Those living in the Land of Smiles have gotten used to living under military auspices and curfews. But many visitors find the whole thing bizarre. An Australian lady who was deafened a few weeks ago by a drone overhead screaming at her not to go into the water during the Pattaya beach lockdown was confronted by two policemen as she waded ashore dripping wet. She then explained she had been told at the hotel that the ban was only directed at people on overstay and she was within her rights as her tourist visa had 20 days to run. She was let go with a friendly warning and a bewildered smile. Imagine telling that story to a judge.
An American driver was pulled over by the Banglamung police for driving in the middle of the night contrary to the curfew then in force. He said he was well aware of the curfew but had arrived home at 10.30 pm after visiting his wife in hospital. But he had unfortunately lost his house keys and was unable to gain admittance because his two dogs barking in the garden seemed unable to follow his instruction to go and fetch them from the kitchen table. Thus he had decided to drive around for hours in the vain attempt to find a hotel which was not shuttered. He was fined for wasting police time after the officers drove him back to the hospital, only to discover the lady wife had never been heard of there.
Buying a curfew exemption certificate
Curfews, then, are a serious business in Thailand but not everywhere it seems. In the dying days of the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1986, the president declared an overnight curfew in Manila in a vain attempt to prevent the crowds from besieging his palace. Absolutely nobody took any notice. The brightly lit night clubs and bars of the Ermita district, long gone now it must be said, continued blaring their music just like on any other evening. That’s when Marcos knew to flee to Hawaii. In the same year, Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti declared a curfew in Port au Prince under similar circumstances. It worked a little better, but you could carry on drinking provided that you bought a curfew exemption certificate (certificat d’exemption de couvre-feu) from the Tontons Macoute who were sort of social workers with the right to beat up people. The dictator fled a couple of days later.
Another failed curfew was in Egypt when President Hosni Mubarak declared a country-wide enforced curfew in 2011 following the collapse of the police system. However, it was ignored by demonstrators who continued their sit-in in Tahir Square. Concerned residents even formed neighborhood vigilante groups to defend their communities against looters and newly escaped prisoners. Mubarak’s successor, president Mohamed Morsi, declared a curfew in three cities where deadly street clashes had occurred. In defiance, the locals took to the streets during the curfew, organizing football tournaments and street festivals, thus preventing the police and military forces from enforcing the president’s orders. He didn’t last long after that.
There have been some other oddities in curfews round the globe. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena made a last-ditch attempt to save their dynasty in 1989 by declaring a curfew and disappearing from view. They were discovered hiding in a tank sometime later and dragged off to be publicly shot to death. This just goes to show you can’t trust the military to protect those paying their salaries.
Actually curfews go back a long way. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra declared one in 46 BC in the city of Alexandria so that she would not be unduly disturbed whilst giving birth to Julius Caesar’s son Caesarion. The naughty biographer Suetonius claims that the emperor Nero banned everyone from the streets of Rome in AD 64 so that he could enjoy the great fire without those wretched firemen pouring water on it. Don’t believe a word of his though.
Britain hasn’t had too many recent curfews and coups. But in medieval times a bell was rung in the evening to tell everybody to go to bed at about 8 o’clock. There was a real curfew in 1653, the so-called dissolution of the rump parliament and another when William of Orange landed to seize the throne in 1688, the so-called Glorious Revolution. The British declared martial law in Ireland in 1916 to maintain law and order in Dublin. In 1918, the British Board of Trade introduced a curfew to order businesses to turn out lights at 10.30 pm to save electricity during wartime. Strong rumours suggest that hidden figures in the British royal family and the army high command considered a coup with a curfew in 1979 when the then Labour government faced so many strikes that the dead piled up in the mortuaries as there was nobody to bury or cremate them. In March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened a curfew and more if the public did not observe social distancing. Let’s hope there isn’t another coup in Thailand. But if there is, that may be part of the new-normal we all hate to say.
Britain has had her fair share too