Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Night Under Curfew in Thailand

It's 8:21pm: I'm alone in my apartment. I've just gotten back from eating dinner. I've seen the empty spaces around Tha Pae gate in the center of Chiang Mai. Something in my gut tells me these empty spaces are different from previous ones I've seen on other nights. Perhaps, the statement of martial law I heard announced on Tuesday is in the back of my mind. Yet I dismiss this feeling from my mind. I can't tell, as I'm writing this, if there was anything special about those moments or not.

It's now 8:24pm: I've typed the first paragraph of these reflections. Now, I turn towards the moment when I switched on my TV and heard Al Jazeera report on the news that the Thai army has assumed full control of the government and arrested rival political leaders at a gathering. I saw this report at a little past 7pm. I keep the TV on for an hour, flipping between International News networks, to see if anyone has new information. I make a call or two. I send a text message. I'm not sure if I'm fueling panic or not by writing these to post on my blog tomorrow.

At a little before 8:20pm: An AJE reporter on my box says that International Networks are being disconnected and local stations have already been taken off the air. Within less then a minute, the signal for AJE cuts out along with all other signals. By this point, I've tried several times to get online. My apartment's internet is out. It's a poor quality and often cuts out. I begin to wonder. Was the signal overloaded as it often is? Or was it disconnected by the powers that be.

It's now 8:32pm: and I've finished recounting everything that led me up to this sentence.

I pause, wondering what to write next, wondering why I started writing these thoughts down in the first place?

First, it's to calm my nerves. Coups, I suddenly realize, are a sign of incredible uncertainty. There has been incredible uncertainty in Thailand's political system for a long time.

Second, I've lived through one very intense period of political upheaval before. I saw the rise of the Arab Spring in Cairo Egypt in 2010. I also saw the trial, violence and painful change it caused for real Egyptians, real people, not images on TV sets or internet lives streams.

I fear seeing this pain again. I fear it.

Yet, Egypt is not Thailand. Thailand is not Egypt. I have no way of knowing of whether the army coup will turn out as it did in Egypt in 2010 or how it has now in 2014. 

I check my internet connection again. It's still not working. I check the time. It's 8:42pm. There's less than two hours until the army's 10:00pm curfew goes into affect.

 I think back to uncertainty.

 Silence and quiet: They are pervasive now in my apartment, in my building in the world outside. The loudest noises I hear are Geckos chirping, going about their lives on the walls and in the bush. I don't hear the sound of anyone talking. I don't hear my neighbors' doors slamming as they go out or come back from eating.

 Only Geckos, my fan, bugs buzzing. These are the sounds I hear.

The lack of noise, is the most disturbing thing about this night. More emptiness and unknown. That's what I think I will remember the  most about this coup I think.

 I realize how silly a fear this is. Human existence has always been subject to unknowns. A coup or an event such as this, simply throws this more into perspective.

 Our lives, are rather ordinary and routine lives, can be suddenly put on hold by forces we don't understand or comprehend, not truly. Sometimes it's a human force like an army, sometimes its nature.

 There's not much we can truly do about it.

 I suddenly get up and switch my TV on again to check if I can get new info from there.

 It's 8:53pm: The signals are all still out. My internet won't come back.

I debate about going out before curfew: I would like water, maybe I could find an internet cafe airport at 3am in Cairo during a curfew and still managed to get a taxi to take me through the deserted streets of a city of 20 million people without cafe, maybe buy a few beers. I realize though I don't really need any of that, not now. Except, for the internet cafe but I know the one closest to me is closed and I doubt I could reach any-others before curfew and get back in time.

 I decide to stay, after debating with myself about whether to go or not. I wonder if my friends and family will worry. Some will more than others, I'm sure. But when the curfew ends tomorrow at 5:am, i'll be able to go out.
 I remember how some of the curfews in Egypt were only loosely enforced. I remember how I arrived at t 

 I remind myself, how Thailand isn't Egypt. I decided again to stay in my apartment.

 I start thinking of myself and others again.

 I wonder if people I know in Chiang Mai are more aware of what's going on than I am. I wonder if everyone has news about the curfew and if they're sitting in their homes as I am right now.

 I think of my students. I think both of the ones I've taught and those I'm teaching now. I think of the small seven and six year old faces I've seen today, today which was a normal day of school.

 I wonder if they are aware of anything that's going on in their country. I wonder if they are asleep now, dreaming. I wonder if they are playing. I wonder if they've seen or heard something from the world around them that makes them feel unsafe on this night. I sincerely hope they do not.  I deeply, lovingly hope they have not.

 I find myself wishing them and everyone they know a great night of rest.

 I wonder if I will have school tomorrow. I highly doubt it.

It's 9:09pm: The world is still very quiet, apart from Nature's children. I decide to try and watch a movie and give my fingers a rest.

It's 10:03pm: Curfew has been in affect for three minutes. I might go to sleep now. I found out I won't have school tomorrow because of events in Bangkok. I find myself surprised by how relieved I am that I won't have to wake up at 6:50am tomorrow. It's a comfort. I'm also surprised my school was efficient enough to send out an SMS to us so that we knew about the country wide school-closures.

 I've tried watching a movie but unfortunately I wasn't in a mood to see any of the films I have on my computer. TV still out, as is the net.

 I wish I could update myself on what's going on tonight. I have a feeling most of my friends and family outside of Thailand will know more than I do about this night than I will.

I'm struck by how ordinary a night this has been. It's really not been very different from previous nights. I went to school, worked for over eight hours and then went home at 4:00. I ate a meal at a local restaurant, I bought some water, went home and crashed on my bed.

 This is something I do all so often...only now it's being imposed on me. It's an odd kind of normalcy. So much of what happens during times of crises like this is mundane, I've found. It never grabs attention in the media.

 I imagine most people in this country are going to wake up like me tomorrow and wonder how mundane their Friday will be. Yet most will doubt awake, we will breathe we will blink we will feel the heat touch our skin and we will stick our heads out the door to see what awaits us.

 So, with that, I end my thoughts.

 It is now 10:21pm

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