BANGKOK – Newly re-elected US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Thailand last month was highlighted with a very special participation in one of the kingdom’s most famous cultural rituals: the creation of city-wide traffic gridlock for the sake of just one person.
“President Obama was very interested in balancing the business of this state visit with some cultural events as well,” explained Ben Rhodes, deputy US national security adviser. “It was decided that by disrupting downtown traffic in this busy capital city of 10 million people with a heavily armored and totally excessive motorcade would be a great way to connect with the Thai people.”
In addition to visitng Wat Pho and participating in an audience with His Majesty the King at Siriraj Hospital, President Obama also made several trips between his meetings with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and his hotel on Sukhumvit Road, causing backups of traffic throughout the CBD and causing delays up to two hours for motorists.
“Causing traffic jams for VIP motorcades is a long-held and almost sacred Thai tradition,” explained US Ambassador Kristie Kenney. “Thais are very into social rank, and nothing personifies the exercise of rank like blocking off a major boulevard during rush hour with 400 policemen just so you can go shopping.”
It was the Ambassador’s suggestion, in fact, that convinced Obama that making the city’s commuters suffer needlessly as a naked display of capriciousness and power would endear the US to Thais, according to sources.
On the Monday morning of the President’s visit, traffic along Sukhumvit, Petchburi, Pattanakarn, Wittayu, Rama I, and Asoke roads were described by BMA officials as “hellish,” and “hopelessly jammed,” leading Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express satisfaction that the visit was going as planned.
“We have deep respect for the traditions and practices of Thais,” she said at a press conference. “We hope this traffic jam shows just how eager the US is to work with the kingdom of Thailand in maintaining its strength and identity moving forward.”
The gridlock is believed to be the worst caused by a foreign dignitary since the APEC meeting in 2003, when then president George W. Bush used a cordon of 43 armored vehicles to escort him to Siam Paragon.
President Obama himself expressed great pleasure at the opportunity for having an authentic Thai experience.
“I am told that some of the most important and beloved figures in Thailand have been regular creators of traffic jams, including high-ranking generals, Privy Council members, and the Crown Prince himself,” he said. “They have set the standard of leadership in this country, and the least I can do is try and follow it.”