Monday, 17 May 2010

daily life in Ratchaprasong

I arrived at the protest early in the morning, for the first time. The tension of yesterday and the sleepless wait for an attack, which every night seems imminent but that never occurs, has left people tired, sleeping everywhere they could find a place. It is rare to see Thais sleeping so late, especially people from the countryside and service workers, used to be the first ones to wake up and to open the windows and the shops of the city.

The protest site is at its emptiest peak. Like every morning many people left for their jobs, leaving the square to few listeners to some low level speaker and small groups lounging around under the shades. I get in from Rama IV, with the intention of following the motorcyclist actions today. The barricades are surprising empty, some people sleeping around and the smell of breakfast soup being cooked and steaming sticky rice getting ready on bamboo canister to feed people for the next day. I talked briefly to a guy dressed in black about what was going on and he told me that the bikes went out earlier to collect information on the troops’ movements. I talk a bit with him as we keep moving back to enjoy some of the shadow casted by a nearby stand. The truck with the loudspeaker sat there, with a large board with pictures of the 10th on it, silent in the morning heat. At its side a pile of carton boxes was sitting, filled with helmets, which have been brought to be distributed to the “heroes” of the red shirts. I took my bike again and easily drove through Ratchadamri, silent and very empty, again covered in the noises of people waking up and the smell of food as a lonely speaker broadcasted the voice of a man, without the usual response from people and roar of the crowd.

I drive toward Siam Square hoping to find a different scene with the presence of motorcycles at the other gates but one after the other I went through and the same atmosphere of a village waking up reigns, just right in the middle of ultra-modern Bangkok. I decided to park the bike and go to talk to same motortaxi to ask what was going on. I stop at the intersection between Henry Dunant and Rama I, where normally the shoes repair sits. A small group of drivers is there, shadowing under a stand with an hammock attached. The whole stand vibrates with the oscillating body of a drivers lounging on the hammock. Most of the drivers are from this district and they have been coming every morning to make money and support the red shirts. We start talking about politics, ideas about the red shirts and the role of motor-taxis. It is the usual talk about Thaksin and his attempt to free the drivers from “influential people”, even if one of them kept repeating that mafia is still well present in their lives. We talk for a while, mostly with an older man who seems to be the most vocal in the group and who normally works close by, as his vest says. He has black hairs and thick mustaches, a red t-shirt covered by his vest. I ask him what are the motortaxis supposed to do during the day and he tells me that they have already gone to the PM house, following rumors that he was there but found the house empty. As we talk about motortaxis he keeps repeating that speed is the key element, their speed in doing action, appearing and disappearing. As some of them drive away and came back, as in a usual win, I chat up others and get into a conversation about social welfare states and taxi systems, as usually struck by their knowledge and curiosity. At some point I am left with the only woman in the group. She is 42 and has two kids, her vest says Dusit but she normally works somewhere else on the outskirt of the city. She is not a particular supporter of the red shirt but came here to find money for her kids and left every afternoon to go back to her family, getting more money than she normally would. She smiles with shyness, with long bleached hair flowing on her shoulder as the day flows indifferently, taken hostage by the pressing feeling of an imminent violent turn.

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