First Published in Parallax.
In Bangkok city, shirts bearing the colours of the national flag and merchandise plastered with anti-government slogans such as Reform Before Election have become symbolic of the protests that now occupy much of the city.
It has been two weeks since I have been in Thailand and having spent a week in the serene and tranquil city of Chiang Mai, we were able to successfully avoid the January 13th shutdown of the capital.
Arriving in Bangkok however, the city is still in gridlock and the scale and intensity of the protests have become much more evident and at times, unavoidable.
I landed in the glistening city of Bangkok two days ago. After a week in the colder and greener part of Thailand, the unending skyscrapers, sky trains and department stores were welcoming signs that I had finally touched down in Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), the city of angels.
On our first night in Bangkok I experimented with the clean and efficient sky trains and underground subway networks to do some shopping and exploring. We reached the central city destinations of Siam and Silom to find a mass of people with Shutdown Bangkok broadcasted on their shirts. The passion of the capital was distinctly different to the north where people seemed aggravated by the protests.
Alarm bells went off in our minds, warning us to stay as far away from the protests as possible.
Upon first inspection, the rally site held a festive atmosphere with crowds of people and clothing stalls and it was difficult to think of the site as potentially violent and disruptive. It was also striking to witness groups of university students dressed in promotional attire in support of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. I had been told on numerous occasions that Thai people are generally very private in their political opinions but being in the middle of the nation’s capital and witnessing streams of people outwardly expressing their support for anti-government protests was an astonishing experience.
Protests of such large proportion are hard to come by in Australia, so accidentally finding ourselves in the midst of a rally zone was risky but also a little thrilling. Being in Thailand has given me a greater grasp of the public sentiment and I am slowly piecing together Thailand’s contextually and historically complex political narrative.