There were a number of reasons why I applied for a seat in Bangkok: I’d spent some time here in the past and was curious to see how different expat life would be to the backpacker life I had already experienced.
Sure I had heard about the great work, the better work-life balance and the wonderful people here, and while all that is true it’s not like the London office is the opposite picture.
Bangkok is a city with everything. Everyone knows about the temples, the street food and the notorious nightlife, but beyond the phat thai and go-go bars Bangkok also offers ice skating, steam railways and the world’s largest teak building. I set about trying to experience as much of the alternative Bangkok as possible and even joined the local Ultimate Frisbee team only to find much of my activities curtailed due to civil unrest.
When it started back in March, I went down to the protests and had a chat with some red shirts who were selling, well, red shirts. To be honest it was more like a big party than a highly charged political action. It was like a post-modern protest: instead of anger there was dancing, instead of fighting there was shiatsu. You could even get your hair cut or eat some street food. I thought I was witnessing something ground-breaking, ideas to take back to the UK. I mean, why can’t politics be fun? Why can’t I display my displeasure at the government and get a foot massage at the same time? Or cast a vote while ordering a green curry? I was so impressed with the conduct of the red shirts that I took my girlfriend down there when she came to visit a few weeks later.
“Honestly, it’s like a big party,” I told her, “There’s absolutely no danger.”
Sure enough, when we got down there things were peaceful. But I was slightly upset that the music had been replaced with angry sounding speeches from the red shirt leadership and even more upset to see that the masseurs had gone too. I decided enough was enough and that I was going home, it wasn’t worth missing the Masters for. I knew something was amiss when I heard the Skytrain (like the tube, but above the streets) was closing early. In fact my girlfriend and I were on the very last train of the day. When I got home it was about four o’clock on Saturday 10 April. Several hours later 25 people were dead and more than 800 injured.
Since then I have been getting the odd worried phone call from family in the UK. I tell them that in truth, the above case being the exception that proves the rule, the protests don’t really affect my daily life. I can’t go to three of Bangkok’s glitzier malls, but I’m not a great shopper anyway. My frisbee antics have been stopped, but that’s because we play on an army base and they’ve got more important things to worry about.
The firm has now abandoned its Bangkok trainee secondment and, having closed its office in response to anti-government protests in the city, is looking for temporary accommodation. Thankfully this comes at the end of my placement here and until now it’s been business as usual, which suited me just fine.
Gordon Blakeway is currently undertaking a training seat in Bangkok for Watson Farley & Williams.