Sit on an angry bird's lap! And other sharable distractions.
A surreal slideshow from Siam Paragon mall
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. For any number of pundits, policymakers, and scholars, the new next hot thing, in countries developed and developing, is The City—or, more expansively and more precisely, the megalopolis and its little brother, the metropolis.
One of the consistent features of the gay rights movement over the past five decades has been a belief in progress: Members of the gay community and their allies have insisted that, over time, attitudes about homosexuality will only change for the better. In part, this conviction is based on the power of moral suasion, but it also relies on sheer demographics: Younger people tend to be more supportive of gay rights.
On Sunday, in the first national elections in four years, Thailand’s voters decisively backed the populist Puea Thai Party, delivering an apparently crushing blow to Thailand’s establishment—urban elites, the military, and the powerful royal family. The establishment had backed the Democrat Party, which took power in the wake of a palace-backed coup in 2006 that deposed Puea Thai’s predecessor, another party run by business tycoon and then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the first Thai politician to truly court the votes of the poor.
As the revolt that started this past winter in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Libya, and beyond, dissidents the world over were looking to the Middle East for inspiration. In China, online activists inspired by the Arab Spring called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition members called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. Perhaps as a result, those watching from the West have been positively triumphalist in their predictions.
Compared to most of its Asian neighbors, Japan seems like a very different society. Unlike in Bangkok or Rangoon or Jakarta, schedules run on time in Japanese cities, and essential services, from street cleaning to tax collection, work effectively. Though it slipped this year from the second largest to the third largest economy in the world, Japan remains, on a per capita basis, far wealthier than China, and, despite years of economic stagnation, its manufacturing firms remain among the best in the world.
Bangkok is in chaos. Thousands of anti-government protesters (called "red shirts") have settled into the streets of the Thai capital and are living in an organized camp that offers free food, toilets, and even makeshift hair salons. On April 10, government forces attempted to disperse the crowds, spurring street clashes that killed 25 people. On April 22, grenade explosions rattled the city, wounding more than 80 people, including four foreigners. And, on Wednesday, clashes between protesters and Thai troops left one soldier dead.
The world had barely begun to grasp the magnitude of the tsunami on December 26 when Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's prime minister, dashed to the island of Phuket to survey the damage and meet local officials. By the next day, Thailand's six TV channels were broadcasting constant images of Thaksin comforting distraught residents of a Thai fishing village battered by the wave. In one clip—which aired repeatedly—Thaksin walked through the wreckage, his arm wrapped protectively around the shoulders of elderly villagers as a young woman ran toward them, arms outstretched, for a hug.
The Bangkok airport's Burger King normally isn't that crowded in the morning. Most Thais seem to prefer the nearby food court, which serves Thai rice soups rather than heavy egg-and-biscuit American breakfasts. But, on Monday morning last week, the day after a massive tsunami swamped Thailand and the rest of Southeast and South Asia, the area around Burger King is packed. Several Thai monks, dressed in the simple orange and saffron robes of the Buddhist clergy, their heads shaved completely bare, are surrounded by locals and foreigners.