Tonight a few speakers were being hosted at the FCCT (Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand) downtown and a friend promised to help me get in. I walked to my nearby SkyTrain station at Sala Daeng on Silom Road, scoped out the Red Shirt protesters up the street and the pro-government protesters still hanging around near the station. Troops were moving and I wondered if something was up or if a shift or position was changing. A long line of paddy wagons idled in the side street that connects my front door on Sathorn Road to Silom Road. But these were minor changes really not very different from the night before.
The SkyTrain takes me over the protesters at the head of Silom where one can – if one really wants to – see into their impromptu communal shower. The whole compound is a sight to behold. Tents, porta-potties, venders selling t-shirts like souvenirs. Two stations away is Siam, the center of the two conjoined SkyTrain lines. I switched trains and was then passing over yet another massive protest site where all the streets were controlled by the Red Shirt’s own security, where the protesters sit under a huge net-canopy for shade (and sniper protection) next to the big malls. I continued to the next station where the protester camp continues even farther along Sukhumvit Road. But I passed over it all and left the station right at the office building where the FCCT meets on the top floor.
At the very beginning we watched the final footage of Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto who was shot and killed in the April 10 clash between Red Shirt protesters and the Thai military. It was a solemn occasion and throughout the middle of it the sound cuts out and you watch the scenes of street fighting in silence until it comes crashing back at the end, the gunshots causing everyone in the room to jerk involuntarily. After a moment of silence for Hiro Muramoto, the first speaker was a doctor whose hospital had treated some of the wounded from the April 10 clash between Red Shirt protesters and Thai military. He told us a whole lot of what seemed to me nothing. Nothing that mattered anyway. When journalists asked some questions at the end about details, he could tell us nothing or he evaded them, testily it seemed. At this time, the Tweets started coming in to my friend Jodi (@LegalNomads). Reports of some explosions at my train station, Sala Daeng. “Fireworks?” she typed in reply. The Red Shirts had unnervingly been shooting off some which irritates the neighbors and they allegedly use them at times to ward off snooping military helicopters. But not this time.
I called Peung and got the TV news version which can at times be a little sketchy. 3 explosions. So as the bulk of the press crew sat and listened to a guy who couldn’t tell us how many of his patients had been treated for gunshot wounds, bad things were going down at one of the protest hotspots. Some of us moved out into the hall and started calling/texting/Tweeting for more info.
A Burmese photographer donned his flak jacket, helmet, gas mask and other heavy equipment and made for the elevator. Jodi – wearing a skirt and flip flops! – decided to join him. (She had shoes and such in her pack and he took her to get a helmet.) I waited a while until Peung confirmed the bad news: 4 explosions, likely grenades, and at least one death, several injured. (Later 5 confirmed explosions)
The SkyTrain shut down for all points from where I was to where I didn’t want to go – my station. So I went the opposite direction and got off to descend to the subway. Again, closed for my neighborhood stop. I stopped at 7/11 and then took a taxi as Peung was growing more and more worried that I was still out. But that was the crazy thing: in our minds chaos had broken out. Red Shirts and troops and pro-government protesters along with Yellow Shirts were on the brink of going way beyond last night’s bottle and rock throwing. One person was now dead, 10 others including at least one foreigner were in serious condition, and 75 were injured. Ambulances, warnings to clear out, warnings from troops that they had live ammo and may have to use it. Phone calls, Tweets, plans to get home safely. And I was in a taxi listening to a leader of the Red Shirts speak on their own station with an English translator allowing me to hear. Some truth to it but in general it was like the other side’s efforts. Speak to your base, keep them believing, keep up the fight. No one was stopping to think or seek a solution. Everyone seems to want a fight. The little guys in all this will bring that fight and suffer the casualties. It’s a big game of Risk and they are swept from the game board by those that egg them on and call the shots and reap the benefits of whatever can be “won” out of this.
I stared out the taxi window. In the half-light of an empty concrete lot, Thai teenagers were practicing impressive moves with their skateboards. People were buying noodles from a street vender. A foreign couple was arguing as they walked. People at a dim bus stop waited listless in the heat for the next bus. A pretty woman in the back of the next cab met my gaze and we both looked away. Nothing around me indicated the night’s drama. And I was heading straight for it really. Just two or three long blocks from my place, a woman waiting for a train lost her life for absolute bullocks and I could pass through this whole city for weeks on end like waltzing through a giant field with only one landmine in it and not be affected or involved at all. I picked up a Coke. A driver picked up a 2 dollar fare. 75 people were attacked by unknown assailant(s) and three of them now are dead. I’m glad the FCCT event wasn’t at 9 or I might have been waiting for a train.
Twitter @KevinRevolinski and @NG_Bangkok