Yellow Shirts and the Repression of Thailand
Khao Lak, Thailand
I'm traveling in a country where loving the King is a fashion statement unto itself.
Yellow shirts, everywhere I looked. I didn't remember Thailand being so full of them last time I was here, but that might have just been my lack of observation. So many Thais are wearing them, I started looking for a pattern—perhaps the color for service industry personnel, I thought.
I see them for sale absolutely everywhere, and had nearly convinced myself I had the answer, when I saw all the young school children in Ranong wearing the same thing. Hummm, I thought, there's more to this than I'm getting.
Most of the instructors at the kindergarten/primary school I visited were also wearing yellow, so at one point during my time there I asked what the deal was. The answer: It was the year of the King's 80th birthday, and people were wearing yellow—the official color of the king—to show their support. Naturally, it's more than just that—it's also fashionable to conform and do such things.
I don't know if the Thai people really love the King as much as they appear to, or if they've been doing it for so long (60 years) that they just don't bother asking themselves the question anymore—it's just assumed that you'll hang a photo of the King in your home or build a shrine in his honor at your business or wear a yellow shirt because he's turning 80-years-old.
I do know this: To openly disrespect the man will bring swift punishment. A Swiss fellow is now sitting in prison for the next 10-years for getting drunk in Bangkok and defacing a few posters with the Kings image on them. Putting money in your shoes is a no-no, as stepping on an image of the King is illegal in Thailand.
I've discovered the sensitive Thai government has even gone to such lengths as to recently ban (totally block, at the Internet Service Provider level) YouTube, a free repository of visitor-uploaded video clips. It would seem that someone a half a world away uploaded an armature video depicting disrespectful acts towards the image of the King, and when Google (who acquired YouTube in 2006) failed to remove it at the behest of Thailand, the Thai government responded by blocking the site from the entire country.
I'm very much against the suppression/censorship of Internet sites by the government. You cross a line when such acts are committed, and without much fuss it would seem the Thai people rolled over and accepted it—freedom sacrificed for the adoration of the King. This was not the start, and I guarantee this will not be the end of it for this country—good luck with that.