Tag: red shirts

Red Shirt-Yellow Shirt—No Vision

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Red Shirts were out in force today commemorating the violent end to the protests two years ago.  It was nice to see all the madness again, everything red, the Isan music, the dancing, sleeping, the endless public speaking.  And as always so much said with the symbols. The man above was doing a piece of performance art about the deaths of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto and Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi both shot while covering the protests.  Little was written about how foolish both were in placing themselves in extremely dangerous areas during these protests.  Muramoto had no bullet proof vest and Polenghi wore exactly what he shouldn’t have worn: the color black and a motorcycle helmet, thus looking like a paramilitary operator the army was ready to shoot:

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My apologies to his family for showing this photo, but hopefully photojournalists covering wars and social upheaval abroad will take notice.  Notice too how is carrying some sort of black bag which could have been easily taken for explosives of some kind.  At least he was wearing a vest.  What a tragedy.

The Committee to Protect Journalists should spend some time teaching common sense.

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His street installation included the monitor lizard, a sniper rifle, and a likeness of a bloody victim of the violence inflicted upon protesters. To call someone a lizard (เหี้ย) in Thailand is a grave insult; we see political placards festooned with these lizards at many of the protests.  Perhaps I have become more aware of the cultural and political images and artifacts because I am unable to understand most of what is being said on stage.  I saw subversion everywhere.

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I continue to see images of King Taksin at these Red Shirt protests and have wondered why he is venerated by the Red Shirts.  I bumped into three monks right outside of the Amarin shopping complex at Ratchaprasong and they pointed out that his name was indeed similar to Thaksin.  King Taksin liberated Siam from the Burmese after the fall of Ayutthaya and united the country more than 200 years ago.  He moved the capital to Thonburi and spent much of his time fighting wars and expanding the Kingdom.  He was an excellent warrior and led from the front.  According to one scholar, he encouraged Chinese immigration who then became resented by the nobility of the old Ayutthaya.  Taksin’s death remains controversial.  The official story is that he had gone mad becoming a religious fanatic and thus executed to be succeeded by Buddha Yodfa Chulaoke, the founder of the Chakri dynasty.

I don’t know if these images of Taksin are a direct challenge to the Chakri dynasty.  And if so why?  Or perhaps he was a leader that Isan people more readily identify with.  Below is a shrine to Taksin that was at the 2010 Red Shirt protests:

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Nearby were a collection of photos of victims of the protests with no regard to the privacy of the victims or their families:

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Images from the ideological left:

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From left to right: Che Guevara, Agentine Marxist revolutionary; Surachai Saedan, leader of the communist Red Siam movement;  Pridi Banomyong, civilian leader of the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932; and Chit Phumisak, a communist who was killed by villagers after he had served six years in prison, and author of the controversial Faces of Thai Feudalism.  Surachai Saedan is currently in prison.

More food for thought below:

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Chairman Mao, Gandhi, and Karl Marx all make their appearances at these Red Shirt protests.  The protest literature that I have seen at these protests has been interesting to say the least.  And not just at Red Shirt protests.  Often contradictory messages are being conveyed which can be quite amusing.  I’ve seen book stands with pictures of all sorts of communist leaders and the image of the Thai King right above them.  Abraham Lincoln appears also, however mangled his eternal words.  From the 2010 protests:

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There’s something terribly poignant about some of the most powerful words from one’s own culture borrowed and placed in an entirely different context.  All culture is borrowed as Edward Said has always said.  Reading this poster one gets a sense of an emergent voice waking up.  Loved it when I first saw it.

If anything the communists had wonderful political art:

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 And of course the beloved Shinawatra’s are a ubiquitous presence at these Red Shirt gatherings:

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It has been interesting to observe the reaction of the Bangkok-based middle class to Yingluck.  The simple truth as far as I can sense is that they don’t find her nearly as scary as her brother, who was seen as disloyal to the King and shamelessly corrupt.  Yingluck has been an antidote to all of this with her quintessential Thai femininity; my guess is that Thai middle class women see a lot of themselves in her in her being a professional woman, mother, and dutiful daughter to that most sacred of institutions:

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For many Democrats I have spoken with Yingluck is simply not Prime Minister timber, with her English skills wanting and her background, both professionally and in terms of education, simply unfit for executive leadership.  Her honeymoon will be ending soon with her government’s support for an amnesty bill which will exonerate her brother.

