Saturday, 22 May 2010

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.


tb55 said...

Comment, brief: if is ako news better include picture from professionals, these are not different from any of same kind of event watch on tv. Text is biased and is not a problem, where is the scoop? if there is no one, now or ever, optionally this is not an article or Claudio is not a reporter. Low intensity reports makes damages probably like silence.

sopranz said...

Dear tb55,
you are right i am not a reporter and i am not looking for scoops at all. The idea of this blog is somewhere in between reporting how some people live and experience the political turmoil and creating an archive of the kind of details that reporters, running around looking for the scoop, do not report and often get lost with time. I hope you can see the relevance of such an approach and if not thanks anyway for giving me your opinion.

Dr. Will said...

You're an amazing witness. Thanks for this view of the aftermath.

davidb98 said...

thank you

I appreciate your effort and bravery in getting to the heart of what is happening and

real reporting of what you see and

the comfort you are giving to people under stress just by being there for them to talk