« Little lessons for life (and work) | Blog home | The deep end »

"Do you speak English?" would be my opening line when trying to interview tourists for my first Bangkok Post story. As expected, language would be the biggest barrier for me as a journalist in Thailand. It's hard to report on a country when your understanding of its rich and complicated history only scratches the surface, and it's hard to develop a deeper understanding without knowing the language.

A billboard spotted on my taxi ride back to the office, hinting at Thailand's complex political situation. Photo by Ada Lee

On Sunday night, two bombs exploded at tourist hotspot Siam Paragon. The next day, which happened to be my first day at the Bangkok Post, I was sent straight to the streets to investigate how the recent attack might affect tourism. It was the perfect story for the editors to assign me — get the foreigner to interview foreigners.

I left the office at 12pm and filed the story by 4pm. The next day, it was on page three of the paper.

ada lee first story.jpg
My first Bangkok Post story, written on my first day. Photo by Ada Lee

I was just thankful I got to write something.

Upon starting at the Post, I feared I might be doomed to mundane research tasks and staring blankly at the comings and goings of real journalists. But in my first week, I've already covered three stories.

On my second day, I was asked to cover a report by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). The report condemned the human rights abuses under Thailand's martial law, and I was able to use the knowledge gained from my law degree to understand the legal jargon.

During times of turmoil, governments often restrict human rights in order to maintain peace and order. The biggest question for Thailand is whether its political climate is stable enough to lift martial law. TLHR believes it is.

For an alternate perspective, I spoke to political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn, who advises the Ministry of Defence and the Deputy Prime Minister. We met at Government House, where I had to get a security pass before being taken on a motor bike to his office building.

Government House, where Thailand's leaders spend their days. Photo by Ada Lee

Panitan spoke relatively frankly with me — so unlike the public relations language we so often see from Australia's political figures. He told me if I really wanted to understand the political divisions within the country, I needed to listen to the TV and radio stations of the red shirts and yellow shirts — which are all in Thai. Again, the language barrier has proven to be a disadvantage.

On my third day, I went to the launch of a research project that advocated for more human rights courses in ASEAN higher education institutions. It was slightly dry — my accompanying senior journalist thought so as well — and at times, it felt like being back in the classroom. But sometimes the fight for human rights isn't a show of flashing lights. Sometimes, it's the nitty gritty behind the scenes work that makes a difference. After all, quality education is key in shaping citizens who care about the lives of others.

My story on human rights education on page four of the Bangkok Post. Photo by Ada Lee

Journalism is all about discovery. The more I write, the more I discover about this complex nation.

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.