Robert Amsterdam was in town at Ratchaprasong looking like he had just got off the third shift working the fry station at McDonald’s:

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Lawyer for Thaksin and on retainer for numerous wealthy clients around the world, Amsterdam wore a proletarian red shirt and jeans speaking in the language of the oppressed, downtrodden, masses with his “my brothers and sisters” rhapsodizing like he was some Third World soul brother in a nation and culture he does not understand. Speaking on stage to a people he would merely peer at through tinted windows in his chauffeured BMW, he invoked Huey Long-like invective at Abhisit and the amaat.

It all seemed a bit much.

Not that having an international lawyer brought in to criticize a coup d’etat is wrong, but who is he to speak at Ratchaprasong? Very few foreigners have the right to speak on stage at such a gathering.  I was approached by some Red Shirts in 2010 to speak at a smaller gathering and simply declined because I just don’t think it’s my place as a foreigner to lecture to people of another culture about politics.  Other forums, such as an online blog, are more appropriate.

And of course he wouldn’t be Canadian if he didn’t bash America.  I always wait  for it.

Such is the behavior of a citizen of so inconsequential a nation having to forever live in the shadow of greatness.

Both sides of their problems needless to say.  The Red Shirts need an intellectual grounding that ties together the issues of inequality, the democratic aspects of Buddhism, and the role of monarchy in a constitutional monarchy within a Thai context.  The Yellow Shirts need put forth a vision where students debate and discuss how monarchy and democracy will exist together in Thailand in the future (respectfully).  Because there is no discussion, idiots reign supreme all over the internet debasing their revered Thai institution.  Red Shirts are spending too much time calling Abhisit a liar and condemning the Thai army for massacres.  Yellow Shirts are spending too much time hating Thaksin.  Both lack vision and if both had better clarity about the future of Thailand in regards to its central institutions, Thailand would be progressing politically.

Yellow Shirt Protest

Last Wednesday I stopped by the yellow shirt protest at the Royal Plaza and got to chatting with several of the protesters and as always it was an interesting experience.  There’s a visceral loathing of Thaksin in them and a profound fear of his returning to Thailand.  I have heard this before.  “He will return and crown himself king and turn Thailand into a republic,” one group of these yellow shirts said to me in her plastic sheet in a light drizzle.  “He’s Hitler!” another one said.  “All we have are stupid soap operas with women slapping each other across the face on TV now…Thailand is becoming capitalistic like America…the Red Shirts are not following the King’s sufficiency economic plan…”

Evidently these protesters are unaware of Obama’s Communist healthcare program.

Unfortunately I can’t share any photos as my backpack was stolen right out from under me in a tuk tuk by a motorcycle thief.  Perhaps I’ll add blog post about thieves on motorcycles later.

From today’s Bangkok Post:

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19 May Protest Update

DSCN6016Today’s daily recon revealed a surprise:  three songtows were seen delivering water to the Ratchaprasong area this morning.  It was unexpected because I had been under the impression that the government was trying to put a stranglehold on the area to starve out the protesters.  A German guy I met said that he saw more trucks the night before come in with food.  As we walked together at Ratchaprasong he was pointing out running water and the electricity of the stop lights.  He did say that the internet and the cell phone coverage had been blocked.

He was quite an interesting fellow, who shall remain anonymous, because he lives off of $250 per month living in a 3000 baht apartment and goes to Rahmkanghaeng University.  He tutors in German online and has been living with the protesters at Ratchaprasong.  Talk about random.  He says he believes in the Red Shirt movement and wants to stand with them.  Unbelievable.  He’s the second farang I’ve met who has claimed that he’s been camped out with the Reds.

