I am in Khon Kaen in the North East of Thailand and it is hot and dusty here. This is the dry season in the North East and the countryside is looking very burnt and dead. It is not a pretty place and it is very poor and very crowded. It is geographically flat and there are few trees. The products of human construction – roads and buildings – are quite ghastly and I would not expect many of them to survive even a mild earthquake but fortunately this part of the world sees very few tremors.
The traffic is obscene but I imagine it is miles better here than in Bangkok. I haven’t seen anyone riding a bicycle but there are plenty of scooters and motorbikes. Very few people wear helmets on scooters and motorbikes and I even saw a baby (of around 6 months) on the back of one without a helmet, wedged in between two adults.
I have not seen any sign of the political unrest plaguing Thailand at the moment. I think it is mainly restricted to the center of Bangkok. I have tried to find out what is going on but it is all very confusing and seems to defy logic. There is a female prime minister here, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was elected democratically. She is very popular with the rural poor who make up the vast majority. However, the wealthy elite living in Bangkok dislike her and want the military to kick her out, in other words, they want a coup. This just seems completely absurd. Here we have a democratically elected government and a well-educated wealthy group of people want a military coup to oust it. Extraordinary!
I have asked people here why she is disliked by the wealthy elite in Bangkok and the explanation is as follows (please bear in mind that I have no evidence for any of this other than what local people have told me): The prime minister has done lots to help the poor in Thailand, including providing access to cheap health care. This has meant that medical professionals have taken a deep cut to their income as they can no longer charge the poor large sums of money for treatment. So it seems that what they object to are what can probably be described as socialist policies. I guess this makes a bit more sense now although it is still quite extraordinary and I’m sure it is more complicated than this. There is going to be an election this coming Sunday and so there is sure to be violence as a result. Fortunately, we leave on Saturday.
We are not here as tourists but to visit my Thai mother. I was born in Bangkok and spent the first three years of my life living in Khon Kaen where I had a Thai nanny. She looked after me from when I was seven days old and moved back to Australia with us and lived much of her life there, even becoming an Australian citizen. Much to my sadness, she moved back to Thailand a couple of years ago to be near her extensive family and so this is my first visit here since I left as a small child. I have realised also that it is my first visit – except for when I was little – to a developing country. Yes, I know, I’ve lived a privileged existence.
I love Thai food, especially the fruit: paw paws, mangoes, lychees, mangosteins. Here’s a photo of some mangosteins for anyone who has no idea what these things are. They taste a bit like lychees.