Bangkok's 'Chaos' Remarkably Orderly
I spent the day Monday moving about Bangkok, checking out the redshirts' protests and the "hot spots" where occasional clashes with military forces were taking place.
And you know what? This revolution was easygoing and friendly.
Don't get me wrong: People were injured. Protesters clashed with riot police, burned some buses and had shots fired in the air and teargas set off at them.
But these incidents were few and far between. Mostly there were people, showing force together and demanding the government change. Mostly Bangkok celebrated the new year, splashing water at each other and spreading wet chalk on each other's faces.
As I moved around the city, I was surprised at how easy it was. I walked right through a police staging area, where riot police were resting in hammocks in the shade, their riot shields on the ground. I had a water gun slung over my shoulder (it was necessary to be armed with all the kids hitting you with water everywhere you went) and a few of the riot cops laughed and made shooting gestures at me, as though they were spraying me with water.
Later on, I was walking past Din Daeng intersection, a site where there were repeated clashes. I saw military forces lined up holding most of the intersection, and a truck on the other side with kids and a bunch of red shirts, laughing and spraying water on everyone. One of the military guys had chalk smeared on his face -- a victim of the new year's celebrations.
I was impressed at how easily I moved through all of the areas. All the public transport was working fine, and tuk-tuk drivers took me right into the heart of the "chaos" a couple of times. Malls were open, kids were playing and temples were abuzz with tourists. A block away from burning buses, a McDonald's did a brisk business as folks sprayed each other with water guns.
This was not your ordinary revolution and rioting.
The redshirts' main camp was perhaps the most interesting. Thousands and thousands of people were gathered; a huge infrastructure was set up -- like a rock concert/festival, with food booths, t-shirt stalls, stages, screens and sound systems transmitting the action on stage (mostly speakers rallying the crowds about the need for a just government) to the throngs of people spread out across the many different streets under the redshirts' control. In the morning, truck after truck was bringing in supplies -- food, water, equipment.
And I might have hit a disproportionate sample, but everyone I talked to said they supported the redshirts. Some were wearing nondescript clothing but pulled a red shirt out of their pocket when I asked. So if the urbanites are supporting the current prime minister, I didn't meet them.
Everywhere I went, Thais on both sides were smiling and encouraging. I know I have white skin and a peaceful demeanor, but I saw the same treatment done to other Thais. This was less a violent coup than it was a group of people demanding the government live up to its own standards -- to give them justice.
That might have been rhetoric, but it seemed backed up by everything I saw. Buses were burnt, yes, but what I saw was people trying to blockade themselves in because they were insistent on not leaving until justice was served. They weren't being hooligans or trying to harm anyone.
Some of the redshirts' signs: "We love our king. We love our country. We love justice. We are redshirts." and "We don't want laws with two standards."
I'm not choosing sides here. It seems to me problematic that the people rise up and break laws every time they want a different government. Under a democracy with a constitution, that's what elections or the courts are for. If these folks get their way (which is what happened two years ago to bring in the current prime minister), what's to stop another group of people from doing the same thing whenever they have a grievance with the current government? It's difficult to imagine a stable nation operating that way.
And I know that there are reports of a non-protester being killed in a gunfight with a protester. Dunno what that was about -- but fights sometimes end in a death in a big city.
I guess I was just struck by the non-chaos of the chaos, and I thought I ought to report it. It's what I saw all day long, everywhere I went, barring one or two hot spots for very brief times.
When I left the redshirts' main camp about 9:30 p.m. Monday, the military seemed to be trying to surround them and hem them in. That said, I and plenty of others were easily able to get in and out. Taxis were bringing gawkers in constantly -- it's not as though there was a roadblock with troops checking vehicles. Supplies could still have been getting through.
Maybe that will change tonight. It wouldn't surprise me to get up in the morning and find out the army had closed in even tighter. On the other hand, seeing how hands-off they were today, it also wouldn't surprise me to wake up and find nothng much has changed and the redshirts' numbers have grown.
We'll find out soon enough.
Tags: Bangkok Thailand Redshirt
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