Following a month-long return to the memories of my Cold War years of reporting in Southeast Asia, life in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Hong Kong exposed me to an economic revival of these countries that have put the animosities of the past to rest. Bangkok, which had only 65 registered automobiles when I arrived in 1956 to open a bureau for the Associated Press, is weighed down now by vehicular traffic that virtually paralyzes the capital in most hours of the day.
The economy is booming. New investors and name brand entrepreneurs are opening their doors on street after street in central Bangkok. The emergence of high-rise buildings are examples of the endless growth, perhaps throughout the country and the improvements of its roads and highway systems make my wife and I wonder why in the world we ever dispensed with our stock in a corporate giant known as Thai Cement once we left Bangkok. Its imprint is visible everywhere.
But what is so encouraging is the tone of the public outcry over the corruption that flourished in the regime of the ousted prime minister and the reaction to his attempt from abroad to perpetuate his grip on the Thai government by having his sister selected as his successor. Never before in my memory of having lived in Bangkok several years over two decades can I ever remember a display of public outrage by Thai students, politicians and ordinary people who poured into the streets in the tens of thousands near Thammasat University and the Democracy Monument where I used to sip tea quietly in neighborhood cafes. They vocally but peacefully demanded day after day the removal of the Shinawatra family from power.
There was no sign of police or military interference to halt the demonstrations. Moreover, there was a dramatic change of the once-timid Thai press that did not hesitate to dominate the front pages of both the English language Bangkok Post and The Nation to show photos and full-blown stories of outraged Thais in the capitol for more than two weeks.
As a free press advocate who remembered the tight-fisted regime of the Thai generals who profiteered from a series of crooked enterprises that were ignored by the once boring Bangkok newspapers, the tepid atmosphere of the nation by comparison today seemed stunning. All of this occurred without any encouragement of Thailand's old Cold War ally in the United States. The Thai people demonstrated their own belief in a democratic protest that in my view will eventually cleanse the atmosphere of outrageous corruption that was so blatant, not even the ordinary citizen could ignore it.
Part 1 of my Cold War retrospective. See also: Part 2: A Grim, Yet Satisfying, Return Visit to Cambodia, Part 3: Hong Kong: Memories of the Past and Realities of Today and Part 4: Hong Kong, China and the Mythology of The Cold War.