A Thai Love Story. Sort of.

love

Those years in Thailand come back to me now like a pleasant form of indigestion.  Each mental belch retains the flavor of durian, the odor of fish sauce, and the release of a gaseous form of pleasure mixed with disbelief that I was ever actually there – working, eating, and loving.

I met Joom at the Bedrock Inn, a semi-respectable restaurant/bar/hotel on the beach in Ban Phe.  I was eating Penang curry; she was looking for her dog Nipoo.  Something about her face struck me as accessible as well as challenging.

I invited her to sit with me and let me buy her something to eat.  She gave me a wolfish grin and accepted – after she found her dog.   I offered to go with her on the search.

“Sit and eat, mister.  Nipoo will not come to me with a stranger nearby” she replied laughingly.

She left and I thought “Well, I’ll never see her again”.

But she came back fifteen minutes later, with Nipoo in tow.  Nipoo sniffed my ankles disapprovingly, then circled under the table several times before lying down with a resigned snort.

Joom had green papaya salad and sticky rice.  She told the server, a slatternly maiden who complained of being so hung over that her eyes had changed color and would not focus, to grind ten ‘mouse droppings’ peppers into the mixture.  This was excessive, even for a heat-loving Thai.

I raised my eyebrows at her order.  She gave me another wolfish grin – her teeth an aggressive white against her brown face.

She accepted my doubting look as a challenge, and when the green papaya salad came she took each bite, mixed with a ball of sticky rice, slowly and deliberately.

When her face broke out into a torrid sweat, the drops coursing down her forehead and spreading out on her broad nose, I asked her with a smirk if she would like something to drink.

“Leo beer” she croaked.  I ordered her a large bottle.

She finished her plate, and her beer, in silence, looking at me with mischievous delight while I looked back at her with frank admiration.

We became a couple at that first serendipitous meeting.

She was an easy woman to love.

About my age, with the lithe figure common to Thai women and about ten inches shorter than me, she was fiercely independent and tenderly possessive at the same time.

She drove a truck, but didn’t tell me she owned one until a month after we started going together.  Up until then she let me walk her around and deigned to let me pay for taxis.

“Why the dickens didn’t you tell me you had a truck?” I crossly asked her when she finally offered to take us down to Pattaya Beach in it.

“I didn’t know if I would keep you” she replied saucily.  “Now I know; we’ll ride together for a long time.”

I was not interested in casual sexual adventures, so once she revealed her truck and her thoughts to me I began to press her to marry me.

Most Thai women of a certain age have got at least one ‘marriage’ behind them.  I use quotation marks because until very recently a young Thai girl in her home village was considered as a commodity to be casually sold to the first young man who wanted her.  The marriage ceremony, such as it was, was performed casually by the local Buddhist monks, and it usually lasted no more than a year before the young girl, now an experienced and disillusioned young woman, would leave her husband to strike out on her own – in business, at college . . . or as a prostitute.

After 2 such ‘marriages’ and ‘divorces’, with 2 grown children already successfully married and out on their own, Joom wanted an enormous bride price before we got married.

She was going to use it to build her mother a grand house, a regular McMansion, up in Loey by the Laotian border.  It would give her and her mother great face, she told me.

I demurred.  I’d already been married once, she twice; there was no need for a thumping great dowry or any ostentation.  And so the bargaining between us began.

We haggled on the beach in Pattaya.

We traded propositions while eating fresh coconut ice cream out of coconut shells at Chatachuck Market in Bangkok.

We grew furious and costive with each other on the way to Trat while I got my work visa renewed.

In Krabi, sipping soda water infused with sweetened hibiscus syrup, we at last came to an agreement.

I would buy her mother the largest plasma screen television available, and I would take over the payments on Joom’s truck.

Once that was settled we began to gather the required documents for a civil marriage.  The red tape involved would have choked the most dedicated bureaucrat.

But then Joom decided she didn’t want to be married again; she wanted a looser relationship.  Couldn’t we just be friends and continue to hang out together and travel around Southeast Asia together?

I said sure, why not?

Then I came back, alone, to the States to renew my passport.

