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The Spirit Of Bangkok

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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.

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