As Crikey goes to “print”, tensions in Bangkok continue to escalate. As the Bangkok Post reported a short time ago: “Hundreds of police and troops, backed by armoured vehicles, converged on the red-shirt protesters’ camp in Bangkok early Wednesday, raising fears of an imminent crackdown.” Fairfax journalist Ben Doherty says at least four people are dead.
This morning former AAP journalist Craig Knowles filed this report while sheltering with friends in his Bangkok living room:
Everyone is on edge. A car backfires and we jump three feet in the air. Monsoonal thunder rolls in and we hurl ourselves behind the closest cement wall. Then, as is the Thai way, we have a collective giggle at our over-reaction. It is nervous laughter.
The sounds of the city that we take for granted — that we don’t even register most of the time in this ear-splittingly loud metropolis — have become sinister. The relentless heat exacerbates our frayed nerves.
People peer cautiously out at the streets from behind shuttered windows or the doorways of their family shop-houses. My neighbourhood is outside the “live fire zone” so I’m sheltering a few friends who have fled their downtown condos. My living room has become a yuppie refugee camp!
It’s not an all-out bloodbath, but it is becoming dangerously unpredictable.
The Red Shirts have been entrenched for weeks. They know every laneway, every back alley and have managed to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the security forces and extend the danger zone to neighbourhoods that, a week ago, were considered safe; Din Daeng, Victory Monument, Sukhumvit.
Things change so rapidly. This morning I set off for the Landmark Hotel — a few miles from my home and technically just outside the fire zone — to meet a client. I was marvelling at how traffic-free the journey was, despite a torrential downpour, when my taxi was stopped at the Asok intersection. Army snipers suddenly appeared on the pedestrian overpasses, scores of riot police and soldiers moved in and a barbed-wire barricade was strewn across six lanes of one of Bangkok’s busiest crossroads.
Alighting from the cab, I was allowed to continue on foot to the hotel in what I must admit was an unnerving experience; I’d thought that 20 years of difficult situations in various hellholes had left me with nerves of steel. Everyone was shutting up shop, locking doors, moving quickly out of the area. And Thais NEVER move quickly, except in the most extreme circumstances. The street had apparently become a Red-Shirt target, or so it was rumoured. There are so many rumours.
I was relieved to be ushered inside the newly constructed steel security gate of the Landmark by a concerned, but smiling security guard. Then, just as quickly it seemed, the threat was over, the barricade lifted, the road re-opened to traffic. It was as if it had never happened. But Bangkok, at present, awaits the next explosion, the next round of gunfire, the latest false alarm.
Those of us who live here are sick of it. People are frightened.
The latest horror is a symptom of the enormous upheaval that lies ahead of us. Actually, the upheaval is probably well underway. I guess we just didn’t realize it.
Eighteen years ago this week, I lay face down on Bangkok’s largest public ground, Sanam Luang, as tracer bullets flew overhead, buses were set ablaze and the sky ignited in violence amid the worst civil unrest since the late seventies. I had been here for six weeks. I remember being scared, overwhelmed, amazed. It was my entree to this extraordinary city and part of what has kept me here all this time — give or take a few years’ break.
I was a newcomer then. I guess I’m a bona-fide Bangkokian now. As a Bangkokian I hope I am a resilient, tolerant person who has learned to expect the unexpected. Why, then, do I find myself longing for the predictable chaos that seemed to vanish in a flash?
I’m probably just too old for all this excitement. Too settled. I just want my city back.