Things are very quiet in Chiang Mai so here there is little sense of the drama happening in Thailand’s capital. I mainly rely on the headlines from bangkokpost.com which come through my news feed, and I’ve also been reading more comprehensive articles about the continuing political tension in Thailand as reported by ABC News and the BBC (thanks Don).
Now I am actually gaining some first hand experience. Yesterday I was at the the City Hall for Chiang Mai province which is on the northernmost outskirts of the city. My introduction to Thai bureaucracy to gain a sponsored work permit. The first thing I noticed was that the whole site was crawling with army personnel. As you venture closer to the main building, the perimeter of the imposing and well-kept administration block is surrounded by razor-wire and large free standing concrete blocks that are high enough that a soldier could crouch behind one with a gun. After signing in we also had to have a photo taken, and apparently the photo bit isn’t normal – it’s an extra security precaution. And as soon as we made it through to the entrance, what did we see? Riot gear.
The gear was all lined up, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice to keep the crowds at bay. This isn’t something I’ve seen before so for the first time since I arrived here this sight really brought home the fact that there is real conflict happening in Thailand, and it could get a lot worse and spread up north. All the security measures I saw did not feel like an empty threat in the least: at the moment it’s like a game of Jenga and it won’t take much for the tower to topple. The Red Shirts have been relatively quiet up in this province with only some minor infractions, but that’s not to say it will stay this way because they have legions of supporters up here – this is, after all, Red Shirt Country.
War has been on my mind for other reasons too. It was Anzac Day on Sunday in Australia and I think my feelings about it are summed up pretty well by a great article that appeared in The Australian. But I do feel that my family has been directly affected by war, even though it wasn’t WWI, so what I personally draw from Anzac Day is a sobering reminder of the human cost of war. In addition, for the past month I’ve been reading Small Island by Andrea Levy, which is about the impact of WWII on Britons and Jamaicans who got caught up in the war like pawns in a chess game. It’s an intriguing account of an aspect of British and Jamaican history I knew nothing about.
I’m also into baking Anzac biscuits and this year I had extra reason to: I wanted to introduce my workmates to Australian food. So I hunted around for ingredients on the weekend at two of the foreign-friendly supermarkets, and yesterday morning I used this great recipe to whip up a big batch of biscuits before work. I used three tablespoons of honey instead of two tablespoons of golden syrup, which is relatively expensive here – and the biscuits came out a treat. The biscuits have been a hit with my workmates and neighbours, including my landlady, and I’ve still got a few left for my Aussie friends and Thai teacher. I’ve told everyone the story of how these biscuits were invented, but I get the impression they’ve all been too busy eating to pay attention to my Australian history lesson!