Caught up in the PAD march

Despite Prime Minister Samak’s being removed from his post by the courts, despite former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra being convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison for tax evasion, the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) continues its protests. 

It seems they will only be satisfied when the current government is disrupted and new elections are called – assuming they were sincere when PAD leaders recently dropped their demands for a parliament that was contained a majority of appointees, resulting in a government that would be (ironically, given their name) not democratic.

Another big PAD rally and march occurred today, heading down Phloenchit/Sukhumvit Road from Siam Square to Phrom Phong.  (Come to think about it, this could be called the Mall to Mall March.)  Originally, the march was to terminate at the British Embassy on Wittahyu Road but it looks like they kept on going, stopping only once heavy rains commenced.

As I left my Thai language class with Khruu Kitiya, the head of the protest was just arriving at the Asoke Skytrain station.  Caught up in the excitement (and lack of policemen in their mob control gear) I decided to risk life and limb to bring you, my readers, the story.

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Above, the head of the marchers, underneath the Asoke Skytrain station heading into the Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection.  The crowd looked to be about 5,000 – 10,000 strong but the rains about thirty minutes later cut that to just a few thousand.

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Above, looking from Asoke station eastwards towards Phrom Phong station (where Emporium mall is located).  By the time the crowd had passed the intersection – a good fifteen minutes – the traffic backed up on Asoke reached a solid two kilometers to Phetchaburi Road and beyond.

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Above, a close-up from the previous vantage point, showing the crowds already down several blocks,

After taking the train into town to pay my electricity bill, I stopped at Emporium on the way back for a bite to eat, where I caught up with a rain storm and about two thousand remaining PAD members, who sought shelter beneath the Phrom Phrong station, stopping traffic on both sides of the street, below.

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Security guards at the BTS Skytrain and the Emporium mall watched nervously, hoping that crowds would not turn against them.  All in all, the demonstration was very peaceful – other than causing massive gridlock in a city that already has terrible congestion.

Above: Here’s ninety seconds of footage I edited together so you could get a fuller sense of the scope of the protest.

 

Weekend Recap

P1070326 What a busy weekend!  It seems that there was so much to do that the weekend went by in a flash.  Sadly, along the way I managed to catch a bit of a chest cold so I’m coughing and feel like I have cement in my lungs.  Let’s hope a bit more rest clears that up.

We celebrated Tara’s third birthday on Thursday.  She’s the daughter of Tawn’s long-time friend Pim, so we were invited to the family celebration held at The Sylvanian, a family friendly restaurant that has a large play area and caters especially to birthday parties.

For a three-year-old, Tara is quite tall and is very vocal about things.  Anytime Tawn goes over to visit with her, she asks about me, but then when she sees me in person she gets tongue-tied.  Probably because she doesn’t understand either my Thai or my English.

P1070339 We had a fun time, but when the birthday cake came out and the staff came over to sing “Happy Birthday”, Tara was unsettled by the human-sized rabbit that came out for the singing.  I’ve never seen a child climb further into a seat cushion before!

Her Uncle Tawn posed for a picture with the rabbit, but no amount of coaxing would convince her to get near it.

I can understand her concern.  Even as an adult I get a little freaked out by these costumed mascots.  There’s just something strange about them.

Tawn, being born in the year of the rabbit, saw nothing odd about the rabbit at all.  But he’s biased.

 

Both Friday and Sunday I caught films as part of the annual French Film Festival.  This is part of a larger arts festival called Le Fete, which is the largest cultural festival in Khrungthep. 

Friday’s film was Naissance des Pieuvres (Water Lilies), a coming of age story about three teenage girls in suburban Paris who struggle with their sexual identities as they become aware of their desires while also trying to conform to peer expectations.  It was well made, a bit quirky in the way that some French films are, and well acted.  All three of the young actresses have the talent to go on to strong careers.

Diving Bell Sunday’s film was Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), based on the novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby. 

American director Julian Schnabel manages to give vision to something almost unimagineable: the true story of Elle editor Bauby, (played by Mathieu Amalric, shown to the left shaving his father, played by Max von Sydow) who was left entirely paralized by a stroke with the exception of his left eye.  Seemingly impossibly, he learned to communicate and was able to write the book on which the movie is based.

My original expectation was that this film would be haughty and pretencious, as Schnabel himself is known to be.  But it is a gorgeous, touching, and even humorous film that gives a lot of insight into the most trying of circumstances: being locked fully conscious but nearly uncommunicative inside your own body.

 

P1070368 Adding to that fine amount of culture was some exercise.  Markus and I did a 40-km circuit of the old city, stopping by the construction site of the new Airport Express rail line to check on progress.

I’m fascinated by the machinery they use to lift the viaduct sections into place.  I had previously assumed that they lifted each individual section, about 2-3 meters long, and then attached it to the adjacent sections.

But based on what I saw in this picture, it looks like the entire length of 10-11 sections is fastened together on the ground and then lifted into place with this crane.

That seems terribly heavy, but then this is large equipment we’re talking about.

Along the way, we also saw the section of machinery that is being used to construct the viaduct over Asoke Road.  The crane is slowly inching its way out over the road, and based on what they’ve done elsewhere, this will be built section-by-section as they can’t afford to shut this major arterial road down for any more than a few hours in the middle of the night.

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Our bicycle riding also took us down to the hotbed of political protests: Government House.  This is the office of the Prime Minister and we’re back to pre-coup levels of protest and political friction, with rumors running around that we’ll have another coup.  The army head has come out and said that the military has no part in politics and that as long as they are peaceful, the protesters have a right to voice their concerns as part of the democratic process. 

Just remember, that’s what the previous head of the army said shortly before the last coup.

Below, protesters have baricaded the entrance to a four-square block area around the Prime Minister’s office.  We considered entering the area – the protesters invited us to – but figured that there is only so much risk worth taking on a Sunday morning.  The last thing I need is a police officer asking to see my passport.

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With rainy season fast upon us, we’ve been getting near-daily thunderstorms, often torrential in nature.  Compared to the horrific flooding in the American Midwest, the flooding our soi experiences is almost indecent to mention.  However, since it is a feature of life in Khrungthep that isn’t “normal” for most of my readers, I thought I’d share this short video with you that shows the post-rainfall water we regularly contend with.

My thoughts go out to everyone who is dealing with real and devastating flooding.