That was four years ago . . .

And I’m still alone.

 

History of a School that Failed.

holywood

It all started when a friend who was moving back to the States offered me his wide screen TV.  He didn’t want to lug it back, so I was happy to take it off his hands.

I installed it in my spacious apartment just off Soi Asoke in Bangkok; my Thai landlord had given me a steep discount, in return for teaching him an hour’s worth of English each day.  Otherwise I would have never been able to afford it.

This was a tony Thai neighborhood, with marble mansions secluded behind wrought iron gates tortured into the shape of dragons, garudas and various other mythological and menacing beasts.  Jed Clampett might have sauntered out of any one of ‘em and drawled “Sawadi krab, y’all”.

English teaching gigs were drying up on me, so I hit on a plan to open my own English language school in my apartment.

But not just any language school.  No sirree bob!  I would show American movies on my wide screen and explain them scene by scene to curious and well-heeled Thais.

Since I was going after the carriage trade, so to speak, I advertised rates that were, to put it charitably, astronomical.  I hung some hand-made posters, in English, around the neighborhood, and sat back to await results.  If any.

It would, at least, make an interesting letter to the folks back home.

Imagine my surprise when half a dozen young Thais showed up at my door the first evening of class, checkbooks in hand, asking if there would be fried banana chips!

This is where I made my first mistake.  And my biggest.

I only charged them for the first class, figuring I would gouge the rest of it out of them after a few more classes had really whetted their appetites.

The first film I exhibited for my pupils was Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain.  They were more familiar with Bollywood than Hollywood, so it took several classes just to get them up to speed on what and where Hollywood is.

I’m happy to report they thoroughly enjoyed the whole shebang.  Curiously, the scene that intrigued them the most was Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh!”  I had to rerun that one about a dozen times.

By the end of that screening I had a steady attendance of 11 students.  I began rubbing my hands and chuckling in miserly glee like Silas Marner.  But I held off on collecting any more fees.  Perhaps I could round things off to an even dozen!

Then on to John Wayne in Red River.

The Duke was never in better form, and I was hoping to inculcate my scholars with an understanding and appreciation of the American West.  But instead they became extremely indignant when they finally understood the plot line.  How dare the son, even though adopted, turn against his own father!  John Wayne had every right to kill him for disobedience, they told me; and they were highly dissatisfied with the ending where he gets off scot free.

Thai culture, in case you haven’t guessed, is heavily weighted in favor of parental authority.

My last opus was my favorite.  I ran Laurel & Hardy’s Sons of the Desert.

I did this to introduce them to the American conception of marriage.  Great comedians show more emotional truth than do great dramatists.

But my plans to guide an informed discussion on the marriage state were sidetracked by my student’s constant hilarity.  At one point in the film Stan begins eating a wax apple, under the impression it is the real McCoy. My Thai students could not get enough of that scene; I had to stop the video and rewind it to that moment again and again.

During a pause in one of those rewinds I reminded my pupils that the rest of their tuition was due immediately.  Begging me to show them Khun Pom (their name for Stan Laurel, which means in Thai Mr. Skinny) again, they promised en masse to hand the balance over at our next class.

So guess what . . .

You got it.  I never saw any of them again.

It’s not that they were trying to cheat me.  They just figured we were now fast friends and money no longer entered into the arrangement.  I invited them over for an evening of good movies out of the kindness of my heart, just as they would have done if they had thought of it first.

That is the brief history of my Hollywood English School.  If someone else wants to try it, go ahead.

My only advice is to collect everything in advance.  And don’t start serving the fried banana chips till you get every last baht!

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The advertisement for America First Credit Union has been removed, at their request.

 

 

Bangkok Commute.

The ubiquitous Bangkok taxi.
The ubiquitous Bangkok taxi.

