RE: Fresh Squeals for May!!
Fire, smoke and guns in Bangkok - May 2010
I hadn't planned to return to Bangkok (BKK) after moving to Chiang Mai (CM) on 01 March 2010. I am perfectly happy here in CM, the place where I intended to move to in March 2005. But life had other plans for me until this past winter.
After finally moving here, I had planned to solely teach English in CM until I started my next teaching position in a school here. I had lined up a 30-hour class for a husband and wife who own a 5-star hotel here in CM. Then things got violently dicey in Bangkok at the beginning of April, where they own a second hotel. Understandably concerned, they decided to go to Bangkok so they could guard that hotel's interests. Things eventually cooled down in Bangkok, but the upshot is that they cancelled the class. I watched my bankroll fall and fall. So I made some phone calls and discovered that my former teaching agency in Bangkok would probably have over a week of full-time work for me in the second and third weeks of May. Plenty of time for me to return to CM for the start of my new teaching position at Chiang Mai University (CMU). So I bought a one-way ticket and arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, May 8th.
On the evening of Thursday, May 13th, the day before I was supposed to start teaching, all hell broke loose in Bangkok. Because of the renewed violence, the next day's classes that I was supposed to teach were cancelled. Then things got a lot worse. They postponed classes for all of the schools in Bangkok for the next week. Disheartened that I would now have no work until classes started at CMU, I ventured out to the main train station on Sunday, May 16th, passing close several times enroute to where some of the fighting was taking place (evidenced by the plumes of black smoke), and bought a return trip ticket to Chiang Mai for May 24th.
From the balcony of the apartment in which I was staying in Bangkok, I had a perfect view of the activities of the Red Shirt protest. I could see the entire BTS (Sky Train) line from north to south, along which almost all of the bombings, tire fires, building fires and gunshots happened. Initially, it was confined to the area of Victory Monument, about a 10-15 minute bus ride from where I was staying. Then it broadened out to four or five main areas in Bangkok. We would watch the Thai TV coverage of breaking news, and when new activity broke out, we would walk out to the balcony and inevitably see the latest manifestations in the forms of thick plumes of black smoke (usually fires from piles of tires).
At one point, the Red Shirts decided to have a convoy of vehicles, and they took their protest to the north of Bangkok. The Army and police confronted them on a major thoroughfare, and some people were shot. The government forbade the Red Shirts from leaving the designated areas of protest, so everyone returned to those areas.
Also at one point, the government accused the Red Shirts of being anti-royal, a charge of treason in Thailand. The Red Shirt leaders 'cried foul,' and the government backed down from that charge.
The fighting and protests happened regularly during the day, but almost always stopped after dark. Initially, the government seemed to tolerate this non-violently, but then, during the beginning of the week of Monday, May 17th, the government decided to crack down. Gunfire began to happen more regularly, and people were killed. The protesters began to fight back. More people were killed, and large buildings were set on fire by the protesters (Central World Shopping Center at Chitlom BTS station and Center One Shopping Center at Victory Monument).
All along, the Red Shirts were demanding that the current Prime Minister, Abhisit, step down, that the government be dissolved and that new elections be held immediately. They based their demands on the fact that Abhisit and his government had not been elected. (This is true, since he became PM by a special vote in the Parliament in December 2008, shortly after the crisis when the Red Shirts seized and shut down Suvarnabhumi International Airport.). At the beginning of this conflict, Abhisit refused to consider any options. Then he offered an olive branch by offering to hold elections in November. At first, it looked hopeful for resolving the conflict, but then the Red Shirts began to made additional demands that Abhisit wasn't ready to concede. It's still unclear when or if new elections will be held.
During the protests, some gunfire was coming from places that couldn't be explained by the locations of the Red Shirts, Army or police. It gradually came to light that there were snipers firing at the activity in the off-limits areas. Rumors abound during such incidents, and one rumor was that there was a plot to make the Red Shirts look bad by making people think that they were firing at the soldiers and police. Another such rumor was that the government had a plot to try to knock off the top leaders of the Red Shirts, thereby weakening them.
A curfew was announced by the Thai government, and TV reporters emphasized the importance of staying inside at those times. We were reminded that, if we absolutely did have to go out, to always carry our identification with us, in case we were stopped by the police or military. Red Shirts were offered free bus rides back home, if they so desired. Fires were still visible at night, and gunshots were often heard, this time even at night. Army tanks rolled into the areas that were off-limits at all times. The next day, we would watch the night's results on TV, and as they continued during the day. The tanks had crushed barricades of tires that the Red Shirts had set up. A renegade Army general who had joined the Red Shirts was shot in the head and eventually died. The leaders of the Red Shirts fled, while a few isolated protesters remained to defend their shrinking turf. Eventually, most of the holdouts were arrested. The violence in Bangkok subsided as the government regained control. Cleanup crews invaded the previous protest areas and worked hard to try to restore them to their prior state so Bangkokians could restart their lives again.
As the government had cracked down, however, the violence began to spread to the north and northeast of Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and other towns and cities where large numbers of Red Shirts are located. As their violence had started later than in Bangkok, it also continued past the violence in Bangkok.
I finally was able to take a bus to Victory Monument on Saturday, May 22nd. When I finally reached the area of the Center One Shopping Center, my mouth dropped open. It was gutted by fire...a complete loss. A few buildlngs on either side had also been gutted. I had met a friend in the shopping center just over a week earlier. People were standing around, taking photos of it. Most had looks of disbelief.
Bangkok was peaceful once again when I left on May 24th, but I didn't know what would await me in CM. As I rode in a tuk-tuk from the CM train station, while there were many soldiers with guns on the street, they seemed more interested in when lunch would arrive.
The curfew in CM ended this past Saturday morning at 4 am. Whether the violence will reignite in the future is anyone's guess. But for now, things are completely back to normal in CM.
I never felt in danger myself during the violence, mostly because it was happening at a safe distance away from me. Life strangely went on as normal during the day, although that stopped as soon as the 6 pm curfew began. I suppose that it's vaguely similar to living in a city under siege, except that there is a continuing (instead of dwindling) supply of food and drinks to survive. Or, you could go buy a new air conditioner and know that there was likely going to be plenty of electricity to run it.
Historians will analyze what happened here last month and dissect it completely. What would have happened if the Red Shirts had been more organized? What if they had focused their efforts in many different places at the same time, instead of concentrating them in Bangkok? For now, life goes on in Thailand normally, but we're all continuing to hold our breath for a while longer.
sooooo -weeeee !!!
(This post was last modified: 06-02-2010 12:45 AM by tongue_thaied.)