Sunday, April 11, 2010
Well, this should be interesting.
Flew into Bangkok this morning on yet another short business trip and straight into simmering political chaos and domestic unrest on the streets thanks to Thaksin's supporters aka The Red Shirts.
As usual, from the airport we drove straight to the post house. There, all the TV screens were tuned in to the day-long news coverage showing all-too-familiar scenes: riot police in gear, angry protesters, tear gas, water cannons, pockets of violence, various officials issuing statements. I don't need to know Thai to understand the whole scenario. A colleague earlier put it so cleverly and so, so on the mark: Bangkok is like a parallel universe to Manila. An alternate reality, a surreal mix of the oddly-familiar and the bizarre.
Just checked into the hotel a few minutes ago, after encountering an unusual but unsurprising spot of traffic on the Skyway. As luck would have it, our hotel is located right smack in the epicenter of Red Square aka Rajprasong - the poetic intersection between plebeian MBK and patrician Siam Paragon, where Thaksin's Red Brigade have massed in the thousands, defying the State of Emergency declared just days ago in Bangkok.
Rajprasong is also the central hotel and shopping district, home to swanky boutiques , upscale hotels and luxury malls. But the glittering lights are dim, the gleaming temples to commerce dark. Seeing what used to be once-colorful streets bustling with life and energy so deserted and desolate is eerie. It's almost like driving into a scene from an apocalyptic movie like 28 Days Later.
Our hotel lobby also looked abandoned, save for a lone Filipina chanteuse in the lounge singing valiantly to a handful of dejected-looking guests. There were some fretful Caucasian tourists, bags packed, waiting for their ride to the airport and out of Bangkok. Marching through the front doors with my backpack, I imagined this must be what wartime journalists feel the first time they fly into breaking news, in a foreign land whose tenuous stability just might erupt into chaos and uncertainty at any time.
The still-smiling, defiantly cheerful front desk girls seemed to be resigned to sleeping in the hotel tonight, as there are few cabs and the BTS Skytrain is no longer running at night, and may not run until the 14th. Everything seems to be closed; even 7-11 is shuttered.
Outside my window, here on the 13th floor, I can hear one of the Red Shirt demagogues still thundering on about Thaksin and Abhisit, justice and crime, change and democracy and other familiar bromides. I can also see some of the protesters' cars blocking the entire left lane of the avenue beside the hotel.
This is a novel way to greet Songkran, the Thai New Year, which begins on Monday.
It should be interesting to see what the morning looks like.