Tuesday, 25 May 2010


A terrible bereavement just struck my family. I am leaving Thailand, not knowing for how long. I apologize but the blog stops here for now, i need some time for my own grievances.


And then you get this and believe that everything is going to be fine. Thank you!
From an anonymous reader:

"I'm planning on taking my little girl on a walk from CTW to Wat Patum on Visaka Bucha day. First, to tam boon. Second, I want her to see the place. I took her on a walk around Rajaprasong, in the early day and I want her to see it now. I hope it will not frightened her. I want her to remember the result of hatred and violence. She won't understand it all, eventhough by now all children in Thailand have been exposed to verbal warfare for years and having to stop school many times as a result.

My hope is with all the digital evidence (lacking during the Black May and October 1976), her generation will not repeat our mistakes."

repression, silence, and paranoia

As the protest, at least temporarily, died out the city goes back to its normality many things are left behind to be reorganized, collected, or just thrown in the trash. A battery of Bangkokians, driven by their love for the city and huge banners around the city with the script "Together We Can" went out this Sunday to clean up the streets and scrub away the graffiti left behind in the center of the city.

At its core sit the remains of Central World, which still spread its smell of burning ruins, around it. The regained traffic of the city, once again covering the twitter of birds, slows down in front of this spectacle of destruction, in front of a sleepy police post on the side of Gaysorn shopping mall.

Motorbikes stop everywhere in front of the long corrugated iron sheet that surrounds what used to be a jewel of the city. People pull out small cameras and cell phones and take pictures, before leaving again, absorbed in the flow of traffic.

Down Rama I a crew of cleaners collect the last debris from inside Wat Pathumwan, throwing in a large truck the stones prepared by the protesters for a final as desperate battle. Near them the calm pond where allegedly the government officials have found a small arsenal of weapons rest immobile, without a wrinkle. On the overpass toward Herny Dunant signs of a gun battle are left on the bars, pierced by small bullets, apparently coming from the street.

Who shoot them? What happened here? How did the wat became the theater of violence? All these questions and many others fill the streets and the private houses, in need to be reorganized, collected, or just thrown in the trash, as much as other more physical yet less heavy leftovers.

People around the city are trying to do this, to clean up and scrub the pieces of truth lying around in the dust, covered in a sea of lies and partial realities, on both sides. Today I went to a meeting in Thammasat University, where a group of scholars is trying to create an information center, a place to collect news from the dead, the injured, and the people who disappeared. In a large conference room about 20 people sat, talking about how to go about it. On a big white board they were scribbling the challenges and risks of this kind of job in an environment where the truth can be a dangerous waste.

“Be careful on your blog” Somebody told me today “You know a lot of people are getting interested. Just be careful, don’t speak publicly.” He silenced for a second. “You know self-censorship, just a little bit. To be safe.” I don’t feel angry or scared, I just feel sad for this country and thought about laudable efforts of this group in Thammasat, trying to balance a quest for truth with the fear of repression. So many people among the protesters lately have told me sentences like “I have seen too much, but I don’t want to talk about it now, it can be dangerous. Better wait to see what the government will do. Then I will talk.”

All around this the state is sharpening its instruments of fear, shutting down websites, calling up people to the CRES, and confiscating personal computers (here). Covering people’s mouth with hands is always a tricky effort, you tend to be very close to their teeth.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Coming home- May 21st

We got off the train in a small station. About 20 people sit in the little chairs in front of the station as the train leave. We greet the others and walk out. A small red dirt road goes into the country side.

It is raining outside, an omen of luck and an indispensable factor for the economy of Isaan. We will discover later that it has not rain for a while, making this event even more mythical. Outside the station 4 tuk-tuk are parked, nobody driving them. We sit there waiting for the husband of the old woman to come pick us up.

The man who speaks Japanese almost cannot stand, worn out by a whole night of drinking. He is nervous and he keeps speaking rudely to everyone in the group. People try to ignore it, squatting on the ground and smelling the scent of rain. The young man walks to me and bring me on a side. “I don’t like people who drink. They always treat people badly”. We stand there in the light rain, smoking a cigarette. I feel very fortunate of having met this man. In his face, signed by the stress and difficulties of his life, from losing his parents when he was young to being now alone in the world in his small farm, I see the signs of a new Thailand to be: thoughtful, compassionate, yet firm in its ideals.

The drunken man pushes one man, as the other try to calm him down. “We are among us” they say. One of the women sit on the ground, singing a sad song in her beautiful voice. Around occasional cars drive pass us.

A grey pick up pulls into the dirt road and stops in front of us. The husband gets off. An old man with grey hairs and a black sleeveless shirt. He stares at his wife from underneath the car door. She stares back, with a smile. We get on the pickup, four people in the front and eight on the back and we drive away.

The youth with a fascination with Bangkok, sits close to me, in a black shirt with the face of Nattawut pasted onto the body of a muay thai fighter, hitting with a kick a man with the face of Aphisit. He says he is worried that he may have troubles if we run into a military road block wearing that shirt. The man who told me he would protect me in this strip takes off his white shirt and proposes to exchange. He puts on the black shirt and stand up, shouting in the small village “Red shirts are back”, with his fists in the air. Some people from the street applaud.

