Recap: living through the protests

Greetings. I realise I’ve been quiet as of late. I decided not to blog about the protests but as they got serious it got rather hard to be flippant about the events going on around me. Friends were evacuated out of the hot zone, checkpoints and army officers started showing up in my end of town, the Skytrain stopped running, and smoke coming out of the horizon started to be a regular occurrence. I wanted to talk about that but it would be nearly impossible to blog about it without giving those of you outside Bangkok an alarmist perception.

My biggest problem was cabin fever. The Skytrain stopped operating as the protests started getting violent. Violent as in spurts of gunfire here and there, mostly as the military and police really tightened their surrounding of the protest area. The shooting, probably assassination really, of Seh Daeng, a renegade active duty army general turned protester was what set off the real tension. The eventual rioting and fires pretty much froze Southeast Asia’s second biggest bustling metropolitan area.

I bought a bike. I loved it. With most people afraid to leave their homes or unable to cross from one side of the city to the other, the streets were lighter in traffic. I whizzed about my part of town easily. Sukhumvit was a hairy ride no matter the circumstance. But the sois and backsois are quiet, allowing for a easy cruise. Drivers tend to slow down on the smaller streets so I had more room to maneuver and react. Checkpoints gave me quizzical looks but never stopped me. Who else but a farang would be breezing by in an expensive mountain bike at these tense times? I should have gotten a bike earlier.

Did I ever mention what a gorgeous skyline view I have from my apartment? Due to my proximity to the convention center and park, I have an unobstructed, albeit distant, view of the city skyline. As a result, once the tire-burning started, I was able to see the smoke come up. Literally, I was watching the city go up in flames. I was able to tell really quickly where the last spurt of anger was.

Anger management issues. What’s how a friend described the protester reactions following the shooting of Seh Daeng. As time passed, it became less and less clear what the protesters’ end goal was. In a way, I suspect they don’t know themselves. The prime minister offered a reconciliation plan, a truce, that pretty much gave them everything they wanted except for the timing. Instead of immediately, it would be in September. They couldn’t agree to the truce. Then as the burning and the shooting and eventually the fires started up, it seemed like the protest moment, even before the army rolled it, was falling apart. Some protesters claimed they were peaceful. Others were acting out against even their own, not allowing their injured a safe passage to medical treatment.

I blissfully missed the rioting. Most of us were under lockdown in our homes and hotels. Some people called it a staycation to keep the spirits up. Boredom was a frequent companion though. Parts of our neighborhood lost power, although, luckily for only several hours. The fires set in Central World is particularly upsetting to the local community, though. To set a fire that damaging and that big, they must have gone inside. On top of that, thousands of livelihoods and jobs were lost in those flames. Its loss made the residents really understand how key it was to the local economy. More than anything, the symbolic loss of what Bangkok is known for- retail mecca and modernity- was a huge blow to the core.

Perhaps in the Thais’ best show of grace and determination, when we expats frequently complain about lack of efficiency, the community showed up in great numbers for the clean-up. The locals are determined to bury the protests in the past and recover as quickly as they can. In some ways, it is admirable. The sense of community and selflessness is not as frequently displayed in normal Bangkok life. In some ways, it’s denial. The protests highlighted issues with the intense class divide and to not address them simply defers another flare up.

Life is resuming normality in Bangkok although the grievances of the protesters are presenting themselves in the other provinces, especially in the north where they are a stronghold. In the city, though, traffic jams have resumed, shopping coming back in full force. Retail will report profits this month. With the exception of fire-scarred buildings, it was almost as if nothing ever happened in this city, let alone a three month protest.

It’s great the things are back to normal. But it was a significant population showing itself in the protests. Numbers like that don’t just disappear to the woodwork forever. If the House is any indication, Thailand needs to come to terms with their population’s needs. Whether it happens now or later is anyone’s guess.

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