The Spirit Of Bangkok

May 23rd, 2010, 06:27 AM
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The Spirit Of Bangkok

Last night while watching TV during the curfew hours there was an announcement from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration asking for volunteers to help clean up the city on Sunday(today). They ask for anyone who can spare a few hours to come to any of the affected areas to help out. Early today the electricity was going to be turn off at my house for about 9 hours for repair works due to the damages caused by the unrest. I grab a quick breakfast, reply to a few post on Fodors and then woke up my wife and daughter to ask them to come along with me and help clean Bangkok. My wife ask if it was safe and I said “sure otherwise they wouldn’t ask for volunteers”. She then told me that she is really fed up with the whole situation and she didn’t want to visit the area. My daughter shook her head and said that she needed to study. Oh well!

I grab my camera, a spare battery, hat, face towel and took off by myself. Having seen the YouTube video, that I posted the link on Fodors on my other thread, I expected to help lift crates, tents and that kind of activities and choose to wear a short sleeve shirt, shorts and a pair of croc sandal. The highway was relatively empty at 9.00am and I pass a small convoy of army trucks escorted by Humvee. I thought to myself that it must be some troops returning to their barracks and how great it was that lives were returning to normal. Then another convoy of police prison transport vehicles, which I presume were carrying those red shirts with arrest warrants to jail.

My plan was to park at Central Chidlom which I thought had reopen. Well I was wrong but a nice policeman asks if I was there to volunteer. I said yes and he told me I could park anywhere on the empty Soi Langsuan – excellent. I jump out of my car and walk towards Central Chidlom to ask a group of soldiers where I should report. They smile and said just do whatever you can. I pointed towards the Rajaprasong road and ask if the road was open for pedestrian and they told me yes but ask me to be careful. “Careful of what?” I asked and the sergeant told me “slipping and the trash on the street”.

The police booth at the intersection had been burnt, traffic lights smashed and most of the tents I saw in the video are now gone. What were left were piles of really smelly garbage and the road was really slippery as well from the burnt tires mixed with ashes and the water used to put out the fires. What a mess I thought and I gingerly walk up towards the Central World area. Trash, stagnant water, red propaganda graffiti were everywhere. The underside of the Chidlom BTS was blackened and charred from the attempt at setting it on fire. What barbarians I thought.

I got to the main intersection where the reds had setup their main camp. Central World was still smoldering and Gaysorn Plaza was damaged but mostly from gunfire and looting. What a mess and what a shame. Took some pictures and then I thought to myself that I better start helping. The comradely and spirits of the volunteers were amazing. Women in designer clothes, teenage boys and girls, tourists, expats as well as men and women my age and older. It was around 9.30 am and the heat was already rising fast and I was taken aback by what I saw – pure unadulterated decencies.

There was no coordination and nobody was there to tell us what to do but the city workers were already doing their cleaning and the volunteers just do whatever they can. I estimate that there were around 2,000 volunteers at that time and more were arriving every minute. I saw a train whiz by on the elevated tracks and was happy to see that the BTS was operating again. Took some more pictures of CW and the bullet ridden Gaysorn Plaza. I noticed a rather strange hole in one of the display window right next to several bullet holes and I ask a nearby soldier what it was. He told me that the red had tried to set Gaysorn on fire as well and the hole was from an incendiary device. Wow I thought and then I walk towards the general concentration of workers and volunteers by the Grand Hyatt hotel. A TV crew intercepted me and ask if they could interview me. I said yes and after a quick interview I started the cleanup.

A woman looked at me and then looks at a crate sitting on the median in the middle of the road. I slung my camera and grab the other end of the crate and we disposed it. A bag fell out and it made a glass like sound. Hmm my volunteer partner asks what I thought it was and I told her probably beer or liquor bottles. She opens up the bag and wow it was full of unused Molotov cocktails made from energy drink bottles. Snap, snap and then we threw the bag into one of the garbage truck parked nearby. Walking up the street towards the Peninsula Plaza, just before the Four Seasons, we heard a loud bang. Everybody look toward where the sound had come from and it seems to have emanated from the Police Hospital. A teenage boy clearing thrash from the centre median yell out to his friend that he found some large firecrackers in the bushes. My partner and I looked over and I yell out grenades! The teenager dropped the bag immediately and a naval shore patrol sailor rushed over with his shotgun. There are military personnel from all branches of the armed forces all along the road and the navy man call on some soldiers and within 10 seconds two ordinance experts were there. They carefully looked at the objects and then told me that I had good eyes. The grenades were wrapped with electrical tapes and according to the experts the reds did it to disguise the grenades from the media. I laugh at myself thinking of the times arguing with people on Fodors about the peaceful reds and how according to the foreign media they were not armed with any weapons.

