Stuck in a traffic jam in the back of a taxi on the way to a Bangkok trade fair, our blogger ponders matters big and small, such as the growing political unrest in the Thai capital and the quality of teak benches in the Far East.
I'm in Bangkok, visiting the inaugural International Building Materials and Services Fair. As this is running concurrently with the inaugural Thailand International Furniture Fair, this means I am currently staring at a bench - a particularly nice bench made of teak. The promotional literature suggests, intriguingly, that it's the type of bench on which you can sit down to "ask about the experiences of the past, 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 that goes down too well when striking up coversation on a park bench in London - even if it is a particularly nice park bench made of teak. 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, along with many of the other exhibits at the trade fairs, 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 up to 5.7% this year. This in turn is part of Thailand's aim to join the elite club of Asia economic miracles, a plan centred around prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's 1.8 trillion baht mega-projects programme to develop the country's infrastructure, natural resources, ICT, national defences 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 the city square Sanam Luang - 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 pro-democracy rally in Sanam Luang on Saturday night, and thousands of protesters have thronged the streets each night since, demanding Shinawatra's resignation over corruption allegations.'Meanwhile, under the heading 'Political crisis' today's The Nation newspaper warns of a general strike if Shinawatra does not resign and publishes a poll indicating that 46% of Thais favour a royally appointed government.
Not everyone has lost faith in Shinawa tra though. My taxi driver, Joe likes him because 'he does things fast', the benfits of which must be all too obvious to someone who spends their days negotiating Bangkok's grinding traffic. The Nation reckons 39% of Thais feel similarly.
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.