After finishing my TESOL course in Thailand I was anxious to get to work as an English teacher. My first job was in Bangkok, as were most of my other jobs while I remained an ESL teacher there in Thailand. Having heard all the moans & groans about apartment prices in Bangkok I thought I would be a smart cookie and head out to the suburbs for my pied a terre. I located an apartment in Nonthaburi for 3-thousand baht per month. It consisted of a large tiled room, with a bedstead holding one of those impossibly rigid Thai mattresses, the ones stuffed with sand, and a bathroom. The sink and mirror were located out on the balcony, where Greater Racket-tailed Drongos used to perch on the ledge to watch me shave.   It even came with air conditioning – a massive, elderly unit that at one time must have graced the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, as it sent out a turbo-charged blast of arctic air that put ice on the walls within ten minutes of being turned on. When functioning, it produced a roar like an F-5 tornado.  I only used it for ten minutes at night before going to bed. The apartment building was populated by a sprinkling of local factory workers and Thai college students, and an abundance of bar girls. The bar girls were crammed 6 to a room, all sleeping on the floor on rattan mats. I remember them as pretty good cooks when they’d wake up around noon. They’d giggle and whisper to each other whenever I walked by one of their open doors, and would invite me in for some curry & rice. Nothing loath, I often accepted – their food, that is. It was hard to believe these gals were bar girls – out of makeup and rested, they appeared to be about 15 years old, but once they got back into their nightly working attire I was reminded of Barbie Dolls Gone Bad.

greenbus

I initially gloated over my housing coup, thinking how much money I would save because I was willing to commute to work. That was before I discovered that the Bangkok Public Transportation System was designed by lunatics, built by sadists, and held together by betel nut and rubber bands. My first morning’s commute to my school started at 7am – that allowed me an hour and a half to arrive on time. On paper, it looked simple. Walk out to the mouth of my soi, wait for the Number 27 bus, get off on Silom Road, catch one of those truncated buses that are painted bright green, and gracefully descend outside the very doorsteps of my school, with plenty of time to spare.

I started out towards the mouth of the soi, only to be met by a pack of howling canines. Luckily, as the weather looked dicey, I was carrying an umbrella, so I scattered the mongrels with several deft swipes of my bumpershoot. I made a mental note to engage a motorcycle taxi to take me out to the main street from now on. I arrived at the mouth of my soi in time to see the Number 27 bus receding in the smoggy distance. No matter, I assured myself – another one would be along soon.

An hour later I was fuming as I uneasily rolled on the balls of my tired feet. I couldn’t be late for school, so I flagged down a taxi and wound up paying 150 baht to get to work on time.

The next morning I got a motorcycle taxi out to the main road in plenty of time for the bus. Piece of cake, really. I hopped on, paid my fare, and sat back smugly to enjoy the rich tapestry of life that presents itself to one gazing out the window while riding a bus with no ac and windows permanently jammed shut in Bangkok.  The only weevil in the rice was that we never reached Silom Road – we stopped at the Victory Monument – which, I was to find out, acts as a kind of black hole for all buses, mini vans, motorcycle taxis, and everything else on wheels that charges a fare. If you stay on any bus in Bangkok long enough you will eventually find it drawn to the Victory Monument – even if it was supposed to go to Chiang Mai! In a panic, I flagged down a taxi and made it to school by the skin of my teeth.

My bus map and my neighbors assured me it was the Number 27 bus I wanted to catch. So I tried it several more days, with the same result. I was learning that hard lesson of commuter life – trust no map or printed schedule, for they are fairy tale traps.

I went to Plan B. This involved taking a taxi to the Municipal Boat Pier in Nonthaburi, taking the express boat down to the Taksin Bridge, and then getting on the skytrain for several stops, and then walking about a half mile to the school. This was more time-consuming and expensive, and I occasionally got soaked when filthy waves would overflow the delicate craft as it charged down the river, dodging rice barges and fishing trawlers. At the end of the month, toting up my commuter bill, I realized I could have gotten a swanky place in Bangkok, probably right next door to my school, for less than I was spending on commuting. Plus I could sleep past 5am.

I eventually did trade my homey Nonthaburi abode for something closer to work – at which time, according to Torkildson’s Law, my teaching contract was not renewed and I had to seek another school. Which I found rather quickly . . . on the outskirts of Nonthaburi.  And I was now I locked into a one year lease on my apartment in Bangkok.

