Today I left Bangkok. The city was still roadblocked at five key intersections by the Shutdown protesters. They had set up encampments at strategic points to try to bring the city to a standstill and force the government to abandon planned elections. They have been unsuccessful on both counts. The elections went ahead last weekend with six people shot on the election eve at a protest clash, but no further violence, much to everyone’s relief. Two of the protest sites have now been abandoned with protesters consolidating their stronghold at Lumphini Park, currently resembling a refugee camp of tents.
And yet, the blood and chaos predicted by the international media has failed to materialise. To all intents and purposes, the city functions as normal – which is telling about how “normal” Bangkok ever gets. Few cities would tolerate such large scale civil disobience – police have been instructed not to confront the protesters, who have quickly set up markets behind their road blocks with the atmosphere of ambitious school fetes with aerobics demonstrations and salsa concerts, food vendors and everywhere people selling shrill whistles and endless “Shutdown Bangkok” souvenir T-shirts. At one “protest” I saw people getting their feet massaged – to spite the government, presumably.
For all their (confused) claims about promoting political reform (how????), the “Shutdown Bangkok” sites seem, for the most part, more money-making and hedonistic than political.
But then Bangkok is Bangkok – it always manages to have a laugh and find its thrills, in this case for example opportunistically crowning visiting Japanese journalist Daijiro Enami a sex symbol. The reporter’s “hunk reporter face” incited a minor fangirl riot of his own.
But other than this, and the fact that you can now walk down the middle of Silom Road or Sukhumvit Road (and enjoy live music and fresh air) Bangkok is still Bangkok. It still supplies those little thrills that no other city – in my experience – can match, those “Bangkok moments”.
Like a trannie dag queen dancing on the night after the election in killer heels in a muddy puddle, complete with dangling, splashing electric wires.
Or peeking into a tattoo shop at Nana at midnight, to find it empty – except for a pet rabbit.
Or buying a sweet potato latte.
Or a cello player busking in Sukhmuvit outside a Family Mart next to a fried chicken seller.
Bangkok – don’t ever change