If there is anything good about tragedy – and often there’s right little – it’s the good that surfaces in people. Sunday we answered the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s call to help their workers clean up the mess that the Red Shirts and the military/Red Shirt conflict left behind. We arrived around 9 at Silom Road and were impressed by the crowd that was already there. No red shirts, yellow shirts or annoying opinionated ranting and aggression. Just the stereotypical Land of Smiles Thai (an image that took a serious beating these last few weeks). Many brought their own plastic bags and gloves. Others had been provided. Coca Cola and Singha offered free drinks for everyone (Singha water, not beer!) McDonald’s fed all any soldiers, police, rescue workers and credentialed journalists for free. I saw one of the guards at American University Alumnae handing out paper cups of water. Smiles abounded. Frankly I grumbled a bit about how awful people are to have trashed a city like this and the pointless deaths and injuries. The deal offered beforehand during negotiations was an election date (what the Red Shirts wanted). Red Shirt leaders insisted on amnesty for themselves and the government said No way. So it all ended in a mess of bombs and bullets and arson and arrests. No one got amnesty, and worse, for the real justice seekers among the Red Shirts, no one got an election date. Mission accomplished??
Central World left me gobsmacked. That was some serious arson. Siam Cinema was another sad arsonist loss and the sister locations Apex and Lido were showing Cinema Paradiso on Monday at noon in memory of a classic Bangkok cinema. (If you’ve seen that flick you’ll know why it’s appropriate. If you haven’t seen it, do. It’s a classic.) While seeing the 2nd largest mall in Asia turned into a teetering, blackened mass was visually stunning, the number of buildings down Rama IV that were gutted by fire was even more shocking. And I’m pretty sure most of the insurance policies (if there were any) aren’t anywhere near the value of Central World’s. (We took a drive through there today but without the camera. I didn’t count but I think I saw about 10 in just a few blocks.) And then there are the 88 confirmed dead in all this plus the hundreds of injured. Some are soldiers, more are Red Shirt hooligans and others still were just people caught in the middle and a smattering of journalists just trying to record a true picture of it. Again, what was accomplished here exactly? Wall Street Journal claimed farmers found their voice. The grand finale may have roared a bit louder than that voice, however, and surely distracted from it.
Most of what I gathered into garbage bags at Lumpini Park was drinking straws, plastic spoons, and plastic covers from water cups. Flies gathered in a few places and some of the volunteers were understandably a little leery of those. People were living here for two months after all. Bus stops were melted. Trees were even burnt and city workers trimmed them throughout the day. One bag of explosives allegedly turned up near the Ratchadamri SkyTrain station and workers fled for a moment until authorities removed it.
After a beautiful day, the late afternoon sun pierced the gathering clouds. A big downpour gathered itself up an hour or so later and finished up washing away a bit more of what happened here. It’ll take more than a rainstorm and a scrubbing to heal the wounds and build a future, but today’s pleasant coming together was at least a nice start.