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Bangkok is a tale of two cities. In Siam, towering shopping centres with shiny white floors and golden decorum are filled with designer brands, rich Thais and Western tourists. The locals call it “Hi-So”, which is short for “high society”. On the streets, food carts and the homeless share the hot, polluted air.

The view from my apartment balcony. The sun rises through the smog. Photo by Ada Lee

A week at the Australian embassy has introduced me to so many people, each with a different story to tell about Thailand: the crime, the politics, the culture, the media landscape. I am very grateful to the Australia–Thai Institute for funding this internship and to the embassy staff for being so welcoming.

In just one week, fellow intern Michael Dwyer and I have met Australian Ambassador Paul Robilliard, Political and Economy Counsellor Jennifer Allen, Australian Federal Police Counsellor Darren Booy, Education Director Watinee Kharnwong, Deputy Head of Mission Sarah Roberts and Austrade Counsellor Greg Wallis. We were briefed on trade agreements, education partnerships and the political climate of Thailand. Along with reading the Bangkok Post, these meetings have helped clarify my understanding of the military coup, Thaksin’s old regime and the red and yellow shirt divide.

We also interviewed Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt at the International School of Bangkok for an
embassy press release and attended an Austrade food promotion event where we tasted Australia’s best meat produce.

Michael Dwyer and I with Australian Ambassador Paul Robilliard. Photo by Korbua Laorujijinda

We’ve had lunch in tiny alleyways with our embassy supervisor Korbua and other Public Diplomacy Unit Thai staff, and we’ve roamed the streets at night with war veterans and foreign correspondents.

Side streets where locals eat in Bangkok. Photo by Ada Lee

“Too often, you get these celebrity journalists who are helicoptered in for a week to cover the protests. What you really need are journalists who actually know this place,” says Australian Associated Press correspondent Ron Corben, who we met through the embassy. The last time I was in Bangkok was seven years ago. I was a tourist looking in from outside the window. Now coming here for work, immersion is the only way to really understand the people and political complexities of Thailand.

“The question is whether people are willing to pay for journalists to live here, which is a crucial part of finding good stories.” We’re sitting with Corben discussing the woes facing the media industry. The rise of 24-hour news cycles, Internet clickbait, syndication and workplace downsizing seem to have taken their toll on foreign correspondents. At a Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand event on human trafficking (recommended by the ambassador), we meet fellow Australian Jim Pollard who speaks nostalgically about how the room used to be full of journalists. Many have been sent home.

Yet, the journalists we meet seem adamant on maintaining “old-school traditions”. In a country like this, there’s a lot of dirt to dig up and you’ll rarely find it by sitting at a desk.

“Australians should know as much about Thailand as they know about America,” Corben says. Australians are connected to this region not just by geography but also by our shared humanity. When problems like human trafficking affect fishermen and sex workers here, we should all feel affected by it. Seeing the integrity of the journalists working here has reaffirmed my desire to work overseas. I’m looking forward to experiencing a foreign newsroom at the Bangkok Post next week.

On Tuesday, we arrived in Chiang Mai for a week of seeing temples, rivers, villages and old friends. My friend is going to take us to a children’s hostel and a village this weekend. The best way to travel is always with locals.

About the Blog

Parallax records the experiences of final year students of the B.A. (Media & Communications) degree who have won competitive overseas internships to work in Asian, Indian and Latin American media organisations.