Sunday, 16 May 2010

the day after, April 11th


It’s the day after. Yesterday the military intervened to try to disperse the red shirts from Saphan Pan Fah, leaving 18 people dead, 4 of them military, one a Japanese journalist. As I walked home in the small badly lighted soi, a very well informed foreign journalist tells me on the phone, in a distant voice, “it was bad, it is the beginning of war”. “Their brain was spattered on the road”, “there was a brain after, left on the street” tells me a young woman with small dark brown eyes, almost lost in the sea of red that colors her head, body, neck as she squat arranging a large piece of cloth covered with the books on a side of Central World, in the Ratchaprasong area. She is looking at a collection of books regarding people’s movements, an odd mixture of contemporary radical history presented in the omnipresent Fa diaw gan, classic of thai radicalism, old books with yellowish pages and the basics of Marxist thoughts, from Marx himself to Rosa Luxemborg. “They are not man, they are animals” she adds, in using the most intense of the Thai offenses. The book vendor, an old man with large roundish glasses, that cover his eyes and part of his face, and consumed teeth that show their iron core, transforming is smile in a biothronic mix of glittering silver, yellowish calcium and black spots that reveal his life-long dependency to tobacco. I met him many other times at red shirt protests, always with his selection of books to sell and with a small portion of books that he wouldn’t sell but of which you can get a copy, if you are willing to pick it up at next protest. He immediately recognizes me and, as often reserved to foreigner, his wai was shortly followed by a handshake. As always at this protest he doesn’t only sell book but he puts on a on-going political debate, mostly a tirade. He seems to enjoy my presence, the foreigner who speaks Thai offers him too good of an occasion to tell me how things are and slowly enlarging the discussion to passerby who stop, listen a while, maybe buy something and then walk away as I also offer him a stable public that allows him to keep going. I think he knows that at some point I can’t follow him totally, but he doesn’t care. At the end the discussion is not for me. He tells me” this is class war, pure and simple” and the problem is not Abisit but the people over him. “You need to cut the hands” he keeps repeating as he mime the action passing the other hand over, as if it was a blade. Around him the atmosphere is calm. The Ratchaprasong intersection is a red sea. The stage is at the center of the intersection, and a large crowd stands around it , in the direction of Pratunam in a stillness almost confusing for a space where mobility and rapid traffic are the norms. On top of the stage a large banner says in English” Welcome to Thailand, We just want democracy” (very similar message to the one that the yellow shirt distributed to tourist during the occupation of the airport). Underneath a larger squared banner shows a fighters with open hands, in a typical zapatista representation in stencil style, with a white inscription of top “Peasants”, translation of “prai”, the world in Thai for the commoners that stands out in the sunset from the shirt of the speaker. On the higher ground in front of Central World people the crowd is more disperse. People sit on the ground and listen with a less corporal participation in a space of commerce and consumption transformed in a truly social space, a new political arena in the city, away from traditional politics played in the old town, away from the mandalic depiction of the city. I walk around for a while enjoying the feeling of this reclaimed space and chatting with people here and there, the atmosphere is apparenty calm and joyful, food cooking, the light dimming, and the usual clapping. The first break is for the national anthem, the book vendor who I was talking to who stands up, straighten his body as he keeps talking as many others around him. The second break is in memory of the “heroes” that died yesterday, a long minute of complete silence, composed bodies as for the anthem but not a word in the air. At the same time a funeral is going on few kilometers away at Saphan Fa, where the people were killed in the night of Saturday. It ends with a clap and everything goes back to their activities. People all around speak about yesterday, the dead, the attack, the violence, but as if it was something that happened in another space or time, hardly it feels as something that could go on as easily where we are standing and that happened less than 24 hours ago. In some corner of the huge area, composed of the plaza and what it used to be the street, appear boards with pictured from yesterday, people shoot, rifles on the ends of the military, the dead bodies wrapped in a Thai flag, an empty street with a brain on the pavement, there, alone. As if it was surgically taken out of the skull and then purposeful stretched on the ground as to extend to its maximum, to cover more ground, just there, a brain. People crowd around this pictures and a woman comes to me and starts explaining me what happened yesterday in English, is the classic we were bare hands and they had weapons story, I listen and then walk away. I walk away, buy some mu steak and hop on a motor-taxi in direction home. She is a younger woman, not very used to the bike and she moves in the empty Ratchadamri with a basic lack of equilibrium, she has a vest from Patumwan, I ask here where is her win normally and she tells me that she doesn’t have one, she gets the vest from a friend and comes these days as a side job, besides her office employment. I ask her if she come to work or for the red shirt, to work she tells me as she laugh. So she get out of her work and she goes there, no problem to work “not as in the soi” she tells me “ at the protest I can come and work”. I greet her at the entrance of my soi, telling her I will probably see her tomorrow.

The number of motortaxis at the protest increased dramatically, many of them have a red foulard over the vest to show their double presence at the protest, in the empty streets around Ratchaprasong they are the only transporters, you can get a taxi if you carry something but otherwise the motor-taxis are your first choices, especially with no busses and with the skytrain blocked since a couple of days. In the empty roads they move slowly, often bend backward as the passenger bend forwards, a normally silent interaction of transportation becomes something different now, is part of the protest, part of the political participation, discussing with motor-taxis, source of information, travelers and vessels. I met Ajan Jaran again today, very tired, long bears was trying restlessly to connect to his gmail account from and old laptop. I tell him about the motortaxis and what was a cold answer the first time I asked the question about their roles a months ago, revived him for a second “huge role, huge role” he kept repeating.

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