A holiday evening with the Reds-Bangkok Post

April 8, 2010

[FACT comments: Nice to know what govt is outlawing, isn’t it? Ah hem–peaceful protest…]


Delicious food, good folk music and nice souvenirs

Voranai Vanijaka

Tuesday was a holiday, so I thought: what better thing to do than go hang out with the red protesters? Thus I placed my political agenda in the closet, locked my judgement in the drawer, and headed to a protest site.

My goal was just to hang out with the people.

So I took the skytrain from Silom to Siam Paragon. From the skytrain, the image of the pitch-dark Four Seasons and Grand Hyatt Erawan hotels was an unfamiliar sight. As the skytrain took a left turn at Ratchaprasong intersection, I also found CentralWorld and Siam Paragon standing in a sombre mood, as if in solitude.

Walking among the red protesters, however, was a lively experience. Much like when I hung out with the yellow group a couple of years back. Food was abundant, so was music and fun.

I found protest food to be very delicious, both from the reds and the yellows. Too bad I’d come with a full stomach, so I just had quail’s eggs with Maggie sauce (yummy!) and ice-cream boran (heaven sent! – hadn’t tasted it since I was a little kid, not easily found in Bangkok anymore – leave it to the red shirts to bring in some good, old-fashioned Thai ice-cream).

It was around 6pm and many red shirts were already sleeping on the pavement, no doubt exhausted from the day’s activities. Little kids, however, were still running around, having much fun.

Walking past the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police made me realise: they hadn’t just shut down the shopping district, they’d shut down the police headquarters as well! Now that’s showing power. Within the blocked entrance to the Royal Thai Police headquarters, two rows of female police cadets stood guard.

Business was brisk at the mob. I bought myself some souvenirs – a couple of red T-shirts with the bold print of “prai” (a commoner or peasant under the feudal system) on them. I thought that was the coolest thing. No doubt, a couple of years from now when all of this is done and forgotten, the hip-hop kids of Bangkok will be wearing oversized red “prai” T-shirts as a fashion statement. Such is the way of the material world.

Another interesting image I caught was in front of Gaysorn Plaza – a huge, neon Louis Vuitton sign loomed above the red shirts listening to the speeches on the stage. Louis Vuitton looking down upon a packed crowd of Thailand’s poor peasants – how metaphorically fitting.

I struck up a conversation with a gentleman. “Do all these people sleep out here at night?”

He replied, “Yes, we do.”

I continued innocently: “On the pavement? How do you sleep?”

He said: “We’re used to sleeping in the jungle, this is nothing.”

I persisted, “Yeah, but the jungle dirt is a softer bed than urban concrete.” He laughed: “We rural folks are also used to sleeping in bamboo huts. Have you ever slept on bamboo?”

It was my turn to laugh: “Touche, my good man.” He’d got me there.

“Where do you guys go for toilet?” I asked a final question.

“Anywhere we can,” he answered.

At that, I shuddered.

On a related note, trash was everywhere, piles and piles of it – which gave me another metaphorical thought: MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, the governor of Bangkok, would end up having to clean up after a bunch of peasants. Nobility cleaning up after peasants! That made me smile. But of course, the governor himself wouldn’t be doing the cleaning up. It will be some other peasant workers. But still, I found it comical.

I joined a family sitting on a mat for a little while. They had this one little boy, about four years old, who wouldn’t stop jumping up and down. I thought that was cute, so I asked permission to take a picture.

So many children around, it definitely won’t look good if the government uses force, I thought.

I took in the sights and sounds and thought to myself: anyone can spin this image any which way they like. Class struggle? You can call it an ethnic uprising – Thai-Lao natives rising against Thai-Chinese overlords. Or, you can say it’s a skin-colour thing – dark-skinned people rising up against light-skinned people. Lord knows I didn’t see anyone at the protest who looked like they used skin-whitening cream, definitely not.

The mood of the protest was generally happy and the venue was otherwise quite well-organised. There were food corners, souvenir corners and red guards directing traffic all around.

The musical entertainment was also of quality, but only if some Isan aunties went up onstage and sang. Isan aunties can sing with the best of them.

I bought myself souvenirs other than the “prai” T-shirts – a red bandana with the name of the Red TV programme Truth Today in bold print. Leave it to Thaksin Shinawatra’s crowd to know the value of good marketing. I also got a heart clapper, and had a hard time putting it down last night. It was such a fun toy.

I struck up a conversation with another gentleman, who happened to be a taxi driver. After some small talk he said: “All the taxi drivers are ready. If the police tries to disperse the crowd, all the taxis will block the area so that no one can leave. The police will be trapped between us!”

I replied: “You’re gonna play it like that, huh? That’s cold, brother.”I then asked: “If something were to happen, do you think it will happen tomorrow (Wednesday) since it’s a workday? Causing chaos?”

He answered: “No, if something were to happen, we want it to happen at night. Not daytime. People go to work; children are everywhere, that’s not good. People have got to make a living.”

I continued: “How many taxi drivers, percentage-wise, support the UDD?”

He thought for a few seconds and said:

“Everyone. Boss Shinawatra handles everything. He takes care of everything.”

Another interesting contrast that I saw was the cars. All sorts of pickup trucks and rackety rides, cars made of wood in that traditional third-world, rural fashion, were everywhere. Banners on top, proudly designating which province each of them were from.

Then I wandered into another area – a quieter corner with fewer people, in front of the Erawan Hotel. Now, the cars parked there were of luxurious European brands. Mercedes, Audis, BMWs – they were all there. I also saw UDD leader Natthawut Saikua standing talking to a few people. My thought was: “Is he going to take one of those fancy cars to a soft bed, or sleep on the pavement like his prai?”

In the end I thought my experience with the reds was really no different from hanging out with the yellow protest a couple of years back. If the two sides can set aside their political agenda, they could join together and throw one happening party, with delicious protest food and good rural music.

In all my years going to Ratchaprasong, that was the most fun I’d had, and the cheapest.

Also worth noting is that, hanging out with the red people, one can easily come to sympathise with their cause. After all, these are just people, good, genuine people, at least the ones I came in contact with. One might easily forget the big picture, that this struggle isn’t actually about the “prai” but the old elite versus a multi-billionaire. The “prai” are just the pawns, as they always have been, and that’s the tragedy of it all.

One last observation, however, is that there is something all Thais have in common.

Child beggars on the skywalks – whether you’re a member of high society, middle class or rural red shirt peasantry – everyone walked past her without a second look or a second thought.

And while I was busy being holier-than-thou, it was only when I got home that I realised I hadn’t even shared with her the sandwich that I had.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: