Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Discussing in the middle of the conflict- May 18th

Today I woke up with the sound of rain, ticking on my windows. A nice change. I got out in the terse sky, free from the particle of burned tires and shoots. I drove toward Ngan-Dumphli, passing in an empty Suan Phlu were most of the shops have been closed, especially the ubiquitous 7-11, windows covered with newspapers.

The situation in Ngan-Dumphli is stable now with people hidden underneath the tires barricade, few journalists around, and no sound from the military whom they say have moved back to the Lumpini Area. The athmosphere is much more relaxed, people tuck to the wall jocking around for the amusement of journalists. A man is carrying a yellow helmets on a stick and putting in out of the barrier, hoping a sniper would shoot. A couple of young man throw fireworks on the street and even adventure in the middle of Rama IV to have a better shot. A guy in a green and white helmet shouts to the foreign journalists in English “do you want to see our snipers? Take your camera, we will give you our snipers, take picture” as the people around laugh loudly. A guy pulls out a small metal tube and launches from it a small firework.

“Snipers, snipers, tell the world” the guy repeats. People crack up squatting at the barricade. “Wait, wait, hey you want to see m-79. Here M-79” He turns around to a very young guy and tells him in Thai to pick a shot from his bag. He search frantically in the bag and runs to the middle of Rama IV. Bigger firework, very loud. Again everybody laugh.

I walk back and people are discussing about the snipers present in the zone. I show them my picture from yesterday and they ask me to stay here for a while to try to take a picture. I wait, hidden behind a wall but I see nothing. From the back of the soi a man dressed in black pulls out of his back pack and hand-made rocket launcher and aim at the building. One only shot explodes in the air.

He moves down the wall as everybody squat. “They know we are shooting” they say. The young man runs up and down the wall looking for a good spot for a second launch. Another loud bang.

I decide to go to Sawan Sawat to check the situation and get to Lumpini Tower from the small garden beside the soi. I arrive there and the barriers has grown becoming a cornered bunker. Behind it nobody stands. I get back into the soi and enter the park from a small opening in the corrugated iron that surrounds it. A man sit close to the entry. I ask him if is possible to go there and he stands up. He is completely covered in filth, a local homeless as many others around who are finding a social role in this conflict, helping carrying tires, getting free food, or just hanging around. He tells me “it is impossible for us, we don’t have money, we don’t have connections. There are no connection” I turn around puzzled. Two friends sit on a small table eating. They sign with their fingers movement close to the head that is a bit touched and they tell me to go in.

I step into a small park where some shack have been build. On the ground a mixture of garbage, empty glass bottles, dirty teddy bears. A scary dog sits on a broken sofa, outside a shack. I move in silence and see others walking through the park in the direction of Lumpini Tower.

I turn left, underneath a long tree branch and pass the first tires barrier outside the soi where I was yesterday. The wall of Lumpini Tower is in front of me. A large iron grating rest on the wall, making an unstable latter. A man pops out from the top of the wall and signs me to come. This really feels like urban guerrilla. I walk up the grating and find myself at the entrance of the building on the side of Lumpini Tower. Three men sit on plastic chair, lounging and laughing.

I sit down at the entrance of a small security guard house that has been taken up by them as a relaxing area. They make fun of me for moving carefully, “no danger here”, they say calmly. An older man completely covered in black stains takes a splinter out of his plastic flip flop and prepare his slingshot, holding marbles in his hand.

From this area I take some pictures of a devastated Rama IV the men there tell me to go in the middle of the street. I tell them I prefer to live and the laugh telling me that every time they start shooting the farang journalists are the first to run away. I decide to keep going toward Lumpini Tower as only fireworks sounds fill the air.

I walk to the next wall. Latter going up, another grating going down.

A man showd me the signs of bullets on the buildings on the opposite side of Rama IV. “That side is more dangerous than here” he says, as I notice a big group of journalists in flank vests on the small soi at the side of the building. I walk up to the entrance of Lumpini Tower. The monumental patio outside it is swarming with relaxed red shirt sitting, eating, and smoking as they discuss. On the western corner of the patio, behind a thick column, a group of three young Thais sit around two women, one a German journalist and the other a young Thai asking questions to these guys. The period of calm gives a chance to talk to each other finally. I sit on a huge flower vase and listen to the conversation, translating from time to time to the German journalist in exchange for using her pen. Sweet deal.

The man talks about the problem with this government, their inability to meet ends, and the lack of fairness in the system as well as in the actual situation. The woman responds “what about the pictures of armed red shirts, of people carrying heavy weapons?” A vocal man who set up stages for a living stands in front of here with a imposing posture. “Where are these pictures? I want to see them can you give them to me”. “The website is blocked in Thailand” she replies. “How did you see them then?” “I haven’t seen them.” “Uhhmmm.” The guy turns, looking with a smile with the people around him. “You like yellow shirts” he pushes “you watch ASTV right?” “I know ASTV is partisan and has a vision, I am interested in listening both sides, in understanding”. “Tell me then why is it the ASTV, which supports the yellow shirts, is opened while the red television is closed?” Check.

Another man steps up “We don’t have connections” he tells, turning around and walking away. They are grilling her, she came here to ask questions and the situation has reverted. Is great to hear somebody who sits middle way, believing parts of the government version discuss with people that few years ago never would have confronted her with this tone. “I want to hear something” the man says “give me one reason why support the yellow shirts” he raise his voice “One reason”. She interrupt him and say “Please put on your mask you are splitting on me”. Feeling pressed I guess. He puts the mask up and then takes it down. “Ok. I will speak normally”. He repeats “Give me one reason why you support the yellow shirts.” She gets silent for a second and squeezes her dark eyes, framed into large squared brown glasses. “I am not yellow, my parents are yellow. I just want to understand.” “You are yellow” he insists. “Brother” I tell him, “if she was 100% yellow she would not be here. At least she is trying to see with her eyes.” “Yes” she steps up “if I were yellow I would do this” as she moves her body standing on her tiptoes making a disgusted face. “You see” he says calm “if they didn’t want to kill the population they would throw teargas and then come here and pick us up, put us in jail but instead they shoot at us. It would be simple to disperse but they do not.” Checkmate.

He keeps going. “There is no fairness. This way is going to be a war. Do you think that if Abisith attacks Ratchaprasong and kill 500 or 1000 people he could remain?” “No” they both say together. “It would be war” he concludes. A moment of silence. “You see” he adds “this is democracy. Discussing this way.”

A younger man, motorcycle taxi in the area, calls me and asks me to take a picture with the zoom of a tall building behind the area to see if there are snipers. I walk with him. Nothing on the roof. I show him again the picture from yesterday and he asks me to give him my website so he can copy the photo. I write down the name on a thin rolling paper, greet them, and make my way back to the grating. “Be careful” we echo each other.

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