Ratchaprasong’s numbers have dwindled, but this could only mean that it was the daytime and that the crowds would came back again at night light it has always been for two months.  Perhaps I’ll take a peek tonight if I feel it is safe.  It gets a little bit more risky every day now.  Many of the people I have been seeing at Ratchaprasong recently have not been the types that, well, defended Moscow against Hitler’s tyranny.  Beggars, the elderly, toothless middle age women who look like Mike Tyson on their Red ID cards.  And yes, I did see some kids.  What a tragedy to see two-year-old kids there.  The Red Guards are fewer at the barricades.

I spent most of the rest of the day right in my own neighborhood at Din Daeng and Ratchaprarop.  The map below shows the protest area and also where I live:

(Courtesy Bangkok Post via Newley.com)

I live right off the road in between Din Daeng and Victory Monument.  The soldiers are currently holding ground at Ratchaprarop and Soi Rangnam and they are shooting down towards Din Daeng where red shirts are burning tires and shooting off rockets (see gallery).  The picture below is of protesters who were shot yesterday:

(Courtesy Matichon)

Apologies for the lack of a clear picture.  These types of pictures greet Thai people every day in Thai newspapers.  Ratchaprarop has since been declared a “live fire zone.”  I’ll remember this next time I want to venture out there for my daily afternoon siesta.

So it’s been the smell of burning tires, the sight of thick, black billowing smoke, the sound of intermittent gun fire/fire crackers/small rockets, the hunkering down behind poles/sandbags/natural barriers, the images of people crowded together in alleys, on the sides of roads, crouching down, looking, waiting, being startled.  It’s always a risk to be on my bike zooming around, without a bullet proof vest or helmet, as I get closer to the action, as I’m always weary of being hit by sniper fire from a tall, unfinished building across the street.  The protesters always point towards this building.  I am surrounded by international photographers and journalists with their huge cameras and that “I’m not from Thailand even though I could pass because I’m Asian” look.  Most of these Thai red shirt guys are motorcycle taxi drivers and the like putting down Red Bulls and just living moment to moment.

There are moments that are quite frightening like the other day when the sound of these M16’s went off and I was in the wrong place I actually heard the bullet hit metal and it was quite unsettling as I have always heard gunshots into the air with blanks or rubber bullets.  Sometimes, like today, as I decided to go down a small side street to investigate a small courtyard opening into Ratchaprasong, a small crowd which quickly became bigger started leaving this opening and started to run down this alley towards me to which I simply turned around in horror not knowing why only to be directed to calm down and turn around.  I learned later that soldiers had appeared across the street instead of down the street and that they had begun shooting from this new position.  People were hit.

Nightfall brings with it a brooding silence, darkness, shadowy figures illuminated by  the fires.  Street lights shot out by slingshots.  A dark, abandoned street, people in small groups of six or seven at each opening, crouching down, looking for something.  At Victory Monument a crowd has gathered many of whom are the ones now locked out of the main rally site at Ratchaprasong.  A songtow with a speaker phone and an improvised antenna looking more like something that would be on top of a home in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  A small TV with a barely visible and audible rendering of the main stage speakers at Ratchaprasong. No one can really understand it, but you get a sense that the people feel it and relish hearing it, especially now as the military slowly encroaches.  The elderly, women, and children have reportedly been asked to leave.  Food and water is being cut off.  30 men each guard the barricades instead of 500.

And yet they stay to fight and resist.  To die.

It’s 10:18pm and I shall take leave to take one more small gander at my street.  I’ve always felt that I can feel things in the air with these protesters.  And then I will go to sleep and wake up tomorrow to see if they’ve gone into Ratchaprasong.


Burn, baby, burn.

DSCN6117Well, 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.

Lockdown.

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.


Ratchaprasong endures

DSCN6054Women and children and old people still at Ratchaprasong.  Many roads blocked off.  Food and water still getting in to Ratchaprasong.  Threats of shooting anyone at Ratchaprarop/Din Daeng.  No internet for me.  Stores all closed.  US ambassador to do an online “off the record” meeting tomorrow.  Many inside Ratchaprasong simply oblivious to fear.  Other rallies developing in other areas.

Will the army come in tonight?


Red Shirt Protest Update

DSCN5951Well, it continues to be quiet an experience.  I have interviewed two Red Shirt leaders and I am waiting to see if one of the interviews will be published by a certain website.  Tomorrow I’m going to go to the “multi-color” rally.

