Hi from the Bangkok Barricades

25 Apr

The red shirt camp seen from the overpass

You might have heard, or you might not have, the city of Bangkok was under siege of the Red-Shirts. The fashionistas dressed in red were protesting to get the former corrupt (!) prime minister back in power – or rather – to oust the new PM. They took over the commercial centre of Bangkok – including the gay Silom area.

So, what to do? Despite the closed metro & sky-train, we still managed to cross the barricades and barbed wire. Here’s a look from the Red Shirt camp on our way to a drink in the gay bar. Pics below.

  • Civil war seems to be a relative concept after all.

Bangkok has something with colours

Yellow politics, Red shirts, Pink taxis - all normal

When I first went to Thailand, the things that jumped to my eyes are the colours: the taxis are fiery fuchsia (wow), unbelievably red or poisonous green; the temples are decorated in all colours, as long as they are bright and shiny; and when you go to the markets, you’d nearly need sunglasses to be able to watch all those coloured fruits & foods. (and surely I don’t need to go into details about the gay life)

Similarly in politics: colours are what brings people and party together. The Yellow Shirts made the news when they blocked the Suvarnabhumi airport in December 2008 in support of the current Prime Minister (said to abuse his power) – just before I had to fly out on my sabbatical trip, of course.

Silom metro station closed

This time round the – just my luck – the Red Shirts are hitting back and mounting heavy duty protests against the current PM and in favour of the former (and corrupt) Prime Minister. They set up camp in the commercial district, blocking the Sky Train and metro, closing all the big shopping malls and banks there. Belgian foreign affairs even gave a negative travel advice for Thailand because of the volatile protests.

But, alas, it was too late already, plans were made and (despite stupid volcano clouds) I was on my way to Abu Dhabi – on to Bangkok. It’s in Abu Dhabi airport that I saw that several people were killed and wounded in the protests. Apparently the Red Shirts got competition, not only of the military, but also from the Multi-Coloured Shirts. They are the ‘normal people’ from the central BKK area, who are out of jobs or out of business because of the Red Occupation, and they were going to show them they were fed up. The confrontation apparently started with a stone, but ended with 3 grenades.

Gay barbed wire and military go-go-bars

Anyone wanna buy a red shirt?

So the situation was a bit ‘explosive. Especially because the current (yellow) Prime Minister did want to compromise on his position, and even showed some muscles threatening to clean the Red-Shirts from the Bangkok city centre (which he did a few days later).

Now, the main Silom going out area (gay & girly) happened to be in the ‘war-zone’. As I was travelling with a friend, who had never been to Bangkok before, we still needed to go for a drink somewhere and explore the local scene, no?

  • We had to do a little bit of ‘wardrobe management’ before we went out though, as my friend wanted to put on his red sleeveless shirt. When I explained that red is maybe not the best colour to wear, he changed again… into a yellow T-shirt. In the end we both went dressed in white – the colour of peace – appropriately.

You see, the area was accessible, via the gap in the barricade

Even when there is a war, normal people still carry on with their lives, I thought. I was working in a refugee camp in Croatia during the Yugoslav war in 1995, and the children were playing games outside, the parents were having a drink, etcetera. So I reckoned it must be the same in BKK – and it was.

Being a white face also opens doors – or even Red Shirt check points. They had created their own ‘borders’ of the camp area – including border posts and body checks. But as you can see on the pictures, it was possible to get through. Here and there you just had to go around the barbed wire to get to the gay street – or there would be some military in front of the go-go-bars.

But besides that, all was normal ;-)

  • PS by the time you read this – the Red Shirts were cleaned off the BKK streets while we were safely in North of Thailand. No problems with the Red Shirts there, because in the north all people are Red supporters.

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