked and menacing protesters who arrive each night to man the barricades seemed to have lost much of their anger. Last night, instead of hurling rocks and taunting the well armed soldiers that surround the camp, they mingled with the more peaceful faction in what turned out to be the largest street party that I’ve ever attended.

As day breaks, the atmosphere both in and outside of the camp is much more relaxed. The barricades are open and traffic is allowed to pass through more freely. Outside, the police sit around enjoying the calm. This is Thailand as it normally is, everybody smiling. I can only hope that it lasts. My few days inside of the encampment have been an experience and I’m glad that I've been here. But, this is a side of Thailand that I hope never to see again ….. mai pen rai

1 comment:

taxi said...

... what is sad and amazing to some degree is that there is no sense of what you have been telling us in the International press.... As you said the headlines here do not reflect the reality you see on the ground... the difference is the ability to see the whole picture from the viewpoint of the inside Vs the summarization of what can be seen from the outside.