We drive carefully as the people fight with the wind to light their cigarettes. The guy picks up one of the bottles of water in front of us and dials a number on the imaginary key pad. “Hello Aphisit” he says “how are you my friend?” people around laugh “I haven’t see you in a while. How are you?” he turns to me “We studied together in England” he whispers covering the bottle with his hand. Another laughter. “Hmm…Hmmm…where are you now?” “Really? Why aren’t you home? Ohhh… you can’t go back there… the population doesn’t accept that you kill them… hmmm… what buffalos” Everybody cracks up as the people inside open the small window to hear what is going on. “Yeah…Yeah…that is very bad. I see…” He stops for a second listening to what Aphisit is saying. “I just wanted to ask you a favor. Could you please send a helicopter to pick me up? Hmmm…Hmmm….Why can’t you? Ohh…they are all busy flying over Ratchaprasong.” Again people crack up as he also burst into laughter. People around clap. “You should do this on TV, maybe for People Channel.” I tell him. People around are clearing their tears with their thumbs and index fingers.

The guy is an endless well of comic relief. As we drive he carries two bottles on his hands, calling Aphisit, Suthep, Anupong, and Prem. It is hilarious and my self-appointed personal guard delights the small crowd that starts laughing as soon as he picks up another bottle, before he even says a word. He stands up and shouts “People don’t be afraid, the red shirt are back”, imitating the rhetoric of the red shirts leaders on stage. We stop in a sleepy petrol station and he gets down of the truck, dancing to the tunes of a small radio. Again everybody laugh.

We drive off again and stop in a small market. As we park the car a policeman comes around and asks them some news from the red camp in Bangkok. Two of the people in the truck stand in front of a small temple in the parking lot, praying. We enter the market and buy grilled chicken, papaya salad, and two leaves envelops full of bugs and fat ants. “They are delicious” the woman says “Try some”. Their taste is quite blunt but I nod smiling. We get back on the pickup and drive home. The woman without shoes carries a small plastic bag. “What did you buy?” I ask. “A phone charger” she answers “but it cost 120 Bath so I cannot buy shoes now”. Strange priorities, I think. “She hasn’t been able to call her mom” the young man says as if he is reading my mind. “She must be very worried.”

We finally get home, tired by the long trip. It is a big brick house with a nice fence surrounding it, not very far from the main street. Again, these are definitely not the poor Isaan farmers that the media describes. We get off the car and carry our stuff inside the house.

The woman’s daughter comes out, with a big smile, to greet her mom as her dogs jump on her, unable to constrain happiness in the presence of strangers. We walk inside the fence and sit on a wooden sala in front of the house. As the women go inside the house we freshen up with some water collected in a big jar outside the house. “It’s rain water” the young man keeps repeating to me.

We go back to the sala and sit there waiting for food as a dense silence descends upon the group. A silence that only the country-side can offer. Everybody looks down. An older man starts talking, without raising his eyes in a hoarse monotonous voice. “They killed so many of us. We will never know how many. They just shoot at everybody they could.” His eyes are glued to the mat, his voice very low. “But we will not stop, we will keep fighting. We cannot lose.” I have no idea if the others are listening. “I am not from here, I am from Surin but there is nothing going on there so I came here, to see what is going on and what will happen next. I am not sure how or when but we will keep fighting. We cannot lose.”

The silence is broken by a voice from inside the house. “Chicken. Who can help cutting it?” I stand up to help as the man does not seem to notice I left. Soon everything is on the small mat and we start eating as the guy who speaks Japanese, back into a decent state, puts on a VCD of April 10th. Not the best choice for this lunch. Right after lunch the young guy tells me we should go.

I pick up some stuff and greet everyone, thanking them for their help in the last day. We exchange phone number and they ask me to let them know if something happens in Bangkok. We hoop on a motorcycle that the woman offered us, driven by the youth now in the other guy t-shirt. He drives us to the big street nearby and leaves the two of us there, waiting for the bus. We stand on the side of the street talking about our lives, our passions, our fears. I know this guy only since yesterday but I feel very comfortable with him, and he seems to share the sensation. Once in a while he pulls out a binocular from his pocket and looks at the street, hoping to see the bus coming. “It is arriving” he says “pick your bag”.

A slow old blue bus trot in our direction stopping few meters away. As we get up from the back door the woman who makes the ticket runs out of the front door and jumps on him, hugging him tightly. “I thought you were dead” she says with a broken voice. “I thought I will never see you again”. She squeezes his shoulders, passing her fingers in his long hairs. “I went to the station three times asking for you. They told me to wait for the names of the dead to come in”. He turns around to me, as her face sinks into his chest. “She is my sister” he tell me trying to avoid tears. “He is a journalist friend.” “Hey” she says. “I thought I will never see you again.” They stand there, embraced, looking away from each other to hide the tears that fill their eyes. I walk a bit and sit down, leaving them this moment, as indifferent people sit in the crowded bus. “I am here” he tells me pointing at a small two-storey concrete house at the side of the road. “Thank you so much for everything” I respond as he gets off the bus. I wave to him from the car window as he puts foot on his land, finally.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Free Zone- May 21st

I woke up with the most stunning of sunrise reflecting on the wet rice fields outside Korat. Everybody around me seems to be awake already, eating their breakfast or still sipping from a bottle. The man who can speak Japanese stands in front of the window and shouts in English “We are in the Free Zone”. I grab my camera and start shooting out of the windows, in the silent car covered by the noise of the train.