Today I started videotaping and I plan on loading up this video when I get the proper cable.  With this new mac they’ve changed the fire wire ports.  I saw a famous war photographer today  James Nachtwey .  He very much looked the part, actually he didn’t look like a typical photo journalist that I have seen here with the customary long hair, slovenly dressed.  He looked like a thin Blake Carrington with an aristocratic air about him oozing self importance.  Later when it got a bit crazy and the crowd started to yell I ran over to ask a Thai person what was the matter and then walked over to him and suggested that he not wear a dark shirt and he looked at me like I was his butler and asked, “Who are you?”

I tell everyone I meet that these soldiers are never going to come so long as there is a critical mass of protesters present.  The Reds Shirts nod and smile in agreement when I say this.  They know the game.  It’s a waiting game at this point.

It’s awful what the government is doing portraying these protesters as wanting to overthrow the monarchy.


Prelude

DSCN5873Well, I spent the better part of Saturday with the Red Shirt protesters on Padum Krung Kasem right off of Ratchadamnoen Nok Rd. which is an artery that runs into  Ratchadamnoen Blvd. where many of the historic sites in Bangkok are located like Democracy Monument, Dusit Palace, and the Phan Phiphop Lila Bridge, where the Red Shirts have one of their stages.  Later I spent time at the Dinsa-Democracy Monument intersection.  It was quite an experience.  I arrived in the afternoon to see the protesters and the army at a standoff.  The soldiers were carrying M-16’s so I naturally gave them a wide berth not wanting to experience firsthand what it feels like to get shot.  Later the “Trojan Horse,” came, a songtow with its customary loudspeakers.  Minutes later this pickup truck began to breach the line of these soldiers and canisters of tear gas were thrown out into the protesters and shots, one after another, were heard. It was scary so I hauled ass back for protection.  I soon learned that the shots were blanks.  The soldiers fell back to another line and then the protesters and soldiers repeated the same scenario thought the second line was much more difficult to break.  It was surreal how the soldiers simply walked away through the protesters, after their bluff was called, almost as if it were all routine.  I stood in disbelief as the protesters gave water and cheered the troops.  I returned home to get my camera and returned to see that a couple of platoons of soldiers were “captured” by the protesters and everyone was just standing around.  One Red Shirt explained how he and his fellow Red Shirts “loved these soldiers” and that all the Red Shirts wanted was “for the soldiers to go home and enjoy the songkran holidays with their families.”

One Red Shirt mentioned something about tanks so I went to Democracy Monument and sure enough I saw six or seven APCs on Dinsa Rd. facing towards Democracy Monument.  The protesters and the army were at a standstill with many of the Reds holding up pictures of the King and Queen to dissuade these soldiers from attacking.  A helicopter flew over head and dropped canisters of tear gas, more like nepalm this time, and I covered my nose and mouth with a small face mask given to me by a Red.  I wore swimming goggles for my eyes.  As the sun started to set I buggered off home knowing something dangerous was coming and I didn’t want to be THAT guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time as I always read about.

Turns out I made the right decision as 20 people were killed that night including a Japanese journalist.  Look at the photo gallery 2 and you can see it all.  One picture is very graphic.


Red Shirt Protest II

Chula Equestrian StatueWell, I returned to Bangkok after 13 days in the north and the protest area had changed considerably.  I didn’t think the red shirts would have the wear-withal to stay much longer than a week because of the fact that they have to travel long distances to get to Bangkok without homes to return to to rest.  Though there were much fewer people, the protest is still continuing with words of another mass protest coming this weekend.  I’m sure the Palace, army, and the Bangkok bourgeoisie are surprised.

What I noticed right away as I rode down on my bike was that the protest area, at least the Dusit Palace district areas, had been appropriated by businesses trying to make a buck.  I remain suspicious about the source of these kiosks as they are all built the same way and have a variety of curious products they are selling.

I was also surprised at the level of political sophistication of the many of the red shirt people I met both up north in Chiang Rai and at the protest in Bangkok. Many of them had been aware of English language reporting on the net.

Check out the gallery for pictures.