I parted ways with my cleaning partner who was not overly impress with me as I had one hand on my beloved camera and the other helping her. All of the sudden I was walking on what looks like thick brown mud which was everywhere and on one of the poshes road in Thailand. The odors had been terrible all morning, a mixture of burnt rubber and rotting thrash. Now it smells like what I’ve mentioned mixed with raw sewage and in the now sweltering heat. A row of portable toilets stand at the side of the road and the city civil workers were moving them with a crane. Well… picture airborne porta potty trailing excrement and you will know what the smell I’m trying to describe is. The storm drains are clogged from thrash and to my amazement a lady volunteer was bent over one of the storm drain and, with her hands, was trying to clear it amidst rotten sewage. I take my hats off to you lady!
Making my way further down the road I noticed more and more volunteers arriving. Young teens from around 15 to adults were marching up the road carrying garbage bags and cleaning graffiti. What a sight and I’m so glad that I could witness it. As soon as I got to the beginning of Suan Lum park I was looking for any sign of damages to the Chulalongkorn University hospital and I’m very happy to report that I did not see any. This is the building that was shown on TV footages around the world engulfed by thick black smoke. There were abandon red shirts vehicle along the street riddled with bullet holes but no other sign of damages. I then noticed on the road surface tractor like marks from the APCs(Armored Personnel Carriers) that were used to smash down the red shirts barricades. I thought to myself - that’s gonna cost a few Baht to repair.

Reaching the Silom – Saladang intersection things looks pretty normal. I turn around and headed toward the statue of King Rama 6 guarding the entrance to Suan Lum Park. The governor of Bangkok passes me by with his staffs. His face was sort of grim and did not look up at anybody else as I would have “wia” him since I know him. At this time the sun and temperature was hot, hot, hot! I was sweating profusely and was looking for a vendor selling any drinks around there. Right by the park’s entrance was a row of tent and I saw that they had all sort of drinks on display. I walked up to one of the booths and ask for a bottle of cold water while handing over 20 Baht. The girl, what we call a promotional “pretty”, handed me a cold bottle of Chang water and said it was free! I said it’s alright I can pay since I don’t really consider myself as having done much and the young women said no to my money. She then ask if I want an energy drink, or coke or a cold towel. I did not realized that local businesses are supporting the cleanup with food and drinks.

Making my way back, around Soi Sarasin, was a mobile truck. The men there saw that I look like I was going to faint from the heat motion me over and gave me more drinks, whatever I wanted and they even had Big Macs as well. Again it was free but I only took a bottle of water. Walking back towards the Four Season the smell was getting unbearable with the temperature now at 39C or 102.2F with high humidity. Another volunteer noticed my reaction and rush over to give me a face mask. I thank her and continue walking. What I saw were men and women sweeping away the raw sewage. They had excrement stains up to their thigh and were hard at work. What spirits and what passion.

After 4.5 hours I made it back to my car on Soi Langsuan which was now full of parked vehicles. I estimate that by the time I left at after 1.00pm there were at least 20 – 30,000 volunteers. My route back home was through Rama 4 and passing by Suan Lum Night Bazaar and the other area that saw a lot of violence – Soi Bon Kai. More volunteers were busy cleaning the street and water trucks equipped with hose were spraying down Rama 4 road. I pass by a few burnt out banks and burnt out shop houses – poor unlucky people!

Arriving back home I am now quite sore, mostly from carrying my big ass camera around. Watching the evening news I saw Thaksin at the Cannes Film Festival. How nice and thank you so much France for being our friend.
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 06:37 AM
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Whoa there Bangkok Post:

I did not run for my life I only screamed like a little girl!
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 06:57 AM
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What an amazing post and a very detailed first-hand account of the aftermath of rioting in BKK. It is inspiring to read that people of all ages and all different social strata wanted to assist, and did assist, even to do the worst of jobs, like cleaning up porta-potties and excrement.

Hanuman, you are allowed to scream like a little girl! I tend to be one of those people who freeze when terrified, so if there would have been danger, I'd have been in it, and silently so, but that's just me. I am sure the process of re-building, for those who have lost their shops, is going to be difficult. My heart goes out to the Thai people.

bookchick is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 06:58 AM
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Hanuman, thank you for this story of your efforts to help your beloved city. I commend you!

Re: the BKK Post article... newspapers sell newspapers by sensationalizing things a bit... thanks for giving us the real story.

I think you are one of Brad's friends on facebook. He has a picture of a tower of Heineken cans stacked to represent a building or something, in front of Central World. I take it this is a photo-shopped image! You surely would have seen it and reported on it had it been real.

It's wonderful that so many Thais are out helping to clean up the city from the thugs!

And now I hope your electricity and AC are working once again! Stay cool... if you can.

simpsonc510 is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 07:02 AM
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Thank you ladies. I'm processing my pictures now and I hope to have it up soon.