“This is not very beautiful” a man tells me “You can’t even see the sun coming up.” It looks gorgeous to me. The moment is magic and the lights enter the car absorbed by the dark orange robes of the two monks sitting down the alley from us.

“We are in the red zone” Seth says staring at the red sky out of the window. The people in the train do the same.

Finally the faces relax as their fill their noses with the fresh smell of country side. Another round of food is served.

Seth and Mariko propose to have another round of interviews around. A man sits close to us as Seth starts asking him questions. We have a very long talk in which he lay out the foundations of the red shirts movement, from the 2006 coup to the present, criticizing the double standards in this country and the lack of fairness in the system. He speaks softly no anger in his voice just a very sober analysis of the history of the relationship between poor and rich in this country and the demands of the people that feel excluded from the system. Education recur as the main source of inequality.

Seth asks back “But life in Isaan is better than it used to be 20 or 30 years ago, right? You have television, electricity…” “Yes we have a better life, we are richer, and we have things we didn’t have in the past.” “So life is easier now?” I ask. “It is not, life is more difficult now. When I was a kid life was easy, you just make rice, fish and you could live there. Now is different. The whole world has developed and also Isaan but we are slower than Bangkok, so we remain back.” “So what changed now?” “In the past he says, 5 or 6 years ago, things were better, we could get money and the government had got policies for us. Now this government is not interested in us.” He keeps comparing the present with the time when Thaksin was in power somehow managing to never name him.

“Did you go around while you were in Bangkok?” “No” he answers “I stayed in Ratchaprasong only, walking up and down the protest area” “Did you like the Ratchaprasong area?” “No” he answers decided “the buildings there are too tall. You could not do anything. Snipers were there and there was nothing we can do.” He answers, mixing urban design taste and protest strategies. We keep talking for a while (I will try to post the whole interview when I have time to transcribe it) until he says he needs to go to the bathroom and walks away.

I start chatting with a younger guy, probably around 16 years old who sat through the interview listening. “I like Bangkok” he says with bright eyes “You can go have fun wherever you want. There are so many people.” “Would you want to go back if you have a chance?” I ask. “Yes” he says feeling the attraction of the metropolis that millions of people around the world share with him, including me. I turn around and fall asleep again.

When I wake up the train is stopped, in the middle of nowhere and some people have gotten off, waiting underneath small trees at the side of the train tracks. Some other people are walking through the field to reach the road to try to catch a ride to their villages, others just lean out of the windows.

I guess we have been there for a while. I get off with the young man with beautiful eyes whom I met first at the train station. He pulls out a binocular and look pass the train to check if there is some sort of military block. We stay there for a while, burning in the hot sun.

Suddenly the crowd revives. Two young men start fighting in front of the train. Apparently one of them has been bothering and insulting the other on the train all night long, inebriated by alcohol and now in the hot the nerviness has exploded. People start to calm them as the drunken one picks up a big rock and run toward one of the window. Other people get out of the train. The small scuffle goes on for a while including some kicks and a hilarious chase in the nearby field, with many people falling on the ground, that ends with the drunken guy and three of his friends arriving to the street and hitching a ride. They have been some very hard couple of months for everybody and the tension of the last days is slowly releasing.

The train starts moving backward, gets a new locomotive and restarts again in the right direction. We are close to home. The atmosphere gets again tense as news come in that military are waiting at the train station in Udon. After talking to each other they decide to get off in different small stations before Udon so to leave the soldier puzzled over the disappearance of the red shirts.
The young man and the other people I sat with in the train station the day before invite me to go to the house of one older woman, rest a bit, and eat together before heading with him to the house of my motortaxi friend who lives in the country side outside Udon, where I will sleep that night. I accept.

Besides all their sorrow and sadness for what happen in the last days and for having to leave the city without having achieved what they went there for the happiness and relief of arriving home after months of being away spread on their faces as many people put their heads out of the windows and simmer the wind of home. Smiles are back on people faces. “I haven’t seen my husband for two months” the old woman who will host us says as her beautiful wrinkles curve around her mouth. We stop in a small train station and get off, about 20 of us. For the first moment in the last days the tourist adds of “Land of Smiles” does not sound like a bad joke.

Long night- May 20th

Everybody takes a place on board, leaving bags and bottles of water on the benches to save their place. Outside on the train platform, a small group of younger protesters sit on the ground, as one of them walk around, bear torso covered in tattoos.

The night falls on the city and given the curfew the streets around the station sound empty. It is like this small group is isolated for the world today, connected by an extreme sense of solidarity and feeling threatened from the outside. The few bills that people still have in their pockets are shared to buy cigarettes and whishy, indispensable for what it look like a long night. Food and drinks are provided and stored in the first car. All the way at almost every station a refill will be delivered by someone and then distributed among the protesters.

As I wait outside, talking to some of them who try some words in English and then, relieved, jump in long political tirades against the government as soon as I tell them I can speak Thai. The young group sitting on the ground is loud, seemingly the only ones enjoying the moment. Above me many heads and hands hang out of the squared windows, waiting to leave. “Enough already with Bangkok” a middle aged woman says. In the meanwhile two friends,a reporter and a videographer from the New York Times, arrive at the station after I call them, hoping this moment will be covered by international media, and not just a random blog.

