It really doesn’t seem like two years since we stood on the top floor of our townhouse and watched smoke rise as a couple of malls, banks, The Stock Exchange and a cinema — a total of 35 buildings — burned a few kilometres west of here after the army moved in to clear the Red Shirt protestors who’d been encamped in (and had completely paralysed then shut down) the retail heart of this mega-opolis. They’d been there for two months, costing the city and the country millions and, at least in the short term, some 60,000 jobs.
It clearly couldn’t be allowed to continue and an impasse seeming irresolvable — but nobody was really prepared for what happened in those final few days of mayhem.
However worse than the fires and the money lost, were the shocking deaths of some 91 people in circumstances that remain less than transparent (and certainly far less clear-cut than many offshore rights advocates would have you believe) in an earlier battle around the Khao San Road area, a couple of skirmishes around the city and then that dreadful finale on May 19th, 2010.
At the time of writing some 18 separate enquires are underway including one into the Japanese film journalist Hiro Muramoto’s death, but the pace of enquiry is the cause of continuing national friction.
All that aside — and I have to remain publicly apolitical on all this — what was obvious was the sense of massive national trauma and intense (pan-political spectrum) shock the blood spilt caused. The country was psychologically traumatised and is still trying to come to terms with how it ended up in a place where 89 of its citizens (and two foreigners — Muramoto and Italian journalist Fabio Polenghi) lay dead in the streets of its capital.
On Saturday some 50,000 Red Shirts gathered peacefully in Ratchaprasong, the site of that final showdown — in the shadow of the newly reopened Zen department store, torched by the protesters two years back to the day as the APCs rolled in. I wandered around — as I’d done a couple of times two years back — and took a few shots:
Ironically, less that 300 metres from the rally the malls were packed — outside the large Bulgari store in the Paragon’s Hall of Mirrors, hundreds milled around a display of the new Lotus and Lamborghini models oblivious to the events in the street outside. I guess that divide hasn’t quite evaporated.…
These were taken between midday and about 3pm when my camera card filled, although the rally went to 2am. A friend was there the next morning at 10am and there was no sign these people and this event had ever been there — the streets had been scrubbed clean and were full of the normal traffic gridlock.