An Update on the Situation in Bangkok

When I left you guys last things were starting to get to the boiling point here in Bangkok. Well, the pot is boiling and spilling out all over the stove.

I decided to get out on Wednesday evening. The government had just given notice that they were going to seal off the area and cut water and power. I rented a cheap hotel room over on Soi 22, which was far enough away from the action that I didn’t think I needed to worry too much.

A lot of people had been calling, emailing, and texting me recently concerned about my safety. I mostly just laughed and repeated the same thing I’ve always said, “This is about Thais. We’re not part of it.” And for the most part that was the truth.

Every day I walked amongst the protesters on my way to the BTS skytrain. Many would look at me curiously but for the most part it was friendly. In fact, the other day I was walking up to the Chit Lom station and a monk was walking the other way. I tend to give monks wide berth out of respect but he kept angling towards me. I would move to the left and he moved to his right. When we got close enough he stepping into my path, held out his hand, and with the widest grin on his face said “Good afternoon.” We shook hands and I returned the greeting and he walked on all smiles.

But when the order came to get out, I was ready and so was everyone else. I had been out looking at apartments that day and read about the order to evacuate on my mobile. I grabbed my girlfriend and said, “We have to go, now!” We got the the Ratchadamri BTS station and it was more crowded than I had ever seen it.

As I entered the building it was like the fall of Saigon. People were rushing to the elevators and the elevators were delivering people to the lobby with their suitcases. I was somewhat relieved to see that I wasn’t simply acting like a chicken little. It was time to get out of Dodge.

Things really got interesting the first day of the siege. Anti-government supporter Maj-Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol also known as Seh Daeng who is a renegade soldier booted from the military and a major thorn in the government’s side was giving reporters a tour of the occupied area. When asked if he was scared of being shot or captured he responded who would dare to get him.

Well, someone decided to answer the question by putting a sniper shot right in his temple just a few moments later. In fact, he was still bragging to reporters when the shot hit him.

Video of his limp body being picked up and carried through stunned crowds of red shirts soon graced every Thai language channel. I was sitting with some friends in a bar on Soi 22 and everybody from the Thais to the foreigners had looks on their faces like “this is really, really bad.”

That’s when the sh*t got real.

The next day the red shirts gave up pretending to be peaceful protesters and full-blown clashes with the army started taking place at various points in the city. Many in the western press called it an army crackdown but all of the battles took place outside the area of containment the army had established. In essence, the red shirts were fighting to expand the amount of area they controlled.

The skies filled with black smoke from burning tires and the sounds of gunfire and grenades could be heard in some of the busiest areas of Bangkok.

Unlike previous confrontations with the army, the army was not holding back. Snipers picked off various people in the crowd. Some reporters were also hit.

The army even went as far as to put up signs saying that certain areas were “life [sic] fire” areas meaning if you’re on the street, they will shoot you.

The red shirts tried to do their best “but they’re shooting unarmed civilians” bit but there seemed to be a constant stream of video and photos showing red shirts with everything from grenade launchers, to rifles, to Molotov cocktails. Nobody was buying it.

That’s pretty much been the story every day since. Tires burning in the street, reports of firefights and grenade explosions are the topic of every conversation.

It’s gotten to the point where you have to check Twitter before you go anywhere to make sure what roads are safe. I heard some reports that red shirts had set up fake detour signs that sent people right into one of the live fire zones.

It’s really rather sad because when the protesters first came to my neighborhood they were friendly and in good spirits. It was easy to go out and mingle with them, take their pictures, and feel sympathetic to what they were trying (or thought they were trying) to achieve.

As the weeks wore on they became less friendly and more militant. Graffiti on the walls and posters in Thai and English said everything that needed to be said about the mood shift. I got more and more nervous about taking my camera out. Smiles turned to hard stares and suspicious looks.

A few days before I evacuated my apartment a red shirt was buying several bottles of Leo beer (pretty much the cheapest beer you can regularly find) in front of me in the mini-mart in my building. I was behind him buying a few Heinekens. He looked at the cashier and then at me and said something along the lines of “Heineken, hmm, amart.”

Amart is a Thai word that is not in common usage but has been used during the red shirt protests. It basically means something along the lines of nobleman or in today’s context, the elite. It’s what the red shirts have labeled the government and anybody who is an enemy of the red shirts. The rallying cry is that they are the commoner fighting against the rich elite class who are trying to enslave them.

I don’t think he expected me to understand the word and it was supposed to be an inside joke between him and the cashier who is also a red shirt. But I did understand. So I answered him back in Thai saying that I wasn’t amart and that I like Heineken because it tastes good. He gave me a nervous laugh and smile as I paid up and left but it made me feel uneasy.

While most of us foreigners were surprised at how long PM Abhisit had allowed the protesters to flaunt the law and either were in awe or frustrated by his patience, the red shirt leaders were telling the protesters that the PM was an evil tyrant who was going to send in the army to kill them all because he hated low-class people like them.

They blared this stuff at them 24/7 over PA systems. Every day they listened to increasingly violent rhetoric. Now, when the army is actually beginning to act and people are calling for children and elderly people to be evacuated from the protest area many protesters are saying that they want to go but they’re afraid they’ll be murdered by the army.

They’ve done such a good job demonizing the enemy that people are willing to risk the lives of their children and elderly relatives by keeping them in the middle of a very dangerous situation rather than surrender to what they feel is an almost certain death. In this video someone even seems to be using their child as a human shield (this was supposedly shot from within a “live fire” zone).


It makes me feel like I’m watching Waco happen all over again. And just like Waco when all of the fires are put out there will be plenty of blame to spread around both sides for what is shaping up to be a horrible tragedy.

