Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The image of foreign tourists lounging on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, oblivious to the present reality of the state of Thai politics and society, with its military dictatorship, suppression of free speech and its political prisoners and exiles, is extremely distasteful. It is perhaps only less distasteful when compared to the appalling image well-off Western tourists enjoying their holiday in Haiti while the local population were ravaged by an earthquake and a cholera epidemic with no clean water or medical facilities.
To be honest, I fail to understand people who travel to another country for a holiday, or for any other reason, without attempting a basic understanding of the state of society in those countries in order to act in a sensitive manner.
But this short article is not really aimed at those idiots who go through life prioritising their own happiness, oblivious to what is going on around them.
Nor is this short article about “safety” issues in travelling to Thailand, where the notoriously inefficient and corrupt police not only fail to deal with crimes against tourists, but are may be even involved in the crimes themselves by colluding with the various mafias that control holiday resorts. And of course, the military who now control the police are no better. [See http://bit.ly/1WjMcfF ]
The issue about whether politically progressive and conscious people should visit Thailand is complicated. I am not really an advocate of individual boycotts which do not work. Collective action is so much more effective. Academics taking a collective decision to boycotting meetings in Thailand would be very useful, but most academics are not politically progressive and conscious people. They are more concerned with their ability to carry out research in Thailand, which means bowing to the diktats of the regime.
I myself have in the past holidayed in Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia, all of which were and still are dictatorships with political prisoners and a lack of freedom. I never travelled to Burma because at the time the leader of the pro-democracy opposition asked tourists not to come, especially because the generals were creaming off the profits from the tourist industry. Yet this same former opposition figure is now a supporter of oppression against the Rohingya.
If you must take a trip for a holiday in Thailand, you should make a serious attempt to educate yourself about what is going on in the country right now. You should understand the present royalist hype without falling into the trap of seeing all Thais as king-lovers. You should understand the repression and be aware of the lèse-majesté prisoners locked up in appalling Thai jails. You should be aware of the lack of justice, the state of prisons and the lèse-majesté law itself. [See http://bit.ly/298T4ZU ]
You should not on any account take part in any nonsense king-related activities or spare an ounce of respect for the royalism of some Thais. You might prudently keep your head down over such matters so as not to be prosecuted or hounded by violent royalist mobs.
You should be aware that the mainstream media in English is totally under the thumb of the military junta.
You should be aware that Thailand and many Thais are very racist due to ruling class socialisation. People from neighbouring countries suffer most from this racism and oppression and you will probably be served food or drinks by oppressed migrant workers earning less than the minimum wage. The daily minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht. Please compare that with your daily expenditure while you are on holiday. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY ]
You should be aware that Thailand is a very unequal society, with a huge gap between rich and poor. This is not just economic, but also social. People of lower status are referred to in derogatory terms, use different words to describe their “superiors” and often have to grovel on the ground in front of those with more power.
Finally you should know that Thai women do not have the right to choose legal and safe abortion and therefore control their bodies. This is enforced in the name of Buddhism, while this same official interpretation of Buddhism condones military violence. Thai women also have to refer to themselves as “little mouse” to show that they are inferior to men. [See http://bit.ly/2hivBxz ]
Whether you chose to holiday in Thailand is your decision. But please don’t tell us exiles about your holiday because it causes us pain as we can never go back to Thailand.