Editor: Our OB Rag blogger, Mary Mann, took off for Bangkok, Thailand a few weeks ago, in the midst of turmoil roiling that country. Here is her first post from that beautiful but troubled land. During her travels, Mary and her traveling companion Dana are keeping a blog: wearebroadsabroad.blogspot.com
“Are you ok? We heard about the explosions in Bangkok. I’m worried about you.”
Thus read a portion of an email from my mom, which I read in an internet cafe off of Koh San Road on my first day in this sweltering, smiling country.
“Dana, did you know there were explosions here last night?” I asked my dear friend and travel buddy.
“I do now. Someone asked me about it on facebook.”
“Did you hear anything, though?”
And so they day went. We spent it exploring Bangkok via the local ferry, trying to make sure that we stood on the opposite side of the bustling boat from the golden-robed monks, whom it is disrespectful for women to stand near.
We became gently lost, then unlost, in the twisting streets, happening upon glittering temples amidst produce stands. Tuk-tuks accosted us with friendly smiles, asking if we wanted a ride. A street full of flower stands smelled heavenly all the way down, and felt somewhat like heaven as well, from all the mist regularly spritzed on the flowers by the vendors. Nowhere was there a sign of struggle or violence, or even the aftermath of such.
At dinner we watched as tourists from all nations and walks of life strolled by. No one moved fast, or seemed perturbed. Here, like the eye of any storm, it was quiet. It was at home that the warning flags were going up. Telecasters spoke in rehearsed grave tones, and potential travelers made other plans.
Our mothers fretted, but we felt no less safe than we had in San Diego. Were we just dumb? Or lucky? I don’t know, but we left Bangkok safely, taking an overnight bus down the coast and then a ferry to Koh Panang, where we’ve put down some temporary roots. On the ten hour bus ride, while others dozed or watched a fuzzy bootleg copy of “Couple’s Retreat” that the bus driver put on, I thought about this strange paradox: In a place that the western media has portrayed as a hotbed of violence, I felt sublimely safe.
This same paradox was apparent on a weekend trip I took to Mexico with some friends, right before leaving the states. We stayed at a house below Rosarito, just south of the incredible taco stand at K38. The water was still quite cold, so we spent most of our time exploring the city on a taco and tequila tour. Before leaving, I had been inundated with warnings. I should hide my money in different places; if the Federali pulled us over I should pretend not to speak Spanish; I shouldn’t carry a purse, but keep my belongings on my body; I should never, under any circumstances, go anywhere alone.
I tend to chafe under too many restrictions to my independence (re: any at all), but I grudgingly followed most of these dictums, staying always with my friends and stashing money in my bra. On the first day that we rolled into Rosarito to explore, we were immediately pounced upon. Not by a slavering drug lord hoping for an easy rape, but by five or six small children and a few sad-eyed women, holding out jewelry and flowers for sale. The city, built for spring break with huge resorts and bars blaring pop tunes, was eerily empty.
We saw only three other tourists that whole day, closely trailed by people desperate for pesos. Mexico’s bad press, as a place to be kidnapped or robbed, is founded on a highly exaggerated truth. Such things do happen, I have no doubt, although the evidence I have is all anecdotal. My safety, however, never felt compromised, but I bore witness to the tragic toll such press has taken on the Mexican economy. For every one of us, there were a hundred people craving our business. We didn’t have much to give. I left behind about 150 dollars, and about the same amount of empty bellies. A very large portion of the economy in the stateside portion of Baja is tourism, and without it, it is nearly impossible for the economy, and the people, to survive.
Bangkok is receiving a similar amount of bad press, at least from what I hear from the states. It seemed like there were still a fair amount of tourists on Koh San Road, but I don’t know what the future holds for the tourist trade in Bangkok, and for that matter the rest of Thailand, if the protests continue, and continue to be covered so widely in western media. The economy here is already poor, with a dollar being worth about 33 baht, and the average meal costing 50 baht. Without tourism, the country’s economy would be shot to shit.
What the U.S. news is reporting about Bangkok, and about Tijuana, is undoubtedly true. But because this news comes in a vacuum, with no other type of news from either of these places, it is highly damaging to these countries whose economies are still so fragile. Mexico as a whole suffers because of a handful of crimes in TJ, and Thailand may follow suit, suffering for the sins of Bangkok. So as members of the western media, we must remember that our words are powerful. Use them well.