My advice to aspiring ESL teachers here in Bangkok when it comes to accommodations?

BUY A TENT.

tent

State Department Issues Travel Alert for Thailand Until End of August.

king

The U.S. Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens reconsider any non-essential travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to ongoing political and social unrest and restrictions on internal movements, including an indefinite nighttime curfew throughout Thailand. The Department of State has advised official U.S. government travelers to defer all non-essential travel to Thailand until further notice. This Travel Alert supersedes the Travel Alert issued on May 16, 2014, and will expire on August 21, 2014.

On May 22, the Royal Thai Army announced it had seized control of the administration of the country and imposed a nationwide daily curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. until further notice, a ban on political gatherings, and restrictions on the media. More restrictions may follow. As a result, U.S. citizens may encounter a heightened military presence throughout Thailand, particularly in Bangkok, as well as disruptions to traffic. Allow extra time for journeys, including to and from Bangkok airports. Public transportation and business operating hours may be curtailed without notice. Authorities have advised that the curfew does not apply to those travelling to or from the airports, but departing or arriving travelers should be prepared to present their passports and tickets or airline itineraries to authorities upon request. U.S. citizens are advised to stay alert, exercise caution, and monitor international and Thai media. Avoid areas where there are protest events, large gatherings, or security operations and follow the instructions of Thai authorities. Although many protest activities have been peaceful, violent incidents involving guns and explosive devices have occurred at or near protest sites. Some have resulted in injury or death.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid protest sites, demonstrations, and large gatherings. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports. You should allow extra time when travelling throughout the city or to/from airports. Consider using public transportation.

U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Thailand are strongly advised to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) https://step.state.gov/step/. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. By enrolling, you make it easier for the U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in case of an emergency.

All Wet. Further Memories of Thailand.

flood

Every morning I awoke in Thailand with a song in my heart and a frog choral in my ears.  As I lay a moment in bed, expecting to hear the soft cooing of mourning doves I was, instead, assailed with a raucous chorus of delighted, copulating, frogs – who were splashing and croaking about in a perfect orgy from last night’s immense, inevitable, rainfall.  Well, I told myself with good humor, that’s Thailand for you.  Monsoons and heat.  I stepped out of bed .

Squish.

A half inch of water on my bedroom floor.  I slid into the bathroom to take care of the morning chores, slid back into the bedroom, slid over to the wardrobe, collected my clothes, slid over to the bed, hopped on, and dressed myself.  All except my shoes. I carried those in my hand.  Then slid to work.

Well, I told myself with much less good humor, that’s Thailand for you also.

As a boy I lived through a terrific cloudburst one Sunday in church – the heavens opened and a deluge turned the streets around the chapel into canals. The church basement began to flood and, by a heroic effort, the men whisked the old upright piano up the basement stairs and out of danger.  It sat in the church lobby for the next five years before there was enough group spirit to lug it back down again.

I thought to myself, back then, boy I’ll never see that kind of rain again.

25 years later I moved to Thailand.  And believe you me, I saw that kind of rain all the time.

And right here let me take my hat off (a salacot) to the valiant men, women and children of Thailand, who somehow manage to look smart and clean during deluges that would make Noah homesick.

I  always try to emulate the Thai sangfroid when drowning is imminent.

When I taught up in Bangkok many long years ago, long before there was a Sky Train, I had to trudge through the flotsam & jetsam of streets surfeited with the overflow from klongs and the seasonal high tides that caused the river itself to come creeping up to my ankles.  The first casualty to this inevitable, unavoidable, moisture was my pride & joy – my expensive leather Florsheims.  I wanted to impress my students with my sartorial savvy.  I unwisely left them soaking wet for a few days and when it came time to wear them to school a fungus had turned them from tawny brown to dull green.  Not having another pair of shoes handy at the time, I wore them anyway.  I got away with this for a few days, since we all took our shoes off before entering the classroom – but they eventually fell apart like soggy cardboard, so I switched to flip flops and never had cause to regret it.  In a riparian country like Thailand, shoes are as superfluous as ear hair.

