Bangkok Burns

Hajmole Issue: Section:

“streets were covered in burnt tire residue, heaps of garbage
and imprints in the pavement left by the armored military vehicles”

(Before) Besides a few grenades that went off a few nights ago the situation is in a calm hold but both sides seem prepared for anything. Late last night i decided to walk home from a party and have a look at the area where the main standoff seems to be at the moment. I had followed the news all day and since i read that the head army general was quoted saying he would not use force right now I felt it would be ok to check it out. As i started getting closer there were military check points thoroughly searching the motorbikes and cars that wished to pass through. The streets were mostly empty of civilians and all the shops were closed. Once I got to the main road called "Silom" there was nothing but military troops standing guard and rows of police in full riot gear lined up on both sides of the street either standing in watch or getting some sleep on the pavement. I was able to walk right down the middle of the street and observe everything without anyone stopping me. I was not scared but the feeling was very eerie. Even though I had heard nothing was to happen these few days it still felt like everyone was very alert and keeping a close watch in the direction of the protestors camp.

I walked past the military side and across the open streets to the main protest site which was surrounded by a 20' high wall of spiked bamboo and car tires. A few hundred meters down the wall was an entrance and when I approached it i was welcomed to enter. Inside felt like some kind of refugee camp/outdoor festival. There were makeshift showers and toilets, kitchens, eating areas and people everywhere.

Many were sleeping on the ground but there ware also large groups of people closely paying attention to giant video projections of someone giving a speech from the main stage about a mile away. Just behind the bamboo barricade where I was walking before I entered there was a mass of people dancing around to loud thai music many with spiked bamboo spears in hand. Half the people were dancing and smiling while the other half just seemed to stare at the bamboo wall waiting for something to happen. Any eye contact that was made with me was accompanied by a smile and I didn't feel like I was intruding in any way. I even saw a few other white faces wandering around as well. From there I headed back to my area of the city but is still took me a good 30 minutes to get out of the protestors fortified perimeter which at this point took up a big section of central downtown. Once I got back to my neighborhood it was business as usual for a late friday night and you would never even know there was any kind of situation going on just near by.

A very interesting walk it was.

It was hard to imagine when things were going to come to an end. Both the government and the red shirt party were very firm on their demands. The government stated that they would remove the police and military soldiers, which were there to protect the city residents,  once the Red party abandoned their main encampment in the heart of commercial downtown Bangkok. But the Red party stated they would only leave after the government removed the military and police first. Back and forth it seemed to go and it was getting a bit tiresome. I'm not saying what the government did was right but after so much disagreement between the two there didn't seem to be any other way to move forward.

(After) Upon waking up Wednesday morning and turning on the TV it was obvious that with armored vehicles rolling down city streets the long awaited crackdown was about to commence. In a country so peaceful it was hard to believe something like this was really going to happen. When the first images of black smoke hit the news I made my way to the roof top. At 45 stories up a 360 degree view of the entire city can be taken in. At about 9 am there were already a few dark clouds rising from the outer areas of the Red shirts encampment from the burning of gasoline soaked tire barricades to keep the Reds protected from intrusion. Then the gun shots and grenades could be heard and this made the surreal  view that much more alive. This was a first for me as I have never heard munitions go off outside of a firing range.

For the next 12 hours I was in my apartment following CNN and twitter and the fires multiplied every time i went back up to the roof to see what was going on and in what part of the city. Fires reached areas far from the main Red shirt stronghold and you started to wonder just how close they might get. Even though there were military and riot police sprinkled throughout the city, the fact that this was even happening left the possibilities of anything else happening an open book.

The gunshots rang out all day and all through the night with an evening finale of a four story fire engulfing an entire wing of one of my favorite buildings and Bangkok's biggest and most beautiful shopping center.

Since that day there has been sporadic violence and who knows when it will end. I was able to walk through the carnage of burnt out buildings and the remains of the main protest site this afternoon, only three days since it all went down and it was an erie scene. Buildings were still smoldering, streets were covered in burnt tire residue, heaps of garbage and imprints in the pavement left by the armored military vehicles. At one point there was a very loud bang only a few hundred meters away and when arriving home a few hours later I learned it was a bomb set off by a militant Red shirt group.

Thailand is far from being out of the woods in this mess but hopefully the violence will not last much longer.

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