Morning walk on Silom – Bangkok, Thailand

Morning Walk on Silom

Bangkok, Thailand

I left the Sukhothai hotel yesterday to buy some glasses for mum. Better vision in Silom. Around £420 for 3 pairs, including some snazzy vari-focals.

A lot of people are wearing yellow at the moment. It’s a king thing. He’s in hospital, apparently, and its front page news. There’s even a Thai bloke behind me in first class on Thai airways back to London, as I write, sporting the obligatory yellow polo with sewn on, embroidered pocket. Mix’s mum was wearing a yellow polo yesterday. She’d come to the Sukhothai to sign a mortgage agreement on her scratch of land in Mae Sai to keep her son out of jail. Having your only means of support in jail isn’t good for cash flow. She’s illiterate. The lawyer (also in yellow polo) had to read it to her, she spent 10 minutes copying out the amount in words so, the lawyer explained, she couldn’t contest it later if I take her to court. She didn’t have the embroidered version. Maybe they’re too expensive for her or she wanted to feel like she “belonged” without shelling out the lolly.

Almost everyone was wearing yellow polos that time of day in Silom. I guess they were mostly office workers on their morning way to work. There were more yellow shirts today than I’d seen the day before. Was this because office workers are more monarchist than, say, taxi drivers and mamasans who I’d met earlier in the week but always much later in the day? Was not wearing a yellow polo a bad career move? Was it because the king was still in hospital? Had it just taken the manufacturers a few days to produce all these polos? There seemed to be a few for sale here and there though.

Why though a yellow polo? Yellow is the king’s birth colour. I noticed today’s Bangkok Post front page had the PM and his wife wearing yellow when they went to the polling station. Thaksin had the “official” one, complete with sewn on pocket. Is this a way of promoting the classless society, but the elite still get to keep the loot? His kids were in trendy street gear. The son looked quite cute in his jeans. The sea of conformity bothers me. If they genuinely love the bloke then why not express it in an individual way? I guess that’s Anglo-saxon/Christian idea.

Twenty million polos at £3 each buys a lot of retro-viral medication for HIV patients in the Kingdom. P, a mate of my Thai ex, who works at Power Buy in Ladprao nevertheless sported one (complete with embroidered pocket) and looked very well in it too. P had TB a year ago. We got him onto a treatment program and continue to help him with the cost, otherwise he’d be dead. He’s never thanked me. It’s not very Thai, apparently. I don’t mind, 70 quid a month bothers me less than my first world guilt watching him die. He loves the king, despite being his subject in the country where no-one seems that bothered if he lives – or not.

I started to feel a spectator, very out of place. The film, The Matrix was huge here. Was it because of the subject matter or the fact that Thais just have the hots for Keanu Reeves? A poll of my Thai friends affirms the latter. No-one really understood the film at all. Analytical thinking isn’t on the agenda, far less critical thought. Life is by rote, do as your “PEE” or elder instructs or wishes. And everything will be OK – if not you’ve got religion to fall back on, that’s just how it was meant to be, better luck next time.

Is it such a bad way to live? And yellow polos need a lot less ironing than starched blouses or business shirts. They’re more comfortable too. It was 30°C already at 9 a.m.

Why was I even thinking about it? As a westerner I was taught at school and at home to understand, not just to learn. But that’s not Thai. The king’s very important to all Thais, almost without exception. In a country where corruption, nepotism and lack of education exclude most of the population from advancing economically or socially he’s the only constant. The only “purity” perhaps. Like the ancient kings of Britain, believed descended from gods, he’s a deity in the minds of most Thais.

Thailand has this effect on me. There’s no sense in me trying to understand a culture that doesn’t apply to my own. As my Thai friends say when asked the question “why” — “just because” is the only answer.

I just hope mum likes the frames.

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