Another time I was daintily wading down a soi to my first English class of the morning when I took an unexpected plunge down an uncovered manhole into the unspeakable depths of a Thai sewer.  I showed up to school that day looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, while all the faculty and students — who waded through the very same muck and mire as me– were as fresh as a spray of bougainvillea.

How do they do it?  I see them with flimsy parasols and in cheap plastic rain ponchos during horrendous downpours cheerfully wending their way to business or pleasure – and once inside they look as neat and dry as a desert sunrise.

I, on the other hand, even though I have a wide umbrella above me and am clad in a sturdy plastic rain poncho, always look like a drowned rat when I step in out of the rain.

I know, of course, that fully half the population of Thailand utterly refuses to go outdoors during even the lightest mist.  That may explain how they stay so dry – they just don’t go out when there’s moisture lurking about. They claim it is madness to go out in the rain – and on rainy days I could always count on about half of my students being absent.  As an enlightened Westerner I have always scoffed at the Thai’s belief that if you go out in the rain you will inevitably catch a cold.  Proper dry clothing and a good dose of vitamin C will keep that laughable bugaboo at bay!  But in Thailand I regularly caught a cold every four months, like snotty clockwork.

The longer I lived in Thailand, the more I became like the Thais in their avoidance of rain at all costs. It was pleasant to be late for almost anything without penalty or consequence; all I had to say was “fon doak” (it rains) and all is forgiven.  In America we blame global warming for everything from drought to gridlock;  I like the Thai scape goat better.  Didn’t show up for work today?  Bounced a check?  Missed a hot date?  Fon doak, baby – deal with it!

The Big Break. A Personal Memoir of Teaching ESL in Thailand.

My Big Break.
My Big Break.

ESL teachers in Thailand find various antidotes to the trials and tribulations that face them on a daily basis.  Some fall into the arms of adventuresses – or adventurers.  Some take up a hobby, like stamp collecting or banging the head against the bedroom wall for ten minutes.

But most ESL teachers in Thailand spend their idle hours daydreaming and talking about “The Big Break” as a way to lessen disillusionment and creeping tropical ennui.

The Big Break does happen – I’ve known ESL teachers up in Bangkok who’ve experienced it and now live a life of pampered ease and wealth that rivals anything in the Arabian Nights.

Here’s how it’s supposed to happen:  One bright day you are valiantly trying to instill in your torpid pupils the difference between “We see it” and “We saw it” when the classroom door bursts open and your school administrator comes rushing in to breathlessly announce that Mr. Praphan – in person – is waiting to see you in the office.  Mr. Praphan, of course, as everyone who reads The Wall Street Journal knows, is a fabulously wealthy industrialist whose son just happens to be one of your English students.  Class is summarily dismissed.  You greet Mr. Praphan with a reverent wai and, being the big businessman that he is, he gets right to the point.  His son has told him how very, very well you marshal your lesson plans into gems of lucidity and cohesiveness.  Mr. Praphan needs just such an individual in his vast organization, and if you’re willing to settle for half-a-million baht per month to start, he’d like to take you on as his personal assistant.  As you drive away with Mr. Praphan in his chauffeured limousine you look back at your bewildered students and the school administrator – who is a bilious green with envy – and let slip a quiet, wry chuckle.  After all those years of steady application in a mostly thankless task, your true worth has finally been recognized and you have been blessed with . . . The Big Break.

It could happen to any ESL teacher in Thailand.  It almost happened to me . . .

I was slaving away at a technical college in Nonthaburi, teaching so many courses on hotel and tourist English that I began gibbering “May I have your credit card please?” in my sleep.  One fine day a friend of mine called to say that a certain well-to-do import/export man was looking for a farang to work at his headquarters to handle the increasing press of foreign business coming his way.  If I was interested, my friend said, he would arrange for this gentleman and I to have lunch together at a fancy-schmancy buffet down at one of the big river hotels in Bangkok that Saturday.  He didn’t need to ask me twice.