It has been interesting nonetheless. When the red shirts first began protesting they had a lot of support. The rural and urban poor have always gotten the shaft in Thailand and the fact that these brave people were standing up for themselves seemed like a noble cause.

Some of my Thai friends asked me to pick them up bandannas and other paraphernalia from the protest site because they couldn’t make if down there. Others went before or after work to say they had been and give their support.

But the longer they stayed the more they became their own worst enemy. They’ve kidnapped a CEO of a telecom company (he was released shortly after), soldiers, and police officers. They’ve stormed government buildings. They’ve bullied and threatened common people, government officials, and businesses that voice any sort of differing opinion. They’ve stormed hospitals. In essence, they came off as thugs.

And their propaganda became more and more difficult to swallow. So, you’re telling me that the army has shot itself with grenades five times now so that it could justify coming in and killing all of you even though the army has yet to respond with any force? Hmmmmm . . . I’m going to call bullshit on that one, sir.

What they ended up accomplishing is turning most of Bangkok against them. Even those fans of the red shirts who had been asking me to get them souvenirs stopped asking and people who had proudly talked about going down to the rally site stopped talking about the red shirts.

They even caused people to form multi-colored shirt protests which were essentially, anti-red shirt protests. They didn’t necessarily support the government but they wanted to make it clear to the red shirts that what they were doing was hurting the country and the people. If I’m remembering correctly some of their protests drew 10,000 – 15,000 people which is pretty much the size of the red shirt protest movement at peak times.

I think one person on Twitter summed it up the best when he said:

World’s first modern “democracy” movement without student support . . . If that doesn’t say it all.

And he’s right. Because most university students understand, as do most foreigners, that for the leaders of the movement it was never about democracy. It has always been about re-installing fugitive former PM Thaksin. Only the brain dead would have failed to see the connection between the timing of the protests and Thaksin having half of his assets seized for corruption.

That is why the red shirts were never going to accept the reconciliation roadmap PM Abhisit had put forward. All of the negotiations were stalling tactics to buy more time so they could figure out what to do next.

When they started this they hoped that like when previous protests had happened in the capital that once blood was shed that the military would force the PM to step down. But PM Abhisit patiently allowed himself to be provoked to such a degree that by the time he acted public mood was already shifting away from the red shirts. People were starting to get mad at Abhisit for not cracking down earlier.

Other citizens were already starting to take matters into their own hands and were confronting red shirts. There were also some isolated incidents where red shirts in small groups outside of the rally site were beaten by small mobs of anti-red shirt people.

So what the red shirts ended up accomplishing was strengthening the government. When the PM offered to dissolve the house and call early elections as part of his reconciliation plan he actually received considerable backlash from the people and various political parties who felt he should not cave into the demands of “terrorists.”

Unfortunately, the international media, especially those with left leaning editorial policies, see this as a class war and paint the red shirts as freedom fighters for democracy against a repressive regime.

But the anti-red shirts aren’t all elites. Many come from the same villages, the same economic conditions as do the red shirt protesters. Most of the people I know who are attending these protests, commenting on Facebook, and publicly against the red shirts are people who should be 100% red shirt if you read the international media.

I think this person’s message on Facebook says it all. She’s already received 252 comments and 539 Likes for her views on how one-sided some of the international coverage has been.

It’s really quite interesting because it’s not uncommon to see people bringing water or food to the soldiers. It hardly seems like “the people” are being oppressed by the military.

Just as I was writing this overlooking a beautiful Tuesday morning, I received some reports that the government has accepted a cease fire proposal from the red shirt leaders. The government is guaranteeing that it will not fire on protesters if they return to the original area of containment (my old neighborhood).

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.

On a personal note. . .

Luckily, I was able to find a new apartment and moved in on Friday. It’s over on Soi 26 a little bit farther down Sukhumvit. Well, I moved whatever I could take with me when I decided to get out on Wednesday which is basically a suitcase full of stuff. The rest I left behind until it’s safe to go back.

I really like my old place. The neighborhood is/was great. I like the building. The landlord is fantastic. But . . . who knows when this will end. I need a place now and can’t really wait around to find out when and how it will end.

I’m not sure when I’ll have fulltime access to the internet. Even though the owner was willing to let me move in prior to signing the lease the building management won’t submit my service request without the contract and the landlord is (rightly) concerned about coming into central Bangkok amid all of the fighting.

So, that means I’ll be sitting out by the pool tapping out posts but I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to get them up.

4 thoughts on “An Update on the Situation in Bangkok”

  1. Hi Gugster,

    I doubt it’s about payment. The government wants to show they’ve exhausted all peaceful means of dispersing the protest before resorting to violence. Like I said, all of the fighting has been taking place outside of where the army told them to hold their position. They’re trying to wear them down by depriving them movement, food, and water before they go in so many will be ready to give up without a fight.

    It’s a typical red shirt tactic. Whatever the government says they cannot do (like take their protest out of the several square miles they already occupy) they do. Then when the military fires on them they go screaming to the press that they’re simply peaceful protesters being slaughtered by a ruthless military dictatorship.

    Just read news alert that the red shirts beat a woman who was in a temple interviewing women who had gone to the temple for shelter. She had to be rescued by red shirt guards. The protesters were afraid that her news report might make them look bad.

    Ahh, good old fashioned peaceful protesting. 🙂


  2. Thanks for the insight.
    Been following the development now for awhile since I have several friends and poker buddies living in the occupied areas. Most of them have moved out from the area the last couple of days. I actually heard rumors that the military are waiting for some kind of “payment” before they are willing to move in. They could have ended this a long time ago, if they wanted to.

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