As they arrive Mariko sets up her camera and a middle aged guy throw himself in front of it, inebriated by the alcohol that is running and will run all night long in his veins. “We are not terrorists, we are not terrorists, we are not terrorists” he shouts. “We just want democracy, why Abisith kills us?” He speaks English quite well but the words come out as in a machine gun, short mechanic single shoots. He is overexcited, jumping around like a kangaroo, mixing moment of euphoria with fall into thoughtful silence. He is wearing a worn white shirt and a black hat, with a big blue towel tuck under it. Big amulets come out of the shirt. He switches to Japanese and has a long conversation with Mariko. Surprises are always dressed in unexpected clothes.

From the train more people are tucking their heads out of the window, watching amused the guy drawing big circles with his hands as he speaks. Mariko noticed them and ask me to translate as she asks some questions. She walks to two women and tuck her camera underneath the window. “When did you arrive in Bangkok?” “How do you feel now?” “What do you think you will do next?” “How are you feeling about going home?” Who is waiting for you there?” “What will be the first thing you do when at home?” With some variations these kinds of questions will be asked to the people around. This two middle aged woman are around since about a month and a half, stably at the protest site instead of going back and forth from home. They voice their dissatisfaction with the leadership who has abandoned them in the most difficult moment and the sorrow of leaving Bangkok, with many dead bodies left in the streets and an unchanged situation.

It is interesting that the more peaceful (santi) sections of the protest in this day have voices their disappointment with the leaders while the more “harco” –the thai version of hardcore- instead seem to be less prone to critique the leaders and understand the necessity of their move at this time, often part of a “lose a battle, win the war” logic. “What did you like the most about staying at the protest?” Mariko asks. “Sleeping in front of Erawan” the answer together and smile. “Fighting for Democracy” the drunken man puts in their mouths. “The weather also” they say, “it wasn’t too hot in Bangkok” maybe thinking about the dry landscape of the Korat plateau this time of the year. “Who was the best person you met?” “We love Thaksin” they answer coyly. “But he wasn’t there” I add. They laugh. “Yes, it was good to meet people from all around the country who are fighting for democracy”. “What will you do now?” “We will go back rest a little and then keep going with our fight, we still don’t know where or how, maybe we will need new leaders but there are already younger leaders.” We thank them and get on the train, where the people have reserved two benches for us.

The long rows of hard chairs are half filled with people, mostly sitting eating something and preparing for the night. It is already 10pm, accumulating delay. Right before the departure the MP from Khon Khaen gets on board and walks through the cars, followed by three guards saluting everyone and wishing good luck. “It is not finished” he reassures them as he rapidly passes through. Seth, the other journalist, asks me to get his card so I get off the train and reach him on the next car. “What do you think will happen next?” “It is really hard to say. People are angry. It is hard to know what they will do.” He says in spotless English. “But I can reassure you that this people are not defeated.” He walks away.

We get back at our seats as the people around are stocking us with water bottles and food. A man, who was sitting close to the young man I talked to at the train station, tells me to be careful with water. “Always turn the bottle around and see if it drips. If so do not drink it, it may be poisoned.” He tells me mindful of the incident with coffee at Sarasin a week ago.

Sadness and dissatisfaction mixes with fear and paranoia on this train, fuelled by inability to trust a government that in the last two days first offered them a safe area inside a temple and then attacked it, leaving people dead. In some occasions extreme paranoia is what keeps you alive. This feeling will accompany us for the whole trip, with rumors of possible attacks and army blocks, spreading inside the four cars.

Besides us the old woman I met before sits with the two women we interviewed. Mariko almost cries when she sees her, touched by the coincidence of finding her again after the craziness of last days.

We have a short interview with her as she imperceptibly moves her toothless mouth and the words are amplified to us by the other two women and another man who sits close to me. “I am a fighter” she says “and we will fight again for democracy.” The train is now starting to move into the darkness of the empty city.

As we move the young man comes to me and tells me to close the windows until we get out of Bangkok and be careful on what we see outside. Somebody could throw stones or worst, to the train. “When we live Bangkok you can pull the window down.” Many times in these few days in Isaan Bangkok has been described to me as the dangerous area, the head of the nation who pretend to think as the others do, the city of privileges, an ungrateful product of the work of Isaan people, or just a place where life is hard, everything is business, and people do not care about each other. The body of this macrocefalic nation is now kicking, asking for some form of autonomy.

Seen from Isaan this conflict, often described as a class struggle, seems to be more organize about regional identity and forms of social inequalities that are economic, legal, and cultural but that divide along territorial access to resources more than class lines. Many of the protesters I met in Ratchaprasong in the previous days, whom I visited while in Udon are small shop owners, tourist guides, small business people, farmers with a relatively productive land and concrete houses. This regional growing lower middle class mixes with the poorest portion of the population, sharing its demands and requests for social equality.

The demands, even if voice under the word democracy, when broken down and unpacked revolve around what we would call a “social equality” agenda, much larger than a quest for new political structure. As one man in the train put it in along and fascinating interview with me and Seth “what we mean by democracy is fairness (kwaam yút-dtì tam). We want fairness in three ways: legal, political, and educational.”
We pass Bangkok and nothing happens so we take a walk around the train, safely leaving out stuff with our friends from Udon.

Mariko meets another woman whom she has met before. She wears a oversized blue shirt and long worn out jeans. They greet each other. She looks a bit slow with her head but her heart is overflowing with emotions. She immediately starts talking about the night before at the temple, of the fear, the darkness, the shoots and explosions all around, the dead bodies. “I have cried so much that I have no tears left” she says with profound eyes. They stare at mine, completely dry.

