I woke up this morning and red that the protest site was under attack from the military. Turn on tv to see tanks moving into the barricades and taking them down. Panitan face on every Tv channel reassured the population this was done for their own safety and that the situation was under control. I watched out of the window and a big smoke column was coming from the direction of Rama IV. Seemed hardly under control.
It was not the usual black smoke from tires but a bigger grey cloud. I waited for the sounds of shots to go down and grab my bikes, in the direction of Ngan Dumplhi. I arrived there and the street is just destroyed. Few people there, people I have never saw before who walks around taking pictures and helping put out small fires.
The street is covered in filth, food everywhere fermenting in the hot sun. A small crowd hidden behind a wall stares at the tall building overlooking the soi, trying to spot snipers. The soi is completely opened in the front, no tires left. The building that at the corner with Rama IV, an office of Kasikorn Bank, has been completely burned, leaving an empty blackened shell with electric wire swinging from the light pole to the street.
The building is dripping with the water that has been thrown at it to put out the fire. Very very close to the electric wires. In front of the burned scheleton of a building, two men sit, one guy is a local resident, the other a Thai journalist and the casually discuss about what is going on around the city. I talk to them for a while and then walk with the Thai journalist down Rama IV.
As you get out of Ngan-Dumplhi, a barricade of tires sits in the middle of the street, down Rama IV. We passed it and walk into a destroyed area, burned buildings and phone boots, smashed ATMs and a thick layer of burned gum everywhere.
My shoes stick to the pavement, before washing in dark water pool. People around are taking pictures, walking around in a stunning silence. On the street banks branches and 7-11 have been surgically burned, somehow managing to keep the buildings around undamaged. The street is completely covered in debris and the rests of burned tires create bass-relief of weird black intersecting circles. I keep walking down the big road, a man is taking pictures, stops and stares at a burned phone booth thrown on the ground. Somehow he does not seem to be able to stand that vision, while was indifferently photographing burned buildings around.
He stands there, silence around. I stand close to him. “How do you feel about what is going on?” I ask. “Very bad” he says without taking his eyes off the phone boot. “very very bad" he repeats. “and now the leaders fled, it is freedom. Everybody can do whatever they want.” He moves to staring the street, the tension accumulating on his forehead. He snaps out. “Where are you from?” he stares at me. “I am sorry, an Italian journalist just died.” “I am sorry to, for many Thais”. I walk away leaving him standing there, stamped on his face the same worries you see around on people from both sides of the political spectrum or just on friends as they sip a beer. I keep walking with the Thai journalist. We passed in front of Lumpini Tower, where yesterday great political conversations were going on, now remains complete emptiness and scraps. The small guards house where yesterday people were lounging starts burning in front of us.
Three guys run to the place using fire extinguishers, trying in vain to put the fire off. One of them stops to pick up his phone; another guy from the close by Soi Sawan Sawat picks his fire extinguisher and takes his job. “Lower, lower” a man shouts. I squat thinking he is talking to me. A huge splash of water comes from the nearby garden, passing the firing house. I feel really stupid. I get into the garden from a opening in the corrugated iron. Four men hold a fire hydrant coming out of Soi Sawan Sawat. Soon the grey smoke turns into white, as the fire goes out.
I walk through the park to the soi. There another small crowd in looking around, for the first time in days I see women among them. I walk toward the highway bridge in Rama IV. “This section is really empty” the Thai journalist says “it scares me”. We walk there attracted by a huge smoke cloud, the one I saw from my home. A power plant down in the direction is on fire, cutting electricity all the way to Sathorn, and the flames extended to a nearby building.
Two fire fighters truck stand in front of the building, not even wasting water to try to put it off. Underneath the highway bridge people take picture as a crowd of about 15 police officers stand there, chatting with locals. On both of the columns that sustain the bridge a large white cloth has been attached. In red painting, a haunting but polite question: “Father, where are you?”
I stay there for a while watching the smoke slowly embracing the building, occasionally revealing the high flames behind it. The small police boot that was used as a “war room” before is also on fire. I walk to a motortaxi driver asking him what is going on in other areas. “The protest has been cleared. Buildings are being set on fires around the city” he tells me “Central World, Siam Paragon, Siam Center”. “Really?” I ask dumbstruck. “I am sorry” he apologizes to me for a reason I do not understand. I ask him to drive me back to Ngan-Dumphli to grab my bike.
As he drives back in the back Sois infested with garbage that has not being collected in almost a week a plane pass over our heads, saying something I can understand. I get dropped in front of my bike. An older woman walks passed us. She looks like the people one normally meets when walking this Sois. Street-vendors standing on sidewalks selling food or drinks. She is in her fifties, dark skin and thin hair turning grey. She is wearing a white apron with small red flowers. The small plain passes again. “The leaders of the protest have already surrounded, the military are retreating, please stop” comes out of the loudspeakers in a woman voice. I ask the old woman “Do you think the people with accept this?” “They will” she says “It is finished.” She does not look comforted or relieved. I walk to the beginning of the Soi. A man with a big fire hydrant is putting on some small fire and throwing water on the tires barricade in Rama IV to prevent it from burning. He then stands in the middle of the street, pouring water on himself.
Everybody around calls him by name and direct him to a small fire inside the Kasikorn Bank building. I ask a motortaxi if he thinks the people will accept what they just said and go home. “We live here” he says “we are people of the area who came to take a look and look after the place. The fighters went away hours ago in Klong Toei.” What will they do now or as a Thai friend put it tonight, “How can I sustain my life style now? How can we restore this country?” remain the questions that keeps people awake in Bangkok tonight, blocked inside their house by the government’s curfew.