Home Commentary

Farang Forward: Expats Swap Keyboards for Fanny Packs to Join Thai Student Protests

Foreigners don't get a vote, so why don't they mind their own business?

Run Against Dictatorship Protest Thailand Bangkok
Both Thais and foreigners ran in the "Run Against Dictatorship" protest in January.

A decade ago as anti-government protestors battled government soldiers and torched sections of Bangkok, smatterings of aging foreigners could be found rallying beside their red-shirted Issan girlfriends and northern wives. Now the protests are back, and so are the farangs.

Twitter users are already familiar, and sick of, the foreign armchair pundits who profess to know more than activists and scholars when it comes to Thai politics. Their view from their isolated Issan homestead gives them the clearest view of what’s happening around the nation, of course.

An increasing number, however, are swapping their keyboards for flip-flops and fanny packs and joining in the rallies at Bangkok’s Democracy monument and Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate, even though the Immigration Bureau has made it clear over the years that it’s illegal for those without a vote to protest.

“Randy”, a fifty-something American perving amidst the thongs of college women and other youths at the recent Democracy Monument rally, told the Bangkok Post he thought the activists’ demands were “simple”, showing he had no grasp on the complexities of what the students were asking.

As for whether the youths should be criticizing the monarchy, Randy, raised on the idea that even wearing a face mask tramples on his “constitutional rights” said he can’t understand why people shouldn’t be able to discuss anything they wanted in public.

A German expat living in Bangkok’s Phra Kanong District was at the protest because he thinks after 12 years he’s the same as a Thai citizen. He told the Post he “wanted to stand up for what is right”, although standing up apparently didn’t include offering his name.

Another protesting farang, who wouldn’t say his name nor where he was from, said his home country has protests that are more violent, so it wasn’t hard to figure out his homeland. He expressed hope that the protests would remain peaceful, unlike in 2010 when two foreigners were among the arsonists of Bangkok’s Central World mall.

Taking a stand wasn’t really the thing for this foreign protestor in his 60s though. He was more a follower of the Trumpian “very fine people on both sides” philosophy, saying those supporting more democracy or the monarchy were neither right or wrong.

Surveying a cross-section of Thailand on whether foreign expats, a large number of whom live in their own little bubbles unaffected by politics, coups or protests, should stick their noses in national politics would yield some interesting answers.

The government, of course, already has made its feelings known, telling foreign journalists to butt out.