Seth tells me to ask her what she has ever taken the skytrain. Why a question about the skytrain now? I think but I do my role as a translator and I go ahead. The answer is fascinating and condenses all the perception of Bangkok as a dangerous foreign space. This is why he is a world famous journalist and I am not. “I have never taken the skytrain and I have never gone up to take a look at it. It means nothing to me, it is just something build to make the life of rich people easier, as if it was not already easy.” Place of inequality, transformed into a source of death. This theme will run among many of the conversation on the train.

As we walk back to our seats an old man stops us. He is bear torso, with a grey t-shirt on his shoulder “See you again next year” he tells us in English. Back to Thai. “This is not finished yet, is not even half of it. We will come back over and over again. We are not satisfied and we cannot lose.” He looks up with a confrontational face. “Red shirts cannot lose.” “How are you feeling now?”. “Normal. He answers with an angry face. “It is like the last year, I was here as well on a train going back but we will come again. The fight doesn’t stop here.”

We walk back to our seats. A drunken police man walks passed us shouting “We just get killed, this is what we get. Let’s go home now.” He stops. Tears in his eyes. “Look I am crying” he shouts before covering with his hand Mariko’s camera. Soon after he is back asking our tickets and asking to see our IDs. A man of the Udon group comes around. “Don’t worry” he says “I will look after you along the trip. I have already accepted to die, I can very well die protecting you.” He walks away with the officer. The train ride proceed smoothly but slowly.

The young man comes to me and asks me to walk with him. “There are news that there maybe some attack to the train. Newin’s people will be waiting for us, maybe shooting at the train.” Again the red shirts worst nightmare, Newim. He tells me to stay calm because people around will be vigilant. The tension is palpable, at least among the young guys who sits in between cars looking out for strange movements. Guards are perceived as needed at every step. ‘Where do the news come from?” I ask. “There are military on this train, red shirts, who are dresses as civilians and they have told us. We have to be careful until we reach Korat, after that we are home.” Korat, also called the gate of Isaan, for them is also the gate of the safe zone.

Nothing happens and slowly people fall asleep around in the car we are in and everywhere they find a place.

The next car, mostly with younger people and more hardcore reds is sleepless. “I can’t sleep” an older man tells me “just to many images in my head”. The sleepless night is helped by whisky that flows around changing the smell of people’s breaths.

I remained there for a while and walk up and down the train chatting to people awake. An man in his forties pulls out of his pockets picture from the time he was a soldier.

“I am a black shirt, I was a mercenary before.” He says staring at me. I go back to my seat and fall asleep, cradled by the train.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

events at Wat Pathumwan- reports

If you are trying to make sense of what happened on Wednesday at the Wat Pathumwan there are around some first hand accounts in english, here, here , and here

UPDATE: also a video available here and a video interview to witnesses in Thai here

Before Departure- May 20th

I arrived at Hualongpong train station around 4pm. The huge hall was full of people, with a compact crowd sitting in the middle of the station on the ground, underneath the huge painting of Rama V. I ask around if the train with the protestors already went away. Most of them already left but the train for Udon is leaving at about 8.25.

I walk back to the people sitting on the ground and ask around who is going to Udon. Pretty soon I am seated with a group of about 20 people, directed to Udon. They come and go, taking off their shoes before sitting on the ground as if they are still in the We Love Udon tend near Lumpini Park. They all look demoralized, worn out, and unsure on what next.

I start talking to a young man. Long hair and beautifully shaped dark eyes. He speaks quietly in a polite but firm voice. As the people around him listen, occasionally throwing some sentences into the conversation. He is from a small village closed to Udon. He has been at the protest for than two months leaving behind 10 rai of land from which he gets enough rice for him and for selling, making some extra money and food by raising chickens and fishes. “I wasn’t here last year” he says staring at me “but this time it was too much so I came to Bangkok to protest.” “Had you been in Bangkok before?” I ask. “I used to live here, I worked as a security guard. Life here was too chaotic for me so I decided to go back home and live in the country side.” He does not have a family or kids.

“ I haven’t thought about a girlfriend since a long time” he continues. “It is difficult with women, you never understand each other and I want to have a calm life”. “What about your parents?” I asked. His eyes become opaque for a second. “They died 25 years ago” This makes him 9 or 10 when his parents departed. “We have been alone since then. Me and my two sisters. One is married to a Farang and lives in Finland now, looking after her husband’s strawberry farm. He has a problem with alcohol but she has a good life. I even learned some Finnish, so I can talk to my niece, when she comes to visit. The other ones is still in Udon. She is married so I live alone now.” “Are you happy about going home?” He stops for a second. “We came here to bring democracy and we go back without having obtain that. Many people died. Soldiers killed us. We are all very sad.”

I turn around and the small crowd is listening, looking down for a moment. An older woman takes up the conversation. “What is this? Killed indifferently by soldiers. We are Thais and we get killed by snipers whose weapons are paid with our taxes. Is bad, very bad. The government has double standards.” One after the other everybody says something about what just happened asking my opinions on the present events and how the “people of the world” feel about Thailand.

