Love and Loss in Thailand, Tyranny and Protest in the United States

While not unusual in our postmodern era, I find myself in two places and times at once.

I am here in Thailand, where people mourn the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a beloved figure who reigned for 70  years. His death in October was the saddest day in anyone’s lives, said someone I spoke with, and his image appears on billboards, in art exhibits, and on clothing. Black and white ribbons adorn street walls in his remembrance, and many people will adhere to an all-black dress code for one year.

Meanwhile, I am also a U.S. citizen whose home country is under an authoritarian regime and people are mobilizing to fight back. I make phone calls to representatives via Google Talk, protest vicariously on YouTube, and consume the news daily. As I have become a “remote activist,” I am still disconnected from the everyday plights and social atmosphere in America.

And the vantage point from abroad is often chilling. The day of Trump’s inauguration, the Asian News Channel reported it was the “disintegration of the liberal world order” with his “insular vision” that America comes first. A Japanese newspaper wrote that the “global order based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law is being shaken.”

Some Thais I have spoken with don’t understand why Trump would ban anyone from the United States, and someone joked that he is a “V.I.P.” – or Very Idiot President. A bartender in Malaysia told me to just “let it be,” and that power ebbs and flows and everything will balance out. I raised my glass to that, knowing that the next morning I’d still make my daily phone calls to Congresspeople.

Although Thailand is a country under military dictatorship with its own fair share of bureaucracy and inequalities, it is no doubt a blessing and privilege to live in a much less politically-charged environment right now. Much like white guilt is unproductive, feeling remorseful that I am abroad is in no way helpful to the movements in the U.S. Instead, any amount of peace I can cultivate, I will share. The research and work I do here will build off of and intersect with global social justice movements; the conversation is only getting louder.

Life is complicated in the “land of smiles,” as people continue to mourn the king’s passing. And while the sun shines bright here everyday, I tend to my civic responsibilities so that democracy won’t “die in darkness” in my homeland…