I was roaming the streets. Only had one full day in the city and was determined to take advantage of as much of the amazing street food as I could. And it was amazing. Ducked into a little whole in the wall place, and took the advice of a local who was in there eating beside me. No common language, I couldn’t even name any foods, this was my first day in Thailand after all, but it didn’t matter. My self-proclaimed host would discuss possibilities with the chef, pointing things out to me, and some new amazing dish would appear. And then as I was still eating, he stood, paid his bill, said his goodbyes and disappeared.
When it was my turn to leave a few minutes later, I reached into my wallet, ready to pantomime the amount with the chef, only for him to wave his hands at me and gesture to the man who had recently left. My bill had been paid, without me even being aware.
It was a theme on the streets of Bangkok. I spent the rest of the day wandering through the main square of the city, flooded by the red-shirts, for this was the Spring of 2010. The ‘protests’ though were remarkable for how civilized they were. People were camped out there, but it felt more like a festival. Families were cooking food, men gathered around television screens to watch a football match, and everyone smiling and greeting me as I strolled around. Only in a far corner of the gathering was anything even remotely political taking place, as speeches were being given on a small stage. They were hardly rallies though. The few gathered around to listen to them sat in lawn chairs, and instead of applauding or cheering, waved small plastic noisemakers during the appropriate pauses.
I spent the evening thinking how quaint protests and political strife were in Thailand, and the next morning caught a bus for the south of the country.
A few hours into the trip a news report caught up with us. Government crack down on the protesters. Street battles around the encampment. Civilians dead. And I had missed the signs completely.