Life goes on in Bangkok – same same but different
If it wasn’t for the military struttin’ their stuff, the absence of a bustling tourist trade, and the abundance of clean air (motor vehicles are avoiding the area) I’d say life hasn’t changed much here in the city of angels. Tourism is down particularly in the Silom area (home of infamous Patpong) but life goes on, even somewhat better in a way. People I know seem to feel a lot safer. Generally speaking, the police don’t seem to be overly effective at making one feel safe here but chances are no-one is going to bother you when a soldier fully armed is standing close by. I think it’s safe to say that is the general impression amongst residents here. Overall stress just seems to be lower. Everyone just seems to be content till the red shirts exhaust themselves and go home. On the surface that’s how it seems to be but that’s all to change…it’s changing as I write.
In the privacy of homes and offices people have been resenting the intrusion, the invasiveness, and the arrogance of these ‘red shirt’ invaders. They have taken over our park, polluted our ears with horns blasting, megaphones blaring, and clappers clapping for three straight weeks now with no end in sight. People have also begun to resent the apparent weakness of the government-particularly the police, whom many believe are in league with the red shirts-to effectively deal with these protesters. They’ve blocked roads, completely taken over public areas and just overall seemed to have their way with the authorities.
Most thought some of the televised events surrounding the red shirt phenomenon have been rather embarrassing for the government and badly reflects on the impression of Thai people around the world. Spattering human blood around government buildings, Really! And it’s been more than enough to have to listen to the ‘red shirt’ inflammatory diatribe on the streets, on the air waves and nauseatingly in every taxi cab in the city, but when the ‘red shirts’ refused to negotiate with the government, only insisting on its dissolution, without offering any hope of a better future for the country, tolerance and patience ran out. And then came the violence, April 10, 2010. The sudden appearance of the military was more than welcomed. Citizens came out in droves to welcome them and provided fruits and drinks while they stood guard.
Today in fact it seems the land of smiles, the land known for its hospitality is not so hospitable anymore, at least not to anyone wearing red. Residents here are fed up. For the average resident politics is a necessary evil in society. Most are defiantly apolitical. But as I began to write this piece, huge crowds were amassing across the boulevard from Lumpini park where the ‘red shirts’ have taken hold.
Every other evening, my wife and I played badminton in the wide open spaces and clean air of Lumpini park. Tonight we were determined to claim back our right to play there even if the ‘red shirts’ seemed to think it was now their domain. We drove past a heavily barricaded area encompassing the front of the park and eventually found a side entrance, went in and played our game. Red shirts were everywhere posturing but no-one bothered us. On our return home we again drove by the rapidly evolving area in front of the park. It’s directly across from the primary access to the Silom area, a major tourist, academic and business centre and soon to become a flashpoint of activity between the ‘red shirts’ and the residents of Silom. Directly across from the park, a huge crowd was yelling at the top of their lungs ‘Get out’ and they looked ready to battle. It was clear something sooner than later was going to happen.
For the first couple of days the red shirts that came to Lumpini Park were tolerated. They came, they saw. they conquered, ‘Mai pen rai’ (Thai for ‘forget about it’), no big deal. Residents just changed their plans. The daily outing for some Tai-chi, outdoor aerobics, or a jog in the park were reluctantly put off for another day. Everyone thought once they’d made their point, the red shirts would leave. However, to everyone’s amazement, like distant relatives that drop in unannounced and apparently have no other place to go, the red shirts took up residence. They literally dug in and day by day became more entrenched. A week later wind screens, several meters high, block off view of their operations. Barricades of tires imbedded with bamboo poles restrict any attempt to casually walk through their defenses. Guards will harass you if you try.
Residents of Silom vs Red shirt protesters, round 1.
Suddenly my wife’s phone rings and it’s her sister telling us to turn on the news. M79 grenades have been launched into the group of Silom Road protesters and there is widespread mayhem. According to health authorities, 66 people have been injured, one dead. The crowds disperse. It’s an hour later now and the crowds have returned. They’re armed. Crude weapons to be sure: slingshots, stones and chunks of glass. There’s talk of making Molotov cocktails. It’s going to be a long night. One would think the military would just walk in and remove these red shirts. They’re breaking the law. But they have women and children and elderly people in those camps. What can they do? If you have any ideas, let me know. I’ll pass em’ along.