By the way, it was the 2 teenage boys that ran like hell after I loudly yelled at them.

I don't get on FB much but I'll take a look right now Carol.
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 07:06 AM
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Carol I could not find it in his "Bangkok Pics" album. Only the picture of his girlfriend and their daughter. Cute grand daughter by the way.

Tell Brad to click on this link:
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 07:09 AM
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OK Carol I found it right after the grand daughter picture. Looks real to me. I think it's to promote the World Cup Soccer which would mean Heineken is one of the sponsor.
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 08:37 AM
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Thanks for a heart-warming account of people working together!
Kathie is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 08:46 AM
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Thank you for your words Kathie.

Pictures are ready but I can't keep me eyes open anylonger. Might be some mistake in there.

PASSWORD is "fodors"
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 09:09 AM
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It's said a picture is worth 1,000 words, and these photos are easily worth 2,000 words each photo. The number of people who showed up to clean up is really impressive. The woman, I noted, who has her hand in the drain does have a glove on her hand, thank goodness. And the lady who was sick to her stomach...well, heck, I don't look that good when I'm not sick. I'm glad to see the hospital building is in good shape, as it's a place where the weakest members of every society take refuge. Thank you for these photos, Hanuman.

bookchick is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 09:36 AM
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Great post! Good to see such community spirit in action.
vinovino is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 10:21 AM
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Wow! The photos really tell the story. It's wonderful to see so many people working to clean up Bangkok.
Kathie is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 10:35 AM
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Fabulous photos Pook, thanks for sharing, a joy to see so many people volunteering to help clean up BKK.
Smeagol is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 10:59 AM
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Great Shots! Thanks. And it's that type of amazing spirit of the Thai people that keeps one coming back to Thailand.

While viewing those photos, I had a flashback of the L.A. riots and my mom driving us over to L.A. and through the tough streets to get us to a branch of our church where a clean up crew was being organized. I can't remember which L.A. riot it was though, as we've had more than one throughout the decades. But, I do remember people pulling together and cleaning up the mess. I can understand the pain of the people, but one must just look forward.

Thanks again for your time and efforts to keep us informed. Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 12:36 PM
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What a thorough narative and the pics are amazing Hanuman. Strangely, as sad as it is to see the filth and fire /arson damage, I felt really very encouraged and again thought how terrific the Thai people are. All I can say is, if the same thing happened in Chicago (which I guess it did, before I lived here - there were riots and whole blocks burned,) I don't think I would venture into that area to volunteer to clean it up. I think I'd be too frightened for my own health and safety. And yet, it seemed that thousands of Thais not even being concerned for their own safety made the decision to get right in there and work shoulder to shoulder on getting things back to a more normal state. Seems there was risk of disease from the raw sewage, and a great possibility of bodily harm from the explosive devices that were abandoned. Bless all those who showed up today for the massive effort. And thanks once again to Hanuman for bringing it all to us so vividly, just glad we didn't have the smell too!!! We got the "sanitized" version -sans odor!
SueHuml is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 12:44 PM
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Hanuman you are a true hero. My thoughts are with you and your family, and all the people of Bangkok. May you put the chaos of the past few weeks behind and move ahead together, toward a bright future.
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 02:59 PM
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Thankyou Hanuman for the great shots and I am inspired by your sense of civic duty- I only we wish we had more people like yourself here in the US and especially in Washington DC!
BillT is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 03:45 PM
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from Karen & Bob----bravo for such a clearly written and honest assessment of what you saw and participated in... i can't imagine the situation..

were any of the malls or businesses open at all, or is everyone just staying home for now, except the volunteers?

this surely will act to draw the thai people more closely together, i hope at least... do you sense that the groups in the north now feel any differently about the gov't situation? are they mad at what took place??
kmkrnn is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 04:18 PM
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Thank you everyone and I'm very happy that you like my story and the pictures!

Eks - IMO the heroes were the soldiers and the PM. When before the crackdown the whole world was against them claiming many false accusation that the reds fed the media with. Every time the PM gave a televised report his eyes looks red and tired. No one understand that the PM and his coalition partners were voted into office by almost 60% of the voters and it was so hard to make people understand that.

Karen - Yesterday only the malls outside of the affected areas were open. The situation outside of Bangkok is, I'm happy to say, calm as people there are beginning to understand the real pictures. Curfew has been extended for a couple of days but it doesn't really affect people as the hours are from 23.00 to 04.00.

First day of real work today so I must get ready.
Hanuman is offline  
May 23rd, 2010, 04:22 PM
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Just read the Bangkok Post that the governor of Bangkok estimated about 4,000 people turn up. Maybe while he was there but from noon onward, IMO, it was way over 10,000 plus more at the other affected areas.
Hanuman is offline  

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