Living under the red cloud in Bangkok

Once again it seems appropriate that Connecting the Dots should wander off and give a personal account of what it is like living in Bangkok during the unrest. Hopefully this will not turn into a series as for many people living in Bangkok, this Red Shirt thing is getting old very fast.

First a few particulars, according to Google Earth I am staying roughly 2 Kilometers (1.25 miles) from the nearest unrest. This itself is somewhat disturbing because as of a few days ago the distance was more like 5 Kilometers. That along with news of satellite Red Shirt stages being setup at various places around Bangkok, I feel like a cancer patient with spreading cancer. That together with what seems to be watered down cancer medication, a certain sense of hopelessness is hard to avoid.

As for changes in my daily routine the closing of the SkyTrain is what effects me the most. For people that look to travel around Bangkok and arrive at your destination on time, the Skytrain and Subway are the only predictable forms of transportation thanks to the computers that run the trains. That leaves riding a bus or taking a taxi as the only modes of transportation.

On Monday I decided to be a bit brave or a bit foolish and headed to lower Sukhumvit. I decided to take a bus as I wanted to get a feel for how other people were responding to the Red Shirt situation. I got off the bus just before the Asok intersection and started walking towards the Red Shirt wall that is just beyond the end of Sukhumvit about 1 Kilometer away.

For the most part things looked normal except for the lack of people. There was only about 20% of what I would expect. Looking at my phone I noted that it was just after 3:00pm and the Government’s get out of Dodge deadline for the Red Shirts had just passed. It was not until I crossed Asok did signs of problems appear.

At the base of the Asok Skytrain there were military and police dressed in protective riot gear. The military had M16 rifles with live rounds and the police just had sidearms. It was clear they were on post and well aware they could quickly find themselves on the front lines should the Red Shirts make an end run dash from Rama 4 and the newest Red Shirt stage just a 1 minute drive away.

Walking further down Sukhumvit I noted what could be a transition in open shops. The closer to the Red Shirts, the more shops were closed. Seeing that this is usually a bustling tourist area with 4 and 5 star hotels, a vibrant nightlife and hundreds of small street vendors, it felt more like a sleepy New England town with armed guards on every corner.

When I reached Sukhumvit soi 11 that is just east of the Nana Skytrain station I encountered the first string of razor wire, I also noted the number of uniformed people exceed the number of pedestrians. They were all armed with M16 rifles or rubber bullets. Judging by the expressions on their faces, it was very clear anxiety was the dominant emotion. The closer I got to the Red Shirt occupation, the greater the level of anxiety was noted.

Other disturbing signs was what was once a open street in an upscale part of town started to resemble a troubled ghetto neighborhood with newly erected fences around the Landmark Hotel. Seeing that the landmark is a 4 star hotel, a black iron fence sends entirely the wrong message. Although still a bit far from the red danger zone, it was clear things could easily spill over very quickly.

Moving still further down Sukhumvit I found myself standing on the corner of Soi 4. To me it seemed a bit of a blend of foolishness and desperation at that point. Soi 4 otherwise known as Soi Nana is the heart of Sukhumvit’s tourist naughty nightlife area. There were beer bars open with people enjoying a few beers in the presence of ladies that would gladly provide some private entertainment. However the mood was very subdued. The Thais that work there were clearly uncomfortable being there, but one must work to eat. As for the tourists they were busy trying not to have their holiday ruined by Thaksin. They were doing their best to ignore trouble that was a few hundred meters away on the other side of the wall of tires, bamboo and whatever else could be salvaged or stolen.

Soi 4 was as far as traffic could go on Sukhumvit and alternate routes were in use. Walking a bit further the few shops that were open were not wide open. A pharmacy that usually has all shutters open during business hours had only 2 open that could be closed in under a minute. I walked only a bit further and stopped at the corner of Soi 2. Looking ahead it clearly resembled a no mans land. About 50 meters ahead there were police barricades that simply implied only fools beyond this point. Beyond the barricades was a dark underpass that for the most part resembled something out of a scarey movie. This was no gateway to an enchanted forests, it was more of a gateway to the underworld.

Seeing that it was well past the 3:00pm deadline and dark storm clouds were about, it did not take much encouragement to start walking back. I walked to the McDonald’s near the Asok Skytrain station and ordered an Ice cream cone to cool off. Everyone in the McDonald’s were showing concern of their proximity to the Red Shirts. Conversations ranged from making sure everyone stuck together, to checking the latest news on their I-phones or whatever. The only sense of normalcy was the need to eat.

Needless to say it was an experience that will stick with me for some time. To see an area transformed into a war buffer zone does make you think a lot. It is clear the people that live closer to all of this are under both stress and anxiety as the danger is real and not imagined. The Red Shirts are acting like animals and barbarians not caring for anything, but this is typical in a riot situation anyplace on the planet, just ask Rodney King. So that behavior itself is not unique.

After returning back to my apartment a decision was made to have 5 days of non perishable food supplies to hunker down with. It was the only common sense thing to do short of getting involved. The reason I am saying that is I heard a passing rumor that civilians being the Yellow and multi color shirt people were giving serious thought to dealing with new Red Shirt stages as they pop up. They are clearly ready to step in and help the military do its job should the divide and conquer tactic be deployed by the Red Shirts.

The other thought that passed in my mind was when I heard about the millions of Dollars (not Baht) Thaksin had funded the Red Shirts with. Then quickly wondering how many countries that have issued travel warnings on Thailand while at the same time let Thaksin walk their soil. That quickly translates to every country that has issued a warning about Thailand, Thaksin has at the very least inconvenienced their citizens, to actually costing them financial losses. So that lead to the next thought if Thaksin’s world would get even smaller as countries spot their error.

It is a bit amazing what idle thoughts run through a persons mind in abnormal situations.

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