You may or may not have seen recent reports about how a gang of Thai “thugs” attacked three British tourists in my adopted home town of Hua Hin, Thailand. This was, by some accounts, a “premeditated” attack.
The reports made major headlines in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and even USA Today. Unfortunately, much of the reporting was hearsay and sensationalized. The British media, for example, tended to take the sensationalized approach, citing unnamed sources who heard Thais planning the attack – but not asking those sources (Westerners) if they understood Thai, as that is what the Thais in question would have been speaking.
It was reporting of the worst kind, but the story, virtually unchanged, kept getting handed off from one media to the next, with no one questioning the facts. There was also very little understanding in the reports of how Thai culture probably played a role.
It is true that three British tourists, an elderly couple (my age) and their 43-year-old son, were brutally beaten. However, there were a number of extenuating circumstances.
First, it was the first night of Songkran, the Thai new year, when people take to the streets for a 3-day party. The major results of this partying is everyone gets very wet and has their faces painted. There is also a lot of drinking and a lot of drunk tourists. Thais, too. They love their Songkran.
I was in the bar district (Soi Bintabaht) the night of the altercation, although I was tucked in bed by the time of the 2 am melee. It was a wonderful experience.
I brought my camera, although I was worried it would get soaked. They throw buckets of water at you, or shoot water guns, or pour ice water down your back. Pretty girls smack white, pink or lime green paint on your face. You look stupid and soaked, but everyone has a great, fun time. And everyone was mindful of my camera when I hoisted it aloft, and made pains to only soak me and not the camera. Thais are respectful like that, part of the Buddhist culture.
Anyway, two weeks after that night, a video surfaced from CCTV cameras installed along the street where the attack occurred. So you can see pretty much what happened (link below), and, based on your biases, decide what happened.
What the video showed was an irritated Thai man talking/arguing with another Thai man, when the younger Brit walked by and apparently pushed the agitated Thai man. The Thai man then barely touched the arm of the Brit, who stumbled and hit his head on a table, falling to the ground.
This is when it got really interesting and why people should know what they can and cannot do in a foreign country.
The British woman immediately got in the face of the Thai man. I don’t read lips, and the tape is not that good anyway, but it looked like she was dressing him down pretty emphatically. Now, it’s unwise to get in anyone’s face in that manner, especially in a foreign country. She would not have been happy in how I would have responded to such treatment.
The Thai man finally said something to the British woman that she apparently didn’t like, so she slapped him. Bad move. Thai men don’t take kindly to such treatment by a woman. (Just saying, not defending.)
When her husband entered the discussion, as well as a well-intentioned but clueless Westerner, this only escalated tensions. Finally, with a lot of pushing and shoving going on, some younger Thais started swinging and kicking. The result was three Brits on the wet ground, unconscious, and a fourth expat needing dental surgery.
This involvement of other Thais in the altercation is routine here, but I would suggest the same reaction might occur in most any country if a foreigner was hassling a local. You can’t fight one Thai if you are a foreigner; 10 are probably going to participate. It is the same in Indonesia.
And don’t expect “proper” fight rules. This was street fighting, and Thais favor kicking over punching. Kickboxing, after all, is a favorite Thai sport, as is soccer. There were a lot of online complaints after the event from Westerners “appalled” about the kicking and brutality exhibited by the Thais, but if you are in a street fight this is what happens.
Now, I don’t doubt there might be some latent dislike of foreigners in Thailand, like there are most everywhere, especially among the younger Thais. However, there also exists in a lot of expats here a superiority complex over the Thais (and any other Third World population).
There are a slew of European expats living here who merely want an environment like what they had at home but with the lower prices Thailand offers. They’re hardly living in Thailand, sequestered in their expat-only-except-for-the-maids-and-maybe-the-girlfriend-allowed housing complexes; dining and partying with others speaking their language and sharing their culture; and basically looking down their noses at the Thai rabble.
I think that was manifested in the British woman’s response to her son falling down.
To me, as a journalist, the real crime here is the apparent withholding of the video by the police. They say it was because of the investigation, but it seems oddly coincidental that the day after the video went global the Thai police chimed in, saying they had suspects. The next day, those suspects were arrested. Coincidental. I wonder if the tape had not been leaked if we would still not know about the incident.
Here’s the video and you can make your own judgments: VIDEO