Coffee and the Paper is a series of blogs where I take a break from my travels and explore local media and local brews.
My second leg of travels post-India brought me to Thailand, where I was visiting two friends that did a classroom exchange with my students in India. We sent them a short video introducing ourselves and our classroom, and they sent one back. Both of us agreed it was great to get our students thinking outside of their respective countries—most students from each country weren’t aware where India or Thailand are, though they share a body of water (the Andaman Sea). My hope was to go to Thailand, show their classes the last video my students made, do a mini lesson on photography and video, plus check out another country in SE Asia.
As I write this on my last day in Thailand (edit note: put this post online about five months late– apologies!), I can easily say this is one of my favorite countries in the world, Bangkok being one of my favorite cities. I didn’t have very high expectations, as it seems to be one of those places revered by backpackers for being a place to “find oneself” and the high exchange rate with the baht. India can be the same way. But ultimately, the experience has been incredible. Bangkok is a fascinating city; Thailand is an endlessly intriguing and beautiful country. The part of it overrun by tourists (which is significant) pales in comparison to the feeling you get while riding on the back of a motorbike through Bangkok’s old city at night, or soaking in hot springs mere minutes from the ocean, or chatting with friendly business owners, teachers, and other citizens. The politics, given this is one of the last remaining kingdoms, are a rabbit hole (two jumping off points from my trip: teachers are required to wear yellow for the month of December because it is the King’s birthday and his color is yellow, and I was woken up in the middle of the night to get my passport checked by the military on an 8 hour journey to the south, though we were solidly in Thailand). If you get a chance, I would highly recommend a visit.
Newspaper: The Bangkok Post “The newspaper you can trust”
Edition: Saturday December 20, 2014
Price: 30 baht (about $1 USD)
Where I bought it: A newspaper stand in Bangkok just off Khaosan Road, the backpacker haven of Bangkok (note on that—it was pretty difficult to find an English language print version of the paper outside this area)
Sections: 8 (National, Asia, World, Opinion, Spotlight, Sports, Muse, and Business)
Top Stories: Top officials in Thailand and China made several trade deals while Thai officials were on a trip to China. They say the meetings will lead to an increase in trade, including bilaterally with the US, and a major railway project in Thailand.
Alcohol will be sold on NYE and the April Songkran holiday after a public outcry against the ban in the last few months. Officials say it was to curb drunk driving (last year there were over 3,000 accidents with 367 people killed over the new years holidays).
The Prime Minister will pursue legal action over 680 million baht (about $206 million USD) lost in a rice pledging scheme run during the last prime minister’s term. Which basically means the last government let a lot of rice go bad, therefore costing the country a lot of baht (and a lot of hungry stomachs).
Story (that I found interesting): What do the United States, North Korea, and Thailand have in common? The Post’s deputy life editor wove all together in a smart column localizing the Sony hack. Though he touched on the importance of freedom of expression, as most commenters had, he also brought in some intriguing history on North Korea’s dictators’ opinion of cinema (Kim Jong-Il believed movie directors were more influential than government, therefor he considered movies key to maintaining an ideologically sound communist society) and connected it to Thailand’s current issues with free speech. His last paragraph is gleefully sardonic—and damning.
Best quote: “He also conceded that he had authorized troops to drop tear gas on protesters from a helicopter which was originally assigned to drop leaflets carrying messages for the demonstrators to leave.” Because leaflets and tear gas are relatively interchangeable, yes? From “Ruling in 2010 rally deaths due in April”.
Overall thoughts: Considering you will get thrown in jail if you say something bad about the King, I really enjoyed reading the Bangkok Post. It could have just been my starry-eyed view of the city as a fascinating place I had just begun to explore, so anything that helped me better understand it was like uncovering a new soi (side street) or delicious food stall. However, I thought the reporting was smart, contextual, and accessible even to someone just familiarizing themselves with Thai culture and politics.
Coffee: Iced coffee from a hostel off Khaosan Road.
Iced coffee rules sweltering Bangkok (even in December—this is quite the thrill for a life long Midwesterner !!) so I paired my reading with an iced coffee from the hostel next door to where I stayed—Samsen Hostel on Soi 4. For me, there are few things better than an iced coffee on a hot day so it was the main brew I stuck with while in Thailand. The coffee certainly isn’t mindblowing or locally sourced like in Sri Lanka, but it was the kind of coffee that was functional—an equally important trait when you’re traveling. I could grab a pint of iced coffee in a to go cup and wander as I pleased. A caffeinated traveler is a happy traveler indeed.