The Voice of the People

Thai people rarely speak to foreigners about the problem of the rich against the poor. They avoid the subject amongst themselves, for any inappropriate comment might be seen as a threat against the status quo. The elite or khon yai don’t appreciate criticism and countless activists, justice seekers, and poor people with a grievance have been killed by assassins for affronting the rich. The silence of their suffering has lasted an eternity, however the recent uprising by the ‘red shirts’ has given rise to the loosening of the tongue.

Never in public.

Any protest can be met with violence a la Bangkok or Tak Bai or Thaksin’s War against Drugs. All Thais know the danger of free speech. The only acceptable discourses are arguments between family members. Harsh words of a shared truth. No one speaks for the Thais. Not the present PM who said nothing about addressing the inequalities between the rich and ‘khon john’ or the perennial poor. Thaksin was the first PM to help the disenfranchised although Old Blue Eyes did so while enriching his family and friends. The common folk loved that when he stole money that he never gave the elite their cut.

“Som Nam Nah.” My taxi driver to the airport said in Thai early on Tuesday morning. “They steal. Give nothing to people. Now shopping mall burn. Bank too. Good. Now they have nothing same Thai people.”

“You sound like a communist.” My Thai is only a little better than my son and Fenway is almost 2.

“Not communist. Tired rich people. Tired police and army take money and if I say something,they will shoot me.” The driver was in his 40s. He had three children in school. Once a month his wife had to buy uniforms for a special day. They only wore them once, but the teachers needed this money to get paid a living wage. “In America police shoot you, if you tell the truth.”

“No, but newspapers make you look crazy, so no one believes you.” Millions of Americans still thought Iraq attacked us on 9/11. “But they kill people too. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Jimi Hendrix.”

“They kill Jimi Hendrix.” He had no idea who the other martyrs were.

“Maybe.” The right hated niggers and niggers who slept with white women.

“Police kill everyone here. Army too.” He told me about the special army soldiers who can shoot anyone they want without facing a trial. I had seen them on the back of police motorcycle. Cold-eyed killers searching for a target. A few loose words in the wrong crowd and my driver could be one of them. “I can not say this in public. Not to friend. Not to family. Not before, but now everyone talk about the rich. They have too much and not give nothing to Thai common people.”

He used the words ‘khon chuan’.

Most of my friends in Thailand came from that class, since the middle class is only interested in upgrading to the rich. They look down on everyone else as lo-so or low society.

“Same in America.” The rich are very rich and the rest of us are struggling to pay off our debts.

“But police not ask for money same Thailand?” He was talking about bribes.

“Before yes, but now now.” Although the NYPD thieve the city with their campaign to ticket everyone for anything.

“Good. Maybe Thailand same one day. But only if people talk about problem. Not easy. Everyone scared of police.” He told a story about a friend of his who complained to the land office about a richer neighbor paving a road over his rice paddies. The man never came home and the police said that he must ahve run away with his girlfriend. Everyone in the village knew the truth, but could not say. “Not me. I have 3 children. One wife. I not want to die. But I want someone to speak for me.”


“He stole for himself and not give rich money.”

An adaptation of Robin Hood’s ‘steal from the rich and give to the poor’.

“Good.”I understood his frustration having heard the GOP preach the ‘trickle-down theory’ of how the rich were supposed to get untaxed income so they could spend money to support gardeners, kitchen staff, and luxury boat builders. Only problem was that the rich got so much money that they could spent it faster than it filled into their coffers.

“Gaan bpa dti wat.” I learned the word for revolution from a monk. He wanted equality for the people. The police punished him by saying that he was stealing ja-bah.

“Gaan bpa dti wat.” The driver smiled and nodded as if he were ready for a dream,for like people everywhere around the world all he wanted was better for his family and that was something the rich of Thailand were not ready to give ‘khon chuan’.

The driver dropped me at the airport. I lifted a finger to my lips. Silence for the moment, for the time to speak is coming with the change in the weather. The monsoon rains are on their way and I want my children to be free. Now more than ever.

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