The Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts have been out in force for the last month in Bangkok. In what seems to be the annual ritual of political unrest, the Yellow Shirts (loyal to government and royal family) and Red Shirts (anti-government and the Shinawatra family) have been clashing and so far at least four have died. It is quite contained in specific parts of the capital, and mostly normal life carries on regardless. Certainly out in the suburbs, you would have no idea that anything out of the ordinary was happening.
This is a curious pattern in Thailand, but until I spent time in Cambodia and Vietnam recently I would not have remarked on it. However, the recent history of those two neighbours is so hugely different, so steeped in bloodshed, chaos and misery that you cannot help but compare the countries, and ask why and how Thailand escaped the various horrors suffered by the rest of south east Asia.
Notwithstanding the presence of the Kmers (Cambodian) on and off for centuries, and the Japanese army during WW2, Thailand is the only country in the region that has largely avoided being colonised. Did it have fewer desirable natural resources? Was its position less favourable? Were its people less accommodating? Were they stronger in battle? None of these things seem to be obviously the cause. It appears likely to be down to something else, and I would speculate that it is the control and diplomatic influence of the royal family that has kept the outside, and the forces inside, at bay.
Skilfully, and without public displays of unseemly cruelty, the royal family commands respect and unity from the people. Any deaths during the current unrest will be punished by the Thai authorities with the death penalty. Those who show blatant disrespect to the King are quietly disposed of. Certainly, freedom of speech is somewhat sacrificed. But the people have peace, and looking at Pol Pot, the Kmer Rouge, strict military rule in Myanmar (Burma), and gruesome battles for the political heart of Vietnam, a great deal to be thankful for.