Red Shirts Protest: "It's Over!"
May 21, 2010
"They were crying. They were crying." So reported a friend of mine as he witnessed Thai people gazing at the burnt-out ruins of a local shopping mall. "They were crying."
This is very unusual behavior. Thai people normally do not display any emotion in public. Laughing or crying, affection or anger are rarely seen. Despite the volume of traffic and the traffic jams around town, no one ever voices or displays any sign of frustration.
You almost never hear a taxi or a truck horn.
Crying in public is unheard of. Yet I daresay that the nation is crying tonight. Maybe not on the outside but surely on the inside. The recent events are unprecedented: the disruption of traffic, the encampment of thousands in key sections of the city, the burning tires, the closing of most public transportation, the shootings, the deaths, the fiery destruction of shops, banks and government property. And now the unemployment of several thousand workers.
Two days ago I watched as huge columns of black smoke obscured several skyscrapers. That evening, using my binoculars, I could see the flames in the lower section of the Central World mall.
This morning, after the battles had been fought, the main streets in my neighborhood are still filled with soldiers with rifles, police in flak jackets, barricades, sand bags and razor wire. Off in the distance, Central World is smoldering. There's a 9:00pm curfew tonight.
And yet, this morning I took a walk down Sukhumvit Road and got a haircut. And on the walk back home, Sukhumvit was jammed with traffic - a most welcome and comforting sight. Is it over? Are we slowly getting back to normal?
What's normal? My friend Larry Benowitz summed it up quite accurately:
"For those of us who live a half a world away, this current flare-up seems very much at odds with our image of Thailand as a safe, peaceful place with a low-profile military and a happy population that adores the King."
Yes Larry, I agree. I have traveled around Thailand since 2002 and I moved to Bangkok in 2006. I have never looked over my shoulder. I have never felt uncomfortable in any way, anywhere, day or night. So I am hoping that once again Thailand will be that peaceful, happy, civil, safe and welcoming place that I now call home.
But as my Thai friend Da likes to say, "I don't know the future." Will the smoldering continue? Or will that universal Thai smile douse the flames? Folks may be hurting on the inside, but today, at the food shops, at the barber and on the streets I got a healthy dose of the smiles that I have learned to love.
Peter Theoharis, I want to thank you for imploring me to leave Thailand. I know that you lived through the Turkish - Greek strife - an event that left you with bitter memories.
Thank you, also, Agnes Katz. I know that you ran like hell from your home in Hungary in 1956.
Thank you also Jack Calabro for reminding me of the infamous slogan "Yankee Go Home!"
Thanks Jake Gredy for inviting me back to Miami.
Joe Follick, you are a riot. Thanks for your humor: "If I lived in New York, I would go to Katz's and send you a salami. Let's see how that goes; 'Send a salami to your friend in Thailand?' Hmmmm...needs some work."
My good friend Allen had a military perspective:
"Plan an escape route, an alternate route and a third route. Then make sure you have cash:
a. To buy yourself out of a problem and
b. To get you on the next helo if needed.
Those guys don't accept AMEX.
Have your phone and a back-up battery and if possible communicate with people you can trust as to where you are and where you are heading in case someone has to go out to look for you."
Thanks Gary Orman for your neighborly advice: "Hang in there, Jan. You're safer at home. Stock up on rice and pasta and sauces and frozen meals. But the hospital cafeteria in your neighborhood should be open for meals indefinitely."
And Erik Sherman, thank you for your encouragement: "Maybe CNN will hire you to do some reporting. You will get to wear a PRESS jacket....Adventure follows you even when you want to stay home."
Now, an apology. I'm sorry for some of the comments in my previous letters. I know that at times, I seemed indifferent or light-hearted about the serious situation here. I suppose I wanted to maintain my own positive attitude and to allay any fears you might have had.
Finally, thank you, everyone, for your encouragement and concern. Most of us do "live a half a world away." Yet when I open a letter or when I click on the box next to your email address, I feel right next to you.