An extract from Building journalist Nick Jones' Bangkok blog …
I'm in Bangkok, visiting the inaugural International Building Materials and Services Fair. This is running alongside the inaugural International Furniture Fair, this means I am currently staring at a bench. It's a particularly nice one, made of teak. The promotional literature suggests, intriguingly, that it's the type of bench you can sit down to "ask about the experiences of the past and converse about dreams of each other. Or just sit and perceive that few persons are cosy on the world".
As I stare, I consider whether "conversing about dreams of each other" is the sort of thing you might do on a teak park bench in London. I am wondering this not solely for reasons of socio-cultural cross-reference, but because if the Thai Department of Exports and Promotions has its way, benches like this will soon be found in London. And Paris, New York, Tokyo and Sydney for that matter.
The trade fairs are just one arm of a concerted effort by the Thai government to increase exports by 5.7% this year. This in turn is part of Thailand's aim to join the elite club of Asian tigers, a plan centred around prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's 1.8 trillion baht (£27bn) programme to develop the country's infrastructure, natural resources, IT and public health.
However, while standing and staring in the air-conditioned cool of the furniture showroom, it is hard not to contrast the scene with events taking place just down the road in Sanam Luang square - events that remind you that not everyone is cosy on the world. Monday's Bangkok Post reported that up to 100,000 people had attended a rally there on Saturday night, and thousands of protesters have thronged the streets each night since. They are there to complain that Thaksin sold £1.2bn worth shares in his telecoms company while dodging tax, and shortly after his son and daughter bought shares that they later sold for 50 times as much. A poll in today's The Nation newspaper says that 46% favour a royally appointed government.
Not everyone has lost faith in Thailand's answer to Silvio Berlusconi, though. My taxi driver, Joe, likes him because "he does things fast", the benefits of which must be all too obvious to someone who spends their days negotiating Bangkok's grinding traffic. However, the National Economic and Social Development Board last week revised its export growth forecast to 4.5- 5.5% due to "political uncertainty", and the latest developments will do little to improve the situation. To the casual onlooker, sitting down to talk about the experiences of the past suddenly seems less interesting than reading and talking about the events of the present.
Nick Jones is a senior sub-editor on Building.