Act 1: Valentine’s Day Still Sucks
Ah, Valentine’s Day, the red and pink orgy of crappy candies, ugly flowers, teddy bears, and awkward boxers in no way relevant its namesake martyrs with no connection to romantic love. How a poem by Chaucer spiraled into a veritable clusterfuck of cheesy, cupid-covered ideations still celebrated many years later beats me. I mean, all he wrote was:
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”
Clearly dead Christians relate to mating birds. Clearly mating birds lead to geometric hearts and bad, monochromatic flower arrangements. Clearly.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day. Growing up, my dog was keen to eat the foil-wrapped chocolates taped to my cartoon-splashed Valentine’s I’d assembled the night before school celebrations. Around age 12, some girlfriends and I sabotaged the school’s carnation delivery service by sending flowers to each other signed from a “secret admirer,” using the holiday as an opportunity to establish social credibility in the bloodthirsty ranks of a WASP-y American middle school. As a teenager, a well-intentioned boyfriend showered me with teddy bears, balloons, and flowers, all too bulky to be shoved into a locker, damning me to to walk between classes clutching the whole damn load of pink crap. Valentine’s Day was a holiday to power through, with the simple reward of chocolate when the day was done.
Thailand also celebrates Valentine’s day. Stores and bars on my street had set-up flowery pink and red benches and photo booths, while pop-up flower and chocolate vendors sold goods to men on motorbikes rushing home from work. Andy and I went to dinner at Pasta & Company, an Italian place we had not yet tried, and observed stressed out waiters serving at capacity while spooning mounds of rare, precious, and complementary (!) grated parmesan cheese onto our garlic toasts. I acknowledged the holiday by selecting what I thought was a small, heart-shaped cheesecake from a bakery that turned out to be block of white chocolate (the worst, most fake chocolate) under mound of saccharine, pink-tasting icing and bland strawberries.
While there were more groups of young people out drinking than on a usual Tuesday in Chiang Mai, celebrations appeared muted, which was kind of disappointing given statements Thai police released earlier in the month. Police in Bangkok instituted a 10 pm curfew for people under the age of 18 for fear of public acts of hanky-panky and other attacks on public decency. They also asked women “not to wear racy clothes or high-value ornaments, which could put them at risk because criminals will take advantage of large crowds on the day.” This kind of slut-shaming, victim-blaming statement would get me all riled up and motivated to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper in my home country. Here? I just have to let it go. Mai pen rai. No big deal, especially considering what ended up going down on V-Day…
Act 2: Bangkok Go Boom
Last month I got a fun email update from the US Embassy in Thailand warning me of a possible terror threat. I wasn’t too worried about this, since I wasn’t in Bangkok, and because even with an imminent threat, being blown up by a terrorist would require almost a divine intervention of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m much more likely to die crossing the street, riding a motorbike, or falling down the stairs and hitting my head than I am getting blown up by a terrorist.
Eventually the Thai police caught a Lebanese man who was involved with a bomb plot. This man told the police that the plan was off, since they’d been caught. We were assured that everything is fiiiine.
Then yesterday, a group of foreigners, most likely Iranians, detonated three small bombs on Sukhumwit Road, a major thoroughfare in Bangkok connecting high-end shopping areas, a farang-focused red-light district, and residential areas. It was a botched job. Foruntately, no one died. In fact, the greatest injury sustained was by one of the bombers, who blew off his own legs when a bomb intended for police officers ricocheted off a tree and hit him.
Now we’re firmly ensconced in the geopolitical fallout. Israel believes this incident was a fouled attack on Israeli diplomats in Thailand, the latest in a series of violence against Israeli embassy staff with recent episodes Georgia and India. Thai government officials have not been so quick to condemn or speculate about the violence, aside from stating that the bombs were intended for foreign nationals, not Thais. Many expats believe the Thai government is saving face, hoping for as little disruption as possible to the lucrative tourist industry.
Joshua Kurlantzick writing for the Council for Foreign Relations says this:
“Tourism is a major source of income in the kingdom, so travel warnings are crushing; and the Thai security forces were hoping that, as several Thai officials privately told me, bad guys enjoyed their time in the kingdom so much that they would not ruin it by launching attacks inside the country — even if they used Thailand as a base for plots elsewhere, as prominent Al Qaeda member Hambali apparently did.”
As for me? I’m glad to be in Chiang Mai, especially because the Bangkok branch of the school I’m attending is on Sukhumwit Road, if dozens of blocks away. There are many criminals in Bangkok thanks to a loose security structure, which gives me pause in relating what appears to be some (dangerous) doofuses running around with explosives to the Iran-Israel nuclear conflict — it’s a terrifyingly real version of Four Lions. Additionally, Thailand has dealt with terrorism domestically stemming from conservative movements in the south. I’ll certainly be following the stories (I’m anxious for more details), and I’ll certainly be exercising caution if I find myself in the touristy areas of Bangkok again.
From the Bangkok Post: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/security/279849/three-bomb-blasts-rock-city
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