Wednesday, June 16, 2010


A few winters ago, I traveled to China for a piece and from there decided to traipse through Southeast Asia for a few months more. My head filled with the type of astounding music being unearthed in that part of the world by the Sublime Frequencies imprint, I was on the lookout for such musical encounters when I arrived in Thailand. We walked the night markets, in search of records, totally unaware of what might be great and what would be treacle, and came away with nothing. But one night, we could hear the thud of bass, the chirp of singing, and pushed deeper into the market, past the blankets laid over the parking lots, towards a hastily-erected stage in the middle of the concrete lot.

At first glance, it seemed like the real deal, a concert of Thai music. As we got closer, it instead looked like the world's mightiest karaoke soundsystem, complete with film flashing behind the singers. Only as my friends and I drew towards the crowd though did the onslaught of red flags, banners, and shirts denote something much different: a rally in support of exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. So as news about the violent rioting in Bangkok and rising death toll rolls out, I am struck by how such a small, inconsequential thing grew since my departure, to the point of death, fire and destruction. I still worry about my friends and the peaceful strangers I encountered at every turn there, yet communicating with fellow travelers who are still there, few could say much about the turmoil.

Talking with a budding Buddhist the other day and her vision of travel there, I realized that the country remains this slate for westerners to impart their own vision upon. Even a Times piece unpacks the notion of democracy in part of that world, how Thailand has to be an example of such governance. Our insistence on it being such a beacon pressurizes the strife. There were many places I stayed where it seemed the town had been overrun by expats simply seeking a space without an identity that they could practice their spirituality or dietary concerns in, rarely venturing into the Thai society around them. So even as such atrocities rage on, a piece about how tourists in Phuket remain oblivious to the violence isn't all that shocking either. And yet I still think of returning there, of finishing myriad short stories begun there about the search for spirituality within that country's folds, and how outsiders continue to think that peace and serenity resides there (or the young women to make into passive wives). Who there can hear the gunshots?