If you’ve read previous entries about my earlier visa runs to, and stopovers in, Bangkok, you might remember that each one of my visits has included at least one trip to Lumpini Park, an oasis of glorious green – in the heart of this bustling metropolis. I always look forward to that time in Lumpini as a necessary and peaceful break from Bangkok’s incessant noise, nose-clogging pollution, pungent smells and bright lights.
And so, this morning, my last in Bangkok, I set out as usual with book in hand, intent on spending a few quiet hours in a corner of the park; reading, writing, practicing yoga and watching the elegant swans (and swan-pedal boats) gliding around the waterways. Alas, it was not to be…
Bring on the army. Bring on the banners, the bullhorns, the flag-waving yahoos, flimsy-mask-wearing cowboys on motorbikes. A sea of incomprehensible Thai signs flood my vision – with an occasional English phrase thrown in, possibly for the occasional tourist or journalist who dares enter the ‘zone’.
I’d been under the impression, obviously mistaken, that the camps of government protesters had been set up in other parts of the city. Or that they had taken a break from their protesting to return to a semblance of normal. Not so.
The Park was taken over by the People. Nearly every inch of grass. Gone, hidden, submerged beneath bubble-like tents; stomped down by chairs, tables, pallets of water, boxes and plastic bags filled to overflowing with flotsam and jetsam.
Indeed, a massive tent city had been erected on the grounds of Lumpini Park, transformed into Ground Zero for one of the factions. These red-white-blue beribboned activists, eager to overthrow the current government, have been squatting on these grounds for close to three months and managed to bring much of the city to a standstill in a move they defiantly call “Bangkok Shutdown.”
But what am I to make of it? I confess that, where once I read the newspaper avidly and even muddled my way through a 2-year stint in television news, when I felt compelled to have a firm hold on the news of the day, cynicism and fatigue had set in since then; so much so that neither domestic and international politics are of great interest to me these days.
With civil unrest escalating around the world, in Asia, the Ukraine, India and elsewhere, I’m befuddled in Bangkok. Here, I can’t even keep track of the protesters’ sides and demands: yellow arm-banded bandits, what do they want? And the red-shirts, what’s their beef? Why are these provocateurs not dressed in either, but rather in tri-colored anti-government clothes and paraphernalia?
Some had set out on their daily protest, trucked out in droves, waving flags and blaring out protest messages to passersby and vehicles on their way. Others stayed behind, catching up on sleep or tuning into a running loop of previously taped speeches which were broadcast (to a nearly empty crowd) on massive screens. Still others remained in their tents, headed out for showers or food, while still others cleaned their ‘gardens’ or focused inward on their martial arts practice.
I value the rights of citizens to peaceful protest, and I appreciate the urgency with which these Thai people have gathered to make themselves heard. There is no denying that the sheer impact of their numbers (some say in the hundreds of thousands in this park alone) can move mountains – perhaps also pressure those in power to resign.
But without minimizing the import of this protest, I can’t help, on some level, in some part of my peace-seeking soul but wish that they’d camped out elsewhere than on the great and once-green lawns of Lumpini…