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Tea Leaves

Bangkok's streets expose Southeast Asia's new divides

Throughout the region, the pandemic is causing suicides, widening inequality and growing unrest

People line up for free food at a slum area following the COVID-19 outbreak, in Bangkok in April 2020.   © Reuters

The young woman stared blankly into the middle distance. At 6:30 a.m. there was no particular reason to be sitting on the steps of a shuttered shop house along Bangkok's Sukhumvit Road, her arms draped over a few belongings in shopping bags, except that she was homeless.

Unlike the beggars I usually see in dirt-streaked rags by the side of one of Bangkok's busiest streets, this woman looked as if she had only recently lost her home. There was a flash of shock and trauma, instead of despair, in her eyes.

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