Two men in black shirts come around. “We will fight again” they say, trying to raise the morale of the group. “It is not finished” the young man echoes “We are going home now but no one has won or lost yet.” “What next then?” “We will keep fighting against this government and the ammat. Maybe not in Bangkok but we will divide in small groups all around the country and keep burning things if we need to. There is nothing else we can do. The government doesn’t accept our requests and kill the population. We are unarmed there is nothing else we can do and now we know that peaceful protests don’t work. Peacefully we just die.” The conversation dies out and a dense silence falls over the small group as an old woman repeats with a soft voice “We won’t accept this, we cannot accept this. Red shirts cannot lose.” This return has the bitter taste of a defeat. Days and days spent in a hostile city, in the middle of buildings overlooking them, symbols of a life they cannot partake in and from which death, by hands of snipers, descended upon them.

A younger woman comes around, distributing food to the group and asking if everybody is ok. Behind me a woman sits in her dirty clothes without shoes. “They remained in Ratchaprasong” she said. “I run to the temple without shoes and I was too scared to go back to get them.” The young woman keeps walking around delivering small packages of rice and pork. “The people in Bangkok have helped us” the young man breaks the silence “Many came to bring food, water, and to offer money. This time the government have seen that is not only about Isaan or Thaksin and that the population will not accept everything they do. We did not obtain democracy but we have not accepted what the government did. This will go on.”

The young woman comes back distributing medicine to anyone who wants them. “You see” another woman says “if we didn’t know her we wouldn’t take the food or medicine. They already have tried to poison our drinks in Sarasin some days ago. We need to be very careful. The young woman walks back to other three friends, all dressed in white and wearing a hat. I stand up and go out to buy cigarettes.

As I enter again into the station the clock hits 6 o’clock and the speakers broadcast the national anthem. Everybody stands up for the anthem, straight to the ceiling in this enormous hall. As the anthem ends one guy of the red shirt group shouts “Ohh, Ohh, Ohh” as they did in Ratchaprasong every day after the anthem. “Ohh, Ohh, Ohh” the red shirt answer timidly.

Around the atmosphere is grieving, many tense faces and wet eyes in the middle of the few bags and objects that they have been able to retrieve in their escape from the advancing tanks of the military. “What do you think about the leaders?” I ask. Here a big conversation erupts. Somebody says “You need to know when to stop. The military would have killed us all, so they need to surrender.” Others, instead, say they are dissatisfied with the leaders who run away when the military attacked. “We are not satisfied” the young man says “we don’t know what we will do next or who will be the leaders but there is no problem, we have many leaders, in each village. I promise this is not finished.” Again the situation calms down and I get out of the station with him to pick up big plastic bags full of food, delivered by a taxi outside the station. We distribute the last ratio of food and water, as people store both for the long trip ahead.

An older woman stands up in the middle of the crowd, as people around her applaud. She is 82 and she has been at the protest since the 16 of March, sleeping on a mat on the street. “She is the oldest person in Ratchaprasong” an older woman says to me as she listens carefully to what the woman says in her barely perceptible voice. “We will continue to fight for democracy” she repeats out loud as smiles come back for a minute on people’s faces.

Soon after a well dressed man in his forty comes around to greet people and tell them that they are not alone and that there will be other way to fight to obtain democracy. “He is the Phua Thai MP in Khon Khaen” a man says in my ear. The man walks around the small crowd stopping to talk to some people for a second and hugs the old woman, after waing profusely to her.

It is time to board and everybody moves to take their place in the four special cars at the beginning of the train reserved for the people of the protest.

“Aphisit is so generous” says a man as we step onto the empty car “He kills us first and then reward us with special cars.”

Ratchaprasong: the day after- May 20th

I wake up and decide to go to Ratchaprasong to see what is going on there and the extension of the damages left by a day that is going to raise a lot of questions over the role of the military, the police, the black shirts as well as the real amount of deaths. All questions that seem to revolve around Wat Patumwan, a large temple between Central World and Siam Paragon, in a place when you wouldn’t expect to have a temple with a small village behind. In the late morning of the 19th this Wat became a theater of operations that transformed it from an alleged safe buffer zone for kids and older people into the stage for underground operation, meeting place for a small group of armed black shirts, and death place for at least 6 people, allegedly shot dead by soldiers hidden on the skytrain tracks.

I arrived from Henry Dunant and walk to Rama I. I am with two friends, a Thai guy and a French woman. Along the huge empty street many sewage holes are overflowing with water, creating bobbles on the sidewalks and spreading on the street.
Right before the last red shirt barricade, that still blocks the entrance to Rama I, a line of metropolitan busses is waiting the people who took refuge in the two safe zones and now are grouped in the Police Headquarters waiting to make their way back home.

At the side entrance of the Headquarters a big group of people waiting sit on the ground with lost faces, directed around by women officers of the Border Police. A tall monk is standing close to them, staring passed the officers talking in a loud speaker in front of him, into the emptiness.

Scared eyes look at me, many of them filled with tears as the police tell them that everything is ok and soon they will be sent to the train station or to Mochit to board on busses. We decide to keep walking.

We pass through a small military check point and walk to the side of Siam Paragon. The atmosphere is completely surreal. Contrary to what I had heard Siam Paragon is intact but the building in front is completely burned down, water dripping everywhere as a small group of soldier sat on the handrail, their weapon on their shoulders.