Wearing a freshly-laundered white shirt with enough starch in it to stucco a house and a dark conservative necktie with elephants discretely cavorting on it, I sat down with this import/export gentleman and had a very good lunch. We gazed gravely at each other over beakers of mineral water.  He asked about my background, my education, my current position, and my future goals.  I answered appropriately, and modestly.  When he got up to pay the check I had a new job, with the glorious title of Overseas Coordinator!

Of course to begin with, he explained, he couldn’t pay me more than what I was already making as an ESL teacher – but he was certain that within a matter of months, once I had settled into the job and began bringing in massive overseas orders, he could justify boosting my compensation into the stratosphere.

I am not a name-dropper, so you’ll never know who it was I went to work for.  I strode into the import/export office later that week and made an immediate, electric, impression by tripping over a wastebasket someone had thoughtlessly left next to their desk.  My boss introduced me to the office manager, showed me my desk, and then left to play golf with a couple of Prime Ministers or Rajahs.

I sat at my desk, ruffled some papers, tried to look important, and waited for the phone to ring.  It didn’t –probably because I didn’t have a phone on my desk.  The office staff was not exactly cold, but they never did anything more than nod whenever they passed my desk – which for reasons that I still haven’t quite figured out, was next to the men’s squatter.

I spent a month sitting importantly at that desk, not being asked to do anything except wake up and stop snoring.  I brought in Thai comic books, laboriously translating the slang and abundant sexual innuendo (don’t ever tell a Thai to go fly a kite!)  I took long, meandering lunches down the nearby soi, stopping at one cart for grilled chicken livers, at another cart for some sticky rice roasted in a section of bamboo, and at a third cart for fried sweet banana chips.  I got my hair cut frequently at a barbershop that hired only young, nubile girls who giggled so much while clipping  that it’s a wonder I still have two ears on the side of my head.  Several haberdashery carts offered silk neckties and handkerchiefs at rock bottom prices, so I would fritter away an hour or two looking over the merchandise, occasionally selecting a new tie to go with my one starched white shirt.  I hand-washed and starched that shirt each evening, until it got so stiff it crackled like bent gypsum board whenever I moved my arms.

I enjoyed this modest sinecure for several more months before the whole office staff was laid off.  There was no explanation, but there was severance pay; I used mine for a trip to Krabi on the Andaman coast.  Unspoiled by tourist traps at the time, and teeming with topless beaches.  Then I looked over the jobs on Ajarn.com and began teaching ESL again at a commercial language school.  At the standard low salary.  Thank goodness I had a hobby to ease my disappointment.  Every day, before flagging down a three-wheeler to take me to work, I spent ten refreshing minutes banging my head against the wall.

student

Democracy is Dying in Thailand.

vic

BANGKOK —  Joseph de Maistre said “Every country gets the government it deserves.”  This is being proven once again, in the Kingdom of Thailand.

Five months of protests in Bangkok have snarled traffic, scared away tourists and deflated the Thai economy, but the thousands of protesters who have regularly descended onto the streets have failed to unseat the government or any of its top officials.

That may change in the coming weeks, as focus shifts from the protesters’ encampment in the heart of Bangkok to the courts and government agencies that have handed down a series of decisions favorable to the protest movement.

Although nominally independent, a number of the judges and top officials in the agencies handling cases against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government have had longstanding antagonistic relationships with Ms. Yingluck and her party.

“It no longer makes sense to attempt to explain the current political situation in Thailand by relying on legal principles,” Verapat Pariyawong, a lawyer and commentator, said in a Facebook posting. “The current situation is more or less a phenomenon of raw politics whereby the rule of law is conveniently stretched and stripped to fit a political goal.”

On Monday, Ms. Yingluck appeared briefly before the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is pursuing a case against her on the grounds that she did nothing to stop alleged corruption in a rice subsidy program. If the commission finds that there is a prima facie case, she will be suspended as prime minister, a decision that could come within weeks.

Wicha Mahakhun, the member of the commission who is charged with handling the case, has sparred with Ms. Yingluck’s party before. He was appointed by the military in 2007 to rewrite the Constitution after the overthrow of Ms. Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup d’état.

The new Constitution was intended to blunt the governing party’s electoral power in part by making half of the Senate appointed by judges and the heads of agencies, instead of directly elected.

