Well, it came, finally, and I was…working. Of all the times. I had no access to TV so I just had to get information secondhand from friends after these exams were finished. Like my friend and I predicted the assault came in the morning. They used armored personnel carriers to breach the bamboo and tire barricades at Silom. The red shirt leaders surrendered and announced the end of the protest and most of the protesters simply walked out from what I can gather. About five dead including an Italian journalist. Thank goodness it wasn’t bloody.
I had gone to Ratchaprasong earlier in the day and it was business as usual throughout what was left of the protest. As I inched further down Ratchadamri towards the breached barricades at Silom I could sense that I was entering yet another kill zone so I stopped. I also made sure I stayed out of the way of motorcycle taxis ferrying injured people and also ambulances rushing down the street. Not having a bullet proof vest nor helmet I made the decision, as I have done before, to simply turn around and get out. Every encounter always includes the “innocent bystander” and I wasn’t in any mood to be that idiot. The next day I learned, from a photographer who had come in behind the APC’s, that a Canadian photographer and several soldiers around him had been hit by a grenade.
I returned to my neighborhood and soon found a mob gathering becoming more aggressive. I was told to take no photos and I saw a bunch of, well, what else, hoodrats some of whom were drinking beer strung out on all manner of stimulants. And then the sound of breaking glass and the smoke and then more if it and then the looting and then more breaking glass. It looked like Chicago after a Bull’s Championship. And then fire.
I backed off and then sun started to set. I went to my apartment to shower for the 3rd time and took a nap only to return to a darkened Soi 5. My apartment lies at the very end of Soi 5 in a place called KT Mansion where students, civil servants, and other young people live. The Five Star Mansion down aways on this alley is cheaper at 3,500 baht/month. This soi was completely dark and as I walked down I was told to turn off my bike light. Soldiers had come and positioned themselves on the Fashion Mall flyover at Victory Monument and were shooting down Ratchwitee. My neighbors crouched down like chimpanzees trying to get a glimpse of the soldiers, or lay on the ground stomach down peering above curbs, at the very end of Soi 5. I was told to get on the ground as my neighbors worried that I wasn’t wearing a dark enough shirt and that I had pale skin too easily seen in the dark. I knelt down next to the corner of a wall facing towards the flyover and looked with one eye scanning the horizon and all I could see, as I strained my eye, were silhouettes of two figures crouched down moving and then stopping and then out of site. By this time I had learned to differentiate the crack, crack, crack of gunfire from an M16 from the boom! of either a grenade or some sort of bomb the reds were using. This tableau of street warfare occasionally was disrupted by the most surreal of images: out of the dark someone simply walking down the sidewalk; a drunk village idiot stopping at the end of our soi mumbling to himself, the sound usually lost, now echoing on the street; a stray kitten meandering in the middle of the street chasing a piece of cotton; the sound of “Lala’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago on someone’s cellphone.
I was offered a bottle of a detoxifying chlorophyll enriched drink looted from the 7-11 to which I politely refused. People on Soi 5 were now munching on booty from the 7-11: a box of Lays seaweed flavored potato chips, and who could blame them as all the shops were shuttered and food had become scarce. Then a boom! A pop, pop, pop startled everyone, jumps and retreat back down the soi, bags of potato chips strewn about, chlorophyll spilling out on the pavement, my hands smeared from the oil and rubber dust from tires as I leaned on the road
Soi 5 had become a neighborhood for the first time. And there I was lying on the ground with neighbors I never seemed to notice before, staring at the flyover, trying to get a glimpse of the enemy only to be startled back at the sound of an explosion. We returned to stick our heads out. “Turn that sh*t down,” I said sharply glancing back at someone speaking too loud on the phone. “Tell him to speak quietly,” I asked one of the Thai guys sitting down near me. “Bai loy, yoot kui,” he screamed. I overheard a phone call come in and learned that someone had been shot on Soi 7. A guy with us got on his motorcycle, headlights covered, and quickly went down to pick up this guy and screamed out something in Thai, with a long piece of tissue paper attached to his motorcycle as he drove past quickly into the darkness.
I retreated to an internet shop down the soi to catch up on news and posted a blurb about the mob that I had seen and the martial law on Ratchatewee and then suddenly all of the lights, everything, shut down.
Before I could get out of my chair the manager had his flashlight on his table for all of us to pay our twenty baht. The irony was not lost on me that million dollar buildings were being burnt to the ground, businesses were being looted, people were being shot, and I was lining up one baht coins on some computer desk on Soi 5 with some middle aged Thai man with a pen light in his mouth and a can of expresso canned coffee, probably stolen from 7-11, in his hand. After my twentieth coin was dropped, and verified by this man, I returned to the soi to walk back in forth in the dark looking for trouble.
Our neighborhood was being grounded by Dad. I felt like I was living in the public housing projects in the Robert Taylor Homes on the south side of Chicago. Since our streets here were comprised of low rent housing the police and the military simply flicked the switch to send all of us to bed regardless of our status as noncombatants.
A phone call came with no name. It was someone from the BBC. Shots. I walked back to get away from the end of the soi.
“Could you tell us what you are seeing? I’m from the BBC” asked the reporter.
“Nothing. But I hear gunshots. Ratchatewee is under martial law…”
I felt like Joe Pesci’s David Ferrie in JFK pacing back in forth in the dark trying to keep a signal on my phone dropping f bombs describing explosions going off down at Din Daeng and Ratchaprarop. The reporter asked if other reporters in Bangkok could contact me and I said they could. Another phone call with a foreign accent, my brother’s partner calling in for her Arabic radio show. It was hard to hear, she just told me to talk so I continued my Joe Pesci routine as my neighbors stared at me.
I was locked on my soi and couldn’t get out so I was doomed to sleep, or try to sleep in my shoebox of an apartment which was an incubator of the day’s heat. I returned and took yet another shower under the light of my bicycle light balanced on a soap dish. The US embassy warned that all of this could happen and I never listened. I dropped on the ground of my apartment and prayed that I would simply fall asleep and wake up the next day.