Around the normally shadowed area underneath the skytrain seemed completely dark. The lower part of the skytrain’s truck is pitched black, dirty water overflowing everywhere, embracing all the objects left by the protesters, who sought refuge in the Wat and in the police Headquarters, right in front of the temple. In this silence of death, a loud rhythmic sound fills the air: the continuous and enervating buzz of the alarm of Siam Paragon, accentuating the already post-atomic feeling. Military and police and a few journalists walk around with wide opened eyes. I proceed in the direction of the temple. On the side of the street a small box full of slingshots and Molotov cocktails in small red bull bottles lays in the middle of the street, too visible to not be purposefully left for journalists.

The smell of fire fills the air as the sound of the alarm slowly fades. I enter the small temple, as one of the people I am with needs a bathroom. We walk into the front area, where some objects are left, mostly helmets and clothes. Police is everywhere sharing the space with monks and a few curious walking around. The back of the temple is covered with mats left there. A group of policemen sit in the shadow, in full riot gear. It is the first times since the beginning of street fighting that I am seeing a tear gas launcher, and always in the hands of police.

Two man sit separated from the group. “It must be hot in that uniform” I start to chat. “Yes, is very hot and very heavy”. They both want to talk, maybe even need to get things out of their system. They say they are on the side of the people and themselves have been under the fire from the military. “We have to hide as well” he says. “We are sent here with no weapon and risk to be shot at by the army. Yesterday” he says “I saw a sniper pointer on my body. We couldn’t do anything else then hide.” He speaks nervously, showing all his frustration of having to be her to clean up the mess that somebody else did. I greet them and walk away, ready to see Central World, of which a section apparently has collapsed.

I arrived to the ZEN section and the scene is stunning. The building has been burned completely, broken glass everywhere in the front. The orange SCRITTA ZEN WORLD was darkened by the flames and now says “Zen Word”.

The interior is completely devastated and the huge windows that cover the building are destroyed, popped one after the other. On the ground pieces of glass everywhere. On the side of the building only a part of the huge banners that were there is left. “WOW” it says, before turning into a melted grey mass of plastic. Above it an untouched banner says “Peace”. Chance plays strange tricks. This side looks like a huge black eraser has been passed over ZEN. In front of the building a huge pool reflect the destruction. I am sure around me there are noises, but someone in my memory the silence was absolute.

We keep walking around the building and arrive in front of the stage, left there completely empty, mats still on the street pavement. We turn around. The scene is apocalyptic. The central section of Central World is just gone. As if a giant spoon when through this delight of Bangkok’s landscape. It is breathtaking. It defeats language.

I keep taking pictures, completely out of what is going on around me. My Thai friend snaps me out of it. “They say is dangerous to be here. The army is coming back. We need to go.” I turn around. A police officer is delivering this message from a truck that drives around. We move fast through the destruction, in a deep silence. My Thai friend looks shaken. He just repeats “Fuck” over and over again. We get back to the Police Headquarters. He wants to talk to police, deeply surprised by what the police officers at the temple have told us.

We walk back and get into the big open space in front of the police building. It is half full of people, most of them from Bangkok who wait to go back home. We sit with a small group, close to the entrance. Two older women give us some water. Their faces do not smile. Just stare around with wet eyes. A man sits on out left side on a portable chair. He lives in Din Daeng he says and hasn’t had a chance to go home since a week, too dangerous to go in that direction.

“Why are you still here?” we ask. “Police tell us to stay here. Things around are not yet safe. Before we did not believe the police but now we believe them. This morning the police told us to not go out and grab our stuff, to remain in the area and not trust anyone. Two men did not trust the police and believed they could go home. They got out and were shot dead in Ratchaprasong. So now we stay here until they tell us to go.”

He has grey hair, a grey shirt and his eyes, squared into thin metallic glasses, move restlessly. “Yesterday we stayed at the temple.” He speaks softly. “We stayed close to the monk, thinking it was the safest place but they have no problem. The soldiers shoot also the monks. In Din Daeng they were shooting also at monks.” He stops. “Where is the fairness? We are the pacific group, we have no weapons. Look around you. Yet the army shoots at us.” We sit down close to him. His wife passes around biscuits that are given to us. “Only dictators kill like this. Snipers against people with bear hands. There is no fairness. Look at the dead. When a yellow shirt died they gave national funeral and money to the families. If we die nobody cares.” “How do you feel now?” I ask. “Look around you, look at people’s faces” He says.

I look around. Lost faces all around that turn into a short smile when they notice I am staring at them and then go back to their tense expression. “We will not accept this” he adds “We will fight again”. We stand up and greet them, wishing good luck. My Thai friend, surprised by the role of police and the complete trust given to them to the protesters walks to a police officer standing in a white shirt at the entrance of a small building. “The people really believe the police” he says to the officer. He laughs as a woman with a small baby in her hands asks for the bathroom and is directed inside the building.

The big space outside the police headquarter is full of people sitting everywhere ready to be sent off. The people from other regions have been already moved elsewhere, here is almost only people from Bangkok.

We chat up with some border police officers from Tak. They are the one who are checking everybody’s documents before directing them to the right busses to go home. “We came here about a week ago. The other night we had to hide like everybody else behind the wall of the Headquarter. There is nothing we can do, we have no weapons”. It is strange, it feels like hearing red shirt protesters talk. We greet them too and move to the side of the building that opens to Henry Dunant and the loudspeaker says that the people from Bangkok can go home too.