“We all know elections are evil,” Mr. Wicha said at the time, arguing that power must be transferred into the hands of judges rather than elected representatives, who he said had caused the country to “collapse.”

“People, especially academics who want to see the Constitution lead to genuine democracy, are naïve,” he said.

Three current judges of the Constitutional Court, which has repeatedly ruled against the government in recent months, were also members of the post-coup commission to rewrite the Constitution.

This power struggle between Ms. Yingluck — whose Pheu Thai party retains strong support among voters in the hinterland — and judges and agencies in Bangkok that want to blunt what they see as a destructive populist movement that encroaches on their power has been a central undercurrent of the five months of political stalemate.

The prospect that courts and agencies will remove Ms. Yingluck, and potentially her entire cabinet, from power is being described in Thailand as a judicial coup.

Some protesters in recent months have pleaded for the army to step in — the military in Thailand has a long history of overthrowing governments — but analysts say the head of the army appears to be wary both of bloodshed and of foreign reaction to a coup.

“We used to suspend democracy by military coup,” Sodsri Satayathum, a former election commissioner and another member of the 2007 committee charged with drafting a constitution, said at a seminar earlier this month. “Military coups do not work anymore,” she said.

Likhit Dhiravegin, a prominent academic and frequent commentator on television, said last week that an “orchestrated” judicial coup was already underway.

“This is a coup conducted inside the system by using regulations,” he said. “Don’t deny it — everybody knows about it, inside and outside the country.”

Tensions escalated late last year, when the governing party passed a constitutional amendment restoring the Senate as a fully elected body.

The Constitutional Court struck down the change, ruling in November that making the Senate fully elected was an attempt to “overthrow” democracy, a decision that has been criticized by constitutional scholars.

The Constitutional Court has also struck down an ambitious and costly infrastructure plan, partly because the judges ruled that high-speed trains, a major element of the plan, are not appropriate for Thailand. Critics say that is a judgment for legislators, not the courts.

The activism of the courts has renewed a debate about double standards in Thai society. Government supporters point out that the leader of the protest movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, is wanted on murder charges for his role in a crackdown that left dozens of “red shirts” — supporters of Mr. Thaksin — dead in 2010. He has ignored numerous requests to appear in court.

Government supporters also question the priorities of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The rice subsidy case has swiftly been pursued when other cases that appear to be obvious examples of corruption have languished.

In the case of the rice subsidy allegations, Ms. Yingluck said over the weekend that the proceedings appeared rushed.

“We are wondering if we were treated as same as other persons holding political positions,” she said.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission sought to rebut that allegation Monday, saying that the investigation had been underway for nearly two years.

Whether or not Ms. Yingluck was guilty of “neglect of duty” in the rice subsidy program, the case goes to the heart of the conflict between protesters and supporters of the governing party.

The governing party defends the subsidy — the government buys rice from farmers at double the market price — as a way to lift rural incomes. But experts and even some prominent government supporters call it wasteful, very expensive and destructive to the country’s rice industry.

The government has accumulated debt totaling 695 billion baht, or roughly $21 billion, to finance the rice policy over the past two and a half years, according to a calculation by Nipon Poapongsakorn, a leading expert on the rice subsidy program. Some, but not nearly all, of the debt could be paid back by selling the government’s estimated stockpile of around 15 million to 17 million tons of rice. But the government appears to be having difficulty selling rice at market prices, given questions over its quality and freshness.

Relative to the size of their economies, the rice subsidies are costing Thailand four times more than the European Union’s farm aid program: Thailand’s rice subsidies cost the government at least 200 billion baht last year, equivalent to 1.7 percent of the country’s total economic output. By comparison, Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy, one of the world’s most generous farm programs, cost the equivalent of less than half a percent of the European Union’s economic output.

Nattakorn Devakula, a television host who has been blistering in his criticism of the subsidy program, said the government “needs to be punished enough so that they realize that they cannot carry out the same rice scheme.”

But he warned of a destructive backlash by government supporters if a so-called judicial coup is carried out.

“It’s not worth ruining democracy over this issue,” he said.