The small space we passed before coming from Henry Dunant is full of people sitting everywhere waiting to go home. As we pass there a woman voice says. “People from Udon, your bus is ready”. A small crowd steps up and moves toward the gate. A disorganized line of border police officers, mostly women checks everybody’s ID and write down on white papers their name and provenience, before letting them out of the gate.

It is very interesting how women are used by the government when the situation needs to be handled with calm and there is a potential for conflict. Right outside a big pick-up distributes water to the protesters. Few of them take it. It feels like an exodus.

Composed and silent lines of people carrying whatever they could grab before then got dispersed walk down the big empty streets, big plastic bags on their backs and lost faces. The Udon group stands on the sidewalk waiting for their bus. An older man leads the group with a pack of water bottles under his arm and a big grey bag. “We want accept this.” He says “We will continue to fight. Maybe not here in Bangkok. We will break down in small groups all around the country. It is far from the end of this.” He wears a light blue shirt with a cat in a graduating gear with written “Congratulation. You have proven that you can make it with nothing more than…”

They get on a old public bus and drive to the train station, on their way back home after about two months in the city. This twelve hour trips will be a time to reflect, to process what happened in the last days, or just to sit in silence. I go back home, grab a small bag, and drive to the train station.

After the dispersal- Part 2- May 19th

I went out again in the late afternoon, trying to get to the Ratchaprasong area before the sun goes down and the curfew kicks in. I drove toward Silom and pass walking the first military road block in Soi Convent. The Thais passing through were register by a soldier sitting on a small table on a side of the street.

I ask the two soldiers who stand at the road block if it is true that they burned Central World and Siam Paragon. The young officer with deep dark eyes looks at me confused. I ask again. “I don’t know where these places are” he answers “I don’t know Bangkok”. Great way to keep your soldiers safe in a conflict occurring in an urban setting. I pass them and walk to Silom. The street is completely empty and very dark. Three armored vehicles are park in the middle of the street on the other side from where I came from. Some soldiers sit around them, with their uniforms half taken down laughing. A line of military walks down from Ratchadamri with very tired faces. I smile at them, they don’t smile back.

The Sala Daeng intersection is completely different from last time I was here. The tires and bamboos sticks that used to be a barricade sit in huge piles on the side, close to the statue of Rama VI.

Three bulldozers are pulling them up and let them fall into dark green trucks. The asphalt is carved by the signs of caterpillars, plastered into the thin layer of burned rubber. I sit there for a while looking at the mechanical force removing the weak defense structures. A bunch of men in BMA workers vest direct the movement with their hands, covered by the noise of engines. How many of them are red shirts supporters not only defeated but also busy clearing the area, I wonder unable to go talk to them.

I walk down Ratchadamri road. The place is surreal and feels haunted. For the first time since I came to Thailand I can hear the twitter of birds in this area, normally covered by the noises of traffic and for the last month by the broadcasted speeches. The place feel like the people living in it just disappeared suddenly. Everything is left there. Clothes, fans, Tvs, motorbikes, unfinished food, half cooked rice, piles of vegetables, half opened tends, monks clothes, wallets, documents, bags, red paraphernalia, medicine, sealed water glasses still cold . Everything as in a crowded scene, just with people erased. That deafening sound of birds, echoing in the emptiness.

I walk through Ratchadamri, leaving behind me a burned toilet bus across the street after Chulalongkorn Hospital. On the other side of the street a giant pile of black bags of garbage stands attracting flies and an incredible number of grey pigeons, picking some leftover food coming out of the pile.

Along the street few human pigeons do the same, going timidly through the stuff left over picking up the best pieces and putting it in their bags. A man, also wearing the BMA vest, notice I am staring him as he puts a electric plug into his black and white bag. “Recycle” he tells me breaking the silence and making his way through some bags. Further down three man pile on the back of a pick up all the electric appliances they can find. Most common item the fan.

As I walk down the road, passing Surasin a group of military sits on the left side of the street. I greet them and they tell I cannot go further as the area is not secured yet and there are still snipers around. Four of them sit around. Behind them, in a small space between two buildings about twenty protesters sit on the ground, their hands tied by a black plastic cord.

One guy pulls his hands up and get them close to the mouth of another prisoner who smokes a cigarette from his hands. As I move to take a picture a soldier gets close to me and picks up bullet near my feet, hiding it in his pocket. I look around and find another one, take a picture and then pick it up.

I go back to the soldier and ask “Is this a M-16?” he looks at me without saying a word, takes the bullet , turn around, and hides it in his pocket. “Can I have that as a souvenir?” I ask. “How about one of this” showing me the plastic cord with which they arrest “as a souvenir?” I get the message and walk back. A young guy walks down Surasin and a military officers in plain clothes shouts at him “Come here or I shoot” holding his phone attached to his paint. “I shoot”. The guy keeps walking. A soldier in uniform pops out. The guy now starts running into a soi.

I walk back to the entrance of Lumpini Park. Their police officers are going around taking pictures of red shirts posters and graffiti left on the wall with their cell phones. A young police man picks up a red shirt with a picture of Thaksin doing the Karabao sign. He smiles at me and walks away with the shirt. Other two policemen are collecting red paraphernalia. They see my camera and ask me to take a picture with the two of them holding a red shirt bandana with written Truth Today. “We are completely red shirts. The police officers are red shirts” they tell me. “Please report the real news, please help us.” They walk away with the bandana rescuing “insignificant” pieces of history left behind by the reds.